holiday chocolate bark

I made this chocolate bark to bring to a work holiday party, and then made a second batch to give as gifts (and eat). It’s ridiculously easy, but there are also a few tricks to make it come out right and not turn chalky white on top the next day, which is what happened with my first batch.

First, get about a pound of high quality bittersweet chocolate. I got big blocks of it at Fairway – any market like this should have large quantities of good chocolate. Break the chocolate up into smaller chunks and melt it slowly in a double boiler. I don’t own a double boiler, so I improvise with a smaller pot inside a larger pot filled with water. It’s important to use the double boiler technique when melting chocolate so that it doesn’t overheat and burn, or get grainy and lumpy. Chocolate is very fussy. Stir periodically with a rubber spatula until it’s fully melted but not overheated. then pour it out onto parchment paper on a baking sheet and spread it into a thin even layer. Then add whatever toppings you want! For this one I did pistachios, dried apricots, and cranberries, with a tiny sprinkle of coarse sea salt on top. You could also do candied ginger, other kinds of nuts, peppermint, pretzels, etc. The possibilities are pretty much endless.

Chocolate bark

After adding the toppings, let it cool for about 2 hours. After 2 hours in a hot apartment with no thermostat, mine of course still hadn’t cooled so I threw it in the fridge. DON’T do that! It tasted fine but the next day it developed a chalky white appearance on top. I should have remembered from Food Science class if chocolate goes through extreme temperature changes quickly, it will develop a “bloom.” Since there is nowhere in my apartment that is the ideal temperature for chocolate (60 F), I cooled my next batch on the windowsill. After it’s cool, break it up or chop it with a knife, put it in a cute tin or container, and you’ve got gifts! (Provided you don’t eat it all while making it). Happy holidays!

strawberry chocolate quesadillas

Most things in my life don’t go as planned, so I should have known that an anniversary celebration would be no different. Chris and I had planned to venture up to City Island, bike around for the day, have a lobster roll, and then treat ourselves to a fancy dinner Saturday night at August on Bleecker Street (which I was very excited about). But Hurricane Irene had different plans for us. On Thursday, we decided we would go to the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image and maybe a movie, as a backup rain plan instead of City Island, and then to dinner. Big grey rain boots didn’t really go with my outfit, but I’d make it work. Friday afternoon, Bloomberg announced that all subways and buses would be shut down at noon on Saturday. Ok, we thought, we’ll take a cab. And then the restaurant called to say they were closing in preparation for the storm. And then the Museum closed, and the movie theaters, etc, etc, etc. Onto plan D! Grocery store and Netflix.

Strawberry chocolate quesadillas in the pan

Chris and I planned out a few days worth of meals, just as a worst case scenario, including lemon pepper shrimp linguine, bread and cheese, wine, and salad for our anniversary dinner. But what would dessert be? Baking cookies or brownies didn’t seem special enough, so I reached for my Moosewood box of recipe cards that I picked up in Maine. Strawberry chocolate quesadillas? The recipe was in the “Spring” season section, but I didn’t care. Immediate winner. It’s pretty simple really: slice up about a cup and a half of strawberries, mix in a little confectioners sugar and cinnamon. Place a tortilla in a lightly oiled pan, cover one half with the strawberry mixture, the other half with chocolate chips, and when the chocolate chips start to melt, fold it in half. Serve with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, and whipped cream if you like. We decided it would also be great with bananas… or nutella… or ice cream… or pretty much anything.

We even made another batch for breakfast the next morning. Because dessert for breakfast is totally allowed on special occasions.

Strawberry chocolate quesadillas

black bean brownies

Black bean brownies

“Black Bean Brownies.” When I say these words together, people look at me like I’ve just offered them skunk on a skewer. Even my friend Tim wrinkled his face in disgust (over our vegan Thai dinner at Dao Palate last night) as I exclaimed that those were my project for the next day. But I’ve seen a lot of recipes for them and wanted to give them a try. After all, if avocado chocolate pudding was good, why not black bean brownies? And they’re gluten free (the beans act as a substitute for flour) and I’ve been promising my gluten-intolerant friend Erin some gluten-free recipes for some time now.

So, in my search for recipes, of course my favorite blog had just what I was looking for. Almost. The original recipe is here but I altered it quite a bit. See, I didn’t want to make a “healthy” brownie and then throw in a whole stick of butter. I’m sure it tastes amazing with a whole stick of butter, but it wasn’t quite as guilt-free as I wanted. So I did some research on butter substitutes in baking, and found out that if you’re baking something dark colored (like brownies), pureed prunes and maybe a touch of oil will substitute nicely. It was worth a shot. If the brownies were a disgusting mess, I’d just throw them out and try again with butter. Or oil. The other issue is that I don’t own an 11 by 18 inch baking pan – only 9 by 13 and smaller – so I divided the whole recipe by 3/4. So much room for disaster and failure it’s ridiculous. Substituting butter with prunes, using the wrong size pan, making 3/4 of the recipe (not even a nice round 1/2!), leaving out the walnuts (personally I like them, but I planned to give some of these to other people and some people aren’t nuts about nuts in brownies) and using espresso instead of coffee substitute. The whole time I was making them I couldn’t help thinking “these are going to be gross… so gross.”

Taste tester #1: Me! (come on, I’m not feeding crazy hippie brownies to other people without trying them first). NOT gross. Good! You can’t really taste the beans or prunes. I think the addition of the coffee is a crucial to mask the flavor. And as someone pointed out on Heidi’s blog, you could also add peanut butter if so inclined. They are fudgy, rich, and dense, just like brownies should be. They do taste kind of health-food-y… but, well, they are.

Taste testers # 2 and 3 will weigh in later… updates to follow.

(Side note: I felt it was my blogging duty to add a warning label. One probably should not consume too many of these at a time. Beans and prunes… both well known for their “digestive benefits.”)

raw food night

So I thought vegan week was a challenge but last night I tackled a three course 100% vegan RAW meal. My friend Rosi is doing a raw food diet cleanse for a week and I was very excited to have her over as my willing guinea pig. First of all, I’ll explain for those wondering “what’s the deal with raw foodism?” The raw food diet is based on the belief that the most nutritious food is uncooked, or heated to less than 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking can denature enzymes (which help us digest food, absorb nutrients, and slow the aging process), kill vital disease-fighting nutrients, and form potentially harmful compounds. Some people find it really beneficial and cleansing to eat raw for a week or two, though it can be harmful if done incorrectly for long periods of time.
Ok, now that you have the “why,” here comes the “what.” A thorough internet search for raw food recipes left me initially discouraged, as it seemed like 80% of them required using a food dehydrator for 10 to 12 hours. So I found this recipe for Raw Spinach Manicotti, which didn’t require any dehydrating, but still had some extensive commitment involved, as I had to soak sunflower seeds and sun dried tomatoes for 4-6 hours. Thank god for my awesome Cuisinart food processor (thanks mom!), which I used for almost every component of this meal! The sunflower seed “cheese” would not have fooled me in a blind taste test, but it was pretty good (I think lots of garlic did the trick) and the tomato sauce was great and I would even make that again for a regular pasta.

Raw spinach manicotti

I also made a side salad of jicama, cucumber, and mango tossed with lime juice, cayenne pepper, and sea salt… pretty much just because I was craving mango. Simple, fresh, summery.

Mango jicama salad

Chocolate avocado pudding

For dessert, I stole an idea from my friend Christy, Personal Trainer/Registered Dietitian/cook extraordinaire! Last fall she made this chocolate pudding using avocado and agave syrup and brought it to a potluck dinner. I know it sounds weird, but you can’t really taste the avocado and it’s the creamiest most delicious stuff ever. In a food processor, just throw in one ripe avocado, 1/4 cup agave nectar, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/4 cup water, 2 tsp vanilla extract, and 1/4 tsp sea salt. When Christy made it she added shredded coconut on top – I opted for fresh strawberries since I had them left over from the other night’s grilled strawberry shortcake.

So I could totally eat raw food recipes (not all the time) if they didn’t take all day to make. Maybe a raw food week is in my future… one day. A great experiment, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Rosi is feeling after a whole week of this!

grilled strawberry shortcake

Grilled? Yes, grilled.

Last weekend I was at a friend’s place to feed and play with her cats while she was away. While waiting for the scaredy-cats to come out from under the bed, I flipped through a summer food issue of Sunset magazine, and this recipe caught my eye. Since strawberry shortcake is Chris’s absolute favorite dessert ever, and we were making dinner for a friend on Tuesday, I figured I’d throw this in for dessert. It’s so easy to do, and is an interesting twist on regular strawberry shortcake (which I think is kinda boring, sorry!). I do want to note that angel food cake was shockingly hard to find. I went to four stores looking for it, and finally found one lonely cake on the Key Foods shelf right before I was about to break down and bake it myself.

First, beat 1/2 cup of whipping cream together with 1/2 cup of crème fraîche, 2 tbs brown sugar, and the zest of 1/2 a lemon until it’s stiff and set aside. Put 5-6 tbs of strawberry jam in a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Using a pastry brush (or just dunk them), coat hulled strawberries with the jam. Cut chunks of angel food cake and thread strawberries and cake in an alternating pattern onto bamboo skewers. Grill the skewers (I just used my cast iron grill pan on the stove) for about 3-4 minutes and serve with the lemon cream.

Grilled strawberry shortcake with lemon cream