Thursday, November 1, 2007

The dinner I shall not be writing about OR The cocoa I shall not be baking with

Before I get to display part of my growing collection of food photos, I have to share an inward laugh/sigh over my dinner tonight. Its components are not the focus of this blog and therefore this is "the dinner I shall not be writing about." So let me make this brief...

May and I caught up on our days when we found ourselves in the kitchen together this evening. I spent about five minutes absentmindedly standing in front of the fridge, popping open the freezer, and gazing at the insides of my cupboards as conversation flowed. Upon the point we both agreed a trip to the grocery store was definitely in order, I pulled out a bag of frozen green beans - my only vegetable in the place except potatoes - and began to "snack" on the crunchy, slightly sweet long sticks.

Dinner did not turn out that bad when all was said and done (gnocchi with homemade parsley-walnut pesto, goat's cheese, and pine nuts), but the fact that my first round of pine nuts almost set off the smoke alarm and the second also acquired a rather dark bottom sent me back to nervously nibbling on cold beans.

Now that that exasperation is out of the way, I'll move on to the good stuff!

I baked a classic favorite of mine this week, and I wish I had a new exciting story to share with it, but for those of you who know me well - which, as much as I like to pretend, is basically all my readers right now - you'll have to be patient as I indulge myself by the retelling of an old one.

When I was nine years old I reached the crazy unusual decision that I would give up chocolate for two years. As your atypical nine year old this all seemed like a noble act of discipline (or a way to win the approval of my chocolate-less older cousin whom I admired so). The two year anniversary was supposed to fall on the next reunion of my mother's family, but as it goes with ten grown children spread across the country, two years came and went and an eleven-year-old girl found herself quite content without chocolate.

I was incredibly strict about this decision and only allowed myself white chocolate if the ingredients did not include cocoa (cocoa butter was acceptable, since my mother could attest to the fact that it tastes nothing like chocolate - a scarring lesson she learned by trial-and-error as a child). This did not mean that my best friend did not make her own attempts to trick me into eating a chocolate chip here or there; she used the classic "close your eyes and open your mouth..." routine, but I never fell for it.

My tenth year of non-chocolate-living flew by, and I was surprised when the annual anniversary of August 17th began approaching, and I found myself reasoning that the number ten was quite a pleasant sounding number, a perfectly round number, really, a completely accomplished number, in fact.

That summer I had determined to be an art major...I was about to fulfill my dream of studying abroad...And I was ready to taste chocolate again!

August 17th, 2005 at 10am the dear friend who had tried to sneak chocolate into my every bite as a child accompanied me to a local chocolatier. (Once again, we were two terribly giggly girls.)

I will add that I knew within my first two bites - one of dark and one of milk - that I was a die-hard dark chocolate lover. No questions there. The darker the better.

Are you ready to wrap up my segue into the coming recipe? Well, in one sentence my transition is this: The cake I am about to share has nothing to do with chocolate. Rather, it has everything to do with the absence of chocolate. It has to do with an ingredient called carob.

My mother's kitchen is known among my friends for its oddities, but carob was a perfectly normal ingredient for me to grow up around. Even before I swore off chocolate I knew the taste of carob well. However, when chocolate was forbidden and everyone seemed to be swooning over their chocolate cake, I would itch for my own special version.

This cake is a simple recipe out of Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, which delivers wonderful results with the simple substitution of carob for cocoa. It is usually quite a moist cake, so on the night I made it, when I pulled the cake pan out of the oven and impatiently cut myself a slice, I was disappointed to find the inside crumbly. However, the next morning as I also ate a slice for breakfast I was delighted to cut into a cake I knew quite well. Yes, the night spent on the counter top had caused it to lose its crisp top layer, but it had morphed into a lusciously gooey confection.

I have tried to describe the taste of carob before and always have trouble with it. I am wary of calling it a chocolate substitute because then people expect it to taste like chocolate, and it really doesn't. This recipe seems to bring forth a complex, yet subtle, almost creamy taste. Perhaps you know better adjectives?

Six-Minute Chocolate Carob Cake

1½ cups unbleached white flour
1/3 cup carob powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup cold water or brewed coffee (I always use instant espresso)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons vinegar

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 375°.
Sift together the flour, carob, soda, salt and sugar.
In a 2-cup measuring cup, measure & mix together the oil (water or coffee) and vanilla.
Pour the liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and mix the batter with a fork or small whisk.
When batter is smooth, add the vinegar and stir quickly. Stir just until the vinegar is evenly distributed throughout the batter.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Set the cake aside to cool.

½ pound bittersweet chocolate
¾ cup hot water, milk, or half-and-half
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate in small bowl. Stir the hot liquid and the vanilla into the chocolate until smooth.
Spoon the glaze over the cooled cake. Refrigerate the glazed cake for at least 30 minutes before serving.

*Since this is an all around yummy recipe I would also use it for a simple chocolate cake, in which case you may want to make the glaze included with the original recipe.


Sing&Wonder said...

Ah,the memories of healthy addictions. - Dad

Lael said...

Dad, oh how I love comments! especially when I've just published a blog and am itching to tell someone-anyone-to get on their computer and check it out. thanks for the swift response, esp. w/o a nagging phone call from me.

Kierstin said...

It's your crazy friend that used to shove choclate in your mouth....
I have been trying to think of a way to describe carob....
I would say it has a musty characteristic. Somewhat like smokey cheese, or the aftertaste of black licorice. It's a nostalgic element that can't be described, really, except that it reminds me of my grandfater's pipe, and old toys in an attic.

Lael said...

crazy friend, I like your description quite a lot...I don't think it's going to entice others to give carob a shot if they take you literally, but there is something to the word "musty". For us of course "nostalgic" fits too(which is where the non-literal taste of dusty toys and tobacco make sense) and makes me want to bake some up at Christmas and take a wedge for each of us down to Boulevard where we can sit on the rocks and freeze our butts off. Sound good?