“we have a surprise and it’s a cake!” flourless chocolate cake & child-free chocolate labour

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IMG_0505Thought I would revisit my love of chocolate by (re)sharing my recipe for flourless chocolate cake. This inaugural post on Cooklore remains one of my favourites  and was originally posted in July 2012. 

Before jumping straight to the good stuff, I’d like to draw your attention to some links highlighting the darker side of chocolate – child labour. NGO’s have been fighting for ethically sourced cocoa for years. Read about The Good Chocolate Guide and the demand for Canadian chocolate companies to voluntarily implement safer labour conditions here

Wishing you warm hands & even warmer hearts. I am off to the restaurant to serve couples willing to brave the elements and meet our winter storm in its most recent incarnation …

“We have a surprise and it’s a cake!”

 

When I was three years old and my mother was feeling unwell in the early stages of her pregnancy with my sister, I spent weekday afternoons at my grandparents’ house while my father was at work.  My grandmother and I passed many of these afternoons in the kitchen.  We baked cookies, cakes, and loaves and often had a surprise for my father when he came to take me home after work.  Our creations were rarely surprises as I was often overcome with the desire to announce our efforts as soon as my Dad came through the door.  He never failed to act surprised and I learned from an early age that food was something to be celebrated.

In the kitchen with my grandmother
(picture taken by my father)
 
 

I no longer bake most of the treats that I came to love in my grandmother’s kitchen.  Taste preferences and dietary needs often shift as we grow older, but her early lessons continue to shape my cooking and eating by reminding me that food demands time, care and attention.  My grandmother taught me that sometimes simple food is just what you need and that a well-timed culinary surprise can bring delight to others.

Although it is unlikely that my grandmother would recognize many of the ingredients that stock my gluten-free, mostly vegetarian kitchen, I like to think that she would feel at home here making a cup of tea and wondering what we might have for dessert.

Flourless chocolate cake would certainly be on the menu.

Flourless Chocolate Cake  (serves 8) – Gluten and lactose free
 
This cake is rich and moist like a brownie.  I experimented with this recipe several times before achieving the texture and flavor I desired.  A small slice with a cup of coffee or glass of red wine goes a long way.
 
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa powder
 
Melt chocolate and oil over low heat using double boiler method to ensure the chocolate does not burn.
 
Remove from heat and place in mixing bowl.  Add sugar and eggs and mix well before adding cocoa powder.
 
Pour evenly into lightly oiled round cake pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until a light crust forms over the top of the cake.
 
Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring it to a cake rack or serving plate.
 

 
 

frozen food takes france …

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Lots to digest in this recent article in the New York Times concerning the prevalence of frozen or ready-made meals in French restaurants.   

I just finished reading Georgeanne Brennan’s foodie memoir A Pig in Provence, and I am looking forward to (finally!) reading the classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Vol I & II).  Thanks to my sister for the thoughtful gift and for carting the hefty tome around a shopping centre for the better part of an afternoon … she’s only a wee sprite!

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If you’re looking for a Canadian take on French cooking, I heartily recommend French Taste in Atlantic Canada 1604 – 1758. Written by Anne Marie Lane Jonah & Chantel Vechambre, and published by CBU Press in 2012, French Taste transports readers to French settlement tables at the Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island.  The book combines social, cultural and gastronomic history with fabulous photographs from the national historic site and original recipes (some adapted to suit the contemporary palate).

Nine months into my return to Newfoundland, and the only thing I find myself missing is the weekly (sometimes thrice weekly!) jaunts to the market I used to make in and around downtown Victoria, British Columbia.  I snapped these pictures in Market Square.

traditional oatcakes (gluten-free!)

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A lover of all things oatmeal, I spent many winter afternoons squirrelled away in the library eating oatcakes and drinking (pseudo) cappuccinos during my years as an undergraduate student in New Brunswick. These oatcakes remind me of those cosy study sessions, when (almost) everything I learned seemed new, challenging and important. Now, many years later, I prefer to pair them with coffee of the non-pseudo variety or a bowl of creamy homemade soup.

Gluten-free for those able to digest oats, these savoury biscuits are a fabulous alternative to bread and would be lovely served with a dollop of jam. 

Oatcakes (makes approximately 24 oatcakes)
adapted from Rachel Allen
4 cups rolled oats plus a handful to sprinkle when rolling out dough
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons softened butter
150 ml boiling water (more or less to achieve desired dough consistency – let your hands guide you!)
 
Put the rolled oats, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar in a blender or food processor and blitz until your oats achieve a fineness similar to flour but with some larger pieces of oats remaining.
 
Add extra virgin olive oil and butter and blitz again until mostly combined. 
 
Empty blender contents into a medium mixing bowl and slowly add just enough boiling water to work mixture into a rough dough with a large spoon and then your hands. 
 
Roll dough out to desired thickness on top of parchment paper covered with a light dusting of rolled oats. Cut with a round biscuit cutter or a drinking glass, and place on ungreased baking sheets. 
 
Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 20 minutes. 
 
 
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oatmeal & apple muffins with almond butter

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My new favourite breakfast muffin …

Smooth and satisfying, these muffins are a fabulous combination of healthful and delicious ingredients for the gluten-free and gluten-loving alike. 

The original recipe calls for both millet and quinoa flour, but quinoa flour is a great stand alone flour in muffins and loaves, so there’s no reason to muck around with more than one flour here.  I also swapped out tahini paste for almond butter since apples, oats and almonds are such a classic breakfast pairing. Cream of tartar and baking soda instead of baking powder ensure that your muffins remain gluten-free without relying on the guarantee of a baking powder manufacturer.

I’ve been enjoying McIntosh apples fresh from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, and recommend using the most flavourful apples you can get your hands on!  

 
oatmeal & apple muffins (approximately 8 muffins)
adapted from La Tartine Gourmande by Beatrice Peltre
 
2 large eggs
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp almond butter (chunky)
2 Tbsp butter (softened)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup quinoa flour
1/2 cup rolled oats, and extra for topping
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 tsp baking soda
2 medium apples (grated)
 
Cream together brown sugar and eggs in a medium mixing bowl.
Add the almond butter, softened butter, and vanilla.  Mix well.
 
In a smaller mixing bowl, combine the quinoa flour, rolled oats, salt, cream of tartar and baking soda.
 
Combine wet and dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.
Add the grated apple and stir. 
 
Pour batter evenly into lightly greased muffin tins and sprinkle tops with rolled oats. 
 
Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes.
 
 
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reading (& eating with) ruth reichl – encore with audio

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I’ve been revisiting some old favourites and experimenting with first drafts over the last few weeks in the realm of both recipes and my scholarly pursuits. New to my recipe roster are oatmeal & apple muffins made with quinoa and almond butter, and a spinach & mushroom quiche complete with a buttery quinoa crust and a generous helping of cheese – recipes coming soon!

I have also been taking the time to immerse myself in the plethora of intriguing podcasts available on CBC Radio and BBC Food. This morning I was delighted to discover a 2006 interview with Ruth Reichl, author of some of the most readable, yet complex, food memoirs I’ve had the pleasure to devour. Recorded in Montreal with Eleanor Wachtel for CBC Radio’s Writers & Company, the interview addresses themes and events running through Reichl’s books Tender at the Bone, Comfort me with Apples, and Garlic &  Sapphires.

You can listen to the podcast here at Writers & Company. And, in the spirit of revisiting, remembering, and rewriting, I thought I would (re)share my thoughts on Reichl’s memoirs. This post was originally published on Cooklore in October 2012. I hope you enjoy Ruth’s work (and conversations) as much as I do …    

IMG_0514I often read good books more than once. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read books like Lisa Moore’s Alligator and Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero. By the time I come to a book’s closing pages I usually know whether I will read it again, but I don’t usually start re-reading it immediately.

Unless I am reading Ruth Reichl.

Reichl’s memoirs Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples made me want to eat more than any other food memoir I’ve read. The more I read, the more I wanted to eat. As I greedily ate my way through New York, Berkley, Los Angeles, Montreal, and parts of France, Africa and China with Ruth, I found myself wishing that I had been a more adventurous eater in the days when there was nothing that I could not eat.

At my grandmother’s table, visibly disgruntled before the meal even begins!
(picture taken by my father) 
 

What makes Ruth’s writing standout is her ability to capture the pleasures of the table alongside the tensions that conviviality can bring.

Tender at the Bone begins with Ruth’s childhood in New York and illustrates the importance of good food through its absence. A terrible home cook, Ruth’s mother lacks not only the ability to understand basic flavour combinations, but also the ability to follow expiration dates and even her nose! Worried that her mother’s cooking will sicken friends and family, Ruth endeavours to protect guests from the threat of food poisoning by directing them to safer dishes and eventually stepping into the kitchen herself. Under the careful tutelage of her loving Aunt Birdie and her loyal housekeeper, Ruth delights in daily visits to fruit and vegetable stands, butchers and fishmongers. Eventually sent to boarding school in Montreal to learn to speak French, Ruth spends her weekends alone with nothing but the warmth of smoked meat sandwiches and bakery delights to keep her company.

So begins the life of a talented home cook, restaurant owner, writer and editor. As restaurant critic for The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and the editor of Gourmet Magazine, Ruth has shared her love of good food with readers near and far.

Reichl and her mother  
(picture featured on the cover of Reichl’s book Not Becoming My Mother)
 

Not only did I voraciously consume Ruth’s descriptions of the food she ate and the meals she shared, I also raced through her writing eager to learn what was to become of the people she loved and sometimes lost. Ruth brings readers into her tumultuous relationship with her mother who experiences bipolar depression, her unravelling friendship with her college roommate, and the dissolution of her first marriage. She writes passionately about her family’s incredulity that she is truly happy cooking and writing about food, and tackles her mixed feelings about the popular misconception that gastronomy and social change are mutually exclusive.

Comfort Me with Apples highlights these tensions thoughtfully and demonstrates food’s storied, material and political complexity against the backdrop of a life lived with gusto. Ruth reminds us that to create dishes worth eating and lives worth living we need to make a bit of a mess from time to time. We can and will make mistakes.

You can listen to an interview with Ruth about her book Not Becoming My Mother and read an excerpt from the first chapter here on NPR.

Related posts:

As always, Julia (& Julie?)
Cookbook Confidential