This is NOT a Valentine’s Day Cake

Ok, yes, well maybe it looks like that. But trust me, it’s not.

This is Julia Turshen’s ultra luxurious and wicked simple coffee-scented chocolate cake. It’s filled with cherry preserves, drenched in a sour cream chocolate frosting, and topped with chocolate amaretti cookies, gold sprinkles, and freeze-dried strawberries. And it just so happens to be shaped like a heart, deal with it.

So why is this chocolate heart cake not a Valentine’s Day cake? Because Valentine’s Day puts people on edge and I don’t want that energy associated with this cake. Single people feel left out for the entire day, couples worry about making sure they are “doing enough,” and if you’re not fretting over it, you’re enraged by made-up-holiday consumerism. It’s ridiculous and nobody wins, especially when you’re me at age 13 and just bought a pair of heinous red suede Nike sneakers with hearts on them because you’re stupidly obsessed with this holiday for some reason. So that is why this is not a Valentine’s Day cake.

However, being in the shape of a heart, and being such a sweet and tasty and happy cake, maybe when we eat it we can remind ourselves of the importance of love and compassion. And not just for this one day, but for every day and everyone. A life of love, towards others, towards the planet, towards our own self, is always something to be happy about. And a definite cause for cake, especially this magical little cake. So tell people you love them, do something that makes a difference, and don’t be afraid to even treat yo self, because why not. Happy…er…um… Day. Yes, Happy Day… or whatever. Just make this cake.

Not a Valentine’s Day Cake / Quasi Black Forest Cake
Slightly adapted from Julia Turshen’s Small Victories

For the Cake
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
¾ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1 cup strong coffee, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Frosting
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
¾ cup room temperature sour cream
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract

To assemble and decorate
½ cup cherry preserves
crushed amaretti cookies
freeze dried strawberries (optional)
gold sprinkles (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch cake pans (or one heart pan) and line the bottom with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in the melted butter, eggs, coffee, buttermilk, and vanilla. Whisk until combined.

Divide the batter between the two pans or one pan if that’s all you have. Bake for 30 minutes (40-45 if you’re just using the one pan) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place on a cooling rack and once completely cool, remove from the pan and peel off the parchment paper. If you baked in just one pan, horizontally cut the cake in half after it cools.

While the cakes are baking, make the frosting. Set up a double boiler by placing a mixing bowl over a simmering pot of water without letting the bowl touch the water. Add the chocolate chips to the bowl and stir until completely melted. Remove the bowl from the pot and stir in the sour cream, maple syrup, and vanilla. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

To assemble the cake, spread the cherry preserves over half and place the other half on top. Use a small offset spatula to spread 1/3 of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 15 minutes until the frosting sets a bit. This keeps the final layer of frosting from picking up cake crumbs. Spread the rest of the frosting over the cake and refrigerate at least another hour. Serve with the garnishes sprinkled overtop.

Chicken Kimchi Nori Wraps

In the month of January I decided that I wanted to try out the whole food detox, pseudo-paleo thing. I heard a lot of people that I personally know talk about how much they love it and how great it makes them feel so I figure it wouldn’t hurt to try and see if it did anything for some skin issues I have. I also took an alcohol break so it seemed right to combine all of the health stuff into one period of time. Naturally I turned to Goop for food inspiration.

Now if you don’t know what Goop is, congratulate yourself. You have managed to escape a bizarre form of simultaneous self-discovery and self-loathing that results from Goopdom. But let me enlighten you anyway. Goop is a set of lifestyle rules, products that you need to buy and food you need to eat in order to become Gwyneth Paltrow. However, it is generally understood that no mater how fully you submit yourself to the Goop culture, you will never actually become Gwyneth Paltrow. The end goal is unachievable because we all understand and respect that she is a goddess and we are lowly followers who just turn our zucchinis into noodles and apply snail juice to our faces. Such is life, but I digress.

So I did make Goop food and it was delicious and I stuck to my food plan for the large part of the month. The end result? Well, I felt mostly the same and am now back to eating the standard fare (typed at the precise moment my mouth is full of manchego cheese). I did not feel like a goddess like I was hoping to. I felt like myself, but that’s ok, that’s certainly better than not feeling like myself. I did, however, learn some great new recipes and more recently picked up a nightly ritual of drinking moon milk, which I actually think is having some health benefits. One of these recipes though is for chicken kimchi nori wraps and they really are a treat. They look like a giant sushi but one crossbred with an Asian inspired deli wrap. It’s filled with brown rice, a sesame-heavy greens mixture, chicken, and a good amount of nice spicy kimchi. Once you have all of the ingredients ready to go, the wrap takes shape really quickly and easily and I have no doubt that I’ll be bringing this dish back into the rotation soon even though the “detox” is over.

And I could end this post by saying something like, “So yes, this recipe did indeed prove yet again that everything that GP touches is gold, non-human that she is.” But that made me think of what she wrote on her Goop newsletter today (yes, I read it, stop laughing). She said, in response to the ridiculous/scary state that the world is in right now, “One common denominator though is that we all want goop to be a place for inclusion, fairness, and compassion, where we celebrate original thinkers and those who are striving for the upliftment of humanity…if we can find common ground, based on our common values, we can move the conversation from there, and create the world we all envision.” So although I disagree with her suggestions for heinously priced clothing and lifestyle choices, though agree with her holistic mindset, and will never in actuality live like Gwenyth Paltrow, she, like the rest of us, is human. A human who, like all humans, has feelings and thoughts, creativity and the right to equality. And although she has a lavish way of going about it, this is her way of creating something that is at least trying to bring some good into the world and to show women making a change, whether through compassion, through art, or through love. And as humans, that’s something we can all equally strive for. Funny how food and art can not only heal our bodies, but as a common ground, heal humanity, or at least try to. The fight continues, let us keep it going strong.

Chicken Kimchi Nori Wraps
Serves 1
Adapted from Goop

1 sheet of nori
½ cup cooked and cooled brown rice
toasted sesame seeds
1 scallion, sliced
a large handful of greens, chopped
soy sauce and sesame oil, to taste
¼ cup kimchi
3 oz sliced chicken

Combine the scallion and greens in a bowl and lightly dress with soy sauce and sesame oil. Mix together and set aside.

Place the nori on a flat surface and, using wet fingers, spread the cooked rice over the sheet of nori, leaving a 1-inch border at the top. Sprinkle sesame seeds over the rice and then add the greens mixture evenly overtop.  Do the same with the kimchi. Add the sliced chicken in a row across the middle of the sheet of nori.

Use your fingers to wet the 1-inch top border of the nori with water. Then, carefully roll up the wrap and press on the wet end to get it to seal shut. Cut in half to serve. 

2016 In Review

Here we are, the end is nigh! 2016 is about to come to a close. I know that it has become a popular thing to talk about how terrible this year was. And I agree with that assessment in certain respects *cough…the election…cough* but when I take a step back and examine all that happened, it’s hard to call it a bad year. It went by wicked fast but I think it’s because I had so many fun plans.

I mean, it started with a trip to Seattle where I fell madly in love with the city (and missed a major snowstorm in the process). I ate the best doughnuts of my life, and sipped on cocktails all day when I wasn’t cozied up next to a fire with a massive cup of coffee. It won’t be the last time I’m there.

The spring through summer doldrums were filled with cinnamon bun cruffins, chocolate waffles, bonnie butter cake and shaken iced coffees.

Then I spent a good part of July at the beach. Tan lines were on point this year.

Shortly after I went to Denver, another magical land full of mountains, red rocks, green grasses, voodoo doll shaped doughnuts and speed cameras that make you look like thugs. I went to Austin 3 days after and ate more voodoo doll shaped doughnuts. Classic.

October came and MY SISTER GOT MARRIED! So yeah, that’s big.

And I spent the remainder of October hanging out at various theme parks and chillin with my awesome softball team and Anthony Bourdain.

And let’s not forget those 26 miles I ran in November that I spent 18 weeks preparing for.

I finished out the year with experimantal pink hair, Christmas festivities and a nice long trip to Boston and now here we are, 36 hours from the finish line. So yeah, although there were definite aspects of 2016 that made me feel like this…

…all things considered, it wasn’t so bad after all.

Happy New Year everyone and wishing you an amazing 2017!

So this is Christmas and Nutella Brown Butter Rice Crispy Treats (3 ways!)

 So this is Christmas.

Last December while I was at work, I saw that my aunt had written a blog post on my cousin’s blog and shared it on her Facebook page. I had never seen anything like this from her before so I curiously opened the post. It was about her mother and sister (my grandmother and aunt) and her thoughts on the Christmas holiday as it approached for the first time without her mother. (Seriously, read it if you have a chance). I remember finishing the post, a knot wrenching at the base of my throat and tears welling up in my eyes, and barely making it to a bathroom stall before deep sobs escaped me. And thus I became that girl that cries in the work bathrooms. Good times.

So this is Christmas.

People often see the loss of childhood innocence as it pertains to Christmas as the time where one no longer believes in Santa. But I disagree. I think that Christmas will always have a magical quality to it but there is a point in which the celebration starts to carry a certain heaviness.

I will always see Christmas as a time to cherish for its ability to bring friends and families together and create lifelong memories. But a few years ago I began to look upon this holiday with an additional mindset of “maybe this is the last time this loved one will be around for Christmas,” or “this is the first Christmas without that person here.” And so you put forth this energy to try to fill a gaping hole or avoid a topic with this odd over-cheeriness that’s maybe meant to mask it all. There’s almost a pressure to make each moment jolly as a means to an end so as if to say “Yes, it’s Christmas so everybody better be fucking happy” through gritted teeth rather than simply enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company. And it turns this once enchanted holiday, a time that, as a child, felt like a jewel so rare and so flawless that it could only be gazed upon once a year, into a still cheerful holiday, but one tinged with bitter solemnness. You start to understand what Joni Mitchell was feeling as she sang River. You start to sympathize with Scrooge and relate with his resentment.  Maybe this is what becoming an adult is like.

So this is Christmas.

But before you conjure images of me as a soulless woman spouting “Bah! Humbug!” to any and all passerby, you should stop. Because the truth is, I still love Christmas. I turned my apartment into a glistening gold wonderland weeks ago. I can't wait until I'm sitting around the kitchen table with my family eating bottomless appetizers and telling stories of the past. I listen to Christmas music every time I cook and even sent out Christmas cards for the first time in my life, another activity that I truly consider an initiation into “adulting.” And especially this year, a year that feels so shitty for many reasons and for many people, I think a good dose of holiday spirit is exactly what we all need. So worries and sadness aside, let’s talk about Nutella rice crispy treats.

I made these for a Christmas party I had at my apartment last week. They were flanked by the only chocolate chip cookies I ever make, my famous sausage dip, a massive cheese board, and a verrryyy lethal rum punch. You may think that a rice crispy treat can’t really get too inventive, but you would be wrong there. First, these begin with a base of browned butter, which only increases the nuttiness that the entire jar of Nutella contributes. Second, they have a nice amount of salt to them, which makes a nice contrast to the sweetness off all that marshmallow. And third, they get a variety of coatings one of which is a mixture of pulverized freeze-dried strawberries and edible glitter. It creates these sparkly deep red cubes of gooey goodness counterbalanced by the tart flavor of the strawberries. It’s a true Christmas gem. 

When I woke up the next day after 3 hours of sleep with the wickedest of hangovers, I crossed the sticky beer-coated path of a floor to the table where we had the food. What remained were 4 solitary M&Ms and 2 cubes of these Nutella rice crispy treats. I found my breakfast.

So this is Christmas.

Nutella Brown Butter Rice Crispy Treats (3 ways!)

Makes 24-36
Recipe by Bon Appetit

¾ cup (1.5 sticks) of butter
2 10.5 oz bags mini marshmallows
1 tsp. salt
1 small jar Nutella
12 cups crispy rice cereal
½ cup powdered sugar
1 1.2 oz bag freeze-dried strawberries
1 tsp. edible red luster dust

To make the rice crispy treats butter a 13x9 inch baking dish. Line with parchment paper, leaving some overhang, and then butter the parchment as well.

Heat the butter in a large pot over medium heat. As it begins to foam, occasionally swirl the butter in the pan. As the foam subsides, keep watch for the butter to turn a nice amber color and smell toasty.  This means it’s perfectly browned. Add the marshmallows and salt. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until all of the marshmallows are melted. Add the Nutella and continue cooking and stirring for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add half of the cereal. Stir until well-coated and add the rest. Continue folding the cereal into the marshmallows until the mixture is evenly coated and no spots of dry cereal remain.

Transfer to the mixture to the prepared dish and use a wooden spoon to spread and flatten as much as possible. As it begins to cool you can cover it with another sheet of parchment paper and use your hands to press the mixture into the pan as evenly as possible. Cover loosely and set aside to cool for a few hours.  

To finish the treats remove them from the pan by lifting up on the parchment underneath and peeling it away. Transfer to a cutting board and use a large serrated knife to trim a little bit off each side to square off the edges. Then, cut into perfect cubes, as big or as little as you’d like. Set aside one-third of the treats to stay plain. For another third, pour the powdered sugar into a fine-mesh sieve and dust the treats with it, making sure to coat all sides. For the final third, blitz the strawberries in a food processor and mix with the luster dust. Transfer this to the sieve and coat the treats on all sides with this mixture. Arrange all treats on a platter.

Marathon Salad

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The past week has been undoubtedly bizarre for many many people and I for one can say that between the political blindside and the fear that’s crept over us from that AND running my first full marathon on Saturday, I’m left feeling mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted.

But, the good thing about having to run 26 miles after the confusion that resulted from last week’s election is that running is the most cathartic thing I know how to do. Besides focusing on breathing or the pain that the body feels, I do a lot of general thinking, in this this case 4 hours and 26 minutes of distractive, stream of consciousness thinking. It's unavoidable. And naturally while running I couldn't help, in light of the week's events, thinking about the word “running” itself, what it means, and how it applies to our lives right now.

Running of course was what I was doing. Moving my legs and my feet, hitting the pavement to try to make 26 miles go by as fast as possible. It means being considered for something, as in "in the running" or "running for president." And after that happens it can move on to mean having control over something like when you "run the show" or on a bigger scale "run the entire country." This word can be used in so many phrases like "Obama had a really good run" or "I think our new president is going to go in there running with scissors."

But in a time when we feel so confused and so hurt, when the news makes our blood run cold, we need to remember to not run away from the problems and horrors that await us. And we also shouldn't act out and run amok causing even more chaos and turmoil. Because running also means moving forward and making something continue to work, the creation of productivity. We need to hit the ground running in our efforts to support each other and causes that we believe in, to do good in this world. And even if we feel like we're running on empty, we cannot stop. It may be a morbid thought, but we are constantly technically running out of time so why not put our efforts into bringing positivity into the world and making a change while we can instead of dwelling on the facts that we cannot. We need to hold onto and run with the idea, no, the Truth, that love trumps hate. Always. I just had to look around at the marathon to see all the good that exists around us, all of the hope and dreams and the support and encouragement of friends and families, my own and others.

And when the weekend full of cathartic thinking was done, I did start to feel better and ready to stand up and fight for my justice and that of those at risk of having it taken away. So I tossed aside any pity party attitude and made myself what I have thus dubbed Marathon Salad. Why? Well, because I spent the past 2 weeks eating nothing but pasta and race day eating the entire contents of the junk food aisle plus beer and all I wanted was some greenery in my life. It’s loaded with lots of energizing protein and nutrient-dense ingredients. It’s creates a sustained sense of fullness, a necessity to anyone aiming for greatness in every way, who needs the energy for battles ahead. But I do think it would be a great meal to have the night before a long run too. And it’s hella delicious.

The idea for this salad started when I got an email for this one from Bon Appetit a while back. I love this because it’s a non-recipe, one that you make more on intuition. You squeeze a lemon over kale and rub it with your hands until it breaks down, finishing it off with olive oil salt and pepper. The rest is a “do what feels right” combination of cheese, nuts, seeds, and any extra veg you may want. I also recently got an awesome autumnal salad from Taylor Gourmet that was topped with thin Italian style breaded chicken cutlets that I loved so much I’ve been craving them for weeks. Naturally I just decided to make them for myself. This salad is a really happy marriage between the two, a playground of flavors and textures – salty, crunchy, sweet, juicy, earthy, tart, chewy – that I couldn’t get enough of. My exhausted body is thanking me already. Now onward and upward!

Marathon Salad
Makes 4 servings
Both recipes adapted from Bon Appetit

Note: Images show the salad with roasted Brussels sprouts too but I could probably do without the extra effort next time.

Salad Ingredients
2 large bunches of kale, ribs removed and washed, dried, and torn into irregular pieces
1 lemon
olive oil
2 tart apples, cored and diced
½ cup pepitas, toasted
2 big handfuls of cubed smoked aged cheddar
salt and pepper, to taste
Breaded Italian chicken cutlets, recipe follows

For the Chicken
6 small boneless skinless chicken cutlets, pounded to ¼ inch thickness
¾ cup flour
2 eggs
2 tsp. mustard powder
2 tsp. parsley flakes
¼ tsp garlic powder
1½ cups panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper
8 Tbs. olive oil, divided

Wash and prep all of your salad ingredients and then begin by making the chicken cutlets. In a large clean workspace, set out 4 large plates with a wide shallow bowl in the middle. Place your raw chicken in the first plate. Pat it dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Pour the flour into the second plate. In the middle bowl, whisk together the eggs, mustard powder, parsley, garlic, and salt and pepper with a fork. On the fourth plate, combine the breadcrumbs and the parmesan. Leave the fifth empty.

Take one of your chicken cutlets and coat it in the plain flour. Then dunk it into the eggs. Coat all sides then lift it up to let the excess drip off. Transfer the chicken to the plate with the breadcrumbs and press the crumbs onto all sides of the chicken. Place the finished breaded cutlet onto the fifth empty plate until all of the chicken is coated.

Heat 4 Tbs. of the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Cook half of the chicken for 4 minutes per side until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and repeat with the remaining oil and chicken. Set aside to rest while assembling the salad.

In a large bowl, add the kale and the juice of the lemon. Use your hands to scrunch the kale, massaging it with your fingers and coating with the lemon until it is wilted and shiny. Drizzle over a few Tbs. of olive oil while tossing the kale to coat it. Add salt and pepper and give the greens one final scrunch with your handsso that the salt melts into the dressing. Add the apples, pepitas, and cheddar. Thinly slice the chicken across the grain and arrange over the salad. Top with salt and pepper as desired.