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.

Cherry Chocolate Protein Shake

In less than 6 weeks I’ll be taking on my 3rd half marathon, this one with three of my best friends on Halloween. As with the other two, it is at this point where I suddenly have an “oh, crap!” moment, realizing that the twice weekly three-milers I’ve been doing aren’t quite going to cut it for my training regimen. But now that the optimum running weather is starting to make its way in, the transition into those seven and eight mile practices should (hopefully) go smoothly.

Most long-distance runners will agree that when the training becomes intense, so does the eating, but in the best way possible. So thus begins the days where I’ll load up on carbs, protein and potassium with a side of yellow Gatorade, of course.  Over the summer I’ve really gotten to know my Vitamix well and have taken to drinking the many forms of protein shakes and power smoothies after my runs. They are cool and refreshing, the fruit works fast to replace the sugars in the body and the protein satiates tired muscles.

Though my smoothies usually end up as a conglomeration of the random bits of appropriate ingredients found in my fridge in freezer, I have recently found a combo that is really tasty and energizing too. Chocolate whey protein alongside powdered peanut butter provide tons of protein, a banana adds creaminess while preventing muscle cramps with potassium, frozen cherries provide many vitamins, antioxidants, and carbs while almond/coconut milk is the soy-free glue that holds it all together. And though there are many ways to change up this basic combination, with a simple substitution of different flavors, types of protein, and fruits, I have a feeling this one will be sticking around for quite a while.

Cherry Chocolate Protein Shake
Serves 1-2
Below are the brands I used but feel free to substitute you favorites

1 cup Califia Toasted Coconut Almondmilk
2 Tbs Tera’s Whey Dark Chocolate Whey Protein Powder
1.5 Tbs Bell Plantation PB2 powdered peanut butter
1 banana
½ cup frozen sweet cherries
a handful of ice cubes

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender. Turn on to high speed until the ice is totally crushed and everything is well blended. Add more ice if you a want a frostier texture. Pour into a glass, dust with a little cocoa powder on top, and drink right away!

Waffles with Cherry and Pear Compote

We are all big breakfast food fans at my house. Some of my fondest food memories of my childhood involve the early morning meals of Saturdays and Christmas. As each weekend began, my dad would fry mounds of bacon to the point of perfect crispiness, not quite burnt but nearly so. He would then drop eggs into the hot bacon fat, spooning the sizzling grease over the top of each yolk until the whites were just set and the yolk thick and oozing for optimal toast dipping. Christmas morning was (and still is) the one day of the year where my family deems it perfectly acceptable to begin the day with an absolute sugar rush. Our traditional coffee pairing is a little number that involves Pillsbury biscuits, cream cheese, pecans, orange zest and lots and lots of butter.

Ever since I went to college, however, and even now, living at home but spending most of my weekend mornings serving brunch to others rather than experiencing it for myself, the Saturday morning ritual of a late second breakfast, filled with enough protein and fat to last until nearly dinner, has pretty much ended. Sure we still often find ourselves making omelets and other breakfasty things for dinner, but it’s not quite the same when you’re not in pajamas, a cup of coffee in hand and warm, late morning light streaming through the windows. So when the rare opportunity comes for a weekend day off, I always seem to make time for an extra special brunch-type meal.

The most recent pick were these waffles from Food Network Magazine. They originally caught my eye because of the cherry and pear compote (I’m a sucker for anything with dried cherries) but as I looked through the recipe, there were many more details that seemed to peak my interest. Like the addition of whole rolled oats, the little touch of orange zest, and the use of cottage cheese rather than milk for extra moisture and a kick of protein. The end product adheres to all of the qualities of waffles that make them so appealing, but kicks them all up about 10 notches. The cottage cheese caramelizes slightly on the outside, making for an extra crispy crust while keeping the inside extremely tender. I hope this doesn’t sound unappealing (because it’s actually quite nice) but it’s almost like custard on the inside, dense, spongy, and creamy. The oats add dexterity and the waffles as a whole are only just sweet so that the nutty and citrusy flavors can shine through. And the whole combo is certainly not complete without the pear and cherry compote, simmered in fresh orange juice until syrupy, and the cottage cheese topping, whipped in the food processor until smooth and rich.

Altogether, the dish is everything you want in a breakfast. It’s stick to your ribs filling and the sweetness is balanced out by the zing of tangy fruits. It may even replace the Pillsbury classic at the Christmas morning breakfast table this year, amped up in decadence with perhaps a splash of brandy or bourbon in the compote and a sprinkling of toasted pecans overtop. And if you happen to have leftover waffles, they freeze wonderfully and can go straight from the freezer to the toaster and to your plate ready for a thick smear of peanut butter on top, because everything is better with peanut butter, right?

Orange Waffles with Cherry and Pear Compote and Creamy Topping
Makes about six waffles from
Food Network Magazine

For the Compote
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 large Bartlett or d’Anjou pears, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
½ cup dried cherries
Juice from 2 oranges
1 Tbs sugar
splash of brandy or bourbon (optional)

For the Waffles
2 cups of all-purpose flour (you could sub half with whole wheat)
½ cup rolled oats
2 Tbs sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground ginger
pinch of salt
1¼ cups milk
1 cup 2% cottage cheese
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
zest from half an orange
2 Tbs melted unsalted butter

For the Creamy Topping
1 cup 2% cottage cheese
1 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs milk
½ tsp vanilla extract

Toasted pecans, for serving

Start by making the compote. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the pears and cook for about 4 minutes until slightly browned in some spots. Add the cherries, orange juice, sugar, and about ¼ cup of water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid is reduced and syrupy. This took me about 15 minutes but it depends on how much liquid came from your oranges. If it starts to ever look too thick before the pears are soft enough, just add more water. Once thickened, remove from heat and add the splash of brandy or bourbon, if using. Transfer to a serving bowl and set aside to cool.

For the waffles, preheat the oven to 250 degrees and begin heating the waffle iron. Place a cooking rack over a baking sheet and set inside the oven. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, cottage cheese, eggs, vanilla, and orange zest. Whisk the liquids into the dry ingredients until just combined (it will look lumpy). Stir in the melted butter. Set aside.

While the batter rests for a few moments, make the creamy topping. Combine the cottage cheese, sugar, milk, and vanilla in the bowl of a food processor and puree until very smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the waffles, spray the hot waffle iron with cooking spay and pour a heaping ½ cup of batter into the iron. Close and cooking according to iron’s instructions or until the waffles are golden and crisp. Transfer finished waffles to the rack in the warm oven until all the waffles are made. Serve the waffle with the compote and the creamy topping and top with a sprinkle of toasted pecans.