Friday, April 01, 2005

Cake for One, and My Nigella Problem

Who doesn’t love homemade chocolate cake? Much of the time, though, just a little warm bite of cake is enough, instead of an entire hatbox-sized rich chocolate thing sitting around the apartment with no one but me to eat it. That’s when Tiny Easy Chocolate Cake comes to rescue, especially late-ish in the evening when you don’t want to go to the store or start a big kitchen production. Because it calls for oil and cocoa rather than butter and chocolate, it’s less rich than most cakes, and much easier—you just throw everything into one bowl and mix. Plus, the ingredients are pretty much pantry staples, at least chez moi, where every day is better for some hot cocoa and a buttermilk pancake or two. Buttermilk’s a handy thing to have around (for pancakes and biscuits especially) and since it’s cultured, like yogurt, it lasts much longer than regular milk in your fridge. You can turn the recipe into Tiny Cakes by baking the batter in little tart pans or muffin tins.

Tiny Easy Chocolate Cake

2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven 350F. Mix dry ingredients together. Add buttermilk, oil, and extract, and stir until smooth. Scoop batter into muffin pan, tart pans, a small greased cake pan or a loaf pan; bake for 15-20 minutes (possibly less for very small pans), or until a cake tester comes out almost clean.

You can flavor this in different ways: 1/2 tsp almond extract and a sprinkle of cinnamon; 1/2 tsp peppermint extract; 1 tb strong coffee; 1/2 tsp grated orange rind. But it’s pretty good just as it stands, especially straight out of the oven.

I was actually going to talk about real food, a.k.a. last night’s dinner, this time around, only nothing came out very well. I have to say, charmer as she is, Nigella Lawson’s recipes leave something to be desired. Maybe it’s a British thing. She seems to have a taste for very, very mild things, even when she describes them as “sharp and spiky.” Alright, it’s true: her food is BLAND! My sister gave me Feast, her latest book, for Christmas, and while I love reading it, all the recipes I’ve tried so far seem to have be run through the wrong end of the flavor-extraction machine.

This time around, I made Lamb Keema and Aloo Gobi, 2 Indian dishes, and sweet Jesus, were they boring. The lamb keema started out well, with a nice lush saucy base of caramelized onions, fresh ginger, garlic, curry powder and diced tomatoes. But then it got diluted with way too much ground lamb, and worse yet, a cup of boiling water. It occurred to me as I followed the recipe that boiling ground meat did not sound like a good idea, and yet…I didn’t bail and make cilantro-ginger lamb burgers like I should have. I threw a pound and a half of lamb, a packet of frozen peas, and some cilantro into the pot, added water and let it simmer for half an hour, until it turned into a grayish mass of…boiled lamb bits, studded with khaki-colored mushy peas. The aloo gobi was a little better, but where did the flavor of the cumin go? The coriander? The lemon? It tasted like potatoes and slightly mushy califlower which had walked through an Indian restaurant, briefly.

Oh, well. I ate it anyway. And since both recipes made a LOT, I'll be eating both of them for quite a while longer.

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