Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes

Sometimes you need a dessert that's a snap to whip up but will still knock the socks off of anyone who tries it.  These luscious, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate lava cakes fit the bill perfectly.  I've taken a few liberties with the recipe to make it easier to make whenever the craving for something warm and chocolate-y strikes, but if you have everything called for in the original recipe, you should try them that way, at least once.

Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes

  • 4 ounces good semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli 60% cocoa)
  • 1/2 C butter
  • 1 C white sugar (the recipe calls for powdered, which make a smoother, more velvety cake, but nobody will complain if you substitute plain granulated sugar.)
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 6 T all-purpose flour
  • Whipping cream & sugar, for serving


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt together the chocolate and the butter in a microwave-safe bowl.  Stir in the sugar and vanilla, whisk in the eggs, and stir in the flour.  Oil 4-6 ramekins or 6-8 cupcake tins and divide the batter between them.  If you're using ramekins, place them all on a cookie sheet for easier handling and in case of overflow.
(If you have some chocolate squares or peanut butter cups or a fancy bottle of merlot espresso chocolate sauce, you might think of augmenting the centers of these treats with a bit of that.  Just a suggestion.)

Bake at 350 for 10-14 minutes, until the tops are set but the insides are still jiggly.  Invert the cups on individual plates to serve.  Whip & sweeten some whipped cream and serve in generous dollops alongside.

Makes 4-8 servings.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dinner Tonight: Pasta in a hurry

One of the common assumptions I've heard about people who cook a lot is that they are somehow fundamentally different, and, well, you are a wonderful cook, I don't know how you do it, I couldn't possibly, I don't have the time/money/fancy kitchen/talent that you have.
I think that's rubbish.  Are you capable of holding a job? Passing a class?  Operating a cell phone?  Congratulations, good cooking is well within your reach.   And sure, cooking your own meals takes slightly longer than popping a TV dinner in the microwave, but not by much.  Besides, that's what leftovers are for.

I know, I know.  All that ranting for one (rather mediocre) picture of some noodles with tomato sauce?  Well, I would've taken a better picture, but this meal was cooked and consumed in less than a half an hour and there wasn't much time to mess with the artful arranging of food nonsense.  So, as compensation for that rant, here's an un-recipe.  Make it for dinner when you don't have much time.  And trust me, it isn't exactly rocket science.

Pasta with Marinara Sauce


  • 1 package pasta, any shape
  • 1/2 large onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (or garlic powder)
  • drizzle of olive oil (or a small bit of butter)
  • 1 (28 oz) can tomato puree.  Or ready-cut tomatoes.  Or a combination of the two.
  • italian sausage (optional)
  • splash of wine (optional)
  • basil
  • oregano
  • thyme
  • black pepper
NOTE:  All quantities may be adjusted and substitutions may be made based on what you have on hand.


Put a pot of water on for pasta, following package instructions.

Dice the onion and mince the garlic.  Toss them with olive oil or butter in a large pan over medium heat.  If you have sausage, add it now as well.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned.  If you have an open bottle of wine or some broth on hand, splash a little in now and let it cook for a minute.

When the pasta water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package.

Add  the tomato, whatever form it happens to be in, and the spices.  Adjust spices to taste.  Cook until hot and bubbly.  If the pasta is not done yet, cover the sauce and turn the heat to low.

Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

Make a green salad by rinsing and tearing up a few leaves of lettuce.  Serve a portion of pasta and top it with the tomato sauce.  Grate some parmesan cheese over the top if you have any.

(NOTE: I prefer to store pasta and sauce separately... not all diners want the same sauce-to-pasta ratio.)

Friday, December 24, 2010


Every year around Christmas I make large batches of a variety of candies to give as gifts to friends.  Usually I make toffee, peanut butter bonbons (which are kind of like buckeyes with rice krispies and butterscotch), and peppermint bark.  This year, I decided to add marshmallows.  I was inspired both by Smitten Kitchen's recipe, which I stumbled on a while ago, and by the gourmet taco trucks at Off The Grid at Fort Mason in San Francisco, which we discovered accidentally when we had a performance in the same area at the same time.

The marshmallows from Smitten Kitchen looked delicious, but I felt a little weetchy about making something with eggs that would be barely cooked. I ended up comparing with the Martha Stewart recipe and eventually used something more along those lines.  I was pleasantly surprised by how easy the marshmallows were to make, and now I have many more plans to make them (Valentine's Day!  Easter!  Recital receptions!) with suitable variations.  Seriously.  Easy.  Easier than caramel, easier than meringues.  There is absolutely no reason for you not to go make some marshmallows right now. 

Pepperminty Marshmallows
(Adapted from Martha Stewart)

  • 3 envelopes (3 Tablespoons) unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup cold water, divided
  • few drops peppermint extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • oil, for the pan
  • red food coloring, for swirling.


Oil a 9x13 inch baking pan and dust the inside evenly with powdered sugar.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, put 1/2 cup cold water and sprinkle the gelatin over it.  Set it aside to soften while you prepare the sugar mixture.

In a medium saucepan, combine the other 1/2 cup water, the corn syrup, and the sugar.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the sugar is dissolved.  Increase heat to medium and boil, without stirring, until the mixture registers 250 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Immediately pour the hot sugar mixture over the gelatin.  Stir until the gelatin is dissolved.  Add peppermint extract.

With a hand mixer (or stand mixer, if you have one... I think it goes a little faster with one.) beat the mixture on high until thick, white, tripled in volume, and glossy, about 10 minutes.  With a greased spatula (trust me, this stuff is sticky), encourage the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  If you want red swirls, drop a few small drops of food coloring on the surface.  Using a toothpick, swirl by making zig-zag patterns at right angles to each other on the surface of the marshmallow mixture.  Dust the entire sheet with more powdered sugar, and leave to set for about 3 hours.

When the marshmallows have set, turn them out on a powdered sugared cutting board and sift some more sugar into a bowl.  Cut the marshmallows however you like, using a knife dipped in hot water or a greased cookie cutter. Once the marshmallows are cut, toss them in powdered sugar to coat all the sticky sides.
Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dinner Tonight, or Lunch Yesterday: Mushroomy

After a weekend of travel and holiday concerts, the kitchen was looking suspiciously clean and unused.  To celebrate the end of the school year and have a yummy lunch before driving back to our respective parents' homes for the holidays, Doug and I made this tasty lunch.

We made....

  • Smitten Kitchen's garlic butter roasted mushrooms, half a batch.  Perfect with one container of mushrooms and two diners.
  • Chicken, cooked in a big pan with garlic powder, oregano, pepper, and balsamic vinegar.
  • Trader Joe's Garlic Basil linguini
  • with slices of Trader Joe's multigrain bread to sop up the sauces.
I'll be back tomorrow with a real post, once I have cleaned all the marshmallowy bits out of my dishes.  The preliminary results look good though.
Go cook some mushrooms for lunch, I promise you won't regret it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chocolate, peppermint, and other tasty things

First, a victory dance (SUCCESS!) since I have figured out how to have the contributors to the blog contribute under their own accounts. The next step will be tracking down said contributors and getting them to blog about the delicious things they cook and bake.

On to the yummy things! I baked some cupcakes this weekend as a thank-you gift for the director of our Baroque ensemble, which I was fortunate enough to get to perform with. I went with my go-to chocolate cake, Smitten Kitchen's Double Chocolate Layer Cake. It's delicious and beautiful and easy and also makes way, way, way too much cake for most occasions. The recipe claims that it makes 2 10-inch layers, but I find that it pretty reliably makes 3 9-inch layers or 36 cupcakes, which is usually Too Much Cake. Fortunately, this recipe can be two-thirdsed relatively easily, making a much more managable two dozen cupcakes.
I topped these pretties with a pepperminty buttercream piped on with a star tip. Unfortunately, my impromptu ziploc piping bag gave out on cupcake 13... not that I let that stop me. The first dozen went in the big pink box, and the rest... well, they didn't go to waste!

Double Chocolate Cupcakes
(Adapted and downsized from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 3 ounces good quality dark chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60% Chocolate Chips)
  • 1 cup hot brewed coffee
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken, or 1/2 C milk and 1/2 C yogurt, mixed together.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put cupcake papers in 2 muffin pans (24 total).

Combine the chocolate chips and hot coffee, stirring until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Let stand.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and baking soda. In a larger bowl (everything will be eventually going into this one) beat the two eggs until thickened and lemon colored, about 5 minutes with a hand mixer. Add the oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and chocolate mixture, beating after each addition. Add the dry ingredients, beating until combined.

Divide batter between the cupcake cups and bake for 12-15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean.

Remove to racks to cool.