Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A spoonful of chocolate cake helps the medicine go down

After a hard day when everything wrong seems to just keep on getting deeper and deeper, I find a decadent bite of chocolate to be a cure all. Maybe it's all pyschological or the endorphins being released by my pituitary gland (anatomy and physiology anyone?), but by God, chocolate has a power to soothe the angry heart, quell the tangles of the mind, and calm the huffing and puffing of the deflated soul.

While the taste of dark chocolate (let me be snotty: it's the only chocolate I eat) is my primary number 1, I also love chocolate for its beautifully profound scent. The aroma of chocolate itself is quite intoxicating, but imagine a real cake, steaming out of the oven and richly dark in its chocolate glory. A whiff of a cake like that can get you dropping onto the floor in no time.

I had just come back to my dorm after a distressful day of classes and all I could think of was "I need to eat chocolate cake". While I have had moments in life where a quiet urge dissipates by the end of the day, this sly one had grew intense by each foot step as I closed in towards my dormitory.

Yet, alas, life is never as simple as walking into a mind-blowing piece of chocolate cakes. College students (and me included) tend to find themselves resorting to boxed cake mixes as a way to compensate the true need for cake. No matter what they say, "add a pinch of spice" or "some extract will make it better", cake mixes never have had that genuine taste of love and comfort. Whatever additional steps to make the cakes more "home-y" seem to just be another fake mask, meagerly hiding the cake from its honest form.

Determined to bake a delicious chocolate cake that retained a comforting essence, I took out my bowls, a spatula, and some baking goods. I opted to do a vegan cake where I wouldn't need to be pestered to cream butter and add eggs. Living in a dorm setting, the most I could find myself doing it measuring and mixing.

Thus, came out this beautiful chocolate cake. The recipe comes from multiple websites (just Google it), but I adapted it to suit my own preferences and needs. The chocolate cake came out wonderfully and very economically. I didn't need a multi-layer masterpiece with tons of icing, so this single layer cake is perfect for a healing bite and leftovers to share (if you must, that is) and future comfort (as I'm typing this, I think I'll get another piece...)

Single 20 Serving Amazon Cake (Vegan and chocolate rich!)

From The New York Times
Adapted from Cafe Beaujolais by Margaret Fox and John S. Bear
serves 6 to 8

1 ½ cup flour 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa 1 t. baking soda 1 cup sugar ½ tsp salt 5 tbsp olive oil 1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract (or replace with vanilla if you don't have it or have allergies)
1 tbsp vinegar (whatever you have on hand) 1 cup cold water or leftover coffee

Equipment: 2 bowls (both large, but if you have different sized bowls, I've accommodated that situation in the recipe), a spatula, measuring cups and spoons (baking requires accuracy- guess-timating is not recommended), 1-9 inch cake pan (non-stick makes life that much easier), 1 oven, oven mitts or thick kitchen towels (cause taking out a hot cake pan is never a good idea...)

Pre-heat the oven 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar and salt. In a different and larger bowl, mix the oil, extracts and vinegar with water (or coffee). Whisk in the dry ingredients slowly until the batter is lump free

(Warning: Stop right when the batter is smooth, don't go gung-ho and whisk any longer
because the gluten in the flour will develop [this happens when you knead bread] and will
toughen the cake.)
Pour into a greased (spray with oil or rub oil around the pan with a piece of paper towel) 9-inch round cake pan. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed gently.
-Check the cake at the 20 min. mark, and assess:
-If you've got a toothpick (or chopsticks in my case), put it in the area with the most batter (usually the middle) and see if the pick comes out clean or with very few crumbs. If so, the cake's done!
-If not, give the cake 5 more minutes and check in 5 min intervals to avoid over-baking.

Let cool for 20 min. or until you can handle the pan.

The beauty of cake is that you can serve it whenever you feel like. Serve warm (as is my preference) with a dollop of cream or ice cream. Ah, the taste of the chocolate cake does wonders to comfort the tense nerves from a hard day...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Finding warmth in Fall

I love Fall. Wait, let me clarify, I love the season Fall, not the school semester. But before I let my resentment get the best of me (I will dominate you Physics!), let me explain why single 20 serving loves fall so...

There's nothing like walking out in the morning as the skies are blooming with pinks and purples within the gray haze of the night's frost. There's nothing comparable to sound of crispy leaves crackling under each foot step. There's nothing close to the feel of the biting wind, hinting the coming of winter. There's nothing more peaceful than sitting in solitude to take in that one single moment.

Those are only some of the reasons why I love the fall, but in terms of food, fall is nothing short of wonderful. I love indulging in hearty foods that fill me up with their warmth. Fall is no time for cold salads and cucumbers with hummus - the fall is about robust foods that stick to your bones and make you want to curl up in a comforter on the couch in front of the television and just sleep.

For single 20 serving, it's a bit of a challenge to cook warm foods in a dormitory setting. Therefore, I've come to rely in the power of early prep, freezing, and microwaving. I also have a thermos on hand. So, how do I incorporate these elements into making a dish worthwhile of reflecting the glorious nature of fall?

I make Pumpkin Spice Soup.

The recipe is something I did on a whim. I'm a lover of Pumpkin pie, but I dislike its chilly state. Thus, I incorporated the feel of Pumpkin pie into a hearty soup that is good on any breezy fall afternoon. Microwave and pack in a thermos and I've got the perfect on-the-go lunch. I know there are people who look at me funny when they see my thermos (how elementary school!), but when their faces drop as they watch me pour out this golden liquid, all I can do is smile.

The preparation of the soup is very simple and minimal. I have made this recipe vegetarian, but I'll put options for meat-enizing this dish as well.

Pumpkin Spice Soup

1/2 onion (or 1/2 c. frozen chopped onion)
1 tsp olive oil
1- 15 oz. can pureed pumpkin (do NOT get Pumpkin pie filling)
1- 15 oz. can vegetable broth (or chicken broth, low sodium)
1-1.5 tsp salt (kosher, if you use iodized salt, go towards the lesser amount)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1.5 tbsp honey
1/3 tsp. red chili flake

Equipment: Knife, cutting board, saucepan with top, spatula or wood spoon, can opener, measuring spoons (if you prefer accurate measurements, eye-balling/guess-timating is also fine), stove

Dice the onion so that you have very little chunks.

Set the saucepan on the stove and pour in olive oil. Put the onions into the saucepan and let them cook at medium heat for 4-5 min , mixing them occasionally, until they are browned.

Pour the pureed pumpkin into the saucepan and onions. Then add the vegetable broth and mix until full incorporated.

Add all the seasonings and mix until fully distributed. Cover the saucepan and let sit for 15 min. on medium low heat so that flavors fuse together.

You can serve this to yourself immediately (with a freshly toasted bagel or those spicy black beans from the previous post). Paninis (a sandwich with cheese and other fillings that is grilled and flattened) are also great - my favorite being a turkey caprese (a combination of buffalo mozzarella, tomato, and basil). Chunks of grilled chicken or crab cakes are also great sides to the soup.

This is obviously not 1 portion (it makes like 5 portions for me), but it is a great freezer item. Let the soup cool until it is at room temperature (thankfully this can be done in your dorm while you're watching Stephen Colbert being ridiculous or "studying"), and put a portion of soup into plastic sandwich bags. Freeze the bags of soup, and take them out whenever you're in the mood for Pumpkin Spice soup. To defrost, place them in the fridge the night before (or live dangerously and defrost them in the microwave- I don't think I recommend this, but I'm just posting it cause some people really will do this. I think the plastic tends to melt and plastic + food = not so good). Once defrosted, pour the soup into a microwaveable bowl (check the bottom of the bowl to see if it's microwave safe. Ceramic usually is fine, but some types of ceramic are not made for the rays of the microwave). Cover the bowl of soup (ALWAYS, unless you like cleaning up splatters in the microwave) with a paper towel and heat for 1 min. Remove and mix the soup. Put in the microwave another 1 min. And voila!

Warmth in Fall

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Breakfast for single 20 serving


There have been very few a time where I have intentionally skipped breakfast. If anything, this under-appreciated/ taken-for-granted/ forgotten/ "a-granola-bar-is-breakfast-right?" meal is my favorite meal and part of the day.

With breakfast, there is a different air about. Is it the potential of the day that instills hopefulness and tranquility that makes breakfast so different compared to the other meals of the day? Or maybe it's the pleasure of starting with an empty canvas and literally "breaking" the "fast" that gives breakfast such a pleasant quality. Perhaps, breakfast is wonderful just because it is just another chance to bite, taste, and chew a scrumptious meal.

Anywho, being a full-time university student living in a dormitory where the closest kitchen is a long stair-well away and the prospect of lugging a cart of spices, dishing washing soap, sponge, cutting board, knives, utensils, and pots & pans after 5 hrs of sleep (from studying for a biochem exam) at 8 am in the morning is hardly an incentive for making a honest to goodness breakfast.

So, what is single 20 serving supposed to do?

Learn to love the microwave.

With a little imagination and plenty of attempts, I have found a staple breakfast that takes 1 minute to prep and 1.5-2 min to cook. The short time required of this breakfast is due to some early prep done ahead of time (the weekends for me).

So here it is, Breakfast: Spicy Black beans with Salt&Peppered Egg

The method of preparation is rather simple and by having a full tupperware of these black beans, I have a warm and filling breakfast for at least 3 times a week. I love beans, not only for their nutritional value, but also that they fill me up without making me actually have that dooming sense of heaviness at the start of the day. The egg is really what makes this feel like breakfast and there's nothing more satisfying the gently prodding that semi-set sunshine yolk to ooze its golden deliciousness over the gentle steam of the beans. And to think that this is what can come out of a microwave (other than popcorn and warm milk) is another added plus. With a mug of coffee (black for me) and a view out the window, breakfast for single 20 serving is served...

Spicy Black Beans

1-15.5 oz can of black beans (washed and drained)
1 medium onion (red or white)
2 cloves garlic (reduce or eliminate if you're not so much a garlic fanatic)
1 tsp chili powder
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flake
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Equipment: A stove, knife (use one that you're comfortable using, but not a dull one), cutting board, a sautée pan

Dice the onion into small pieces and set aside. Crush the garlic and chop into fine pieces and set aside.

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot (add a piece of onion and see if it sizzles- if it gives a nice sizzling sound, you're good. If not, then heat a little more. If you get smoke, take the pan off the heat and let it cool), add the onion and 1/3 tsp salt and pepper (to taste). Cook onions until slightly browned and beginning to look translucent (~2 min). Add the minced garlic and cook until the garlic is slightly brown (~1min).

Dump the beans and spices into the pan, mixing thoroughly so everything is evenly incorporated and distributed. Salt and pepper the beans (3/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper is how I season). Cook the beans until they're piping hot.

Take beans off heat and let cool for 10 min. Store in an appropriately sized container and let cool until you can place it in the fridge.

When it's 8:30am and the stomach is grumbling for some breakfast grub:

1/2 c. Spicy beans
1 egg
Salt & Pepper

In a microwaveable bowl (I use ramekins), add the beans. Crack an egg over the beans. Salt and pepper the egg (pinch of salt, couple of twists of the pepper grinder).

With the microwave setting at high, cover the dish (with a paper towel of napkin- do this or prepare for some microwave cleaning), and put it in the microwave. Set the microwave to 30 sec cooking time. After that, repeat another 2 sets of 30 sec cooking. Check the yolk to see if it's to your liking. If you prefer a set yolk, do an extra set or two of the 30 sec. cooking.

Why cook this dish in 30 sec intervals as opposed to cooking it all at once? The heat in the microwave does something weird so that the cooking process intensifies so much that the beans begin to pop a lot and the egg cooks inconsistently. As to date, the 30 sec cooking has not left me down in creating that golden yolk that I love. But, of course, as my microwave oven is different from yours, try it whichever way you prefer. But 30 sec. intervals have been the most sure way in creating this breakfast.

I've just bought another pack of eggs and I still have some spicy beans left. The upcoming week will be a bit chilly so I'm looking forward to something warm for company at breakfast...

First Course

Welcome to the single 20 serving blog.

This blog is dedicated to the lovers of food who happen to be young adults (late teens, twenties - hence the 20 in the title, and even older), single (refer back to title), and interested in reading about food-related escapades, creating/writing/sharing recipes, or are just starving and this is the closest they can get to edible food.

This is a new course in an endless meal, so,

Get hungry...