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  • Oxo Good Grips Small Wooden Spoon
    Oxo Good Grips Small Wooden Spoon

    everyone needs these, many of them.

  • Mauviel Cuprinox Style 8-inch Round Frying Pan
    Mauviel Cuprinox Style 8-inch Round Frying Pan

    Scarily, I can say I have enough copper. Not many people can utter those words.

  • Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 5-1/2-Quart Round French Oven, Red
    Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 5-1/2-Quart Round French Oven, Red
    Le Creuset

    The same thing could be said for Le Creuset, but still. Great for braising and soup making.

  • The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century
    The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century
    by Amanda Hesser
  • Nordic Ware Bakers Half Sheet, 13 X 18 X 1
    Nordic Ware Bakers Half Sheet, 13 X 18 X 1
    Nordic Ware

    What did I do before I started using this half sheet? Cry.

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Entries in chocolate (3)


Brain Food - Mexican Chocolate Polenta brownies 

one bowl brownies. Really.

I have been super busy with travel, dog anxiety and classes. I meant to post a recipe right after my certificate program ended. Instead, I got distracted and enchanted with a trip to the dairy barns of Wisconsin, planning a trip to Italy and then school starting all over again. E's ruptured disc did not help things.  I have challenged myself to start writing again, here, there and over there... We'll see how well I do.

My certificate capstone project had certain aspects that were challenging - juggling five individual schedules, a client who was out of town alot, and some unclear objectives. In the end it all turned out pretty well and the client was happy.  I cooked/baked a lot during the last few weeks of the quarter, mostly for stress relief.  The last time I was in grad school, I did much the same thing, baking and cleaning for study avoidance. 

TH requested that I make chocolate polenta brownies. These were something I made in grad school that she loved very much. I don't know why I stopped making them 13 years ago, but I just did. I make all sorts of different brownies, so it isn't like I don't like making brownies or can't. They just were filed along with my large scale construction drawings somewhere in a deep recess of my brain. 

Polenta in brownies? What? Well, the polenta adds a crunchiness and a heft that isn't as caloric, but is nice nonetheless as well as great if you are avoiding nuts.  I love combining the flavors of Mexican chocolate - cinnamon, some orange and a little kick of pepper if you desire.  These are a riff on the Baker's classic one bowl brownie, very simple and most people who have dried unicorn horns in their pantry will have most of the ingredients on hand. For the rest of you, just work with me.

Note: I have become a lazy cook. Instead of slaving over a hot double boiler to melt the chocolate and the butter, I bung the chocolate and butter in a 150 deg F. oven for 30 minutes until melted. I remove the bowl and add the polenta. I let the mixture sit for another hour to soften the polenta up a bit a bit. You don't have to be me (trust me, you don't want to be) and actually follow the directions.  At the end, you should have a nice pan of brownies that remind you of grad school - that last paper, simpler times and maybe a trip you took somewhere sunny and festive to forget your troubles.

orange polenta brownies
Mexican Chocolate Polenta Brownies
Makes one 9" pan that yields between 24-36 brownies depending on your cutting skills.

Pan Prep - For ease of clean up , line pan with parchment paper cut to come up the sides of pan (don't want brownie mix to stick to side of pan).

Preheat oven to 350 F.

4 oz of 70%  or 60% bittersweet chocolate cut into chunks or chips
3/4 c (6 oz) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all purpose flour or gluten free all purpose mix  (Bob's Red Mill) + 1/2 t xanthan gum
1/2 cup quick cook polenta or cornmeal
3 eggs, beaten
1 t vanilla
1 t orange extract or 1/2 orange zested
1 1/2  t cinnamon
1/8-1/4 t cayenne pepper (optional - I don't care for it)
1/2 c chocolate chips (60% or semi-sweet), optional but a nice addition

Conventional way - Over a double boiler, melt chocolate and butter together. Remove from heat and add polenta and stir polenta into the chocolate/butter mixture.  Let sit for one hour if possible to soften.  Add sugar, beaten eggs, vanilla, orange extract, orange zest, cinnamon and optional pepper and mix well.  Add flour or flour mix and optional chocolate chips. Stir until blended, but do not over mix.

Pour batter into prepared pan and use spatula to smooth out batter. Have assistant lick bowl and spatula.

Bake for 25-30 minutes (depending on oven's temperament) or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool on a baking rack until cool. Wait at least an hour before cutting into squares.


Ibarra chocolate cake - how patience pays off


The cake, so fancy and terribly easy.

 There is something about the concept of try and try again. Sometimes you feel like you are hitting yourself over the head over and over again and sometimes all that trying pays off. You finally achieve that handstand in Yoga class (not me), a rock skips six times before sinking, or you conquer the flakey pie crust that tastes good.

No, this is not about pie. This post is about trying.

When it felt like my world was collapsing around me, I decided to start doing other things for self-preservation. I met some fabulous food bloggers and writers through Keren Brown, one was Jenise Silva (@licorous) from Twitter. She and I had a few of the same interests, community gardening, awesome restaurants and canning. I would see her on and off, she asked me to write a post for Canvolution and then she started talking about contests.

I hate contests, partially because I hate the attention and stress, partially because I hate to lose. However, the opportunity to challenge myself to make the perfect food item was intriguing; in this case it was a contest pairing pie versus cake. There are pie people in the world and there are cake people, you really can’t be on the fence with this one. Either you stand firm with the precise yet crusty pie camp or the crumby delectable cake camp. I love pie, but really, I like pie filling. The pie crust, while it has been bane of my existence, is usually what I leave to the side. I have a few friends who make awesome pies and pie crusts and for this I am truly grateful, but I stand firmly with cake.

Cake you say? Cake is something that brings me great joy. It is one of the first things you learn how to make, either as a quick cake with a few ingredients or a mix, which once you add all the things required – egg, oil, water, you might have just made a scratch cake.

I love the crumb of a cake – the mouth feel of a dense yet delicate cake. I am not into the fudgy moist cake with coyingly sweet frosting, I like my cakes a little on the dry side and with an appropriate 4 parts cake to frosting ratio. In fact, I like my cakes unfrosted, so I can enjoy the crumb and taste without the noise of confectioner’s sugar and butter.

And no, I am not a hoarder of the frosting rose.

What does this have to do with cake or when the hell are you getting to how this all fits into cake v. pie? Right, let me tell you.

In 2010, Jenise put on a great contest of Seattle bakers, who each selected a camp and went on to make their best example of a cake or pie to be judged by a group of food lovers and professional bakers. I was intimidated, but charged. I made my standby cake – chocolate cake with a mocha buttercream frosting, but I this time I paid rapt attention to detail. I made another kind of cake and had my colleagues try it, and then paired them next to each other. When the contest time came around, I felt I was on my game. I did not account for hot weather, uneven baking and inability to make a smooth frosting. Oh yeah, that by the time the judges got to my cake, they would be stuffed.


 The very full of cake and pie judges - 2011.


It was good, but compared to the rest, it was not great.


 When cake goes bad, from the Westinghouse cookbook.


But I learned a lot, I learned about my oven, rotating cake pans, and patience. It was a good experience for me which I repeated a few more times that year, by entering and losing pie contests galore.



Le cake, two layers, with ganache and marmalade between the layers.

When the Cake v. Pie rematch returned in 2011, I was on my game. I decided to try something different and used a recipe that I loved and was a little different. It was a gluten free nut torte (named a cake) that uses flavors found in Mexican chocolate – orange and cinnamon and combines it with bittersweet chocolate and beautifully toasted almonds. The recipe comes from the Mark Miller's Coyote Cafe Cookbook. The recipe works well as long as you are careful folding in egg whites and not overbeating the mixture. It is not an elegant creation. It has very little lift as it is has no leavening, but the taste is wonderful. The cake turned out great, I managed to get it to the site in one piece.  I hung around a bit, but since we had dinner guests, I skeedadled out there before they started judging the cakes. Partially out of the necessity to feed four humans and three hounds, but because I hate to lose.


 Some of the contestants representing team cake.


And you know something, I won 2nd Place in the cake category and became a better baker in the process. WIN. WIN.


Ibarra Chocolate Torte - Adapted from the Coyote Cafe Cookbook by Mark Miller, Ten Speed Press, 1999

Makes 12 servings.

Note: This recipe makes one layer of the cake. If you wish to get all fancy and make it as a two layer cake, then by all means do so. I myself am not comfortable doubling this recipe, so I make each layer separately. You may wish to throw caution to the wind and try it.

Almond Cake:

1 T cinnamon - yes one Tablespoon
zest of 2 oranges
4 T (2 oz) bittersweet chocolate grated
1 1/2 C unblanched almonds, toasted and ground ( I use the ground almonds at trader joes)
4 eggs separated
1/2 C sugar
2 T fresh orange juice
2 T Grand Marnier
2 T seville marmalade, thin cut
Rice flour for dusting

Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease, rice flour and paper an 8-9" cake pan. Combine cinnamon, orange zest, grated chocolate and ground almonds in a mixing bowl and set aside. Beat egg yolks with 1/4 C sugar; stir in orange juice and set aside.

In another bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks while gradually adding 1/4 C sugar. Stir egg yolks and orange juice into the chocolate almond mixture, then fold in half the beaten egg whites. Blend well, and gently fold in remaining egg whites.

Spread mixture evenly in prepared cake pan and bake for 25-35 minutes or until cake pulls away from sides of pan. Let cool for 10 minutes and invert cake onto cake rack.

Warm marmalade until runny.

When cool, paint with Grand Marnier and brush on marmalade, let set for 10 minutes and cover with glaze. If you plan on adding the second layer, do it now, cover the repeat the grand marnier wash on the top, but skip the marmalade.

Chocolate Glaze

10 T (5 oz) bittersweet chocolate
1 T (1/2 oz) unsweetened chocolate
3/4 C softened butter
1 T corn syrup
1/4 cup chopped candied orange peel.


Place both chocolates, 1/2 C butter, corn syrup and in a double boiler over simmering (not boiling) water. Stir gently until just melted. Remove from heat, and stir in remaining 1/4 C butter. The glaze is ready to pour when it reaches the consistency of maple syrup (between 86°-96°).

Place cake rack over pan or wax paper, pour glaze over cake, tilting to coat evenly. Decorate with candied orange peel if desired.





Where I've been

vanilla sea salt topped chocolate covered vanilla marshmallows


To Hell and back via many different places, but mostly in my own zipcode.

Without getting into the sordid details here, I'll do a brief recap.  I thought 2009 was the worst year of my life. 2010 blew, but the first three quarters of 2011 were unbelievable.

I just couldn't find words, or if I did, I couldn't even begin to express them.

Its over now. I'm in a better place.  I have an amazing group of friends and family.  I have plans for a better future.  I have a solid roof over my head, money in the bank, a healthy family, a TH who puts up with a lot of crap and a much clearer mind and heart.

Lucky me.

I have been cooking, it seems mostly the same things over and over again, with a little blip of amazingness thrown in that surprises even myself.

I am trying harder.  I hope you can believe in this.

This weekend, I am participating in Will Bake for Food.

Last year was a rip roaring success. I'm going to make vanilla marshmallows dipped in 70% bittersweet chocolate and fleur de sel. They are pretty tasty on their own and would stand up to a dunk in cocoa.

Come by and grab a bag or two.

Pear ginger granola may make a brief appearance as well.


Will Bake for Food proceeds will go to the Emergency Feeding Program of  Seattle and King County. Last year the event sold out in 90 minutes. Can you believe it? I can. I am in awe of all the participants and the work that the Jennys have put into making it happen.  The event is being held this year at the University Heights Center - University Way NE and NE 50th and starts at 11 am and will end at 2pm.  Bring cash and non perishable canned foods (think protein people) to exchange for tickets for each item, just like the fair.

Come on by. Pick up a bag of marshmallows, they might last until you get home to make some cocoa to go with them.