In Which One Bakes a Proper Red Velvet Cake…

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In the tin

Red velvet cake is something of a pseudo-tradition in my family because my sister always asks for something similar to it for her birthday.

The first time she asked for one resulted in a deep purple dessert dubbed the Sky at Dusk because it was the color of a night sky and decorated with stars cut out of cake trimmings on top of a lemon cheesecake frosting.  This would eventually be followed by the much-darker imperial velvet cake and other similar treats.

And finally, this: a real red velvet cake.

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Ready to serve

And not just any red velvet cake, mind you: this monster is a chocolate red velvet cake.

The average red velvet cake is, pretty much, a butter cake loaded with red food coloring.  However, the original red velvet is a cocoa-flavored butter cake that took its characteristic maroon hue from the chemical reaction between acidic buttermilk and the more alkaline cocoa powder.  Unfortunately, many modern red velvet cake recipes add just a smidgen (two tablespoons or less) of cocoa and load up on food coloring; not cool, if you ask me.

Mine is adapted from the one from the Hershey’s Kitchen – but has the added advantage of a quarter-cup of chocolate chips tossed into the deep red batter before baking.  Thus, this one has ample chocolate flavor and is considerably richer and more satisfying than the red velvet cake you’d pick up from some commercial bakery.  Add the fact that the icing on this particular cake is a caramel cream cheese frosting, it was a cake that definitely put a smile on my sister’s face on her special day.

And, believe me when I say this is guaranteed to make you smile, too.

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Sheer and absolute delight in every bite

Chocolate Red Velvet Cake

For the Cake:

  • 1/2 cup vanilla-flavored margarine or soft unsalted butter
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup buttermilk or 1 tablespoon vinegar + enough milk to yield 1 cup total liquid
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For the Frosting:

  • 1 bar (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup caramel-flavored margarine or soft unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup icing or confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.

Grease and flour a standard-sized regular Bundt or fluted Bundt pan.

Cream together the vanilla margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, cocoa powder, and vanilla; mix well.  Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda.  Tip half the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture.  Mix well and pour in half the buttermilk; mix until well combined.  Tip in the rest of the flour mixture and blend well with the rest of the buttermilk until a smooth batter is achieved.  Stir in the food coloring and mix until well-incorporated.  Fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake 55 minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the frosting.  Using a hand-held mixture at medium speed, whip together all the ingredients until soft peaks form.  Chill for at least 15 minutes.

Remove the baked cake from the pan and set onto a serving plate, reserving any crumbs.  Allow to cool completely before frosting.  Top the frosted cake with any reserved crumbs.

Serves 12…just.  😉

 

 

In Which There is DIY Ice Cream for Milo-holics…

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Cream, condensed milk, Milo…

I grew up drinking Milo, Nestle’s malted chocolate milk drink.  Well, to be exact, I grew up eating Milo – scooping up the powder with a tablespoon and scoffing the lot with impunity.

As I grew older, though, Milo became a running gag in my life on account of the infamous Milo biscuit episode of my years in college.  Fortunately, that incident has mellowed into a funny memory and I have moved on to using Milo for better desserts that are a lot gentler on teeth.

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Yes, there’s a Milo packet there.

Case in point, this nifty malted chocolate ice cream.

This no-churn wonder is flavored with Milo for a gloriously dreamy cream ice that is richly chocolaty despite its rather pale beige appearance.  I threw in another childhood treat – Kit Kats – to make it even more decadent.

I like to think of this recipe as all your guilty childhood pleasures all grown up and skirting just the very edge of divine decadence.

Mind you: this is going to be a lot richer than your usual ice cream, so keep servings modest.

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Have a scoop…or two.

Malted Chocolate Ice Cream

  • 2 cups heavy or all-purpose cream
  • 1 cup condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup Milo
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 four-finger Kit Kat bars, diced

Whisk together the cream, condensed milk, vanilla, and Milo.  Pour into a covered container and freeze for 1 – 2 hours.

Remove the semi-frozen mixture from its container and place in a large mixing bowl.  Using a hand-mixer, whisk at highest speed until at least double in volume or until soft peaks form.  Fold in the diced Kit Kats and scrape into a covered container.  Freeze at least six hours or overnight.

Serves 12.

In Which a Homemade Dish is Lots Better Than Takeaway…

Peanut noodles, anyone?

Peanut noodles, anyone?

To everyone whom I worried with my last post, let me apologise in all sincerity.  It has been an extremely difficult time and I have not had the easiest time coping with all the stress.  Rest assured, however, that I am on the mend; I’m taking some time away from the rat race for a bit – taking advantage of the APEC holiday, to be exact – to get myself back on track.

But, anyway, to the business at hand: I adore the cold Asian noodles served at Peanut Butter Co. over at the Paseo Centre in Makati.  It’s a dish that never fails to satisfy: cold noodles tossed in a creamy, tangy peanut and sesame vinaigrette topped with freshly grated cucumber and diced tomatoes.  As stated before, it’s like a cross between Indonesian gado-gado and a Vietnamese noodle salad.

Unfortunately, given where I work these days, it has become nigh-on impossible to get my favourite lunch.  (Previously, I only had to traipse down the length of Paseo de Roxas, et voila: lunch is served!)  So I’ve despaired of ever getting to eat it again unless I had the moxie to make it myself.  (And, you know, of course, that I do.)  That said, I went through Google to look for a recipe.

It wasn’t easy to find one that suited me, of course.  Some recipes were dead-fiddly to do; others would force me to hunt down ingredients that were virtually impossible to find in this part of the world unless one braved traffic (and believe me when I say Manila traffic makes the situation in Bangkok look like a kids’ playground) and then some.  Finally, I found one that I could very easily tweak to suit my temperament and tastebuds.

This recipe is adapted from the one featured in The New York Times, an amalgam built from the collective input of author Sam Sifton, restaurateur Eddie Schoenfeld, and chefs Martin Yan and Marian Burros.  The NYT recipe uses fresh egg noodles which aren’t exactly easy to find.  Thus, I swapped these out for ramyeunsari, those Korean noodle packets that come without flavourings.  You could also use the noodles in standard instant noodle packets; just save the flavouring packs for another use.  Since I couldn’t find any sesame paste, – tahini or the Chinese kind – I just increased the amount of peanut butter in the mixture, which is a very good thing as it amplifies the nutty savour so integral to the success of the dish.  Also, if you haven’t got any chili-garlic paste, a squirt or two of sriracha or any other red-pepper hot sauce works wonders.

Note that this recipe is easily doubled in case you feel like feeding a crowd.

Takeaway-style Asian Noodles

  • 1 pack ramyeunsari noodles or 2 standard packs of instant pancit canton, flavouring packets saved for another use
  • 2 tablespoons creamy/smooth peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil, plus additional for sprinkling
  • 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger or 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chili-garlic paste or hot sauce, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons finely shredded Chinese (Savoy) cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons shredded cucumber
  • 1 tablespoon diced tomato

Cook the noodles in boiling water for about 3-4 minutes.  Drain and rinse in cold running water; drain well.  Transfer to a clean dish and toss with a sprinkle of sesame oil.  Refrigerate for about 10 minutes.

While the noodles are chilling, make the dressing by combining the soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, peanut butter, remaining sesame oil, ginger, sugar, and chili paste or hot sauce.  Whisk well until properly emulsified.  Pour over the chilled noodles and toss well.  Refrigerate an additional 10-15 minutes for the flavours to meld.

Transfer the dressed noodles to a serving bowl and top with the vegetables.  Consume immediately.

Serves 1 – 2.

In Which There is an Unusual Chicken Noodle Soup

Comfort food from scratch

Comfort food from scratch

I’ve said this often enough: I am not recovering as rapidly as possible from the stresses that have so marked the last several months.  A trip to a hospital emergency room earned me a stern scolding from the doctor who direly predicted that my recovery from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) would take the better part of the next two (or, alas, three) years.  But no one else seems to care: work seems to get heavier with each day that passes.  There are so many things I want to do, but I can’t do any of them: either my hands are tied up at work or, unfortunately, I have little to no energy to do anything outside of work.  I no longer have a social life, to be honest; between work and the traffic, there is neither time nor energy to call people up let alone hang out.  Besides, who would want to hang out with someone as washed up and burnt out as me?

Cooking is one of the few things I manage to find solace in these days, but even my time in the kitchen has been curtailed by circumstances.  But, on those now relatively rare times when I do get to work in the kitchen, I can still manage to come up with unusual and tasty things.  Today’s browned-butter chicken noodle soup, for one.

This takes a little more effort than most, but it really does take things up a notch from one’s usual instant ramen.  To be perfectly honest, it’s what you’ll want to eat when you’re feeling a little sorry for yourself and things just won’t go your way no matter what you do and no one seems to care.

Browned-butter Chicken Noodle Soup

  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1-1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 pack ramyeunsari (ramen noodles sans flavour packet)
  • 1/4 cup chopped mixed vegetables
  • 1/4 cup cooked chicken, shredded
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced onion or spring onion
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the butter and allow to melt completely.  When the butter has browned at the edges, add the minced onion and cook till softened.  Add the garlic and cook till the edges have browned.  Add the vegetables; saute for about two minutes and then add the chicken.  Cook for an additional two minutes.  Pour in the chicken broth; bring to a boil.  Add the ramyeunsari and allow to cook whilst stirring occasionally for about two minutes; season to taste.  Crack in the egg and cover the pot.  Lower heat to a simmer and cook an additional two to three minutes depending on how done you want your poached egg.  Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Serves 1.

In Which One Bakes a Bit of Sunshine…

It all starts with dried mangoes.

It all starts with dried mangoes.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like dried mangoes.  There is just something irresistible about the taste, aroma, and texture that has made them a popular snack imported straight out of Cebu in the southern part of the country.  While dried mangoes are great for noshing on their own, they can also add a little oomph to desserts and can also throw in some extra nutrition for the benefit of those who are more fitness-inclined.

That said, I hit upon the idea of tweaking one of my blondie-bar recipes, giving it a healthy twist through the addition of dried mangoes, nuts, and some honey-roasted sunflower seeds..  The end result was a brightly-flavoured, snackable bar-cookie that was definitely on the wholesome side.

Note that these are flavoured with lemon extract and spiced up with ginger and cardamom, two spices traditionally used in mango-centric desserts in Indian cookery.  If spices aren’t your thing, feel free not to use them.  Nevertheless, spices or no spices at all, these are great for toting along on hikes and picnics, as well as nibbling alongside your afternoon cup of tea.

Healthier than most bar cookies...and that's not a bad thing at all.

Healthier than most bar cookies…and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Sunshine Blondies

  • 1 – 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 – 1/2 cups rolled or quick-cooking oats
  • 1/4 cup chopped mixed nuts
  • 1 packet honey-roasted sunflower kernels
  • 200 grams dried mango, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup salted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon flavouring
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
  • 2 eggs

Cream together the butter, margarine, and sugars  Add the eggs, lemon flavouring, spices (if you’re using them), and baking soda; mix till well blended.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until well-combined.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.  Grease and line a large rectangular cake tin and evenly press in the dough.

Bake for about 25 – 30 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.

Makes approximately 64 bars.