Be one with peas.

Clipping fingernails is risky. You can’t just trim them willy nilly like I did yesterday without considering the consequences. Today I bought three pounds of fresh peas in the pod from the farmer’s market and had to shell them with blunt thumbnails. I admit it—I wasn’t thinking.

Happy first birthday, Sweet PeaThree years ago if you told me that I’d love peas, I would have laughed at you. When I was a kid, mean lunch ladies in hairnets dumped cans of gray peas into steam trays to sit for four hours. They should have dumped them into the garbage directly and saved us all a lot of trouble. Well, one recipe changed my mind, and I’ve been in love with peas ever since. The canned peas are still on my hate list, but frozen peas often please. Fresh peas, however, uplift. A quick steam, a tiny pat of butter, and a sprinkle of salt elevates them even more. Too much butter or even a little black pepper distracts from the purity of the sweet popping green. I can’t think of a better meal for a birthday.

Three years ago if you told me that I’d celebrate the first birthday of my food blog I would have said, “What’s a food blog? And are they as awesome as they sound?” Yes, they are! Not mine, I mean in general, which is why I had to start one myself. You write about food! And people read it! Then you do it again! The 3% of so of you who don’t have food blogs should really start one, just like I did.

It was mixed first year, as first years tend to be. My very first photograph won third place in originality in a DMBLGiT? contest, but then I argued that burnt rice consumption results in hot sex. I successfully baked a pie for the first time in nearly 20 years but then advocated using your pets for cooking. I hosted DMBLGiT? in January but then had to go and mention Barry Manilow. I suffered, sweated, and made mistakes (I meant to reference The Exorcist, not Poltergeist), but I also made exciting new obsessions discoveries, disseminated pasta porn, and shared ideas. I was even nominated for an award! Then I had to go and nominate myself for Supergeek of the year.

I regret nothing. Not even the thumbnails. They would have just turned green anyway…green with envy because they didn’t get to eat these awesome birthday peas!

Fresh peas

The non-dudly, downright studly, Chocolate-Bean Cake.

Like many people trying to lose weight, I went through a dudstitution phase. This is a tragic period when you do things like take a perfectly innocent recipe for chocolate poundcake and replace the butter with applesauce, the chocolate with pureed prunes, the sugar with Splenda, the sour cream with nonfat yogurt, the white flour with wheat flour, and the whole eggs with egg whites. Then you eliminate the salt, add a big scoop of wheat bran, and sprinkle the batter with cinnamon and crushed multi-vitamins. The resulting . . . cake . . . has the texture of tripe and could scrub the rust off a cast iron skillet that has been oxidizing in a swamp since 1983.

Chocolate-Bean Cake sideHowever sad this . . . cake . . . is, the truly sad part of dudstitution is the denial. “It tastes just like the real thing!” you say to friends and family gamely trying a piece of your . . . cake. You also mention, somehow thinking that it might help, “It has only zero grams of fat and five grams of fiber per serving!” Kitchen sponges liberally sprinkled with sawdust also have zero grams of fat and five grams of fiber per serving, but your friends and family are too polite to point this out to you.

I’m exaggerating a little, but I admit it: I baked a few kitchen sponges and forced them down with skim milk and lies. When I finally came to my senses I stockpiled butter in the freezer again and stopped torturing what was left of my friends. At least I learned a few things from all my suffering, like that yogurt cheese’s tang makes it an outstanding replacement for some of the cream cheese in citrus cheesecakes, that up to half wheat flour in place of white flour in scones and biscuits doesn’t hurt the flavor, and that yogurt can replace sour cream in almost any recipe. If a healthy substitution doesn’t adversely affect the outcome, why not do it?

Chocolate-Bean Cake topSo when I baked Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate-Chestnut Cake and noticed that pureed canned chestnuts have the same texture as bean puree, I had to do it, I had to make Chocolate-Bean Cake. Not only do beans add fiber, they’re much cheaper than cans of chestnut puree which are not easy to find here. I had to ask my brother to buy some in Chicago, and even he would have failed had he not tracked down a few dusty French cans at Whole Foods.

And frankly, while it’s a fabulous cake, you can’t taste the chestnut. This flourless cake has an airy texture, almost like a souffle. The half pound of chocolate manages to be both rich and light, while the chestnuts add a velvety mouth feel and gentle sweetness that any sweetened bean puree can provide. I chose to use sweetened azuki bean paste because I always have it on hand, it’s cheap, and it’s already sweetened. It made the cake slightly sweeter but worked just as well as chestnut. Next time I’ll experiment with chickpea puree or Asian sweet potatoes (fluffier than orange sweet potatoes). Heck, even a firm batch of mashed potatoes would work, but it won’t be nearly as healthy.

The original recipe is available here at bottom left. In this version I’ve included espresso powder to intensify the chocolate flavor, added cream of tartar for stability, and eliminated the muscovado sugar for simplicity. My mother served the cake at a gathering and reported that people descended on the whipped cream-topped slices of chocolate clouds like starved vultures. The attack was so savage that my mom ended up eating a plate of whipped cream sprinkled with crumbs—all that was left of the poor cake. She felt lucky to get even that.

Adapted from How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
Makes one 9- or 10-inch cake

Cream of tartar is optional but will help keep the whites from deflating. If you prefer a denser cake or are using a 9-inch pan, you can omit it. When I lined the pan with parchment I had no problems, but when I tried greasing the pan with shortening and dusting it with cocoa powder, the cake’s top crackled under the knife that I ran round the edge to loosen it (that’s the version pictured). If perfect appearances are important, use parchment paper, otherwise grease and cocoa powder should be adequate. The cake’s lightness keeps it from being very bitter despite the small quantity of sugar. You could easily up the cacao percentage to 85% or more to please a sophisticated chocoholic.

· 400g (1 packet) sweetened smooth red (azuki) bean paste
     OR 430g can unsweetened chestnut puree
· 9 Tablespoons (125g) butter, softened
· 1 Tablespoon dark rum
· 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
· 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
· 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
· 6 large egg yolks
· 9 ounces (250g) bittersweet chocolate, melted but not hot (I used 70%)
· 6 large egg whites
· 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
· 3/8 cup or 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (75g) superfine or regular sugar

1) Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9- or 10-inch springform pan and line bottom and sides with parchment paper.

2) In a large bowl, beat butter until soft. Beat in beans or chestnut, flavorings, salt, egg yolks, and chocolate. Set aside.

3) In a separate bowl, beat egg whites at low speed until frothy. Add cream of tartar, increase speed, and continue beating until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and beat until whites are glossy, stiff, and slip only slightly in the bowl when bowl is tilted.

4) Carefully fold one-third of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in the rest of the whites until mixture is well blended and no streaks remain.

5) Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top of batter. Bake until top looks dry and center springs back when pressed (like a kitchen sponge—but it won’t taste like one, I swear!), about 45 minutes. Top may look crackled or cracked.

6) Cool cake 10 minutes then remove from pan and cool on rack right-side-up. Serve dusted with powdered sugar and/or topped with whipped cream.

A tumultuous tale of tofu.

The following message is brought to you by the Tofu Anti-Defamation League.

Tofu fights cancer. Tofu causes cancer. Tofu gives you the gift of flight. Tofu forces you to grow a second head. Tofu is the only food that can drive back the skeletal armies of the undead should the devastating curse of Demon Grrbstzittooofolo ever haunt us. Tofu is the devastating curse of the Demon Grrbstzittooofolo and is haunting us as we speak. Here’s my personal favorite: Tofu makes you gay. I’m not linking to the site on that one because I refuse to bear any responsibility for increasing its Google ranking.


[Making Music: Soft tofu with chili oil, roasted sesame oil, sesame seeds, and scallion. Snapped for Lara’s January “White” challenge over at Still Life With….]

I have friends who would never offend me by telling me that kimchi stinks (it does), but these same friends won’t hesitate to tell me that tofu is evil (it’s not). The science on soy is complicated, contradictory, and confusing. But really, what it comes down is whether you like tofu at all. If you don’t, it’s likely that a well-meaning non-Asian health nut tried to foist it on you in a sandwich or a salad. Well I don’t like tofu in my sandwiches and salads either. That’s what bacon is for.

I love tofu piping hot, drowned in a scarlet sauce full of fiery chilies and strips of tender beef. I love tofu soaked in beaten egg and fried until brown and crisp then dipped in sweet soy sauce and sesame seeds. I love tofu soft and gelatinous, swirling in soon tubu broth bubbling up its pungent fragrance of pork and kimchi. I even love tofu plain with aromatic Asian oils and the piercing bite of slivered scallions.

Tofu is as woven into my existence as pasta in the Italians, butter in the French, chilies in the Mexicans. My parents ate it, my grandparents ate it, my great grandparents made it. In a nation where meat has long been a luxury, tofu provided vital and delicious protein. There’s not one single documented case of tofu sucking the blood out of babies as they sleep in their cribs and creating armies of vampire infants flapping through the night in search of more babies to drain. Isn’t calling tofu evil just a bit much? Please, tofu-haters, you’re hurting my feelings. Leave the poor white goop alone. It can’t rape you, rob you, or even appreciate Barry Manilow. It’s just bean curd.

As for the newly formed two-headed gay men out there now plagued by the curse of the unholy Grrbstzittooofolo, admit it: things are much more interesting than they used to be. So what if it takes twice as long to floss? Thank tofu for infusing some much-needed excitement into your lives.