Thursday, October 2, 2014

Rich Chocolate Cake - Vegan, Gluten-Free, Allergy Friendly

This chocolate cake is shockingly moist, dense and satisfying. It's still hard for me to believe it is both vegan and gluten free, even after testing the recipe repeatedly over the past year or so. Reviews from the chocoholics in my life, who aren't keen on vegan or gluten free diets themselves, have all been raves. The best proof of that is the fact that when I make this cake, it never lasts more than 2 days before being consumed entirely.


The gluten free flour blend I used is this lower fiber version. I have not tried this with other all purpose gluten free blends, so mileage may vary. In my usual version, I use Grand Marnier liqueur, balsamic vinegar and olive oil (not extra virgin). If you don't have these ingredients on hand, good substitutes are any dark liquor - rum, whiskey, or vanilla extract. For the vinegar, you can get by with plain white vinegar, but apple cider vinegar would be even better. For the oil, any mild liquid vegetable oil could work. The cocoa, sugar and coffee that I use are all fair trade and organic. If this isn't in your budget, fear not - it'll work with conventional versions.


I generally bake this in a bundt style pan, but have had success using small loaf pans, regular loaf pans, and even 8-inch round pans. It's a heavy cake, like a pound cake texture, so keep that in mind. Baking times will vary, so make sure you check at around 40 minutes or so if you're using a smaller type pan than a bundt. We eat this cake plain, with no glaze or frosting, but it works well with either - it's versatile, and lends itself to experimentation. One version that was a big hit was to use cherry jam and whipped ganache as filling and frosting for round layers, but that is not vegan as the ganache uses heavy cream. If you want extra chocolate, you can add 1/2 cup of cacao nibs, or semi-sweet chocolate chunks, to the batter before baking.

Rich Chocolate Cake - Vegan, Gluten-Free, Allergy Friendly

Serves 16

Dry Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose gluten free flour
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients:

2/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups fresh black coffee , slightly cooled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease bundt pan, set aside. Brew fresh coffee, 2 cups, and set aside.

Sift together the dry ingredients, and place in mixer bowl.

Mix the liquid ingredients together, then add to the bowl with the dry ingredients. Combine until smooth. On my stand mixer, I just use the whip attachment instead of the paddle, it does a nice job of getting everything together and smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 55-60 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick or knife in the center – you want it *mostly* clean, but with a little bit of crumb clinging. Not totally clean – it'll be too dry, but not covered with goo, because, c'mon – goo? Yuck. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.

Store at room temperature, covered to retain moisture. It also freezes well, you can pre-slice or leave whole. Just make sure it's cooled completely before eating, or storing.

Disclosure: the links are affiliates, and if you use them I get a small percentage to help cover my chocolate budget.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Easy Gluten Free Scot-ish Shortbread

Gluten free baking is one of my favorite things to do, especially this time of year, and this easy Scottish shortbread recipe makes it simple to do. I call it Scot-ish since I adapted it from a genuine Scottish shortbread recipe, using the same proportions for gluten free oat flour and maple sugar instead of the all purpose regular versions of each. I drastically changed the directions as far as assembling the dough to make it dead simple and super quick.

Gluten free oat scotch shortbread

Easy Gluten-free Scot-ish Shortbread


Ingredients gluten free scottish shortbread

7 oz. gluten-free oat flour (Bob's Red Mill has this, you can also make your own by grinding gluten free oats til floury. Just make sure they're specified as "gluten free", not all oats are!)

2 oz. maple sugar (not syrup!)

4 oz. unsalted butter

Pinch salt


Preheat oven to 325 degrees, and line an 8x8 square or 7x9 rectangular pan with parchment paper and set aside.

Weigh out your gluten free oat flour and maple sugar, and toss in a food processor bowl. Cut the butter into chunks and add to the flour and sugar.
Gluten free oat scotch shortbread in food processor
Pulse the mixture a few seconds at a time until it has the look of coarse sand.
Pulsed mixture for Scot-ish Oatmeal Shortbread
Now run the processor until the dough forms a blob around the blade.
Ball of gluten free oat scottish shortbread
Press the dough evenly into your parchment-lined pan, score the dough into bar shapes, and prick with fork. Bake in the oven center rack for 40-45 minutes.
Press Scotch shortbread dough evenly, score and prick holes
You want the shortbread to be very lightly browning on the edges, like this:
Scot-ish gluten free shortbread, perfectly browned
Once you've achieved correct coloration, remove from the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes in the pan. Re-slice the previously scored lines to cut into bars, and remove entire pan contents - with the parchment paper holding them - to finish cooling on a rack. Using the parchment paper helps keep the tender cookies from breaking apart before they've cooled and firmed up.
Scotch shortbread cut and cooling on rack
Eat and enjoy! Another tweak that would be really tasty would be to drizzle or dip them in dark chocolate, but they are terrific and tasty all on their own.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Calibre and Aldiko Make Nook and Android e-Reader Tablets Even Better

Continuing my e-reader series, I get into what programs work great together to make your ebook library easy to use, and painless to organize. I use the Nook exclusively, but the apps and programs here work in other Android tablets as well.

Manage Your e-Book Library With Calibre

Calibre is an open source e-book management system that's simple to use, and offers tons of features, both natively and through plugins from third parties. It allows as much or as little customization and manipulation of your e-book files as you'd like, and is actively supported and updated by developer Kovid Goyal. It's one of the few open source programs that I donate to regularly to support its continuing development.

Calibre Desktop Interface Calibre is installed on your computer. Mac, Linux and Windows operating systems are supported. From there, you can add your books from various sources, and edit the details of the metadata with ease, which really helps keep things organized with very little fuss. Calibre also allows you to convert your ebooks to other file formats if they don't have digital rights management (DRM) encoded.

You cannot convert ebook files that are DRM protected. While Calibre does not natively support stripping DRM from e-book files, there are third party DRM removal plugins that are easily installed that work great. When you strip the DRM, you can then convert the e-book file format to one that's compatible with whichever reader you are using.

As a Nook owner, this allows me to purchase from any vendor I want, and convert to compatible epub files as needed. By doing the conversion in Calibre, and syncing the converted files to Aldiko on your e-reader (more on this reader app below), it's not necessary to switch between dedicated Kindle and Nook reader apps. This is a much easier way to keep track of what you've read, and what you want to read next, since everything is all in one place at one time.

Calibre also supports PDF files, which is really useful if you find you have a lot of them. It's nice to be able to read some of the larger multi-page pdfs on an e-reader screen than having to either print them out or fire up the laptop.

Aldiko Reader App Syncs Wirelessly With Calibre

So, now that you have all these great books, it's time to put them on your tablet, and get to reading. Calibre syncs with basically every e-reader and tablet out there, even Apple products (via connecting to iTunes). Hands down, the nicest open source e-reader program for Android is Aldiko, another of my favorites in the open source community that is well worth donating to regularly. Aldiko Reader on Nook HD+ You can use a usb connection to manually upload your epub and pdf files, but the best and most elegant way I've found is to take advantage of Calibre's web server ability and add your books to your devices wirelessly, any time you want. You just need to remember to have Calibre open and running on your computer to be able to gain access to the server. Aldiko Menu Other Catalogs With Aldiko, you can connect to the Calibre catalog (depending on which version of Aldiko, you find "other catalogs" under "store" or "get books") and add the books as you like, no other software or apps are needed as Calibre and Aldiko have these features already built in. Just be sure to have the files converted to epub or pdf files, as Aldiko doesn't read Amazon formatted files as they are strictly proprietary. No problem, since with Calibre you can strip any DRM and convert them easily. In my next post for this series, I'll share some ebook sources so you can fill your library for cheap, or even free, with good stuff.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nook vs. Kindle: Why I Chose Nook

My e-reader of choice is, and has been, the Nook by Barnes and Noble. While I have the Simple Touch and the original Nook reader, and Ye Olde Nook Color, my favorites are their recent line of color tablet style e-readers, the Nook HD and Nook HD+.

My babies, the Nook HD and Nook HD+

Barnes and Noble Lets You Do What You Want With Your Hardware

Barnes and Noble initially earned my loyalty because of their approach to modding and hacking the Nook. They don't really care if you do. No draconian legalese threatened dire consequences for rooting their first color tablet, the Nook Color. There are even free and open discussions on Barnes and Noble customer forums with info on how to do it, and B&N doesn't censor this. By rooting, or "nooting", the old Nook Color you could have access to the entirety of the Android market for apps via the Google Play Store, not just the ones offered by Barnes and Noble through the Nook interface. If you decided to un-root, and wanted to reset to Barnes and Noble's original software, you could. No harm, no foul. Most importantly, no getting stuck with an expensive electronic brick.

Barnes and Noble Acts Like Your E-Books Are Actually Yours

Another reason I chose a Nook e-reader, before they even made the Nook Color tablet version, was that at the time I was shopping for an e-reader (since changed), you couldn't borrow e-books from the public library and read them on the Kindle.

While that is no longer an issue, I've stood by Barnes and Noble for their better approach to their e-book customers as compared to Amazon. In 2009, pissed off a lot of their customers by going in and retroactively removing content from their Kindles, without warning, due to copyright issues. More recently, Kindle titles have been removed on software update due to regional content locks, so for world travelers, it was a nasty surprise. Both times, it was handled in a ridiculously crappy way, and that kind of heavy-handed non-transparency is something that I don't want to support.

Nook HD and Nook HD+ Run Android Apps - Natively

Newer generations of Nook HD and Nook HD+ tablets already include full access to the Android catalog via the Google Play Store right out of the box, so you don't even have to bother rooting them. Of course, if you're an 11th level Android wizard, you can still hack to your heart's content, but for mortals who just want to be able to do stuff without a lot of hassle, both sides win. With the Kindle Fire HDX you are stuck with Amazon's catalog of Android apps, unless you do some extra rocket science workarounds. Which Amazon frowns upon.

Nook HD and Nook HD+ Can Read Kindle E-Books Too

Since the Nook allows access to the Google Play Store, you also get a second bonus - you can simply install the reader applications for Kindle, and read ebooks that come in that format on your Nook. You simply have your content in the cloud, and can download via the app in the Nook, no big deal. I like not being forced into a walled garden - I have enough of that nonsense to deal with as an Apple user.

With the Nook HD and Nook HD+, or a rooted Nook Color, you don't have to miss out on any Amazon Kindle e-book deals. An even more elegant way to read any e-book format on your Nook is to use a program to convert them into epub files. Then, you can use a reader application like Aldiko that can access all your content in one place, no pesky booting in and out of different applications every time you want to read a different book. The open source Calibre e-book management software, combined with Aldiko reader application is what I use most often now.

Nook HD and Nook HD+ Are An Excellent Value

This summer there was a whole bunch of sound and fury that B&N would no longer be making Nook e-readers, but it ended up signifying nothing. They are still producing, and selling them. The prices are great for what you get, so when I couldn't make up my mind which version I wanted - the 7" Nook HD or the 9" Nook HD+ - I was able to get both. The fact that you can also add extra file storage to both Nook tablets via micro-SD cards, up to 32gb, means you can buy the cheapest model and still have plenty of room for all of your stuff.

In future posts for this series, I'll round up content resources for your e-reader and some great open source software for organizing and accessing all of your e-books and pdf files, and podcasts.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Smoked Chicken Salad With Fresh Fennel

It's been pretty warm for October in my fair town of Coxsackie - more like May than October, and I was not in the mood for typical fall recipes featuring creamy baked anything. With fresh fennel on hand, I decided to make use of it in a way that fits this new version of fall, in a cold salad, so here's a quick easy one for Smoked Chicken Salad With Fresh Fennel.

Smoked Chicken Salad with Fresh Fennel

In all my years of getting fresh local vegetables, either from farmers markets or CSAs like ours from Soul Fire Farm, I've never actually cooked with or used fresh fennel. So, adventure ahoy when some showed up in our Soul Fire box!

I knew about braising and roasting the bulbs, but I just wasn't that interested in doing that - I had one good sized bulb, but not enough to fill a whole baking dish, and honestly, it just didn't sound very tasty. After looking around on the internet, I came up with a plan for using every bit of the fresh fennel, for maximum efficiency and deliciousness.

  • Fennel Bulb - Cut apart the bulb, and use the white "leaf" sections like you would for endive crudite - delicious with hummus!
  • Fennel Fronds - Cut off, tie bunches with string at the base, and hang to dry. Use to season homemade sausage.
  • Fennel Stems - They look like celery, but have a nice light fennel taste - use fresh sliced, in salads, stuffing

Given the interesting flavor profile of the fennel, I decided to amp up a typical chicken salad by using smoked chicken. So. Much. WIN!

Smoked Chicken Salad With Fresh Fennel

  • 2 cups cooked smoked chicken meat
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh fennel stems
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped onion (red is pretty, but any color will do)
  • Mayonnaise
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Salt to taste (not really needed with all the other flavors!)

Fresh Fennel Stems with Red Onion and Smoked Chicken

If you don't have a smoker to make your chicken, you can get a close approximation by using a teaspoonful of Wright's Liquid Smoke sprinkled outside and inside the chicken cavity and roasting it in your oven. Don't use too much, it's very concentrated. Other brands of liquid smoke are abominations and horrors that mix in caramel coloring, corn syrup and all manner of stupid junk. Wright's is the joint, smoke essence and water. In the Albany NY area I find Wright's at Hannaford stores. It's not as fabulous as smoking over hardwood, but seriously, it's close and sometimes that is enough!

This is super easy, you just dump the first 3 ingredients in a bowl, and add the mayo a little at a time until it is the consistency you like. Season with the pepper, taste, then add salt if needed. Chicken salad with fresh fennel should be stored in the refrigerator, and while it can be eaten right away, I suggest letting it chill for at least an hour or so to develop the flavors and let them blend.

Serve the salad any way you'd like - if it's not too much fresh fennel flavor in one place for you, try using the white bulb leaves as carriers for the chicken salad, nice and crunchy! Otherwise, crusty bread, or a nice cracker base are great.

This is our last week for our regular CSA share from Soul Fire Farm, and I can't believe how quickly the whole season went! Luckily, they will be trying out some hoop rows for winter greens, and we can still get eggs, and maybe even shiitaki mushrooms, as they're available over the the next several months until the regular CSA share season begins again. In addition, I'll re-subscribe to Field Goods to fill out our vegetable and fruit needs during Soul Fire's slower season. The Hudson Valley, Catskills and Upstate New York region is a wonderful place to live if you like great fresh local food!