In my last post I men­tioned my love for cook­ing. Making, bak­ing, shar­ing and enjoy­ing food has com­prised a large por­tion of my life. Providing a heap­ing plate full of hap­pi­ness and sat­is­fac­tion. Since I con­sider food another of my big pas­sions I wanted to talk about where my love for cook­ing star­ted and what I’ve found recently that’s got me all excited (hint: it has some­thing do with chocolate).

Growing Family — my young­est brother, my hus­band, and my middle brother.

Growing up with three broth­ers, a busy mum and lots of fam­ily and friends com­ing over to visit meant food was a pro­duc­tion in our house. We had to make enough to feed a lot of hungry people. In our house chores were assigned to every mem­ber of the fam­ily and food was homemade, never out of a packet. This meant I learned to cook fairly early. Exactly when I can’t pin­point. I do remem­ber pre­par­ing meals for my fam­ily by the age of 13. Not count­ing the daily bowls of cer­eal for break­fast and slices of cin­na­mon toast after school that my broth­ers and I gobbled every day. When my mother and step-father were out of town I became the sur­rog­ate par­ent. During those times the best meals to cook were big pots of soup or chili with rice and lit­er­ally loaves of bread with lash­ings of but­ter. The food I pre­pared was usu­ally gone in an instant. We never man­aged to keep enough chili around to last the dur­a­tion of our par­ents absence, so it was back to cer­eal and cin­na­mon toast.

Holidays and big events were as much about pre­par­ing the food as they were about the people we were feed­ing. In my teens I spent many years in the kit­chen car­ry­ing out my duties as sous chefs, table set­ter and dish washer. Sometimes my mother would let me help meas­ure and stir when she made cakes, pies, and cook­ies. I loved mak­ing cook­ies! In many ways I think you could say food was another mem­ber of our fam­ily. We didn’t mind.

California Coast

When I was 18 I left my tiny, per­fect apart­ment in Mendocino county and moved down the California coast to Santa Cruz. This was to be the begin­ning of six­teen years of happy memor­ies, last­ing friend­ships, and lots of cook­ing. At twenty I star­ted work at a local bakery which had recently been opened by an out­go­ing surf­ing baker, or was it a bak­ing surfer. During my brief year at Jennifer’s Bakery, which is sadly now closed, I learned air is your enemy when stor­ing food, a bakers hours are for someone other than me, and that bakers who surf have their own spe­cial way of keep­ing time.

Fortunately for me, I also learned how to make truffles, prop­erly mix muffins, end­lessly roll pastry dough layer after but­tery layer, and mix, bake, cool, slice and dec­or­ate a wed­ding cake. All of those deli­cious skills have kept me in good bak­ing stead ever since. I’m glad I spent a year work­ing at a bakery and I sin­cerely wish never to be a pro­fes­sional baker or pastry chef. Not ever. That stuff is hard work!

Whipped into a bak­ing frenzy

Being in the kit­chen is an import­ant cre­at­ive out­let for me. I’d go mad if I couldn’t bake or cook. During times in my life when money was tight and my food budget was paired down to the bare min­imum I found myself get­ting more and more depressed because I couldn’t be cre­at­ive in the kit­chen. Eventually my shop­ping list was afforded more items, and sud­denly I felt much bet­ter. I had more to work with, more options to be cre­at­ive. Food nur­tures my body and my spirit. Mine and mil­lions of oth­ers. Over the years that con­nec­tion of cre­at­ive nur­tur­ing hasn’t changed.

In my late twen­ties I par­ti­cip­ated in cook-offs with a group of my friends. We’d choose ran­dom recipes out of a cook­book, go shop­ping for the ingredi­ents and spend the day cook­ing. Sometimes we wound up with mul­tiple main dishes, or three pud­dings. Didn’t bother us a lick. No points were awar­ded and there was no win­ner or loser, like on Iron Chef. Although that par­tic­u­lar group still cooks together and host their own food battle parties a-la Iron Chef. Our cook-offs were more about spend­ing time together laugh­ing, drink­ing, see­ing what we could come up with and decid­ing which dishes we pre­ferred. Those are some of my hap­pi­est memor­ies. Good times, very good times indeed.

Frosted Apple

It’s dif­fer­ent liv­ing here in Birmingham, UK. My pas­sion for food isn’t shared with the same gusto as it was back in Santa Cruz. Still, I find my chances to cook for friends and enjoy the exper­i­ence of shar­ing some­thing I love. Despite my abhor­rence of bakers hours I still have a great love for bak­ing. These days I wel­come any excuse to bake. I use the cold Autumn and Winter months as an excuse to make apple pies using apples from our ancient apple tree in the back garden, pump­kin pies (which I could eat year round), truffles, cook­ies, bread and pretty much any­thing else I fancy.

Soaked Seeded Nutty Bread

About a year ago my hus­band and I stopped buy­ing bread from the shops and instead make our own soaked (also called fer­men­ted) bread. The soak­ing pro­cess helps to break down phytic acids in the flour which can be hard to digest in our bod­ies. Normal bread gives me what I call a wheat hangover. Fermented bread doesn’t do that to me. We add nuts and seeds which makes the bread denser and more filling than what you find in the store. I also make fer­men­ted tor­tilla and pizza dough. I recom­mend giv­ing them a try. They’re fant­astic and quick to mix. We hand mix our doughs, bread makers are too lim­it­ing for us. The soak­ing takes extra time, of course, but that extra 24 hours is well worth the wait!

While I may wage war on phytic acid in my daily bread, when I bake cakes and pastry I tend to go with stand­ard recipes I learned years ago. I’ve got a dog eared Betty Crocker cook­book that’s seen me through twenty years of happy cook­ing. It’s filled with quick found­a­tion recipes from which I can spring board into gast­ro­nomic cre­at­ive genus or epic food fail­ure, depend­ing on the day. ;-) Quick and easy is best in a busy world. Once you’ve got the basics the worlds your oyster!

Recently I stumbled across the quick­est chocol­ate cake recipe I’ve ever tried. It took me 35 minutes from start to eating-hot-cake-out-of-the-pan fin­ish! I’m not even kid­ding. That night I was on no-pudding revolt. There was noth­ing pudding-like in the house to eat but I wanted some­thing yummy. Something fast and slightly sweet using ingredi­ents in my cup­board. I Googled ‘quick chocol­ate cake’ and rejec­ted five recipes before choos­ing one. I decided to forgo icing (too much sugar) and instead used tinned fruit on the bot­tom. The res­ult was a gor­geous easy chocol­ate apricot upside down cake. Light and fluffy yet slightly chewy like a brownie and not too sweet. Super chocolaty heaven. I ate so much my tummy ached.

My Slice

The cake was so easy and scrummy I decided to make it again that week­end for a fam­ily event. This time I ditched the fruit and went for a whipped cream top­ping. It was a hit with my in-laws, I’m pleased to report, and I fully expect to be mak­ing it again very soon.…

I aug­men­ted the recipe slightly. Listed below is the recipe exactly as I re-created it:

Ingredients

* 1 1/2 cups flour
* 1 cup brown sugar
* 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
* 1 tea­spoon bak­ing powder
* 1 tea­spoon bak­ing soda
* 1/4 tea­spoon salt
* 1 cup water
* 1 egg
* 1/3 cup wal­nut oil
* 1/4 cup cider vin­egar
* 1 tea­spoon vanilla extract
* 1 can of apricots (or your pre­ferred fruit, fresh is fine) + hand­ful of brown sugar
* Use whipped cream­ing as a top­ping if you like.

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Have ready two 6 inch round cake tins, buttered. If using fruit: sprinkle brown sugar in bot­tom of cake tin and layer apricots (or pre­ferred fruit).
2. Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, bak­ing powder, bak­ing soda and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the cen­ter and pour in the water, egg, oil, vin­egar and vanilla. Mix with hands until blen­ded (I love this bit! Our hands are our best tool, so long as they’re clean).Pour into cake tins.
3. Bake in the pre­heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a tooth­pick inser­ted into the cen­ter of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for a few seconds then use fork to scoop out warm cake and insert into eager, happy mouth.
4. Or you can cool the cake, put whipped cream on top and devour.

Whipped Cream Chocolaty Goodness

I wish you many happy hours of cre­at­ive cooking!

Misha UnRuley Bruce

Choc-Apricot UpsideDown Cake

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