DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT THE NEW SITE BY CLICKING HERE.

[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I’ll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days.  For this fourth edition, I’m focusing on Coconut. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. This is the last entry on coconut.]

I’m loath to admit it, but I’m one of those people who can’t leave well enough alone.  I’ll be decorating a cake and think, “Oh, it just needs one more flower on there somewhere. . . ” until the top of the thing could pass for a Jackson Pollock with the words “Happy Birthday” meekly peeking through the splotches.  I’m like those middle-aged women (oh, wait, I actually am a middle-aged woman) who don huge, dangly earrings and then wonder if they wouldn’t be complemented by a massive pendant necklace. . . oh, and this lovely, chunky bracelet. . .and must top it off with that favorite equestrian-themed scarf–and can’t forget the cute doggie brooch, of course.  As a student, I’d sit planted at the desk and revise my in-class essays over and over, right up until the very last second when the bell rang (I mean, what if I had left early and later remembered a comma splice I’d neglected to fix?)

And then there’s that cringe-inducing conversation–you know, the one with your One and Only that goes something like this:

Scene: Evening. Ricki and the HH lounge comfortably on the sofa, engaged in animated conversation.

HH: . . . And then the guy says, ‘Yeah, maybe the sandwich on its own is good, but it’s the dill pickle that really makes it great!!”

Ricki:  Ha ha ha ha HA AHA!! Oh, HH, you are just the funniest!! “The dill pickle really makes it great!” Hee hee.  [Leans over to touch his arm].

HH:  Har har hee hee.  What a laugh, eh? Yep, the dill pickle. . . [stretches his arm around her shoulder.]

Ricki: Hee hee, soooo funny.  [Smiling with adoration]: Oh, HH, I love you.

HH:  I love you, too. [Smiles]

Ricki: [Pause].  Um, you know, I’m just wondering about something.

HH [Looking suspicious]: What?

Ricki: Well, you know, I’ve just noticed that I’m always the first one who says, “I love you.” Why is that?

HH [No longer smiling]: Well, that’s not true.

Ricki: Really? When’s the last time YOU said it first?

HH: Um, I dunno. . . last month, probably.

Ricki: No, honey, I’m sure it wasn’t last month. Because remember our anniversary?  And remember when the next weekend, we went out with Gemini I and her hubby?  Well, when we got home, we were sitting on the couch like this, and–

HH:  [Heavy sigh] And you know, we were having such a nice moment there.  I guess you just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?

Hmmm.  This irresistible tendency to push the boundaries manifests itself in my prowess in the kitchen as well (no, no, I’ve moved off that scene of me and the HH now!  I’m talking about cooking, silly!).  I love to tinker with recipes and will frequently alter them considerably, even without trying them in the intended form first.  After a lifetime of baking (okay, minus the first 6 years of my life), I’ve more or less discovered what works and what doesn’t.  And if I attempt something creative that doesn’t quite meet my expectations, I don’t take it personally (unlike my reaction to the HH’s lack of amorous expressiveness). 

One of the issues that’s come up in discussions with the recipe testers for my upcoming cookbook is the matter of substitutions in the recipes. Of course, when the testing process began, I assumed everyone would follow the recipes to a “T.”  However, in reality, it’s not always possible for everyone to acquire the exact ingredients; or they might not have everything on hand; or they might not own the perfectly-sized pan.  It got me thinking, “how often do I follow a recipe exactly?”  The answer?  To quote the infamous book title, less than zero.  (Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration; maybe it’s just a little less than less than zero, more like a little more than never). 

But you know what?  That’s perfectly fine.  Really, if you feel comfortable with cooking or baking and want to introduce minor alterations, that’s terrific; the result may in fact be something even better than the original.  The trick is knowing what to substitute, and when it will work.  Spelt for all-purpose?  No problem.  Agave for sugar?  Fine, with adjustments.  Cherry for pumpkin?  Probably not.  And chocolate for eggplant?  Well, that’s just wrong. (Though, of course, you might like to actually combine the two for a terrific result instead).

When I read about Claudia’s tantalizing Strawberry Coconut Coffee Cake on Vagrant Vegan, I knew immediately that I had to make it.  True to form, I adapted the recipe to my own needs and on-hand ingredients, using Sucanat instead of sugar, spelt instead of wheat, and so on. I also decided to bake the cake as an 8 x 8 inch square instead of a 9 x 13 rectangle, as it’s just the HH and me here (and we don’t give The Girls anything too sweet). Then, when I finally went to bake it, I realized strawberries were already out of season–but I had frozen raspberries in the house; why not use those? (and besides, don’t cooked raspberries just impart the most sensational fuchsia hue?).  

In the end, my version isn’t exactly like the original, but this cake still turned out spectacular.  I think the base is a perfect coffeecake batter, one that can handle many deviations and still taste great (which is, after all, the mark of a winning recipe).  The cake itself isn’t too sweet, and it offers up a juicy burst of tangy raspberry in every bite.  Since coconut is one the HH’s favorite foods, he was drawn by the aroma as it toasted in the oven, and couldn’t wait for his chance to taste it. The verdict was unequivocally positive–he gobbled up a piece and then asked for another.

“That was delicious,” he enthused.  “Maybe the cake on its own is good, but it’s the coconut that really makes it great!”  I could have kissed the guy.

He smiled.  “I love that cake!” he said.  What?  Did he say, “love”?

“Um, you know, I’m just wondering about something. . .” I started.  But then I quickly shoved a large chunk of cake in my mouth and swallowed it.

With all of the pink in this recipe, I’m submitting this post to the Power of Pink Challenge for breast cancer, hosted by Jen of the Beantown Baker.  Having recently learned that someone I care about is battling breast cancer, I’m happy to be able to contribute.  The challenge is on until the end of the month if you’d like to submit something pink.

Raspberry Coconut Coffee Cake (adapted from Vagrant Vegan)

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

Like most coffee cakes, this one can serve as both dessert or part of a quick breakfast.  The cake is good on its own, but the coconut really makes it great.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! TO VISIT THE NEW SITE, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

[That’s our little Vanilla, in the middle]

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS has moved! 

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As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]  

So, I heard somewhere that it’s hockey season now.  Oh, don’t look so surprised: despite having been raised in Montreal (a hockey town if ever there was one), I am indifferent to the sticks-and-pucks revelry. Personally, I’d rather read about the latest face-off between, say, brownies and blondies than between the Habs and the Flyers.

In fact, I can’t say that I’m too interested in any team sports–or, come to think of it, any sports at all. Is it any wonder?  Perpetually the “anchor” in tug-of-war; too uncoordinated to hit a baseball with a screen door; lacking even the modicum of balance necessary for hockey (though I did go skating, once, when I was about 15, soley to impress a guy I had a crush on.  Oh, I made a lasting impression, all right–somewhere on the upper right thigh, just where my skate sliced through the flesh, if memory serves.)

This is not to imply that I don’t enjoy a good competition with myself every now and again, in a constant effort to improve on my own “personal best.” (And speaking of competitions, I’ve just gotta say it: time to wave goodbye to Jason Castro, don’t you think?). I’m forever asking questions like, “Can I increase my speed on the treadmill this week?”  “Can I accomplish a bicep curl with a 15-pound weight?”  “Can I use up every single veggie from our weekly organic box?” “Can I manage to sweep my kitchen floor every day three times a week monthly before the dust bunnies take up permanent residence on the living room couch?”–and so on.

(“You know, Mum, we’d be happy to chase those bunnies for you.  And while we’re on the subject, why are they allowed on the couch when we’re not?”)

As far as I’m concerned, a little healthy competition in the kitchen can only be a good thing. In order to improve a recipe-in-progress, I might tinker with it 10 or a dozen times to get it right, often in a single day (why, yes, it’s true: I don’t have anything better to do!). Is the muffin better with agave or maple syrup?–let’s bake a new batch and find out!  Should I use barley flour or oat in the apple bars?–only another round of baking will tell! Can the cashew cookies stand up to cardamom, or would ginger be better?–let’s test ’em out and see!

This somewhat peculiar proclivity in the kitchen was the impetus behind a strange experiment last week, one I conducted after receiving my copy of Carole Walter’s James Beard Award-winning cookbook, Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More, in the mail. As some of you may recall, my recipe for Maple-Walnut cookies won the book in a recent Cookthink Root Source Challenge for recipes based on maple syrup. (Hmm.  Yes, I suppose that made me “competitive,” though of course not in the athletic sense.)

As soon as I ripped open the package, I was charmed by the clean, clear layout, the stunning full-color photographs and the innovative, precisely written recipes (200 of them!). And even though it’s filled with traditional recipes with conventional ingredients (think eggs, milk, butter, etc.), the book focuses on homey, classic treats, which are fairly easily adaptable to NAG principles.

Virtually everything in the book appealed to me, from the Vanilla Bean Poundcake to the Irish Whiskey Cake to the Apricot and Dried Pineapple Muffins to the Fig and Walnut Loaf.  Lest you think the book is partial to goodies baked in pans, Walter also includes recipes for cookies, bars, biscuits, strudel, danish, buns and braids–plus many more treats shaped by hand.

My gaze lit upon a recipe called “Favorite Vanilla Muffins.” Vanilla muffins?  Sure, I’d sampled many a vanilla cake in my time, but never a vanilla muffin. With its denser, moister texture, might a muffin be a better foundation to showcase the fragrant, floral tones of pure vanilla extract? A competition was in order!

I thought about the differences between the two.  Like the Olson twins (though of course, in this case, actually connected to food), muffins and cupcakes are the same, but different.  Both are single-serving renditions of a larger baked good (loaf or cake); both sport domed tops, flat bottoms and angled sides often encased in frilly paper liners. To muddy the batters even further, both may (but are not required to) contain chopped fruits, nuts, or chocolate.

A few Googled pages later, I discovered that the cupcake versus muffin debate was already in full swing among bloggers and other writers (two good sources are recipezaar’s concise take on the issue, and the more detailed viewpoint on Curious Foodie’s blog).

How, I wondered, would that Favorite Vanilla Muffin stand up against its cakey counterpart? I decided to bake one of each (both using my adaptations of Walter’s recipes) and compare the results. Granted, my creations (no matter how delectable) would never be exactly as Walter intended; but I was okay with that. I chose a Classic Sour Cream Cinnamon and Nut Coffee Cake (without the cinnamon/nut filling) for my cupcake, mostly because, like the muffin recipe, it called for sour cream (and I needed to use up the tofu-based batch I’d be concocting). That would leave me with one vanilla; two vanilla (any more than that and we’d have the unfortunate Milli Vanilla).

[Coffeecake cupcake–with its intended filling. Get a load of that cinnamon-pecan swirl!]

Which won the competition? As expected, the muffins were heavier and denser. In fact, apart from the shape, they were a different animal entirely. For some reason, in these particular muffins, the vanilla essence proclaimed its presence assertively, even before you bit into the soft, moist interior; the sweet, floral aroma fairly radiates. And even though I knew my “sour cream” was soy-based, there was an incredible richness to these muffins that rendered them filling and satisfying; no need for fruit or fillers.

The cupcakes, for their part, were equally delectable.  Undisputably more delicate with a tender crumb, the cakes were lighter both in texture and color. The vanilla essence here was definitely noticeable as well, though in a more understated fashion.  Like pitting Ella against Diana singing Cole Porter classics: each transformed the outcome into something unique and exceptional, though clearly hailing from the same original concept.

So, in the end, it was a tie.  Two winners–two delicious baked goods to eat.  Everybody wins!

Since the recipes highlight vanilla, I thought this would be a perfect entry for the Master Baker Challenge, hosted by Master Baker.

Vanilla Muffins and Cinnamon-Pecan Cupcakes (inspired by recipes in Carole Walter’s Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More)

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

 [Left to Right: Cinnamon-Pecan Coffeecake Cupcake; Vanilla Muffin; Vanilla Muffin with Cashew-Cardamom variation]

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

For the Cinnamon-Pecan Coffeecake Cupcakes:

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.