Monday, March 31, 2008

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

There is a lot to say about this subject, but for now I wanted to post an email that the Emergency Food Hotline received about a call that came in a couple of hours ago. It was regarding a vegan recipe and the timing of cooking the cupcakes. More will be filled in on this topic soon!

Dear Food Hotline,

Thank you so much for your advice on my non-springy - not sure if they
are done vegan chocolate cupcake emergency. I took your advice and cut
one open (after it cooled). It did finish cooking just as you said.
Just to be sure I stuffed the whole thing in my mouth and it was
fabulous. I'm going to send them to friends of mine who just had a baby
so they can enjoy a chocolatey sugar fix during their 3am feedings.
Actually the real problem was with my oven which is old and sad. When I
cooked the second batch for 18 min. instead of 12 they came out
perfect. I used to call my mother during these kitchen emergencies but
she doesn't pick up anymore because she's dead and has been for over 5
years now. It took me a long time to get over not having her there in
the kitchen with me but now I have you.

Yours Truly,

The not under or over cooked vegan chocolate cupcake master

vegan chocolate cupcakes

vegan chocolate cupcakes, March 2006

Friday, March 14, 2008

Dear readers and callers,

I will be in New England for the next 8 days, and my phone reception will not be the best. But leave me messages, and I will return them!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Plantain update

The Emergency Food Hotline just received an email about another exciting way to use plantains. Here is an excerpt:

"Funny, I'd JUST written an email friend about plantains the minute before I read your most recent blog! I fell in love with them in Chicago, too. We lived in Humboldt Park and the little store by our house, Nuevo Puerto Rico, had them. The owner told me stories about how his grandfather, during fiscally thin times, would snap plantains from the tree and eat them while they were green and overripe.

The email to my friend was about a meal we're having Friday. I suggested we make the plantains in the way the store owner suggested: in a lasagna. You substitute the noodles with strips of plantain.

Have you done that? Usually, I eat them in the way you described on your blog, but I'm eager to try something new."

I think that's a marvelous idea, and I hope we will hear an update on how the meal went. I just remembered another way I've eaten plantains that is quite delicious:

The photo was taken at a Milwaukee restaurant called Cubanitas. These little chips are crisp and hot and soft in the center, and the sauce is onion-y and tangy. There must be some lime in there. And perhaps some garlic and sugar...?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Poaching is as a process by which food is gently simmered in water or other edible liquids such as wine, broth or juice. The process doesn't drain the moisture out of eggs, poultry or fish, and preserves the delicate texture of each food item. How to poach anything, especially eggs, is very difficult to agree on. Almost everyone I've asked about it has a different idea of what's best for the taste, appearance and healthfulness of the little round protein. So about a year and half ago I tried it out myself, using aspects of a few different recipes/processes.

First I tore off two pieces of plastic wrap, large enough to cover the inside of a mug. I lined the insides of two mugs with the plastic, and coated the interior of the plastic with olive oil (a chef friend of mine recommends truffle oil if you have it on hand!), salt and pepper. At the same time, I started a pan of water to simmer. Then I twisted up the plastic around the egg (pretty snug-ly), used a twist-tie to keep it secure, and placed it carefully into the water. Watch the egg carefully, you want it to become opaque on the outside, but not cook hard all the way through. Make up some toast for yourself, and you've got poached goodness. I like a little butter and a little mayonnaise on my toast and a lot of pepper on the egg.

For those of you concerned about cooking plastic wrap around the egg while in simmering water...I did a little digging on that and so far all of the discussion points to it being pretty harmless. The temperatures needed to release toxins from the plastic are apparently quite a bit higher than that of water below the boiling point. Does anyone know anything different though? I'd be interested to hear more on this topic.

Monday, March 10, 2008


The Emergency Food Hotline received a kindly voicemail reminder to pay the gas bill last week, and it was greatly appreciated. It would be terrible to have the gas turned off and be unable to cook. Thank you, dear caller!


On Saturday, I received a text message emergency regarding frying plantains. While I do not enjoy the flavor of bananas due to an over-exposure to banana flavored amoxicillin as a child, I have developed a fondness for their cousin, the plantain. While living in Chicago I had very good experience ordering plantains out as well as cooking them at home. Plantains Foster from the wonderful Handlebar restaurant is excellent, as well as traditionally prepared Costa Rican plantains from Irazu. I have never been able to rival either of those dining sensations, but I do enjoy frying up some plantains.

Whether they're a package of Goya frozen sliced or fresh green-smelling market plantains, I am game to combine them with as many sweet and savory options as possible. One hot summer day in 2002 I recall coming home from a long trip to the Montrose-Wilson beach to discover there was nothing in the cupboards save a pack of those frozen Goya plantains.

I made those frozen plantains, and while they were tasty, the oil had definitely taken over the flavor. I think I simply used a little too much oil. So when I was asked how to they were best prepared, I wanted to double check that I would be giving all the right advice. I recommended frying in oil or butter (depending on the recipe or sweet/savory status). The plantains shouldn’t be covered in the oil, but there should be enough to come up at least half the thickness of the plantain, so that the center is cooking properly through as the edges fry.


Two more things that I’ve learned about frying plantains:

1. If they are under-ripe (green), they should be fried twice—and between fryings they should be flattened out and patted down to release excess moisture.

2. If the plantain is over-ripe, they sugars will be more likely to caramelize while frying and will come out naturally sweetened!

Some people make them with a dusting of salt, sugar and lime. I most often have made them with onions and garlic, black beans and possibly some tomato or carrot thrown in, depending on what is in the house. Add a pack of 25 cent fresh tortillas from the mexican market and you've got a perfect meal. There are many excellent recipes and stories about plantains on the internet, from a variety of cultures and nationalities. I will be interested to hear from my caller to know how their meal turned out and what other vegetable items were included.