Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Better Mug Cake, Take 2 (As in, better than the Better Mug Cake!)

I know it's been a while. Things have been crazy, but they are finally calming down.

Here's a quick run down of what I've been up to in the past two weeks:
  • Successfully finished my first year of graduate school.
  • Completed my first internship for the program.
  • Started a cool second internship for the summer with a trade magazine.
  • Attended "opening night" for the 2012 drum corps season!
  • Ran in the Run for Your Lives 5K in Indiana...I didn't make it out "alive," but I had a blast doing it!
  • Bought new running shoes (in anticipation of the awful things that would happen to the old ones at RFY).
  • Got my first "big girl" job--still working out the details, but I'll update on that a little bit later... =)
Anyway, all of this busy-ness has meant less time than usual for cooking. I've been making some tasty summer salads to take to work for lunch, and I'll be posting some recipes for those later.

But, salads? Surely that's not why you're here, looking at this post...

No, you're here because you've seen my claim for a better, better mug cake. I'm not exaggerating, either. This cake is faster and simpler, with fewer ingredients, and completely amazing. And fewer calories than the original!

The great thing about this mug cake (aside from all of the above benefits) is this: it makes a tasty, delicious chocolatey sauce at the bottom of your mug. And the more milk you add, the more sauce you get! (Although I suspect you would eventually hit the law of diminishing returns with that one...but I haven't yet.) It reminds me of the pudding cakes my friends and I would make at sleepovers back in high school: dense, chocolatey cake with a rich sauce underneath to spoon on top, that we'd eat straight from the pan at some point after midnight. I'm pretty sure that cake came from a box, but this one certainly doesn't have to!

Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me figure out where I found this recipe. (I'm usually very good about these things...but the site never made it to my bookmarks!) So, I'm not trying to plagiarize, and if you know where the recipe came from, please tell me so I can link to it. And leave a raving review.

Saucy Chocolate Mug Cake (Or, the Best Mug Cake Ever)
Serves one

Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 tbsp skim milk (or a little more...) 
  • Toppings and/or mix-ins


Some of the usual suspects...


Steps

1.  Combine the dry ingredients in a microwave-safe mug with a fork.



Mix it up!




2.  Add the vanilla and milk. Stir to combine. Add a spoonful of chocolate chips or other mix-in if desired.


What's a well-loved recipe without a little spill on it?


3.  Microwave on high for 45 seconds. Check the cake--it should be mostly dry on top, but you should be able to sort of tilt it back and forth by pressing gently near the rim of the mug. That's a good sign that your sauce is alive and well down at the bottom. Microwave for 10-15 seconds longer if necessary.


An 8-oz mug works fine, as long as your heart can can handle
the pop-up effect. If you're afraid of overflow, use a bigger mug.


4.  Top with Nutella, peanut butter, or whatever. Or just dig in! Enjoy!


Before topping--I realized I never got a good picture of the
"saucy" part--but trust me, it's down there on the bottom!!


4.  Top and enjoy!


Topped with Trader Joe's Almond Cocoa Spread
and a few chocolate chips.


Very good! And around 200 calories, depending on how much milk you add, and your mix-ins and toppings. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Spaghetti Squash with Peanut Sauce

The quarter is FINALLY winding down for me. Tests are over, projects are ending, and only one paper and a few hours of grading stands between me and the end of my first year in graduate school. It's sure been an interesting ride.

All of the craziness means that my food choices have been of the "quick and easy" variety. So, today I'm sharing two recipes that are simple, fast, and go great together: spaghetti squash and peanut sauce. They're easy and delicious, and in a pinch you can make the entire meal in the microwave (as I did when our kitchen sink was clogged and stove top cooking was out of the question).

Spaghetti squash is a really interesting vegetable. At first glance it just looks like a big yellow squash:


2 1/2 pounds of squash-y goodness.


But once you hack it open (and believe me, hack is the right word), it's full of pumpkin-like seeds and pulp, and a thick layer of flesh made up of little strands or "noodles."


See?


You can treat it like a vegetable and turn it into a side dish, or use it like a noodle and make it the foundation of a meal. You're probably not going to fool anyone into thinking it's pasta, but the spaghetti squash is delicious in its own right, and you still get to twirl it around your fork.

Oh, and did I mention they are cheap? Spaghetti squash usually goes for about $.69/pound at my Kroger, and I snagged this one for $1.75. A 2-1/2 pound squash is plenty for two people to eat as a main course; if you're cooking for one, just wrap the uncooked half in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge. It will keep for several days until you are ready to use it.


Quick Spaghetti Squash
Serves 2

Ingredients

1 small spaghetti squash (about 2-1/2 pounds)
Desired toppings (meat, veggies, and/or sauce of your choice)

Steps

1.  Remove any stickers and wash the spaghetti squash with soapy water.

2.  Pierce the spaghetti squash at least once with a knife. Microwave it on high for one to two minutes. This  softens the squash just enough to make it easier to cut and clean. (I don't think your squash will explode after two minutes in the microwave, but I pierce it just in case!)

3.  Remove the squash from the microwave and place on a cutting board. Use a large knife to cut it in half either way. The thing you need to know about the spaghetti squash is that the strings run in rings around the squash, not from end to end. If you cut it in half lengthwise (which is more difficult, since you have to deal with the stem), you're cutting the strands in half. If you cut it across its "equator" (which is easier) you'll get full strands but the halves are a bit trickier to deal with as they are less stable. 


Aside from pre-cooking for a minute or two, I really
haven't discovered the "trick" to making this easier.


(Or, poke some holes in it, cook it whole, and deal with it later--but it's going to be very hot, so be careful!)

4.  Use an ice cream scoop, melon baller, or a sturdy spoon to scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp. Word on the blogosphere is that you can clean and roast the seeds just like pumpkin seeds, but I haven't tried it.


I love my ice cream scoop for this.


5.  Place both squash halves cut side down in a microwave-safe dish (like a glass pie pan). Add about 1/3 cup of water to the dish. Microwave on high for about 7 minutes, then check it and continue to cook in 1-minute intervals as needed. When cooked, the flesh should be soft and easily pierced with a fork.

6.  Hold a squash half with a potholder and carefully use a fork to fluff the strands (works best if you pull the tines against the grain of the squash). Scrape the strands out into a bowl or cutting board.


How neat is that?


7.  Eat the squash as is, add some butter and Parmesan, or top it with a sauce. Spaghetti squash is one of those foods that can take on other tastes very well. Help it along by undercooking the squash just slightly, and then tossing the strands with the sauce in a pan over low heat for a minute or two. The sauce will latch on to the squash, and you'll end up with perfectly cooked strands.

Although many of the recipes you see for spaghetti squash treat it like pasta, I think it works better with Asian flavors. Like peanut sauce. My recipe below is the result of reading a lot of recipes and testing a few. Many recipes call for coconut milk, which I don't particularly care for, but if you like it you can replace half the water with it.

Peanut Sauce
Enough for one 2-1/2 pound spaghetti squash

Ingredients

1/4 cup peanut butter (creamy or crunchy, your choice)
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp lime or lemon juice
1 clove crushed garlic
1/2 cup water
Sriracha hot sauce and/or crushed red pepper, to taste

Steps

1.  Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until bubbling and thick. Or, combine the ingredients in a microwaveable bowl or container and heat in 30-second intervals until combined. Add more water for a thinner sauce.


You can serve the peanut sauce hot or cold.


2.  Store any leftover sauce in the fridge for about a week. You may need to thin the chilled sauce with water before serving.

Combine your spaghetti squash, peanut sauce, and any veggies or proteins you like.


Spaghetti squash with peanut sauce and some stir fried chicken.


How do you like your spaghetti squash?