Perfect Chocolate Cake – a ‘healthier’ version (dairy free, refined sugar free)

I have probably said this before and will say it again – “Chocolate makes the world go around!” And there is something about ‘chocolate cake’ that makes everyone drool! And when it comes to both my children, they usually look for only one word in the dessert menu – yeah you guessed it – chocolate! Anything ‘chocolatey’ will fly with them! As you know, I usually try to bake ‘healthier’ versions of desserts and I mostly love to include fruits in my desserts. I also like to bake with either less sugar or using better alternatives like maple syrup or honey), try to avoid dairy (or use grassfed butter) and also use healthy ingredients like coconut oil and coconut milk.

Vital Proteins HomeBaking sweet treats at home helps to assure the quality of the ingredients and avoid unnecessary chemicals, colors and preservatives. I very rarely bake decadent treats like this one and reserve them only for special occasions like our birthdays. I believe having an occasional treat (essentially 3-4 times in a year) is not only ok but that it is also essential for a balanced approach so that you don’t feel deprived. I like to enforce the 80-20 rule at home where you eat healthy 80% of the time. Of course, if you have a chronic disease like diabetes or cardiovascular disease and or have an autoimmune condition like me, you need to try and avoid these completely for a period of time.

Anyways, for my son’s birthday this year, I decided to bake a ‘healthier’, slightly modified version of Ina Garten’s Perfect Chocolate Cake by replacing butter, refined sugar and milk with coconut oil, coconut sugar and coconut milk. For the eggs too, I used farm fresh pastured eggs. In the frosting too, I used honey and coconut sugar. And for the entire cake, I used fresh 100% cacao powder. Pleased to report that all these changes meant a really decadent, moist cake that was so over the top delicious that all of our friends at the birthday party were raving about it some even asking for seconds! No wonder I couldn’t even get good pictures of the cake:)

But let me assure you that this cake is going to be a keeper. With everyone praising the cake so much, even I was tempted to have a small bite and gosh, it was ‘heavenly, melt-in-the-mouth delicious’! I was actually feeling sorry that I tasted it since it made it harder for me to control myself from having anymore! And next time, I will try making this gluten free.

Please do try this recipe and I am sure you will thank me!

Perfect Chocolate Cake - a 'healthier' version (dairy free, refined sugar free)
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 10-12
 
A decadent, moist chocolate cake covered with a delicious chocolate frosting baked using healthier ingredients like coconut oil, coconut sugar, coconut milk and honey.
Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups coconut sugar
  • ¾ cup 100% cacao powder (I used OMG brand)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • ½ cup melted coconut oil
  • 2 large eggs(I used farm fresh, pastured) - taken out of the refrigerator one hour before so they can be at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder(optional)
For the frosting:
  • 1 cup coconut oil(semisolid not completely melted)
  • ⅓ cup coconut cream (from top of a coconut milk can)
  • ⅔ cup raw cacao powder
  • ¼ cup coconut sugar(powdered finely)
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 deg F. Grease a large 10 inch springform pan (or 2 smaller pans) and dust lightly with flour.
  2. In a large tray or a sheet of parchment paper, add all the dry ingredients - all purpose flour, coconut sugar, cacao powder, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt. Mix them well using a spatula. Keep this aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer), add the coconut milk,melted coconut oil,vanilla and the eggs and beat using electric mixer until blended. Now slowly add the dry ingredient mix slowly in batches and continue to mix to blend everything well.
  4. Add the boiling water and coffee and mix again till well blended.
  5. Pour the batter into the pan (or pans) and bake at 350 deg F (or 175 deg F) for about 40-45 mins. Check after 35 mins. Cake is done when a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean. Remove immediately from oven and cool for about 30 mins before removing from pan.
  6. If using large pan, you will need to cut the cake horizontally to from two layers.
  7. For making frosting, add all frosting ingredients in a small bowl and mix using an electric mixer until creamy.
  8. Frost between the layers and on the outside.!
Notes
Make sure the eggs are at room temperature before you add them to the coconut oil and coconut milk mixture. If they are cold, the coconut oil will solidify! It happened with me. So in the event that this happens, don't worry - just place the bowl in a larger bowl with hot water and wait for about 10-15 mins until the coconut oil comes back to room temperature again.

Yam and Coconut Soup (Elephant foot yam curry)

Elephant foot yam? Now what is that? My kids were stumped. What a weird name! But if you see this yam, which is like a super large  yam or potato, it does indeed resemble an elephant’s foot!   In Indian cuisine this yam is used in almost every region although it is called by different names – Oal in the East, Chena (Kerala), sennai kizhangu in Tamil, sudan in the west and jimmikhand in the North.

In Kerala cuisine this yam is used in Avial (the traditional mixed vegetable dish) and in other similar dishes. My mom used to also add it to her shrimp curry or fish curry at times. And that’s why last week when I was cooking fish curry for my family, I thought why not create a vegan version for myself! That way I can still taste the deliciousness of the curry with the kodampuli (black tamarind that is native to Kerala) which I love so much.! Hence this vegan version was born.  Worked out quite efficiently for me actually since it took me the same amount of time -only 2 different pots to cook both versions of the curry.

Turns out that this yam has some medicinal benefits and is used in Ayurvedic system of medicine quite extensively.The curry turned out very tasty – how could it not? The unique flavor of this curry has a lot to do with using kodampuli(Garcinia cambogia). Kodampuli is a type of sour fruit that is indigenous to only kerala in India. It is available in Indian grocers that stock Kerala foods. If you are unable to get this item, you can substitute with tamarind or with green mangoes.

This soup is vegan and paleo. For an AIP version, all you need to do is skip the green chillies and the red chili (cayenne) pepper.

Suran Coconut Curry (Elephant foot yam curry)
Author: 
Recipe type: Main course, Soups
Cuisine: Indian, Kerala
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 3-4
 
A tangy, mildly spicy and creamy soup of elephant foot yam with coconut milk and curry spices
Ingredients
  • 1 cup of suran (elephant foot yam) pieces cubed (I used frozen suran pieces after thawing the in hot water for 5 minutes)
  • ½ tsp thinly chopped ginger
  • 2 small green chillies slit length-wise
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder (adjust as per desired spiciness)
  • 1 tsp of salt (or as per taste)
  • 2 small pieces of kodampuli soaked in about 2 tbsp water (or you can use 2-3 tamarind pieces pit or 1 tbsp tamarind pulp)
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 cups coconut milk (canned or fresh- see recipe for making fresh coconut milk below)
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped red onions or shallots
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 sprig of fresh curry leaves
For getting coconut milk:
  • 1¼ cups of fresh grated coconut or (frozen grated coconut that has been thawed)
  • 2 cups warm water (divided)
Instructions
  1. Take a medium size cooking pot (I use earthen pot since that’s what’s used traditionally in Kerala and this imparts a nice smoky flavor to the curry). But you could use any stainless steel or non stick pot. Add the suran pieces into the pot. Next add the green chillies and the ginger. then add the turmeric powder, red chilli powder and salt. Next add the kodampuli that has been soaked in a tbsp of water for 5-10 mins(or you can use tamarind). Add the water.
  2. Place the pot on the stove on medium heat for about 2-3 minutes till you see the water boiling. Immediately put the burner on low simmer and cover the pot with a lid. Cook covered for about 10 minutes swirling the pot gently every 5 minutes or so in order to prevent the suran pieces from sticking to the pot. Next open the lid and add the coconut milk. Let simmer for about 3-4 minutes on low heat. Turn heat off.
  3. Heat the coconut oil in a tadka pan for about 30 seconds. Then add the chopped onions and saute till golden brown. Add the curry leaves with its stem. Pour all the coconut oil along with the onions and curry leaves into the pot.
  4. Serve with cooked parboiled rice.
For making fresh coconut milk:
  1. Take the fresh grated coconut (or thawed frozen grated coconut) and add to a blender along with 1 cup of warm water. Blend for about 1-2 minutes. Then strain using a large strainer into a container. Next take the coconut from the strainer and again add to the blender with another 1 cup of warm water. Blend it again for about 1 minute and strain this milk into the pot so you will have approximately 2 cups of coconut milk.
Notes
!For AIP version, skip the green chillies and the red chili powder

Shrimp and green mango curry (Chemmeen and manga curry)

Green(Raw) Mangoes are a delight! As kids I remember me and my sisters begging my mom to save us a few pieces while she was slicing the green mangoes to use in fish/shrimp curry or to make a green mango chutney. We would relish the tart mango slices dusted with salt on top!.  Thinking about it makes my mouth water! 🙂  The seasonal  nature of this ‘treat’ is what would make it even more irresistible since the green mangoes would be available only in the spring months before they started getting fully ripe in the summer.

IMG_3176In Kerala, green mangoes are used in many dishes – both seafood and vegetable, and one of my absolute favorites is shrimp(called as chemmeen in malayalam) curry using green mangoes. This curry is similar to the Kerala style Fish curry that I have posted before except here green mangoes are used for providing the tartness as opposed to ‘Kodampuli’ that is otherwise used.  The combination of shrimp,coconut milk and green mangoes is what I call a perfect amalgam of flavors.! And if you cook this in an earthern(clay) pot as is done traditionally, then it is the ultimate curry ever! Give me this curry and rice any day 🙂 One has to taste this curry to really appreciate what I am raving about here! (I know ..I know …that applies to all the recipes I post I guess but in this case since green mangoes is not widely used in other cuisines, folks might find it hard to imagine what the taste would be like unless they actually taste it! )

So here’s my recipe. (I sometimes add a piece of kodampuli (check my glossary page to read more about this ingredient) to supplement the tartness of the mango if the mango is not that sour.)

Update/Notes- Since I posted this recipe, some of you have asked me how to get green mangoes and what can be used as a substitute if they are not available? Well ,you could start by looking in Indian/asian grocers around this time between March-June early spring. These are seasonal! And if you are not lucky enough to get green mangoes, I would suggest using tart green apples (the apples should not be too sweet). Or you could use tomatoes. Or of course, the other substitute for this curry is ‘kodampuli’, a special kind of tamarind I mention above.

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Shrimp and green mango curry (Chemmeen and manga curry)
Author: 
Recipe type: Main course
Cuisine: Kerala
 
Shrimp (prawns) cooked with green mangoes in coconut milk spiced with ginger, green chillies and turmeric to get a tangy and flavorful curry!
Ingredients
  • 1 lb uncooked shrimp (about 20-22 medium size),
  • deshelled and deveined
  • ¾ cup green mango pieces,
  • chopped into ½ inch cubes(about
  • 1 small mango)
  • a small piece of kodampuli or kokum (optional)
  • ¼ tsp fresh ginger, chopped finely
  • 3 green chillies,slit length-wise
  • 1½ tsp red chilli (cayenne)powder (use less for mild)
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1¼ tsp salt
  • 3 cups fresh coconut milk or canned(see notes below for
  • extracting fresh coconut milk)
For final garnish:
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped red onions or shallots
  • 1 tbsp liquefied coconut oil(or 1 tsp solid)
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves, with stem
For getting fresh coconut milk:
  • 2 cups of fresh grated coconut or (frozen grated coconut that has been thawed)
  • 2 cups plus 1 cup of warm water
Instructions
  1. Take an earthen/clay pot or a regular medium size cooking pot and add the cleaned pieces of shrimp in it. Keep aside.
  2. Peel the green mango and slice it into 1 inch cubes discarding the seed in the middle. Measure about ¾ th cup of mango pieces and add to the pot with the shrimp.
  3. Next add all the other ingredients including the coconut milk and mix slightly with a wooden spoon so that the spices blend well with the coconut milk.
  4. Keep the pot on the stove and heat covered on low to medium flame for about 20 minutes stirring every 5 minutes or so to prevent the shrimp from sticking to the pot.
  5. Take the lid off and check for consistency of the curry - it should be like a soup but not too watery and not too thick. If too thick, add a liitle bit of water and remove from flame. (If the curry looks too watery, let it cook for another 5 minutes or so uncovered on low heat until you get the desired consistency.)
  6. For the final tempering, heat the coconut oil in a tadka pan(small pan) for about 30 seconds. Then add the chopped onions and saute till golden brown(about 2 minutes). Add the curry leaves with its stem. Pour all the coconut oil and the onion and curry leaves mixture into the shrimp pot. Enjoy the shrimp curry with cooked parboiled rice and pappadams.!
For making fresh coconut milk:
  1. Take the 2 cups of fresh grated coconut (or thawed frozen grated coconut) and add to a blender along with 2 cups of warm water. Blend for about 1-2 minutes. Then strain using a large strainer directly into the pot with the fish. Next take the coconut from the strainer and again add to the blender with another 1 cup of warm water. Blend it again for about 1 minute and strain this milk into the pot so you will have approximately 3 cups of coconut milk.
Notes
For this curry, you really need tart green mangoes. If the mangoes are even slightly sweet then the curry will not taste as good. So first try a slice of the mango to check for tartness before using! If the green mango is not really tart, you can add a small piece of kodampuli (Kokum) to get additional tartness.
Sometimes, you may see some separation of the coconut milk on boiling (hence cooking on low to moderate heat is recommended). But if you do see separation, just lower the flame and let the curry simmer on low until it becomes unified again. If it doesn't still come together, then you may need to add a little bit more coconut milk towards the end.
For AIP, omit cayenne pepper and green chillies

Lemongrass and Chicken soup

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Lemongrass and Chicken soup

I hope the title and the picture makes it very very clear …yes, you guessed it right – this one is all about the lemongrass!!

Most men get fresh flowers for their wives. Mine gets me fresh lemongrass.  And of course he also gets a hug and a kiss in return! My love affair with lemon grass started a few years ago, however it is only quite recently that I really fell in love with lemongrass all over again.  This rekindling of love happened when I discovered ‘fresh’ lemongrass. ! Oh that wonderful, scintillating, refreshing scent…I just can’t have enough of it.!

OK so hubby dear got me this big bunch of fresh lemongrass that he spotted at the Chinese supermarket (where you will usually find him on saturday mornings waiting patiently in line to buy fresh fish).  I was just super elated and began frantically thinking of all possible things I could make using that.  The first creation simply had to be a simple, uncomplicated one – and what better than soup!.  I make tom yum soup quite often (using tom yum paste and lemon grass that comes in a jar). However this time I wanted make a soup where it would be -only Lemongrass’s turn to shine!.  So I decided to make a simple chicken soup with lemon grass minus the heat of Tom Yum. I think I was successful – this soup is so comforting it will make you feel happy and rejuvenated…(after all lemongrass is said to possess medicinal/restorative properties!)

This recipe will make about 4 servings 
Total Time Taken: 
Preparation time - 30 minutes (chopping and making stock);
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
For Making Chicken stock:
1 lb chicken pieces (preferably with bone)
5 cups water
1 onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves
3-4 whole black peppercorns
3-4 lemongrass pieces
1 tsp salt
For the soup:
About 4 cups Chicken stock (home made)
Shredded chicken pieces from stock above
1/2 cup fresh lemongrass stalks
2 garlic cloves
1 by 1 inch of fresh ginger, cut into thin slices
1 green chilli pepper (or halopeno pepper), cut into small
rounds or chopped (optional)
1/4 cup carrots cubed
1 tomato, chopped into big cubes
1 1/2 cup fresh or canned coconut milk
(see recipe for fresh coconut milk below)
bunch of fresh Cilantro,chopped

Method:

Clean the chicken pieces and put them in a big stock pot with the water and the other stock ingredients. Bring the water to a boil and them lower flame and let it simmer  covered for about 20 minutes.(Make sure you skim any scum that appears by checking periodically. You should also keep a tiny opening for the steam to escape). Turn the heat off and take the chicken pieces out of the stock and place them in a medium size bowl to cool and then shred them .         IMG_3600

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Now to the stock (in the same pot) add all the soup ingredients except the coconut milk and cook covered for about 15 mins on low to medium heat.

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Finally open the lid and add the coconut milk and the chopped cilantro. Cook for about 2 minutes on low heat until you begin to see bubbles and turn the heat off. Check for seasoning and add salt if needed.

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Recipe for extracting fresh coconut milk
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1 cup freshly grated coconut
(or fresh frozen grated coconut,
thawed to room temp)
1  plus 1/2 cup warm water.
Grind 1 cup of freshly grated coconut with first
1 cup of warm water. Strain using a large sieve.
Add the extracted coconut meat back into the food processor
and grind again using the 1/2 cup water. Strain again
using a sieve to get about 1 1/2 cups of fresh coconut milk.

Vegetable Stew (Kerala Style)

Vegetable Stew(Kerala Style)
Vegetable Stew(Kerala Style)

Coconuts grow in abundance in Kerala and hence coconut milk , grated coconut and coconut oil are widely used in Kerala cuisine. One vegetable dish that uses coconut milk  and no red chilli powder and is therefore white in color is ‘vegetable stew’. The stew usually is made out of vegetables like potatoes , carrots and peas and goes well with Vellappams( white rice pancakes with a soft spongy center and a lacy crispy edge).  The non-vegetarian version of stew is usually made with mutton (lamb) and is a favorite of the Syrian Christians.You can eat this stew with any kind of bread too. They taste good with rotis or pooris too. The sauce is a coconut milk sauce infused with whole spices like cloves, cinnamon and black pepper.  The whole spices make the sauce mildly spicy and the coconut milk imparts a sweet and rich flavor.  The final garnish is a simple drizzling of coconut oil and fresh curry leaves.  You could also add cashew nuts toasted in ghee  and or raisins to make it extra rich. Hmmm…just yumm!

This is a quite simple recipe with the only slightly cumbersome part being getting the fresh coconut milk. Although now that I use fresh frozen grated coconut(and don’t have to grate coconut from a fresh coconut!), I don’t think it’s a huge chore anymore.  You can make this using canned coconut milk too but make sure to get a good brand that does not have a rancid smell.

This recipe will make about 3-4 servings as a side dish
Time Taken:  About 30 minutes
Ingredients :
3 medium size Potatoes (chopped into 1/2 inch cubes)
1/2 cup Peas    
1/4 cup Carrot(cut into 1/4 inch small cubes)
1 large Onion cut into thin slices
3 green chillies (cut length-wise)  Use 2 if you want it mildly spicy
4 whole cloves         
1 inch piece of cinnamon stick 
5-6 whole black peppercorns 
1 tsp fresh ginger, thinly chopped
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
Thick coconut milk,(fresh or canned) 1 1/2 cup -
see method for extracting fresh coconut milk below
a sprig of fresh curry leaves (about 6-8 leaves)
1 tbsp coconut oil

Method:

If using freshly grated coconut (or fresh frozen grated coconut) for making the coconut milk, follow the procedure below and extract the milk and keep aside.

Cut the potatoes and carrots into cubes. Cut the onion into thin long slices. In a medium size cooking pot, add the potatoes, carrots,peas and onions along with the cut green chillies and ginger. Add the whole black pepper,cloves and the cinnamon. Add about 1/2 cup water and salt.

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Bring the water to a boil and immediately cover the pot with a lid. Cook on a medium flame for around 5-7 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. At this point there should not be much water left. Turn the heat off. IMG_3274

Now add the coconut milk and mix slowly and cook on low flame for  about 1-2 minutes until you can see tiny bubbles beginning to appear in the milk. Immediately turn the heat off  and add curry leaves and the coconut oil. (Do not let the coconut milk boil or it will curdle.)

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Serve hot with vellappams or rotis or pooris.

For extracting thick fresh coconut milk: 

Blend 1 cup grated fresh or  frozen fresh grated coconut (that has been thawed beforehand) with 1 cup warm water in a food processor or a blender  for about 2-3 minutes and then strain using a large strainer to extract coconut milk. Add the extracted coconut meat back into the processor and again blend using another 1/2 cup of warm water to get more coconut milk. Discard the coconut meat. You should get about 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk.

If using canned coconut milk, I recommend using ‘Thai’brand canned coconut milk, which has a better taste as compared to other canned coconut milk products.

Notes:

If you dislike having whole spices in your final dish, you could use a bouquet garni to add the whole spices. That way they can be safely discarded before serving. Either way take care to avoid the whole spices when you eat!

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