Friday, September 02, 2011

African Food & Hot Fudge Pudding

red penne
I can't tell you how sad I am that summer is over. Isabel started high school a two weeks ago and yesterday morning Owen strapped on his 50-pound backpack, picked up his giant trombone, and set off down the hill to the middle school whence he emerged seven hours later cheerful and full of stories, but looking a little stunned. An hour later he fell apart because he had already lost his homework planner and he was sure he was going to be sentenced to eternal detention. "They're really strict about that in middle school!" he cried. I told him I thought the teachers would have compassion in the first week of school and that if they didn't I would homeschool him (?), but that meanwhile he really needed to figure out how to pay attention to his belongings. Then I left him disconsolate under a mountain of school supplies and drove Isabel to dance class.

Over the summer I thought I had outgrown my taste for alcohol. I thought, what an unexpected and wholesome development!

Yes, well. Cheers.

Three African dinners to report on:

1. Red penne. A lustrous pasta sauced with harissa (pepper paste) and ground almonds from Soul of a New Cuisine. Marcus Samuelsson likens it to pesto, which it somewhat resembles, except spicier and red. It is very delicious, though not quite as delicious as pesto. Another solid recipe from that very solid book.

2. I've been testing recipes from Marcus Samuelsson's Soul of a New Cuisine against the same recipes from The Africa News Cookbook. I was secretly rooting for the humble spiral-bound Africa News over the shiny chef's book, but the chef's book easily wins this round. The bobotie (Malay-inspired ground meat curry) from Soul of a New Cuisine was tender and fragrant. The bobotie from Africa News dried out in the baking so the top formed a mahogany brown crust studded with puffy burned raisins. I have spared you the photograph. To accompany, I made the buttery Africa News yellow rice which we liked, but which couldn't really compete with Samuelsson's "fancy" yellow rice, full of mango, yellow tomato, expensive saffron and corn on the cob. Not a fair fight, but Samuelsson still wins.
pretty and humble
3. Thursday night, I made Samuelsson's doro wett, an Ethiopian chicken stew with hard-boiled eggs. I hoped to present it, as he recommends, with a big plate of injera, the sour, soft, spongy flatbread that serves, in the course of an Ethiopian meal, as a platter, a utensil, and a tangy starch. I've only ever tasted injera in Ethiopian restaurants and it's the main reason I love going to Ethiopian restaurants. I had read disparaging reviews of Marcus Samuelsson's injera recipe and I am sorry to report that the naysayers were correct. His recipe calls for whole wheat flour, club soda, baking soda, and yogurt and yields a large brown pancake that is very tasty, but in no way resembles injera. It seemed much too easy and was. I am going to learn to make proper injera if it takes me the rest of the year.

Pass the maple syrup.
On another subject, I haven't been able to throw away any of my mother's clipped recipes and they sit n stacks and binders and files around the house. I have all my late grandmother's recipes too, and while I know that to keep them is silly, I think it's a benign kind of silliness, like keeping too many measuring spoons. No. It's better than benign. It makes me happy. When I look at my mother's and grandmother's recipe collections, I see those two women at their most youthful and hopeful. Recipe clipping and collecting is such an optimistic gesture, full of the expectation that there will be many days to come in which you will prepare and partake of braided holiday breads, homemade marshmallow eggs, oven-fried chicken, hot fudge pudding.

The following recipe for hot fudge pudding was at the top of one of my mother's stacks. I'm pretty sure she never made it. Clipped from the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003, it's one of those wacky recipes that has you mix ordinary cake ingredients and then pour hot water over everything to make a horrendous mudpie that miraculously bakes into something coherent and wonderful. It is super-easy and calls for ingredients you might actually have in the cupboard right now.

Homely, but so good

1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup chopped nuts (I used almonds)
1 cup light brown sugar
1 3/4 cups hot water

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 9-inch square pan.

2. Sift flour, baking powder, sugar, and 2 tablespoons of the cocoa into a mixing bowl. Stir in milk, butter and nuts.

3. Spread the batter in the pan. Mix together the brown sugar and remaining cocoa and spread over the batter. Pour the hot water over everything.

4. Bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

It reheats well.  Last night, since the homework hasn't kicked in for real, Owen and I sat on the sofa and ate leftover pudding and watched The Gods Must Be Crazy, which I remembered as hilarious but is actually awful. Owen loved it, though, and told me he wished he was a Bushman.


  1. Interesting take on The Gods Must Be Crazy. I hate it when movies don't age well. I loved it too, in my sheltered suburban way.
    Charade--so much could have been solved by a cellphone! But it's part of the charm.
    I'm with you on the recipes. I can hardly bear to go through them. My father was an inveterate reader of recipes, and would point out to my mother which ones she should make, which now seems sadistic to me, but my mom was great in the kitchen. And 10 years on, I am struggling to think of anything of hers I wish I could recreate. Well--not totally true--her eye roast, and an awesome crockpot thing with tomato sauce and pork.
    Anyway. Here's hoping the assignment book is the biggest tragedy middle school brings.

  2. Why does Isabel start two weeks earlier than Owen? Middle school-so tortuous. It's so hormonal, it will be easier with a boy vs. a girl. My kids are the opposite of yours-first born boy, younger child, a girl. We are not ready for school; up too late, sleeping in very late. Exhaustion will be our identity for a few days, I suspect. Love to hear about the kids, it helps so much to know others are blazing the trail.

  3. Hot fudge pudding comes to the rescue for any life emergency. Thank you.

  4. We had the same problem with Ghostbusters. Not so great for kids.
    Have you tried the Injera recipe from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce? I haven't made it yet, so don't know if it is good, but all of her other recipes have been stellar, so maybe give it a shot.

  5. MemeGRL -- it's odd you comment about Charade, because Tipsy's family, sans Tipsy, just went to see it at a theater the other night. Did one of us unknowingly broadcast this fact through some sort of automatic social media, or did you just bring it up out of the blue?

  6. Regarding Ghostbusters, I thought that played pretty well with the Tipsy kids. I mean, it didn't scare them or anything, but I think they enjoyed it.

    But certainly for the most part, movies of the parents' teen years don't work with the kids.

    Seeing old movies in a big theater helps, though. Isabel really liked Lawrence of Arabia, which I'm sure she would have walked away from in the TV room. Also, when you watch in a theater, the kid can't be multitasking on her laptop at the same time.

  7. This hot fudge pudding is causing me serious problems. I have scheduled a Skinny Cow mint ice cream sandwich for my dessert-slash-mouth entertainment while noodling around the Internet. Now I fear it will not measure up to what I really want...

  8. This cake is awesome with mint chocolate chip ice cream...we used to make it all the time. It was always a little scary to pour that hot water on top.

  9. I made the Hot Fudge Pudding tonight "for the kids." As someone wise and witty once wrote, "I haven't eaten dessert in months and planned to eat but one wee bite. This was not what transpired." I had a wee bite. Then another, and another. And another ...

    This turns out to be a metaphor for how I have been devouring your writing. I read a blog post, then another, then decided to start at the beginning. I got your book out of the library, was halfway through it, succumbed and bought it. Finished reading the book, started it over again, went back to reading the blog.

    Thank you. You are a wonderful, funny, touching writer and chronicler, and I'm preparing to make my own cheese and kimchi now because of you. But damn it, I do wish I'd never surrendered to the siren song of the hot fudge pudding.