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Chocolate lava cake for a sweet celebration

Article and photos by Lisa Crockett

In this issue, The Connection is taking a look back at its past. As the writer who handles most of the food stories here, of course I have been thinking about how to mark the occasion with food. As in many other facets of my life, I am a firm believer in being fashionably late, and my work with food is no exception – I didn’t start writing about cooking until September 2011.

A decade ago when the paper was brand new, most of the food writing (which wasn’t always a regular feature) was done by a talented and capable writer named Sally Uhrich. When she stepped down from her position, I asked if I could parlay my long-standing interest in cooking into a regular feature in the paper. As a writer, that decision has been one of the most satisfying and enjoyable parts of my life.

I started an exciting journey and learned that knowing how to make something delicious was a decidedly different skill than knowing how to describe it and use words to teach home cooks how to produce the same results in their own kitchens. And taking pictures of food? Well, that’s an ongoing lesson I am in a continual process of learning. (If you should ever want a list of foods that taste wonderful and simply don’t photograph well, I could provide you with one; It would be long!) Sometimes I get it really right, and readers let me know how much they have loved what they cooked. Other times, things that seemed self explanatory to me have caused problems for readers (a recent example: I briefly wrote about a recipe for a low-fat pumpkin bundt cake that apparently does not work as cupcakes.) Even when I get it wrong, though, I love to hear feedback from readers. It helps me grow and improve as a writer and a cook.

In the early days, I simply shared my favorite recipes. There were many, and I think a part of me thought I might never run out of tried-and-true family favorites. In fact, my first recipe was one for refrigerator pickles, a recipe taken directly from the vinegar-spattered index card I’d pulled out of my grandmother’s recipe box as a keepsake in the days after her funeral. Gradually, though, my supply of such recipe ideas ran low and I began to realize that I would need to try new things in order to keep my column fresh and relevant.

Readers have been on this journey with me, and while I tend to favor desserts and treats, they often request recipes for healthy fare. To that end, I’ve looked for ways to use ingredients like spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, and lean protein.

Human beings can’t live on kale chips alone though, and my favorite columns have generally featured goodies worthy of celebrations and special occasions. And though I am informed about the importance of a healthy diet, I have always been a firm believer in the idea of balance – make friends with Brussels sprouts and almond butter, but don’t throw that bittersweet chocolate bar in the trash. Instead, use that chocolate bar to make something like this tasty, decadent chocolate cake, a picture-perfect way to mark an important anniversary. I made a version of this cake in our February 2015 issue, but in the spirit of trying new things, I whipped this up in an electric pressure cooker, which gave it wonderful moist and tender texture. If you don’t have a pressure cooker though, the oven will give you great results too. If you don’t happen to be celebrating our anniversary with cake (although I really think you should), you might be hosting a romantic dinner in the middle of this month. The cake seems gourmet and hard to make, but is actually quick and simple. Serve it with ice cream, whipped cream, fruit, or anything else your heart desires.

Next month, I’ll have a recipe that features something your cardiologist and dietitian would approve of, but for now, take a deep dive into this dessert. You won’t regret it.

Here’s to 10 more years!

Chocolate Lava Cake

If you have an Instant Pot, this is a fun way to use it. If an electric pressure cooker isn’t part of your kitchen arsenal, pop these in the oven instead. If you plan to take the cakes out of the ramekins for serving, be sure to grease them generously and cool them for at least 20 minutes. If you’re nervous about your cakes falling apart, feel free to serve them in the ramekins for a classic presentation.

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60-70% cacao)
2 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 eggs
½ cup sugar
¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
Optional toppings: ice cream, whipped cream, fresh berries, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, powdered sugar

Spray four (six ounce) ramekins generously with non-stick cooking spray. Melt chocolate and butter together in the microwave, cooking the mixture for 30 seconds and then stirring until smooth. Set chocolate mixture aside to cool for about five minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla until smooth. Slowly whisk chocolate into egg mixture until smooth and well combined. Divide batter evenly between the four ramekins.

For pressure cooking: pour a cup of water into the pressure cooker. Place ramekins on a rack sitting above the water (depending on the size of your pressure cooker, you may need to place three ramekins on the rack and place the final ramekin on top). Place lid on Instant Pot and manually cook on high pressure for 8 minutes, then quick release and carefully remove ramekins to a cooling rack. Cool for about 20 minutes before serving with desired toppings. Cakes can be served in the ramekins, or carefully turned out onto a serving plate.

For oven cooking: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake cakes for 15 minutes. The edges will be firm, but the center will be runny. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before serving with desired toppings. Cakes can be served in ramekins, or carefully turned out onto a serving plate.

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