12/09/2011 10:21 am ET | Updated Feb 08, 2012

Easy-Peasy Chocolate Cake

This will become your go-to chocolate cake. It's simple, it's easy, and it's always good. But first, the story behind it...

In 1979 when my father was about 55 years old, with a couple of kids still at home (5 were already grown-up), he bought a Stop & Go Transmissions franchise. The timeline is a little murky because he changed businesses so often. We all thought he was nuts -- he knew nothing about car. He was a restaurant and lounge kind of guy, a "Dewars and water" man. In his 2005 eulogy to my father, my brother Joe described my father as a:

Lover of the long shot
big Cadillac dreamer
double-breasted suit wearer
money loaner
story teller
risk taker
hell of a guy...

Transmission-shop owner wasn't in there. But my father had insisted that this business would provide the big pay-out: next stop, easy-street. The business was pretty successful for a while, but he was restless -- he tired of it after five years, and moved on to buy the Elbow Room Lounge. That's where I bartended for a while, and met Half-Man and Texaco Jack (but that's another story). Some time not long after this era, I acquired the recipe for this chocolate cake. I have no idea where the recipe came from and no recollection of writing it down. But I've made it a thousand times and it's always good -- pretty easy, too. I bet you have all the ingredients on hand right now to make it. Who doesn't have cocoa powder (there's probably a can of it kicking around somewhere in that pantry), or eggs, baking soda, sugar, salt, flour, vanilla? I wanted to use-up lots of pantry items before replenishing my stocks for Thanksgiving cooking. So I chopped-up what I had of hazelnuts, walnuts and dried Medjool dates -- just a handful of each. I didn't even adjust the proportions of any of the other ingredients and the cake was great (although it could have used more of any of those extra ingedients). I made two cakes, one for home and one to take to my daughter in New York, a starving young actress -- which is yet another story. The cake is moist, very chocolate-ty (but not fudgy, which I hate in a cake), and seems to keep forever.

Easy-Peasy Chocolate Cake

1 well-buttered 9" or 10" Bundt pan (adjust cooking time accordingly)

In a saucepan on the stove-top bring to boil
1 stick of butter
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli's)

In a mixing bowl combine
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
(and any dry ingredients in your pantry you'd like to add, e.g., nuts, raisins, dates, etc.)

Combine the two mixtures and beat with electric mixer until well mixed.

Then add
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk or sour cream (I didn't have either so I used plain yogurt)
1 tsp. real vanilla extract

Beat until smooth.

Pour into prepared pan. 350 degrees for 50 minutes to 1 hour (yum).