Chermoula Eggplant

If you are a reader of food blogs you've already heard everyone extolling the virtues of the Yotam Ottolenghi and his cookbooks Jerusalem, Ottolenghi, Plenty, and Plenty More. I bought Jerusalem early this year on a whim: it's an absolutely gorgeous book, full of fabulous photography and overflowing with detail on the regional cuisines that have influenced and inspired Jerusalem's. I really enjoy when cookbooks are more than a collection of recipes, when they have a narrative that elevates the recipes on their pages. So yes, I highly recommend Jerusalem if you are an adventurous eater who likes to eat her vegetables. Moreover, this book has hands down the best way to cook eggplant in the history of forever and ever amen. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, score the flesh with deep cuts across the surface (without cutting through the skin), and slather some good marinade yum yums all over it (i.e. chermoula). When you roast it at a high temperature, the marinade seeps down into the all those crevices you've made, and you end up with soft, velvety eggplant that tastes super good. Yup. It's delicious. Ottolenghi is the based god of vegetables.

Chermoula is a marinade used in Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian cooking. This recipe in particular combines preserved lemon, garlic, cumin, dried coriander and chili, and paprika, but there are variations that include saffron, fresh coriander (a.k.a. cilantro), onion, black pepper, et cetera. If you've never had preserved lemon before it is divine and you should buy some immediately, or make your own if you are so blessed to have citrus growing near you.

nekkid chermoula eggplant with all-dressed-up chermoula eggplant

You probably won't hear from me again until the new year, so ¡feliz año nuevo! I'll be in New Hampshire for Christmas festivities, then in Wisconsin for more holiday festivities before returning to Chicago. I'll probably be asleep for most of break, because that's what vacation is for, but I'll at least be awake to eat too many cookies (is there such a thing?), play games (SCRABBLE YAS), and do the gifting thing. Let the holiday food coma begin!

Chermoula Eggplant
from Jerusalem

2 medium eggplants, sliced in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons preserved lemon peel
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1/4 c olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Score the flesh of each eggplant half with deep, diagonal cuts without piercing the skin. Mix together the rest of the ingredients, lemon peel through olive oil, for the chermoula. Spread the chermoula over each half, and place on a baking sheet with the cut side up. Roast for 40 minutes, or until the eggplants are completely soft.

Meanwhile, make the bulgur salad.

Bulgur Salad
slightly adapted from Jerusalem

1 c bulgur (you can substitute rice if you prefer)
1/4 c olive oil
1 handful cilantro
10-15 leaves mint
1/3 c golden raisins
1/3 c green olives
1/3 c sliced almonds, toasted
1 handful green beans
Kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 c Greek yogurt

Soak the raisins in a little hot water to reconstitute them. After 10 minutes, drain and set aside. Cook the bulgur or rice, adding in the green beans in the last minute or so, then add the olive oil and salt. Finish with the herbs, olives, almonds, and lemon juice.

Once the eggplants have cooked, serve with the bulgur salad, a spoonful of yogurt, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Thanksgiving Turkey + Leftovers

Friends, Thanksgiving was excellent. The turkey, cider cranberry sauce, sage and onion stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potato biscuits, roasted root vegetables and brussel sprouts, and berry pie all turned out as planned (although there was a slight debacle with the meat thermometer). Snaps all around to my lovely sous chef and amazing apartment cleaner Tor, and to my parents for buying wine and champagne (and the turkey). The parental units didn't make it to my dinner this year unfortunately, but I had 14 people, and everyone left well-fed and happy, with leftovers to spare.

Dropped the ball on the photography again, but certainly didn't drop the ball in the food department.

I made sure that the turkey carcass wasn't discarded this year (Papa Z got an ear full from me last year when he threw it away in the chaos of post-dinner clean up) so I could make stock and turn it into some delicious chili. This recipe is fabulous, and I've been eating it over swiss chard and mashed potatoes for lunch for the past couple days (I made even more mashed potatoes this week after my leftovers ran out, no shame). Of course, I also made a glorious post-Thanksgiving sandwich with brie and mustard, because that's the point of making Thanksgiving dinner.

Now it's tenth week, which means finals the next. I'm so, so excited for this quarter to be over. Until then, I will be playing The RiverCooler than Latch (remix of Latch), and Blank Space basically on loop.

In other news, happy second birthday today to this blog! Time for those terrible twos.

Roast Turkey
from Alton Brown

1 cup Kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon allspice berries
1/2 tablespoon chopped crystalized ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water
1 apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage
Canola oil

2-3 days before you want to roast the turkey:

Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator. Once thawed, combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar and salt, and bring to a boil. Remove the brine from the heat, then refrigerate until cold.

1 day before you want to roast the turkey:

Combine the brine, water and ice in a 5-gallon bucket (or thoroughly cleaned cooler). Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

On the day you want to eat:

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine. Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil for at least 15 minutes before carving (I let mine sit for almost an hour and it was still hot).

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

Apologies for the crappy iPhone photo, friends. It's been a rough few weeks, and I didn't quite have time to take pretty photos of my food before eating it. But I started playing volleyball intensely again last week, which has improved my quality of life tremendously.

I used to practice with the men's club team my first year (since there's no women's club team at UChicago), when they didn't usually have enough guys to run a full practice; but as I got more involved in crew, and then kept getting injured, I stopped going. Now they have plenty of guys on the team, so women who want to practice with them have to try out. Another woman, who's a graduate student in biochemistry from Poland and a really sweet person all around, and I both go regularly now, and it's been excellent. I somehow forgot how much I loved the sport, even though I started playing 9 years ago, and how fun sports in general can actually be. How did I forget that? Stupid, right?

Don't get me wrong, I do love rowing, especially sculling I've found (even though I'm still very much in the learning stages for that), but not racing. The anxiety around racing, coupled with all of the interpersonal drama and stress of being on the board, made rowing more of a stressor than a stress reliever. Even though I fully separated myself from crew this quarter, I've been feeling unmoored, in a stressed and chaotic state without any satisfying sense of purpose. I do my schoolwork because I have to graduate, I go to work because I have the responsibility to go, I work on my honors thesis because I have committed to writing one.

Salsa practice on Tuesdays became the other consistent little light in my week, after my FaceTime calls with Jimmy on Sundays -- but in between was just this frenetic energy, relaxed every once in a while by the quiet moments when my roommates and I stopped to cuddle and eat ice cream together. Going back to volleyball has given me a consistent, calm sense of purpose, and a culturally acceptable forum for me to hit things really hard. My anxiety is lower, I've been sleeping better, and looking forward to practice gets me through the week. Now if I could not have to spend so much time doing case studies to prepare for job interviews that would be sweet. Until then, there will be pita bread and hummus for me to make and devour.

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 1/4 cups warm water, divided (about 115 degrees F)
1 1/2 cups bread flour, divided
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, divided
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl combine yeast, honey and 1/2 cup warm water until the yeast dissolves. Let the mixture stand 5 minutes until puffy (if it doesn’t puff up, discard the whole mixture and start over). Add 1/2 cup bread flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, and stir until smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.

When yeast mixture is doubled, add remaining warm water, flours, olive oil and salt. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until a smooth, elastic and only slightly sticky dough forms, about 10 minutes. Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, and turn once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch down the dough. Divide it into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, then stretch each dough ball into a 7-inch wide circle. Transfer the discs of dough to baking sheets lightly dusted in cornmeal. Cover the dough with tea towels and let rise them until puffy, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 500 degrees F with one rack in the lower third of the oven. Carefully place 4 pitas at a time directly on top of oven racks. Bake 2-3 minutes or until puffy and golden. Using tongs, flip pitas and bake 1 minute more. Transfer pitas to a cooling rack to cool 2 minutes, then place in a kitchen towel to stay warm and pliable. Repeat with remaining pitas.

Concord Grape + Red Wine Jam

Hi friends. In lieu of the usual prose, I've got some little bits of fun for you from around the Internets, and a recipe for jam with red wine in it, because I'm a grown up now and you ain't gonna stop me. I also made lavender-orange biscuits as a jam-delivery-vehicle, because stress baking season has begun (I added 1/2 teaspoon of dried lavender and the zest of 1 orange to Smitten Kitchen's buttermilk biscuit recipe). Coming down the pipeline: soba noodles with tahini-sriracha sauce (i.e. today's lunch), red wine-stewed lentils with red kale (are you sensing a theme in my diet lately?), and Finnish cinnamon rolls. Come at me fourth week.

Links on links on links:

This song is life-changing. Seriously. Shouts out to the Usagi-bae (otherwise known as Ariel) for enriching my morning shower butter + jam playlist (get it, it's my jam-out playlist? yes? such witty, wow?).

My friend Addie just started her own cooking blog -- she's only in middle school, and she's wicked talented!! Check it out here.

I read a fabulous analysis of Diego Rivera's mural in the National Palace of Mexico City for my Modern Latin American Art class. If you're a college student with free access to academic journals, I highly suggest that you read Leonard Folgarait's Revolution as Ritual: Diego Rivera's National Palace Mural.

Don't mind me drooling over everything on QUITOKEETO. This shop is just luscious, oh my.

Culinary Bro-Down is one of my favorite food blogs to read, not really because I want to make his food but because his writing is actually fabulous, and never fails to make me laugh. This post in particular is pretty spot-on.

In terms of blogs that make me want to stop whatever I'm doing and cook something, my name is yeh is one of the best. Like, brownies with matcha glaze? OK.

Concord Grape + Red Wine Jam
guided by Grow It Cook It Can It and lots of Google searches

9 c stemmed concord grapes, washed (if you can find seedless ones, thank your lucky stars)
1/2 c maple syrup
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 c pinot noir

Ok, this is the worst part. Send all 9 cups of grapes through a ricer in order to remove the skins and seeds. If you don't have a ricer, you're gonna have a bad time (i.e. you will need to skin each grape by hand, cook them with the wine, then squish them through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the seeds, and proceed with the rest of the instructions). If you want the skins to be in the final product, skin them by hand, then put them through the ricer to remove the seeds. You can add the skins in the pot for cooking.

Once your grapes are nekkid, cook them in a non-reactive pot over medium-high heat with the wine for 10-15 minutes, until things are getting good and syrupy (this is not super technical, I apologize -- just use your good judgment). Add in the maple syrup and cook on high until the mixture reaches 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer.

Meanwhile, clean your jars, lids, and rings in hot, soapy water. Bring a large pot of water for canning to a boil, making sure you have enough water to cover the jars by 1 inch. Once it's at a boil, sterilize everything (utensils, jars, lids, rings) for at least 5 minutes. You want to have hot jam go into hot jars.

Remove the hot jars and fill with jam, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Place on the lids, tighten the rings, and process in the boiling water for 10 minutes. After they've been processed, let the jars cool to room temperature.

Pastel de Choclo

Feeling both chilly and devilish on the beach in La Serena

Feelings of normalcy are sliding back into place as I return to class, to work, to my what-shall-I-call-other-than home in Chicago. I don't know how I managed to develop homesickness for a place I only lived for a month, but here I am, making borracho beans with rice, empanadas de pino, and pastel de choclo within the span of a week, trying to create a sense of being in a place more than five thousand miles away from here. It helps that I love the people I live with and have an amazingly supportive work environment, but of course it's not the same. How could it be? I've already started planning my travels for next summer -- which will [hopefully] include London, Oaxaca, Mexico City, and several cities in Greece -- and this year's Thanksgiving meal, so I have ample material for daydreams and spreadsheets.

And so, a lesson on corn is in order instead of my musings about being home. First of all, choclo refers to a specific kind of corn. It's a variety that is much starchier than the sweet corn we can find en los Estados Unidos, so that when you cook it, it turns into a wonderfully thick pudding. Pastel de choclo is akin to shepherd's pie, with a bottom layer of pino (a term for the mixture of beef and onions cooked with salt, pepper, cumin, and sometimes paprika, along with golden raisins, slices of hard-boiled egg, and olives: it's a classic Chilean filling for empanadas), covered by chicken, which is then covered by a mixture of cooked choclo, basil, and salt. It's usually baked and served in individual clay bowls, but since I bought a clay pot when I was in Pomaire, a town an hour away from Santiago famous for their clay works, I baked mine into one casserole of sorts. 

After removing the kernels of corn from the cobs, I simmered the cobs with some salt and water to make a corn broth -- which is fabulous to drink if you have a cold by the way (trust me, I've had a gross cold for the past few days) -- that I'll turn into soup later this week. You can also steep the corn silks (after removing the black ends) in hot water to make tea that's supposed to heal all sorts of ailments, and you could dry out the husks for tamales. I didn't manage to do either of those this time around, but if you're feeling ambitious, make use of all that late summer produce has to offer before the midwest becomes a tundra once more. 

Pastel de Choclo
adapted from Viva Chile!

8 large ears of corn, silks and husks removed
8 leaves fresh basil, finely chopped
3 tablespoons butter
0.5-1 c half-and-half
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons oil
1 pound lean ground beef
Kosher salt
Black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
0.5-1 c black olives, pitted
3 c golden raisins
4 chicken thighs or 2 chicken breasts

Over a large bowl, use the largest holes of a box grater to remove the corn kernels from the cobs. You want to keep both the liquid and the pieces of corn (use the cobs to make stock, trust me, it's delicious). In a medium saucepan, heat the corn with the basil, salt to taste, and butter. Once the butter has melted, add the half-and-half a little at a time until the mixture has thickened and become custard-like.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan with high sides. Sweat the onions for a few minutes until translucent, then push to the side and add in another tablespoon of oil and the ground beef. Season the beef with salt, pepper, 1 teaspoon cumin, and paprika, then cook until browned. Stir the onions into the beef once it's browned, then add in the raisins and olives.

Meanwhile, in another pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and the other teaspoon of cumin, then sear skin-side down. Cook the chicken through, then either remove the meat from the bones, saving the bones for stock, or proceed to the next step.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In individual oven-proof bowls (or in one large vessel), layer the beef mixture with the egg, then the chicken, and lastly the corn mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes if in individual bowls, or 1+ hour for one pan/pot (depending on your oven), until the top is golden brown and the edges are bubbling.

Merluza à la Gallega

Pisco de Elqui en el Valle del Elqui

I've been in Santiago, Chile, for nearly four weeks now. Jimmy and I have travelled together to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and to El Valle del Elqui, a region north of Santiago. Now we're gearing up for the country's Independence Day celebrations, called Fiestas Patrias, this Thursday (the festivities have already begun and will last throughout the weekend, but the country's birthday is technically September 18).

La Casa Rosada en Buenos Aires

The days have been so full, even the quiet and lazy ones when I finally roll out of bed late in the morning, hang around La Moneda (the presidential palace) reading, and make dinner in the twilight hours with Jimmy when he comes home from class. They're full in a simple, satisfying way, like lying out in the sun in springtime. We've trekked up Cerro San Cristóbal in Santiago, wandered the streets of Barrio San Telmo (where the night is filled with spontaneous parties on the street corners, with a band of musicians and a throng of happy dancers) in Buenos Aires, biked all around El Valle del Elqui in search of artisanal pisco, and learned how to salsa.  We've eaten well, drunk lots of Chilean (and Argentinian) wine, and rowed together in a double in Laguna Aculeo, which is the most beautiful place I have ever rowed.

Happy rower, taken by her happy doubles partner

It's an adventure each day when I explore on my own too, using my limited Spanish to find my way around the city on its excellent metro system, have my fill of empanadas from my favorite hole-in-the-wall place near La Moneda, and try my best not to be afraid of interacting with shopkeepers and waiters. Sometimes I pass by a store two or three times before I gather myself and walk in. But if there's anything I've gained from my solo wanderings, it's that I've gotten over being embarrassed. I've had some great interactions with people, when they're surprised to discover that I can tell them what I'm looking for and ask them questions in decent, albeit slow, Spanish, but I've also had ones that have ended with me pointing at things and them speaking broken English. I can't win them all, but I do try.

On my first morning in South America, Jimmy took me grocery shopping at La Vega. The sprawling market just over the Mapocho River, in the central part of the city, is a series of open-air warehouses, with stalls full of produce, meat, and dry goods like loose tea and beans, and small restaurants crammed with Santiago locals and their rolling shopping bags. It's surrounded by a ring of vendors selling cookware, clothing, and kitsch, and where stray dogs wander with the shoppers. The avocados are always excellent, and there is a really interestingly-shaped kind of kiwi that Jimmy, and now I, really enjoy. Today we also got around to buying some zapallo, a popular squash here with bright orange flesh, sold in huge chunks that the vendors saw off for you. La Vega is certainly not what I would call a farmer's market -- there is nothing quiet or bucolic about it (in fact it feels much more like an auction floor) -- but the hands of the men and women at their stalls are caked with dirt as they strip the outer leaves from bunches of spinach and twist carrots away from their stems. They are not far from the land where these were first planted.

A block away is another smaller market called Tirso de Molina that has two floors, the first with several more produce vendors and some great fresh juice counters (protip: ask for mango and orange together), and the second with fast food stalls. If you take the footbridge back over the river, lined with people selling Peruvian ceviche (over pasta, something I hadn't seen before), freshly fried sopapillas (that are excellent smothered with spicy tomato and pepper salsa, slaw, and mustard, which sounds weird together but is delicious, trust me), and all kinds of housewares (that often appear to have been gently used already), there's a great fish market in Mercado Central where the mongers will clean, debone, and fillet whole fish right in front of you. The tile floors are slick from the bowlfuls of water they splash across their cutting boards to wash away the blood and tiny bones, and the air is thick with the smell of the ocean, reminding you that the Pacific is not so far away.

Merluza à la Gallega
from BBC Food

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, sliced thinly
6 garlic cloves, sliced
2 teaspoons paprika
85 grams cured chorizo sausage, cut into cubes
1/4 of a pimiento de padron
1 kilo new potatoes, cleaned and cut into cubes
100 milliliters dry white wine
300 milliliters water
1/2 kilo hake/merluza steaks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Cook the onions and garlic over medium heat until soft, then add the paprika and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the chorizo sausage and peppers and fry for another 3-4 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine before adding the potatoes and water and seasoning with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender and the liquid has reduced a little.

Season the hake steaks well on both sides. Put them on top of the potatoes, cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes, until the hake is cooked through.

Chili Vinegar Hot Sauce + Lime-Cured Tilapia Tostadas

I had all these grand plans for the food projects I was going to tackle this summer: limoncello, raspberry jam (round 2 bigger-and-better after my initial trial last summer), canned tomatoes, pickled stuff (dill pickles + pickled hot peppers), brioche, sourdough bread -- but, I did successfully make Sriracha (i.e. what we're calling Chili Vinegar Hot Sauce here because that's what the recipe said), so there's that. This batch was not as spicy as I would've liked, but it was a tasty experiment -- the only hard part was finding the chilies (I ended up using serranos because Fresnos were nowhere to be found). It was also delicious on the tostadas I made for lunch yesterday. I wish I had discovered this lime-curing business earlier in the summer when I would come home starving from work every day, because the whole meal takes like 15 minutes tops. The original recipe was for summer rolls with lime-cured shrimp and peaches (the link is below), but tilapia is like half the price of shrimp around here, and I didn't feel like going all the way across Hyde Park to find rice paper wrappers. Necessity is the mother of invention, friends.

ALSO this will be the last post before I leave for Chile (!!!!!). I might send a picture-filled update sans recipe while I'm there, but you never know how lazy I'm going to be... But you also never know what kinds of awesome food we'll be cooking up that I'll want to share with you (with bacon probably not gonna lie). It's crazy, I feel like I just posted the espinacas con garbanzos recipe with 129 days to go. Well actually it feels like forever ago but also like it just happened, you know? No? I might be losing it, but I'm happy and have a full belly, so it's not so bad.

Chili Vinegar Hot Sauce

1 dried Anaheim chile
1 fresh red Fresno chile, sliced ¼-inch thick
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced ¼-inch thick
2 tablespoons roughly chopped garlic
1/4 cup finely diced shallot
1 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roast the Anaheim chile on a sheet tray until lightly toasted, about a minute.

Combine all of the ingredients in a non-reactive mixing bowl (I used plastic) and marinate for an hour.

Transfer the chile mixture to a blender and purée on high speed until smooth. Place the purée in a nonreactive bowl and cover tightly with one layer of cheesecloth. Allow the sauce to sit at room temperature for 3 to 5 days until the sauce takes on a natural fermented aroma. Once finished, transfer the sauce to an airtight container. Keep chilled in the refrigerator. The vinegar will last for a few months.

Lime-Cured Tilapia Tostadas
inspired by Tasting Table

1 tilapia filet
4-ish limes
1 small shallot
1/3 small daikon radish
1/2 big peach
1 baby cucumber
Splash rice wine vinegar
Kosher salt
Handful cilantro
2 tostadas (I may or may not have had more than 2...)

Cut the fish into small, bite-sized cubes and throw them into a bowl. Mince the shallot finely, and add them to the fish. Squeeze the juice of the limes over the fish and shallots, and let everything hang out for 10 minutes. Bring 1/2 c of water to a boil, pour it over the fish and lime mixture, then stash that in the fridge until the fish has cooked, only 5 minutes or so.

In the meantime, julienne the radish, peach, and cucumber (I didn't exactly julienne mine because I was so flippin hungry). Let the radish soak in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes until crisp. After the radish is crisp, toss all your veg together with a pinch of salt, a splash of vinegar, and some chopped cilantro.

Drain the cooked tilapia, then pile your tostadas high with fish + slaw + chili sauce. Devour. 

Strawberry Gelato Sandwiches

I am babysitting the most precious little girl this evening, but she doesn't speak English. She asked me (in Russian) to read her a story that's written in English, and wasn't very happy when I didn't translate it into Russian as I read it aloud. I don't know the vocabulary for the story, but thankfully her mom was still there to translate for us. I remember enough to sort of follow what her mom says to her (I say sort of because I usually double-check to make sure I'm understanding properly), but all I can really say to her is what's this, do you want me to read this, what do you want/like to do, I like to cook/read/play, things like that. Later I tried to read a book to her that was already written in Russian, but it takes me too long to process the Cyrillic characters now, which makes my reading very stilted (and let's not talk about my pronunciation), so she didn't like that very much (although she still wanted to play with me after so she doesn't think I'm totally stupid anyway).

It makes my heart ache a little, because I want to understand, I want to be better at interacting and speaking with her, but I'm not. Even if I knew the word for something at one point, when I took Russian a year and a half ago, I can only think of the Spanish word when I try to recall it. There is so much I need to learn and do, and it's so frustrating that I can't do it all at once. I don't even know Spanish that well. These things take years, years that I'm too impatient for. I'm so tired of waiting. At least when I'm cooking, even with fairly involved and time-intensive projects like this one, I'm rewarded for my work on the order of hours instead of months and years. Anyway, by the time I post this on Wednesday, I'll have been satiated with a gelato sandwich (read: two or three sandwiches), so that's something.

This is not at all my prettiest work slash best presentation, but it tastes pretty good, I dare say.

Strawberry Gelato Sandwiches

Strawberry Gelato
from the Ciao Bella Book of Gelato & Sorbetto, as always

1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced thinly
3/4 c sugar, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Pinch or two smoked Maldon salt (totally optional, but yummy)
2 c whole milk
1 c cream
4 egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan heat cream and milk to 170 degrees F, stirring frequently.  Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat the yolks and 1/2 c sugar until the mixture has thickened and turned pale yellow.  Carefully stream in a 1/2 c or so of the hot cream-milk mixture, whisking constantly, to temper them.  Pour the yolk mixture back into the pot, then heat slowly to 185 degrees F, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.  

Strain the custard through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl, to remove any tiny bits of cooked yolk.  Cool completely in the refrigerator for ~4 hours.  Once cooled, stir in the vanilla extract.

Meanwhile, toss the strawberries with 1/4 c sugar and the lemon juice. Let them macerate for 15 minutes before cooking them over medium-low heat until the syrup has begun to reduce and the strawberries are beginning to fall apart, 10 minutes or so. Let them cool to room temperature, sprinkle over the salt, then stow in the fridge until completely chilled.

Once both the custard and the strawberries are cold, take 3/4 of the strawberries and purée them. Add all the strawberries into the custard, stirring completely.  Churn the custard in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions (~20 minutes), then freeze completely for a few hours.

Brownie Cookies

3 c (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (225 grams) butter, softened
1 1/2 (300 grams) cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Whisk dry flour, salt and baking powder in bowl and set aside. Mix butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa in mixer.  Gradually add flour mixture, and mix until smooth. Roll the dough into a log, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least one hour.

Roll the log of dough on the counter to smooth out any bumps, then remove the plastic wrap and slice into medallions.  Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8 to 11 minutes (the former for 1/8-inch thick cookies, the latter for 1/4-inch cookies) until the edges are firm and the centers are slightly soft and puffed.  Cool the cookies completely before proceeding to making the sandwiches.


Let the gelato get soft enough to scoop, but not so soft that it's melty -- trust me, I had to fight mine and it wasn't pretty.  Put a scoop on each of the bottom cookies, freeze completely, then top with the lid cookies and freeze again.

Protip: I should've done this. You can freeze the gelato in a rectangular pan, and then use a cookie cutter to cut out medallions of gelato that will fit perfectly (and non-messily) into the sandwich.

Baked Beans

Hola, amigos. Solamente diez y cinco días hasta voy a Chile. He estado practicando castellano con mi amiga y compañera de piso Julia (ella es de Colombia). No se me permite hablar en inglés en mi apartamento cuando ella está a la casa (la mayor parte del tiempo), que me ha ayudado mucho, pero puede estar muy difícil con mi vocabulario restringido. También yo olvido muchas palabras que Julia ha diciendo a mi durante la conversación, entonces frecuentemente necesito que pedirla para escribirlo en mi cuaderno. Pues estoy aprendiendo, y se hace más fácil cada día. Ahora también estoy tratando recordar como hablar en ruso, porque voy a cuidar la hija de mi compañero esta semana, y ella solamente habla ruso y bosnio. Ella sabe cinco o seis palabras en inglés (ella tiene dos años y medio solamente), pero estará más fácil y probablemente más cómodo para ella si puedo hablar en su lengua materna. Lo siento por todos los errores de gramática que probablemente he habido aquí, pero pensé que sería divertido escribir este en castellano. ¡Que disfruten!

Hello, friends. Only fifteen days until I go to Chile. I've been practicing Spanish with my friend and roommate Julia (she's from Colombia). I'm not allowed to speak English in my apartment when she's home (most of the time), which has helped me a lot, but it can be very difficult with my limited vocabulary. Also I forget a lot of the words that Julia tells me when we're conversing, so I often need her to write them in my notebook. But I'm learning, and it gets easier every day. Now I'm also trying to remember how to speak Russian, because I'm going to babysit my coworker's daughter this week, and she only speaks Russian and Bosnian. She knows five or six words in English (she's only two and a half years old), but it will be easier and probably more comfortable for her if I'm able to speak in her native language. Apologies for all the grammar mistakes that I probably made here, but I thought it would be fun to do this post in Spanish. Enjoy!

Baked Beans
adapted from Emeril Lagasse

1 pound dry navy beans, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 c chopped onion
1 c chopped celery
4-5 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Dash ground clove
1 1/2 c ketchup*
1/3 c brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Soak the rinsed beans overnight in plenty of water.

Drain and rinse the beans after soaking. In a large pot, boil the beans with 1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, bay leaves, and 8 c of water for 45 minutes to an hour, until soft. Reserve 1 1/2 c cooking liquid before draining the beans.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Heat the oil in a large pot (I just used the same one I cooked the beans in, less cleanup) over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and garlic, sautéing for 5 minutes or so until they've begun to soften. Add in 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes, cumin, clove, salt, and pepper, and cook for 2-3 minutes until toasty and fragrant. Add in the reserved cooking liquid, ketchup, brown sugar, and mustard, simmering for 4 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Gently stir in the cooked beans and simmer everything together for 5 minutes.

Bake the beans in the oven, uncovered, for 2 hours. Since I'm not really doing the meat thing right now I ate mine with a grilled cheese, but a hot dog would've been tasty.

*A note on the ketchup: Look. You're using a cup and a half of the stuff -- like most of the sauce is ketchup. I super recommend a) making your own ketchup that won't have weird preservatives and flavorings and whatever or b) buying some that doesn't have all that not-tasty stuff in it (just read the label -- I look for NO corn syrup, nothing that says flavored -- if you're flavoring it with garlic and onion I want those things to be ingredients not flavorings --, and tomatoes as the first ingredient listed).

Banana Cake with Meringue Cream Cheese Frosting

I thought it would be fun today to share some of the cooking tips and kitchen pet peeves I've picked up over the years, so that you can benefit from all the times I've screwed things up, or just laugh at me. Whatever you want.

1a. For the love of all that is good and beautiful in this world, DO NOT PUT YOUR KNIVES IN THE DISHWASHER. Like ever. Like don't do it. Not only does it dull your knives much faster than the usual wear-and-tear, but also ruins the handles of your knives. It basically forces water into places water shouldn't be, and will force the handle to crack. So yea. Bad.

1b. Same goes for nice pots and pans. You'll break the handles and it's bad for their surface.

2. Don't buy imitation vanilla. It's gross.

3. Also don't buy bleached flour. You don't need to buy super fancy organic whatever whatever, but avoid bleached flour. I can taste it, and also it sometimes reacts strangely with the chemistry of whatever you're making.

4. Stupid single-purpose gadgets are a waste of your money. That cute little thing that cuts an egg all at once? Yea that's called a knife. Also an egg separator? You can just use your hands (let the white go through your fingers and you'll be left holding the yolk) or do the shell trick.

There are some gadgets that will save your life -- my citrus juicer (not this one but same idea) is super helpful for getting every last bit out of limes and lemons, and having a cherry pitter with a feeder is a blessing for making pie -- don't get me wrong. But really, you just need a good set of knives and your hands, and you can do most tasks in the kitchen.

5. You can tell an avocado is ripe by pulling away that little knobby-thing at the top (where the stem used to attach) and seeing when the spot turns brown.

6. Most produce doesn't need to be stored in the fridge, and a lot of it is actually harmed by refrigeration. Tomatoes are the biggest no-no for me, but also things like potatoes, onions, garlic, stone fruits (peaches, plums, etc), and apples shouldn't go in the fridge. The potatoes, onions, and garlic should be stored in a dark, cool, dry place, but the others can just go on the counter.

7. If a pastry recipe tells you the ingredients need to be room temperature, they actually need to be. Part of the chemistry is temperature-based. When you're creaming butter with sugar, you're essentially creating tiny air pockets in the butter by scraping the sugar crystals against it -- if it's too warm and melty, it can't sustain the air pockets, and your pastry won't be the right texture. When you're making pancake or crepe batter, if you add cold milk into a mixture with melted butter, it'll seize up, and you'll get lumps. And egg whites whip up much more easily when they're not super cold, but cream likes to be wicked cold for whipping.

The same thing goes for recipes that need the ingredients cold -- I'm looking at you, pie dough. It's all part of the chemistry. SCIENCE!!

8. Another note on butter -- if you're in a pinch to soften butter for a recipe, don't microwave it. Get a bowl with hot water (not like boiling hot, but hot from the tap hot), put the sticks of butter in a baggie, and submerge them with a plate or something.

If I think of more as I check back on the page, I'll add them.

Banana Cake with Meringue Cream Cheese Frosting

Banana Cake
from Smitten Kitchen

3 1/2 c (14 3/8 ounces or 406 grams) cake flour
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
3/4 teaspoon (2 grams) cinnamon
1 c (2 sticks, 8 ounces or 227 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c (7 ounces or 200 grams) sugar
1 c (7 5/8 ounces or 218 grams) packed golden brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 c mashed or pureed very ripe bananas (5 to 6 large)
6 tablespoons (3 1/4 ounces or 91 grams) sour cream or (weight will vary) plain yogurt
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line the bottoms of 2 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and coat the paper and sides of pans with butter and flour.

Whisk cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl and set aside. Using electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars in large bowl until blended. Beat in eggs one at a time, then bananas, sour cream, and vanilla. Beat in dry ingredients in two additions just until combined. Divide batter evenly between the two pans.

Bake cake until firm and cooked all the way through, about 40 to 45 minutes. Cool each layer in its pan for 15 minutes before flipping out onto a rack to cool completely.

Meringue Cream Cheese Frosting
from Food52

12 ounces cream cheese, slightly chilled
7 ounces unsalted butter at cool room temperature
1 c confectioners' sugar, sifted after measuring
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 c granulated sugar
1/4 c water
3 large egg whites

Beat the cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add the butter, 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and mix until fluffy, then set aside in a cool place.

Combine the granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Do not stir, or else the sugar will crystallize!! Just swirl the pan if you need to stir, and wash any crystals from the side of the pot with a wet pastry brush. As the mixture comes to a boil, place a candy thermometer in the pot and cook to 238 degrees F.

While the sugar is cooking, place the egg whites into a mixing bowl set up with the whip. As the sugar syrup approaches the correct temperature, turn the mixer on to medium-low and begin whipping the whites. When whites are foamy and the sugar reaches temperature, slowly pour in the sugar, avoiding contact with the whip or it will splash. Once all of the syrup is added, turn the speed to medium-high and whip until the meringue has cooled to room temperature and has formed stiff peaks. Make sure everything is cool before moving forward.

Turn the speed to low, and slowly add the cream cheese mixture a spoonful at a time. When it is all added to the meringue, turn the speed to medium and whip until smooth and fluffy.


A couple tablespoons of cocoa powder
Cup of hot water
Offset spatula(s)
Plate/cake stand
Parchment paper

You need your cakes to be flat. Trim off the tops so they're flat (and so you have a snack). Get the plate/stand/whatever you're putting your cake on, and put a dollop of frosting in the center -- this will anchor your cake. Now rip a few pieces of parchment paper and put them at the edges of the plate with some hanging off the edges -- this will keep your plate clean while you're frosting, and then you can pull them away after from under the cake. 

Put cake number one down on the plate, right side up (i.e. the side you trimmed facing the ceiling). Put some frosting in the middle (as much as you want the middle layer of your cake to be) and spread it out until you're an inch away from the edge. Now take the second cake and place it upside down on top (i.e. the side you trimmed facing the frosting). 

Ok so you're going to have two layers of frosting on your cake: the crumb coat and the finished layer. The crumb coat is a really thin layer of frosting that makes sure all the crumbs are held in place and don't mess up your final frosting layer. Transfer about a third of your frosting into a smaller bowl for the crumb coat (so you don't get crumbs in the main frosting supply). Working from the top of the cake, spread frosting down and around the sides, creating a smooth, thin layer. Chill the cake and frosting completely before moving forward.

Once the crumb coat is cold and set, add the final layer of frosting. Work from the top of the cake, finishing the sides and then the top. Use the cup of hot water to wash off and warm up your spatula while you're frosting. Refrigerate until completely set, then dust with cocoa powder and remove the parchment paper.

Sweet Potato + Black Bean Empanadas

Things are pretty chill around here. I finally got up to Green City Market on the North Side last weekend with my daddio, and was a little produce-happy. It's cherry season, so I made sure to get a bunch of sour cherries to make pie (I tried a different recipe from the one I made last summer, and decided that I preferred last summer's filling but this summer's crust, so I'm going back to the market for round 3 this weekend), plus French radishes, pattypan squash, heirloom tomatoes, a crazy amount of basil that I made into pesto, and an awesome mesclun mix. I also got some whole wheat sourdough bread (which was divine with fresh ricotta cheese, sliced tomatoes, and a slurp of pepper olive oil), fresh cheese, and obviously a huge bunch of flowers, because when do I not take the opportunity to buy myself flowers? Especially lilies? Never. So yes, it was quite a successful trip.

One great meal that came out of that trip, that I didn't even take the time to photograph, was the radishes and pattypan squash that I sautéed simply with butter and a little salt, and served over homemade pasta with some fresh ricotta, lemon, and basil. Ugh. Yes. That is what summer food should be.

And of course it was also the Copa Mundial final match this weekend! I was rooting for Argentina, but Götze's goal was pretty beautiful, I must say. I was disappointed that Argentina lost of course, but like, I ain't even mad. That goal was so graceful. Anyway, I went to watch the game at a friend's apartment, and made empanadas for munchies. Most of them I stuffed with queso Chihuahua and prosciutto, and the others were filled with a potato and broccolini mixture. The potato one inspired this sweet potato-black bean rendition, since I had a bunch of black beans I still needed to use up. Que disfruten!

Sweet Potato + Black Bean Empanadas

from Laylita's Recipes

3 c all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1.5 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 egg
1/3+ c cold water

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour using your fingers, pastry cutter, food processor, etc, until the mixture becomes a coarse meal. Chill in the fridge or freezer for ~10 minutes so the butter doesn't get too warm. Make a well in the center of the mixture for the egg, then beginning with 1/3 c water, combine the wet and dry ingredients to form a soft (but not wet) dough. Add water as necessary. Cut the dough into two halves, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill for an hour or more while making the filling.

inspired by My Columbian Recipes

2 c peeled and diced sweet potato (2 small potatoes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 serrano chili, chopped very finely
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped very finely
1 tomato, diced
15 ounces cooked black beans, drained (you can use canned if you'd like, just be sure to rinse them as well)
Handful cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

In a small pot of water, bring the sweet potatoes to a boil and cook until mashable. Heat the olive oil over medium heat, then sauté the onion, chili, and garlic until soft and fragrant, then add the tomato as well. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until the tomatoes slump and the onions are translucent.

In a large bowl, mash the sweet potatoes (they don't need to be completely smooth, just enough to make a cohesive filling). Add in the sautéed veggies, black beans, and cilantro, then season and stash in the fridge to cool completely.


Extra flour
1 egg, beaten

Roll out one half of the dough at a time, being sure it's dusted liberally with flour. Cut out rounds of dough, depending on how large you want your empanadas (I used a martini glass (lulz) but you could use a cookie cutter like a normal person). Recombine the scraps and stow them back in the fridge. Brush the half the edge of each round with egg, then put a heaping tablespoon or so of the filling in the center (you want it to be full but able to be sealed properly). Fold the un-egg-brushed half over, then press the edges with your fingertips to seal. At this point you could either use a fork to seal the edges completely (which is what I did because I was in a rush), or you could do a spiral folding number on them (Google how to seal empanadas if you're interested in being an overachiever).

Place your filled and sealed empanadas on parchment paper or a Silpat on a sheet pan, then cool in the fridge for ~30 minutes. Keep rolling out the dough/cutting into rounds/re-rolling scraps until you've used up all the dough. You'll probably run out of dough before you run out of filling.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the cooled empanadas with egg, then bake for 18-25 minutes depending on their size, until they're golden brown and delicious. Resist the temptation to eat them immediately unless you're cool with burning the skin off the roof of your mouth. These are really good served with some pico de gallo, but they're also yummy on their own.

Peach-Plum Crumble

Summer fruit is such a blessing.

My California friends dislike that there has to be a season for fruits in Chicago. I mean, I don't particularly like it either -- I'm pretty much over citrus by the end of January, and pears aren't really my jam -- but I do appreciate stone fruits and berries so much more once they are finally in season during the summer months. Crumbles are the least fussy way to turn summer's plunder into dessert (well, slurping up some strawberries and cream isn't half bad either), and one of my favorites.

Peach-Plum Crumble
adapted from Anne Burrell


1 1/4 c flour
1/2 c rolled oats
1/2 c brown sugar
1 1/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons cold water
Dash of Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and salt. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until the texture is like sand and the pieces of butter are the size of peas. You could also do this in the food processor, but it's easier to clean your hands. Add in the oats, vanilla, and enough water that the mixture clumps together when you squeeze it in your hand.

2 large peaches, sliced
2 large plums, sliced (or 3 on the smaller side)
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 c brown sugar
Dash of Kosher salt

Feel free to peel your peaches and plums before you use them -- I think the skins are super tasty so I leave them on. Also, I got about 12 slices per fruit, but use your best judgment on slicing based on the size of your fruits. Toss with the flour, vanilla, sugar, and salt.

Distribute the fruit mixture among 6 ramekins, then pack on the crumble topping to each (I like a high topping-to-fruit ratio, so feel free to tweak the amount of fruit if that's not your speed -- crumble recipes are pretty forgiving). Place the ramekins on a tin-foiled baking sheet (in case there's spillage) and bake for 20-25 minutes until the topping is golden and the fruit juice is bubbling up at the sides. Some whipped cream wouldn't hurt either.

Peach and Brie Grilled Cheese

Oh hey, I turned 21 this weekend, fancy that.

We like to celebrate birthdays in my family -- I think mostly because it's an excuse to get the family all together and eat excessively -- but we usually don't do birthday surprises. So I was totally shocked (and incredibly happy) that two of my aunties came to Chicago to visit and celebrate with me! I got to have birthday eve lunch with them, and birthday dinner at A10. Birthday fun also included lumpy pancakes for the Lumpy Space Princess (they weren't that lumpy, but Tor likes to be self-deprecating about her cooking abilities) and Batman decorations a la Tor, as well as a cute and awesome (but enormous) BMO cake. BMO, or Beemo, is a character from Adventure Time (so is Lumpy Space Princess -- Tor and I watch the show together at home), and he's one of my favorites. LSP (Lumpy Space Princess) is too -- if you watch the show you can probably imagine why I identify with her.

In addition to my thing for mason jars, I have a thing for mis-matched plates. For most of the gift-giving holidays since I started college, my mom has given me a new plate to add to my collection. She gave me an especially nice plate for my birthday this year that's more on the order of fine china than usual. The pattern is beautiful and delicate, and I love it -- I don't know if I can bring myself to put food on it. She was searching for one with a pattern that was especially significant, and found this one called Santiago. She's a very thoughtful mommy, that one.

And so, in honor of my birthday, I present to you one of my favorite sandwiches.

Peach and Brie Grilled Cheese

2 pats of softened butter
1 small barely ripe peach
Enough brie to make you happy
Salt and pepper to taste
Drizzle of honey
(Arugula or radicchio if you've got some)
2 slices nutty wheat bread

Two protips for awesome grilled cheese: heat management and sufficient pressure. As Emeril Lagasse would say: you see this knob right here (as he takes the knob off his stove and shows it to the audience) -- it's there for a reason, use your knob! Burnt grilled cheeses are sad. For weighing down the sandwich to achieve optimal bread crispiness and cheese meltiness, I fill up my tea kettle with water and put it on top of the sandwich (after cleaning off the bottom of course).

Heat a nonstick pan over medium. Slice the peach and brie thinly. Brush the first slice of bread with butter, and place it butter-side down in the hot pan. Arrange the brie over the bread, followed by the peach slices (keep in mind that you're going to have to flip this over when you're arranging), honey, seasoning, and greens if you're using them. Place the second piece of bread over the top, then weigh down with the kettle.

Check the bottom to make sure you've achieved perfect golden brown deliciousness, then spread the top piece of bread with the remaining butter. Turn over, then weight down again with the kettle. Usually I put a piece of tin foil in between the bread and kettle at this point (both to insulate for cheese melting purposes and to prevent buttering the bottom of my kettle), but if you're feeling especially lazy then it's not a big deal.

It's advised that you eat standing up at the kitchen counter with peach juice dribbling down to your elbow, because it's finally summer.

Banana Pudding

Fact: some days, you are sad, and banana pudding is the only answer.  And not the cop-out Jell-O instant pudding with Nilla wafers kind (#sorrynotsorry for the sass).  I mean like making an actual sponge cake with actual pudding (or pastry cream, I'll try that next time) and borderline too ripe bananas, with the little hint of chocolate and lots of whipped cream.  If you're having a super terrible day, get a good night's sleep and eat some for breakfast too (i.e. what I'm doing right now as I type).  

Banana Pudding

1 recipe vanilla bean pudding (below)
1 recipe Génoise cake (below)
4 ripe bananas, sliced
1/3 c cold heavy cream
Several tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting

Cut the Génoise into small cubes. I cut the cake into two semicircles, then turned each semicircle onto its side to easily cut it in half again into two thinner semicircles. Use whatever technique you prefer to break down the cake. I didn't end up using all of my cake, so you'll have some good snackage later.

If you have a glass bowl with high sides, you'll probably be able to get two layers of filling going. I just used a 9x13 inch Pyrex baking dish because it's what I had (plus one of the pretty glass cups I used for pictures), so I only did one layer. Cover the bottom of your vessel of choice with cake cubes, followed by banana slices, and then pudding (I find it's easier to spread pudding over bananas than cake when you have a big bowl of it... For the small glasses it doesn't really matter, so that's why they're layered differently in the pictures). If you have space and material for two layers, repeat. Once you've finished layering, dust the surface with cocoa powder through a fine-mesh sifter. Let the pudding sit for a few hours before serving. 

Whip the heavy cream into soft peaks, with sugar if you prefer (I didn't feel the need to sweeten mine). Dish up your pudding with a spoonful of whipped cream. Protip: the pudding is even better the next day, for breakfast.

Vanilla Bean Pudding

2 2/3 cups whole milk, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract)
1 large egg

Bring 2 c of the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan. Be sure to stir frequently, and be careful to scrape the bottom completely so it doesn't burn. While it is heating, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and vanilla bean in the bottom of a medium, heatproof bowl. Slowly pour the remaining 2/3 c milk over the cornstarch mixture, whisking the whole time so lumps do not form.  Whisk in the egg. Once the milk has come to a boil, very gradually add it into the cornstarch mixture while whisking.

Return the mixture back to the saucepan, stirring constantly with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon (switch to a whisk if lumps begin to form from the cornstarch). Once it comes to a simmer, cook it for one minute longer. Set it aside in a clean bowl to cool to room temperature.

Génoise Cake
from The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1 c cake flour, sifted
4 large eggs, at room temperature (this point is very important, the eggs cannot be cold)
2/3 c sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line with parchment paper. Butter and flour the parchment, knocking out any excess flour.

Melt the butter in a small dish in the microwave and set aside to cool. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl for a hand mixer), combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Beat the mixture on high 5-7 minutes until it has tripled in volume, and is thick enough that the ribbon formed by the beater takes a couple seconds to dissolve (you won't be able to incorporate enough air if your eggs are not room temperature). 

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in 1/3 c flour at a time, then the butter as well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the spatula. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the cake has set. Absolutely do not open the oven in the first 20 minutes, or your cake will fall. Let the finished cake cool for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a plate and remove the parchment.  Flip onto a wire rack to let cool completely. 

Snap Pea + Cilantro Quinoa

I can feel myself becoming increasingly more frantic.  The more stress I put on myself, the less I am able to concentrate, to sit still and do all the things that would relieve that stress.  I'm sure you're familiar with this feeling.  The impulse to hide under my covers curled up in the fetal position grows stronger as finals become more of a reality, as I am pulled into more urgent work projects at the last second, as everyone tries to say goodbye for the summer.  I'm more worried than usual about the outcome of this finals week (rather than just the horrible prospect of the whole finals process), since it'll shape my schedule next year.  I'm generally pretty chill about grades.  Sure, I'm terribly disappointed in myself when I don't do well; but if I've learned anything in college (especially one like UChicago), it's that my best is all I can give.  And that has to be enough, lest I drive myself crazy.

If I prepared as well as I could, and did as well as I could in the moment, then there was nothing else for me to do.  There's peace in that.  When it comes time to sit down and take a test, or write a paper, if I haven't prepared adequately, there is no sense in being upset about it.  And there's no sense in getting upset about it when I get the grade, because what is there to do about it then?  

Up until my second year here, I would actually cry when I got a poor grade on an assignment or exam.  Crying is one way that I deal with stress, disappointment, frustration (as I've probably talked about here before, I'm quite skilled at crying in public) -- but I've since stopped crying over my grades.  There's the moment of disappointment, that sinking feeling in my gut -- and then I fold the paper in half, shove it in my bag, and it's gone.  Maybe this is an immature defense mechanism I've developed, but I like to think that maybe it's a sign that I've matured.  We'll see what happens when I graduate with this degree that nobody seems to think is employable or leads to a successful (read: high-earning) career (and that, friends, is a rant for another day).

Snap Pea + Cilantro Quinoa

2 handfuls snap peas
1 handful cilantro
very heaping 1/3 c sliced almonds
2 cloves garlic
1/4 c grated parmesan cheese
1/3 c olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 sweet potato, sliced into thin half-moons
Salt to taste
1 c quinoa
2 kaffir lime leaves (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Toss the sweet potato slices in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, sprinkle with salt to taste, and roast until soft inside and golden brown on the outside.  On a separate baking sheet, toast the almonds until lightly golden.

Meanwhile, bring 2 c water to a boil, add the lime leaves if using and a teaspoon or so of salt, then add in the quinoa.  Cook for ~12 minutes with the cover on until the water has been absorbed, then let sit covered for another 15 minutes off the heat.  Remove the lime leaves and drizzle with a couple tablespoons of olive oil.

In a food processor, add the snap peas, garlic, and cilantro.  Process until chopped finely.  Add in a scant 1/3 c toasted almonds (you want to leave a few tablespoons to have whole in the final dish) and process those as well.  Add in the parmesan and a couple tablespoons of olive oil.  With the machine on, drizzle in enough olive oil for the mixture to become a smooth paste.  Add in the lemon juice and process until combined.  Adjust seasoning as needed.

Once the quinoa has cooled briefly, toss with enough snap pea pesto to coat (but not drown) the quinoa, then toss in the sweet potato slices and almonds.  This can be served at any temperature, but I preferred it at room temperature.  

Borracho Black Beans

 Cooking is therapeutic, nourishing, compassionate.  It is how I cope, how I take care of myself, how I show my affection.  Recently, now more than ever, cooking is also how I connect with the people who aren't here to sit down and share a meal with me.

All of us build up these associations in our minds, the neural connections that weave together our past and present experiences in a network of memories, sounds, textures, tastes, and smells.  Not surprisingly for me, my strongest associational triggers are food-related.

I have no memories of my father's mother, only pictures of her holding me when I was much, much smaller than I am now.  She is the woman whose recipes I've learned to make from my dad and her recipes, whose crepe pan we still use only for blintz and nothing else.  My dad has a picture of her and my grandfather, whom I also never had the chance to meet, when they were around my age.  The color of my hair is hers, and several of my facial features are echoes of her too.  For someone I don't remember, I think about her often.  Food is my only real connection with her, and with my identity as a Ukrainian woman.  Easter always reminds me of this -- cooking the food that she used to cook, exactly as she did -- and triggers my constructed memories of her, what she was like, what she would have been like if she were alive now.  

Most of the cooking I do is spontaneous -- a recipe piques my interest, some fruit or vegetable I love is finally in season, or random inspiration hits as I'm wandering through the store with an empty stomach.  But there are moments when I need to be comforted, when I want to feel not so alone, and my food becomes more deliberate.  These are the times when I rely on recipes like those from my Grandma Z.  Last weekend, Orthodox Easter and Catholic Easter coincided (I celebrate both), so Tor and I prepared a combined Russian-Greek dinner for eight people.  This weekend was dedicated to borracho beans, borracho meaning drunken from the addition of a bottle of beer (don't worry, they're not boozy-tasting, just faintly hop-y).  Jimmy has been making them in Chile quite often, with pinto beans I think, but I had a bag of black beans in my pantry that I wanted to use up.  We're both busy students, leading our lives on different continents, but sometimes a simple meal makes him seem not so far away.

Borracho Black Beans
adapted loosely from the Red Beans & Rice recipe in Cooking Texas Style

1 pound dried black beans
2 tablespoons butter (or bacon fat if you're not trying to be a good little vegetarian)
1 large onion
2 large carrots (or 4 small)
1 poblano pepper
1 serrano chili
2 enormous garlic cloves (or 4 regular)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
Salt to taste
1 bottle medium/dark beer (like a lager)
2 c rice
Handful cilantro
Lime wedges

Rinse and sort through the beans, making sure there are no stray rocks (contrary to my 5-year-old-self's belief, rocks are not tasty).  Put the dry beans in a large bowl and cover them completely with water.  Let them soak for 24 hours.  Check on them once in a while to make sure they're still covered with water, and add water as needed.

Drain and rinse the soaked beans.  Put them in a stockpot and cover with an inch of water.  Bring them to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered with the lid tilted slightly, for 2 hours or so.

After an hour has passed, heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Meanwhile, dice the onion, carrot, and poblano pepper, and mince the serrano and garlic.  Once the butter is bubbling, add in the veggies and sauté until the onions have become translucent.  Add in salt, cumin, and coriander to your taste, and sauté until the vegetables have begun to caramelize.  If the water level in the pot of beans has reduced significantly, add more water so that there's an inch covering the beans.

At this point, the beans should have been cooking for 90 minutes total (that is, it should have been a half hour or so since you began prepping the veggies).  Add the cooked vegetables into the pot.  Taste the broth and season with salt if necessary.

In the pot where you just cooked the veggies, bring 4 cups of water to a boil.  Add in the rice, cover, and reduce to a simmer until cooked.  If the rice finishes before the beans, set aside and keep covered.

While the rice is cooking, add the beer into the beans.  Cook until the beans are soft and the broth has reduced and thickened.  Serve with the cooked rice, lime, and some cilantro.

Coconut-Braised Chard and Tofu

I see you over there, scrunching up your face at mere mention of the evil tofu.  Calm down.  It's gonna be alright.

Yes, it can be really tasty.  Yes, it can also be pretty gross if you don't doctor it somehow.  No, it is not meat, nor should it pretend to be meat (nobody's fooled, honey).  No, you don't have to deep fry it for it to be edible.

If I could give you any pro tips about eating tofu (firm or extra-firm tofu, specifically), it would be these three:

1) Before you do any cooking, remove as much water as possible;
2) Marinades are your friends; and
3) When in doubt, use the oven.

To remove the water, put your block of tofu on a plate between a few sheets of paper towel, then put something heavy on top (a tea kettle full of water or a cast iron skillet with a can of beans will do).  Let it sit for 20 minutes or so.  I find this works best when the tofu is an inch thick, probably two inches max (cut it width-wise before pressing if your block comes any thicker).

Now that you've pressed the water out, you could do a couple different things.  You could marinade the tofu, maybe in some soy and honey, or just toss it in some oil and spices before baking, sautéing, frying, et cetera.  I usually end up cutting the tofu into cubes, tossing with canola oil and spices like cumin, allspice, coriander, and chili powder (plus salt of course), and baking at 400 degrees F until golden and crispy.

If you go the marinade route, just make sure you pat down the tofu well before cooking it, or else it'll never get crispy.  I'm totally cool with having nice soft steamed tofu covered in chili sauce and served over rice, but when I'm working with firm (or extra-firm) tofu, I've already committed to having a substantial texture, which I'd like to be crispy rather than rubbery.  But seriously, something magical happens to tofu in the oven.

Spoiler alert for Sunday's post, featuring a combined Greek-Russian Orthodox Easter Feast: I'm going to break my good little vegetarian streak.  If I'm going to spend the time to roast a whole leg of lamb, you better believe I'm going to eat it.

Coconut-Braised Chard and Tofu

2 sweet potatoes (you could serve with rice or couscous instead)
1/2 package firm tofu
~2 tablespoons canola or other neutral-tasting oil
1 bundle red chard
2 carrots
1 shallot
~1 inch piece fresh ginger
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you like it; you could also sub sriracha or chili paste)
1 14 ounce can coconut milk, shaken
1 lime (zest and juice)
2 Kaffir lime leaves (optional, it's not a big deal if you can't find or don't want them)
Salt to taste (you could use soy sauce too, by all means)
Handful mint and cilantro

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut the sweet potatoes in half length-wise (to accelerate the cooking), rub with canola oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake until soft.  Meanwhile, place the tofu on a plate between several sheets of paper towel and weigh down with something relatively heavy, like a tea kettle full of water.  Leave the tofu to press for 20 minutes or so.  Cut into cubes, toss with canola oil and salt, and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  After the potatoes have been baking for 15 minutes, put the tofu in the oven as well.  You'll know it's done when the cubes have visibly shrunken in size and the outside is golden brown.

Prep your vegetables in the meantime.  Chard can harbor a lot of dirt, so wash it well, cut off the very ends of the stem (the bottoms can get very tough), and slice thinly.  Peel the carrots, then create ribbons of carrot using the vegetable peeler.  Slice the shallot into half moons, grate the ginger, zest the lime, and chop the herbs.

When the tofu only has a few minutes left to cook, set a sauté pan over medium-low heat with a tablespoon or so of canola oil.  Once the oil is warm, add the shallot, ginger, and chili flakes, and sauté until the shallots have softened and become more translucent.  Add in the coconut milk and Kaffir lime leaves, then bring to a simmer before adding the chard (in batches if necessary).  Once the chard has wilted so that there is sufficient room in the pan, add in the cooked tofu and carrot, then check the broth for seasoning.  Simmer for a couple minutes so that the flavors can combine, then add in the juice of the lime and remove the Kaffir lime leaves.  Serve over the sweet potatoes with lime zest and a bit of mint and cilantro.