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.

Assembly:

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

Dough:
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.

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.

Assembly:

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

Topping

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.

Fruit
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.