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.