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.

Assembly:

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.

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.