Wednesday, January 27, 2010

mental breakdown cake

Do you know what's funny? That in Melissa Gray's All Cakes Considered (previously discussed, now personally owned -- thank you Siri, dreams do come true) there is literally a song about how Dutch Process Cocoa Powder and Unprocessed Cocoa Powder are different, non-interchangeable ingredients. It appears on page 175, the page immediately preceding the recipe for "Dark-Chocolate Red Velvet Cake" and it goes like this:

"Come and listen to a story 'bout a
Red Velvet Cake
Made with Dutch process cocoa
man, it tasted really great!
Only one problem
The cake it would not rise..."

You get the picture. Regardless of the chorus, the point is that Melissa Gray went out of her way to try and ensure that chefs following the recipe on the very next page would not goof and substitute regular, unprocessed cocoa for Dutch process.


Second point: I had a mental break-down while making this cake. But I learned a LOT about the anatomy of a good Red Velvet and the science behind baking. Miss Gray says it better than I ever could:

"If you use Dutch process unsweetened cocoa in a cake recipe that doesn't include baking powder, you're going to get a flat, moist, dense -- yet awfully tasty -- cake. This goes back to our chemistry lesson on the reaction that makes cakes rise: the interaction between your leavening agent, moisutre, and heat. Regular unsweetened cocoa is acidic. The addition of baking soda, which is alkaline, reacts to that acidic property, enlarging all those air bubbles whipped into the batter during creaming, which when baked, result in a risen cake. Dutch process cocoa has an alkali already added to it to neutralize its acidic properities. Its like a big, heavy blanket over the bubble party. BUT, if you add baking powder, which has alkaline and acid properities that will react with each other when introduced to moisture and heat, well, party on, dude! Swimming pools! Movie stars!"

Gotta love it.

Two weeks later, while chatting with my pal Dave: "Let me ask you something," he said. "Just real quick." I looked up at him, innocently, clearing my mental slate so that it might be quickly populated with answers to whatever burning question could be forthcoming. Totally useless thing to do, of course, because Dave never asked a question. He just pointed to a large, obscenely red blotch of "?!?@!@#" crusted onto the outer fold of my scarf.


SO, FYI: Red velvet cake will get on EVERYTHING when you make this recipe. Be prepared to clean. But -- even better than that -- be prepared to feast, because this is a damn good cake.

The Mental Breakdown Dark-Chocolate Red Velvet "Happy Birthday Frankie" Cake

You Will Need:

Two 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans

For Cake:
2 sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cus light brown sugar
6 large eggs
2 tsps vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sour cream /12 ounce red food coloring

For Frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)
Two 8-ounce pakcages cream cheese (at room temperature)
Two 16-ounce boxes confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
(You can tell this is going to be good already)

To Make:

Position a rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Prepare the cake pans (I used oil and a dusting of flour)

Cream the butter in a mixer on medium speed, then gradually add the sugars, beating well. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition (a minute is good. trust me on this, it seems boring and long, but the consistency and quality of the finished batter is worth it). Add the vanilla extract and beat until blended.

In a separate bowl, dry whisk the flour, baking soda, cocoa, and baking powder together.

Add 1 cup of the floured cocoa mixture and 1/3 cup of sour cream alternately, beating well after each addition. Repeat until all the flour mixture and sour cream have been blended in.

Add the food coloring and beat well. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir up the batter at the bottom, then beat again.

Poor the batter into the prepared pans and place pans close to the center of the oven rack, but not touching. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the cake layers test done.

Cool the layers in the pans for 10 minutes, then unmold onto cake racks to cool to room temperature.

For the frosting: Cream the butter and cream cheese together at medium speed. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and mix until just incorporated. Assemble and frost the layers, frosting the sides last, after the crown.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

before i go any further, something to say

i'm not good at cooking -- just enthusiastic about it. also, i have terrible luck. for evidence, please direct your attention to exhibit (a): i just dropped a glass off a side table and shattered it on the floor of my friends apartment while writing this entry.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

a friend is a chef: brian k. edition

It's not difficult to explain why eating with other people is more enjoyable than eating alone. Nor is it hard to surmise why cooking has long been favored as a collaborative process. Simply put, when you're cooking with a partner, you can get away with all sorts of things otherwise impossible. You can blame them if something goes wrong, laugh at them when they hit their head on the kitchen cabinet, ask them to peel the ginger because you're not really that good at it, and -- best of all -- share dessert with them.

Brian is one of my favorite friends to be in a kitchen with, but it's not just because he fits the aforementioned bill so perfectly. It's also because he texts me photos of food that he makes. And because he gets genuinely excited over good deals on olive oil. And because he is always willing to go impossibly out of his way with me while investigating random restaurants our friends have recommended. He was also the first person that I ever tried cooking meat with, an endeavor delayed by years of stubborn vegetarianism. Oh, and he also went to Brazil with me.

To this day, Brian retains the honor* of being the only friend with whom I've cooked animals. Whenever I find a recipe that calls for the handling of raw meat (insert awkward/stupid joke), he's the first person I send it to. "Can we make this?" "Will you eat this with me?" The answer is always yes. Another reason why Brian is one of my favorite friends in the kitchen.

The inspiration for this recipe was torn from the pages of my friend Amy's copy of Martha Stewart Living (sorry, Amy!). It's incredibly simple, which is good for a fish-novice like myself. Also, it's a recipe for two. So I recommend finding yourself a friend before you make it. Simply!

*exaggeration of significance

Parchment-Baked Mahi Mahi with Bok Choy inspired by Martha

You Will Need:

2 fillets of mahi mahi
2 heads of baby bok-choy or 1 bundle of regular
4 limes, halved
zest of 2 limes
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh ginger
6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 medium-sized onion, thinly sliced
parchment paper

To Make:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Mix lime juice, lime zest, garlic, onion and ginger in a small bowl -- set aside.

Fold two decently sized pieces of parchment paper in half lengthwise. Place mahi-mahi fillets and bok choy in the crease.

Rub the fillet/boy choy with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Top each with mixture of onion/garlic.

Fold parchment over fish, making small overlapping folds along edges and sealing (paper clip works, we improvised with sewing needles).

Place on rimmed baking sheets.

Roast 10 to 12 minutes -- parchment will puff when the fish is finished.

Cut open and serve.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

it begins...

the first fig-bar bake for my snack delivery company started today. phew!

a lot of work? yep! but it's a lot of fun.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

whatever happened to mr. bean?

My opinion of veggie burgers hinges on two key points. One, trying to imitate the taste of meat is counterproductive and never works, two, I like a fair amount of "chunk" in the chosen base, whether it be vegetable, grain, or bean. As a result of these two preferences, I'm incapable of consuming about 95% of store-bought veggie burgers with any amount of what I would call "joy." So my cooking gaff last week seemed curiously fated. Essentially, what I ended up making myself was a vat of pretty damn delicious veggie-burger base.

I've tried making black bean veggie burgers before and it hasn't worked out. The right recipe and a little luck later, though, and I am basking in beany success. Thick, hearty, flavor-dripping, perfectly textured, beany success. Yuuuuummm. I served mine with pieces of thinly, thinly sliced zucchini which I seared in the pan at the same time as the burgers themselves. Perfection!

Black Bean Burgers adapted from A Mighty Appetite

You Will Need:
4 cups cooked, rinsed and drained black beans (about 2 ½ 15-ounce cans)
1/2 cup Japanese-style panko breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
4 scallions, both white and green parts, minced
3 tablespoons (a small handful) chopped basil or cilantro, or a combination
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2-2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

To Make:

Place the black beans in a large mixing bowl and mash -- do not overmash! Leave a good amount of the beans whole for good texture. Add bread crumbs, eggs, scallions, fresh herbs, garlic, cumin and oregano to the mix and continuing stirring/lightly mashing until well combined. When the mixture is turned out to your satisfaction, portion and shape it into patties about one inch thick. Sprinkle the patties with salt and pepper. Place a cast-iron skillet over high heat, without any fat; when it is hot but not smoking, add burgers to dry pan. Cook for about four minutes on first side or until well seared and with a flipping spatula, turn onto second side and allow to cook for an additional five minutes, over medium heat.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

three imaginary boys in orange

climbing out of the subway, i meet a girl face-to-face. hers is wide and pale, shocked by our confrontation. "it's not my fault the doors opened," i say. "they just do that." i get out, you get in. but her eyes look at me, accusatory.

later, on a quiet street, i startle a middle-aged woman deep in thought on the steps of her apartment. she is smoking a cigarette and her face registers the same level of shock as the girl on the subway. she hangs, suspended, on the other side of her frozen smoke-cloud, dangling delicately from its salty plume.

this is one of my favorite lines: "Justin's
syncope still lasted, and his eyeballs disappeared in the pale sclerotics
like blue flowers in milk."

we are people flowers. pink disappearing inside the milky snow. huzzah.

Summer-Colored Winter Slaw

1 head of kale, leaves stripped from stems and roughly chopped
1/2 head of small purple cabbage, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, grated
1 apple, cored and roughly chopped
2 tbsp apple-cider vinegar
1 tsbp olive oil

Place olive oil in pan over medium high heat. Add cabbage and apple, turn to coat.(I also added a 1/4 cup of water to the pan to help steam the cabbage down.) Cover, turn heat to medium, let cook for approximately three minutes -- until cabbage softens slightly. Uncover, add apple-cider vinegar. Stir. Add carrot and kale, let cook down until kale wilts slightly, stirring and turning the mixture steadily. (This won't take long, kale cooks very quickly).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

food on the brain (brian?) (and in dreams)

brian (1:49 PM): i had a dream last night that i was making bean soup and i cooked it too long
and almost everything was gone
and i got really mad

me (1:49 PM): HAHAHA

(also, one time brian's mom made us stuffed cabbage. she rules.)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

black bean soup and a lesson learned

I am unlucky with three things in life: electronics (always broken within a month), soups, and my health. These are listed in descending order of importance. Maybe I would have better health if I had more luck with soups.

I suspect that soups are not meant to be made from recipes. That they should be reserved for that special, seemingly innate, intuition of "moms" (emphasis on quotes). In the end, my black bean soup was an unequivocal failure. What I did end up with was a good lesson and a large pot of puffy, garlic-rich black beans. I look forward to making them into other things.

Below is the recipe reproduced in full, my annotations in italics. To make a good soup, try following the italicized version. To get hearty and delicious black beans, follow the regular version -- but leave out the eggs/tortilla and change the simmering time to 1.5 hours.

This is the choose your own adventure of recipes. Tell me how your adventure ends.

Grandpa's Favorite Black Bean Soup

You Will Need:

8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium bell pepper, chopped (2 medium bell peppers, 1 large carrot, 1 green zucchini -- double the amount of vegetables)
1-2 tbsp olive oil
6 cups of chicken broth (vegetable is a fine substitute)
2 15 oz cans of black beans (1 bag of dry beans will suffice -- boil them for 2 minutes in water and let soak for an hour. They will cook the rest of the way down while the soup simmers)
fresh thyme, to taste
fresh oregano, to taste
4 eggs
corn tortillas
sour cream
fresh cilantro

To Make:

1. In big soup pot, grill garlic, onion and bell pepper in oil and stir. Grill until vegetables soften, onion becomes translucent. Done best over medium high heat.

2. Add chicken broth, black beans, fresh thyme and oregano to pot. Stir ingredients.

3. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover pot and simmer soup for at least half an hour. This will allow the herbs to fully flavor the soup.

4. Crack eggs on edge of pot and drop into soup in different areas of pot. Do not stir! The eggs will cook in place in 2-3 minutes.

5. Remove soup from heat.

6. To best enjoy the soup, place a hard boiled egg in each bowl and fill with black bean soup.

7. Tear corn tortillas in strips and sprinkle over bowl. Add a dollop of sour cream and a generous pinch of freshly chopped cilantro.

This recipe came care of the first print issue of Remedy Quarterly, which I received in the mail (appropriately enough) on my birthday. It is a beautifully curated collection of recipes and stories about food; I highly, highly recommend grabbing a copy while you still can. The ginger cookie recipe alone is worth it.