Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pound it

In the greatest cake-baking cookbook I have ever had the fortune to own (All Cakes Considered) there is a cake that rivals all others. Simple, sweet, decadent, bright, irresistible. Melissa Gray, a member of NPR's brilliant show All Things Considered, aptly named this cake the Mancatcher. She says that the cake is so good it will undoubtedly catch you a man but there's no guarantee that he'll stick around. So what is this cake that I've built up to quasi-mythic proportions? It's a sour-cream citrus pound cake. Don't wrinkle your nose at the sour cream. It makes the cake incredibly dense and soft and yet light at the same time. The citrus flavor isn't overpowering but the addition of a light lemon glaze is certainly encouraged. I made this cake for a friend of mine our senior year of high school and he still mentions it occasionally. That good. On top of that, it's beyond easy. You could probably make this cake if you just had your wisdom teeth out. The only thing I'll say is be careful not to overbeat the batter when you're incorporating the ingredients. If you'll remember: beating batter like a rented mule = tough, revolting cake. Apart from that,  the Mancatcher offers no tricks or surprises, just simple ingredients that go together and a whole lot of sugar. Sign me up.

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 c. sugar
5 large eggs
3 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. orange extract

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325 degrees
2. Thoroughly grease a 10-inch tube pan or a bunt pan
3. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating slowly to incorporate after each addition
4. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl
5. With the mixer on low, alternately add the sour cream and the flour mixture then beat in the extracts until flavorings are incorporated and mixture looks smooth and even.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake blind 90 minutes (THIS MEANS NO PEEKING, USE YOUR OVEN LIGHT)

To unmold: Place a baking rack on a table or counter and cover with a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the pan to unstick any cake. Grab that baking rack and invert it onto the top of the pan then flip the whole mess over so the rack is holding the weight of the cake. You should hear a telltale thud and this is a good thing. Slowly lift the pan away from the cake. You might need to give it a little shake to fully unmold. Take the plate you intend to serve the cake on and repeat the steps with the baking rack--one hand squarely on the cake, one hand firmly on the plate--and flip again so that the cake is the right way up. Let cool before you put on the lemon glaze (below).

Lemon glaze:
Mix 3/4 c. confectioner's sugar with 1 1/2 tbs. milk and 1 tsp. of lemon extract (or 2 if you like it tart). Beat until smooth and then drizzle over the top of the cooled cake. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fatty, fatty 2x4

Ed. note: this is a serious post that does not involve recipes, just some hard facts. Don't like them? Too bad.

This is something I've wanted to write about for a while, basically since I drove out from the Chi to Pittsburgh for my internship. It's about an 8 hour drive, give or take the 2 hours I spent driving through Chicago to get on the freeway (the entrance to which is conveniently located two blocks from my house. Fuck you, Garmin.). Naturally, I had to stop a couple times to get gas, Chex Mix, etc. and I was horrified by the general clientele of the Kwik-Stops that line the interstate. I mean, despite the fact that these people had idiotic tattoos, far too many of them were seriously or morbidly obese. I'm talking a serious percentage, over half.
Now, it's none of my business what your eating habits are, but seriously, this was embarrassing. I was looking at a cross-section of middle America and it literally nauseated me. Everyone's so upset about Mayor Bloomberg's proposed soda ban for New York, calling him a nanny and a food police and all sorts of other shit. And while they do have a point, it seems like Americans need a little food policing or we're all going to die of heart attacks and other obesity related diseases.
Now don't get me wrong, I love America. It is by far the best country in the whole world and I wouldn't live anywhere else, except maybe if Romney got elected. But we are the fattest country in the world, and gluttony is in no way impressive or appealing.
I know that a lot of the stuff I put on here isn't all that healthy; I'm primarily a baker and there's really no point to eating healthy baked goods. If I'm going to consume empty calories, I want them to taste good. Keep flax seed out of the equation. But I also share this stuff that I'm baking, and I eat in moderation. I'll eat an Oreo every couple of days (doublestuf, obviously) and that's okay. But four or five? Not so much. That's a lot of trans- and saturated fats that your body just doesn't need.
So here's my point and I'll get off my soapbox: respect your body, and respect yourself. It's not all that expensive to eat healthily if you make smart buying decisions and people who complain about the expense are just making excuses for themselves. If you're so offended by Bloomberg's war on soda and the fact that L.A. is picking up on the trend too, ask yourself why. Is it that you feel your freedoms and liberties are being encroached upon? Or is it that deep down, you're embarrassed that you can't make healthy decisions for yourself more often than not?
I'm not saying go all paleo-diet or start starving yourself. I'm just saying love your body and treat it with the respect it deserves. Don't pump it full of poison and expect to look good when swimsuit season comes around. Portion control and moderation are words that have been thrown at us hundreds of times since this 'obesity epidemic' has really taken hold, and as annoying as they are to hear, they're also important. It just helps when people as obnoxious as Dr. Oz aren't saying them.
Do I expect everyone to change their eating habits immediately? Of course not. But I think that people should consider more seriously the kinds of things they're putting in their body. You only get one, and plastic surgery will only take you so far. So think twice before that Twinkie.
I'm off my soapbox now.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Baile la meringue

In my high school, the Spanish teachers were, by and large, insane. I'm not kidding. My freshman year teacher was the kind of crazy that made you laugh awkwardly in class and then drunkenly imitated on the weekends. My junior year teacher was the kind of crazy that made you understand why electroshock therapy was legal for so long. Freshman year, Senora B would dance around the classroom singing, "Baile la merengue, baile la merengue, PARA!" Which translates to: dance the merengue, dance the merengue, STOP. Go figure. While I cannot advocate for her sanity nor her dancing skills, meringues (the cookie, not the dance) are truly delicious. The storebought ones usually suck because they are mass produced and thus chalky, flavorless bricks that take a long time to bite into and then dissolve instantly. Homemade meringues are a totally different animal: crisp and chewy on the outside, pillowy on the inside. Little clouds of happiness that can't possibly have any calories in them so it's totally chill to eat like, 34 or so in one sitting. This recipe is essentially a basic chocolate meringue plus toasted coconut and mini chocolate chips folded in. That's another thing: meringues are mad versatile. White chocolate chips, butter scotch chips, toasted coconut, mint extract, blah blah blah. You can add almost anything except for things like jam and fresh herbs which would be weird. Traditional meringues are flavored only with no mix-ins (which compromise the cloud-like texture) but traditions are for weenies.

Aside: Sorry about the shitty picture; I took this at work when I realized that in approximately 3 minutes there wouldn't be any meringues left to photograph.


  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup toasted sweetened shredded coconut


  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
  2. Spread the coconut in a small pan over medium heat and stir constantly for 3 or 4 minutes until golden brown and very fragrant. Your kitchen should smell tropical as shit.
  3. Combine egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla. Beat until the whites form soft peaks. Slowly add sugar; beat until stiff peaks form, and mixture becomes glossy. Fold in cocoa and chocolate chips.
  4. Drop mixture by teaspoonfuls on to a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Is your muffin buttered?

I was invited to a weekend BBQ held by the spirits writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where I'm interning this summer. At least half of those in attendance were teething, about to be teething or nursing. Regardless, it was a genuinely enjoyable evening (thunderstorms notwithstanding)  and I thought I'd make a halfway decent impression on these work people and bring something adorable and tasty in a wicker basket. Okay the wicker basket was sort of an afterthought but these muffins are legit. I used organic strawberries grown by this Amish woman who I accosted at a farmer's market and babies/adults alike totally flipped over them. This recipe is from and though it was good, if I made these again I'd just use a basic buttermilk corn muffin recipe, add 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar and however many cups of hulled, diced strawberries I had on hand.


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups chopped fresh strawberries
  • 1 (8 ounce) container naturally flavored strawberry yogurt
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups or use paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl gently toss strawberries in 1/2 cup of flour mixture.
  3. Whisk yogurt, melted butter, and egg together. Stir the yogurt mixture into the flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Fold in strawberries. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.