Saturday, September 27, 2014

A tale of two cakes

I've been cooking savories, really. There were the tempura shishito peppers...

These are so, so fun.

The secret to good tempura batter: use carbonated water!

Tempura kale for good measure.
The carrot greens, bean sprout, and carrot salad with a fantastic avocado sesame dressing...

The vegetarian Cajun risotto...

It all starts with a roux, and the true Cajun holy trinity: celery,
onion, and green bell pepper.

A little white wine, Tabasco, and vegan andouille
later... I cannot tell you how delicious this was.

But the Great Cake Experiment of Intern Year 2014... um... takes the cake. It all started when Andy requested a carrot cake*. It struck me that carrot cake doesn't taste all that much like carrots. Why not attempt another root vegetable cake that features the vegetable more prominently? So I made a control mini carrot cake:

And then a mini beet cake (Please excuse the decorations, which ended up resembling seaweed more than beet tops.):

I added some coffee to the batter to bring out the earthy, rather than the vegetal, quality of the beets, and used clove, caraway, and hazelnut extract. The carrot cake recipe on which I based the beet cake yielded a wet batter to begin with; the extra moisture added by the coffee made the texture just a wee bit odd. I can fix that. I want to fix that, because the flavor of this was so, so very good. This begs for a Swiss buttercream cream cheese frosting, lighter and tangier (and more heat-stable!) than your grandma's version.

Beet cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, light or dark
1 tsp salt
1 tsp caraway
1 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup lukewarm coffee, a dark roast if you have it
4 eggs
3 cups finely grated raw red beets
1/2 tsp hazelnut extract

Combine your dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugars and oil. Whisk in the eggs one by one until well-blended, then whisk in the coffee and extract. Add the dry ingredients and fold until not quite combined, then fold in the shredded beets (getting them a little floury keeps the beet from sinking to the bottom of the pan).

Grease and lightly cocoa** two 9-inch cake pans. Fill each with half the batter. Bake for 30-40 minutes each, or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center of the layer comes out clean but moist. Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Cream cheese Swiss buttercream

2 egg whites
1/2 minus two tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cool but soft
8 oz cream cheese, cool but soft
pinch salt

In a double boiler, whisk the egg whites and sugar together until sugar is dissolved and mixture is hot and foamy (160F, if you have a thermometer). Pour into a stand mixer and whip until the mixture is cool and forms stiff peaks. When the mixture is completely cool, start whipping in the butter about a tablespoon at a time. Don't get disappointed if it looks curdled; keep whipping! Do the same with the cream cheese, continuing to whip until everything is very fluffy. Add the salt just at the end.

Cajun risotto
1 onion
1 large green bell pepper
2 stalks celery
2 large cloves garlic
1 red bell pepper
1/2 cup white wine
dried thyme
Tony Chachare's
black pepper
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
vegetarian andouille or similar sausage
chopped parsley
fresh lemon
about 5 cups mushroom or vegetable stock

Start to heat your stock with a large bay leaf in it. Dice the onion, pepper, and celery; all should be similar sizes. Mince the garlic. Finely chop the red bell pepper. In a large saute pan, heat about 3 tablespoons oil or butter. Add 3 tablespoons flour and stir constantly and vigorously as it cooks to a color just lighter than peanut butter. Add a couple tablespoons of stock and the onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic and saute until the vegetables are soft. Add the rice and stir to coat, then add the white wine and stir until it is almost all absorbed. Begin adding the hot stock about a half cup at a time, stirring until it is almost absorbed each time. When done, the rice should have a bit of a bite without being chalky in the middle. About 7 minutes before you think it will be done, add in the red pepper and season with dried thyme, Tabasco, Tony's, and black pepper. Add the andouille and a squirt of lemon just at the end. Serve with lots of fresh parsley and a lemon wedge for squeezing.

*He loves "dense cakes," of which carrot cake is not an exemplar but which is nevertheless his favorite.
**If flour can be a verb, why can't cocoa?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

An apple or five a day

Well, look at that. It's the end of September. Guess this intern year thing is getting the better of my culinary side. The upside is that we've skipped straight to autumn, which means it's apple season! I've already picked up some new ones to sample. I tried to pace myself. It didn't work. I'll be posting about actual food I've been making, but first, without further ado:

1. Williams red: This one was terrible. I'm choosing to believe that I just picked a bad one, or it's too early for them, because the apple is so beautiful!

2. Pristine: Pretty, no? This one wasn't bad. It reminded me of a more floral, less generic Golden Delicious.

3. Seek No Further: Yes, it's that good. Complex, tropical, aromatic... I need more of this in my life.

4. Gravenstein: This one had an interesting texture, so firm it was almost rubbery. I didn't mind, but I like unusually firm apples. 

5. 20 oz Pippin: I forgot to photograph this one, but that's okay because it was sort of a nondescript green apple. It tasted like a very large Pippin.

6. Cox orange Pippin: This wars with the Seek No Further for my personal favorite of the bunch. Isn't that a pretty color, too?