Internet Menu: Snail Slime and Lipstick Robots

Photo Cred: Unsplash

Photo Cred: Unsplash

Happy March, everybody! First and foremost: if you’re looking for a new book to fill your idle hours, please please please read The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. I made the mistake of reading it in a public place (I got all sniffly), AND I made the mistake of thinking I could open it up, read a couple chapters, and then actually do productive things with my day. Here’s an excerpt.

Okay. On to links!

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An Actual Recipe: French Lemon Cake

ar-lemoncake

Friends, readers, countrypeople…let’s step away, for just a hot second, from the long-ass “How To Cook Everything, Ever” posts. Are they useful? Hell yeah. Are they educational? Hell yeah!

Are they, like, a little much?

Oh, yeah. Yes.

Instead, I have for you a simple tasty lemon cake. 

Wait–why is it French?

Because it’s basically this recipe, but transformed into its long-lost lemony cousin. As Dorie Greenspan says in the original article:

[E]very French person I know, baker or not, can make a yogurt cake. And does. For Sunday lunch. For a kid’s birthday. For an anniversary. For mama coming to town. For that time when you need a cake and can’t get to the pâtisserie to buy one.

I’m on board. Lay it out for me.

On it.

what you need

  • A loaf pan
  • 2 bowls
  • Unsalted butter (for greasing the loaf pan)
  • A stick of unsalted butter (to melt and put in the cake)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar (for optional glaze)

what to do

1. Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in one bowl and mix ’em together. Set the bowl aside. Feel accomplished.

2. Dump the sugar in the other bowl. Then take the lemon and grate the zest directly over the sugar. (If you have a zester, great! [Ha–great/grate…anyway.] If not, use the tiny-holed side you might have on your cheese grater. If you don’t have that, you can probably scrape off the zest with a small knife and break it off by hand, but this is a last resort.)

3. Once you’ve zested the whole lemon (and now you have a naked, not-quite-as-yellow-as-before lemon), massage the zest into the sugar. I’m dead serious. Rub the zest in until, according to Dorie, the sugar is “aromatic and moist.”

4. Suddenly remember that you’re going to have to bake this thing. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Plop the yogurt into the bowl of lemony sugar, and whisk it up. Feel your heart swell a little bit with wonder at how unexpectedly beautiful this is. (That might just be me. But if you’re whisking with a swelling heart, I get it.)

6. Whisk in each of the eggs, one at a time, until fully combined. Dorie says to do it “energetically,” so put on some dance music while you whisk.

7. Cut the weird, bald lemon in half. Take one half and squeeze the juice into the sugar-yogurt bowl. Whisk to combine.

8. Take your bowl of flour-salt-baking powder, add it to the sugar-yogurt-lemon-juice bowl, and gently whisk until it’s all one, and there aren’t any dry ingredients left.

9. Melt a stick of butter in the microwave (in a container, obviously). Add the melted butter to your cake bowl a little bit at a time, whisking after each addition.

10. Rub an unmelted stick of butter all over the inside of your baking pan. Like, ALL over. Make sure every surface is coated. Don’t be stingy.

11. Pour the cake mix into the baking pan and smooth out the top. Make sure it gets all the way into the corners. You can shake it from side to side to even it out, if you want. This works well.

12. Stick it on the middle rack and bake for 50-60 mins, or until the top is golden-brown, and you can stick a knife in and it comes out clean.

13. When you take it out of the oven, let it cool for 5 mins. Flip the pan over to get the cake out. (You might have to hit it to get the cake out. You might have to hit it a lot.) Then, flip it right-side up.

CAKE!

14. If you want a LEMONY GLAZE (optional but highly recommended), put the powdered sugar in a microwaveable container. Add a little bit of butter, a dash of salt, and the juice from the other half of your bald lemon. Mix it together to the best of your abilities, and then microwave it for 45 seconds. Drizzle it over your cake.

CAKE WITH LEMONY GLAZE!

 

Believe me–nothing feels better than being able to look at the clock and think, “It’s not even noon, and I’ve already baked a cake today.”

Plus, now you have CAKE FOR DAYS.

Enjoy the single recipe. We return to long-ass How To Cook Everything, Ever posts on Saturday, and I’m actually very excited. But for now, this is a nice breather.

P.S. Other posts you might like: can you substitute chickpea brine for egg whites? and how to make any casserole, ever.

 

*Glaze adapted from The Kitchen Magpie

 

Lunch Date: Interview with Sarah Lohman

ld-sarahlohman

Lunch Date is the post series where you get to hang out with the coolest people in the food scene–all from the comfort of your own computer. This week, Sarah Lohman from Four Pounds Flour dropped in to share how she went from cooking 19th-century food in a living museum to eating a moose’s face (in the name of historic gastronomy!)

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in a small town in Ohio–Cleveland was about a 30 minute drive north, and Amish country about a 30 minute drive south.

My mother is an award-winning baker, and as soon as I could stand, I was baking next to her. She never let me have an Easy Bake Oven because she said I could do it myself in the kitchen. So I’ve been baking on my own since maybe 8 or 9.

Cooking came a little later–I was probably 13 or 14. When my brother went to college, my mom went back to work, so it became my responsibility to start dinner, following detailed instructions she would leave me.

When I was 17, I went to work with her at a “living history” museum–we were in costume, and in character [as people from the 19th century]. It introduced me to the idea of social history, and I also got my first experience there with cooking on antiquated equipment from historical texts .

Someone from the 19th century has time-traveled into your office. How would you describe your work to them?

They would understand it pretty easily; there was a ton of nostalgia in the 19th century for the food and life of the 18th century and before. For example, Thanksgiving officially became a holiday during the Civil War, and it sprang from a place of wanting to unify the country–but also mostly out of adulation for America’s “founders,” the Pilgrims (in fact, the word “Pilgrims” was first used to referred to the Plymouth Puritans in the 19th century).

And at the 1864 Sanitary Fair, a fundraiser to send care packages to Union troops and provide sanitation in their camps, the most popular attraction was a sort of Revolutionary War-era dining hall. People in 18th-century costumes cooked and served 18th-century food from a giant open hearth, and did other romanticized things like spin and weave.

So they’ve also reinterpreted the past; and in a sense, that’s what I do.

Article from Sarah’s senior BFA show, where she served visitors contemporary interpretations of historical dishes.

You describe yourself as a “historic gastronomist.” How did you get into that line of work, and why that particular title?

After I moved to NYC in 2006, I started working at New York Magazine as their video producer. I worked a lot with Josh Ozersky, the first editor of Grub Street, and it gave me a peek into the New York food scene. I was in some of the best kitchens in the city and meeting some of the most famous chefs, like Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin.

I noticed that many chefs looked to the past for inspiration, and I realized I had a unique perspective on the history of food from my time working in a museum. So after I started freelancing (about 7 years ago) I launched my blog, Four Pounds Flour. It caught on quick, because nobody was quite looking at food the way I was: through this experimental, first-person, historical lens.

I chose the title “historic gastronomist” because I wanted to distinguish myself from a chef (who has formal training and/or has worked in a restaurant) and a culinary historian (who often operates only within academic circles).

I wanted to cook and connect with people, teach and make links to the present. The title encapsulated all those things for me.

What’s the best situation historic gastronomy has gotten you into? The worst situation? The weirdest situation? 

I get a lot of really interesting promotional invites. I sat in the VIP section drinking sake at an Asian food festival in Times Square; I saw a turducken prepared in someone’s apartment.

I think I pretty regularly do a lot of weird shit to experiment with historic recipes–like once I made a jello-mold with ground corned beef; and another I ate a moose face.

But I think the best part about it is the community the blog has built around it, and the amazing people I get to interact with. On February 11th, I hosted a panel with cocktail historian David Wondrich and three mixologists I deeply respect–St. John Frizell, Tom Macy and Del Pedro. Getting to work with them was very exciting.

Are there any old-timey cooking tricks you use today, or that you recommend to your friends?

I think that working with food history has made me a much better cook all around. I’ve had to teach myself so many basic cooking techniques to be able to interpret the recipes of the past.

And it’s also taught me to relax in the kitchen. Recipes today are so EXACT–to a point where people feel intimidated by cooking because they think they’re going to ruin something. Historical recipes leave so much open to interpretation, so much room for personal taste.

It’s also changed my idea of when something is “done.” We set a timer and set a temperature, and when the timer goes off it’s “done.” For me, something is done when it looks right, feels right, smells right. I once asked my mom how to tell when a cake was done, and she said, “When it smells like cake.”

A practical tip: add a dash of cayenne pepper to gingerbread, and chili flakes to your pasta water if you’re making macaroni and cheese.

What projects are you working on right now?

I’ve got a book coming out!! I’m just wrapping up the final draft. It’s called Eight Flavors: The Secret History of American Food and it’s coming out November 15th with Simon & Schuster.

I’ve often felt Americans lacked pride in their own cuisine–fueled by the fact it’s difficult to define. But I think America has one of the most amazing cuisines on the planet. This book seeks to unite and define American food by looking at its eight most prominent flavors: black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG [Editor’s note: Yes, it’s a flavor, and it’s not scary], and sriracha.

But more importantly, it looks at the stories behind the Americans who made these flavors popular in our food. It’s a portrait of our country and its people through food.

Who are some of your inspirations? (Culinary or otherwise.)

My inspirations are some of the people who have crossed my path and shaped my future. My mom,  Karen Lohman, obviously. A college professor of Art History, Dr. Charles Bergengren, who guided me through an independent study in culinary history. Josh Ozersky, who introduced me to being a foodie and showed me it doesn’t have to be all seriousness.

Charlie and Josh both passed away while I was working on my book, and it’s heartbreaking that I can’t show them the results of how they’ve influenced me. But my time with them was very important to me.

What’s something you’ve learned in your line of work that you think could apply to everyone?

When you’re in the kitchen: relax. You’re not going to screw anything up. And even if you do, just bring it to work and feed it to your coworkers. They’ll be thrilled–even terrible food tastes great when it’s free and at work.

Photo cred: William Heath//Sarah Lohman//John Kuntz

Scratch That: Remove Eggshells With Water

scratch-eggwater

Welcome to Scratch That! This is where I, a real, live 20-something with minimal cooking experience, test out “quick-and-easy” recipes, food-related lifehacks, and other outlandish culinary claims. This installment quickly explores the technique of removing eggshells from a bowl by wetting your fingers first.

Spoiler: It doesn’t work. I was hopeful. I thought it might.

“Even professionals tend to get egg shells in their recipes from time to time…If a shell cracks in though, wet your fingers before trying to get it out. It literally gravitates the shell to your fingers, so you can quickly remove all of the unpleasant crunch!” —Paleoholic

“You’re preparing a cake or getting ready to scramble some eggs and it happens: you spot a teeny, tiny piece of shell floating around in the eggs. Before you reach in and start picking at it, be sure to wet your fingers first…The piece will gravitate to your fingertips so you don’t have to go digging for very long.” —Lifehacker, corroborating Paleoholic’s article

“If there is a tiny piece of shell fallen into your bowl of egg yolk and egg white when breaking it, just wet your fingers and try picking it up!” —Secret Life Tips

The cold, hard truth:

Conclusion: FALSE CLAIM!

But hey, they can’t all be as ridiculously successful as the microwavable peanut-butter mug cake or the latte-style foam you can make in a jar.

 

Confessions of a Meal Plan

mp-confessions1image source: x

Alright, humans. I did it. Last week, I made, for the first time ever in my life–a meal plan.

Did it go perfectly? Heck no! Did it go roughly okay? Sure.

Read below for the week’s meal-plan related trials and tribulations.

 

Dressler’s Confessions of a Meal Plan

MONDAY

This was the day I actually put together my meal plan, using this very scientific method:

  1. Drew up a quick grid of the week–all the days of the week, plus breakfast/lunch/dinner.
  2. Filled in breakfasts with alternating “omelet” and “avocado toast” spaces. (Spoiler: I didn’t eat avocado toast ONCE during the week, but at least we had the avocados!)
  3. Browsed Minimalist Baker for four tasty recipes I could use to fill in the other blanks.
  4. Found this citrus kale salad, this mushroom risotto, these pad thai spring rolls (yes!) and these butternut squash/black bean enchiladas.
  5. Made a list of all the groceries I needed for these things.
  6. Went grocery shopping with my lovely roommate.
  7. Got home and PREPPED. (Also, made that kale salad, and it was amazing.)

prepping

Several Notes On Prepping

This time, for my first-ever try at prepping things for several meals at once, I skimmed through the recipes, noted what needed to be done with the produce (chopped? cubed? grated?), did that, and called it a day.

If I had to do it over again (which, coincidentally, I will, because I’m a Human Who Needs To Eat Food To Survive), here’s what I’d do:

Go through the recipes more carefully.

There were so many moments that I could have sauteed mushrooms or drained tofu or even whipped up a sauce with minimal effort, and saved myself oodles of time later in the week–but I didn’t look carefully enough at the process.

Embrace low-maintenance multi-tasking.

You can have pasta cooking and tofu baking while you’re chopping veggies–and your workload is still exactly the same! Use all your resources.

on this day i learned:

  • Mustard stays good for, like, forever
  • How to cube a butternut squash
  • I take forEVER to chop carrots, and so that’s a thing I need to practice.
  • It took me a little over an hour to slice a handful of bella mushrooms, grate some carrots, slice half an onion and dice the other half, peel and chop a grapefruit, slice an apple, cube a butternut squash, and make a killer kale salad.

TUESDAY

HA! Tuesday. Oh, Tuesday. I packed a kale salad for lunch and felt so proud of myself. Things went downhill after that.

on this day i learned:

  • Kale salads don’t get soggy the next day!
  • A kale salad isn’t quite enough to keep me not-hungry for the next, oh, six hours.
  • I need better Tupperware that doesn’t drip inside my backpack.
  • Between my two afternoon classes, when I have two hours to burn, I’m always hungry, and I want coffee and a snack. (And today it was a mocha and a slice of lemon poundcake from Starbucks.)
  • If, say, hypothetically, I have a networking event directly after my class, and I don’t get home till 9:30pm, I’m probably not going to want to cook dinner.
  • Which means I’m 10000% more likely to, instead, get a sandwich at Cheba Hut.
  • And a donut for dessert.
  • It’s okay. You can try again tomorrow.

food1

WEDNESDAY

Woke up Wednesday and decided to bake a lemon poundcake (which was THE MOST FUN way to begin my day, oh gosh.)

That night, I intentionally stepped back on the horse and cooked up some mushroom risotto–sans mushrooms.

on this day i learned:

  • Kale salads still aren’t soggy two days later!
  • I’m still in the mood to cook dinner as long as I get home by 8pm.
  • If mushrooms are slimy and smell iffy, you should probably just throw it away.
  • One cup of rice is SO MUCH RICE. It is SO MUCH.

THURSDAY

This was EASILY the best food day.

Had half a grapefruit for breakfast, plus some English breakfast tea. Actually went home for lunch, and heated up some risotto and finished up the never-ending kale salad.

Packed a slice of lemon cake as an afternoon snack, and I ate it that afternoon in the sunshine, and all was right with the world. Made pad thai spring rolls for dinner that night, and my lovely roommate mixed up a peanut dipping sauce.

on this day i learned:

  • Kale salads still aren’t soggy THREE DAYS LATER!
  • Girl, go home for lunch. Just go home. You can chill out, prep some stuff for dinner, and have leftovers in a nice, relaxed environment. Plus, you can pack a snack for the afternoon.
  • Tofu drains better if you cut it into slices first. (Thanks, Anna!)

food2

FRIDAY

I’m pretty sure I skipped breakfast and moved straight into leftover pad thai spring rolls for lunch…and then didn’t fall off the wagon so much as intentionally step off the wagon into Cane’s for dinner.

It was great. (But, admittedly, not as great as the ultra-together feeling of Having A Delicious Homecooked Meal In The Fridge.) [But still pretty damn great. Those fries and that sauce? Aw yiss.]

SATURDAY& Sunday

No cooking to report.

 

So, What WORKED?

  1. Having clear plans for what I wanted to make. That was SUPER helpful, because then I had actual things to look forward to. Instead of “Eh, I should cook tonight,” it was more “No, I’ve gotta get home so I can make that bomb-ass mushroom risotto.”
  2. Having all my ingredients ahead of time, and not needing to run to the store last-minute for anything.
  3. Making big batches that I could munch on for days.
  4. All the recipes were delicious, unusual, and exciting.
  5. Going home for lunch.

What didn’t work?

  1. I still don’t have a working thermos, so I can’t bring coffee or tea to school with me–I always end up buying it instead. This is a thing to fix.
  2. Not prepping more ingredients, or doing smarter prep. (Mushrooms should’ve been cooked immediately, pasta should’ve been boiled, etc.)
  3. Not having dinner already made for my late nights.

What do i want for next time?

  • To come home from class on Tuesdays and Thursdays with dinner totally ready to eat.
  • Less than an hour of post-grocery-store prep work.
  • For all my meals to take less than 20 minutes to cook. (Post-prepwork.)
  • Oatmeal for breakfast.

Beautiful readers? Got any meal planning tips? Roads to takeout paved with good intentions? Leave a comment!

 

Scratch That: Vegan Chickpea Meringues (Seriously!)

scratch-meringuesWelcome to Scratch That! This is where I, a real, live 20-something with minimal cooking experience, test out “quick-and-easy” recipes, food-related lifehacks, and other outlandish culinary claims. This installment deliciously explores making vegan meringues from chickpea liquid.

If your immediate reaction upon reading that intro link is “those are all words I never expected to read in a sentence” then CLAP YOUR HANDS!

So, chickpea-liquid-as-egg-white-replacement is an Internet Thing I’ve been weirdly shoehorning into polite chitchat at parties, lunches, scholar talks, etc. for like the last month, and I’ve only recently tried it out. I’m not vegan (as this post and my billion future posts about eggs and milk and cheese will show), but A) lots of people are and B) this is sO COOL.

But! It’s one thing for something to scientifically, technically, theoretically work as a textural replacement…and a whole other bag of worms for it to actually taste good–or, at least, AS good as the Original Meringues.

THE COMPETITORS

chickpea-ingredients

In corner 1:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Baked at 250 degrees (F)

In corner 2:

  • Liquid from 1 15oz can of chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Baked at 250 degrees (F)

Consistent flavors, consistent temperature. Question: will chickpea liquid work as a direct substitute?

ROUND 1: Whipping the meringues

chickpea-whipped

There was no noticeable difference in whipping. (Except that the chickpea one definitely smelled like chickpeas, which didn’t give me high hopes for the end result.)

ROUND 2: Piping the meringues

chickpea-piped

Two pans, suddenly filled with swirly goodness. Two pans enter. Two pans leave!

ROUND 3: Baking the meringues

chickpea-baked

The timer went off at 50 minutes. The egg-white meringues were totally hard to the touch. The vegan meringues were a little spongy, but immediately after I took them out of the oven, they hardened up.

ROUND 4: Eating the meringues

My sentiments (shared by my roommates + extra friend, who all tried the meringues totally unprompted):

Traditional meringues: OF COURSE good. Very, very sweet.

Vegan meringues: Surprisingly very good. The flavor’s more complex than the traditional meringues–a little bit salty, but not in a bad way. Just not in a so sweet it burns your face off way. But as proof that it’s super tasty, I ate exactly one meringue. Over the next two days, I watched the plate in the kitchen get completely empty.

Conclusion: will chickpea liquid work as a direct substitute?

Yes!

 

Caught the vegan baking bug? Here’s a Vegan Lime Tart to get you started.