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vanilla whipped cream

When I knew I was moving, one of the only things I wanted was a window in my kitchen, preferably by my workspace. Baking is gentle, can be slow, and is made even more magical by a breeze coming in through the window brushing stray hands of hair across your neck. Right now I have that open window, 55 degree fall air coming through, a ceiling fan on, and a heart trying to be still.

I’m a methodical person. Logic was one of my favorite philosophy courses. I thrive on a schedule. I’m a planner. I feel better when I know what the next step is. I like knowing what the outcome is going to be. I read the whole recipe, I get familiar enough with it to know what should be next. But right now, I don’t know what’s next.

In the grand scheme of things I know where I’m heading. I have a great love, and mountains I want to live between. I know where I’m heading, but the between here and then is so abstract and intangible. What I don’t know is how we, or I get there. I have a month-by-month lease, but because of the timeline at work right now I don’t know where I’ll be in three months. I know where I’ll be in about five steps, but the “meanwhile” is unclear. I can barely tolerate that instability and uncertainty, and really can’t do anything other than go with it. It’s out of my hands for the moment.

But what is in my control is getting the measurement for flour right. I know when to add the liquid ingredients and when to add vanilla. I know I can chill my mixing bowl, pour heavy cream in, add  vanilla, then slowly turn the speed up and wait. I know that with patience it will start frothing and turn into whipped cream. Delicious, luscious, light whipped cream. And if I want more flexibility I can try to cook. Maybe I can make some pasta sauce and not pay much attention to measurements. But when you crave stability and some comfort, sometimes you just want to rely on mixing flour, eggs, butter, and sugar together and knowing exactly what the outcome will be. And a little vanilla. Always vanilla.

Vanilla Whipped Cream

1/2 pint heavy/whipping cream
2 Tablespoons sugar
1.5 teaspoons vanilla bean paste*

1. Chill metal bowl from a mixer for 5 minutes in refrigerator.
2. Pour whipping cream in and turn mixer on low.
3. Gradually turn the speed up to medium-low, letting the cream beat for about a minute between each speed.
4. When the cream is starting to look frothy with lots of bubbles, turn mixer off while you add vanilla paste and sugar. (So it doesn’t splatter everywhere). Return speed back to medium-low slowly.
5. Continue to increase speed to medium. (6 on my Kitchen Aid mixer). Be patient and the cream will start to thicken and turn to whipped cream. When it does get thick, check readiness occasionally so as to not over-whip. Whipped cream is ready when you can remove a mixer and soft peaks stay upright.

*I’ve been using Nielson-Massey vanilla paste for the past two years now, and one bottle has actually lasted that entire time period. I swear by it and use vanilla bean paste instead of extract whenever I can, as the vanilla beans add such a rich flavor.

**Credit due to previously mentioned great love for the blog post title.

Bad Elmer's Porter chocolate cake

This is the time when we don’t want to let go. This is when pumpkin beers start to hit the shelves and this is when I see school supplies and boots in the stores. It doesn’t feel so strange to not be in school anymore, and the humidity still feels like June, but when September starts creeping up it feels like we’re leaving something behind. We don’t have several months of sunburned days and hot nights ahead of us anymore. I usually try to hang on to any shred of summer I can, and try to will the warm weather to stay. But I’m trying to remind myself that as the months pass there are still new adventures ahead of us.

I have a life, a job, and a person firmly in the past at this point. No part of my present. I listened to a song that we played on the way to Pittsburgh, and realized how far behind that feels at this point. My whole life I’ve struggled with “looking in the rearview mirror” as my father puts it. And it’s true. I still don’t have the concept of “letting go” completely down. I’ve moved away from my hometown, and at least for now, I’m doing better this time around. The faster we try to cling on to memories of the past to keep them as part of our present, the seasons, anything that’s left, the faster they disappear like water from our cupped hands. Time moves faster than we can imagine, so we have to either let go or be dragged. Now let’s bake some cake.

To continue the adventure of baking with beer, I used a Bad Elmer’s Porter and adapted a recipe from Tartelette for a chocolate cake that is rich, but not too dark, and smooth. I used the porter and coffee to replace the water and espresso powder that her recipe calls for. Next time you have someone over for dinner (or even treat yourself to dinner) break out the coffee again and some vanilla ice cream to have with this cake. I have a stash of Indiana beers I’m trying to get through, but you can use any mild porter that is available in your area.

Porter Chocolate Cake with Bad Elmer’s Porter
Adapted from Tartelette

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup Bad Elmer’s Porter, flat and room temperature
1/2 cup warm coffee

1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy in a medium sized bowl (you’ll have all your batter in this one at the end). Add eggs and mix until incorporated.
2. Mix dry ingredients (cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, and baking soda) in separate bowl.
3. Prepare coffee and let cool until barely warm to the touch. Mix with the beer.
4. Add half of the the coffee/porter mixture to the butter, sugar, and eggs and mix quickly until incorporated. (Yes, this will be very soupy. Just keep mixing until smooth).
5. Add half of the dry ingredients and gently mix until just incorporated.
6. Add second half of the coffee/porter mixture, and mix again.
7. Slowly add the remaining half of your dry ingredients and mix again until just incorporated.
8. Butter and flour three miniature spring-form or mini cake pans.
9. Fill 3/4 full with cake batter, and bake at 325 degrees F for 30-35 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean).

Note: This cake will rise a lot, so if you want to use this recipe to make a multi-layered cake you will need to cut the tops off so that the pieces are level.

Bad Elmer's porter chocolate cake

Bad Elmer's Porter chocolate cake

Peach cobbler with beer

Peach cobbler with beer

If you’ve been here a while you may have noticed that I don’t do a whole lot of baking with beer. It really intimidates me and I have not had a lot of luck in the past, but I think it’s because I haven’t taken the time or had the patience to do try it again. This weekend I said enough is enough. Let’s get weird.

Normally this cobbler is very tart (especially with perfectly ripe peaches) and bright, and using this bit of beer rounds the flavor out. If you don’t want to make the leap in using beer in a whole recipe, I would recommend taking the portion of cut peaches you would use for one cobbler and cover that with the beer described below. This way you can still try the beer in one of the cobblers and be able to compare it to the regular recipe (sans beer). You know what the best part of this recipe is, though? The  step that calls for “Drink the rest of the beer.”

Fountain Square Workingman’s Pilsner Peach Cobbler
using a slightly adapted version of Joy the Baker’s topping

2 large ripe peaches
1/4 C all-purpose flour
1/4 C packed dark brown sugar
3 Tablespoon rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons slivered almonds or granola
3 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 bottle Fountain Square Workingman’s Pilsner (or other pilsner you can find)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare the topping by dicing butter into 1/4 inch slices, then placing in the freezer (on the cutting board, with the knife) for about 15 minutes to stiffen. Now cut again into 1/4 inch cubes. (This is my way of getting the butter down to really small pieces before you start mixing it with dry ingredients)
2. Mix all dry ingredients together in a small bowl, add butter, and mix with your hands. Crumble the butter into smaller pieces with the dry mixture until the mixture can be patted down and sticks together so that you can create a kind of crust on top of the fruit. (The motions are almost like kneading bread)
3. Peel the peaches, and slice into one inch cubes. Place into a small bowl.
4. Pour the pilsner over the peaches until they are covered and let sit for about five minutes. Drink the rest of the beer.
4. Spray Pam or butter the inside of small ramekins (I used three).
5. Drain peaches and fill ramekins until the peaches are even with the top. Pour 1-2 teaspoons beer over peaches. Sprinkle the topping generously over the peaches until the are covered and press down so the topping is compact.
6. Place ramekins on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. (I use a cookie sheet in case the fruit juice spills over a little. This happened to me once, so better safe than sorry, I say)
7. Serve hot and preferably with vanilla ice cream. Obviously.

Peach cobbler with beer

I remember the moment I fell in love with Paris. Head over heels love for a city. I was in serious culture shock for a very long time after my family moved, and it wasn’t until May 16, 2006 that I was happy. My friend Tiffany and I were walking across one of the bridges from Île de la Cité back to the metro station, the sun was setting, it was warm, and everything finally just clicked. And pardon my high-school journal, but I went home ti write “I promised myself I wouldn’t let this happen…I wouldn’t get attached to people. but I can’t help it anymore. I fell in love with Paris. I can’t help but breathe everything in walking home at night. The air is so warm and sweet, the sky a deep blue, the spotlight from the Effel Tower shining….I’m sitting on my window ledge with the windows wide open. The air is perfect.”

I’m glad that it’s taken a lot less time for me to adjust here, but I realized today that it’s going to be really really hard to leave. I went into the city yesterday to go to the Soulard Farmers Market for the second time (woke up naturally at 6:30 am on a Saturday…go figure), and then ventured over to Mud House and Whisk Sustainable Bakery afterward. This farmers market is a thing of wonder: open from Wednesdays through Saturdays, four wings (four!) with more choices than I know what to do with. Two pasta makers, meats, cheeses, flowers, herbs, a spice shop, a flower shop, it goes on and on. The first time I went I found most of my groceries for under $40 (all below), and only had to buy milk, diced tomatoes, hummus, and orange juice at the store. (Granted, I still had quite a few staples from my last grocery store trip). As a side-note, I keep reading great things about the Tower Grove Farmers Market too so I think next time I’ll give that a try. Any other recommendations?

After my trip to the market yesterday morning I drove over to Mud House after seeing it featured on this gal’s blog Food Year Resolutions. She is trying all of the best rated restaurants by Sauce Magazine in St. Louis in one year – awesome (and ambitious) idea. While I think there are just a few that she’s written up so far, I can’t wait to see what she thinks about the rest. This place seriously exceeded my expectations and is just what you would imagine a locally owned coffee house in an old neighborhood should be. We’re talking brick walls, beautiful posters, quirky decorations, dim lighting on a grey morning, and a cozy outdoor patio with couples enjoying a lazy Saturday morning. And of course some incredible coffee. I sat down in the back (next to an incredibly fluffy German Shepherd/Great Pyrenees mix) with my latte and flipped through one of their copies of Feast. As I looked through the articles, pictures, and interviews with culinary figures from St. Louis I was overwhelmed, excited, and extremely intimidated. Every single line in this magazine contains a new name or restaurant or brewery that I immediately wanted to go try. How will I ever be able to choose? I’ve barely barely skimmed the surface just by reading about the food and beer scene in this city, and I already have stars in my eyes. And I haven’t even started on the craft breweries yet. (I know I know)

As if that wasn’t enough, I walked down the street to window shop (antique shops seem to be everywhere) and found Whisk Bakery. Mud House was exactly what you’d want from a coffee shop and Whisk Bakery seems to be right on track with what you’d want from a bakery. I can’t wait to go back again and get some pictures, because again, with the blue. I’m loving these great shades of blue in decor lately. I picked up a chocolate chip cookie with sea salt & bacon (it works, trust me), and then bought some of Mila Sweets‘ macarons to-go (yum-my). Since I got stuck in traffic on my way back I went ahead and got a head start with the Pistachio and Lemon. So good.

This is all to say, I’m really happy where I am right now, and again, I love where I live. I don’t expect that I’ll be here forever, but this has been and is going to continue to be an amazing city to live near and a great community I hope I can be a small part of. Come visit and you’ll see.

Groceries from the market

Bunches of basil

Hazelnuts from the market

Soulard Farmers Market

Soulard Farmers Market

Pasta from the farmers market

Sunflowers!

Spice Center

Outside view

Cake!

I went into this Sunday night armed with my favorite Schlafly Summer Lager, Joy the Baker’s vegan chocolate cake, and an episode of the Biercast. Joy wrote about the Sunday Panics last year and I swear it was the first time I realized this happened to anyone else. She describes symptoms of the Sunday Panics and does a pretty good job hitting the nail on the head. My Sunday Panics usually come with a simultaneous desire to watch everything on Netflix and eat food that is terrible for anyone, but also thinking I should fling myself outside into the sun with a gin & tonic and a swimsuit. “Tomorrow may be Monday, but I still have my freedom!”

But seriously, I do get very panicky on Sundays, and sometimes if I’m lucky it only hits me around 9 pm so I don’t feel guilty about being a little lazy, and I can go to sleep early to cut them (the panics) off at the knees. But other times, especially this weekend they come on strong and early. I spent the weekend in Springfield, Illinois, with my parents and it’s seriously hard to come back to a new city, an empty apartment, and work the next day after a weekend like that. Such is life, though, and I know I can’t escape the fact that yes, it’s Sunday, and yes, tomorrow is Monday. So I took out the flour, the chocolate, the beer, and pressed play on a podcast and got moving. Oh there will still be Netflix, and there will still be junk food (so what, I’m human and I like processed foods sometimes), but as my mother said “There’s nothing like going to bed full and with a little bit of chocolate in you.”

Cake: Joy the Baker’s Vegan Chocolate Cake
Beer: Schlafly Summer Lager
Podcast: The Biercast Brew Loyalty

*Tonight I relied on Instagram for a photo, as I really did want to get some writing about Sunday blues out of me. Stay tuned, though! I just got another roll of color back from the shop.

my kitchen

Ever since returning from vacation my evenings are looking steadily different. Before vacation I would come home at 6:30 or 7, toast two pieces of tomato basil bread, smash up an avocado and quickly eat them before spending some time on the phone, take a shower, then bed. Since returning I get home around 6ish as I’m actually leaving work at 6 these days (!!!!!!), do dishes from the day, and start cooking. Dinners lately have been simple pasta dishes (carbonara, garlic/butter, marinara ricotta sauce), but I’m still taking the time to cook. The rest of my night looks similar – phone calls, shower, etc., but simply taking the time to prepare a simple meal has made such a difference.

I feel full and healthy. You can probably already guess how two pieces of toast a night makes someone feel, right? There’s not only a physical effect, but a mental effect as well. I (obviously) love food, and grew up with a home-cooked family dinner most nights (bless my wonderful mother), so not having real meals made me feel less whole in a way. It was almost like having TV dinner or something of the sort. I knew I should be doing better.

I’m actually cooking something other than pasta with marinara, which means I’m learning slowly but surely. I have yet to cook meat for regular meals, or go outside the pasta + sauce box. Most of these are taking just twenty-thirty minutes to prepare. But it’s a start. And it has been relatively simple to shop. Honestly, I started with this XO Jane article and have kept going with it. It’s a great idea for anyone who is new to cooking. I’m a baker, so I know what staple ingredients I need from the grocery store. However, when it comes to meals I feel lost when writing a grocery list, or I end up with ingredients and no idea how to put them together. Starting with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, basil, parmesan, and pasta is such an easy and less intimidating way to get my feet wet.

My kitchen is clean! You would think that just having toast every night would keep it more clean, no? Well just using knives and plates for all my meals meant that space on the drying rack was plentiful. Plus, it’s so easy to clean a plate that I would procrastinate and let them build up. However, if I need the same two pots and maybe this saucepan every evening and the next day (re-heating leftovers) then I have to clean the dishes. Usually I wash a (small) sink full of dishes right before cooking at night and again before going to bed. I love having a clean kitchen, and the same cleanliness has spilled into the rest of my apartment (for the most part). I still have too much clutter and am challenged when it comes to put my clothes back where they need to be.

Lunch is extremely simple. I cook enough for two at night, and reheat the pasta in my small saucepan the next day. Easy easy easy.

Overall, I just feel better. I am doing something for myself outside of work. I have something to look forward to when the day gets tough. I am writing here again. I have good beer and fresh ingredients in my refrigerator.

It’s the little things that count.

You know what I thought the other day?

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, it’s like I have no control over my feelings.”

Well, le duh. Isn’t that the point of feelings? That they pop up at inconvenient times, or great times, or get directed in the most unexpected direction. What’s with that? Or it’s a sunny day, and you’d rather watch episodes of Parks & Rec under the down comforter instead of go outside. Sometimes you have to swat them away like a fly, and then sometimes they happen at the perfect time, with the perfect person. They’re the best, they’re the worst. They’re everything, aren’t they?

Anyways, how I feel about this pizza and dinner is perfectly clear: win win win.

Crostini w/Cinnamon-Honey Mascarpone & Strawberries
Arugula Salad with Avocado, Orange and Lemon/Olive Oil Dressing
Margherita Pizza with Garlic Cheese Crust
Chocolate Souffle with Vanilla Ice Cream
Drink: Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay

Also, I’ve started a new project: La Bicyclette Noire where I’m challenging myself to get on my bike every day for 100 days. So while I get my rhythm and routine down my posts here may a bit scattered for a while. I hope you check it out!

Crostini
Toasted French bread slices + 1 pint strawberries + {8 ounces mascarpone cheese + 2 tsp cinnamon + 2 T honey}

Arugula Salad
2 cups arugula + 2 navel oranges + 1 avocado + 1 tsp lemon juice+ 2 tsp olive oil

Slice avocado into cubes and arrange on salad. Slice oranges and place on top of avocados as the orange juice will help prevent the avocados from browning.
Use olive oil and a squeeze of lemon as salad dressing.

Margherita Pizza
Pizza dough (from Smitten Kitchen. Seriously. So easy.)
Tomato sauce: 1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes + 1 Tablespoon oregano + 1 clove garlic, blended to desired consistency
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced into thin medallions or strips
1/4 cup shredded, fresh basil
Olive oil
Garlic salt
1/4 cup shredded cheese

Prepare pizza dough.
When dough has risen, preheat oven to 550 degrees F with cookie sheet in the oven.
Roll out pizza dough in long rectangle on lightly floured surface.
When oven is preheated, remove pan and line cookie sheet with parchment paper (don’t let it hang too far off the side). Transfer dough to pan.
Brush one inch of crust with olive oil, gently sprinkle with garlic salt and shredded cheese.
Spread sauce evenly in the middle, arrange slices of mozzarella, and sprinkle with basil.
Bake on bottom rack for 5 minutes, then 3 minutes on second to top rack, or until cheese on the crust starts to brown. (The parchment paper will get really really brown, so keep your eye on it.)
Set done pizza on hot pads as the pan is going to be hot as Hades. Slice and serve!

Makes one 8×16″ pizza. Serves 2-3.

Gooey Chocolate Souffle
1 1/2 sticks melted unsalted butter + 8 oz melted semi-sweet chocolate + 1 1/2 c sugar + 4 eggs + 1/2 tsp salt + 1 tsp vanilla + 3 T cornstarch

Mix all together, refrigerate for 1 hour to set, bake 1/4 c batter in ramekins (sprayed with Pam and sprinkled with sugar) at 350 for 30 minutes until cracked on top.