27 July 2011

Black Bean and Corn Salad

More than once I have gotten within half an hour of dinner time and had no idea what I was going to do about dinner. Nothing was planned, and I could not mentally survey my pantry and compound something easy. On days like that, there are only two ways to avoid a restaurant: spaghetti or having something in the fridge that I can scoop into bowls and call dinner. In the winter time that something is soup, but in the summertime it's tabbouleh or this easy to assemble salad. It also travels well to potluck lunches.

IMG_8403 photo by Rich Renomeron

2 cans black beans, rinsed OR 2.5 cups cooked blacked beans OR 1 ¼ cups dried black beans
16 ounces frozen corn (or fresh if you can get corn picked that day)
1 jalapeño pepper (optional)
¼ cup olive oil
2 bunches scallions
1 bunch cilantro
5 medium tomatoes OR a pint of cherry tomatoes
juice of 2 limes
salt and black pepper to taste

If you're starting with dried beans, cook beans until tender.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

Seed and mince jalapeño if using, then mix corn, jalapeño and olive oil together, spread in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until corn begins to darken. Remove from the oven and set aside until other ingredients are prepared. The roasting brings out the sweetness of the corn and mellows the heat of the pepper.

While the corn is roasting, hop the tomatoes and place them in a colander in the sink to drain. Wash the scallions and thinly slice the white and tender green portion. Wash the cilantro and chop the leaves and tender stems.

In a large bowl, mix all of the prepared ingredients, including the oil from the baking sheet, and add the lime juice. Stir to combine then taste and add salt and pepper as needed.   

24 July 2011

Serious Lemon Cake

I went to the pool to swim laps early this morning. Swimming laps first thing in the morning is for people who are serious about swimming. By the time I got into the pool at 6:15 the lap lanes were full. I observed the swimmers for a length before I decided which lane to join, and then I waited another lap for her to get to my end of the pool so I could ask to join her. It's a basic pleasantry of lane sharing, choose someone who seems to be at about your level and wait for the swimmer to acknowledge you before you get in and start swimming.

I have the gear of a serious swimmer: a racer-back suit with no frills or furbelows, a swim cap made for folks like me who have a lot of hair to tuck up, and goggles. I can swim freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke creditably. (I can even do butterfly, though it wears me out pretty quickly and I feel self-conscious when I do it because that's a very serious stroke and everyone in the pool knows what you're doing when you try it.) I can do thumb-drag drills and flip-turns. I can tread water for at least 20 minutes. I can dive to the bottom of the pool, pick up a brick and bring it back to the surface, even when I've managed to forget my goggles.

But I'm only serious in that I seriously want to burn more calories than I eat (oh,and buff shoulders would by nice) and swimming happens to be one of the more pleasant ways of doing it. I once took a swim class in which I was one of the top two students. The other was a marathon runner. I felt pretty good about keeping up with a marathon runner at any athletic endeavor until he told me that he was also asthmatic and had only 90% of normal lung capacity. Certainly if someone were to show you a picture of me and ask “Is she more serious about swimming or cake?” You'd be forced to conclude that the answer was cake.

And I am serious about cake. Serious enough that I prefer to make my own over buying from grocery store bakeries. Serious enough that I have been known to throw pieces of cake away after only one bite because they were not worth eating. But then, cake is serious business. It demands good ingredients and good technique. Instead of goggles and flip-turns you need good butter, carefully measured and mixed flour and leaveners and pans of the appropriate size.


This lemon layer cake is serious business. It is whipped-cream-in-the-batter serious. The recipe is based on the “Magnificent Moist Golden Cake” in the book BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher. She presents three different methods. I chose the dissolved-sugar method because you don't have to cream the butter and sugar together. It's amazing, possibly the most delicious cake I've ever eaten. The instructions in the book are written for those lucky people with stand mixers, but I managed just fine with a hand mixer. The frosting is a version of a classic cooked-flour frosting which tastes much better than it sounds.

For the Cake:
Nonstick baking spray
1 3/4 cups spooned and leveled, cake flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in 2 tablespoon pieces
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
3 egg yolks
2 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream


Place a rack in the lower third of the oven, place a baking stone on it and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9- x 2-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottom with a parchment circle. Please make sure your cake pan is at least 2” high or the cake will overflow the pan and sadness will result.

Measure flour and baking soda into a medium bowl and beat for 30 seconds then set aside. Don’t wash the beaters. bowl.

Add the sugar to a large bowl. Heat the water to a simmer and add it to the sugar. Beat a few seconds to dissolve the sugar, and then beat in the butter, vanilla and salt. Add oil and mix on medium to blend.

Sprinkle 1/3 of the flour mixture over the sugar mixture. Blend in on low with a minimum amount of beating. Continue adding the flour until all is incorporated. By hand, stir in the egg yolks one at a time and then stir in the whole eggs one at a time.

Place a bowl, beaters, and heavy cream in the freezer to chill for 5 minutes. Whip the cream until soft peaks form when the beater is lifted. Whip just a little beyond this soft peak stage. Stir about 1/4 of the whipped cream into the batter to lighten. Then, gently fold the rest of the whipped cream into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Drop the pan onto the counter from a height of about 4 inches to knock out bubbles. Place the cake in the oven on the stone and bake until the center springs back when touched, or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean but moist, about 40 minutes. Ideally, the cake should not pull away from the sides until it has just come out of the oven. The center temperature should be about 209 degrees if you check by inserting an instant read thermometer.

Place the cake in the pan on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes, then shake the pan to loosen the cake all around. Spray the cooling rack with nonstick cooking spray and invert the cake onto the rack to finish cooling.

When the cake is completely cooled, use a long knife to slice it into three layers.

For the Frosting:
7 Tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
zest of one lemon
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 ½ cups softened unsalted butter, sliced into 2-Tablespoon chunks,
1 ½ cups granulated Sugar

Prepare an ice bath in a bowl just big enough for your small sauce pan to fit inside.

In a small saucepan, cook the flour and milk together over medium heat, whisking continuously for several minutes until the mixture begins to thicken. When the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon remove from heat and place in the ice bath. Add vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice and then continue stirring until the mixture is completely cool. Do not attempt to continue if the flour mixture is even a little bit warm.

Put the softened butter, sugar and flour mixture into a large bowl and cream together, starting a low speed and working up to high. Beat for several minutes until frosting is fluffy. Do not eat frosting with a spoon. (Okay, maybe just the one spoonful. You know, for testing purposes.)

Use about ½ cup of frosting between the cake layers and frost the top and sides generously. Serve to friends to celebrate a birthday, or any occasion worthy of seriously good cake.


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