Archive for December, 2013


Nights in Red Velvet

This year, my wife specifically requested a red velvet cake for her birthday party.

That was when I realised that I had never baked a cake from scratch before.

I’ve completed the first semester baking class, which was pretty much everything EXCEPT cake. But I looked up the recipe in my textbook, and found an insane amount of red food colouring. I’ll eat a lot of processed foodstuffs, but after what I’ll describe as an awkward consequence of Lucky Charms, artificial food colouring and I are on the outs. I read up on the olden-timey recipes, natural processed chocolate vs. Dutch processed, the chemistry of buttermilk and anthocyanins. Then I tried an experimental round of cupcakes using beet juice instead of food colouring. It didn’t make a significant difference in the colour, but we sure did eat all of them before I could take a picture.

And that, I think is the most important lesson to take away from this experience:
ALWAYS TAKE PROCESS PHOTOS.

Otherwise, your birthdaydrunk wife will brutally stab and hack the handcrafted symbol of your love, and you will cry a little bit, and be stuck posting what looks like a crime scene photo.

From “mortared brick” to “Bates Motel guest” in 4 seconds.

Aaaaaanyway, the cake you see above was based on sophistimom’s Red Velvet Cupcake recipe, which calls for pureeing roasted beet, so that it also includes all the fibrous, pulpy, nutritive goodness. It came out VERY red, and a bit more dense than traditional red velvet, but moist and delicious! I made an 8″x12″ sheet, which I then cut into thirds, stacked, and frosted. Unfortunately, I got a little outside my comfort zone with the cream cheese variant of LeelaBean’s cooked-flour frosting. It’s sweet and creamy, not grainy at all, but definitely better suited to individual cupcakes than a cake that needs to be sliced and served.

TL;DR – HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WIFE!!!  I love you, even though you murdered your cake!  29 is going to be awesome!

For enduring my ramblings, I will bestow unto you two baking projects bound by a shared frosting.  So you get two and a half recipes for the price of one!  You can’t afford NOT to read this!

I love Christmas.  It is essential to note, however, that I use “Christmas” as a lump term meaning “celebration on or near the winter solstice involving lights, singing, feasts, and acts of generosity and kindness.”  It is a socially expedient shorthand, though I understand if other non-Christians choose to call their particular celebrations by other, more precise names.

What is hard for me to understand is people who hate the holidays in their entirety: the Grinches, Scrooges, and Burgermeister Meisterburgers of the world.  A lot of people are disappointed as they grow up and find that a cold, aphotic December can come and go without Christmas magically sweeping them up in merriment and joy.  In this regard, I come from a place of privilege.  My parents also love Christmas immensely, and by way of teaching my brother and I to love Christmas, they also showed us how to MAKE Christmas, because the making is the most important part.  It’s the point.

The universe is much like a northern winter.  It is overwhelmingly vast, dark, hard, and uncaring.  Life is an act of audacity.  Abstractions like hope, joy, and love are even more so.  They do not exist on their own.  They exist because we make them.  The most perfect encapsulation I’ve found of this idea is in Terry Pratchett’s “The Hogfather”, in a conversation between Death and his grand-daughter, Susan.

Saturnalia/Yule/Christmas/etc. are about magic: the amazing act of making light in the longest night.  The joy of Christmas is not a thing that happens to us.  It is a thing we bring into being, an attempt to be the best of all of our ideals, in spite of everything.

Be the spark in the darkness.

Anyway, for less abstract values of “making”, this post I bring you a cake, some cookies, and a wonderful frosting for both that also stands on its own as an insanely buttery fudge.

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Chicken Fried Steak, Cluckers

Once upon a time, I left the cozy embrace of my parents’ home and went to college, and on the very first day I met this girl who was crazy hot and all the awesome.  I’ve never been a soppy romantic, and I’m still skeptical about the idea of love at first sight, but I can safely say that the instant I saw her from across that crowded LGBT Alliance meeting, I was smitten.  After a few casual path crossings on campus and subsequent Alliance meetings, we walked back to her dorm one night, and spent hours in the lounge talking about webcomics, tabletop RP, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the wackiness of being a queer teen in the Bible belt, and other points of commonality.

10 years later, I have the privilege of being married to that crazy hot awesome girl.  And one day, a few months ago, she made me a dinner that I had grown to love during my stint in the midwest.  In the vein of long overdue and not quite seasonally appropriate posts, I give unto you: “Chicken Fried Steak”.

I love starch. Starchy, starch, starch. Here it goes down, down into my belly...

I love starch. Starchy, starch, starch. Here it goes down, down into my belly…

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I was recently directed to Rachel Laudan’s “A Plea For Culinary Modernism“, by my friend and fellow culinary arts student, feminismbot.  I was a history major long before I started thinking about cooking for a living, and the intersection of the two fields always makes my heart tingle with joy.

I definitely recommend this article for anyone interested in the politics of food.  Which should be everybody.

Laudan does an admirable job of dismantling the romantic illusions about old food-ways, many of which are currently base-belief among large sections of the population, particularly among those who consider themselves foodies.  She addresses the myth that our ancestors ate a more balanced/healthy diet, the overwhelming social power imbalances and oppressions that were fundamental to the pre-industrial food and agriculture industries, and several other points.

This is what a strictly local, plant based diet gets you.

This is what a strictly local, plant based diet gets you. A family in Carraroe, Ireland starves during the potato famine, 1845-1850.

I’m not going to go out and pick up a Big Mac anytime in the near future, and I still intend to buy locally produced food when practical, simply out of a desire to support local farmers, but the overwhelming message of her essay is something I can get behind, and something that I feel meshes well with the ethos of this blog:  frozen, canned, and preserved ingredients can be good, and good food should be available to everybody.

Coming soon: an actual food post!