For Tatyana Lobova… Cream of Tartar!

I just got home from my departmental Christmas party.  It was fun!  One of the strange questions I got was “what is Cream of Tartar and what is it for?”

Yes.  I have this in my spice cabinet.  Chemically, it  is potassium bitartrate:

Image from Wikipedia entry Potassium bitartrate
Image from Wikipedia entry Potassium bitartrate





From the chemical structure, you can see a three half OH groups (the half is the O).   The bitartrate ion shown here is therefore fairly alkaline.  When you throw this molecule into water, those 3 hydrogens pop right off (apparently), forming H+ ions.  That makes it an acid, and according to the illustrious Wikipedia entry, it creates a pH of about 3.557 in water.  Thus, tartrate and tartaric acid form a conjugate acid/base pair.

Some uses for cream of tartar in cooking:

  • Often used in meringue.  This helps to stabilize the egg whites as they foam during beating.  Note that Oregon State University has the pH of egg whites listed as about an 8, so they’re naturally alkaline.  Adding the cream of tartar shifts the pH and causes the egg proteins (albumin, mostly) to denature (solidify, in this case), so you get stiffer peaks that last longer.  You could get the same effect with vinegar or lemon juice, but that wouldn’t taste very good.
  • Also used in creating icing and smooth sugar solutions.  This chemically helps keep the sugar from forming regular crystals and solidifying.  It’s a geometry thing.
  • Ingredient in baking powder: the third ingredient of baking powder along with baking soda and corn starch.  Kind of makes you wonder why recipes call for both–usually, that has to do with pH again.  Baking soda neutralizes acids, including cream of tartar, when they’re mixed in liquid form (not as much happens in the dry, crystalline powder forms).
  • Leavening: this means it’s an ingredient that can contribute to rising/fluffiness.  Did you ever make a vinegar and baking soda volcano as a kid?  It’s the same chemistry here: acid + base = bubbles!  Those bubbles cause breads and other baked goods to rise without using yeast.  Unleavened breads usually refer to ones made without yeast, although some may still use these chemical leaveners (pita is a good example).
  • Sometimes used in whipped cream: what a waste!  Whipped cream is best enjoyed fresh.  However, it will denature milk proteins just as well as it will egg proteins.


Plated meal: Italian Sausage Burgers with Provolone and Broccoli Rabe

The Ingredients

The Intermediate WHOOPS

We decided to put off making this from our normal Sunday until Wednesday night.  That way, we didn’t have to deal with what’s for dinner before Thanksgiving, and we didn’t have to do takeout.  Unfortunately, the ciabatta didn’t last that long; they had moldy spots by Wednesday night:

I actually wasn’t too upset.  I posted this online and asked whether I should make more from scratch, or brave the store and buy more.  Then I chose option C: have roommate brave the store and buy more en route home from work!  $5 fix.  Easy peasy (for me, not for poor roommate).

The Results

These sausage burgers were HUGE. They didn’t’ shrink with cooking much if at all, and they were so filling that halfway through you felt like you ate a brick.  A very, very tasty brick.  Completely stuffed.  I finished mine only because I’d only had a bagel that morning… and I still thought I might explode!  The broccoli rabe was interesting.  I’d never had it before.  Next time I’d trim the ends a bit so that it’s more tender, and I might season it differently (more).  It has a slightly bitter flavor that was bright and refreshing next to the sweet Italian sausage, but I think I’m the only one who liked it.  LEFTOVERS!

Plated meal: Roasted Quail with Balsamic Quince and Smashed Potatoes

This last week we did our Plated meal rather late.  We spotted this meal on and we all drooled.  I mean, QUAIL!  Come on!  But the weekend it came was right after I had surgery and I wasn’t up to cooking, so we stored it and waited until the next weekend.  In addition, one of our household was traveling and wasn’t home for Sunday night dinner, so we postponed to Monday night.

The Results

It’s quail. It was delicious, of course!  In al seriousness, though, the mustard and rosemary on the quail actually overpowered the flavor of the little birds somewhat.  I’ve only tried working with quince one other time and I didn’t like it then.  These had about the consistency of apples, but after cooking in the balsamic vinegar, they were surprisingly sweet.  I really enjoyed this particular side dish and would definitely do it again.  The smashed potatoes weren’t really stellar either–they were just plain-tasting potatoes (but I did like them with the rosemary mustard, so that kind of got redistributed quickly as I ate).  Overall, this meal had a huge amount of promise but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.  I’d order it again in a heartbeat though (quail!), and just modify the cooking a bit.  Yum!

Plated Meal on Halloween: Tostones with Spiced Beans and Rice

Last week, I posted the unboxing video for this meal.  I won’t re-post that; you can check it out if you missed it.  I held onto the plantains because they generally keep fairly well (we kept them away from our other produce).  By Friday, I finally felt up to cooking again and the plantains definitely needed to be used.

It was a strange experience for me to pour that much oil into a pan and fry something, mash it flat, and then fry it again.  I suppose since I’m from the South I should love that, but I didn’t grow up with a lot of fried foods.  However, I absolutely love, love, LOVE fried plantains.

As you can see, my tostones are somewhat overcooked.  Burnt.  I did say I’m not used to frying things in that much oil!  Also, I have an electric stove.  The instructions said to heat the oil over medium-high heat, so I set the burner to a 7/10.  I was supposed to cook the slices for about a minute per side.  After the first side, I reduced the heat to about a 6 and cooked them maybe 40 seconds per side, with a lot less burning.

The spiced beans and rice were quite tasty and I may have leftovers tonight.  Yes, it’s Sunday, which means I should have a new meal–and I will be cooking one–but I don’t know which yet!  The new post(s) are coming soon!


And yes, I love my Halloween dinnerware.  It’s supposed to glow in the dark (it doesn’t anymore though).

Plated Meal: Mushroom-Crusted Flatiron Steak with Cauliflower Mash and Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding with Pumpkin Pie Spice

This week from the kitchen:

Preparing the cauliflower mash was probably the most labor intensive part of the dinner prep.  I’ve learned from previous experience to boil the heck out of cauliflower and turnips if you plan to make them into mash, so I did.  The veggies and a little butter were all that went into that initially.  If I do this again, I’ll leave the minced chives as just a garnish I think, and I would try to drain the veggies better (the mash was more runny than I prefer but that’s fairly  easy to fix).  Honestly, this was the best cauliflower mash I’ve had, and I think it’s a reasonable substitute for mashed potatoes! Way to get more veggies in!

The steaks were coated with porcini mushroom powder and pan-fried. Two were much thinner and cooked faster, so I ended up with two well-dine (oops) and one medium-rare. They tasted good, but they weren’t our favorite steaks to date.

I also made dinner rolls to go with.

The dessert however looks much more promising than last week’s. I love bread pudding. Chocolate bread pudding sounded really good! The addition of the pumpkin  pie spice is seasonal and smelled amazing when it was cooking… to serve, I topped it with a light dusting of confectioners sugar. I really need to invest in a set of basic ramekins.  For a more “adult” twist… drizzle on some Kahlua for extra YUM!


Plated Meal: Asian Duck Tacos and Apple Crisp with Spiced Pecans

We’ve continued ordering meals since my first post about Plated.  In fact, I’ve put up unboxing videos on my YouTube channel for all of the meals (feel free to catch up if you really want to).

This week, we opted to try something really different.  We’ve had fish, chicken, and steak aplenty from Plated, but we hadn’t seen duck before!  I wondered if this would taste like Peking duck did when I was young.  It was also our first dessert order from Plated.


The result?  Oh, yes, it tasted absolutely DIVINE.  The pickled cucumber side dish was an interesting complement, but the duck completely stole the show.  I will have dreams about this meal.  It was not difficult to prepare; the duck breast was seasoned with salt and pepper and Chinese five-spice blend (which I would not have thought to use on meat), pan-seared and then roasted through.  Absolutely, utterly delicious.  Completely worth the burns I got from grabbing the fresh-from-the-oven handle of my pan without a mitt.


The apple crisp, on the other hand, was something of a disappointment.  There wasn’t really enough cinnamon-sugar seasoning to suit us (easy to remedy) and the topping was more mush than crisp. I tried to improve that slightly by switching to broil for a few minutes, and ended up with burnt.  I did like the spiced pecans, which were tossed with chili powder and then oven roasted for a  few minutes.  The chili powder didn’t stick well, so maybe toss with a bit of butter or oil AND the chili powder, but great flavor on that part.  The vanilla ice cream was an attempt to rescue the burnt, and was not very successful.

I’d rather have had more duck.

Trying New Things: is a meal delivery service.  You get to choose what you want to order.  I drooled over it for several weeks before I decided to try it… and my first box came yesterday!   I recorded an unboxing video before I stored everything for dinner last night…

Coffee Rubbed Steak with Roasted Pepper Panzanella

I was really happy with the minimal packaging, because I hate generating trash.  The cooking was really fun!  The recipe instructions were very simple and straightforward.  I rubbed the steaks in the morning so that they would have about 8 hours to absorb flavor (and  boy, did they).   I also put the steaks out to warm to room temp for a while before cooking (maybe an hour).  I had a wonderful time cooking the meal.  I think it took about 45 minutes, but I wasn’t timing that–I was simultaneously preparing some cookies for dessert, so they had my attention in there, too.

On to the most important part–how did it TASTE?   The steaks weren’t quite as tender as I would have liked, but the spice rub was fantastic!  We had so much panzanella that nobody made it through their “plate serving” sized portion.  It was really good too.  Personally, I would have preferred a bit more vinegar, but I wanted to make it as described without modifications.   Pity we had so much panzanella left.  I just ate it for my lunch today–and it was just as good!

Was it worth it?  Yes.  Absolutely.  The food quality was great.  I’ve had meals in restaurants that weren’t as good (and I paid more for them).  The portion size was… generous.  Yes, that’s a good word for “we got 6 meals off of a 4-plate order.”  The flavor was fantastic!  I did figure out that this would be very easy to replicate on my own–and I might.   In the meantime, we’re definitely going to use the service again and try some more meals!

Photo of the Week: Week 42

Tamago-yaki & Oshiruko

There IS a story behind the food.  My coworker’s 10th anniversary (of employment with the McDaniel Institute of Anti-Aging Research) was this week.  We held a potluck (per his request).  I knew that the boss’s wife would be providing sushi from his favourite restaurant, and I wanted to provide something that could go with it that more of our staff would be willing to try (i.e. no raw fish/seafood).  I opted for tamago because it’s egg-based (which rules out the vegan employee, sorry, man), and a traditional Japanese dessert-Oshiruko.  I remember the dessert from the first Japanese restaurant I ever encountered it in.  I was curious so I ordered it, and I was really surprised to see a bean soup (this is not something Americans would think of).  I tried it and I loved it, and I’ve always remembered it.  This was my first attempt at making it!  Other than needing to make the mochi rice balls smaller, it was GREAT.

Unfortunately, I also learned that crock pots with stuff in don’t transport well.  Half of the sweet, sticky bean soup ended up in the floorboards of my Yaris.  EW!

Photo of the Week: Week 29

Farmer’s Market Haul

Ohhh, yummy goodness… does this even need explanation? Peaches, figs, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, blueberries, and okra!

Photo of the Week: Week 26

Despite the horrendous heat, we had dinner out on the breezeway.  That’s homemade sangria, watermelon salad, and spinach & chicken fettucine in the food categories.  The little wine decanter I found at Marshall’s earlier in the day and I loved it!  The lantern was from Illuminations.  It was a lovely relaxed evening!

Al Fresco Evening