Nectarine and Dark Chocolate Cake

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I won't flatter myself by thinking that you've noticed that I've been AWOL for nearly a month now. But in case you did notice, and have been kept awake by thoughts of whether or not I've met an untimely demise, I'm here to reassure you that I have not. Instead, I was preparing for a 10-day stint in the University of Illinois' Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) "Bootcamp" for distance students.

I read ~1,100 pages--twice. Once in the month before bootcamp and again in those ten days while making notes for discussion section.

I went to 13 lectures and 6 discussion sections. Again--in 10 days.

I participated in a group presentation, pulled together in 5 days.

I wrote 3 papers and an essay-based final.

I met amazing people who helped me not throw myself off a bridge.

And suddenly, it was over.

And I'll tell you something: I really wish I'd had this cake to greet me and my classmates after the final. Instead, I just have fond memories of its light, meringue-like texture, the sweet and tart nectarines, and the bite of dark chocolate. It was awesome.

Nectarine and Dark Chocolate Cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
-1 cup all-purpose flour

-1 tablespoon baking powder

-1/4 teaspoon salt

-3 eggs, at room-temperature

-4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter

-3/4 cup sugar

-3 nectarines, peeled, in a small dice

-3/4 cup dark chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate--your choice)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with flour or breadcrumbs, tapping out the excess. Set aside.

2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.

3. Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (In a professional Kitchen Aid, it takes at least five minutes; on a home machine, it will take nine minutes to get sufficient volume). This will mean that when you pull the whisk attachment up from the mix, you'll get a thick ribbon that drizzles slowly back into the bowl.

4. While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (because it will foam a lot) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.

5. Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.

6. Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to lose volume, turn the mixer down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.

7. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the nectarines and chocolate chips over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or a tester comes out clean.

Gyros

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"This just tastes like normal gyro meat," my niece said.

Oh, thank god, I thought. I had been fretting more than usual about making gyros. Apparently, without the use of a rotisserie, gyros are a tricky wicket to make at home. So tricky, in fact, that Serious Eats has a whole scientific food lab entry about it. Since I was making these for company (naturally--when do I ever not try something complicated and potentially disastrous for company?), the stakes were high. And children really are the most honest and terrifying judges. So, it was with great relief that I accepted Sophie's commentary.

And then there was this....all that was left after we descended like locusts upon our dinner:

1 1/2 pieces of gyro meat. Out of two pounds. That's how you know it was good.

How could it not be good with three types of meat? All that fatty, salty, spiced meat, sprinkled with crisp onions, cucumbers and tomatoes, smothered in soothing tzatziki, and blanketed in soft, chewy homemade pita? It's impossible to not wolf it down like your life depends on it.

It was so good that my sister in law had to take her son's second gyro away from him, lest it come right back up.

These gyros are "I'm willing to upchuck to keep eating this"-good.

Gyros (modified from Serious Eats, who really did all the heavy lifting)
-1 lb. ground lamb
-1 lb. ground beef
-4 teaspoons kosher salt (or 2 teaspoons table salt)
-1 teaspoon black pepper
-4 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
-1/2 tablespoon paprika
-1/2 tablespoon dried marjoram
-1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary
-1 onion, cut into 1" chunks
-2 cloves garlic, sliced
-10 slices good quality bacon, cut into 1" pieces

1. Combine lamb, beef, and all spices in a medium bowl. Mix with hands until homogeneous. Cover and refrigerate as long as possible, up to overnight. The longer you refrigerate it, the better it will stick together.

2. When ready, preheat oven to 300 with oven rack in the middle. You will need to divide the meat, onion, garlic, and bacon into fourths for a normal size food processor. Put 1/4 meat, onion, garlic, and bacon into the food processor at a time, and puree about 30-60 seconds until smooth. Scrape the sides and puree more if necessary. Put into a bowl and continue processing until all of the meat is done

3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil. Form the meat into two rectangles about 1 1/2" high, 8" long, and about 4-5" wide. The height is what matters most here, so the length and width can vary a bit, depending on what's necessary. Bake until the center of each registers 155 F. You may need to rotate the baking sheet occasionally to ensure even browning. If you're like me, you may also need to jack the temperature up to 350 to eat sooner.

4. Remove the meat from the oven, pour off any liquids, and let sit for 15 minutes. Preheat the broiler. Cut the meat crosswise into 4-5"x1/2" slices. Lay slices back on the foil-rimmed sheet. You will need to do this in 2 batches. Broil the slices for 2-3 minutes, until crispy on the edges. Serve as soon as possible with warm pita bread, tzatziki sauce, raw sliced onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes.

Tzatziki Sauce:
-1 cup greek yogurt
-1 cucumber, peeeled, seeded and finely chopped
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
-1 teaspoon lemon juice
-1 tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves (I used chocolate mint! Yum!)
-Salt to taste
-Black pepper to taste

1. Mix together, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.

-Entire recipe serves 6-8 people. In our case, it was 6 very hungry people. :)