Monday, May 23, 2011

Almond Ricotta Cake with Grilled Peaches

Nothing is more lovely than the first signs of summer.  For us in Texas, that started in March, but the true signs of summer, like fresh local tiny peaches at the Whole Foods are sure signals that barbeque season is here to stay.  This is the perfect dessert to finish off a grilled meal with friends, which is just how I enjoyed this cake.  Nothing is more wonderful than an evening outside with chickens pecking in the background eating home-grown greens, pasta made with fresh chicken eggs and pesto with basil from the garden.  

The cake is moist and light, fluffy and golden.  It has a nice bite to it from the almonds.  I prefer the taste and look of whole almonds compared to blanched--a little bit of brown almond peel enhances the color and texture of the cake.  

Peaches on the grill are incredibly wonderful.  My friends thought the idea was somewhat strange but when the peaches gave off their fruity aroma, they were instantly sold.  You have to try this cake!

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1 ¾ cup sugar divided
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp almond extract
6 eggs separated
1 cup raw whole almonds
2 ¼ cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ cup milk

5 peaches

Fresh vanilla ice cream or whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350.

In a food processor, pulse almonds until they are finely ground but before they become pasty.  Pulse flour, salt and baking powder until well combined.

With electric mixer on high, whip egg whites.  Slowly add ½ cup sugar while mixer is on.  Whip until soft peaks.  Set aside in medium bowl.

With electric mixer, beat butter, ricotta and 1 ¼ cup sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add vanilla, almond extract and egg yolks, mix to combine.  Slowly beat in flour/almond mixture and then add milk until well combined.  Fold in 1/3 egg white mixture with a rubber spatula, and then fold in the rest of the whites.

Grease 11x7 baking pan and add batter.  Bake approximately 40 minutes or until top is golden brown and knife comes out clean when cake is poked.  Allow to cool.

Split peaches in half.  Grill until golden brown and fragrant.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Advice to New Interns

As intern year is winding down and all of the giddy 4th year medical students are shelling out 200 dollars to rent that silly robe thingy for one day of pomp and circumstance, all of us interns are impatiently waiting for the fresh meat to arrive. Having just experienced every single emotion under the psychological rainbow this year, I am going to give a few pointers (or not really pointers but just some anecdotal evidence that it’s ok to feel the way you’re feeling). I am stupid enough to admit to all of the silly things that I did. This is not to prove that I’m an idiot, but to allay the fears of anybody who finds themselves in my shoes starting July 1.

1) You might have been a good medical student but you now know essentially nothing. You also have much more power and ability to screw things up than you ever had. This, however, is ok because you are being very closely watched by every single nurse, medical assistant, older resident, attending, even the lady who empties the trash, and you will not really do anything so stupid that you could actually hurt somebody (hopefully). You will do really dumb things though, for example, a wet prep is called a WET prep for a reason…you need to put a few drops of water on it. Somebody, not to name names, did a DRY prep. The whole point of residency is to do dumb things. The dumber the thing you did, the more likely, if you’re smart, is to not repeat the dumb thing.

2) Accept the fact that you will dumb things and you might hear about it. It might be a change from being a protected doe-eyed medical student to be paged by an older resident or attending to ask you to explain why you did such a thing. DON’T ARGUE. Just say, I’m sorry, cry in the corner for ONE SECOND and get over it. The whole point of residency is to do dumb things. You are not a bad person or incompetent because you made a mistake.

3) Having a pager sucks. The only profession ever that still uses an outdated contraption invented in the 1970s for drug dealers, residents and all doctors for the rest of eternity are given pagers which need to be worn and answered at all times. This cannot be turned off and have the potential to bring bad news at any time. However, I must add that having a pager is also something that becomes normal very quickly and grows more annoying than scary as time goes on. You might start to feel naked without the two pounds of buzzing plastic with two lines missing from the screen.

4) It’s ok to be absolutely terrified. I was so nervous when I did my first speculum exam as a resident that it took me five minutes to realize that the speculum was actually broken and that I wasn’t just a complete idiot that didn’t know how to use it. Being nervous reminds us that we are taking care of people who are sick and we shouldn’t be nonchalant about it. When I did my first delivery, I think I almost vomited. Being scared is totally normal.

5) As a continuation of point 4, there is a fine line between being terrified because it’s new and being terrified because something bad is happening and you are in over your head. If you are completely over your head, ask for help. Seriously, even if it might seem dumb to somebody older than you. Because, back to point 1, you are stupid and everybody knows that. Don’t pretend to be smart because that is dumb.

6) Things that seem scary will become second nature. The most awesome thing about being an intern is that while I almost vomited during my first delivery, I now am comfortable in the delivery room and can handle many different situations. Lots of bleeding, ok! Bad laceration, ok! (to a point, then same thing, ask for help). I’ve done enough deliveries now that I have fun with them. You will develop your own style and you will learn. Everybody does it. Something that helped me get through all the nerves is reminding myself that almost everybody that graduates from medical school survives residency and graduates to be a competent physician. So, if they can do it, why can’t I?! You can do it too.

7) It’s ok to complain. Residency is full of sacrifice. You will miss holidays with families, weddings, birthdays, weekends off, dates with boyfriends. You will be grumpy. You will be exhausted. My advice though is to complain to your co-workers. Complaining at home and to your family doesn’t really work as well because they are also suffering your hours and your holiday-missing and they really don’t understand how much your job sucks. I have completely failed to follow this advice. Fortunately I have an understanding family and a wonderful, exceptionally tolerant husband. (And on a completely personal tangent, avoid getting married as an intern. The wedding was great but planning ruined my life.)

8) Step back and realize how totally amazing your job is. You get to help people at their most vulnerable moments. I get to use needles and knives, scissors and suture as everyday tools. I bring life into the world. Wade through all of the crap, the hurt feelings, and just appreciate how great it is to be a physician. Even though the field of medicine is changing probably to the disadvantage of all of us, there is a reason people are willing to sacrifice so much to do what we do. Medicine is rewarding, stimulating, complex and most of all, really fun. Residency is a great community and an awesome bonding experience. Enjoy it.

9) Most importantly, work hard, keep your head down, take care of your patients and take responsibility for your actions.  This is by far what will get you through and all that people really expect of you.  Just keep going and you'll be fine!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mini Coffee Cheesecakes

I made these cheesecakes as a gift for my sister to keep her awake during her law school finals.  The crust is an adaptation from Doris Greenspan’s awesome book Baking that my amazing friend Julia gave us as an unsolicited wedding present.   With the aid of a food processor, it whizzes together in no time and is flaky and delicious.

After all of the lemons and limes from the wedding, I was trying to find ways to use them and I decided to make a key lime pie/cheesecake hybrid using cream cheese and condensed milk.  What resulted was a very creamy cake, which baked evenly and didn’t crack--a cheesecake miracle.  I tried the concept again with coffee and with great result.   This is pretty much no fail cheesecake so for those of you that are scared, go ahead and try it.

This recipe makes about 36 mini cheesecakes or enough to make bars in a large baking pan (I only made 24 and had a ton of leftovers).  Make sure to use non-stick cupcake pans with lots of Pam, a little faith, and a sharp knife to extract them.

Mini Coffee Cheesecakes with Chocolate Crust

For the crust (adapted from Doris Greenspan’s Desserts)

3 cups flour
1 cup powdered sugar
½ tsp salt
2/3 cup cocoa powder
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons very cold butter
3 egg yolks

For the filling

2 8-oz packages cream cheese
2 14 oz cans condensed milk
1 cup freshly brewed coffee—cooled to room temp
1 tsp vanilla
6 eggs plus one yolk

Chocolate covered espresso beans to top

Per Doris Greenspan’s instructions:

Put the flour, sugar, cocoa and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine.   Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in.  Stir the yolks and add a little at a time (you probably will only need 2 yolks and a bit from the 3rd so don’t add it all too quickly).  When the egg is in, process in long pulses until there are clumps and curds.  Press the dough into very well greased muffin tins and freeze the crust for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375.  Cover the muffin trays and prebake the crusts for 10 minutes.  Turn the oven down to 350. 

With a mixer, whip the cream cheese until fluffy, slowly adding the condensed milk until well combined.  Add the coffee, vanilla and eggs until well combined.  Fill the crusts, cover and bake for 15 minutes or until the filling is set.  Remove and while still warm add an espresso bean to each one.  Chill.  Once cakes are cooled, carefully remove each with a sharp knife.  

Friday, May 6, 2011

Is Marriage Good For You?

I am loud, disorganized and live by hyperbole.  My husband is quiet, focused and logical.  We’re an unlikely match.  But I can only say that my life has changed for the better since we’ve met.  I feel incredibly blessed.

The New York Times' Pauline Chen had an interesting perspective on the issue of marriage and lifelong health.  Overall, married people have better lifelong health than those who are single, however those that have turmoil in their marriage or ultimately divorce may have more health difficulties overall.  Good communication within a relationship can even promote wound healing.1 

Nobody in this society is stranger to marriage strain and divorce; I am definitely not alien to marital demise.  There is never certainty that everything will be ok.  So I’m just going to take this whole marriage thing one day at a time and count my blessings.  I’m going to try and play my part to be a good wife and a supportive partner. For me, there’s no better way to express my love for my husband than through a pot and pan. 

This recipe is the dish that I make that my husband loves most.  Which is funny because of all the things I make, it’s just stir-fried chicken and cabbage.  The delicious factor is the home-ground five spice powder which gives a unique taste and aroma.  You can always buy pre-packaged spice for a shortcut, but it’s never quite as good as what you can whack up in a coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle.

I actually got the idea for this recipe on an airplane of all places.  I know, I know, an airplane?! But I was flying to Asia, and the five spice was just so yummy.  Even though five spice is commonly used in Chinese food, it’s not really something that is served most commonly in restaurants.  It’s almost like a punchy version of mulling spices which gives a warming taste to the food.   You gotta try it.

Five Spice Chicken and Cabbage Stir Fry

For the five spice
1 cinnamon stick
5 star anise
15 cloves
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorn
1 tsp fennel seed

Toast the spices on high heat until fragrant in a dry skillet.  Pulse in spice grinder until it’s a fine powder.

For the stir fry
1.5-2lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
½ large onion diced

½ head of Chinese or regular cabbage cut into matchsticks
1 inch ginger finely chopped
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tbsp vinegar (rice wine or white)
1 tbsp sugar
¼ cup Chinese cooking wine or dry Sherry
2 tsp corn starch

In a measuring cup, mix soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, wine and cornstarch.  Set aside.  In wok or large sauté pan, place 2 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil over high heat.  When oil is smoking, add onion, chicken and five spice.  Cook until chicken is almost cooked through.  Add ginger and cabbage and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Add sauce mixture and allow to bring to a boil.  Serve over brown rice.

1: Gouin JP, Carter CS, Pournajafi-Nazarloo H, Glaser R, Malarkey WB, Loving TJ, Stowell J, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Marital behavior, oxytocin, vasopressin, and wound healing. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Aug;35(7):1082-90