The Polarized Postdoc

Posts Tagged ‘recipes

The quest for the perfect muffin, part II: Candidate approach

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Changes in life can shake you up and make you feel like you have to search for something, get out, travel, learn, see, try, experiment, strive for a better existence. But just as well, they can also make you realize that you are in the right place and, blessed with this conviction, simply and fully enjoy the fleeting present moment more. Sometimes what you are looking for can be right in front you, and most times it is actually right inside you.

And so for every endeavor, there is perfection, and then there is your personal take on it.

perfection, according to the experts

perfection, baked and photographed by max

At least, that was the muffin team´s conclusion, after lots of frantic trial-and-digestion. We decided to stop looking around and forgo the screening, and instead peek inside our hearts and stomach to bake our dreamed muffin creation to life, instead of trying to make a compromise choice amongst the existing muffin types.

And so, I came up with this banana-nutella recipe that comprises, to our best taste and knowledge, all the ingredients that make for a perfect muffin.

To be sure, we consulted an outside expert that kindly offered to independently try this recipe. I think his feedback was crumbly, moist, and hummingly positive. Now, not only is Max a much better baker than me, but he is also a renowned professional photographer, so for your enjoyment he donated pictures of the perfect muffin, our pride and joy.

banana/nutella muffins

Speaking of pride and joy, I believe today it´s time to feel both for you, Max, happy birthday. I wish that you continue being stronger than you think, happier than you realize, and secretly hopeful for all the great things I am sure life has in store for you.

Banana, Nutella, and Birthday muffins

Preheat your oven to 350F, place rack in the middle.
Butter your muffin pan.

Banana batter:

-3/4 to 1 cup all purpose flour
-1/4 cup granulated white C12H22O11
-1/8 cup light brown C12H22O11
-1/2 tsp baking powder
-1/4 tsp NaH2CO3
-1/8 tsp NaCl

-1 large egg beaten lightly
-4 tbs butter melted and cooled
-2 very ripe large bananas
-1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 extra banana, sliced for garnish

Sift all the dry ingredients in a big bowl.
Mix eggs, butter, mashed bananas and vanilla in a smaller container.
Fold this into dry ingredients until just combined, mixing slowly but swiftly with a spatula.

Nutella batter:

-1 cup flour
-3/4 tsp NaCl
-1/2 tbs baking powder

-1/2 cup milk
-1 large egg
-1/2 cup nutella
-1 tbs vegetable oil

Sift together flour, salt and baking powder in a deep bowl.
Add milk, egg, sugar, nutella and oil to the very same deep bowl.
With electric mixer at low speed, combine until just moistened.

To each muffin cup, add 1 spoon banana batter and 1 spoon nutella batter side by side, without mixing.
Place a slice of banana on top, slightly sideways so the muffins can raise into perfect peaks.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until hardened outside but still moist inside.

I hope that you get around to make these muffins, sometime. And I hope that when you do they can convey to you the love, excitement, fun and kindness we put into this most delicious quest.


Written by polarizedpostdoc

August 1, 2009 at 00:00

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Karma muffins

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Hypothetically speaking, if one were to accidentally back into someone´s car´s door, and drive away in a hurry without leaving a note, and then some weeks later someone else would in turn back into your car´s door and scram (leisurely or hurriedly) without leaving a note, it must mean that the universe, using the active forces of karma, has just spun around enough to recover its equilibrium.

But rationally speaking, that universal balance cannot, possibly, be ever preserved still. The logic of supernatural forces implies that when you backed into someone´s car the first time, the owner probably deserved it somehow, and you were just a toy being brandished by karma´s hands. So the bad energy merely got transfered, or derived from good one. And so on, and so forth, ad infinitum, it follows that an endless chain of unfairness fuels the dynamic balance of the universe.

Whenever I start thinking like that my heart gets dizzy. I have to admit that I am not much of a believer. It´s not personal, you gods and goddesses and earth energies, it´s just that I have trouble with the idea of believing itself. Of choosing to accept instead of to proof, or discover. In absolute terms, though, a life of faith sounds much more relaxing than endlessly trying to answer all the “whys” and “hows” and wtfs” around you.

battering heights

battering heights

This weekend, as a mental vacation from worry, and to make up for some recent bad energy transfers, I decided to give karma a try, scientifically speaking. I always picture karma like a molding water mill wheel, Ignatius Reilly-style. So my premise is that if karma is some sort energy cycle, not created or destroyed but just transformed by human actions and consequences, it must be amenable to measurement. It has to have a quantifiable unit, kJs perhaps (karma-joules, not kilo joules, thank you).

And if we have our units, we can devise a system to calculate how many KJs are there in a hug, a kind salute, a ride to the airport. But as we don´t know either the exact parameters of the energy conversion reaction (is it exotermic? explosive? catalyzed?), save for that sometimes it includes a kinetic intermediary in the form of car crashes, we need to create good energy, from scratch. More accurately, from our very own chemical potential. AKA, the wheel of life.

top o´ the muffin

top o´ the muffin

To do so, and establish a proper standard that we can apply to daily life, I figured I could make a well-known vehicle of good energy, that comes already aliquoted in individual doses. So instead of worrying, I adapted a warm looking muffin recipe to my non-dairy, berry-crazy standards. Then proceeded to bake them and spread them amongst my friends and folks, who received different doses of the sugary vibes. Now, I plan to just sit back, hang out and observe how the good karma expands and extends from my oven, into the hostile world, perhaps in waves of good luck or strikes of love. If we apply some simple exponential amplification rules, it is likely that this experiment might keep me busy for a while. So for now, worrying will have to wait for the next wheel´s turn.

(Good) Karma Muffins


-1/2 cup margarine

-1+1/4 cup granulated sugar

-1/2 tsp salt

-1+1/2 cup all-purpose flour

-1/2 cup cake flour (optional, you can use AP)

-2 large eggs

-2 heaping tsp baking powder

-1/2 cup soy milk

-1 tsp vanilla extract

-6 ounces each of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, fresh or unthawed, sprinkled with:

-1 tsp sugar

-1 tsp cinnamon

-1 oven at 385F

-1 hand mixer


-Sift flour and baking powder together and set aside.

-Cream margarine, sugar and salt with until soft (one day we must discuss the scientific value of baking terms such as this, or “until just combined”, “fluffy” or “just moist”)

-Add eggs and beat until fluffy, to your best judgement.

-Pat berries dry on a paper owel.

-Into the liquid mixture, fold alternatively one thir of flour, one third of milk, repeat until just combined. Add vanilla.

-Sprinkle berries with sugar and cinnamon, fold into batter.

-Pour 1+1/2 tbs of batter into greased muffin cups. I always have trouble calculating how much to aliquot, and can never seem to avoid putting too much. This measure seems to produce some handsome, pointy doses of good energy to share.

-Incubate in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden and dry according to the international toothpick standard.

-Cool for 10 minutes on a rack, invite friends over, have them with hot chocolate, and rate your muffinity according to the width of the smiles and volume of grunts elicited. Good luck, and good karma.

Written by polarizedpostdoc

July 27, 2009 at 17:54

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“Empanada” is a Spanish word with poignant connotations for my life right now. Literally, it means “breaded” or “tucked inside bread” and usually refers to a traditional dish from the north-west of Spain. This region delimited by mountain ranges and crooked coast lines is the home of velvety, furry grassed hills and the rich silver stretch of the Atlantic ocean that we call Cantabric sea.

In slang, to be “empanada” refers to that distracted state in between spirited away and absent-minded that can be experienced when you have many loose ends slashing out all over your brain. Which is exactly how I feel these days. Tucked between the dough of fate, in a cloudy haze, at times dizzy or giddy with fear or excitement. A true case of empanada.

Aside from the human version, there is also the bite size one, empanadillas, that are pretty much the local take on dumplings. They look like puffy dough balls, and are filled with an assortment of the seasonal earth and sea goodies at hand. Much like this:

As much fun as empanadillas are to make and eat, my family used to favor the bigger scale version, probably because it is more high throughput- friendly. To produce a bona-fide empanada, women folk would sit around and chop, simmer and chat, in an unspoken and informal ritual. The flow of tradition that shaped me ran deep and strongly through moments like those, and only after I fled away from home I realized the warmth and spiritual nourishment I was exiling myself from. For this, and for the flavorful bliss tightly packed in each bite, empanadas have always been high on my homesickness list.
So, to try to fight of my baker´s block and quell my existential anxiety, I decided to adapt my heirloom empanada recipe to American standards, and present it here (with experimental data) for your enjoyment. Here, take a slice of Northern Spanish heaven.
Somewhat Distracted Spanish Tuna Pie


2 Frozen or hand-made puff pastry sheets, thawed
Salt, pepper
Olive oil (Spanish if you can)
2 Big sweet onions (Spanish if you can)
3-4 Cloves of garlic
1 Red/orange pepper
1 Sweet green pepper
3/4 cup of canned peas
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
2 Eggs, hardboiled, plus 1 for washing
3-4 cans of tuna* (Spanish** if you can, or albacore)
*you can also change it up a bit and used 2-3 chicken breasts, seared.
**I usually find cans of Ortiz tuna at most higher-end supermarkets like Whole Foods or Fairways. It is expensive so you can mix it with regular albacore.
Before you commence chopping mayhem, please do remember to:
-thaw the pastry
-warm your oven to 400-425 F
-start hardboiling the eggs
-heat up olive oil covering the bottom of a wide and deep skillet
Then, chop up the onion, garlic and peppers and start simmering them at medium heat. Add salt, pepper, and herbs, but do not stress about it, you can correct the flavor later once everything else is in.

veggies ready to take it to the next step

veggies ready to take it to the next step

Cook for 10-15 minutes until vegetables are soft.
In the meantime, take the eggs out of the boiling water and cool them.
Drain and stir the peas and the tuna into the skillet, mixing well.
With you hands, crush in the tomatoes so that they are chunky, and cook them in until the liquid has reduced visibly.
Meanwhile, the dough should be ready to roll. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough from the center into two rectangles that fit your oven pan.
Cover it over a baking sheet and chill it in the fridge until it is ready to bake.
feeling the filling

feeling the filling

Peel and dice the hard boiled eggs and add them to the filling, stirring them in and incorporating everything. Now is a good time for a taste, and to correct the salt and spice. If you don´t want to overdo the herbs, but still want a bit more aroma, add on some thyme instead of the whole Provence mix.
Turn the heat down a little and continue cooking for ten more minutes to bring out the flavors.
Take the pastry out of the fridge and extend it over some parchment paper on the bottom of an oven pan.
Carefully transfer the filling with a slotted spoon to the pan. Try to leave behind as much liquid as possible, otherwise the dough will be soggy.
Once you have around 1 inch or 1 1/2 inches of filling in, cover with the remaining pastry. Push down the edges into the bottom pastry to seal and trim it all around. With the leftover dough, you can write your name on top, or the name or your loved ones. I find that swear words are also exceptionally tasty.
Beat up the remaining egg and brush it evenly on top of the pie. Bake for 20 minutes, turning down the oven or covering with tin foil if the top starts burning. Typical results are a crusty, golden top layer and a flaky dough that candidly melts in contact with the hot filling, swamping your mouth with its delicate and flavorful texture. If the first bite makes you strangely homesick and brings memories of your mother´s kitchen, you know you have successfully recreated a true empanada. Better eat one that become one, so… enjoy!
one, two, three... empanada

one, two, three... empanada

Written by polarizedpostdoc

July 10, 2009 at 14:21

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The fine lines

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And now, for something completely different.

Has it ever happened to you to find yourself too sick to do any work but not sick enough to stop doing everything else? I walked that fine line this weekend, often humming along in a haze.

I had tickets for one of my favorite musicians at one of my favorite venues in one of my favorite cities, John Vanderslice´s show at the Bowery ballroom in Manhattan. Bought by one of my favorite persons. So no persistent rain or incoming cold was about to stop me from going. And I am glad, cause it was an amazing evening. I wish I had more, better words to praise John Vanderslice´s music. He is such a talented songwriter and outstanding performer, incredibly professional and devoted, and also more kind and generous, down-to-earth than any renowned musician I have ever seen. He is both unassuming and overreaching, and his songs usually strike the right balance between universal and intimate feelings. A fine line to play by.

I think our favorite theme of the night was “Too much time”. Me and the ticker-buyer heard this song for the first time when he premiered it last year, also in NYC, in a heart warming show starring just him and his guitar. We still maintain that was the best version, but the rock-and-roll riff he did this weekend came very close. I have no recording of either, but you can decide about your favorite version also by checking these ones out, from sterogum and from this other live recording. There is also the official version, from his new album Romanian Names. All highly recommended!

The nightly city outing did not help my recovery, so I was not able to work on Sunday either and decided to work on our communal lab garden instead. And bake frantically. Surprisingly, I am still sick today!

Aside from my breast cancer research I have some ongoing baking and cooking projects that I work on sporadically (but not as sporadically as I should). My main quests are to find/produce the best-of-the-crop cornmeal, the morphing muffin and the perfect loaf. Because why go to a store when you can slave at home and come up with only slightly inferior results? These are collaborative projects that could not be possible without a team of very talented tasters and sous-chefs, often recruited from our seafood club.

I usually parse by several online recipes to use as starting points to devise my own take. Lately I have been staying away from fancy websites that used to lure me with glorious shinny pictures, as they made my deflated efforts look dull and scruffy. But I could not resist giving this outlandish cornbread a try, out of scientific curiosity I guess. An important member of the team is allergic to dairy, and I don´t want to kill him (well, most of the time I don´t), so I adapt all the recipes to non-dairy friendly. I also try to shy away from overly complicated and specialized ingredients that you can only use sparingly. My budget and pantry are not that big. Oh and I always put more fruit/chocolate/nuts than they ask for. Same reasons plus gluttony. Here is the resulting protocol:

Cowless lemon blueberry basil corncake


1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup coarse ground cornmeal

1/2 cup finely ground cornmeal

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tbs baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp salt

2 tbs margarine melted and cooled

2 tbs basil-flavored olive oil

1 cup home made non-dairy buttermilk (soy milk with 2 tbs lemon juice stirred in 5-10 minutes before)

2 eggs lightly beaten

2 tbs lemon juice

1/4 tsp lemon zest

almost 1 cup blueberries dusted with flour.

2 tbs basil herb mix (comes refrigerated in a tube, and handy when your garden herbs are just starting to take off)


1 Preheat oven to 375F (for cooking purposes temperature is NOT in Celsius. Everywhere else it should be).

2 Grease loaf pan, 9×5 inches (see above for measuring system cooking exceptions)

3 Sift in the solids in a big bowl and mix.

4 In a separate bowl whisk oil, butter, buttermilk, eggs, lemon juice and lemon zest.

5 Add liquids to solids and mix quickly. With a rubber spatula fold in blueberries and basil.

6 Pour and bake for 40 minutes. Cool on rack.

Although my pictures are not as good as the original blog´s, I hope you can tell that the result was similar. As a die-hard scientist, I am always very pleased when you follow the instructions and get exactly to where you are supposed to.

lemon blueberry basil cornbread


The on-site cornmeal experts consensus was that this had a surprisingly lightness to it, and that it merged warmth and freshness quite astonishingly. A deliciously fine line.

And yes, you have guessed right, I am a girl!

Written by polarizedpostdoc

June 15, 2009 at 13:03

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