Apr 212013

Ginger-stout (little) cakes

Yes, I have posted a gingerbread recipe on here before. But by the time you try this for yourself, I’m sure that you’ll forgive me for the quasi-repeat, especially once you realize that the similarities between this gingerbread and that gingerbread stop with the name.

The recipe that I’ve posted before (from my grandmother) is a wonderful treat that is pleasant all-around, with a delicious, mild, warm spice flavor and a soft, crumbly texture. But this cake? This cake will sucker-punch you if you’re not paying attention. And that’s a good thing. It’s chewy, it’s boldly flavored, and there is a completely nil chance of this cake lasting the night when you serve it to friends.

The big difference is that this cake includes two over-the-top (in the flavor department) ingredients: ginger (obviously) — and lots of it, both fresh and ground — and stout beer (not so obvious). You combine these power-houses with a uncommonly vigorous mixing method (for cakes, anyway) and you have a fool-proof crowd-pleaser.

Ginger-stout (little) cakes

I first came across this recipe just before St. Patrick’s Day this year and was simultaneously excited by 1) the beer content and 2) the non-dairy-ness of it all. (Do you know how insanely difficult it is to find a dessert recipe that is dairy-free without modifications?) This immediately shot to the top of the recipe-queue and found its way to the table on March 17th. It also disappeared from the table that same night, and that had absolutely nothing to do with impaired judgment: it was just that good.

I made it yet again when Mrs. Cheeseburger in Glacial Ice came to visit this month. There being only two of us (and fearing that an entire cake would disappear between us if we didn’t force the cake into some easily-put-away-able/-freezeable portions), we made it in standard-size muffin-tins. And let me tell you, if you’re the type of person who always hoards the corner pieces in a tray of brownies, this method is for you. (But if you eschew chewiness, fear not: the cake-pan method has plenty of love for you.)

I suppose you could sweeten it a bit with a glaze or icing, but in my opinion, that would really reign in the ginger, and what would be the point of that? If that’s your goal, then you should really just make a different recipe entirely, because this stuff? It’s delicious, it’s ginger-tastic, and it is not the eensiest bit apologetic about it.

Ginger-stout (little) cakes

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May 182008

The scene: a beautiful summer’s evening. A gathering of friends has come together to feast on grilled halibut, lemon linguine, and flash-cooked veggies. Everything was quite delicious and fresh, and all tummies were singing with joy. But the dessert was yet to be served!

Succulent strawberries form the base of this fresh, healthy dessert
Nikon D50

Yours truly decided to serve another dish in the vein of fresh summer fare. I pulled out vanilla ice cream, strawberries, and a good balsamic vinegar and proceeded to combine them. I could tell this had thrown my guests for a loop and no one was particularly looking forward to trying this syrupy brown stuff drizzled all over their perfectly good berries and ice cream. But the moment that combination touched their lips, I could tell that I had a table full of converts.

Should you have a similar reaction to the thought of strawberries and balsamic vinegar, I ask that you recite this eleventh commandment to yourself:

Thou shalt not doubt the culinary creations of your hostess, for lo, she will not lead you astray on the path to yumminess.

Strawberry-balsamic vinegar sorbet
Nikon D50

This sorbet is in the same spirit of the combination I served last summer. This recipe really doesn’t get any easier. Sorbets are usually based on a simple syrup but even that didn’t make it onto this three-ingredient list. That’s how simple it is! It’s really delicious too – strawberries are always good, and when you add a good balsamic to the mix you get something really special. When you add the fact that it’s a frozen dessert, well, that just makes it the perfect summer dessert, doesn’t it?

Let the simple, fresh flavors shine!
Nikon D50

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Feb 242008

Espresso. Brandy. Ladyfingers. Chocolate. Marscapone.

When you look at that list you may find yourself wondering, “What possibly could go wrong?”

And if you answered an enthusiastic “Nothing!” you would be so, so wrong. I sure as hell hope you didn’t bet the farm on that one.

Yummy, perfect tiramisu
Nikon D50

Tiramisu, at its best, is light yet rich, warm-tasting with brandy notes, with espresso to offset the sweetness, and because everything is better with chocolate, a liberal dusting of some Scharffen Berger. However, when executed improperly, it’s flat tasting, bitter, and soggy. Trust me, you don’t want soggy tiramisu.

It’s one of those dishes where everything has to go right. Because of that, I won’t order it in restaurants anymore, not even the one that Cory took me to for dessert on my birthday, because they screw it up and frankly, mine is a hell of a lot better (sorry Cory, I know you meant well!).

Luckily, if you have a good recipe, like the one I’m about to share with you, you can’t go wrong. Too many recipes for tiramisu are too vague and include verbiage like “stir a couple of times” or “heat until lukewarm” and that sort of imprecision, while maybe appearing a little less intimidating to the novice cook, is a recipe for disaster. For soggy, flaccid, bitter disaster. And you know I would never do that to you.

Yummy, perfect tiramisu
Nikon D50

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Jun 022007

Until I made this dessert at home, I had never had panna cotta in the United States.

I hadn’t even heard of this indulgent dish until a couple of months ago, when I met someone in Korea who had actually taught at the Culinary Institute of America. I haven’t met many people who are bigger foodies than me, but he definitely qualified. A few of us were looking for a restaurant in Seoul for dinner and we decided to pop into an Italian place, and my chef comrade ordered it for dessert, served with a perfect raspberry sauce on top. “Not too shabby,” I thought, but didn’t think too much of it again until Cory’s and my honeymoon.

After our day trip into Siena, we returned to Florence intent on finding a classic Tuscan dinner. We looked through our guidebooks and found a place or two that looked promising on paper but were totally uninspiring when viewed in person. So we started to wander the streets, looking for those wonderful Italian hole-in-the-walls that you hear about from all your friends who were lucky enough to go to Italy when they were still in college.

All of a sudden we passed by a Il Latini, a restaurant that looked very cozy and the menu was actually entirely in Italian, which I took to be a good sign that this place was authentic. It was about 7:05 and the place didn’t open until 7:30, so we decided to wait, queuing up like, well, normal civilized people would. About ten minutes later a man walked up and asked if anyone there spoke English, and almost all of us answered that we did. “This is the third time this week that my wife and I have been here, and trust me, the wait is worth it.” Cory and I grinned at each other at this, and the man continued, “I know you all think that you’re lined up like rational, courteous people, but trust me, when it gets closer to opening all the locals are going to start massing around the door. Lines will mean nothing!”

Well, you know what they say, when in Rome….

So we gaggle up, and before long the man is proven correct when these people start amassing around us, trying to get in ahead of us even though we’ve been waiting twenty-five minutes. ‘Oh hell no!’ I thought to myself. “If anyone tries to get around you, throw ’em an elbow!” was Cory’s husbandly advice. And throw an elbow I did!

We managed to get in at the first seating and were seated at a table with another couple. The huge bottle of house wine was already on the table, and the food starting coming almost immediately. We never saw a menu, but everything they brought was superb: insalata caprese, pate on crostini, and tabbouleh made with barley for antipasti, Tuscan tomato and bread soup for me and gnocchi with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes for Cory for primi, roast beef for me and roasted lamb for him for secondi, and then a delicious dessert wine, biscotti, espresso, (something delicious that I can’t remember), and, of course, panna cotta with a velvety chocolate sauce for dolci. It was an amazing meal (quoth Cory: “my brain pretty much shut down so that the only thing working was the taste buds”) and an unforgettable dining experience in my favorite city.

It was also, of course, a wonderful reminder of a dessert that is fast becoming a favorite.

Vanilla bean panna cotta

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