Sunday, July 22, 2007

What Four Sticks of Butter, Four Cups of Sugar, a Bottle of Guinness and About Three Pounds of Chocolate Can Do

Make an evilly good cake, that's what, one that sits in the fridge among the lowly healthful string cheese and lettuce secure in its own delectableness. I just had to put an extra pound or so of it down into the garbage, as its siren song was all too tempting and I have still plenty of poundage to lose and muscle to build. (And even now I am half envisioning digging it out of the trash. A little vegetable scrap, chicken skin and coffee grinds wouldn't dim Its chocolaty goodness would it? Hahahah! KIDDING! Sort of.) The Guinness adds intensity, moistness and depth to the cake, and although it is certainly possible that the FOUR STICKS OF BUTTER have something to do with the luscious tenderness of the crumb, I contend it is due to the Guinness, that venerable Irish booze.

Chocolate Stout Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Best made the day before you want to eat it.

2 cups Guinness Stout
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups good quality unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sour cream


Preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line with parchment paper and butter the paper. (Commentary: I used two 9-inch cake pans, buttering the bottoms but leaving out the parchment paper. Mistake--one of the cakes broke apart out of the pan due to the stickiness of its bottom. I think parchment paper is yet another waste of the nation's trees, but in the future I'll at least flour the pans well. Alas, fair cake, I hardly knew ye!)

Bring stout and butter to a simmer in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk till mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl to blend.
Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream, then add the stout-cocoa mixture and beat just to combine. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed till combined.

Divide batter equally among prepared pans and put them in the center rack of the oven. Bake for 35 minutes. (More Commentary: If using 9-inch pans as I did, and filling them near to full to boot, you'll need to bake for 50-55 minutes. Make sure cakes are totally baked through.

Transfer cakes to rack and cool 10 minutes; unmold cakes from pan and cool completely.

Then you slather 'em in this:


2 cups whipping cream
1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Bring cream to simmer in heavy medium or large saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate, whisk till melted and smooth. Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, about 2 hours.

Supposedly makes 12 servings unless you are like me and sneak large chunks of it at random and inopportune times, like before breakfast and at one in the morning.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Where are all the sweet summer tomatoes? They certainly aren’t at my local Shaw’s or Whole Foods, which sell the same bland, tasteless tomatoes that they do in the winter. They also aren’t at my local gourmet store, Formaggio Kitchen, which also offered a pathetic selection of mushy industrial “heirloom” tomatoes. It is possible that they are at the Davis Square weekly farmers’ market, which I didn’t visit today because of the rain. Still, that wouldn’t have helped me yesterday, when I went to the store hoping to make the pasta caprese from last month’s Cook’s Illustrated and test their theory that the secret to the dish is freezing cubes of fresh mozzarella before cooking (this seems to be the secret of most of their dishes involving cheese).

Instead, I decided to improvise a salmon ceviche. I used farm-raised Atlantic salmon, which is surprisingly delicious and socially responsible to boot. The texture of salmon was quite luxurious, similar to sushi but without the heavy oily flavor that sometimes can be unpleasant. The dish was a great success, and I forgot about my tomato problems until after lunch, when I finished all the ceviche and am left wondering what to make for tomorrow’s dinner.

Salmon Ceviche:


1 lb Fresh farm-raised Atlantic salmon, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 English Cucumber, peeled, de-seeded and cubed
1 avocado, cubed
2 shallots, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
1 orange, supremed
½ cup cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 large lemon
Juice of 1 lime
Tabasco Sauce, a dash


Combine Ingredients. Allow to marinate for at least 1 hour. The dish will improve over time.

Juicy Juice

I have had little truly notable cuisine lately. A chunk of of tough and spongy New York Strip here, a lusciously crisp and oily funnel cake there. I am spending a chunk of the summer outside of Washington, D.C with my fiance.

DC is a city about whose gastronomic prospects I am sort of vague. I have gleaned one or two impressions, but I suspect that in these food-trend-heavy times they are probably outdated. I envision the typical DC eatery as an obscurely located, richly-appointed, dark wood-paneled, ostentatious pastoral English countryside painting-filled, boys' clubhouse (No Girls Allowed!) where "Beltway insiders" like Henry Kissinger and other such corpulent grubs plot policy over double martinis and steaks. As far as I know this is still quite the thing; however, there is also a pretty good collection of ethnic restaurants, especially in the outlying suburbs, where there are plenty of Chinese and Vietnamese folks. In the city there seems to be an ever-increasing melange of New American/organic/locally-sourced/hip n'trendy places in town.

Well, I guess. I don't really know. I am not going to any of them at the moment. No longer dining on arugula, I am instead sending its tender little leaves to a grisly death. Vampirically I drink of its life-giving fluids, flushing the pulpy evidence of my crime down the disposal. So far numerous plump and ripened vegetables have died at my hands, their bodies crushed to withered fragments in the growling jaws of a Breville Elite Juice Fountain Plus. Yes, I have taken up Juicing!

It's a lot of fun, really, although I see why a lot of people can't be bothered with it. Why buy all those fabulous, lovely vegetables and fruits only to shove them into a juicer instead of cooking them up in numerous delectable ways? Most of the juicing books and websited I've looked at give delicious sounding recipes for fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies, but when said produce is 5.99 a pound (organic, natch) you feel sort of like an ass shoving the sun-ripened raspberries and local blueberries in a juicer instead of just PUTTING THEM IN YOUR MOUTH AND EATING THEM, FOR GOD'S SAKE. WHAT A CONCEPT.

Why am I doing it, then? Well, it IS a great way to quickly get in a pound's worth of produce into yourself when you're in a rush. If The Government says we have to have our "five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day," juicing is a GOOD way to do it (although you are missing out on the fiber there, so you have to get a bunch of that in or else you'll get constipated and your arteries will get clogged up and a miserable death will surely ensue.)

When last in China I was much inspired by a yoga-teaching, meditation-retreat taking, fabulously well-muscled and toned friend of my fiance's who, while we were shoveling in our daily glut of oily, fatty pork, would regale us with the wonders of juice fasting, in which you drink nothing but the stuff, made from kale, lettuce or other such rabbity roughage, for anywhere from a few days to a few months. "Juice detoxing releases more than just internal toxins from the body," he would say sagely, contemplating a piece of Sichuan-style smoked bacon. "You'd be surprised at the emotional issues that come up."

Eager to witness the dark night of our souls, Fiance and I were keen to try it. That was two months ago. So far we have bought the juicer and a book of juicing recipes. I have juiced various and sundry combinations of beets, carrots, celery, lettuce, tomatoes, apples, peppers of various colors, cucumbers and spinach. The taste? Wonderful--if you like raw produce, of course. Lettuce juice tastes of lovely green lettuce. No problem. Likewise with beets and tomatoes. It gets problematic when you try to juice things like kale, collards or dandelion greens, all of which have a certain amount of bitterness and are rarely eaten raw, but are extremely nutrient-dense and very good for you. Naturally, it's these leafy greens that you're supposed to do the juice detoxing with, not the yummy tasting stuff.

Despite visions of Self-Actualized Enlightened Juice Fasted Rachel dancing in my head I'm still resisting this whole NOT EATING part. I could do it for a weekend with company, three days tops, but longer than that and I would probably expire. Yes, on the fourth day you would find me writhing on the floor, a pale celery green, antioxidant-rich fluids oozing from every orifice. But three days of kale juice? Would be an interesting experiment to try this month, just to see whether any toxins come out of any orifices. Or maybe to see if I can divine the shape of the universe or something. Until then, I'll continue pulverizing hapless tomatoes--homemade 'V8' is amazing.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Enjoying Ethiopian

Many of my friends get this glazed look in their eyes whenever Ethiopian food is mentioned. “I love Ethiopian food,” they say in a dreamy voice as they recall past culinary ecstasy. You can see their mouths begin to salivate, and then you can see them take a cold, hard swallow when I declare my firm opinion that Ethiopian food is stupid. It’s not that I don’t want to like Ethiopian food. I find the idea of writing of an entire country’s cuisine to be unpalatable, especially when its food receives such high acclaim. But, after many meals of rubbery ijnera bread and boring stews containing overcooked sulfuric eggs, I resigned myself to the idea that Ethiopian food was not for me. That is, until yesterday night, when I had a delightful meal at Addis Red Sea, a new Ethiopian restaurant in Cambridge.

Daunted by the unfamiliar menu, I opted for a combination platter of Doro Wot (chicken stewed in red pepper sauce) and the three vegetarian dishes that the waitress recommended. The Doro Wot was delicious, with tender lemony chicken and a spicy sauce. One of the vegetable dishes was a preparation of collard greens that would rival that from the finest southern kitchen. Their spicy lentils were lovely, and had a completely different flavor from the chicken. But, probably the most impressive was the injera, which was light and flavorful, a perfect vessel to enjoy all the sauces.

I am thrilled that I no longer need to snub Ethiopian food. Usually, I hate being wrong, but in this case I am glad to retract everything negative I’ve said about Ethiopian cuisine (including an unfortunate joke I once made questioning whether they had food in Ethiopia). I plan to rush back to Addis Red Sea and happily eat a humble pie of this delicious cuisine.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Reality Check

Just when I was getting carried away idealizing Chinese food, this story ripped off my rose-tinted glasses.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Chinese Cooking

Some of my favorite dishes from China are unavailable in the States. It is true that Chinese dining options in this country have dramatically improved from the days where all you could find were bland Cantonese-American brown sauce dishes. Within ten minutes of my house are restaurants from Taiwan, Shandong, and Nanjing (although the Nanjing restaurant is ironically called the Qingdao Garden). Still, some of China’s most ubiquitous dishes are absent from American menus.

The lack of some dishes is understandable. Take lamb kabobs (羊肉串儿), for example. While lamb kabobs are available at virtually every street corner in Beijing, they are a Muslim food that isn’t found in Han Chinese restaurants. Few Chinese Muslims make it to America, and those who do rarely open restaurants. However, other dishes, like tiger salad of cucumber and pepper (老虎菜), steamed bread (馒头), or candied fruit kabobs (糖葫芦) are shamefully neglected by restaurants in America, leaving the people who crave them only one option: cooking them at home, which is exactly what Rachel I did the other night.

Finding recipes for the kabobs and salad turned out to be a bit of a challenge. After extensive Internet searching, I was about to give up and just wing it, when on a whim I looked at the webpage for Betty’s Kitchen, a Chinese cooking magazine owned by the media group I worked for while in China. I was amazed to find complete recipes for both the lamb kabobs and cucumber salad, and happily copied down the ingredients. Rachel and I then rushed over to the Super 88, Boston’s Chinese grocery store, optimistic that we would be able to produce the dishes we were craving.

In retrospect, we were a bit naïve to think that we would be able to find the foreign spices listed in the recipes. The grocery store clerk gave me a blank stare when I asked for barbeque powder (烧烤粉) and spicy sedan chair powder (辣轿粉). After a lengthy discussion in Chinese, he directed us to the Western barbeque spice section, and then mocked us when we were unable to find what we wanted. We finally decided to muster up our dignity, forget the recipes, and just improvise the dishes.

The kabobs turned out to be delicious, tasting quite like the Beijing street food, except that we were using a tastier cut of lamb. The tiger salad was reminiscent of what we ate in China, except we were short on peppers. We decided to call it little cat salad (小猫菜), and it truly did this name proud. The night was a great success, and left me eager to cook more Chinese food.

Monday, July 2, 2007

A Familiar Face

While watching old episodes online of Betty’s Kitchen, a Chinese cooking show, I saw the following commercial, which I've captured in a screenshot:

It turns out every episode ends with an commercial for the Betty's Kitchen magazine, which includes a shot from when I appeared on the show in January, 2004. I’m a star!