Guinness chocolate cake


For the March issue of Grow Northwest, I offered to write a cooking piece on Irish food. I cleverly sidestepped corned beef and cabbage and soda bread, and instead used it as an excuse to make a really fabulous Guinness-braised pot roast and a lovely batch of buttermilk colcannon. I also made cake.

Guinness chocolate cake

From my research (and my parents’ experience), the real Irish version of Guinness cake is a fruity, spiced teatime sort of thing, rather than a sweet dessert. I remembered Jon making a chocolate Guinness ice cream from David Lebovitz’s ice cream book, and wanted to find a good recipe for chocolate stout cake – I eventually found it in Nigella Lawson’s Feast. And what a cake! We’ve made it twice now, and I think it’ll be in regular rotation in our house. It’s chocolatey but not too sweet, dense and moist, and keeps perfectly, wrapped on the counter, for up to a week. I think it might freeze well but so far we haven’t had enough leftover to try it. It’s very good eaten plain, but a dollop of cream cheese frosting is extremely nice. Continue reading

boozy meringue cookies

If you’re anything like us, you often find yourself in the position of having too many egg whites on hand. This is due entirely to Jon’s tendency to make fabulous homemade ice cream, full of cream and egg yolks, plus our extreme dislike of scrambled egg whites (I’ve tried adding a bit of extra white to regular scrambled eggs, and I’m not crazy about that either). What to do with all those egg whites? It finally occurred to me to start making meringue.

The main way I’ve seen baked meringue is as a pavlova, or the big messy pillows that French bakeries all seem to have piled up in their windows. I wanted a small, bite-sized cookie, so I hunted around and found some recipes to try. The first batch I made, I just spooned out the batter in lumps like drop biscuits, and didn’t bake them quite long enough. They were delicious but very sticky. This last time, I used a piping tube to make evenly sized dollops, then baked them very slowly for two hours and gave them an extra hour in the oven to dry out. They were perfect – crispy to bite into, then melting away. Not to mention adorable. The few remaining cookies that sat out overnight began to get a bit soft, so they were like slightly stale marshmallows – which was kind of wonderful. Continue reading

weird weekend


Our fourth of July weekend was more than a little odd, which is why I haven’t quite pulled myself together enough to post on what we ate.

It all started with a birthday party…

the festive board

birthday canoe

the last checkerboard cake?

My grandfather was turning 98, so of course we had a party. Strawberries have just come in like gangbusters in our area, so we brought a flat, and my mother made yogurt cake and a checkerboard layer cake. It was all very festive and tasty. There were many relatives.

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another yogurt cake


It was all because of the blood orange curd.

blood orange curd

My parents gave us a jar of blood orange curd for Christmas (it was a very food-centric holiday all around). I’ve been trying to decide what to do with it – tarts, ice cream, biscuits? Finally I thought of my favorite yogurt cake, a simple dessert that lends itself well to fruit toppings of all sorts. Instead of my usual recipe, though, which is from the blog Chocolate and Zucchini, I thought I’d try Dorie Greenspan’s variation on the traditional cake. The main differences are that it has half as much yogurt, one extra egg, and vanilla instead of rum. She also suggests rubbing lemon zest into the sugar, but I decided not to since I was pairing the citrusy curd with the cake.

yogurt cake with orange curd

The result was marvelous. The cake was perhaps a bit less tangy, but the texture was fluffier and finer-grained: delicate enough to serve for a dinner party, but sturdy enough to eat out of hand over the kitchen sink. It went spectacularly with the tart-sweet curd. It will also go very well with fresh berries next summer, I feel sure. And whipped cream. Just a little.

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mascarpone ice cream


Do you feel that homemade ice cream just isn’t rich enough? Do you make it with cream, whole milk, egg yolks and sugar, but still feel that something’s missing, calorie-wise? Then this is the recipe for you: mascarpone ice cream.

We got this, of course, from David Lebovitz. It’s a variation on his crème fraîche ice cream, which also sounds magnificent, but we had some mascarpone left over from making Elise’s strawberry mascarpone tart, and you don’t want to waste mascarpone, do you?

ice cream

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a first attempt at tarte Tatin

tarte Tatin

For some unknown reason, I had never tasted tarte Tatin until recently, and it was a revelation. I like apple pie, but often find it a bit bland. Tarte Tatin is not at all bland: the apples are soaked with caramel, chewy around the edges, and the crust has a wonderful shatteringly crisp quality that I’ve never encountered in a regular fruit pie. As soon as I tasted it, I vowed that I would try making one myself.


The basic concept really isn’t too complicated, and there seems to be some flexibility, based on the difference between the various recipes I looked up. The foundation is a caramel sauce made with sugar and butter, the apples are laid on the caramel, and pie crust is laid on the apples before baking, then the whole thing is turned upside down before serving. I found variations involving cooking the caramel in a separate pan, then mixing it with the apples, but I went with an approach of cooking the butter, sugar and apples together in a skillet, without stirring, until the sauce caramelized with the juice from the fruit. Continue reading

using up some pears

an assortment of pears

As so often happens, last time we were at my parents’ house there was a box of pears to deal with. I took what I thought was a modest assortment and hoped they wouldn’t all ripen at once. So far, so good – only two came ripe this week, although I did have to put them in the fridge until I was ready for them.

pears in the fridge

We had already made and eaten a pear custard pie not long ago, so this pair of pears was treated to our other usual preparation: poached in sugar water in the oven, then stuffed with a mixture of chopped pecans, sugar, brandy, vanilla and sour cream. Unbelievably, this recipe came out of a Betty Crocker cookbook, but it really is a winner: tender, sweet, hot pears with a rich crunchy filling – what’s not to like? Continue reading

the pie lady of Blackwater

Blackwater, MO

As we drove on a sweltering summer’s day from Kansas City to Columbia, Missouri, we made a lunch stop in Blackwater, a very small town near Boonville. We hadn’t really planned anything for lunch – we had eaten a lot of round things (i.e. bagels and doughnuts) with the family in K.C., but were feeling peckish while still aways out of Columbia. I saw a sign for “Blackwater historic downtown” and for some reason decided that meant restaurants, so we took the exit and wound our way through rolling hills and cornfields until we suddenly emerged in a small, unlikely frontier-ish town studded with flags.

When we parked the car the first thing we saw was a small storefront with a handmade sign informing us of the availability of sandwiches, soup and pie. We went in. The place was full of hand sewn items: aprons, potholders, baby accoutrements and pillows, and there were two tables set with napkins and placemats. On a counter sat some plates, pitchers and a number of pies.

pies Continue reading

saving room for rhubarb crisp

fresh rhubarb

The rhubarb in the garden is coming along beautifully, and we’ve been hankering for a pie or crisp. I finally had time to make our first crisp of the season – just enough for the two of us.

halibut and asparagus with lemon

I kept dinner really simple: some steamed asparagus with olive oil and salt, and a halibut fillet sauteed in a little butter, with a glass of verdejo. I was mostly looking to eat something light so as to save room for dessert, but this actually turned out fantastic – the halibut was incredibly tender and flavorful, like crab claw meat, and the verdejo matched perfectly. It was so good.

But then we got to eat rhubarb crisp! Continue reading

Pear custard pie

Pear custard pie

I gave J a bottle of Vin Santo dessert wine last Christmas. I believe we had tried some at a wine tasting not long before, and been rather excited by it. But then the bottle lurked in our cellar all year, waiting for the appropriate occasion. Of late, though, I’ve decided that wine-opening occasions have to be created, not just awaited, so I went searching for possible accompaniments.

We recently bought ourselves a copy of What to Drink with What You Eat, so I looked up Vin Santo. Along with the usual recommendations of biscotti and nut-based desserts, I saw pears. Aha! We are definitely in the heart of fresh pear season around here, so I went digging for a recipe I remembered liking back in the mists of time – a pear custard pie that my mother used to make. She got the recipe at a farmer’s market meeting and then printed it in the Cashmere Valley Record newspaper’s recipe collection. Usually when we eat pears around here we poach them in sugar water and top them with pecans, brandy and sour cream. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with that, but pie sounded fun. Continue reading