Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I have a slight obsession with making sure there is dessert after dinner at least once a week. Growing up, dessert after dinner was pretty much a birthday thing. If it wasn't someone's birthday, there was no dessert. That is just not how Italian households *do* dinner. I envied my friends for having American moms who would, after having the table cleared, pull out a pie, cake, or cookies. They had moms that baked. On the other hand, my friends' moms didn't know the first thing about homemade soprassata with a good loaf of crackling bread and some fresh figs, so there was the tradeoff.

Because nearly every meal in this house is made by me, dessert is usually something that can quickly be thrown together. Sometimes it is a bowl of freshly sliced peaches with a dollop of whipped cream and a crumbled gingersnap on top. Sometimes it is something gloriously rich, like chocolate mocha syrup cake, which makes its own sauce by some small chemical miracle. I have seen recipes that call something like this "pudding" cake, but the resulting product isn't pudding by any means (meaning custard. It is pudding in all sense of the British meaning, though.) The basic premise of the recipe is that you make a thick batter, pour a hot liquid on the top, bake it, and it magically becomes something altogether sinful. I will warn you that a tiny bit goes a very long way. You will also need something to cut the richness of this dessert, like a scoop of vanilla ice cream or very, very lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Chocolate Mocha Syrup Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/3 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (I like the acidic bite of the regular reddish cocoa)
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter (half of a stick)
1 oz square unsweetened chocolate, chopped finely
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups strong coffee (I just use whatever is left over from that morning's pot of coffee.)

1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375*F
In a small saucepan, or in a microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter with the unsweetened chocolate. Set aside.
In a bowl, sift flour, 2/3 cup sugar, salt, cocoa, and baking powder together. Add milk, vanilla, and butter/chocolate mixture, stirring until smooth. Set aside.
Combine remaining sugar and coffee in a small saucepan. Simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside.

Spray a 10-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and spread the batter into the pan evenly. Slowly pour the coffee mixture over the batter - DO NOT STIR - and carefully place the pan into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. Spoon servings making sure to get a bit of the syrup with every serving. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream (below) or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Whipped cream:
Using a mixer, beat the cream with the powdered sugar until firm peaks form.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cold Comfort Farm... Redux

I am much too anxious for the arrival of spring. I want to turn my heat off, open the windows, and banish the stale winter air out of my home. I want to scrub everything and paint other things, wash windows, prep the flower beds, and just *do* things outside.

Alas, it is not to happen, as the forcast for tonight is snow. I saw a robin and a mourning dove today, so spring cannot be to terribly far away. I'm tired of being chilled to the bone.

Marie, a glorious woman in England, created a dish that looks to be quite delicious, with a lovely salmon cream sauce and cheesy biscuits baked on top. Find it Here.

(after dinner) Well, I can certainly tell you that while this was cooking, we couldn't wait to sit down to eat. I used buttermilk in the biscuits rather than regular milk, because I like the tender crumb that the resulting biscuit has. The olives had me a bit skeptical, but I'm so glad I put them in there. I chopped them extremely fine and it provided a lovely salty depth of flavor that didn't scream "OLIVE!". The salmon cream mixture reduced a bit too much, mostly because I had children climbing up my leg while I was cooking. I think the next go-round I'll increase the amount of milk by a cup and use a third cup of flour. This was lovely and delicious, and my husband, who doesn't really care for fish or peppers ate it all. Thanks Marie!

Friday, March 14, 2008


I cannot wait for spring to arrive. Each year in this area, spring is hailed with the arrival of wild leeks, also known as ramps. They grow in the woods, and I make the trek onto state forest grounds to search for the bright kelly green oval leaves peeking through the leaf litter. They're not like the thick, round leeks at the store; they are much more delicately structured than that. These require digging and careful separation of dirt from plant. The roots are usually in a tangle, and if you're not careful, you'll snap the tender bulb, leaving it in the dirt (which is okay, since another leek will just grow there next year.) The bulb is pungent, and the leaves have a delicate onion/chive flavor that are fantastic strewn upon potatoes O'Brien.

In these parts, one can usually find a ham & leek dinner, where the leeks are usually steamed whole and eaten as "greens", sometimes with butter and a splash of malt vinegar. I much prefer to clean them, separate the greens from the whites, and use the greens in cream sauces or as one would use chives. The sharp bulbs, in my opinion, are best when roasted, which allows their sweetness to shine through the strong flavor. The caramelization also gives them great depth of flavor, and are wonderful pureed and added to a simple carbonara sauce, or anywhere you'd use roasted garlic.

I suppose leeks wouldn't be as prized as they are if they were easy to gather. The next few weeks, we'll drive into the woods and look for signs of leek growth. We'll wait until the signs start going up at local churches, advertising leek dinners, and we'll hike onto our "secret" hillside, enjoy the sounds of the creek as the water meanders through the rocks, and we'll forage for our green gold.

That's our sign that winter is officially over.

Hot & Wild Leek Dip

1/2 cup wild leeks (ramps) cleaned and chopped roughly (if you cannot get wild leeks, use scallions/green onions, but use 3/4 cup)

16 oz cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into cubes

3 tsp cayenne pepper sauce, we like Frank's Red Hot

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

3 Tbsp crumbled bacon, cooked crisp

Preheat oven to 375*F. In a food processor, process the ramps until they are well-chopped. Add the cream cheese, cheddar, and cayenne until well-blended. Transfer mixture to an 8" baking pan sprayed with cooking spray and sprinkle with bacon pieces. Bake for 15-20 minutes until bubbling and heated through. Serve with crackers.