Tag Archives: dessert

Ridiculously Good Spiced Brownies, Served with Almonds and Some Thoughts on Good Eating

I’ve got an absolutely amazing brownie recipe for you. Dense, fudgy, moist, a resounding wallop of chocolate amidst an unexpected touch of spices and a subtle nudge of saltiness upon encountering a buried almond. Now, I’m fully aware that I am often given to hyperbole, but I’m not exaggerating when I say these brownies are some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Make them yourself and I bet you’ll feel the same.

It’s not because of my skill at baking, which can more accurately be described as the ability to read and generally follow instructions. This brownie is based on a great recipe from Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from another great recipe from Baked in Brooklyn. Eat anything from these justly celebrated dessert creators and you’ll probably bust out the superlatives too. Plus, it’s got a lot of butter in it, and we all know the important kitchen equation: butter = awesome.

But the brownie got me thinking more about the food we eat and how it’s produced. If you just want to skip ahead to learn how to make these brownies yourself, scroll all the way down.  But first, some brownie pondering…

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amsterdam, part one: exploring an amazing foodie street in a city of munchies

an insane array of cheese in the dutch cheese shop

i knew i was in a city of good eating when one of my first morning stumbles was into a shop called ‘cheeseland’ with wheels of emmenthaler the size of a monster truck tire or a dog bed for a large-ish golden retriever.  to give you a sense of scale, that wedge has a larger diameter than my kitchen table (not that you’ve seen my kitchen table, but it’s of a good size).  hellooo and welcome to amsterdam.

the reason for my cheese shop visit was thanks to a few days in holland hanging out with my friends rootster and flinner, two of my favorite people who live far away in chengdu, china, whom i clearly do not get to see often enough. these two party legends emailed and said ‘hey we’re going to be in amsterdam next week! come meet up!’ and i said ‘hmm….okay!’ and a week later found myself enjoying all of amsterdam’s myriad sources of entertainment.  i love living on a continent with affordable train travel, even when you live on an island. amazing.

since i got in on a fairly late train, my first real experience with amsterdam’s quality food came on a solo morning tour of the streets around our friend’s apartment near the central train station. i left root and flinner to catch up on sleep in a new time zone and ventured out to get coffee and munchies. and just so you know – it was 9am so i don’t mean that kind of coffee or that kind of munchies –  those came later in that day (remember mom, it’s legal there!). haarlemmerstraat, the street right outside our friend’s place must be some sort of gourmet thoroughfare because i visited two cheese shops, three bread and pastry shops, an olive oil store, a spanish and an italian delicatessen, a lebanese bakery, and two juice bars over the course of the trip.  i knew it was a good neighborhood when i immediately ran into this chocolate and sweets shop:

unlimited delicious shopfront

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ice cream sandwich cookie #3: accidentally awesome honey cinnamon squares

honey cinnamon cookie squares 2

i’ve gotten a pretty quick schooling in american vs. british english since moving to london. trash = rubbish. bathroom = loo or toilet or ‘the ladies’. cell phone = mobile phone (had to make that conversion fast considering i run a business based on mobiles). and on the food side:  zucchini is courgette, arugula is rocket, eggplant is aubergine, cookie is biscuit, jello is jelly, and so on and so forth.

all this is a fun vocabulary game that i actually enjoy until the point that it MESSES WITH MY COOKIES. see, i went to the local grocer and purchased granulated sugar for my honey walnut cookies. because granulated sugar is granulated sugar, right? well, in fact, it’s not. what we in america bake with and call granulated sugar is called caster sugar in england. and what they call granulated sugar here in england are the massive boulder-like rocks that people stir into their coffee as sweetener.

i discovered this upon pouring a cup of allegedly granulated sugar into my honey walnut cookies and sticking a fingerful of batter in my mouth and finding it…crunchy. gritty. like someone had poured sand into my cookie dough. WTF england!?! i figured out the problem after googling around and finding this very helpful translation/glossary of US vs. UK kitchen terms.

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ice cream sandwich cookie #2: a lazy lemon rosemary cookie recipe

lemon rosemary ice cream sandwich cookies

the simple lemon rosemary cookie above was born out of pure laziness. thought process: what else is in the house besides the basic cookie ingredients?

1. potatoes.  meh…can do better.

2. pasta. not useful.

2. lemons! good.

3. ham. baaaad.

4. a plastic tray of plants masquerading as a ‘garden’ with oregano, basil, sage, rosemary and thyme. yes, perhaps we can do something with this.

the result? lemon rosemary cookies, most delicious in sandwich form with homemade vanilla ice cream from foodrambler.

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ice cream sandwich cookie #1: C is for cayenne pepper chocolate

chocolate cayenne pepper cookies

i think i may be possessed by a cookie demon. this cookie demon worms its way into my brain and convinces me that it’s a good idea to make a trio of ice cream sandwiches for dessert at rambling restaurant. i listen to this cookie demon and then i find myself experimentally baking 3 kinds of cookies for 3 kinds of ice cream sandwiches (each requiring 2 cookies)  for 19 diners last night. all of which, including screwups and overspicing and um-let-me-try-another-one-of-those-to-make-sure-it’s-good adds up to…almost 200 cookies baked in the last 4 days. damn you cookie demon!

luckily, i happen to like cookies (duh). if you don’t like cookies, you have your own demons.  i also enjoyed the excuse to play around with new recipes and have an automatic tester audience.  it did make me slightly nervous that these cookies were for paying customers and therefore needed to be really good. but most of all, i was very happy to have an automatic set of mouths to feed these cookies to. if i bake by myself,  there’s a possibility i will consume all the fruits of my labor and that’s never good. although let’s be honest – i definitely ate a lot of cookies this week.  so many cookies that at certain points i kind of wanted to toss my cookies.

sorry. that’s gross. but true.

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homemade ginger ice cream…without an ice cream maker!

homemade ginger ice cream made by hand

i’ve been bewitched by food porn in the form of ice cream sandwiches. back in boston last week, i snatched the last issue of gourmet ice cream sandwichesgourmet from my house and spent parts of a long car ride and a plane trip devouring articles on chinese bbq in canada, mentally planning an extended stay at an organic farm outside beijing, and fantasizing about caramel. i was particularly attracted to the idea of homemade ice cream sandwiches, as depicted on the magazine cover to the right which entices me with its summery colors like a party dress at a bash in the hamptons with lusciously rich desserts from swanky catering companies. to drive the point home, there’s a huge section on homemade ice cream. and as if to prove the power of visual stimulation, there is currently homemade ice cream in my freezer right now. it’s slowly edging its way to the crystallization phase and then i will jump on it and break up those crystals, because i don’t have an ice cream maker. although in case you’re wondering, my birthday was last week and i am still accepting presents.

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experiments in the kitchen: orange spice pecan shortbread cookies made with leftover egg yolks

orange nutmeg shortbread cookies

suppose you’ve made a delicious meringue. suppose you then have six egg yolks, tragically separated from their egg white counterparts, sitting forlornly on your kitchen counter and hoping not to be wasted. what to do?

the obvious answer:  you make cookies! i actually think that answer applies to many different scenarios, but maybe that’s just me. anyway, in a valiant attempt to save the extra egg yolks, i went for a little baking experimentation. i decided to throw together all the usual cookie suspects – butter, sugar, flour – and add the extra egg yolks and see what happened. a little poking around in the kitchen cupboards resulted in the addition of nutmeg and allspice for added flavor and an orange in the fridge was also requesting to be consumed and zested. and as soon as the cookie dough circles were baking, i noticed a big bag of pecans next to the oven so i pulled the cookies back out and pressed the halves on top for an additional flavor dimension and some visual excitement.
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ginger meringue + fresh whipped cream + perfectly ripe berries = the holy trinity that is pavlova

ginger meringue and berries

i’ve always been meh about meringues. the texture’s so dry and chalky and the taste so overly sweet that it felt like a dried out hardened marshmallow left to die a lonely death on the arid plains of some forbodingly airless planet. actually, now that i think about it, meringues resemble astronaut ice cream, but less awesome because they don’t come from the science museum or exist in space.

but… all of a sudden, the meringue has new meaning! i’ve always been a sucker for desserts involving fruit and cream and  i have recently become acquainted with the fabulous and apparently sort of retro dessert known as the pavlova.  oh, the pavlova – named for the ballerina anna pavlova and invented somewhere down under (both australia and new zealand claim ownership) – it elevates the lowly meringue to a shining pedestal for a magical combination of pure whipped cream and fresh ripe berries. no longer dry and chalky, the cream adds a light and airy feeling to offset the brittle meringue and the juices bursting forth from the fruit. no longer marshmallowy sweet, the unsugared cream and tartness of the berries temper the intense sweetness of the meringue to perfection.  hooray! the meringue has returned with a vengeance.

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thanks to the breadman, i’m rich with megacake

a wall of megacake

hello and welcome to an indomitable fortress of megacake, a towering and impenetrable wall of chocolate, caramel, and shortbread. just try to scale those sugary heights….i dare you.

perhaps you are thinking, what is this remarkably tasty looking wall of dessert? and furthermore, who is that shady looking figure up in the corner?

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canteen has great british food: apricot cobbler, mushroom pie, and other surprises

apricot cobbler with custard from canteen

if my keyboard shorts out from all the drool slowly dripping from my mouth, i fully blame canteen and this ridiculous apricot cobbler.  good lord. this dessert is amazing. warm jammy apricot, fluffy sweet breadiness and your very own mini pitcher of creamy custard. mmmmmmmm. as if things can’t get any better, i spy a neal’s yard dairy cheese plate behind it….

i’ve had a wonderful deluge of visitors over the past few weeks (christine, ant, mom, aunt julia and uncle dick, lexi, sarah, peter, drewstew, becky, and dan…whew!) and our major tourist activity has been eating our way across the city. i enjoy forcefully disabusing people of the all-too-common belief that england has terrible food by shoving something amazing in their mouths.  the old spitalfields market location of canteen turned out to be the perfect restaurant to put this tragically untrue myth to rest once and for all, seeing as their motto is ‘great british food.’ but just how great it was even surprised me too.

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