Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Savoring the Seasons: Sticky Toffee Date Cake with Bourbon Glaze

"Dear Self, this going to be your year. So dust off your sh*tkickers and let's get started"
~ All my love, Me

We are not big fans of the New Year's Eve hype and I don't know about you, but I certainly don't feel renewed on the first of January.  Still January 1 is the beginning of the new 365 day cycle and like all beginnings it should be embraced.  And we are also embracing dessert! Yes. More desserts in 2019.  Why? Because we can.

We started off the new year with a show stopper. A Sticky Toffee Date Cake with a Bourbon Glaze.

This decadent cake is surprisingly not difficult to prepare and is incredibly moist. Served at room temperature with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and it is simply divine.

Sticky Toffee Date Cake with Bourbon Glaze
Makes One 9-inch Cake
Recipe from Ina Garten


For the cake:
3/4 pound dates, pitted and chopped
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 tablespoons baking powder

For the sauce:
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons good bourbon, such as Maker's Mark
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Sweetened whipped cream, for serving (see note)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a 9x2-inch round cake pan.

Place the dates in a deep saucepan with 1-3/4 cups of water.  Bring to boil, stirring a little to break up the dates.  Allow to simmer for 1 minute.  Off the heat, stir in the baking soda (it will bubble up!).  Set aside.

Meanwhile, in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.  With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla, scraping down the bowl.  (The mixture may look curdled.)  Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer still on low, slowly add it to the batter.  With the mixer on low, add the hot date mixture in two batches to the batter, scraping down the bowl.  The batter will be runny but don't worry! Stir in the baking powder, which will also bubble up.  Pour into the prepared pan.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes clean.

Meanwhile, combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute.  Off the heat, stir in the bourbon and vanilla and pour into a 2-cup heat-proof glass measuring cup.  Set aside.

As soon as the cake is done, poke holes all over it with a toothpick.  Pour three-quarters of the sauce evenly over the cake while still warm and allow it to soak in for 30 minutes.  Turn cake out bottom side up onto a flat serving plate and pour remaining sauce on top.  Cool completely.

Serve at room temperature with sweetened whipped cream.

Note: To make sweetened whipped cream, beat together 1 cup cold heavy cream, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until it makes soft peaks.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Weekend in Charleston and a Low-Country Feast

"Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul" ~ Dorothy Day

We embarked on a long weekend to the low-country's epicenter Charleston, South Carolina.  A trip to be made slowly, not rushed, southern style.

With just a click, we signed up to enjoy a meal in a talented but unknown chef's home and break bread with random people we had never met.  

We set out to the outskirts of town with the address provided in our email.  We drove passed the nondescript building except for the ground floor coin-operated laundromat in full swing with dryers humming, and washers swishing.  We looked at each other and asked  "Is this the place?" We back tracked and with a quick u-turn pulled into a small gravel parking lot.  My husband volunteered to run up the back stairs to ensure the legitimacy of what we were doing.  He came back to announce  "This is the place!" with hesitant glances we stepped up and out into the unknown.  A friendly face met us at the door as we entered a small cramped apartment which for the evening was turned into a make shift restaurant.  Jazz music permeated the apartment with sound.  A strong fruity cocktail was served in mason jars. Several guests had already arrived and were chatting uncomfortably on the couch as strangers often do. 

The moment guests were called for dinner with our forks tapping, glasses clinking, plates being passed and wine being poured-we became family for the evening. We laughed, we told stories and communed together.  The meal was good. The company was better.  The meal and the conversation continued to almost midnight, even though, it was only scheduled to last two hours.

Think of the stories we can tell with food. Our chef prepared a traditional low-country Perlo ( A southern version of chicken and rice).  The dish is simple and straight forward but its roots run deep in West African cooking which is the foundation of modern southern cuisine today.  Now, depending on where you hail from you could easily refer to this dish as a "Bog" or "Pilau" The dish is a communal meal best when it is prepared to serve a crowd. 

My belly was full and my head a buzzed. It was clear this evening would leave an indelible impression on me.  A reminder that my best experiences have been those moments when I embraced the unpredictability of stepping out of my comfort zone.  While anyone can eat in a restaurant, when is the last time you stepped into a strangers home and ate a meal together?

How do you pay respect to a food experience that has provided a lasting impression?  I try to recreate it. With the research of many You Tube videos I set out to learn how to make a proper Perlo.

There are a myriad of ways to prepare Perlo.  If you should decide to prepare it, you will include your own touches to make this dish speak for you. This is the beauty of this dish it can be revised endless ways to reflect your tastes or what ingredients you may have readily available.

A shared moment with Chef Christopher 

 Perlo Low-Country Style for Sunday Supper

Southern Low-Country Perlo
Serves a crowd


For the stock:
1 whole chicken, cut-up
2 smoked ham hocks
1 carrot peeled
1 medium onion, quartered
2 stalks celery, cut into extra-large pieces, including leaves
2 bay leaves
6 thyme sprigs
Handful of peppercorns

For the Perlo:
8-10 cups homemade stock
2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into thick slices
Chicken with skin and bones removed
Ham hocks with fat and bone removed.
2 pounds long grain rice
1 large onion, chopped
2 large bell peppers (red, yellow and or green), chopped
3 carrots peeled, washed and cut into chunks 
2 stalks celery, washed and sliced
1-(14.5) can of undrained petite diced tomatoes
1-(10-ounces) frozen green peas
Vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste


To prepare stock:
In a 8-10 quart stock pot, add whole chicken including neck bone, and giblet.  Add ham hocks, carrot, onion, celery, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and peppercorns. Fill pot about 2-inches from the top.

Bring ingredients to a boil on a medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to low.  Cover and simmer for about two hours until chicken and ham hocks are tender.

Remove from heat.  Remove chicken, giblet and ham hocks, and set aside.  Discard neck bone, carrots, onion, celery bay leaves, thyme sprigs and peppercorns. Strain the stock through a meal sieve. Put aside.

To prepare Dish:
When chicken is cooled.  Remove skin and bones. Coarsely chop chicken.  Chop giblets.  Remove fat  and discard from ham hock, and only use the meat.  Set aside.

In the same stock pot or large Dutch oven, on medium-high heat, add vegetable oil. When oil is hot add onion, carrots, bell peppers and celery.  Cook until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add sausage. Cook until lightly brown.  Add rice and cook for about 5 minutes frequently stirring the rice.  Add stock to cover about 2-inches above mixture line.  Return chicken and ham hock meat to mixture. Add diced tomatoes and peas.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat.  Cover 20-25 minutes until rice is tender.

Serve family style.