Chocolate Stout Cake

Recently, my friend Molly asked me if I had a good chocolate cake recipe, preferably one that could be made in a Bundt pan. Man, did I ever?!

This chocolate stout cake recipe (via Smitten Kitchen, of course) is my favorite chocolate cake recipe ever, although it has been a long time since I made it. It’s rich, chocolatey, and perfectly moist. It doesn’t take long to put together at all. It has extra flavor from the addition of a cup of stout beer to the cake batter, which can be noticeable. The beer makes the cake taste a little malty, for lack of a better word. The chocolate ganache that tops the cake cuts down on this maltiness for the beer-averse. Yogurt (or sour cream) in the batter helps keep the cake extra moist.

I’ve said that this would be the chocolate cake to break your diet for, and I stand by that. It’s a rich, moist, delicious cake. One caveat – contrary to popular opinion, alcohol does not entirely cook out of food (original source is USDA). A tiny bit remains. Although in this cake, since it’s a small amount of beer that goes into the batter, I personally don’t find the amount remaining per piece to be significant.

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Honey Bourbon Cheesecake

Here I will tell you the story of how I was disappointed with a very big, delicious cheesecake.

It resulted from cold, unsoftened cream cheese.

I didn’t believe it would make such a big difference, but it did. There is no substitute for thoroughly softening your cream cheese when you make cheesecake. This, more than anything else than I can imagine, is what might make me turn away from a cheesecake. The crack that might form on top if you beat too much air into it or cool the cheesecake too quickly is disappointing, but manageable – you can just cut the cheesecake along those lines, or top the cheesecake with fruit. The cheesecake isn’t so pretty, but it’s still tasty. However, those lumps of cream cheese that aren’t dissolved smoothly into the batter will coalesce in your cheesecake, resulting in more of a curd-like texture. Which is fine if you’re like my husband and love the flavors of cheesecake and honey and bourbon, and focus on that alone. It makes it more difficult for people like me, who will reject food based on texture alone.

I lamented the lack of smooth, creamy cheesecake which I desired, but I managed. It was truly a mess of my own making with a good recipe.

The Honey Bourbon Cheesecake recipe came from A Splash of Bourbon, which I bought while Alex and I toured the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. I’ve enjoyed the book, even if I haven’t made too much from it yet. We liked this recipe – the flavor of of the cheesecake was great. It also happened to be the first cheesecake I’ve made that didn’t develop a crack along the top. That’s definitely a point toward soothing my pride.

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Peach Bellinis and Strawberry Bellinis

For my close friend Jen’s wedding shower last August, I made peach and strawberry bellinis in addition to classic mimosas. Preparing for the mimosa and bellini bar was fun. Jen and I tried out the sparkling wine in mimosas, verifying the correct OJ to champagne ratio, and  Alex and I got to try several different variants of bellini mixes at home. We did rigorous taste testing of 3 different strawberry bellini recipes. Below are the versions that we chose.

What happens when you decide your wine fridge needs to be prepared
What happens when you decide your wine fridge needs to be prepared

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Bourbon Brioche

For our 5th wedding anniversary, Alex and I went to bourbon country. Kentucky was beautiful, even in mid-March, with withered grass and no signs of green. We sampled lots of different bourbon; Alex and I know what qualifies as a bourbon by heart now. We completed all eight stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (they should give you a free t-shirt if you do!), as well as visited Buffalo Trace Distillery, which was both free and one of my favorite tours. Four Roses Distillery also had a nice (and free!) tour, and Jim Beam and Woodford Reserve were also among my favorites. Thanks to the Bourbon Trail, we discovered that Lexington Brewing Company also distills bourbon, and that was a tour stop I’m glad we made. We also went on a tour of the Kentucky Cooperage, where barrels are made – still mostly by hand!

You know it’s a good vacation when you’re not ready to head back home. I sought a bourbon-themed cookbook while in Kentucky, and now that we are back home, I thought I would commemorate our trip by making Bourbon Brioche for Week 13 of Bread.


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Milk Punch

Milk punch is something I’ve wanted to try for a few years now, but it was for this most recent New Year’s Eve that I finally decided to make it. I adapted it from the Smitten Kitchen recipe here. I decided I would try a half batch with bourbon, and a half batch with brandy. Continue reading Milk Punch

Coq au Vin

When Alex is out of town, I cook food he doesn’t like. Last time he traveled, I decided to make Alton Brown’s Coq au Vin recipe. It is not a fast recipe to make, so I contemplated the recipe a while before taking the plunge. Luckily, the steps are such that you do some of the prep the day before, and some the day you eat it. It seriously takes a long time, but I promise you that it’s worth the effort you put into it.

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Milk Chocolate Guinness Ice Cream

Another ice cream recipe that I couldn’t wait to make was Milk-Chocolate Guinness Ice Cream. This was yet another recipe that I happened to have the ingredients for. I had milk chocolate left from the hot chocolate mix I made in the winter, and had Guinness left from St. Patrick’s Day. [Both of those seem so long ago!] As with the Date, Rum, and Pecan Ice Cream, if I turned the ingredients into ice cream, they’d be a little easier to move!

Of the handful of recipes I’ve tried from The Perfect Scoop, this is my favorite so far. This was a very easy recipe to make. Simply make the custard; mix hot custard into chocolate to until it melts; add cream and beer; chill; churn; and freeze.

Milk Chocolate Guinness Ice Cream
Milk Chocolate Guinness Ice Cream

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Cherry-Peach Sangria

Cooking Light had a series of recipes using cherries recently, and I couldn’t resist adding the recipes to my to-make list. I had some great peaches last week, so I decided I would buy more so that the first thing I made would be Cherry-Peach Sangria.

Recipe was simple to make. I dissolved granulated sugar in some brandy; the recipe didn’t say to heat it, but the sugar and brandy was easier to combine when I did. I added pitted sweet cherries and a bottle of Riesling, and chilled the mixture overnight. Right before serving, I added a sliced peach, a little seltzer water, and a few basil leaves; I’m not a fan of thyme with fruit so I left it out.

The sangria was pretty good. It was sweet but not too sweet. It was balanced and easy to drink. It was fruity but not overwhelmingly so. The cherries were a little alcoholic since they soaked in the brandy and wine, but they were definitely delicious. It was a refreshing drink (and snack) for the summer. This wouldn’t serve 8, as the recipe suggests, but it would provide a nice glass of wine and fruit for 4.

I really enjoyed this drink. It was delicious and not too sweet or heavy. I would make it again.

Beef with Capers and Garlic

I decided upon the perfect thing to make for dinner while my husband was out of town one weekend. I would try the recipe for Beef with 100 Cloves of Garlic. Actually, I came across two competing recipes (second one here), both adaptations of the same original. I love garlic, and although my husband likes it, I didn’t want to force him to try a recipe with a flavor so intense.

The original of this recipe took beef, garlic, olives, and red wine. I don’t like olives, but somehow I like capers instead, and I decided that the briny capers would make them a decent substitute for the olives. I cooked this on the stove, then transferred it to the oven for slower cooking. I would have made a crockpot version of it, but I didn’t have time the evening before to prepare it for the slow cooker. I made this dish on a Friday, so that my leftovers wouldn’t scare my coworkers if they were too intense.

This recipe was indeed intense and flavorful – very rich. A little went a long way – think, tapas-style, where you’re satisfied with a few bites.

Beef with Garlic and Capers, with Italian Bread
Beef with Garlic and Capers, with Italian Bread

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Gin Martinis and Gin Rickeys

Recently Alex and I have been watching more (relatively old) Good Eats recently, and one of the episodes recently extolled the virtues of classic cocktails. Since Alton Brown insisted on gin in his martinis, we decided to revisit the spirit.

I enjoyed an occasional gin and tonic in the past but at some point stopped liking them much; Alex believed he didn’t like gin. So, we decided to try a few gin drinks with some pretty good gin (we tried Beefeater) and see how we like them.

First we tried the Gin Martini that Alton Brown makes. His is simple. I was making it from memory, so I forgot that he stirs his martinis and thus shook mine instead. How to make: add ice to your shaker, and add 1 ounce of dry vermouth. Stir, and discard vermouth (keeping ice). Add 2.5 ounces gin. Stir, then pour into chilled martini glass.

I don’t like waste, and thus I thought about keeping the vermouth for the second martini; when I measured it, however, it had gained one half ounce of water. Definitely reason to pitch it.

As an alternative to Alton Brown’s minimalist martini, I decided to make the recipe that was on the back of the bottle of dry vermouth. Add ice to your shaker, and add 1 part vermouth to 2 parts gin (or vodka). Shake and pour into martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel (which I did not).

The good things about both of these cocktails: they’re simple to make, and they’re neither sweet nor heavy. You only need gin and vermouth to make them. I often find I’m limited to beer if I don’t want a sweet drink (and I consider anything made with soft drinks sweet), and I generally prefer darker beers. Martinis are not filling, not heavy and dark like beer can taste, and not sweet.

What I didn’t like about them: you’re really just drinking gin. This is especially true with Alton Brown’s martini. With the 2:1 gin-vermouth martini, you get much more vermouth flavor. It is more drinkable than Alton Brown’s; you can take bigger sips, but you get tired of it sooner.

My verdict? You really have to like love gin to drink martinis. Or olives, if you make dirty martinis. I don’t like olives.

Since we had the gin, though, I decided we should try other drinks. I had come across a Gin Rickey recipe the other day. They’re basically gin and tonics with club soda or seltzer water instead of tonic water. I knew Alex didn’t like tonic, and I think that’s what I’d come to dislike as well.

This recipe is likewise simple. Put ice in a shaker, and add 3 ounces gin and 2 tablespoons lime juice (a ratio of 3:1). Shake, then pour into 2 tall glasses with ice. Top with club soda (3-4 ounces per glass, no more than a half cup); squeeze a lime wedge over the top and add to the glass for extra lime flavor. The recipe is from Epicurious, but Alton Brown had insisted on using real limes in cocktails, so that’s what I went for.

Gin Rickey

Alex thought this was okay – it wasn’t his favorite thing – but I really enjoyed it. It was herbal and refreshing. You need to like lime to like this drink, since it’s simply flavored, but I would guess you could try lemon with it instead. This was flavorful without added sugar or sweetener. It was a drinkable, balanced drink; nothing was overwhelming. I will definitely make this again, particularly on a warm summer evening when you really want something refreshing.