30 November 2009

Recipe: Gingerbread Pudding Cake

There was a time when Land O'Lakes used to publish a recipe pamphlet that was sold at the supermarket checkout stand. As employees, we sometimes would receive complimentary copies. I eventually accumulated quite a collection. The recipes were thoroughly tested with clear, precise directions. I don't know if they were foolproof. But they were pretty reliable.

My kids loved them, especially my daughter. When she got her first apartment in college, we gave her several of them, at her request. She always said that she loved them because they always turned out. They helped give her the confidence to be a creative cook in her own right.

I don't know if Land O'Lakes publishes any recipe books anymore. If they do, employees don't have a chance to get copies at the office. But it's probably a moot point because the company has a very comprehensive recipe collection on the web site.

My wife and I spent Thanksgiving with my daughter and her husband in Chicago. We had our Thanksgiving meal with my son-in-law's family. My daughter made two recipes for the meal. Both were from old Land O'Lakes recipe books, and both are available online. One was an artichoke dip. The other, below, is a gingerbread pudding cake.

I decided to post the cake recipe because I thought the preparation technique was so unusual. After spreading the gingerbread mixture in the bottom of the baking dish, the recipe calls for pouring a cup of water and melted butter over the batter before baking. Honestly, I was skeptical of the result. But it turned out fabulous. Somehow the liquid absorbed into the cake to produce a light, tender, moist dessert. The tip with the recipe suggests serving with pumpkin ice cream. For our Thanksgiving dinner, we had whipped cream. Since I'm not a big fan of pumpkin, I thought that was much better.

So here's the recipe.


Preparation time: 30 min Baking time: 40 min

Yield: 12 servings

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1 cup mild flavor molasses

1 cup water

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 1/2 cups hot water

1/3 cup butter, melted

Heat oven to 350°F. Combine flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt, allspice and nutmeg in medium bowl; set aside.

Beat 1/2 cup butter and sugar in large bowl at medium speed until creamy. Add egg; continue beating until well mixed. Reduce speed to low. Beat, alternately adding flour mixture with molasses and 1 cup water, beating after each addition only until blended. Pour batter into ungreased 13x9-inch baking pan; sprinkle with 3/4 cup brown sugar.

Combine 1 1/2 cups hot water and 1/3 cup melted butter in medium bowl; carefully pour over top of batter. (Do not stir.) Bake for 40 to 55 minutes or until gingerbread is cracked on top and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm with ice cream, if desired.

29 November 2009

Birthday lunch at D'Amico's Kitchen, Minneapolis

In my last post, I lamented the closure of two of my favorite 'special occasion' restaurants in Minneapolis. (Scroll down to read it.) Another Minneapolis standout that closed during the economic downturn was D'Amico Cucina. It had been many years since I ate at D'Amico's, but many people felt it was the best Italian restaurant in town.

Well, the creative energy behind the original D'Amico's combined with the hip, stylish venue of the Chambers Hotel and I think I have a new special occasion favorite – D'Amico's Kitchen at the Chambers.

My brother and I decided to try it for our annual joint birthday lunch. I always liked the the sort of stark, industrial space that the old Chamber's Kitchen had in the 'basement' of the hotel. D'Amico moved the main dining room to the lobby level (which had been a bar before the changeover). The new space is bright and airy. As you'll see in the photo below, the big windows provide diners with views of the bustle of downtown Minneapolis. I could see down the stairs, and it looked like there were tables still in the basement, so I asked our server what they were doing with the space. He said that they used it as overflow when the upstairs dining room is full.

Speaking of our server, he was great. Since Mike and I had an early lunch reservation, it wasn't particularly crowded when we arrived. But our server gave us lots of personal attention. He also gave some helpful information about the menu and good recommendations.

D'Amico has a prix fixe lunch option – a starter, main dish, and dessert. Since we were celebrating, we decided to go for it.

Mike started with spicy fried calamari. It was very good. The spiciness was not overwhelming, and the calamari were tender and tasty. It was a huge serving, way more than one person would order as a lunch starter. It could have easily been split between the two of us. My starter, on the other hand, was definitely an individual, starter-sized serving. I had tuna crudo. It was sashimi grade tuna with avocado and melon, lightly dressed in olive oil, chives, lemon peel. It was very light and absolutely bursting in flavor.

For our entrees, Mike had a veal meatball sandwich with provolone cheese. It also was a very generous serving, and it came with a side of fries. The meatballs were very flavorful, and there was a side of marinara sauce for dipping. I ordered orecchiette with a fried cherry tomato salsa, pecorino cheese, and arugula. It was fantastic. The flavors were very fresh and blended nicely. It was not a huge serving, but ample for me.

For dessert, we both ordered baked almond frangipane crepe with mascarpone at the recommendation of the server. It was a very good ending to a special lunch.

I was very impressed by D'Amico's Kitchen. I can't wait to go back and try it for dinner.

24 November 2009

Celebration dinner at Sea Change, Minneapolis

The economic downturn has been tough on restaurants. Both of my favorite special occasion places closed in 2009 - Cue at the Guthrie and Chambers Kitchen.

Fortunately, the economy has not discouraged creative restaurateurs from exploring new concepts, and both venues have opened exciting new replacements for my old favorites. This review is about the new restaurant at the Guthrie. The next is about the replacement at the Chambers.

Sea Change got on our list of 'must try' restaurants as soon as it was announced that Tim McKee was behind it. We don't usually rush to a new place when it opens. We prefer to give them time to work out some of the kinks. Sea Change opened during the summer. We went for my wife's birthday in September.

Wow! What a great experience it was. One of the things that's so fun about McKee is that each of his Twin Cities venues has its own character. Each one is so different from the others. Yet all of them reveal the unmistakable guidance of McKee's creativity.

Linda and I really like fish and sea food. That's why we go to San Francisco so much. (Actually, there are a lot of reasons, but that one is good enough for this post.) We have high standards for the fish we're served. Freshness is an absolute non-negotiable must. Then careful preparation that puts the freshness of the fish on display. Then lastly, creativity in flavors and presentation to make a memorable dish.

Now, not to delay the description of our meals too much longer, let me start with the wine. We ordered a Portuguese Alvarinho but they didn't have it. Our server recommended an alternative, and I'm sorry, but I can't remember precisely which one. It may have been a Spanish Albarinho. To me, he showed a good grasp of what he had available and an intuitive sense of what we'd like. The service was like that all through the evening.

For starters, Linda had King crab appetizer with cucumber and lemon. Her comment was how long it had been since she'd even seen King crab legs on a menu. It was a real treat. The crab was fresh and succulent. The cucumber and lemon provided a nice compliment to the flavors of the crab. I chose albacore served raw and complimented with watermelon, jalapeno, and mint. It was fabulous.

Linda's ordered scallops for her meal. They were beautifully prepared and came with a relish of sweet corn, chorizo, jalapeno, and lime. She was concerned that the jalapeno would make the dish too spicy for her. But it did not. I chose sea bass, which was either a nightly or seasonal special. There's a striped bass on the menu, but that's not what I had. My sea bass was served with shredded tendrils and fennel served on a bed of sauteed mushrooms. The flavors were wonderful.

We didn't really plan on dessert. But since it was Linda's birthday, we shared a trio of gelatos (gelati?) They were very unusual, and we enjoyed them quite a lot.

So in case you can't tell from the review so far, I do recommend Sea Change especially for a special occasion. Our old trick with Cue at the Guthrie was to make a reservation for about the same time as the beginning of the play at the theater. Seems like a lot of tables open up then.