gin & tonic cake

This past weekend was my good friend’s 25th birthday, so I knew I had to make her something special. I always try to match cake flavors to things I know the recipient likes, even if it isn’t something that normally goes on cake (i.e. bacon cake, chili cake, and now this, G&T cake!). For her last two birthdays I had made her a coffee flavored cake and a tiramisu cake, so I have pretty well covered her love of all things coffee. Recently, my friend has gotten really into making cocktails (hence my birthday gift for her of a cocktail cookbook!), and there is no alcohol she likes as much as gin! Which gave me an idea – I should make a cake that tastes enough like gin for her to love it, but sweet enough to still be dessert so I won’t hate it! Needless to say, gin doesn’t really rank among my favorite drink components, but I thought it would do a good job of cutting through a sweet cake.

Now, much to my surprise, I was not the first to come up with the idea of a gin cake. In fact, I found multiple recipes on the good old internet for G&T cakes, including ones that required 50-some-odd juniper berries, cause you know, you can find those at your local corner store, and this one which seemed to cover all the essentials. It is a moist cake with that lime flavor no G&T is complete without, and a subtle, but definitely present, bitter gin flavor. I made a few adjustments, baking a two tier cake, swapping out the icing for a gin & lime buttercream frosting, and decorating with lime slices and lime zest, but mostly kept to the recipe. Were I to make it again, I would 1 and 1/2 the glaze, since that made the cake super moist and really contributed to the gin flavor. I would also eliminate the gin from the cake since I think it baked out entirely and double the amount of lime juice and zest to give it a nice limey pop. Below is the new and improved recipe, but the original received a lot of compliments and I think was quite good. It just wasn’t quite as ginny or as limey as it could have been, though you could taste a subtle hint of both.

One side note about sifting powdered sugar for making frosting – I used to be too lazy to do this, but let me tell you that it makes a HUGE difference in producing a nice smooth, creamy frosting. It is totally worth it to sift the powdered sugar to get out all the lumps. I just use a fine mesh sieve to do this, since the sifter gadgets always seem to get clogged on me (hence why I stopped sifting in the first place). In my opinion, the two keys to good buttercream are sifted powdered sugar and really thoroughly beaten butter. Make sure that the butter is nice and soft (I normally microwave a stick until it is a little melted and the inside is soft) and that you let it beat for a while before even thinking of adding the powdered sugar, then maybe let it beat a little longer!

Here is the final version of my gin & tonic cake:

gin & tonic cake

Ingredients

Cake (makes 2 8″ rounds)
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 Tbs lime zest (zest of 2 limes)
1/3 cup milk
3 Tbs fresh lime juice (juice of 2-3 limes)

Gin Glaze
2 3/4 cups sifted powdered sugar
8 Tbs gin

Gin Buttercream
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
3 Tbs gin
1 Tbs lime juice (juice of 1 lime)

– Preheat oven to 350F and butter 2 8″ round cake pans.

– Combine flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

– Beat butter until creamy, then add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time while beating  until fully combined. Add vanilla and lime zest and again beat until fully combined.

– While mixing on low, add half the dry ingredient mixture, then the lime juice and milk, then the remaining dry ingredients. Do not overmix.

– Divide batter into 2 prepared pans and bake for 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean.

– While cake is cooking make the gin glaze.  To do so, add the gin to the sifted powdered sugar and whisk until smooth.

– Immediately after removing cake from oven (while still in cake pans) make holes in the top of the cake with a fork and pour 1/2 the gin glaze over each cake. Make a lot of holes with the fork as the glaze doesn’t absorb into the cake where there aren’t holes. Try to get the glaze evenly distributed over the cake – I ended up with a ginny center and not much gin on the outside.

– While cake is cooling, make the buttercream frosting. Beat the butter until creamy, then add 1 1/2 cups of the sifted powdered sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the gin, lime juice and remaining powdered sugar until desired consistency is obtained.

– Once the cake layers have completely cooled, remove them from  their cake pans. Stack the cakes with a thin layer of frosting in between the layers. Cover entire cake with frosting and decorate with lime rounds and lime zest. Serve at room temperature or after refrigeration! 

– I added extra gin and juice to my frosting, resulting in a bit more liquidy and more ginny frosting. Since the frosting was a bit liquidy, I poured it over the cooled cake and then put the entire thing in the freezer for 30 minutes to keep the frosting from going everywhere. After freezing I took the picture shown above – the frosting stayed mostly in place!

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wait, hummus in pasta?!?!

So, my boyfriend has developed with weird obsession with hummus, especially the sabra kind you get at costco, so you can imagine his dismay on our last bulk food trip to find it had gone out of stock! Then, just yesterday we discovered that hummus had returned to costco, so of course he had to buy some, despite the fact that we are leaving next week for an outrageous 3 week trip and all our food will go bad! Now, since I really hate wasting food and there are only so many times I can eat hummus and pita chips, I decided I would see if I could use hummus in another way. After some searching online I discovered that some people have used hummus as a pasta sauce base, and figured I would give it a try!

Now, since I have a lifelong love affair with dairy products, I tend to make cream-based sauces, i.e. mustard-cream sauce, vodka sauce etc. However, I am aware of the fact that (a) not everyone considers cream to be a staple they should always have in your fridge and (b) cream may possibly not be the greatest thing in the world to consume in large quantities … maybe …

In any case, I decided I would try a healthier version of my blush sauce using hummus as the base and including Mediterranean flavors. The pasta tasted very good, but I have to say the hummus flavor was not super strong (that might be a good thing, not sure I want my pasta sauce to taste too much like hummus). Basically, it ended up being a healthier blush sauce with a hint of that hummus flavor. And, the whole meal took less than 20 minutes to make, which was crucial after a long day of research!

hummus pasta

Ingredients (serves 4)

1/2 large zucchini
1 medium yellow onion
1 small orange pepper
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup original hummus
1/2 pound linguini or other pasta
2 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

– Boil water and cook linguine (or other desired pasta shape) according to package directions.

– While water is boiling, slice pepper and onion into long, thin strips. Slice zucchini into half rounds. Add olive oil and all vegetables to a large pan and cook over medium heat until veggies are just soft, but not mushy, about 5 minutes.

– Add hummus and diced tomatos in juice to sauté pan, stir to combine. Add garlic powder, oregano, salt and black pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes or until pasta is done.

– Drain pasta and add to sauté pan. Toss pasta to coat with sauce and serve, making sure to grab some veggies that probably fell to the bottom of the pan!

speedy and delicious beef stew

Upon arriving back at my apartment after Thanksgiving break, I was faced with an empty refrigerator and a need for something NOT horribly bad for me, namely vegetables! It was off to the store for some delicious winter veggies, carrots, brussel sprouts, squash you name it. That resulted in a couple of great meals, but then, since I can never make up my mind about anything, I got a craving for, you guessed it, meat! Stumbling upon beef stew meat at Trader Joes (where, I would just like to add, I normally never buy anything but cheap milk & eggs since all their premade meals aren’t really my thing), I knew that that was what I wanted to make! And, since my boyfriend, who is frantically trying to finish his PhD thesis before the looming december filing deadline, would be home late after biking through an unnaturally cold (for California) night, I thought that stew would be the perfect late night comfort meal.

One minor problem – only 1 hr to cook and eat before I had to leave for a holiday movie night at a friends house, so no all day boeuf bourguignon à la Julia Child! But, since I can be painfully stubborn once I make up my mind about something, I decided I would go for it anyway. And, since I already had my aforementioned winter veggies to go along with my newly acquired meat, I figured I could just cut everything small and I would be fine. Turns out it was delicious, and I now have my new favorite easy meal to share with you!

Now, as you may have guessed given the few number of free hours in a grad student’s life, I like to chop and cook all at the same time. I’m writing this recipe how I did it, but obviously you could prep everything beforehand if you are more comfortable with that.

beef stew

Ingredients (serves 6)

1 large russet potato, peeled and cubed
2 medium yellow onions, chopped large
3 carrots, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
1.5 lbs beef stew meat, chopped into bite size pieces
6 Tbs olive oil, devided
3/4 cup flour
1 cup red wine
4 cups water
1/4 cup ketchup
1 Tbs mustard
1 Tbs Worchestershire sauce
1 Tbs garlic powder
1 Tbs dried rosemary
1 tsp dried sage
1 Tbs ground black pepper
1 Tbs salt, or as desired

Directions

– Preheat oven to 400F. Peel and cube potato, toss with 2 Tbs olive oil, 1 tsp rosemary, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp garlic powder, and 1 tsp pepper. Bake on a cookie sheet for 30 minutes, or until lightly browned.

– While potatoes are cooking, chop onions and carrots into large, but still bite-sized, pieces. Sauté vegetables in a large pot with 2 Tbs olive oil until slightly softened, approximately 10 minutes (the amount of time it took me to prep the meat!).

– Chop meat to bite-sized pieces (if you are rushed for time as I was, make them especially small!). Combine flour and remaining spices, then pour over meat and toss to coat.

– Crush and chop garlic, then add to the pot along with 2 Tbs olive oil. Then add all of the meat/flour mixture. Stir and cook until meat has browned and flour has been absorbed.

– Add the red wine and let sit for 1 minute, then add the water, ketchup, mustard and worchestershire sauce.  Stir and simmer for 20 minutes, adding the potatoes once they are lightly browned. Taste and season as desired. Just a note not to skimp on the wine, it really gives this dish great flavor and body!

I ate this after about 20 minutes of simmering (with some delicious sourdough) and found it delicious. I then left it on super low for an hour so my boyfriend could have something warm when he got home, and he also loved it. Hope you enjoy!