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Gin & Earl Grey Tea Cake

One of the perks of having a test kitchen in the office is that, under the right hands, it turns into something of a gift to the office. Our test kitchen is managed by someone who is as talented as she is considerate. And, in much the same way that the kitchen is often the heart of the home, once a month the entire office gathers for a little celebration. The intercom summons everyone to drop their work and enjoy a few moments of delicious fun. We ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and then sing happy birthday.

When I said she is considerate, I wasn’t overstating it. Some people make flavor requests (coffee, lemon, maple, cornbread) while others want a specific type of treat (I’m partial to anything ice cream). She’s creative too. One fellow employee doesn’t really like sweet treats, so we’ve also enjoyed cupcakes made from cornbread, stuffed with pulled pork, and “frosted” with mashed potatoes. There was a chicken and waffle trifle and a ‘meat cake’ (which, I assure you, is much more delicious than it may sound). There are almost always multiple birthdays which means multiple treats, each made specifically to honor one of the birthday people.

So you’ll understand that I simply had to make a cake when it came time for her birthday. Now I didn’t want to spoil the surprise but I know that she appreciates a good cocktail and that one of her passions is tea (check out her blog Tea Foodie), so I had a pretty good idea of what direction I was heading.

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Gin & Earl Grey Tea Cake

I found a recipe that looked both promising and adaptable, then set about selecting flavors. I settled pretty quickly on Earl Grey, since it’s a tea that holds up well to milk and sugar and figured the citrus notes would work particularly well with a botanical liquor; so, gin it was. I wanted a quick glaze that I could whip together at work, so settled on the most basic: powdered sugar + liquid. Grapefruit seemed the perfect tart, citrus flavor and I boosted the floral notes by adding Tahitian vanilla (instead of the more conventional Madagascar or woody, spicy Mexican) – though if you wanted it a bit more boozy, a splash of Gin probably wouldn’t hurt.

The cake recipe is infinitely adaptable and turns out a finished product that is the perfect balance of light and dense, moist and crumbly. You can bet I’ll be making this again (and again, and again…)!

 

Gin & Earl Grey Tea Cake

Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens’ Rum-Vanilla Bean Bundt Cake

Ingredients:

1/2 cup milk
1 Tbsp. Earl Grey tea*
1 vanilla bean (or 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract)
3/4 cup salted butter** + more for greasing bundt pan
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour + more for flouring bundt pan
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup gin

* Note: Bagged tea should be ground finely enough to use (that’s what I did), but if you’re using loose leaf tea, you may want to crush/grind the tea a bit – as you’ll be using it in the cake too.

** Note: You can also use unsalted butter + heaping 1/4 tsp salt.

Directions: Combine milk, tea, and vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and cover; let steep for 30-45 minutes on counter.

Meanwhile, set eggs and butter on counter for 30-45 minutes to bring to room temperature. This is especially important for the butter, as you want it softened. Alternatively, I’ve heard that you can bring a bowl of water to a boil in the microwave, dump out the water and invert the bowl over your ingredients. As the bowl cools, it will warm the ingredients. (I haven’t tried it myself but it sounds awfully clever!)

Once your tea/milk mixture has steeped and your butter and eggs are at room temperature, you’re ready to move forward.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Prepare bundt pan by using additional butter and flour to grease and flour. Tip: use more butter than you think you need, it’ll help the cake come out easily.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter for about a minute. With mixer running, slowly add sugar. Cream butter and sugar for about 10 minutes, until light and fluffy.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Remove vanilla bean from milk mixture and add gin to milk mixture.

Turn off mixer and add about 1/3 of the flour/baking powder to the butter. Beat until combined. Add half of the milk mixture, beating until combined. Repeat with remaining flour and milk, alternating and beating after each addition.

Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until top is golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Set bundt pan on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes before turning cake onto serving platter. Cake can be made a day ahead, cooled, and wrapped loosely with foil.

Before serving, pour glaze on cake.

 

Grapefruit Vanilla Glaze

Ingredients:

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon Tahitian vanilla (or your vanilla of choice)
Optional: 1 tsp. gin

 

Directions: Place powdered sugar in a small bowl. Mix grapefruit juice and extract. In a small stream, slowly pour juice into powdered sugar, while mixing with a fork. Pouring the liquid in slowly as you mix will help prevent lumps in your glaze. When glaze reaches desired thickness, stop pouring juice in. To thicken, add more powdered sugar.

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The only constant…

After a blogging hiatus and a year that has felt busy, intense, and changing (heck, the last week has felt that way!), I’ve spent some time thinking about this little project of mine. Why I started it (to write more and cook more), why I’ve tried to continue it (because it feels challenging and worthwhile), and what happens next. The truth is, I’ve stretched myself in other directions and begun to use my time in other ways since the inception of this blog. It’s been a few years and, as I reflected on the changes in my life, I came to see that a lot has happened.

  • A few years ago, I started a (now defunct) beer blogging project with my best friend.
  • We started a monthly dinner party, affectionately named “Bitches in the Kitchen” that has proven a great way to build stronger relationships and has, on occasion, proven that scheduling is tough when you have so many cooks in the proverbial kitchen.
  • While “Bitches in the Kitchen” is on hiatus, I’ve started a ladies-only poker night. The first (of many, hopefully!) was small, but fun – and it’s been requested that I keep it up.
  • My family has grown! I now live with my boyfriend, my sister is married, and we welcomed my first niece this summer. I’ve realized just how much these relationships matter and how important it is to me to make time to be present to the moments –big and small–that matter to them.
  • I found some new hobbies. After taking an English paper piecing class, I’ve begun hand-quilting. It’s a laborious process but incredibly gratifying to create in a different way than I am used to. I also started making things – jams and candles and dryer balls. These new diversions are quite enjoyable to me and I’m finding that I can even make a little money.
  • Last summer, I joined a choir. It has the beautiful mission of creating a place for foster children and at-risk youth to see and find (musical) excellence…and it has begun to mean more to me than I could have ever imagined.
  • There’s also professional growth and development. I wish I had a crystal ball and could see where this road is leading, but I have new challenges at work too…and find myself content to come home, turn on music or the tv, and sew rather than create a beautiful mess in the kitchen.

And it’s easy to get so caught up on the day to day that you simply can’t see the forest for the trees. So, where does all of that leave Spirited Bites? Well, it’s my blog and my life is changing, so it’s going to have to change too. I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t some part of me that is still trying to believe that I can do the same thing, better, and that I can make my grand plans happen instead of “giving up” on what this blog has been about – cooking with alcohol.

But here’s the thing…change can be really hard but it can also create something even more beautiful and meaningful. So, with a deep breath, I’m stepping forward.

From Merriam-Webster: You may see spirited used to describe a conversation, a debate, a horse, or a campaign. And it often shows up in such words as high-spirited (“bold and energetic”), mean-spirited (“spiteful”), and public-spirited (“generous to a community”), all of which reflect the original meaning of spirit, a notion much like “soul” or “personality”.

The definition of spirited is full of energy, personality, or courage. But I like to think of it more as “imbued with meaning,” full of spirit, if you will.

I’m still planning on keeping this a food-driven blog; but instead of just boozy cooking, there will be other dishes. There will be family recipes, my favorite ‘lazy’ recipes, and maybe some stories about food (sans recipes). I am reaching out more, building connections and relationships; this blog will continue to be an expansion of my life and passions, those are just changing a bit.

After all: Change is the only constant in life.

“Life is flux.” -Heraclitus of Ephesus

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Cookies. Love.

One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies (Stranger Than Fiction) is when Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal) tempts Harold (Will Ferrell) with a warm cookie.

Ana: After a really awful no-good day, didn’t your mama ever make you milk and cookies?
Harold: No. My mother didn’t bake. The only cookies I ever had were store bought.
Ana: Hm. Okay. Sit down.
Harold: No, I’m —
Ana: No. Sit down. Now — eat a cookie.
(She places a glass of milk and a plate with a cookie in front of Harold.)
Harold: I really can’t…
Ana: Mr. Crick, it was a really awful day. I know, I made sure of it. So pick up the cookie, dip it in the milk and eat it.
(Harold does so.)
Harold: Mmm. Oh. That’s a really really good cookie.

Here’s the thing though, a cookie isn’t just a cookie. A cookie, making cookies and giving someone a cookie, is an act of love.

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Sake + Sushi = Risotto

If April showers bring May flowers, what does April snow bring? In my house, it’s one last opportunity for cozy, comfort food.

Sushi rice + Sake

It probably makes you think of nigiri or American style sushi rolls – not a classic Italian dish. But stay with me here…

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Arborio rice? Short grain. Sushi rice? Short grain.
White wine? Alcohol. Sake? Alcohol.
Onion? Allium. Scallion? Allium.
Butter? Fat. Sesame oil? Coconut Oil? Fat.

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Orange Crush Brewmosa

The city is awash in orange and abuzz with excitement for Sunday’s big game. Our Denver Broncos, under the experienced leadership of Mr. Manning, are ready to buck the Panthers. I’m admittedly not a huge football fan in general, but the excitement (for many reasons) of Super Bowl 50 doesn’t escape me. It is, truly, a great American tradition – food, friendship, commercials…oh yeah, the football too.

I think about the food but never have to do much, as it’s a longstanding family tradition to partake in our friends’ Super Bowl Pizza. Understand that we’re not talking about delivery or even take and bake. No, this is the real deal. Made from scratch with an assortment of toppings, usually one that is a little more experimental, this is the way pizza was meant to be.

I digress.

With the food taken care of, my thoughts turn to drinks. Now, craft beer is a must-have standby. And just this once, I will forgive the stock of macro brews. After all, it is the big game and you should have something that you can drink, and drink, and drink without actually getting wasted. We are talking hours of partying here, people!

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Enter, The Orange Crush. Brewmosa, Brass Monkey, Orange Radler, Beermosa…by whatever name you call it, it is certainly not a new concept. It is, perhaps, a little under-appreciated. Why do mimosas get all the love? Sure, they are great brunch drinks (my favorite, in fact) but why not swap in a craft brew or a good Belgian white? It might be considered a little lowbrow but probably not here in Denver, the craft beer capitol. I decided to up my game. Beer and orange juice is fine – and easy – but what about adding a dash of orange bitters and a splash of triple sec? Perfection.

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Mile High Skyline Chili

I went on a chili tirade the other day. After tasting a bowl that was more baked beans than chili, I reasoned that ‘real’ chili recipes must come from the American Southwest. Other regions don’t seem to understand that part of the beauty of chili is its simplicity.

My dad is the family chili maker. No one else dares make a pot because his is practically perfect. Digging through my maternal grandmother’s recipe box I realized that, at some point, she had asked for dad’s chili recipe. Now, my grandmother was known for brevity in her recipes – ingredients like butter and sugar were often bracketed with the single direction ‘cream’ next to them. I can’t imagine she expected the “recipe” she received.

Chili a la George

That’s right, my dad’s chili recipe has no amounts, no directions. He, like so many skilled individuals, typically cooks by sense rather than instruction. When pressed, he’ll say something like “Oh, a pound or two of ground beef. About three cans of beans.” But it’s all ‘to taste,’ really. I knew I was getting somewhere with cooking when dad gave me a spoonful and asked if I thought it needed anything. The spices have changed, as I’ve added to his pantry over the years, but the recipe is still the same.

I wouldn’t even try to make my dad’s chili – no one will ever be able to make it like dad. So, instead, I’ve come up with my own recipe. Continue Reading »

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