Mushroom Asparagus Risotto

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It seems like risotto is surrounding my life these days. It all started with The Great Dane and her own rendition of mushroom risotto. TGD admits to having *zero* patience, yet she was able to pull off a fantastic risotto – a dish that requires a constant careful eye. I was jealous (and proud).

Then there was the marvelous tomato-based seafood risotto that I had at Acqua Pazza in San Mateo. It had shellfish and cheese and tomatoes and I’m guessing also some crack cocaine. I was enthralled.

And finally it was the mushroom asparagus risotto (prepared by an awesome person who shares my namesake) I had this past weekend in Tahoe that finally tipped me over the edge. I was obsessed.

I had to scratch the itch and learn to make it, because I could already foresee myself waking in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, with a craving for this dish and no means to get it. The creamy rice and cheese were calling to me. It was time.

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Peach Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Whipped Cream

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The day I made these cupcakes was a day that I needed some serious comforting. I’m glad that I can find solace in baking when everything else around me seems to be dizzyingly chaotic. And the recipe that’s my ultimate comfort? Banana bread. I’ve had this particular recipe for banana bread since I was 14. It was the first thing I ever learned how to bake, and let me tell you, it is a forgiving and versatile recipe. Back before I knew how to properly measure flour, and before I knew what “creaming” butter and sugar meant, there was this recipe. I have about four other recipes for banana bread/cake in my recipe book, but I haven’t even touched any of them because I already have my tried and true standby.

The problem on this particular day was that I had no bananas.

The secret to great banana bread is to have much-too-ripe-to-eat bananas. So now I had a dilemma on my hands. Forego baking and remain stressed out for the rest of the night, or create something new out of something old. So here. I give you my adventure with peach cupcakes.

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Lemon Bars

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So last night I found myself with a ton of leftover lemons from the Damp Lemon and Almond Cake I had made last week. For some people, when life gives them lemons, they make lemonade. I make lemon bars. I will henceforth nickname these lemon bars as “LiveMaster TicketNation Lemon Bars,” seeing as how they came on the day that the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger was announced, thus bursting my happy job security bubble. These lemon bars have been a comfort – I think I’ve polished off half the pan on my own. The best part is that they’re so easy to make!

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Damp Lemon and Almond Cake

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Now originally, I made this cake for C, who was supposed to come over and hang with me in SF for the day. Long story short, plans fell through, so my co-workers got the privilege. C!!!! That teaches you for forgetting your laptop charger!

Anyway, C loves lemon. And almond. So naturally this was the recipe for her. I pulled it out of Nigella Lawson’s book, How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking, which I love but haven’t really baked much out of. Nigella is an admirable woman. She is a firm believer of being a “domestic goddess” and that such a role is no less challenging nor respectable than any other role a woman can have in this day and age. Domestic life now has  a negative connotation associated with it, what with the whole feminist movement, but Nigella slaps back with a “look at me, I’m successful, I’m sexy, AND I work wonders in the kitchen” attitude. I love it!

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So about the cake itself. I loved the taste, but texturally it didn’t come out quite like I had expected. So here’s my tip to you, because it may save your cake. Use a regular cake pan! Or if you must use a springform pan like the recipe indicates, please, please wrap the pan with foil. Halfway through my cake’s baking time, I had the unfortunate discovery that my springform pan was leaking all the good lemon juice I had added to the batter. At 1am, having a smoky, burnt lemon syrup mess on my oven floor was beyond upsetting. Baker beware! I think I need new springform pans…

In any case, despite the mishap with the pan, the cake was still delicious, albeit ugly. 🙂

Nigella’s Damp Lemon and Almond Cake

Ingredients
1 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1/3 cup cake and pastry flour
1 1/3 cups ground almonds
1 tsp almond extract
zest and juice of two lemons

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350F; line the bottom of one 8″ (or four 4″) springform pan with parchment paper. (Or use a regular cake pan, and line the sides with parchment paper too.)

Cream together the butter and the sugar until almost white. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a quarter of the flour after each addition. When all the eggs and flour have been incorporated, gently stir in the ground almonds, then the almond extract, lemon zest and juice. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour, checking after 50 minutes – you may have to cover the cake loosely with foil after 30 minutes so the top won’t burn.

The cake is ready when the top is firm and a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cake. Don’t overbake the cake or it won’t be damp.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it stand for 5 minutes in the pan; then turn out onto a wire rack and leave till cool.
Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.