Monday, May 30, 2011

Tidbits from the past few weeks

1. Believe it or not, I've still been cooking from time to time (and I fully intend for regular cooking to resume within a few weeks, once I'm settled in LA).  For a recent Sunday supper at E&M's, E and I prepared a bounty of vegetables, including tomatoes and zucchini roasted with garlic, olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, and plenty of fresh basil.  Thanks to E, we also had some chicken, perfectly cooked with white wine.

2. Caffe del Doge on University Ave: the "Giacometto," a butter cookie, and a pizzele.  The drink is essentially a hazelnut latte in a martini glass that had been smeared with Nutella.  The little spoon the barista gives you is perfect for scooping up the Nutella, along with the crushed hazelnuts that are sprinkled on top.

3. Mangoes came back in season and were on sale at Whole Foods.  This picture speaks for itself:

4. Dinner at Amber India in Mountain View (thank you, Aman!).  Butter chicken, mattar paneer, rice and naan: classic Amber and always excellent, even though the butter chicken is produced en masse; it has to be, since I'm pretty sure 90% of tables at Amber order this dish.

5. Chocolate caramel cake with blackberry coulis and toasted coconut at Mantra in Palo Alto, shared with seven friends on a Thursday evening: insanely good.


My blogging is going to go on hiatus until next week, since I am moving to LA tomorrow.  In the words of iconic Stanford music professor Giancarlo Aquilanti (you'll have to imagine the Italian accent): "Ok kiddos, fun is over for today.  But don't worry, because fun will resume very soon!"

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Scrumptious Seattle with the PNBC: Toulouse Petit

(Ed.: I was already looking forward to visiting Pacific Northwest Bureau Chief E in Seattle, but if I had been at all reluctant, this post would probably have done the trick.) 
Toulouse Petit first came to my attention in a New York Times article C sent me detailing the "20 best things to do in Seattle."  When I saw they recommended brunch at a particular Cajun Creole-style restaurant, I immediately thought of NOLA (my favorite restaurant in Palo Alto, all New Orleans jazz and voodoo flare) and added it to my list.  Turns out Toulouse is the most popular weekend breakfast spot in Seattle*, and rightly so - it rocked my world.

We started off with the small plate of their famous beignets (small turned out to be five, so I guess large would be for a big group), which were generously dusted in powdered sugar and came with a small dish of chicory anglaise, which tasted like a creamy coffee sauce and made the piping-hot beignets marvelous.  They could potentially have done with another sauce option, maybe a fruit compote, to cut the richness, but it really feels absurd to voice anything close to a complaint about this place.

We had already ordered some other carb-lovely breakfast items and were kind of regretting it after the beignets, but not once we took our first bite.  My mum got the "Bananas Foster Pancakes" (which had the option, wisely declined, to be a la mode), which came doused in just the right amount of some incredible syrup and tasted so amazing I cannot even remotely do them justice here with words.

I ordered the Creme Caramel French Toast, which was all things light and fluffy with a slight custard texture.  I think it was made from brioche bread, and the two generous pieces were swimming in yet another amazing sauce, this time a "belle de brillet" pear caramel, which on further research turns out to be a caramel made with pear liqueur.  They came with fresh strawberries and every bite tasted equally good, despite the incredible decadence of the dish.

We tried to cut the heft with a side of scrambled eggs and orange juice, with some success, though we still didn't come remotely close to actually finishing our food.  I can't say that this meal sat lightly - we both kind of felt leaden afterwards - but there is no doubt in my mind that it was completely worth it.  And the price of the angels-must-have-made-them pancakes?  $5.  I think Seattle and I are at the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

*Side note - Toulouse is not just a breakfast spot.  It is actually open from 8am to 2am, six days a week (closed Saturdays), and also has one of the best happy hours in the city.  I think they also have live music sometimes, and basically it sounds like they're awesome around the clock.  I'm looking forward to exploring its nightclub side in the fall.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Scrumptious Seattle with the PNBC: A slew of basics

(Ed.: I am pleased to report that E, who has previously written two guest posts, is assuming the position of Pacific Northwest Bureau Chief.  Her entries from the region will formally begin after she has relocated in the fall, but she has sent two tantalizing introductory posts, of which this is the first.)

While apartment hunting in Seattle this weekend with my mum, I had the opportunity to try out several restaurants ranging from fine to phenomenal.   The experience served to give me great confidence in the quality of food I'm going to be able to enjoy in Seattle, though I was already aware of its reputation as one of the best places to eat in the U.S.  One of the more well-known restaurants in the city, Toulouse Petit, will receive its own blog post for providing me what was, I think, the single best meal I have consumed in my young life so far.  Several other restaurants deserve mention, however, and they are detailed below.

1.  Louisa's Cafe and Bakery, in the Eastlake neighborhood
I was all set for a planned lunch in Eastlake on our first day, but neglected to notice that the favorably-Yelped restaurant I had selected was only open for lunch on weekends.  Whoops!  We were left wandering in Eastlake, and were drawn in the door of Louisa's by the totally incredible smell.  We later concluded it was probably the vegetable bisque soup that was the source of the delicious smell inside, and we felt cozy and comforted as we waited at one of the functional wood-slab tables in what was clearly a favorite hangout for locals of all ages (including many small children).

The menu was simple and family-friendly, and kind of fun - updated twists on classics like mac and cheese.  I ordered a tuna melt, and talked my mum into ordering the Hot Turkey Sandwich.  This sandwich turned out to be a feat of creativity, with a turkey dinner perched on top of a gravy-laden slice of bread.  It was worth the wait, mostly for the gravy - it was the best we'd had in recent memory, and good gravy can be hard to come by and even harder to make.  My grandma could do it - she had the magic touch and the determination.  But this gravy reminisced of hers, and it was wonderful.  

My tuna melt was also the best I had had in ages, made on thick crispy white bread with a good mix of cheddar and jack cheeses.  I could add salad to it according to my tastes, and I ultimately chose to make it open-face as the bread/cheese was a little overwhelming.  It was still by far the best tuna melt I've had since coming back from England, and we felt so lucky to have stumbled upon such a great hole-in-the-wall place.  Louisa's also had an extensive and promising-looking case of baked goods, and I will definitely be returning.
Grand Central was one of my great loves in Portland, and I was delighted to find they've opened a location in Seattle.  We only got a chocolate chip cookie here (I had forgotten how good a chocolate-chocolate chip cookie can be) so this post is more because I already know how good Grand Central baking is :).  I think their pumpkin bread is the best, but if you go and enjoy their cozy shop, I'd recommend anything they make.

3.  The Varsity, Ravenna neighborhood
I was originally very excited to blog this restaurant, because I got to have lunch there with my aunt and uncle, whom I don't see nearly often enough.  They graciously let me photograph their food before consumption for this post, and everyone agreed the food was generally good.  The Varsity is another kind of local hang-out, slightly dive-y, with a mascot dog, and the ambiance was good for our meal together and gave us a quiet corner to chat.  Unfortunately, the food was basic sort of to the point that I don't have much to say about it; The Varsity probably won't become one of my go-to places.  I think the happiest eater was my uncle, who had the fish burger pictured below and some perfectly-cooked fries.

4.  Volunteer Park Cafe and Marketplace, Madrona neighborhood
We found this place completely by accident while we were exploring the little twisty streets and gorgeous houses of the luxe Madrona neighborhood.  The cafe is in a cheerful yellow building on the corner of 17th and Galer and due to the color is hard to miss.  It seems to be the only establishment of its kind in the immediate vicinity, which is almost completely residential, and it seems to be a local hangout only (kind of a bonus for us, because it had so much character).  Apparently it has been standing there, in some incarnation of cafe/marketplace combo, since 1905.  I wouldn't necessarily say I felt confident in its adherence to health codes, but it was clearly remodeled and decorated with a great deal of love, and the food was interesting.  I got a mysterious-looking vegetable bread pudding that didn't photograph terribly well, but was hearty and good.  

It was predominantly bread and therefore a little dry, but it had peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, onion, a few valiant mushrooms, and a hint of pesto that was nice.  I think they melted Gruyere on the top.  As a meal goes, it wasn't extraordinary, but it was from such a great little cafe (I got my silverware from a set of aluminum tubs tucked into the top drawer of an old dresser in the corner) that I kind of had to love it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cafe220 and Mayfield to the rescue

I strongly dislike - "hate" seems too severe a word - the process of packing up a residence.  Whether it's my childhood home, a dorm room, or my first post-college apartment, moving is stressful, messy, dusty, and feels stochastic even though it is a relatively controlled process (and, unfortunately, a necessary one).  Here is what gradually surrounded me between Thursday and Saturday:

Ew.  Fortunately, I could escape my apartment for both quality, dust-and-boxes-free sleep and quality, dust-and-boxes-free food.  As far as the latter goes, on Friday night Hassan and Yusef at Cafe220 took good care of me with this plate of moussaka, rice, pita, and salad (followed by the usual glass of tea):

And on Saturday morning, I returned to the bar at Mayfield Cafe, where [complimentary] madeleines were immediately placed in front of me, soon followed by the latte I ordered:

The bartender recommended the flatbread of fingerling potato, arugula, baked egg and creme fraiche, and it was indeed excellent: an elastic crust, clean flavors, and a perfectly cooked egg.

Now that is what I call a coping strategy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Notes from Tel Aviv: Lool

(Ed.: When not in lab, Middle East Bureau Chief Andrew continues his gastronomical escapades around Rehovot, Israel.  Today he shares with us his rather irreverent impressions of Lool, where he seems to have become a regular.)

Situated at the corner of Rehov Weizmann and Herzl is a cafe called Lool (לוּל).  One cannot help but wonder if the cafe was placed at that specific intersection, at the intersection of streets named after the two most famous champions of Zionism, as support for their visionary ideology.

Lool offers its patrons three choices of seating areas, equivalently considered as three degrees of protection from the unavoidable cigarette smoke.  You can sit outside on the sidewalk, where a light wind will make the air tolerable.  Or, if you're feeling indulgent, you can sit in the covered porch, where your health really depends on your proximity and wind conditions.  Finally, you can choose to sit inside the establishment, which is non-smoking but deprives you of part of the Lool experience.

One benefit to sitting outside is that you have a front-row seat to watch some spectacular driving maneuvers.  A handicapped parking spot across the street has its sign obscured by tree branches, and every few minutes someone will congratulate themselves for finding a parking spot so close to Herzl St. before realizing their blunder and backing out without looking.  In the absence of stimulating conversation, the schadenfreude is as refreshing as Lool's limonana—lemonade, served with mint leaves.  (Ed.: "nana" is Hebrew for "mint.")

Finally, no restaurant review worth its salt would forget to mention the food itself.  The menu is extensive, including homemade hummus and shakshouka; a variety of salads (pictured above), pastas, and sandwiches; a drink menu that takes up more than a page of small type; and even Yemenite cuisine such as mallawekh.  If the Yemeni people can overthrow a government as well as they can make a flaky pastry filled with egg, then I think we're about to see a new democracy in the Middle East.  Disclaimer: mallawekh is actually a staple of Yemenite Jews, not Arabs.

You can usually count on seeing something you missed the last time through the menu, and the present visit was no exception.  Pictured above is the "drink" sachlab, which is traditionally made from the flour of dried orchid tubers and best consumed with a spoon.  In Lool's case, they may just use cornflower, but after a long day at Weizmann, the substitution scarcely matters.   Sachlab is served hot and topped with cinnamon, peanuts, and coconut, and is somehow pudding-like in consistency.  It is quite delicious, and I recommend it to anybody who finds themselves stuck in central Israel.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dinner party at Peter's

Last Wednesday evening was a dinner party at Peter and Hiroko's apartment in Menlo Park; Peter had kindly invited two of his chamber music partners - me and William - over for a post-recital celebration of sorts.  Being already familiar with Peter's culinary prowess, I knew we were in for another wonderful meal, and wonderful it was.

We started off with bread, cheese (mushroom brie, i.e. "Champignon," and a harder cheese whose name I forgot to ask), and Robert Mondavi Riesling, before moving on to a salad of lettuce, green apple, avocado, green onion, blue cheese, and candied pecans.  Soon after, the main course was served: steaks perfectly cooked via sous vide and then a brief sear.  As far as I can recall, this was the first time I'd ever been exposed to sous vide cooking, and it was quite impressive that Peter was using this method at home.  To accompany, we had mushrooms cooked in red wine, baked tomato slices with herbs, baked potatoes, and a Castle Rock cabernet sauvignon.

Dessert was just as delightful and involved plenty of audience participation.  Peter and Hiroko pulled out their takoyaki machine and mixed up some pancake batter, and then showed us how to make bite-sized, spherical apple pancakes that we ate with whipped cream, fresh fruit, and moscato.

After round one of these pancakes, we decided to sprinkle the second batch with sugar, which we then caramelized using Peter's blowtorch.  Thus, the evening ended with some gleeful pyrotechnics.  Many thanks to Peter and Hiroko for a delicious and entertaining evening!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Strawberry coconut chiffon shortcake

On Thursday I had a goodbye lunch with my lab, where I've worked for the past 3.5 years.  A cake was the best - though still hugely insufficient - way I could think of to say "thank you for being awesome."  I wanted this cake to be attractive and on the lighter side, since my coworkers also tend to eat healthily. 

While I liked the aesthetic concept and sponge cake of a strawberry shortcake such as this one by SmittenKitchen, I also wanted to make coconut cake.  Fortunately those two desires were not incongruous, and a Google search quickly gave me this coconut chiffon cake recipe, which served as my starting point.  As usual, I made some changes; I've included my complete recipe at the end of this post.  The result was exactly as I had hoped: light-ish (the cake was butter-free) but delicious (I replaced the water with coconut milk in order to boost the coconut flavor), pretty, and seasonally appropriate.

Some pictures of the process:

Egg yolks and dry ingredients

Wet ingredients and beaten egg whites

Layers, post-baking

Halfway assembled

Almost done

Strawberries on top

Strawberry coconut chiffon shortcake (serves 8-10, depending on level of dessert fanaticism)
Adapted from AllRecipes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1.25 cups white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 0.5 cup vegetable oil
  • 6 or 7 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 7 egg whites
  • 0.5 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • ~1 quart strawberries, washed and dried
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • Some more white sugar and vanilla extract for the whipped cream
  • 1 teaspoon gelatin (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to ~340 degF. 
  2. Line the bottoms of two ungreased 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper.
  3. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the vegetable oil, egg yolks, coconut milk, and vanilla extract.   Beat until smooth, which shouldn't take long.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.  Pour the egg yolk mixture gradually over the beaten egg whites and fold until almost blended.  Add the flaked coconut and fold in.  Pour batter into the cake pans.
  5. Bake at ~340 degF until the tops are evenly/lightly browned and spring back when touched lightly, the sides have started to pull away from the pans, and inserted toothpicks come out clean.  Let cool completely before using a butter knife to gently loosen the sides.
  6. Beat cream until soft peaks start to form, gradually adding sugar and a little bit of vanilla extract to taste.  If you want your whipped cream to be a little more stable, e.g., if your cake is going to sit at room temperature for more than a short while, then dissolve 1 teaspoon of gelatin in 2 tablespoons of hot water (a tip I learned from SmittenKitchen).  Let it cool, then add to the cream and keep beating until, to quote the same source, "it holds medium-firm peaks."
  7. Invert one of the cake layers onto your cake plate and remove the parchment paper.  Roughly dice half of the strawberries and fold into half of the whipped cream.  Spread this mixture onto the bottom cake layer.
  8. Place the second cake layer on top of the first.  I inverted this layer right onto my hand and then positioned it and removed the parchment paper, which worked fine since the cake seemed strong/elastic enough to handle in this way.  (I would not recommend the same approach for something like the 1-2-3-4 cake, which falls apart much more easily.)
  9. Spread the remaining whipped cream on top and garnish with strawberries to your heart's content.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

San Jose: Maggiano's

Sunday was girls' day at Santana Row for me and Elyse.  Lunch was our first priority, and we decided on Maggiano's because Elyse had been before and enjoyed it, and also because business appeared to be booming (unlike the Cajun place next door).  Maggiano's dining space manages to be both airy and cozy (I think it's the combination of high ceilings and dark furniture/upholstery); there is also a bar space in front that seems to be more of a holding/waiting area.  We were immediately seated in a comfortable four-person booth, and we had a great server who was both efficient and sweet.  It was hard to say no to fresh bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, so we didn't.

This menu doesn't throw any curveballs - this is a place for familiar Italian dishes, not "innovative cuisine" - and it was relatively easy for us to select a salad and a chicken dish to share.  First came our chopped salad with tomatoes, avocado, and blue cheese; we requested that the prosciutto be omitted.  I don't remember what exactly the dressing was, though I know it was on the creamy side and fortunately not present in an obnoxious quantity.  While the salad could have used some more avocado, it was otherwise very good.

For our entree we shared the chicken "Francese," which consisted of two large pieces of flattened chicken breast with a Parmesan crust, served with some arugula and a lemon butter sauce, accompanied by crisp potatoes.  I was impressed by how tender and moist the chicken was, without any dry bits whatsoever, and also that all the other elements of this dish were just as strong.

Both the salad and chicken were the perfect size for sharing, i.e., too large for one person individually.  We were completely sated and actually passed on dessert (though we later got coconut milk tea and a toffee blended confection at Fantasia).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Palo Alto: Hobee's

I haven't been posting as frequently because, in getting ready to leave Palo Alto and Stanford, life has been rather hectic.  Anyhow, last Friday morning, Melissa and I met for breakfast at Hobee's in Town & Country.  I seem to remember Hobee's providing coffee cake before the Baccalaureate line-up last spring (has it really been almost a year since we graduated?), but other than that had heard only general positive opinions of the breakfast offerings.  This was my first visit to Hobee's, though Melissa was a little more familiar.

Over cups of coffee, for which refills are fortunately free, Melissa decided to go with the oatmeal bar, which offers thick-textured (as opposed to watery) oatmeal and an assortment of dried fruits, nuts, and other toppings like brown sugar.  Here is her very attractive bowl:

I chose the chicken-apple-sausage scramble, which comes with one's choice of toast, hash browns, and coffee cake.  The scramble had red bell peppers, mushrooms, and Gouda in addition to sausage slices, and given this combination's richness, I'd definitely recommend leaving the Gouda out.  As for the coffee cake, let us harbor no delusions about it being anything other than a dessert consumed at breakfast.  Dessert-as-breakfast and I have a solid history together, but Hobee's actually pushes coffee cake far into overkill territory by throwing a large dollop of butter on top, which is kind of artery-hardening to look at.  The cake itself is fluffy and thus pretty good; that said, I don't see why it is considered legendary.

The servers were friendly and refilled both water and coffee quite promptly.  We had a sunny table outside, since the inside looked pretty crowded, and so we got to bask in the fresh air and relative quiet of Town & Country around 9:00am.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A tale of fruit tarts

Once upon a time, in the glorious kingdom of Stanfordia, there was a not-so-little-but-not-very-old-either girl named Cynthia.  Cynthia loved dessert, and fruit tarts happened to be the one dessert around which she would consistently display a near-complete lack of self-control.  She could never, ever, ever say no to a good fruit tart (and she had sampled enough that she could tell by sight alone whether a fruit tart facing her was good or not).

One Saturday afternoon, Cynthia rode her trusty steed Corolla to the Citadel of Braun for a chamber music concert.  After the concert, she was about to gallop back to the homestead when the Good Fairy Elyse called her up and asked, "Between vanilla cupcakes and chocolate cupcakes, which do you prefer?"  Cynthia said, "Chocolate, but I'm heading home from the music building, so should I just come over?," for she knew that the Good Fairy's castle was located at the edge of Stanfordia.  The answer the Good Fairy gave was "Yes."

Upon entering the castle, Cynthia saw a magic box sitting on the table.  With a flourish of her Gap T-shirt-clad arm, the Good Fairy opened the magic box to reveal the following bounty:

The Good Fairy had organized a luncheon earlier in the day (Ed.: well done, E!), and had brought the leftover desserts back to her castle.  There were vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, indeed, but there was also a plethora of mini fruit tarts of very high quality, an unseemly number of which Cynthia and the Good Fairy proceeded to enjoy with unbridled enthusiasm and glasses of milk.

Afterward, Cynthia took Corolla home, ate some steamed broccoli, and lived happily ever after.  The End.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sacramento: Mizu Japanese Seafood Buffet

I spent Mother's Day weekend in Davis with my parents.  For lunch on Saturday, we met two family friends at a buffet in Natomas called Mizu.  I tend to be wary of buffets because so many of the dishes are often greasy, and there is frequently a lack of well-prepared vegetables, but I was pleasantly surprised by Mizu.  First, here is part of the salad bar, which features several Japanese-style salads (seaweed, bean sprouts, and lightly pickled cucumbers) in addition to some basic greens.

Next to the salad bar was the the [mostly Chinese-ish] hot dishes section, filled with various stir fries, a few items from the requisite-non-Asian-dishes-commonly-and-inexplicably-found-at-Asian-buffets family (e.g. scallops baked with cheese), and, not shown in the picture, some solid dim sum items like rice noodle rolls and soup dumplings.

Continuing left-ward along the buffet, one reaches the sushi section, about half of which is shown in this picture.  I was quite amused by the giant, mounded bowl of wasabi.  No one should go to a buffet in search of excellent sushi, but considering that this was a buffet, I thought the sushi spread was pretty decent.  High turnover obviously is key, and during the Saturday lunch hour Mizu had a reassuringly steady flow of customers and rate of sushi production.  They also go beyond California rolls, even serving a few rolls I haven't seen before (one involves using a blowtorch to sear the salmon that is wrapped around the outside).  Hand rolls can be ordered directly from the sushi chefs, and I liked the salmon hand roll I got.

One of the best aspects of Mizu is the made-to-order noodle bar that is found at one end of the room.  I didn't order a bowl, but everyone else at our table did, and I tried some of my mom's wonton-and-fish-ball-noodle-soup.  My dad and our friends ordered and definitely enjoyed the beef noodle soup.  There are quite a few permutations available, and as far as we could tell, they all feature fresh-tasting ingredients and broths that are blessedly not greasy.

Noodle soup with won tons and fish balls

Beef noodle soup with won tons

Some of the items I had included the salmon hand roll, some other sushi, barbequed pork and roast duck, and vegetables:

And finally, the dessert section, which consists of fruit, sponge cake rolls, coconut macaroons, little yellow cakes with peanuts, ice cream, and also a coconut sago soup (tiny tapioca pearls in a coconut broth, served hot):

That is green tea ice cream, not wasabi.

The restaurant's interior is quite airy, the server brought us a satisfactory pot of green tea, and the staff didn't seem to mind that we stayed at our table for quite a long time after we had finished eating.  Given the combination of variety, quality, and value (I think lunch is something like $13 a person), I'd be happy to return.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Strawberry Cointreau torte

I really like reading Melissa Clark's "A Good Appetite" column in the NYTimes, even though I haven't tried many of her recipes (her olive oil brownies being a notable exception).  But last spring, when I saw this piece describing how she came up with a creamy strawberry moscato torte that is essentially a fruity tiramisu, I immediately added it to my absolutely-must-make list.  I finally got around to it (almost a year later) on Friday morning, starting with these lovelies:

Hello, strawberry season.

A bottle of moscato had been sitting in my cupboard for a few weeks, and I was going to use it as the recipe dictates, but I opened my cupboard on Friday to find that the bottle had somehow uncorked itself and drained until mostly empty (thus explaining the mysterious and distinctive-smelling puddle that I found on my kitchen floor earlier in the week, the source for which I couldn't identify at the time because my sink definitely wasn't leaking and I don't usually expect stored wine bottles to uncork themselves).  Long story short, I had no moscato, nor did I have time to go buy another bottle.  While slicing the strawberries, I remembered that I did have most of a bottle of Cointreau, which seemed like a reasonable substitute.  Since Cointreau is considerably stronger than moscato, I diluted it 50/50 with water before splashing some into the strawberries and also dipping the ladyfingers.

Just another weekday morning.....

The recipe also calls for heavy cream and vanilla beans to whisk in with the mascarpone; I had skim milk and vanilla extract, and that substitution ended up being acceptable (see last paragraph).  I assembled the tortes in two glass casserole dishes that easily survived a three-hour car ride (in a cooler) to Davis, which was fortunate because this dessert was a Mother's Day present for my mom.  The tortes tasted excellent, albeit boozier than I had expected, which may or may not be a flaw....


Plus, the result is quite attractive, as shown above.  As for the picture below, I slightly overfilled the second casserole dish I was using, so the lid was pressed down on and subsequently stuck to the top layer of ladyfingers, resulting in the strange appearance.  Fortunately that didn't affect the taste(Sidenote: Right after assembling the two tortes, I gave myself a taste test by drizzling some mascarpone over a few leftover spoonfuls of strawberries and a couple ladyfingers, and I nearly swooned.  It's really hard to go wrong with that combination of ingredients.)

I'll definitely be making this dessert again!  Notes for next time: I'll want to try heavy cream in place of skim milk (healthiness stopped being a consideration as soon as mascarpone entered the scene, anyway).  The mascarpone/milk mixture didn't exactly whisk into soft peaks, and by staying liquid, it sank into the other layers more than it otherwise would have.  Also, the bottom layer was definitely soggy a day later, which I know tends to happen with any kind of torte or trifle, but since this was my first time using ladyfingers and I didn't realize just how absorbent they are, I may very well have over-dipped them.  Next time, whether I use moscato or stick with Cointreau, I'll be sure to dip the ladyfingers as briefly as possible (or even just sprinkle the bottom layer for flavor without added moisture).   A shorter dip should make the finished product less alcoholic, as well.