TND – Epic Dithering

October 12, 2011

Apparently my new default for Dinner is ‘dither’.  I spent a day and several IM conversations dithering about whether one time the lasagna recipe would be enough to feed 8 people.  This is partly because while the recipe itself divides into halves or thirds or quarters fairly neatly, you end up with strange amounts of raw ingredients leftover (like 3 oz of ricotta), and a strange assortment of pans on the table (one large pan, one really small pan).  I eventually decided that one time the recipe was enough to feed 8 people if I stretched the meal with both the requested salad and green beans (originally it had been an either or) and added a plate of tomatoes.  Then on Tuesday afternoon at the farmer’s market I dithered about whether I really needed/wanted the tomatoes since Dinner had been reduced to six people and the lasagna would be a gracious plenty all on its own.  Eventually I voted against the tomatoes but not before standing there with my hand hovering indecisively over the tomatoes for several minutes.

Then there was the epic dither about dessert this week.  This week was a Birthday Dinner and I was given a choice of four desserts, to which I then added a fifth option.  However, it became clear early on that of all the options the one I really wanted to try was the Cranberry Maple Pudding Cake, which was also the most logistically problematic.

The difficulty is that you can’t make it in advance because you want to serve it warm.  You can’t put it in to bake just before you sit down to eat because it bakes for an inconvenient amount of time – 28 minutes in the oven, and then 15 minutes cooling.  45 minutes isn’t really long enough to sit down and eat dinner and talk leisurely, at least we spend more than 45 minutes at the table at Dinner and I tend to think that any dinner party that is spending less than 45 minutes eating the main course is doing it wrong.  But, by the same token, you can’t put it in to bake after you get up from the table either because 45 minutes between the end of dinner and dessert is too long.  So, to make it work as a dessert course you’d have to get up halfway through dinner to finish it, and who wants to throw a dinner party and then have to bolt your food to get up in time to spend more time in the kitchen putting dessert together?

15 emails later, we solved this issue by deciding that you could bake the pudding cake in individual ramekins which cuts the bake time to about 20 minutes, and cuts the cooling time to 10 minutes, which is about the amount of time it takes to clean up and make tea after Dinner.  So, I got up from the table after we’d finished eating, instructed everyone to continue gossiping for a few minutes, finished up the desserts, put them in the oven and then got on with the usual process of clearing up and tea.  You can also solve this problem by serving this as a brunch dish rather than a dessert (the fruit and the cornmeal in the batter make this perfect for brunch).

My current dither for next week’s Dinner is whether I’m more in the mood for savory (sausages roasted with cherry tomatoes and garlic) or sweet (sausages roasted with grapes and onions).  I’m also dithering on whether I want to attempt making polenta to go with the sausages, or just take the easy road and serve it with crusty bread to mop up the roasting juices.  Part of my dither with the polenta is that I’m not entirely sure how long it will take to cook – internet research results in cooking time variations from 15 minutes to 45 minutes, which is unhelpful in the extreme.  Theoretically I think it should take around 30 minutes, because that’s about how long it takes to make grits, and polenta is basically just grits by another name.  There will possibly be a small test run this weekend to verify this assumption, and depending on the outcome of the experiment there may be bread at Dinner instead of polenta.

Garlic Bread
Green Beans

Cranberry Maple Pudding Cake

As requested for Birthday Dinner.

Recipe previously given:  Look Ma, no chicken!


Garlic Bread



Cranberry Maple Pudding Cake
(serves 6-8)

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup maple syrup
2/3 cup whipping cream
¾ tsp orange zest
½ tsp + pinch of salt
2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 egg
3 Tbsp sugar
½ cup milk (anything but skim)
½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 400.

In a heavy saucepan combine the cranberries, maple syrup, whipping cream, orange zest and a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat and simmer for 1 minute or until the cranberries have burst and the mixture has turned pink.  Remove from heat and pour into an 8×8 baking dish (or 8 individual ramekins – about ¼ cup/ramekin)

Note:  I made this part while the lasagna was baking and then measured it into the ramekins.  It was cool, but not refrigerator cold, when I topped it with the batter and put it in the oven – doing this part a little in advance worked just fine.

Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and ½ tsp salt in a bowl.

In another bowl whisk together the egg and sugar until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the milk, melted butter and vanilla and whisk to combine.

Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and whisk to combine.  Pour over cranberry mixture.

Bake until cake is golden and cranberry mixture bubbles at edges – about 28 minutes for an 8×8 pan (about 20 minutes for individual ramekins).  Cool 15 minutes (or 10 minutes for individual ramekins).  Serve warm with some crème fraiche or ice cream on the side, or simply dusted with powdered sugar.



  1. Were there really 15 emails? That’s kind of hilarious. Thank you again for a lovely Birthday Dinner.

    I have no opinion on your sweet/savory dither, but may I request a fennel-free sausage?

    • Happy Birthday. The leftover pudding cakes were appreciated by my coworkers.

      I’ll see what Whole Foods can do in the way of fennel-free sausages.

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