What’s Cookin’? Part 2

In the past, our chef challengers have been asked to create an original three item menu for a panel of seven judges.  We decided to spice things up this year by asking our chef challengers to create an original menu for a much bigger judging panel- our guests.  Chefs have been given a theme and three specialty ingredients that must be incorporated into their menus.

The 2012 theme is “Hot Summer Nights,” and today we are going to share with you detailed information about one of the specialty ingredients you will get to enjoy on June 23, 2012 at the Sacramento Chef Challenge: Ginger

Most people are familiar with ginger.  It’s the funny brown root in the grocery store that your mother told you was hard to peel.  If you are a sushi eater, it’s the bright pink garnish paired with your favorite roll.  If you frequent your local saloon, you have had it as an ale, and if you are very lucky, you have been treated to a piece of the candied version sold at the nearest Trader Joe’s.

So, we all know what ginger is, but that seems to be where it stops.  Since we, at the Sacramento Chef Challenge, are asking both our Chef Challengers and our Cake War competitors to incorporate ginger into their creations, we thought it was important to delve a little deeper into the world of ginger…here is what we found:

According to Plant Cultures, “ginger is not found in the wild, its origins are uncertain. It is likely to have originated from India as ginger plants there show the most biological variability. Potted ginger plants were carried on local vessels traveling the maritime trade routes of the Indian Ocean and South China Sea in the 5th century AD and probably before. The plants would have rapidly spread to many other countries along the way. In the 16th century ginger was introduced to Africa and the Caribbean. It is now cultivated throughout the humid tropics.

The Herb Companion says that “eventually, [ginger] became a popular spice in Rome. Unfortunately, the use of ginger fell from use once the Roman Empire fell. At this point, ginger’s worth had increased. It was commonly used to make delicacy sweets in the medieval times.”

Herbal Legacy tells us that “either alone or in combination with other herbs, ginger has been the herb of choice for thousands of years.  As a testimony to its numerous usages, it remains a component of more than 50% of all traditional herbal remedies.The Japanese soothed spinal and joint pain with it.  The Chinese found it helpful with tooth aches, symptoms of a cold, flu and hangover.  Progressive early-twentieth century U.S. physicians prescribed ginger for painful menstruation. Years before British surgeon Dr. James Lind discovered that lime could prevent scurvy; fifth-century Chinese sailors were using ginger’s vitamin C nutritive value for the same purpose on long voyages.”

The World’s Healthiest Foods explains that “ginger contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. These substances are believed to explain why so many people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly. In two clinical studies involving patients who responded to conventional drugs and those who didn’t, physicians found that 75% of arthritis patients and 100% of patients with muscular discomfort experienced relief of pain and/or swelling.”

Finally, NPR presented a fantastic Pear And Ginger Upside-Down Cake recipe courtesy of Kimberly Culbertson in Hillsboro, OR.  Here is is for your enjoyment:


Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Make Whiskey Whipped Cream:

Beat the cream with the sugar, infused whiskey and vanilla until soft peaks form. Chill.

Caramelize The Pears:

Peel pears, split lengthwise and core. Dip cut sides into sugar.

Melt butter in a seasoned, heavy 10-inch cast iron skillet over low to moderate heat on the stovetop until it stops foaming. Arrange pears, symmetrically, sugar side down on the skillet until the sugar begins to caramelize to a golden color. At that point, remove the skillet from the cooktop and sprinkle with the crystallized ginger.

Make The Cake:

Whisk the flour, baking powder, cardamom, nutmeg and salt. Beat the butter, sugar and ginger in a bowl with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and beat until well-combined. Add flour mixture and milk, alternating. Mix at low speed until just combined.

Pour the batter over the slightly cooled caramelized pears. Reposition them if they shift. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the top looks golden and a wooden tester comes out clean the first time.

Cool the cake for 5-10 minutes. Loosen the cake with a thin knife around the edge of the skillet. Put a plate on the skillet and quickly invert it to tip the cake onto the plate.

Serve the cake slightly warm or at room temperature with chilled whipped cream.


Whiskey Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup whipping cream, chilled
  • 1 teaspoon sugar, preferably raw or demerara
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon whiskey, infused with crystallized ginger*

*I like to pour out 1/2 cup Makers Mark or Knob Hill whiskey and infuse 1 1/2 tablespoons crystallized ginger for 2 hours or overnight.

Caramelized Pears

  • 3 medium Bosc pears, sliced in half
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 stick butter
  • 1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, finely chopped


  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, preferably freshly ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • 1 inch ginger root, peeled and grated (make sure it is very fresh)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar, preferably raw or demerara
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup whole milk


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