I was determined to try a different recipe for WG’s birthday cake this year. His birthday fell during Passover and he keeps the holiday rather strictly. I didn’t want him to miss a birthday cake, though. We asked him what kind of cake he wanted, but he left it up to us. Grandma and WG are chocoholics, but we had a bunch of passover brownies during the holiday (not to mention matzo toffee crunch). So, I decided to try to make a good almond cake, cloaked in chocolate ganache. I went hunting on the internet for a recipe, but none suited my fancy. By combining a few, I came up with something that worked for us. I think it is a winner. In fact, I would make it all year round!
I am sittling here at my computer and the sun is streaming into the window. I can see birds and bees flitting around the blooming trees. How did this happen? How has time flown by so quickly?
L turned thirteen last week, and we celebrated her bat mitzvah as well. What a tremendous milestone. The months (years) of preparation for the day, then, poof it is over. I am not really having the post event let down so much as feeling incredulous that it could be over and that we are on to the next thing. As L said, it felt like a 24 minute day. Almost like it never happened. Indeed.
We had the last member of our family hit the road on Monday night. They were supposed to have been on a flight in the morning, but the flight was cancelled and the earliest replacement they could get was the red eye. So, we had the pleasure of their company for an impromptu dinner. Steak, baked russet potatoes and sweet potatoes, asparagus, salad….and, because local strawberries are in the market, strawberry short cake. Actually, it wasn’t about the strawberries. It was about the fact that we had so much whipped cream left over from our Sunday brunch waffles, I needed an excuse to use it. And, because I like it better, I made a yellow cake instead of shortcake. I guess you could call it Strawberries and Whipped Cream Cake.
Because the reality of this frosting is that it is incredibly delicious and luxuriously creamy, but fat free. Compared to most frostings, this one is actually not completely horrible for your health, even though it is so decadent tasting. Still, while there were oooooh’s and aaaaah’s at the table, the consensus was that the girls and S like my mom’s orange buttercream frosting better (the kind with butter and powdered sugar). Nonetheless, the plates were practically licked clean. And, the cake was so darn dramatic looking.
I made a few changes to my usual yellow cake, which is adapted from the Magnolia Bakery recipe for vanilla cupcakes. We were unified in our delight with the changes. The cake was more tender and moist because I added some acid. I was inspired by the chocolate cupcakes that I made a couple of weeks ago – they have apple cider vinegar in them. Those cupcakes are incredibly tender and yet sturdy, with a delicious crumb. So, I added apple cider vinegar with the milk in the recipe for vanilla cupcakes and substituted some baking soda for baking powder to react with the acid.
Here is the other thing: having jam between the layers of a cake makes an enormous difference to the flavor and texture of the cake. Raspberry is our jam of choice.
A while ago, a friend of mine gave me a few recipes that she got from her Uncle Merv. One recipe was for chocolate cupcakes. My friend raved about these cupcakes and I was surprised to find, when I made them, that they were made with no eggs or milk – totally vegan. So incredibly easy and very delicious.
I’ve made these cupcakes many times, but I’ve added a couple of ingredients to suit my tastes. I’ve included a little salt, upped the cocoa, and splashed in some vanilla. Additionally, for an even richer chocolate taste, you can mix in some coffee with the water.
Uncle Merv frosts his cupcakes by dipping them in a warm chocolate ganache (I’ve seen Ina Garten do this, too). They are very decadent when prepared that way. This time, I frosted the cupcakes with 7 minute frosting which is made with granulated sugar and egg-whites. It is a marshmallow-y type of concoction that reminds me of my great-aunt’s christmas tree cake. I also sprinkled on some colorful non-pareils. The resulting cupcake looked almost like a soft-serve ice cream cone. I think coconut would be a great topping for this frosting, but L doesn’t like coconut.
L and J were “in heaven” when they tasted the frosting. Is there anything better than licking frosting from a beater?
Luckily, I was in pretty good shape by the end of December so that S & I could host our annual New Year’s Eve dinner. While this year’s menu was not as elaborate as last year’s feast based on luck (hmmm, can’t decide if that one worked or didn’t), longevity and prosperity, we did have plenty to eat and I finally agreed to a pot-luck dinner, which was a good move. We were a smaller crowd than usual, but my friends JGK and LH came through with some delicious dishes.
We tried to have a somewhat Italian/Mediterranean theme, but coudn’t stray from our annual shrimp cocktail and pigs-in-blankets. The year just wouldn’t feel the same. And, I was going to make a chicken dish with fresh lemon and parsley that I learned to make at a class in Ravello, Italy, but then I remembered from my research for last year’s dinner that eating foul was bad luck because your luck could “fly away”. Instead, I went with a fish dish (large silver scales mean $$$) and risotto (also for abundance).
New Year’s Eve Menu
Pigs in blankets (LH)
Blood orange, orange beet and shaved fennel salad with arugula, and Parmesan, citrus dressing
Wild halibut Mediterranean style
Risi e bisi (risotto with peas and parmesan)
Dessert – JGK’s choice…Molten Chocolate Cake with whipped cream and mixed berries!! She used Paula Deen’s recipe.
New Year’s Eve Toast with Limoncello and Dark Chocolate with Dried Fruits and Nuts (mendiants)
For the fish, I used this recipe and changed it up a little bit by using nicoise olives (about 1/4 cup chopped), a big pinch of dried oregano, and the full 14 oz. can of chopped tomatoes with their juice. This recipe is one of my staples. It is so easy and so good. You can make the sauce ahead of time and reheat it when you prepare the fish. There was not a bit left on anyone’s plate on New Year’s Eve. Well, that is, except for JGK. She was talking and didn’t get to finish hers at the table. But, she finished it in the kitchen while she was preparing the dessert!
After a week and a half away, S & I returned home on Friday…exhausted. We were in New York, for my parents 50th wedding anniversary, and in Washington, D.C., for a grand tour. Before returning home, we sent the girls off to camp for the summer. We came home kid-free and slept-in on Saturday, which was pretty luxurious.
Upon our return, S & I were ready for some home cooking. When you are on the road for a long time, food at restaurants gets old and it is hard to control yourself when the food is good – which it was.
We did have a couple of very memorable home cooked meals while we were gone: my sister, K, made grilled pizza one night, among other fantastic food; our friend, JS, made Maryland crab cakes, while we were visiting the D.C. area, that were, frankly, stupendous (and she also made fabulous pesto pasta and chocolate souffle); and finally, we had an incomparable breakfast at S’s cousins’ home – they made a full list of J’s favorite breakfast foods.
Nonetheless, we arrived home craving fresh fruit and vegetables, less salt, and, actually, a little less of everything. I will be mostly cooking for 2-4-dinner for the summer, except when guests are here. And, that has already occurred. Saturday night, Grandma and WG were here for dinner. Here is the menu we had:
Hummus and chips (while I was cooking)
*Chicken – roasted on the barbeque in a cast iron pan (too hot to use the oven)
*Sliced fresh tomatoes
I don’t like to tamper too much with vegetables when they are so perfect at this time of year. Just a little salt, pepper and olive oil. Or, plain. This dinner was great kick-off to healthier eating. The chicken was from the farmers market and was a real “range” chicken. No cage, no all-day coup. Lean and delicious.
I have some leftovers and lots of great memories of a wonderful weekend with S’s family. Given that we live closest (by more than 800 miles) to Grandma, we were the locus of the activities for this past weekend’s celebration of her 80th birthday.
Family started to arrive last Monday (scrambled eggs for dinner day) and dinners at our house began with Wednesday’s meatball feast.
Thursday was a pretty calm dinner of chicken picatta – my sister-in-law, JM, showed me how to make the sauce after I cooked up the chicken breasts. It was a little of this and a little of that while I watched. I’ll have to polish the proportions (or find her base recipe) before I can post. I didn’t have time for pictures – that is for sure!
Friday brought more family in town from opposite corners of the country. We ordered pizza for delivery before our dessert open house. Something had to give!
The dessert crowd started to arrive at about 7:30. We had fresh strawberries, butterscotch brownies, orange pecan biscotti, chocolate chip cookies (which got a little overcooked because I was helping L and my twin nieces make togas for a little show that they performed), and Grandma’s Jewish Apple Cake, plus plenty of wine and coffee.
The final guests left, very well fed, at about 11:00 – and they were on East Coast time!
Saturday brought the final planning for the big party, so my sisters-in-law made a big pancake breakfast for the kids while I got the errands done. J photographed her “whipped cream with pancakes”. How much calcium is in whipped cream?
The party was a big success, at a local french restaurant, with great food and atmosphere. But it was truly great because Grandma was so happy to have her friends and family around. The kids all performed poems and songs. Family and friends made warm and funny toasts. JM orchestrated the production of a great “this is your life” slideshow – a treasure of wonderful photos and memories that all the siblings had a hand in amassing.