Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Birthday # 37- and almost as many cakes...

You know the saying about death and taxes being the only certainty in life, you can add birthdays to that short list. My birthday was yesterday. Being a Celebrationist I decided to acknowledge it, being 37 I decided it had to be with subtlety and a bit of taste. Hub and I went into the City on sunday night to see a modern dance performance at the Joyce Theater . I enjoyed the performance, Hub not so much. It was on the avant-garde side, especially the piece that involved the dancers smearing mud all over their faces and bodies. I'll be honest, I didn't really get it, the narrative and idea behind it all kinda flew over my prosaic little head. What I really love most about dance is the beauty and grace and sheer power of the human form and all of it's spectacular configurations and contortions. The piece of the program I enjoyed best of all was the one performed to Ravel's Bolero- there may have been a story there but I was concentrating too intently on the movement and music to figure it out.

Before the performance, we had dinner at The Viceroy, which was practicaly across the street from the theater. I had a very seasonal and very delicious Pomegranate Martini, and a juicy ahi tuna burger that came with New England-esque french fries. We deferred dessert until after the performance, when we strolled over to Billy's Bakery on 21st Street. If only I was a good enough writer to adequately describe the splendiferousness that is Billy's. It's a little nook of a bakery, brightly lit, with retro wallpaper, an L shaped glass counter filled with rows of cupcakes, mini tarts, and other heavenly morsels. On top of the counters were cakestands displaying perfectly frosted layer cakes and overstuffed pies. As a Libra I was in a specific version of heaven/hell.....too many choices. I am not the least bit embarassed to reveal that I ordered 4 slices of sweet nirvana: chocolate cake with mocha frosting, red velvet, peanut butter pie, chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, and a slice of peach pie for Hub. We took our booty to go, all packaged up in a white cardboard cake box. As indulgent as it is to order that much cake, and knowing I would not be able to consume it all, I still had to try each one. Call it research. The chocolate cake with mocha frosting was my favorite. The red velvet was also great. The peanut butter pie was simply too much for me.
For my actual birthday, which was Monday, I volunteered to host Book Club. This month's selection was The Help, which I really enjoyed. For the meal I decided on a Autumn theme, with Southern accents on account of the new season and the book's setting. For hors d'oeuvres I made a pimento cheese dip which was nice and sharp. Dinner started with a thick butternut squash soup with a hint of creaminess and a suggestion of spice thanks to a little sriracha sprinkled into the mix as a last minute addition. For the main course I made a balsamic onion blue cheese tart (sweet and salty and quite good), a big pot of wild mushroom risotto, and Eustacia made a crisp salad accented with black-eyed peas. Dessert was my chance to trot out the line I've been waiting to utter all year: Today's the day I can bake my cakes and eat 'em too. Inspired by a theme in the book I made a caramel cake, and just because I felt like it- a chocolate peanut butter tart. Good and gooder. The caramel cake was pretty simple- but something to curl yourself around- sweet gooey comfort. The peanut butter tart, was everything I need in a dessert: crunchy, smooth, sweet, chocolatey, also subtle - considering all the components. Unlike Billy's Peanut Butter Pie it was a thin little number- a half inch layer of chocolate cookie crust, a 1" layer of peanut butter cream and then a thin gloss of choclate ganache to pull it all together. Happy Birthday indeed.

Peanut Butter Tart
1 1/2 c. crushed oreos (about 20)
4 tbsp. melted butter
1 1/2 c. half and half
2 tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3 egg yolks
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. semisweet choc chips
1/2 c. cream
2 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350F. For crust: In bowl combine cookie crumbs and melted butter. Press crumbs onto bottom of a tart pan with a detachable bottom. Bake for about 10 mins. Let cool.
For filling: In a saucepan, combine half and half, flour and salt. Cook over med. heat until simmering, frequently stirring. In a small bowl combine egg yolks, sugar. Gradually whisk hot half and half mixtue into egg mixture. Return egg yolk mix to the saucepan. Cook and mix over med heat until thick and bubbly. Remove. Whisk in peanut butter and vanilla until combined. Pour into crust, spread evenly. Cover and chill for 3 hours.
Ganache: In a saucepan combine chocolate and cream, stir until melted and glossy, add butter pieces and stir until melted in. Spread in a thin layer over peanut butter filling. Chill until ready to serve.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pity Party Table For One

Welcome to my pity party. On the menu -sour grapes and spilt milk. "Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda" is playing on an endless loop. I feel a migraine coming on, and tonight's dinner is definitely at risk. My Fall Pasta article is due tomorrow, but I'm thinking why bother? Does anyone actually read it, let alone try the recipes? Is there anyone out there at all, or am I just a figment of my own imagination? I should "market myself", take advantage of the "new media"; tweet and friend and text, I guess it's the old curmudgeon in me that just thinks that stuff is frivolous and dumb- and not to mention, hard to work out.
Blaming the world is a very easy option and somewhat enjoyable in a bittertart kinda way, but the real truth is obvious. It's me. It's my procrastination and disorganization. It's my way of avoiding the time consuming and hard work. It's my lack of focus. It's my self consciousness. It's my injured sense of"what about me?". Someone with something to really say or offer just pushes through and says it or offers it in the most effective way they know.

Brussels Sprouts and Sausage Pasta
1 lb. brussels sprouts
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. sausages, cut into 1" pieces
1 c. veg stock
1 lb. pasta
salt and pepper
crushed red pepper, optional

Rinse and dry brussels sprouts, cut larger sprouts in half- steam or boil until they're bright green. In the meantime: heat olive oil in a skillet and cook garlic for a minute or until fragrant add sausages and brown (5-8 mins). Add steamed brussels sprouts to the pan and saute for 2-3 minutes, pour in vegetable stock and lower heat and cover for 5 minutes and half of the liquid is evaporated. While Sausage- Brussel Sprout combo is cooking, boil pasta 'til slightly al dente. Drain and toss with the pan's contents. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add red pepper for a spicy touch if desired.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Of course I had to get one in before the New Year. The past few weeks have been a whirligig of activity. When I last left off I was in the sweet and buttery throes of Cake Party prep. The Party, which feels like a million Saturdays ago, was well attended, and I took the lack of leftovers as a good sign. I made an Upside Down Caramel Peach Pecan cake, which was really great looking- but I did not taste. "Whipped Key Lime Pie In the Rye" was the Summer's greatest hit, I loved it for it's cool and tart mouth. The Chocolate Tart was rich and decadent and unapologetically darkly chocolate. How could it not be amazing when I was using Lindt chocolate? The thing could practically bake itself after all that beautiful chocolate. Since I am a little obsessed with my morning lattes I decided on a Cafe Latte Cheesecake. It was really fun to make, for the "foam"on top of the dense, rich and creamy espress layer I doubled the white frosting I used in the Coconut Layer Cake. It was made with fresh whipped cream, sour cream, vanilla, and of course, sugar- light, fluffy, and a delightful finale. This frosting took on a different character when combined with dried coconut flakes and lushly spread on and in between 3 golden layers of cake. The simple Buttermilk Pound Cake, was Hub's favorite , I gotta give the guy credit, he goes in for simple and pure beauty. It couldn't be easier to make. I used all great quality fresh ingredients; buttermilk, butter, vanilla. The taste was so comforting and sweet and simple, kind of like a Homecoming Queen hiding behind a Plain Jane exterior. Dressed up with a little whipped cream, and tarted up a bit with red strawberries and raspberries- it drew some attention, and was well appreciated. However it was at a disadvantage because it was placed next to a towering Chocolate Layer Cake- that was rescued from deformity by my Mother's spectacular garnishing skills. Of course there had to be something for Munch, it being his 3rd birthday and all. For weeks prior I had him so excited about the Monkey Cupcakes I was going to make, they came out as good as the magazine picture, and bingo! required no artificial coloring. The cupcake was buttermilk banana, but it was neither banana-ny nor fluffy enough. It was saved by the chocolate ganache frosting- but the kids didn't seem to even get beyond the nutter butters and M&M's and 'Nilla Wafers that made up the monkeyface. To round things out I made a tray of shot glass ButterScotchRum Puddings .

With the Cake Party behind me I could focus on my newspaper articles; One, a New Year's menu. The other After-School Snacks Ideas. I decided the theme of the New Year's piece would be how your year should be like a good meal. There was a recipe for a fresh, fruity, sweet, sour, ripe Grilled Fig Salad with a Honey Vinaigrette. And then sweet and sour Pomegranate Barbecue Chicken with Israeli Couscous. The meal ended on an uncompromisingly sweet note with a Greek Honey Cake; the addition of orange extract and rind added an element of brightness to it all. For the After-School Snacks I included the Honey Peanut Butter Cookie recipe, and Apple Oatmeal Muffin to acknowledge that brisk Fall will be here soon. And then a Yogurt Ranch Dip.

We went camping in The Adirondacks for Labor Day weekend, nothing much to say about the cuisinary aspect of the trip- although the pizza and pasta we had for dinner in town was pretty good, especially after a few days of hiking, outdoor adventure, and generally roughing it. We got back just in time for bed, bath, and beyond (Laundry). School began today, and tomorrow is Rosh Hashana Eve. I've been spared from heavy kitchen labor, we're going to Hub's cousin's family. I can't very well go empty handed, so I made a Caramel Cake, a Chocolate Tart (January post), and an Oreo Pudding for the kiddles.
Also due tomorrow is a Dairy-Free Flourless Chocolate Cake with a Chocolate Glaze I was commissioned to make by a neighbor. I had fun with it, and I think it's worth the $40 she's paying me for it.

After New Year I have a whole new crop of projects and commitments. First off: a piece Autumn Pasta dishes. Next Book Club, the menu will have an Autumnal in the South slant, as we read The Help and it will be held during the fall festival of Succot. I am planning to try out a new truffle flavor as well, maybe the Ladies will be my testers?

I always appreciate how Back-to-School and Rosh Hashana are close together, both symbolize fresh starts- where time stretches before you and there is hope that great things will fill it. Have a full and happy new year.