A Tale of Two Birthday Cakes: Red Velvet and Carrot

I’ve been on a baking kick lately.  Unfortunately, baking anything beyond Tollhouse cookies requires most of the day for grocery shopping, set up, actual baking time, decorating, and clean up, so it’s a fairly big investment for a busy working girl like me.  But for special occasions I find the time.  This year my father requested a red velvet cake for his birthday and my brother requested carrot cake for his own birthday celebration (aren’t they demanding?!?).  I turned to baking guru and fellow blogger Bakerella for a trusted red velvet cake recipe, and to Rose Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible and Rose’s Heavenly Cakes for my carrot cake recipe.  (My mother in law gave me Divine Ms. Beranbaum’s cookbook for my birthday this year and I was excited to try out my first recipe.)  cakes-4-of-10 Both the red velvet and carrot cakes are considered “oil cakes” (because they use oil as the fat source, making them nice and moist) and were fairly easy to bake.  The tricky part is trying to get them to rise evenly so you can stack the layers and have an even coat of frosting.  cakes-3-of-10

Red velvet, if you haven’t yet experienced it, is heavenly.  What makes red velvet so special? Buttermilk, quality cocoa powder, vinegar (yes truly), and an obscene amount of red food coloring.  The buttermilk and vinegar add a tanginess to the chocolatey cake batter.  I adore baking red velvet treats, even if after eating them my tongue is stained bright red.  Cream cheese frosting is the perfect accompaniment to red velvet cake.  I decorated my cake with a few strawberries and some shredded dried coconut for a little extra flair.  Birthday boy happily blew out his candles and then we sliced into this decadent beast with wild abandon.  cakes-1-of-10 [Read more…]

Almost Summer: Memorial Day BBQ

Memorial Day always feels like the first day of summer, though summer is still technically a month away.  In recent years we spent the three-day weekend in Arrowhead but this year Big N and I decided to throw a BBQ pool party at the house.  I haven’t been jazzed to spend much time in the kitchen since I’ve been consumed with being pregnant of late, but throwing a barbecue seemed like the perfect motivation to ring in warmer weather with family, friends, and our Grand Turbo grill.  We pulled out all the stops by heating the pool and setting up tables for dining al fresco.

I spent Saturday and all day Sunday cooking for our 20+ expected guests.  My menu showcased barbecue favorites such as tri-tip (made with my secret dry rub) and pulled pork sandwiches topped with tangy cole slaw, along with spicy molasses baked beans (from scratch, no Bush’s here), twice baked potatoes, asparagus with red wine caper vinaigrette, and curried deviled eggs.  Though my guests praised the tastiness of these classics, the favorites of the party were my desserts: sweet bing cherry pie served ala mode with homemade toasted almond ice cream, and my blueberry/raspberry cheesecake tart. 

This was the first time in my history of entertaining that everything I made was completely consumed.  Normally I make enough to feed a small kibbutz and count on having leftovers.  What I didn’t expect was that my guests would return for seconds and thirds until every serving dish was picked clean.  High praise indeed.  While my food was certainly well-received and I felt gratified despite my sore feet by the end of the day, the true hit of the party was the cutest guest, my 9-month old nephew Daniel.  Daniel spent most of the party giggling on cue as he took turns bouncing on the knees of various attendees. memorial-day-bbq-19-of-23

The weather cooperated, the music created a jovial mood, the kids enjoyed splashing around in the pool, and my food came out as planned.  I couldn’t ask for a better day, though in the end I was happy I had the foresight to plan the barbecue on Sunday.  Big N and I spent the actual Memorial holiday giving thanks to our soldiers who fought for our freedom and giving thanks that we had a day to recuperate.

Something Sweet: Pear Pate de Fruit

Petit fours. Yum.  You know them: the little treats the waiter brings you after dinner, even after dessert, that accompany your check in a restaurant that boasts a good pastry chef.  Sometimes chocolate truffles, sometimes little cakes, and if you’re really lucky, a pate de fruit (fruit jelly).  These single-bite morsels bursting with sweet fruity goodness are de-vine.

pate-de-fruit-6-of-6 For the holidays Big N received a beautiful box of Royal Riviera pears from Harry & David.  I had no idea where they came from, and I had no idea what to do with a dozen pears.  Then I remembered when searching for macaron recipes that Tartelette did a macaron with pate de fruit centers, she’s an industrious one.  I thought, of course, pear pate de fruit.  How exciting, and not too difficult to pull off. 

Four hours later I was rolling my scrumptious gelees into sugar and popping square after square in my mouth until sugar coma levels hit the red zone.  These little goodies are so dangerous, I brought the rest into work and made Big N take some to his office as well. 

Try it yourself, they’re very fun to make: Pear Pate de Fruit Recipe.  I give you permission to be daring and experiment with other fruit purees.  I intend to try pomegranate next.  Tart, sweet, yummy.