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I Made Another Cake

It was TWELVE LAYERS. I’ll spare you knowledge of exactly how many pounds of butter, cups of sugar, and dozens (yes) of eggs I went through to make this sucker. (Hint: more than any other cake I can recall making, except maybe my wedding cake. Which was for many more people.)

Yellow Sponge Cake Chocolate Soufflé

Yellow Sponge Cake.
Mocha Buttercream.
Hazelnut Meringue.
Coffee Buttercream.
Chocolate Soufflé Cake.
Mocha Buttercream.
Repeat.
Shave Good Dark Chocolate on top.
Serve.

What can I say? It was my birthday. I went overboard.*

Close up.
Finished Cake

I made a whole bunch of other food too. I know you’re interested, because you love food as much as I do (don’t you? Isn’t that why you’re here?) so here’s a round up of the party menu. I decided to keep it classy with fancy, bite-sized apps and none of the usual chip-and-dip business. Also, I attempted to maintain a balance of hot and cold things and to make sure my vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free/kosher friends all had options. Here’s what I made, in no particular order:

  • Bacon-Wrapped Dates (hot) – a time-tested standby, it is hard to go wrong with these. Plus, Julia and I had them on our first date, and so they are special. Plus, you know, really freakin’ tasty.
  • Caprese Skewers (cold, vegetarian) – my play on the classic Italian salad. I put a cherry tomato, a small basil leaf, and one of those tiny (3/4″ diameter or so) mozzarella balls from the deli onto each stick, arranged them on a plate, and then drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • Brie with Apricot Preserves & Almonds (hot, vegetarian) –  I make this a lot at parties because it is quick and easy but also fancy and delicious. All you do is top a wedge of brie with a few spoonfuls of preserves, warm it for about a minute in the microwave, sprinkle it with nuts, and serve with crackers. The amount of effort involved is nearly zero, and compared to the usual grabbing of chips & dip on the way to the potluck… WIN. Seriously, do this instead.
  • Chilled Cucumber & Dill Soup (cold, vegetarian, gluten-free) – This was a new recipe I tried. I tasted it while I was cooking it, and truthfully, I liked it better warm. Still, it was pretty good. I served it in 1oz shot glasses. FYI, I subbed vegetable stock for the chicken called for in the recipe to keep it as a meat-free option.
  • Red Wine Poached Figs (hot, vegan, gluten-free) – Holy crap, these were good. Unfortunately, they came out of the oven right after we decided to bust out the cake, so they were largely overlooked by the guests. Too bad for them. If you like figs, you should make these sometime. Soon, because as I mentioned, they are almost out of season.
  • Cucumber Chickpea Bruschetta (cold, vegan, gluten-free) – We made these once before, at our vegan/gluten-free dinner party, and they were as good as we remembered. Yum.
  • Shrimp Cocktail (cold) – Let’s just say we started with two pounds of shrimp and leave it at that.
  • Lemon-Parsley Gougeres – I’ve been wanting to make these for a while. Glad I finally got around to it – they were heavenly little flaky pastry puffs with a zesty lemon bite. They did not last long.

Of course, there was also wine a plenty along with champagne and some non-alcoholic punch, which turned out to be so good that I ended up drinking quite a bit of it.

In summary: delicious food + wine + the most excellent people = one awesome 30th birthday!

*I spent the better part of my actual birthday on Saturday prepping for this party. There were spreadsheets involved. Because, you know, I needed a schedule and a list of prep times and to make sure I had enough vegetarian, gluten-free, & kid-friendly things as well as a balance of hot & cold; sweet & savory. And also I just like spreadsheets. Yeah, I’m a major geek. But you knew that.

Tru

Hi friends! Today we have a special treat. Perhaps you remember the other day, when I was babysitting so Keely and her husband P.J. could go out for a fancy birthday dinner? Maybe you recall that they went to Tru? Which I have heard nothing but lovely things about and desperately want to check out? (As soon as I win the lottery…?)

Well. Keely is taking a break from her lollygagging today to tell us about all the lovely things they ate. Please go get a napkin or something to catch the impending drool, and then read on.

The other night, I had the completely overwhelming thrill of dining at Tru. (For the second time, mind you. The whelm has not yet ceased.)
We do not often indulge in four hundred dollar meals – not on a Sunday, at least. However we were in the possession of – as we also were when we last dined there – a few American Express gift cards racked up from copious overspending at places like Cermak Produce and Target. (My husband P.J. and I have decided that this is the best use of our AmEx points, as airline travel remains too pricey and I already own more Hammacher Schlemmer than anyone really needs.)
Plus, it was my birthday. And nothing says the big 3-1 like dining at one of the nation’s top restaurants. 
We were seated at 8pm and, for the parents of a toddler, felt very grown up indeed. We were immediately presented with our choice of napkin. (That’s right, a color choice. From a tray.) Even though this wasn’t my first rodeo, I choked and chose a white napkin. Even though my dress was black. Thankfully, no fibers embarrassed me.
I treated myself to a glass of absolutely stellar Riesling (did I mention that I’m five months and change pregnant? Judge not. For it really was a good glass of wine). P.J. had the same. At this point we were simply stoked to be sitting at a quiet table and not dicing anyone’s food.
And then they brought us each a fluffy little puff of baked cheese. Just ‘cause. And it was good.
Moments later we were presented with an amuse-bouche (literally translated to: say that with a straight face) of cucumber lemongrass gelee with a decadent soup surrounding it. [Cindy’s Note: actually it literally means “amuse the mouth” and is intended to be a pre-meal palate tease of the snooty French variety.] I love to start my supper with a shot glass- always have. Also, “cucumber” was the word of the day at Tru. (When I informed my sister of this, she asked if I had to yell every time something was brought over, a la Pee Wee’s Playhouse. No.)
Then the bread course! We had our choice between pumpernickel, challah, something really puffy (I’m such a stickler for details) and asiago flatbreads. So we took one of each. Here’s an example of how good the bread was: when we had finished our various carbs, P.J. began picking up crumbs from the tablecloth, one by one. I reminded him that the servers carried table scrapers for that express purpose. He held up a breadcrumb and told me that he wanted to put them in his pocket. 
We decided on the three course prix fixe option (and my menu even had ‘Happy Birthday, Keely’ artfully faded behind that evening’s selections). [Cindy’s Note: True story. I saw it. It was lovely. And I said hey should have asked the chef to autograph it.] Here is what I chose: duck confit and foie gras ravioli in some sort of awesomesauce reduction, Maine lobster with madras curry and roasted cauliflower, and a passion fruit mousse with lime, coconut, and dark chocolate. And here is what P.J. ordered: bay scallops on organic polenta with truffles and bacon, the prime beef ribeye with foie gras and wild mushrooms, and an apple beignet with vanilla ice cream.
I realize we had more than our fair share of foie gras. I have guilt over this. I do. Not a lot, but enough.
The appetizers were really, really good. We didn’t speak a word until they were finished, other than, “Oh, did you want a bite?”
My lobster came on a plate with built-in waves. (I really dig that kind of synchronicity.) The roasted cauliflower came on a bed of pureed cauliflower- and while I’m not usually a huge puree kinda gal (again, we have a little kid and she’s the captain of that ship), I wanted to suck it down with a straw. P.J.’s prime rib and foie gras were incredibly tender, but the surprise standout of that meal was the whipped pudding-like potato with curls of saffron. He said it was the ultimate comfort food times a thousand. I said it felt like my mouth was getting a hug. 
At the end of the first two courses, we were given a teensy cup of cucumber (ah!!!) foam with vanilla and most likely eight other pivotal ingredients that enhanced the cuke. But all I could remember to type is cucumber and vanilla. (I am not their target demographic.) 
Then the mousse came. And it was…exactly as awesome as you’d expect something with those ingredients to be. P.J.’s beignet was light as air, covered a slice of tart green apple, and accompanied by a dish of churned vanilla bean ice cream. We were happy campers.
Then they surprised me with the cutest and bitsiest individual confetti cake I’d ever seen, with a birthday frosting greeting swirled on the plate. (And I never know what to do with the dessert-y words. It seems wrong to mash it up, but it’s downright sinful to leave anything on a dessert plate. So I licked it. Kidding. Kind of.)
And of course, once we had finished our individual bites of heaven, a cart appeared at our table. We were offered little plates of truffles, bon bons and tiny pastel pastries – as many as we wanted. (They SAID.) I chose a rose petal macaroon, a blackberry jam truffle, and a dollop of light lemon meringue custard in a dark chocolate shell. P.J. chose the same, minus the rose, plus a small rum cake. (I called him an old man. But to be fair, it was really good. Obviously.) I think our favorite were the lemon ones, but we certainly weren’t going to kick the other ones off the table anytime soon.
We enjoyed these with a fruity sunset tea and a cappuccino, respectively, and marveled at how much we were able to put away. Also how long we were able to sit nicely at a table without running around the kitchen for various things. 
Our meal ended with a last truffle apiece – dark chocolate with gold leaf, filled with a chilled bitter almond cream. [Cindy’s Note: It’s entirely unfair that I have to read about this concoction without having one available to me for the eating. Someone please remedy this, STAT.] We were advised to take it in one bite, or it would explode into a puddle of uselessness. (My words, not his.) However, despite how gently I [thought I] picked it up, mine cracked and threatened to spill all over the table, my teacup, and my pregnant belly. So I did what any rational diner would do: I shoved it into my mouth and immediately drank the filling from the saucer. And stole P.J.’s spoon to slurp up the rest from the truffle plate. Graceful.
As we exited Tru, we were each handed a small cherry sponge cake wrapped in foil for a take home treat.
I love this place.
I also love the two married ladies who pinch hit babysat for our kiddo that evening and facilitated one of the best meals I’ll ever consume. What say we meet up there for the next big decadent event? [Cindy’s Note: YES!]
Just lemme score some more AmEx points, first. [Cindy’s Note: See above, re: lottery winning.]
 
Thanks Keely! People, if you enjoyed this post, you will LOVE hearing from Keely three(ish) times a week over at the Lollygag Blog. So please go visit and then come back here. Preferably bearing truffles.

On Sundays We Have Breakfast Together

Confession: I’ve been totally spoiled for the past year or so with togetherness. Since Julia and I both started new jobs last spring, we have had all of our evenings together and the better part of the daytime on the weekends too. Arguably, we were spending *too* much time together, and we could have used a little more apart.

But then, Julia added a regular show to her schedule, putting her at work Wednesday-Friday evenings and most of the daytime plus evenings on Saturdays and Sundays. I’ve continued my Monday-Friday regular(ish) work hours. Which has left us with precious little time together in the past couple of months. For a while, she’d get home after I was in bed and I’d leave before she woke up and the only time we’d really see each other was on Sunday nights (and maybe Monday or Tuesday night if she wasn’t working on costume design for yet another show…). Finally, the kids’ show ended, and so the past few weekends we’ve been able to have breakfast together and hang out for a bit before she has to head out to work.

Maybe I haven’t mentioned this before, but I love to make breakfast. The list of things I am good at cooking goes like this:

Cake (& other desserts)
Breakfast
Bread
Everything Else

And since we are trying to eat better, I am not making many cakes these days. (But if you have a birthday coming up, you should really tell me your favorite flavor because I barely need an excuse.)

So… with our new schedule, which will thankfully be done at the beginning of June, I’ve been making nicer breakfasts on our weekend mornings than usual. Yesterday, we had buckwheat pancakes (from a mix I picked up in the organic/hippie/gluten-free section of the big box grocery store) and they were pretty good. The first few bites were very whole-grainy, and inexplicably I was not expecting that. (What? I’d never had buckwheat before.) But once I accepted that, they were rather tasty.

And this morning I made some French toast from a loaf of crusty bread, bacon, and really good scramble eggs. I didn’t take any pictures but I’m gonna share a couple recipes with you, in case you like these foods. (And if you are a bacon lover, you should get yourself over to Bacon du Jour immediately.)

Challah French Toast
challah – 1/2 loaf will totally stuff 2-3 people; a whole loaf will make 4-6 people pretty happy
eggs – 3-4 for half a loaf, another 2-3 for the whole loaf; depends on how egg-y you like it
a tablespoon of creme fraiche or Greek yogurt or heavy cream
a teaspoon or so of honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dash of cinnamon (optional)

1. Preheat griddle to 350 degrees or grill pan to about halfway between medium and medium-high.

2. Cut challah into 1″ thick slices.

3. In a large bowl, beat eggs, creme fraiche/yogurt/cream, honey, vanilla, and cinnamon. It’s helpful to use a wider, shallower bowl if you have it.

4. Dip the challah into the egg mixture, turning it over so that it’s completely coated. (If you like your French toast really egg-y, let it sit in the bowl for a second or two on each side.)

5. Put the challah on the griddle. Flip it over when the bottom side is lightly browned (1-2 minutes): cook for an additional 1-2 minutes until the other side is golden too.

6. Serve with butter and pure maple syrup or with freshly whipped cream and berries. [Or whatever else you like.] Be warned that it’s already fairly sweet from the honey, so you’ll want to avoid a heavy hand with any sweet toppings.

Really Good Scrambled Eggs
3 eggs
1 tablespoon butter
spoonful of creme fraiche or Greek yogurt
salt & pepper, to taste
fresh herbs (optional)

So here is a different way to make scrambled eggs, which results in moist, fluffy, creamy egg deliciousness. I learned it on the internet from a YouTube video, so please don’t give me credit. In fact, you should just go watch it here.

1. Use a medium sauce pot (yeah, NOT a skillet) over medium-high heat. Crack the eggs in and add the butter.

2. Stirring constantly, you’re going to move it on and off the heat every 30 seconds or so for 2-3 minutes. At this point the eggs will be starting to form scrambled clumps, but still a bit runny.

3. With the pot off the heat, add the creme fraiche or yogurt and keep stirring. The eggs will continue to cook. Add in the salt and pepper, plus fresh herbs if you like. (I often use parsley because it’s almost always on hand; chives, basil, and/or oregano are also lovely.)

Now that we’ve eaten, I’m off to work on some house cleaning and sewing. (Yes, I am SO domestic.)

Happy Sunday.