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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.

Things We Have Eaten Lately

I’m trying to come back friends. Really hard. I’m finding myself at a loss for words (shocking, I know) when it comes to these posts, and maybe it’s just because I’m busy and burnt out, or maybe I’m not sure where this blog is going, but I’m gonna try to just write and see what happens. As always, your comments are appreciated! I can take constructive criticism, for real. Tell me what you most enjoy reading about. (You’re only here for the food, aren’t you? That’s ok.)

So, because it’s been a while since any food was featured, here’s a roundup of some of the things we’ve consumed recently:

Three-Bean Salad with Gouda (vegetarian) – I LOVED this dish. Julia was not a huge fan, but I think that was mostly because I bought smoked gouda and she does not enjoy smoked cheeses as a rule. Too bad for her. I love them.

Ghetto dinner. Ok, this is no high-class meal, but sometimes? You just have to pick up whatever you can eat as soon as you get it home. So. Salad. Chicken. Forks. Wine. DONE.

Oh – you may remember me mentioning how awesome my wife is? And that on my vacation, she totally pampered me food-wise, even though she was NOT on vacation? She made a whole menu of really nice meals, mostly from a Spanish cookbook we have, and let me pretend like I was in a fancy restaurant, where I didn’t have to cook or clean up! And she was all sweet about it, like it was no big deal for her to spend several hours cooking every night for me while I sat on my butt and did nothing. I love her. (Duh.) Here are some of the things she made for me:

Grilled Basa with Chickpea Salad – Julia says she put too much garlic in it (as you do, because the amount of garlic in every recipe should always be doubled. You do that, right?), but I thought it was awesomely garlicky. Then she made this lovely little bean salad with chickpeas, tomato, cilantro, and red onion. I wasn’t expecting it to be a cold salad, and it was really refreshing. Also just as good warmed up the next day.

Potato, Spinach, and Pine Nut Gratin – I’m sure you can guess that this was delicious. I don’t think I need to say anything more about it. By the way, that little salad? Mixed greens with tomatoes, nothing fancy, but the trick is that instead of our usual dressing, she drizzled it with olive oil and cracked a bit of fresh pepper on it. So simple, so good.

And then? Then there was the night she took a couple sea basses, wrapped them in Serrano ham, and stuffed them with more of the ham and garlic. Crisp, salty ham around tender bites of flaky fish? Holy crap, that was yummy. And I haven’t even told you about the vegetables. They were stir-fried with a sesame sauce and amazing on their own. Five star meal.

Oh, and I almost forgot – it was followed by dessert. To be fair, I actually made it, because, you know, I am the dessert-maker. I know what’s what when it comes to custard. (Ask Keely about those Napoleons I made her that one time. Or anyone who ate the top layer of our wedding cake.) Anyway, I digress as usual, I made Crema Fritta. Literally it translates to fried cream. But essentially, it’s custard (think flan or crème bruleé, minus the bruleé), and then it’s battered and fried. And drowned in blackberry sauce, and topped with whole berries. It was SO. GOOD. Not the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, but really really tasty.

And I’ll leave you with that to drool over.

Sprout!

– OR – 
An Appropriate Day* on Which to Remember This Blog Exists
(and Therefore Write Something)

So. It has come to my attention multiple times and from multiple sources this week that, oh yeah, this blog exists. And also? I’ve written nothing in it since October. I could give you excuses, but who cares? The point is, here we are, and I have some food to share with you. And I’m thinking, in the future, I will be sharing other things that I make. Like, clothes and stuff. And maybe some posts just about life, where no stuff is even made at all. [Travesty!] Plus, I don’t believe in guilt.
Five years ago, my hair was short and long enough to be an appropriate length for a Louis XIV-era pageboy. Which is what I was dressed as for schlepping the scenery around Remy Bumppo’s production of Power. Julia had worked on their previous show, and so she decided to come to the opening night to support her friends in the production. At the party which followed the performance that night, our eyes met across the crowd, and we’ve basically been inseparable ever since.**
Anyway…. Julia surprised me with a super fancy dinner at Dale Levitski’s (of Top Chef fame) restaurant, Sprout. Which was AWESOME. Their deal is you get your choice of dishes for an appetizer, entree, and dessert course, and the chef decides on a soup/salad and cheese course for you. Total of five courses, if you’re counting. They also have a wine pairing option, and I have to say – it was phenomenal. I don’t remember exactly what I drank, but I do remember that the food made the wine taste better and vice versa. Here’s the rundown:
To start off, we were presented with a delicious baguette and white bean butter. It was reminiscent of hummus and rather tasty.
For the first course, I had smoked duck breast with foie gras foam, cornbread, and sour cherry sauce served with greens, cucumber, and pickled ramps. Overall, it was excellent, though I did not really care for the foam. It was very… foamy… and not very foie gras-y. Julia had a seared scallop with salmon, pineapple, soy beans and mixed greens. The bite I stole was fantastic.

   

As you can tell, we enjoyed it, because we both cleaned our plates before it occurred to me that I wanted to take a picture.

Before I tell you about the second course, there’s something you should know about me: I HATE PICKLES. Hate, hate, hate them… a LOT. [Except for that one time a few months ago when I was suddenly craving pickles and so I ate about 5 of them and they were really good. And before you ask – no, I wasn’t pregnant.] You can ask my wife, my sister, my best friend, or anyone else who knows me well, and they will tell you that whenever I’m served something that comes with pickles… I am offering it to them for eating. Because I will not have that.
So, the second course was a soup (Chef’s choice) – a play on Borscht, with a twist – instead of the customary red beets, they used golden beets and it was topped with…

 
a pickled pickle!

Well, guess what, friends? I ate that pickled pickle and it was delicious. The soup itself was also wonderful, and I am pretty sure I said something to the effect of, “I may like this better than the really awesome duck I just ate.”
Oh, but then there was this:

That’s rabbit with truffle gnocchi, pistachios, peas, a super-thin sliver of cheese (something hard, maybe Parmesan?) and arugula over some kind of wonderful, creamy sauce. It was rich and wonderful, and I couldn’t stop eating it. Except that I had to take a break about halfway through because it was also quite filling. I wondered if I’d be able to finish it all. And then I contemplated – out loud – the possibility that I might not have room for dessert. Um…. what?? That is unheard of.
While I was having these dilemmas, Julia was enjoying a seaweed and mussel dish with beef sashimi and sesame broth. As he poured the steaming sesame-chili broth into the bowl, our delightful waiter informed us that the reason it was poured table side was so that it would cook the beef ever-so-slightly as it sat in front of us. Neat. Julia thought the dish was amazing.
Next we had the other Chef’s choice, a cheese course. I was expecting a small assortment of exotic cheeses, but what came out was the fanciest grilled cheese I’ve ever seen. It was made with an organic, aged Cheddar from Canada, coupled with apple slices and caramelized onions. Next to it on the plate was a bit of raisin-mustard to spread on it. I failed to take a picture, but despite my full belly, I finished it in short order.
And then, it was on to dessert. (Now, remember earlier, how I was so full I thought I wouldn’t have room? I definitely didn’t. But that didn’t stop me from trying.) Lately I have been eyeing the rhubarb as it’s started to show up in the grocery stores, so when I saw it paired with strawberries and goat cheese gelato in the dessert choices, I had to have it. In case you weren’t paying attention, I just said goat cheese gelato. Wow. It was a giant plate of yummy.
Which I COULD NOT FINISH. Because I was TOO FULL.

Luckily, Julia was there, and after she finished her dessert, she took care of mine too.*** And by the way – she has a serious aversion to goat cheese. So she really took one for the team this time.

Lillet. It was very good, but more citrus-y than I like my desserts.
After we finished our dessert, the waiter came back – and not with the check! Instead, he was carrying two glasses of champagne, on the house, to help us celebrate five years together. Which, he declared, was a really, really long time in gay years, and therefore worthy of their best bubbles.

– The End –
(of the first five years)
Oh, wait! I almost forgot: once the meal was over, we headed to a theatre because Julia had some costume fittings to do for an upcoming show. It just so happened to be the very theatre whose lobby we’d met in five years prior. So, we had a chance to revisit the night we meant in a very literal sense, and Julia snuck in a card, some chocolate mousse truffle things (which I was still too full to eat) and a strawberry plant. Because a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I saw them outside the grocery store and almost bought them because I desperately want to grow berries and veggies, but didn’t because we only have a porch, not a yard, but then after that, the parents of the girl I nanny offered their yard up for anything I felt like growing… so it was really sweet. 
Here are some really terrible cell phone camera pictures of us attempting to look cute in said theatre lobby:

*well, it would have been appropriate if I had actually written or posted this on that day. But I digress…

**yeah, so there was that whole thing where Julia dated another girl for two months while I pursued her relentlessly, but eventually she realized she felt the same way about me as I did about her, and that’s what really matters. [If you want the full story, ask and I will write a post about it for you.]

***Because that’s what married people do – take care of each other(‘s unfinished food.)

farmers’ market inspiration

On Sunday afternoon, we made our first trip ever to the Glenwood Sunday Market, the weekly farmers’ market here in Rogers Park. Yes, we’ve lived here for two years already, and never been. Bad us. But, give us a little credit for finally getting our butts in gear.

We headed over intending to buy some produce for a nice, meatless dinner. However, as we arrived fairly late in the day, most of the veggies and all of the fruits had already been purchased. Which was sad. But – we did get a nice little bunch of garlic scapes. And we discovered a few different vendors selling local, grass-fed meat. We have some ideas in the works for later this week with that stuff, but tonight we bring you our inspired, veggie dish:


Seasoning and Grilling the Tomatoes


Dinner is served: Pan-Grilled Tomato and Feta Salad with Lemon-Parsley-Garlic Scape Dressing and Green Beans… (Click for recipe)

…accompanied by Fried Chickpea Patties – which, for the record, were much tastier than they appear. (Cindy’s creation)

We also plotted a quick and delicious dessert – some fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream!

Whipped Cream  – Cindy’s recipe, everything is approximate/to taste: Whip 2 cups heavy cream, 2 tablespoons sugar (your choice granulated or powdered; I prefer granulated), and 1-2 teaspoons vanilla in a standing mixer with whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Swipe a fingerful and make sure it’s good before feeding to others!


(How to eat fresh strawberries and whipped cream – straight from the bowl.)

here come the brides


First, we got married. In Chicago. [July 5, 2010]

And held our simple, but lovely reception at RoPa Restaurant, where they served our guests a 3-course family-style meal, with plenty of wine to share…

Fried Calamari, RoPa Salad, Chicken “Chops” with roasted potatoes, Baked Tilapia with roasted tomatoes and seasonal vegetables, Penne with artichokes, olives, and feta in a creamy tomato sauce

…and where we also ate this magnificent cake (made and accidentally squished by Cindy)

Top tier: vanilla almond cake with fresh summer berries and pastry cream
Middle tier: devil’s food cake with dark chocolate-espresso whipped cream
Bottom tier: pumpkin cake with ginger buttercream


Then we got married again. Legally. In Boston. [July 19, 2010]

Naturally, we ate again!

This time, we chose to splurge on a little French restaurant, Bistro du Midi, where for the first time we ate somewhere where professional chefs and true “foodies” would love the food just as much as we did.  We started out with a bottle of champagne (compliments of the restaurant – we did just get married, after all!), then had some appetizers of mussels, foie gras, and salad.  After much deliberation on the choice of wine, we were finally on to our main courses…


Seared Duck Breast, Swiss Chard, Gnocchi, Black Olives


Grilled Rack of Lamb, Panisse Croquette, Green Olives and Fava Beans


And our friend Rosita had a Ribeye special with Cremini, Chantarelle, and Portobello Mushrooms

…and also some desserts, which we scarfed down so fast we completely failed to photograph them. Cindy had Rhubarb Rose Crumble with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, and Julia had a Lemon Tart with Fresh Berries and Basil Ice Cream. Both were amazing. (Hence, the lack of pictures due to complete focus on eating.)

But this blog is just as much about our cooking adventures as our eating-out adventures.  In fact, so far this year we have eaten out more rarely than ever before, since our tastes have made us much more discriminating.  Plus, we love to cook, and have become pretty good at it, too.

So now that our wedding and mini-honeymoon are over, there are daily occasions to cook and eat great food.

And so begins our journey.