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Happy Thanksgiving!

Prepped Turkey

Let's cook this turkey.

Yeah, I just started a post with a big picture of raw meat. (Have I lost any readers? I hope not.) Look, today is the day before Thanksgiving. I have two related points on the agenda, so I won’t waste anymore of your holiday weekend time rambling.

1. This is cliché, but… today we are thankful for all the wonderful people in our lives, including you, who have supported the launch of our little business over the past year. It’s a really exciting (busy, stressful, crazy) time for us, and we’d be lying if we said we could do it without a little help from our friends. Your continued encouragement means a lot to us, and every time you tell someone about us or pass along our business cards, you are building our business with us. And that really rocks. So, thank you friends, family, colleagues, and strangers.

To those of you who are or have been our clients – you are seriously awesome and we want to be your friends forever. So please feel free to email us and let us know what you’re up to, how your honeymoon was, where you’re wearing the clothes we made for you, and obviously tell us what you’ve been eating since we saw you. We miss you, for real.

2. Here are some hints for making your Thanksgiving food extra awesome:

Turkey: See above, and cut slits in the bird’s skin. Stick your finger in, loosen it up, and shove some flavor in there. We do rosemary and garlic and it makes for some truly excellent turkey.

Mashed potatoes: Use real cream instead of milk, and put some rosemary in those too. And also – red potatoes are the way to go, keep the skins on, they are delish.

Pumpkin Pie: Use a real pumpkin, not a can. A pie pumpkin. Cut it, puree it, OMG yum. Also – for an easy yet superior pie crust, make a graham cracker crust, but instead of graham crackers use gingersnaps. And then you need real whipped cream on top. As in, buy cream and then whip it, and since you’re doing that, add a splash of brandy to the cream. You’re welcome.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Price vs. Value

Sunday was Julia’s birthday. I was on my way back in town from a nanny conference (and awesome dinner with APW twitter friend Sarah, yay!) in DC and stopped at our favorite grocery store on the way home so I could cook something nice for a celebratory dinner. I made this Salmon with Roasted Fennel and Lemon Vinaigrette, a perennial favorite of ours. Now, I could get into a lengthy discussion of the difference between a good price and a good value, but I think you’ll get my point when I say this:

GET THE WILD ALASKAN KING SALMON!

(Even though it is, yes, more than twice as expensive as the salmon we usually buy. And it totally caused us to screw our food budget for the month before it was even a week over. I spent $37 for 4 servings and I would do it again in a heartbeat.§*)

Image courtesy of Real Simple. Sadly, this is not a photo of the beautiful piece of salmon I purchased.

IT WAS SO WORTH IT.

And while we’re on the topic of salmon, I should really tell you about the dish I had at that dinner with Sarah – because it was also salmon. Yeah, I totally ate it two nights in a row and it was awesome. Because, what is not awesome about a glorious piece of buttery pink salmon, topped with crushed toasted pumpkin seeds, sitting on a perfectly-cooked pile of green beans, nestled in roasted pumpkin and squash, all enveloped in a pumpkin-butter sauce? That’s right, pretty much nothing is better than that. Thank you, Clyde’s of Columbia (Maryland), for an excellent gustatory experience.

§AKA next Tuesday, when I’m doing the weekly shopping, because salmon is ALWAYS on the menu.
*For the record, at $13.99/lb this is actually an excellent price for salmon in the midwest, period. and still better than the big chain stores. It’s just that we usually buy the other kind, which is only $7.99/lb.

Pumpkin and Mocha and Berries, Oh My!

[Photos without a credit in this post were taken by Lindsay Pour, otherwise known as the most awesome best friend a person could have. Credited photos, as noted, are by Timmy Samuels/Starbelly Studios, who shot our wedding fantastically and for a ridiculously reasonable price.]

First up in our crafty wedding DIY madness posts is something we can all appreciate:* CAKE.

You may think I am crazy for having made my own wedding cake, but I promise you I’m not. Well, I guess it’s debatable, but given how much I like to bake and my history of making really yummy cakes and the price of cake when you buy them from a bakery (starting at $6/slice, really?!) compared to the price of me making it ($100ish, including the pans) it just made sense. And, as you know, we are practical people. (Also? Theatre people, and therefore, pretty much perpetually broke.)

Now, lest you think we dove into this baking adventure mere days before our wedding, I should remind you, we are stage managers. So we’re good at planning and rehearsal. It so happened that about six months before our wedding I was putting together an opening night party for a production of Brecht’s The Wedding. What’s that? You think that sounds like a perfect event for a wedding cake test drive? Exactly. It worked out well, and even made us change our minds about which flavor deserved to be the largest tier.

The whole cake project took place the day before the wedding. With the help of my best friend Lindsay and my younger sister Jeanne, I baked a total of 8 layers for 3 tiers and I went through about a half a dozen eggs and I’m really not exaggerating when I say at least 4 pounds of butter. Seriously, Jeanne had to run to the store to buy more. It was in the name of perfecting the frosting, which was delicious.

While this was happening, Julia was finishing up some details on our dresses, Lindsay was stitching binding on my corset when she wasn’t helping with the cake, and our friend Jay was sitting on our couch composing the little notes that he then attached to the white knots we asked our guests to wear. Busy day, that.

At times, I baked so fast the camera could not catch me.
At other times, my baking frenzy was interrupted for dress fittings. And dancing.
{How to attack a wedding cake.}

Midway through the baking and stacking process, I noticed that the layers for the top tier had risen significantly more than the bottom two tiers, and were going to make it at least an inch taller. I had a near-breakdown about the possibility of uneven tiers (because you CANNOT have uneven layers. It simply will not do.) After leaving the kitchen to go try not to cry about it, I ultimately decided to bake a third layer of the pumpkin and chocolate so that once it was all stacked up it would be uniform.

Smooch Break!

I know you want to drool over all the yumminess, so please allow me to describe the actual cake. (Possibly I am just really proud of myself and I want you to want to eat my cake.) The bottom tier was Pumpkin cake with Ginger Buttercream.

The middle tier was Devil’s Food cake with Mocha Whipped Cream filling.

The top tier was vanilla-almond cake with berries and pastry cream inside.

The frosting covering the outside of the whole cake was my trial-and-error love child of French, Italian, and Swiss style buttercreams with some extra whipped cream added. I decorated it with what is known in the world of Wilton cake decorating magazines from the seventies as Cornelli lace. It’s the little squiggles all over. It takes a LONG. TIME. to do. Then we put some fresh strawberries on top for a splash of color.

The first few squiggles.
Two hours later, I am still making tiny squiggles, while Lindsay adds strawberries on top.

Nearly ten hours after starting, we packed up the cake in a box for the five block car trip to the restaurant where our reception would be.

Accoutrements of our wedding: cake, our rings, and a pile of white knots

I should note that when you make a layered cake like this, you’re supposed to put a couple dowels through all the layers so that they don’t go sliding about. I knew this, and had purchased said dowels. But once it was all stacked up, it seemed really sturdy… so I decided that I didn’t really need to put them in. You know where this is going, right?

Yes, you do. We drove over, carried it into the restaurant’s walk-in fridge, and as I turned to go, the manager asked if I was aware that my cake had fallen over.

I was not.

When I looked inside, I saw that the top two tiers had shifted and the entire cake was now squished up against one side of the box. Now at this point, we were already an hour late to go watch fireworks from a hotel rooftop with our families and the restaurant was about to close. So there was absolutely nothing I could do about it at that point.

Now you might think, given the fiasco of the uneven layers, that I was freaking out. But for reasons I do not understand – maybe because I’d been making cake all day, maybe because my wedding zen magically appeared, I don’t know – I found this to be utterly hysterical. I laughed. Guffawed, even. And then I reached into the box, pushed those top tiers back where they belonged, and walked out the door with a plan to bring icing and tools to fix it in the morning.

It was a plan that totally would have worked. In fact, as the hours went by, I even made it better. How cool would it be, I thought, if instead of fixing it first thing in the morning, we waited until our walk over to the wedding, and stopped in on the way. Then, we could get awesome pictures of me fixing it while wearing my wedding dress!

But. When we got there, icing and apron in hand, I took one look at the cake and said, “Fuck it.” I did not care one bit that the whole side was smashed. In fact, I still thought it was funny and I loved it. We discussed it very briefly and decided that, really, who would care anyway, as long as it still tasted amazing?

Our beautiful, delicious, fabulously smooshed wedding cake!
And I couldn’t resist adding this picture because I love it so much!

*Unless you’re gluten-free, vegan, or lactose intolerant. Sorry. And for what it’s worth, we had vegan, gluten-free cupcakes from The Bleeding Heart Bakery as an alternative for those folks.

We ate AND we crafted. Seriously.

Happy Birthday, Greta!

It was Greta’s birthday this week, and birthdays equal cake. Really, I’ll use just about anything as an excuse to make cake. [See next week, where I make cake because someone’s facebook status was a wish for cupcakes, and Julia said “Cindy will make you cake, come over.” And I said, “How’s Sunday?” I kid you not.]

But, in what seems to be a first, we managed to actually eat and craft on craft night. I attribute this to the fact that we crafted first, and THEN had cake. And – amazingly – went back to crafting after we ate. Certainly, the fact that we all had projects we really wanted to work on might have contributed as well.

Triple Chocolate Cake with Pumpkin Ice Cream

Greta requested chocolate, so I whipped up a Devil’s Food cake, layered with Dark Chocolate Mousse and Mocha Whipped Cream. The cake recipe came from my baking bible – Baking Illustrated from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. If you’ve never watched the show or visited their website, you should. Especially if you like science. When I got this book (because the idiot lawyer I used to work for didn’t want it and was giving it away!) I literally read it cover to cover. Because in the page or two before each recipe, it details all the variations they tried (different amounts of butter, chilled vs. room temperature ingredients, baking powder vs. soda, etc.) and what results they produced. So… you get a scientific paper with methods and results, followed by a seriously kickass recipe. What could be better? I love it. And if you’ve been following this blog – it’s where my pizza crust came from too. Also – my wedding cake. Yep. And I will stop extolling the virtues of this book now, and get on with the post.

The mousse is the dark chocolate variation in this Martha Stewart recipe, and it is really good – with or without the cake.

We had also been wanting to try out some more interesting ice cream flavors, so we went with pumpkin. I glanced at a recipe for sweet potato ice cream in The Perfect Scoop (another great cookbook), and modified it for pumpkin. Here’s what I ended up with:

1 cup whole milk
1 15oz can pumpkin
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon or so freshly grated ginger
Healthy sprinkles of cinnamon and nutmeg
Splash of cream (not necessary, but I had a smidge left from the mousse that needed to be used up)

Whisk ingredients together and chill in the refrigerator for several hours, then process in your ice cream maker according to directions.

When you eat it, it tastes just like pumpkin pie. Delicious!

And now for the inside joke portion of this post:

“Tastes like geology!”
“Mmm, geology.”