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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.

Working for the Weekend… Again

Well, once again, it’s been a busy week and weekend (so far) over here. Right this second, I am waiting for a few files to upload and then… the Crafty Broads website will be live and ready for action! I would LOVE your feedback – please email me or comment here if you have a chance to check it out.

I am SO. EXCITED. to be done making the website. Although it didn’t take me long in total number of hours, it has really eaten up the last couple of weeks, and I have other projects I want to work on.

Here’s the rundown of things that are in the works:

  • Next week, we’re meeting with a potential client who is looking for a custom wedding dress (very exciting, especially since she wants something 30s and bias-cut, which we adore)
  • Also next week or the week after, I’ll be doing a guest post on another blog (I’ll link when it’s up)
  • I’ve got two big events to stage manage in August – a friend’s wedding and a handful of small parties being held around the country which will kick off a major event celebrating the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York. (You can read about it here and here.) Also? Same-sex couples are getting married there RIGHT THIS MINUTE, thanks to some nice judges and government officials who kept buildings open late and came in on their days off to dispense forms and officiate nuptials. Hooray for that! (Still waiting on you, Illinois. Ahem, downstate…get with the program.)
  • I’m hoping that tomorrow I’ll get time to work on the pattern for a custom three-piece suit we’re making, which I’ve been wanting to work on for way too long now.
  • If I ever finish all these other obligations, I have a ton of sewing projects for myself to get started (or finished, as the case may be) on too!

In food news, tonight I made a horribly unhealthy, carb-filled meal of latkes and butternut squash mac & cheese. Both were delicious. I am in carb heaven. I promise to eat veggies tomorrow.*

And with that, I am calling it a day.

*Julia disagrees, but squash is totally a vegetable.

The Secret’s in the Sauce

Actually, that’s a lie. The secret is high-quality, fresh ingredients. (Like the Papa John’s commercials say, “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” And, well, they are better than some. But still not especially great.) I like to keep my pizzas simple and fresh, which means I don’t put too many different things on and I try to get the best ingredients I can. Because I know you want these pizzas at your house, today I’m sharing recipes.

A disclaimer: I was in a terribly, crabby-ass mood yesterday, and pretty mad that I had to make dinner at all, let alone think about taking any pictures of it. So. I didn’t. And it doesn’t look great cold in the refrigerated foil packs I stored it in. So you will have to use your imaginations to picture what the Mediterranean & French (see my favorite toppings, below) pizzas I made last night looked like…

So, let’s start with the DOUGH. Here’s what you’ll need:
(this recipe taken from America’s Test Kitchen book Baking Illustrated, which everyone should own. It’s full of delicious science.)

1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)*
1 packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups water at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups flour (bread flour is better if you have it, but I never do, and it’s always fine)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Extra olive oil for coating the bowl
Extra flour for kneading

*If you don’t have a thermometer or you’re too lazy to use one (but, really, you’re making pizza from scratch so, come on, you are not too lazy…) you can stick your finger in to test it. It should be pretty warm but not scalding. Warmer than a baby’s bath, but not quite as warm as your shower. Hot enough to wash dishes in but not as hot as your tap will go.

1. Sprinkle yeast into the warm water. Do it slowly so each little bit has a chance to get wet. Stir gently if you must to do so. Let sit for 5 minutes while you gather the rest of the ingredients and get your mixer out.

2. Using paddle attachment on the lowest speed setting, combine salt and flour in the bowl of your standing mixer.

3. Once yeast is starting to bubble and smell yeasty, add room temperature water and olive oil to it and stir.

4. Again with mixer on the lowest speed, slowly pour yeast/water/oil mixture into the dry ingredients. When it starts to form a cohesive mass, switch to the dough hook. Let the mixer do all the work, and in about 5 more minutes the dough will be smooth and elastic.

5. Brush the inside of a large bowl with olive oil. Form dough into a ball and put it in the bowl, turning it over once to cover it in oil. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and set in a warmish place (65-70 degrees). Let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

(Now is a good time to go make your sauce and prep all your toppings. You’ll also want to put a baking stone in your oven, if you have one, and preheat to 500 or as hot as it goes. The secret to awesome pizza is a really hot oven, so do this sooner rather than later. I preheat my oven for a full hour.)

6. Get two pieces of parchment paper just larger than pizza size ready. We’ll use those to keep the pizza from sticking to the baking stone and for ease of getting it in and out of the oven. Divide the dough into two pieces. Roll each into a ball. Now, you’re going to shape this into a proper pizza crust. I like to make flatten the ball into a disc first. Then I make fists with both hands and put the dough on top of them. Then kinda punch in the general direction of the ceiling as you rotate the dough in a circle. It will thin and spread out. Keep going until it’s just about pizza-sized. If your ambitious, you can actually toss it in the air. It’s not that hard – really – and it’s super fun. Plus, you know, it helps the dough spread out. Then put it down on the parchment paper and press it the rest of the way into a circle. About 1″ from the edge, go ahead and press extra deep so that the edge rolls up and forms that rounded crust you’re looking for. (I realize now that this step really, really wants pictures. Next time. Promise.)

7. Almost done! Brush the crust with a little bit of olive oil, then use a fork to poke lots of holes all over the middle part. (Don’t put any holes in the outer crust edge.) Spread a thin layer of sauce (or not, if you like more) and then add your toppings. I recommend putting non-cheese toppings on first, and then covering them with the cheese. You can do it how you like, but note that putting any fresh herbs and greens (spinach, etc.) under the cheese will keep them from wilting and drying out as it bakes.

8. Using a pizza peel (ha! right, like you have one. I don’t.) or a rimless baking sheet (that’s more like it), transfer the pizza on its parchment paper to the baking stone. Parchment paper is oven-safe; it will turn brown while it cooks. DO NOT USE WAX PAPER. It will melt. If you don’t have parchment, sprinkle your prep surface and the baking stone with a thin layer of cornmeal to prevent sticking.

9. Bake until cheese is browned, about 10 minutes. Yep, that’s all it takes when your oven is good and hot. Using the baking sheet or pizza peel, transfer pizza and parchment to a cutting board.

10. Slice and serve with a big glass of wine!

Onto the SAUCE!
Admittedly, I cheated last night because I was grumpy, and I used a jar of tomato-basil marinara instead of whipping up my own. And seeing how long this post is already, I think I’ll save homemade sauce for another day.
Moving on…

Some of my favorite pizza TOPPINGS are:

Mediterranean
Lamb – ground, pre-cook until it’s about halfway done; I like to shape it into tiny balls
Feta – fresh from the deli is the way to go
Red Onion
Oregano

French
Ham – I get deli ham and ask for one or two super-thick slices, and then I cube it
Gruyère – shred directly onto pizza
Shallots – yum! I love shallots on lots of things, and pizza is no exception
Thyme

Traditional Margherita
Tomato (sliced) – I prefer Roma, but if you have access to garden fresh tomatoes of any kind, definitely use those!
Basil – fresh, whole leaf, not the stuff you sprinkle from a jar. It makes a HUGE difference!
Mozzarella – best fresh from the deli, still in the liquid, rather than the little ‘gourmet’ packaged kind

Veggie Lovers – you can use any veggies you like; here are some suggestions
Spinach – I like baby spinach for this
Artichoke Hearts
Tomatoes
Arugula – sounds weird, tastes good
Bell peppers
Mushrooms – I hate mushrooms and I pick them off, but other people seem to enjoy them.
Fresh Herbs – whatever you have on hand; oregano, basil, thyme, and parsley are all good

Hawaiian
Ham – I like Canadian bacon style or deli ham
Pineapple – I like the rings as opposed to chunks, you can make a pretty pattern with them on your pie

What a Vegan, Gluten-Free Dinner Party Looks Like

Just the right number of (smokin’ hot) cooks in the kitchen.
(I swear we were all in the kitchen until it was time to eat…)

Our second fabulous dinner party was a serious group effort. Although I did the menu planning, everyone pitched in to get all the ingredients together, and then everyone just took a dish and ran with it. I tend to be somewhat controlling (ok, I’ll admit it – I’m a complete control freak!) so I was mildly apprehensive about letting people help. But, as I am discovering over and over again lately, doing things together totally rocks.

It was, in a word, AWESOME, to share my kitchen with these fabulous women.

Here’s what we made:

Appetizers
Watermelon Salad with Mint and Lime (recipe)
Cucumber “Bruschetta” (recipe)


First Course
Plum, Raspberry, and Tarragon Soup (recipe)


Second Course
Zucchini Tagliatelle with Cucumber, Mint, and Lemon (recipe)
Zucchini Pasta with Pesto (recipe)
Yellow Potatoes with Swiss Chard, Garlic, and Rosemary (recipe)

[Imagine we did not eat it so fast, and there is a picture here.]

Dessert
Coconut Curry Ice Cream (recipe)