Monday, May 09, 2011

Hey, It Worked for Me When The Subject Was Moby Dick

Can someone please explain to me what the hell happened to the entire month of April?

I can't believe it's May. And not even the beginning of May. Pretty much mid-May. In my head it's still March. I was walking home from work today and for a moment, I actually thought it was March. Concerning.

Sorry, dear readers, about the lack of posts last month. I got a new job, quit my old one, took a vacation, and then started the new job. I've been traveling to glamorous places (Wisconsin! Las Vegas!) each week since I started the new gig.

Despite being busy and out of town a bunch, I actually did a lot of cooking, so I'm going to give you the Cliffs Notes version of April 2011, all in one handy blog post. If it was good enough in high school...

Christine and Kevin hosted a cocktail party competition to determine the signature drink for their wedding.

Many options to choose from!

I'm not much of a cocktail maker, so I volunteered to make the snacks. I read this great recipe in one of my old Martha cookbooks that used muffins as the bread of a sandwich. That lady is so smart! I made muffins in my new-ish muffin pans using a bunch of fresh (oranges from the farm box) and dried (apricots, cranberries) fruit that I had on hand. 

You can't tell from the picture on the Sur La Table site, but the finish on the pans is actually pretty dark. And in my bottom-heated gas oven, by the time the muffins were fully-baked, they were also burned.

Crap. Effing nonstick muffin pans. 
Once I tossed those which most closely resembled Kingsford charcoal briquets, I had a few fewer muffins than I'd hoped for. Luckily, not all of them were inedibly burnt. Some were just, er, medium-well done. This isn't the first time this has happened with these pans. But it is the last. Bye bye muffin pans. Next time I won't cheap out and will suck it up and get those Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch ones. They are supposedly the bees' knees, according to my trusted equipment advisors at America's Test Kitchen.

Despite the charring, the sandwiches actually came out pretty well. I love this idea and am looking forward to making other muffin-and-sandwich-filling combos. I think my cheddar and green onion savory muffins would be delish with turkey and a chipotle spread...

These were little ham sandwiches on orange-apricot-cranberry muffins, with spicy whole grain mustard. They were a huge hit with all my ham-loving friends. HAM!

Mini muffin sandwiches weren't going to cut it in terms of soaking up cocktails, so I also made a caramelized onion and blue cheese rustic tart.

For this, I splurged on some Dufour puff pastry. It is made with real butter and it is incredibly rich and indulgent. The tart ended up being pretty salty but it made a nice counterpoint to the mostly-sweet cocktails. 
For the third and final snack item, I made some roast beef and avocado mini-sandwiches on the Acme Bread herb slab. They were unexpectedly outstanding. The combination of the beef and the super-lemony avocado spread was a hit - everyone gobbled them up (including me). They were so good I was actually craving them afterward and made them again two weekends later for an Easter picnic. They are perfect picnic fare.

But that wasn't all. The cocktail competition was the night before Meredith's birthday so I made an apple cake to celebrate. Why apple cake? In truth, I had a ton of apples in my fridge from various farm boxes over the course of the spring and I needed a way to use them up!

So many apples!
 Because the recipe was kind of like a tarte tatin, it was built in the pan upside down.

First, the brown sugar-butter layer was smoothed across the bottom of the pan.

Apple slices added. 
Batter poured over the top and baked until golden brown.
The pan had to cool for fifteen minutes.

Then we came to the moment of truth.

I put that yellow serving plate upside down over the top of the cake and then flipped the whole thing to invert the cake on the plate. Then I prayed to God that it would unmold in one piece.

And it did! Voila! I am a baking genius! No, seriously, ridiculous arrogance aside, this was a real and true moment of culinary joy for me. Sometimes I find baked goods to be incredibly fickle - especially the first time I'm trying a recipe - and I could not have been happier that this ended up so beautifully. I'm fine with ugly food when it's just for me, but for a birthday-cake-like item, I just think the food should look a little more like a gift and a little less like a pile of slop.

This was adapted from this Bon Appetit recipe. I served it with gingered whipped cream and added extra ginger to the batter as one of the birthday girl's favorite ingredients is ginger. I would absolutely repeat this receipt and am already looking forward to Fall's apple bounty.
I love it when food is this beautiful.

The birthday festivities continued on Sunday with a mango tart, from this Gourmet recipe, because mango and coconut are two more of the birthday girl's favorites.

This doesn't look like much, but it was highly delicious. Another keeper recipe. It's actually really light because the mousse is thickened with unflavored gelatin, making it the perfect brunch dessert. I topped it with diced fresh mango. The crust is coconut, which has a nice crunch. I think this is a perfect special treat for Spring. 
I wasn't kidding about having a lot of apples, either. After that apple cake was done, I made applesauce with even more apples that I had in the fridge. It's so easy, and this is a great basic recipe. (I failed to photograph it but it looked just like normal chunky applesauce so just use your imagination for this one.) Seriously, applesauce is idiot-proof. And tastes 1000% better than the stuff you buy in a store.

Unfortunately, the recipe makes about four cups of applesauce. That's about three and a half cups more than I'd want to eat. A search for recipes using applesauce turned up this gem from Martha (God bless her and her perfect baked good recipes).

I brought the cake into work (my old job) on my second-to-last day as a going away/thank you gift for my lovely co-workers. They were the kind of people who made me laugh hard every day at work, and for that, I thought they at least deserved a little cake. It got fairly well eaten up before I got to snap a picture of it. This recipe is seriously great, with plenty of moisture and a chewy, not-too-dense crumb. It's a fantastic breakfast cake. And if you ask me, there's not enough breakfast cake in life.

Before taking off for Monterey, I hosted a little cocktail party at my place so my Dad and Stepmom could meet my friends. It was a good time, and because we were busy doing touristy things that day, I just pulled together a few oldie-but-goodie recipes to feed the masses.  I didn't even photograph them because you've seen or heard of them before: White Bean Dip, Spicy Spinach Dip, a couple of platters of cheeses and cured meats and fruits, my classic guacamole recipe, some olives, some nuts, and assorted chips and crackers.

Then we took off for Monterey, where this guy greeted us for the happy hour glasses of wine we had while overlooking the water. He reminds me so much of my Sammy the Seagull print from Wayne Pate, and of Scully the Seagull who like to perch outside my kitchen window in Boston.

Easter arrived just days later. Last year I made Easter Bunny Biscotti, which was just as tasty as I remembered from my childhood. This year, I planned to make the biscotti again along with the Easter Lamb Cake that Nana always made.

As you can see, the Easter Lamb got off to a bad start as it got stuck in the mold (despite my buttering and flouring every bit of it). Rats.

I thought I could cement the little lamby together with frosting and toothpicks - like a day camp art project or something - but no dice.

Still life with semi-lamb-shaped coconut cake.
Allow me to provide you with another angle of the carnage.

Massive baking fail. It's hard not to make a sacrificial lamb joke here, but I will dig deep for self control and refrain.

I firmly believe that one of the secrets to success in life is knowing when to cut your losses. And it was not hard to figure out that time had come to lay the lamb cake to rest. And that the bunny biscotti was just not in the cards.

Trying to salvage my last few hours of effort, I decided to just repeat the cake I'd made - in cupcake form. The coconut cake itself was truly delicious - I used Ina's recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and paired it with the coconut cream cheese frosting that she also uses as a companion to the cake.

I scrapped the lamb (we ate it while dyeing Easter Eggs that night) and baked up some coconut mini cupcakes, which I frosted with either pink or yellow cream cheese frosting and made little green grass nests (sweetened flaked coconut mixed with a few drops of green food coloring), topped with a few "Easter eggs" (Jelly Belly jellybeans). I'm so happy with how they turned out. They tasted fantastic and looked super cute. 

I love this.
 While I worked on the cupcakes, Mer and CC and Nell dyed eggs.

The mugs have dye. We tried to match the tablets to the mugs but the Paas dye tablets are often quite stealthy and appear quite different when dry than when dissolved. So it was a little confusing... We discovered that a chilled, dry rosé was a lovely accompaniment to the process. Definitely a new tradition.

And then it was Easter. And I got sick. Disgustingly snottily sick. I went through three large boxes of Kleenex. In a single day. I sounded awful and looked worse. I was so sick that I missed my first day of work at my new job. I don't think I've had that ugly a cold in at least five years. Such a bummer. So glad it's over!

And that whirlwind, my friends, was April. 


mary said...

nice, love the blogs

Chrissy said...

Stop taunting me with your baked goods you evil woman. FYI- when we arrive in June, we expect culinary delights. Just saying.....