Birthday Cake Bliss and Giving Back

After everyone was snug in their bed last night, I turned on a chick flick (my husband is away on his annual fishing trip in Northern Saskatchewan) and cut myself a really, really large slice of my daughter’s birthday cake. I cut it with great care, ensuring that each bite would be loaded with as much candy as possible.  And as I gorged myself, nibbled delicately on this slice of candy-studded Bedazzled Fairy Cake Mountain, I decided that this was the cake I wanted for my next birthday party—that candy and cake is a deadly good combination.

I’m not sure if I’ll be perceived as nuts or fun-loving. What do you think?

With ponytails born five days apart (plus three years), June is always a hectic month for birthdays in our house.  This past week we hosted two parties – one for each girl. Add another four birthday parties over a two week stretch to the mix, and you’ll agree that it was only understandable that I RSVP’d about the wrong date to one of the parties. Right? (Note the desperate tone of my voice here!)

But it’s the same every year, so I try to plan ahead as much as possible. I made some of my new favourite cookies (Funfetti Cookies by Two Peas and Their Pod) for the loot bags for both parties a couple weeks ago and popped them into the freezer. I also made a Blueberry Coffee Cake for the adults at my four-year old ponytail’s party, and popped it into the freezer.

That left me free to make cupcakes for my oldest ponytail’s party and the Bedazzled Fairy Cake Mountain for the youngest ponytail’s party the night before. I haven’t made many cakes, so making this Fairy Cake was quite an adventure.  It was lots of fun to make and very rewarding, as my little ponytail’s entire face lit up when she saw it. When it comes to birthday baking, it really is all about planning ahead.

Over the past few years, I’ve also realized something else about birthdays.

It’s about the party—big or small. It’s about the cake. It’s about the running around with your friends and squealing with delight. It’s not about the presents! Sure every kid loves to get a few presents on their birthday. But a few carefully chosen presents is all it takes to make my girls really happy on their birthday.

This year we found a great new website called ECHOage. It is a service that allows you to invite your guests using their online platform with great invitations and reminders. Your child decides on one or two gifts that he/she would like for his/her birthday and selects a charity. The parents of the invited guests can then make a contribution online—half the money goes to the charity and the other half goes towards your child’s gift. (I should point out that Echoage has a service fee of 15% of the total funds raised.) I was able to buy each of my girls a couple outfits and a pet for their dolls. They were both more than happy and didn’t miss the mountain of gifts that they would have otherwise received. This was the third year that my oldest ponytail has raised money for a charity on her birthday and she’s raised over $700 in three years. I think ECHOage is the greatest thing ever, because everybody wins. Your child gets to learn about giving back at an early age; the charity receives much needed funds; parents of the invited guests don’t need to spend time shopping for birthday presents; and parents of the birthday boy or girl get to manage the volume of toys coming into the house.  ECHOage is linked to charities across Canada and the United States, so it’s a great option for anyone living in North America. For more information, click here.

If making a cake with the word “mountain” in it isn’t for you, then you might want to try Kristy’s Best Birthday Cake with Raspberry Filling and Super Lemon Buttercream Frosting, or Charles’ Kladdkaka (Swedish Sticky Chocolate Cake), or Eva’s version of Kladdkaka. All of these cakes look really delicious!

Would you believe that I scaled back on the batter for the top three layers?

Bedazzled Fairy Cake Mountain

Adapted from the recipe by Fran Warde in Food for Friends

  • 6 sticks unsalted butter (each stick is ½ cup)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 10 eggs
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 1/3 cup sifted cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup boiling water

Required: 3 non-stick cake pans, 6, 8, and 10 inches in diameter, buttered, plus one paper muffin liner and muffin tin. (I used springform pans and they worked really well.)

Instructions

Mix cocoa powder and boiling water in small bowl. Stir until smooth.

Make the cake in two batches. Mix 2 cups of flour with 1 ½ tsp baking powder and ½ tsp of salt in small bowl. Put 3 sticks of the butter and 1 ½ cups of the sugar in a bowl and cream together until light and fluffy. (Use paddle attachment if using Kitchen Aid mixer.) Add 5 of the eggs and beat until well mixed. Gradually add flour mixture and mix until smooth. Add vanilla and milk then mix until incorporated.  Scoop out ½ cup of batter and mix with half of the chocolate mixture in a small bowl.

Transfer white batter to a greased 10” cake pan, drop the chocolate batter into the pan by the tablespoon. Swirl chocolate batter into the white batter with a knife or skewer. Bake in a preheated 350° for 35-45 minutes until golden, springy in the center and just coming away from the edges of the pan.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and put onto a wire rack to cool.

Mix the remaining ingredients as before, filling the smaller 2 cake pans (8” and 6”) and the one muffin liner in a muffin tin. Swirl the white and chocolate batter as before. Put all 3 cakes into the preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, checking as before to see if the cakes are cooked. Let cool completely before frosting.

Butter Frosting

  • 2 ½ sticks softened unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3 cups icing sugar

Put the butter and icing sugar into a bowl, add 2 tablespoons hot water and beat until soft and creamy. Put the largest cooled cake onto a plate or cake plate and spread with butter frosting. Put the middle-sized cake on top and spread with butter frosting. Repeat for each of the remaining layers, ending with the muffin. The icing does not need to look perfect as it will be covered with the top frosting.

Top Frosting

  • 5 cups icing sugar
  • Water (I used just under a ½ cup)
  • Assortment of candies (I used smarties, skittles, swedish berries, chocolate covered raisins, red shoe laces, coloured mini marshmellows, and pastel candies with hearts.
  • Food colouring of your choice

Put the icing sugar into a bowl. Add water a little at a time and stir until smooth and blended. It should be thin enough to run down the cake, but still thick enough to cover it entirely. Pour over the cake, letting it cascade down and cover all of the cake.

While the frosting is still wet, add the candies, sticking them all over the surface.

NOTES:

  • The top frosting on the cake keeps sliding down the cake as you pour/drizzle it from the top. I cleaned up the base of the plate before decorating with the candies. It shifted a little after the candies were added, but I think the fact that the rows of candies are perfectly straight adds to the charm of the cake.
  • I used pink food colouring for the top frosting.
  • I sliced of a few small bumps on the cake tops before icing. This was easy to do.
  • The dollar store is a great place to buy the extra long candles and candies, especially those little pastel heart candies with expressions like “be mine” or “email me” (this wasn’t on the candies of my youth).

Blueberry Coffee Cake and Funfetti Cookies

Blueberry Coffee Cake

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Blueberry-Coffee-Cake-1275

My adaptation – added 1 tsp of lemon zest and 1 tbsp lemon juice to the batter; mixed blueberries with 1 tsp flour then poured half of the batter into the pan, followed by half of the blueberries, then remaining half of batter. Sprinkle second half of blueberries on top of batter, followed by the topping.

Funfetti Cookies

http://tastykitchen.com/blog/2012/05/funfetti-cookies/

Make a wish!


“Summertime And The Livin Is Easy”

Lately I keep thinking about those famous lyrics “summertime and the livin is easy.”

There are just so many things that seem to be easier in the summer. It’s easier to get the ponytails out the door in the morning without boots, mitts and heavy coats. It’s easier to drag my butt to the gym on Tuesday and Thursday mornings because it’s not pitch dark out in the mornings—a bit of daylight just makes everything better, even going to the gym. And it’s so much easier to walk out my back door to the garden and pick some fresh herbs whenever I’m cooking, rather than make a last minute dash to the store because I forgot to buy herbs. (Which always seems to happen.) Best of all, you just pick what you need.

It made me very happy this weekend to be able to walk into my backyard and pick the herbs that I needed for this Asparagus Soup with Herbed Goat Cheese Balls. The fresh herbs, along with the goat cheese really make this soup. As the goat cheese melts into the velvety soup, you get a hit of the tang from the cheese and some zip from the herbs. It really is very tasty.

I have to credit my friend Carolyn for introducing me to this soup. She recently hosted a large group of us for an amazing dinner and she made it seem effortless—really! She served the Asparagus Soup With Goat Cheese Balls in small glasses as a starter and the crowd went wild for this soup. I thought it was one of the best soups I’d ever had—so I knew I had to make it. The main change that I made to Giada De Laurentii’s version of this soup was to use a mix of summer herbs (basil, parsley and chives) rather than just basil in both the soup and the goat cheese balls. I also swapped in an onion for the leeks and rolled the goat cheese balls in the herbs rather than mixed them in. This soup is relatively easy to make, and can be made ahead and reheated if you’re having company, which is a little trick I learned from Carolyn. (Thanks Carolyn!)

I hope you are finding the livin a little easier this summer too!

Asparagus Soup with Herbed Goat Cheese Balls

Adapted from Giada De Laurentii, Giada at Home

Goat cheese:

  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) goat cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil, parsley and chives combined

Soup:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 pounds medium asparagus, washed, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 bunches)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, parsley and chives combined
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Goat cheese balls: Roll a spoonful of goat cheese into a ball (approximately 3/4″ to 1 inch diameter) then roll into the herb mixture until coated. Arrange on a plate and refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes.

Soup: Heat the butter over medium heat in a Dutch oven or large saucepan. Add the chopped onions and cook, stirring constantly until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the broth, asparagus, mixed herbs and pinch of crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the asparagus is tender, about 15 minutes. Blend the soup until smooth using an immersion blender. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Keep the soup warm over low heat.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top with goat cheese balls.

NOTE: I propped up the goat cheese balls in my picture with an inverted ramekin just so you could see them. They quite naturally sink into the soup once you add them.


Grilled Cheese On the Rocks or Neat?

 

Whether you like your scotch on the rocks, neat or you prefer wine (like me), I can almost guarantee that adding a splash of scotch and some chopped green onions to your next grilled cheese will make you very, very happy. Seriously!

The scotch adds a wonderful smoky flavour and touch of heat to the sandwich that is very unique.

I first starting making grilled cheese this way about 10 years ago after I found the recipe in an issue of Cottage Life Magazine. I make it year-round, but it is perfect to make at the cottage in the summer or on a weeknight when you want a fast meal. This is definitely for adults only, but it’s easy to make a plain version for the kiddies.

The most difficult part of making  this is wrestling the bottle of scotch from my husband. He literally stands on guard to make sure that I use the right bottle of scotch and NOT his bottle of 18-year old Macallan Single Malt that he got in a Mad Men-themed package at a charity auction a few months back.

I always serve my grilled cheese—for adults and kids—with sliced apples. I also always make grilled cheese with my panini press. I love the fact that I don’t need to use butter on the bread and I can have four sandwiches made in about 10 minutes, including prep time. I’ve read that a waffle maker is also good to use, but I’ve never tried it. Grating your cheese helps the cheese to melt consistently and quickly, so it’s a good tip for making a perfect grilled cheese.

My friend Eva at KitchenInspirations makes this grilled cheese with a lovely salsa. Here’s the recipe in case you’d like try this with her salsa.

Adult Grilled Cheese

Makes 2 regular-sized or three small sandwiches

  • 1 cup grated old cheddar cheese
  • 1.5 tbsp scotch
  • 2-3 green onions chopped (green parts only)
  • four standard-sized pieces of artisan bread or six small
  • 1 tbsp salted butter (optional; if pan frying)
  • Mix the grated cheddar, scotch and green onions well.

Add half cheese mixture to middle of each sandwich (if making 2; add a third if making 3).

Prepare each grilled cheese in a panini press for 3 to 4 minutes (pending thickness of bread), or in a frying pan. If using frying pan, spread butter on outside side of bread and pan fry until bread is golden and cheese is melted.

PS — I thought I had the spam filter problem sorted — but it looks like my comments are not appearing again. Please keep an eye out for me in your spam filters!

I used Walnut & Raisin Bread to make this adult grilled cheese.

Scallops Wrapped in Kataifi (aka “hairy scallops”)

Would you like to hear more about the appetizer that my eldest ponytail called “a hairy scallop?”

Okay, call me a proud cook, but this description really doesn’t do the Scallops Wrapped in Kataifi (pronounced kah-tah-ee-fee) justice. I prefer to say that the kataifi looks like Shredded Wheat Cereal.

If you’ve never tried kataifi, it is essentially a Greek pastry that is like shredded phyllo, although apparently it is in fact spun and not shredded, and the dough that is used to make it is slightly different than phyllo dough (made with wheat and flour). 

I was inspired to make this dish because my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were visiting from Edmonton this weekend and I wanted to make something special for them—something that they wouldn’t have every day. The Scallops Wrapped in Kataifi with Lemon Aioli and Balsamic Reduction did the job, as neither of them had tried anything like this before. Best of all, they liked it!

My sister-in-law Janet helped me make these, and I have to say it was so nice to spend time with her in the kitchen this weekend. As Janet can attest, these are super easy to prepare even though they are made with an ingredient you may not be familiar with.

Essentially you just keep wrapping the kataifi around the scallops like you were rolling a ball of yarn, until each scallop is nicely covered. Then you add a bit of melted butter to the top before baking, which is what gives the kataifi its lovely golden colour. Once baked, we garnished them with lemon aioli and balsamic reduction, which we all felt went really well with the scallops.

Kataifi is available in specialty food shops (particularly middle eastern) and in some grocery stores (I read on Chowhound that it is available at Longos in Toronto). I buy mine at Ararat, my favourite local specialty store. If you can’t find kataifi, you could make a substitute by rolling thawed phyllo dough into a log and then slicing it into thin rounds. This wouldn’t be an exact substitute for the kataifi but a number of people posted comments on this recipe at Epicurious (which was my inspiration for my version) stating that they used this approach successfully.

A Note My Blogging Buddies: I haven’t been able to leave comments on the WordPress blogs that I follow for six days now. For some reason WP’s anti-virus solution Akismet has blacklisted me, and so all of my comments end up in the spam folders of the WP blogs I comment on. I’ve stopped commenting until I get this issue resolved, which seems to be taking quite a while. I can assure you that I haven’t been leaving inappropriate remarks on other sites! Although I guess I’m in good company, as a woman on the news last night revealed that her first invitation from the Queen to participate in the Diamond Jubillee festivities landed in her spam folder!

Scallops Wrapped in Kataifi With Lemon Aioli & Balsamic Reduction

(Serves 4; one scallop per person as an appetizer)

  • 4 extra large sea scallops
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ lb kataifi phyllo (approximately)
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted

 Balsamic Reduction

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar

Lemon Aioli

  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ tsp grated lemon zest
  • 3 tsp lemon juice
  • ½ clove of garlic, finely grated
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

 Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, simmer the vinegar over medium heat until syrupy, about 30 minutes.
  2. Prepare aioli by mixing together the mayo, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper.
  3. Heat oven to 450°. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Wrap each scallop in some of the kataifi phyllo. Arrange the scallops on a baking sheet and drizzle with the melted butter.
  4. Bake the scallops until just done, about 15 minutes.

 Serve scallops with balsamic reduction and lemon aioli.