(I apologize for the awful phone-photos)
A birthday cake:
The only kind of cake that B likes is the traditional German Black Forest, or, Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte. While I've tried a few recipes in the past and never been extremely happy with the results - I think this year his birthday was a hit! Instead of trying again to convert European recipes into our measuring systems and trying to make whipped eggs remain fluffy in the humidity; I opted for a much simpler cake recipe and took the rest of it into my own hands. For some reason, I really wanted to make several smaller size cakes, so a circle cookie cutter took care of that. The cake is soaked in Kirsh, a cherry brandy. I layered it in this order: cake, melted chocolate (for stability), my cherry concoction, whipped cream, cake, whipped cream, more cherry concoction! I'm apologizing now, I'm not a strict recipe person. Even when baking, I never follow a recipe exactly and prefer to make things up as I go. Thus, I don't really know all the amounts for the cherries, whipped cream, etc. These are pretty good estimates and my advice is to just taste it! You'll be able to tell if you want more or less of something.
The cake recipe is adapted from www.germanculture.com.ua.
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (butter-) milk
1/2 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup Kirsch
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line the bottoms of two 8 inch round pans with parchment paper circles. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside.
Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Add vanilla. Add flour mixture, alternating with milk, beat until combined.
Pour into 2 round 8 inch pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool completely. Remove paper from under the cakes. Sprinkle layers with 1/2 cup Kirsch.
Some recipes call for you to cut these two cakes in half and make four layers, but they are so thin I didn't want to sacrifice stability (especially since this cake would have to endure a car ride).
1 jar black cherry preserves
couple handfuls of fresh cherries
more Kirsh (about 1/2 cup)
sugar and cinnamon to taste
Heat all up on stove in a saute pan until cherries are well cooked and the pits can be removed easily.
1 container heavy whipping cream
a few tablespoons Kirsh (to taste)
a few tablespoons powdered sugar (to taste again)
Once cakes are cooled, place the first layer on plate (with kirsh already soaking in). Melt 1/2 chocolate baking bar (semi-sweet) in microwave and spoon over cake into an even layer. When this cools it will hold everything together. Spread about half of cherry mixture over cake. Then add a layer of whipped cream. Place the second cake on top (carefully!). Additional kirsh if you want. Then top with whipped cream and add whipped cream around the sides of the cake as well. For the top of the cake, you can put the rest of the cherry mixture, add chocolate shavings, place fresh cherries around the perimeter - whatever you want!
The difference here is that I cut the cake into 7 circles before assembling:
A gift for friends:
I really can't take credit for them this year. I completely stole ideas off of the internet, a magazine and some blogs. But, I am happy with how they turned out!
(cinnamon, star of anise, cloves, all-spice, cardamon, coriander, orange peel)
With directions to make Spiced Apple cider, Spiced red wine and Hot Tottys!
The idea for the gift and the gift wrapping came from the Real Simple Magazine December 2009 issue.
Citrus candle centerpiece:
I just love the colors in this. Drying citrus without a dehydrator was actually a lot easier than I thought it might be! Slice, place on lined cookie sheet, place in oven. Put oven on the "warm" setting - about 150 degrees or so and leave door cracked open for ventilation. It took the smaller slices 12 hours or so and the thicker slices were done in 24-36 hours. I don't want to think about what this did for my electricity bill this month. Then just used a hot glue gun to hold the citrus slices together and to the candle
I got the idea from this post about fall tablescapes on Elizabeth Anne Designs.
A Christmas celebration:
B took me out to Feast (a new-ish restaurant in Montrose-Houston) so we could celebrate Christmas together. I read this article months ago and sent it to him because I thought the whole theme of the restaurant was interesting (in short: using the whole animal for eating/serving instead of just select pieces). I liked the mission of the restaurant for several reasons even though I knew that in my American raising, I still would be squeamish if an ox heart, calf liver or congealed blood were put in front of me to eat. The American food culture has made us all squeamish of "strange" foods, to the point that if we can't buy separate pieces of the most meaty part of the animal, shrink wrapped in the grocery store injected with carbon monoxide so that (god forbid) the color doesn't change, then it must be gross. Any other country in this world uses more of the animal than we do. I'm not saying we don't use the 'leftovers' at all - because I recognize that much of the excess animal parts are sold for things like fertilizing, fish bait, dog food, other feed, and oh yeah, ground meat. But, our food culture definitely creates a sense of waste.
So - my reaction of such a restaurant?
Not quite what I expected.
Black pudding - my favorite of the whole night! Which really suprised me because I was scared of the whole "blood" thing.
B's braised ox heart - really good. I've had chicken heart in Brazil so I wasn't really quite as scared about this one. If you think about it, it is just like any other dark muscle in the body.
My order - Grouper head. This is where things started getting weird. I like seafood and B told me about how the meat on the top of the head and the neck is some of the best meat on a fish and it is usually chopped off and thrown out. Groupers can range in size, so since the waitress presented in such a way that it was one entree, I figured it was either a small Grouper or half a head or something.
I'm not sure how much you can tell from this picture, but the grouper head (only the head!) was bigger than my head! I'm not going to deny at all, it was delicious. Had a great rub on it and the meat was incredibly tender and delicious. But, it got me thinking. First, appreciating that they would serve this when it is so often thrown out. But then I got a little upset. That plate could have fed a family for dinner. I have never felt so wasteful because once I was full and then ate some more, it looked like I had hardly touched it. They could have at least mentioned that we might want to, perhaps, share the dish. Or that it was large enough to feed the party of six sitting in the room, probably even a party of 12. And at the end of the meal, when we asked the waitress if we could bring a few fillets home off of the fish without bringing the whole carcass home, she looked at us like we were crazy. If the restaurant is about being less wasteful the whole situation seemed to go against that in every which way! Which makes me think that the mission of the restaurant to be less wasteful is more in my own mind than in the mind of the owner/chefs. My guess - they realized the profit to be made in Montrose and didn't think twice about it after that. Ah, why can't any business be idealistic??
So there you have it - Feast, delicious but left me asking for little bit less.