Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Have you no shame, woman?!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

If you look closely, buried amongst the pile of fully LEGITIMATE books for my graduate studies, you will see a copy of Bel Ami, the Guy de Maupassant novel currently being adapted for film and starring Robert Pattinson. In my defense, I am quite seriously considering abandoning my Dickens obsession and instead pursuing French literature as inspiration for my thesis. Guy de Maupassant counts, people. He's part of my research!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

our version of the Superbowl

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It's no secret that I'm crazy for the movies. And television. And teenage vampire romances. I'm a pop culture fanatic! (and not terribly proud about that, by the way) Thus, it should come as no surprise to learn that my most favorite kind of non-holiday, non-birthday party would be something in that entertainment realm. What might be the biggest opportunity for such a party? The Oscars, of course!

Granted, most Oscar broadcasts are painfully long, with a few big-ish awards conveniently placed in the beginning and the really important ones set for the end of what can be an interminable evening. The hosts are always panned the next day (for the record, I LOVED Hugh Jackman last year, and I thought Alec and Steve were pretty great this time), there's an inevitably lame musical number, and the awards are clearly political decisions not at all based on merit.

That said, I still love 'em. I love watching the stars arrive in their beautiful and sometimes hideous finery, I love the tributes (and sometimes even the acceptance speeches), and I love it ESPECIALLY when I know something about the nominated films and actors. This year, I was 8 1/2 out of 10 for nominated films (my SH fell asleep during the delightful and heartwrenching Up and I turned it off so he wouldn't miss anything-explaining the 1/2-and I didn't have a chance to watch A Serious Man). The best, in my humble opinion? Precious, by a long shot. I was impressed by The Hurt Locker, Avatar, and Up in the Air, but they all paled in comparison.

In order to properly celebrate, my beloved MIL and I came up with a menu for our party, inspired by Epicurious, which we promptly shared with my soon-to-be sister-in-law C, recently arrived from her homeland, the Emerald Isle. There would be one item per nominated film, and we would divide up the responsibilities of preparation. Here is our clever creation:

  • blue martinis (Avatar)
  • "prawns" (District 9)
  • haroset (A Single Man)
  • tabbouleh (The Hurt Locker)
  • macaroni and cheese (The Blind Side)
  • collard greens (Precious)
  • sliders (Up)
  • chocolate cake (An Education)
  • apple crostata, rather than apple strudel (Inglorious Basterds)
  • airplane-sized bottles of whiskey as a digestif (Up in the Air)

C and I took on the desserts and the collard greens, and if I MUST say, they were definitely high points in our meal (full disclosure: this could be because the collard greens were sauteed with bacon and the cake batter AND frosting included coffee). I borrowed recipes from Barefoot Contessa, and we produced a mouthwatering chocolate cake and crostata with a delicately sweet flavor perfectly enhanced with a pile of lightly whipped cream.

I'll include the chocolate cake recipe, mostly because I could have eaten an entire bowl of frosting by myself (yes, I know it's a simple buttercream, but it has COFFEE in it!!) but also because the cake itself is barely sweet, with a deep, dark mocha flavor. Utterly delicious.

Beatty's Chocolate Cake + Chocolate Frosting, adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten

butter for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Chocolate Frosting

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With the mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
4. Place one layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Frosting
(note: I recklessly rushed through the recipe and quickly produced the frosting, not even realizing it called for an uncooked egg. I think it may be a part of the recipe to add gloss and sheen to the frosting. I would rather be safe than sorry, so I threw out my first batch and whipped up a new recipe, sans egg. It turned out just fine.)

6 ounces good semisweet chocolate
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
***1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature***(use at your own risk)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

1. Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don't whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

Come on, Oscars 2011!

P.S. Yes, I'm perfectly aware that the Oscars occurred on March 7, practically a MONTH ago. Still working on that time management!

Monday, March 15, 2010

pink lady cake

Monday, March 15, 2010

For Valentine's Day, I made the highly questionable decision to make a celebratory dessert to accompany our dinner of lasagna. As it happens, lasagna is the favorite, most beloved dish of my SH, and he has lamented on more than one occasion about the decidedly small number of times that I have prepared it for him. In my defense, I was only made aware of this preference AFTER we were married, and ever since, I have made a delectable, no holds-barred, pure and fresh lasagna, courtesy of Tyler Florence, multiple times. Not a drop of bottled sauce or a crimped bit of no-boil lasagna noodles are a part of my finished product. It probably weighs five or six pounds, and more than half is inevitably carved into single-serving portions and thrust into my packed freezer. I digress. The whole point of this very belated post is my dessert of choice, the appropriately hued pink lady cake.

When I first discovered the recipe on my favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen, (where I am captivated DAILY with the clever witticisms of the incomparable Deb, mouthwatering recipes, and spectacular photography), I felt that I had to save it for a special occasion did not have the requisite baking skills to pull it off. I mean, THREE layers of cake? Its origin from a cookbook with the name Sky High? Every time I try my hand at baking, I find myself exceedingly frustrated. I inevitably forget important details like leaving butter out to reach room temperature or purchasing cake flour instead of plain old all-purpose. I'm a COOK, not a baker!

In the name of making something special for my SH, however, I decided that I must refuse to be intimidated by those layers and detailed instructions. I've always loved strawberry cake, after all. How terrible could it be? I have a Kitchen-Aide mixer, for heaven's sake! Thus, I pressed onward, even remembering to leave out the cream cheese for the frosting until it was a desirable softness.

Oh, how I wish my version of this beautiful, delicate dessert remotely resembled its inspiration! Instead, the result was slightly lopsided, and the decorative elements of the frosting only faintly pink. Also, you should know that I use the adjective "decorative" loosely. Very loosely. I'm embarrassed to even post a picture, except for one thing. The taste? DELICIOUS. Heavenly. Worth every agonizing hour that it took for me to finish.

I highly recommend perusing Smitten Kitchen-and not just for a truly beautiful pink lady cake.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

the return of Top 5 Tuesday-Oscar edition

Tuesday, March 9, 2010
I have decided to turn over a new leaf, quite literally. I've been spending the last few days attacking my vegetable and flower beds, plotting spots for greens and blooms, and scraping inch-thick layers of mud from my shoes. My SH has really been my motivating factor, cheerfully hoisting bags of planting mix into our trunk and ruminating on the satisfaction of sitting in the sun with a pile of begonias ready to plant. It turns out, as usual, that he's right. I find gardening to be HUGELY therapeutic. And here in California, you're rewarded for your effort practically instantaneously.

All of this talk of gardening is meant to bring me back to my main purpose-getting back to my beloved blogging routine. INCLUDING Top 5 Tuesdays. Though I'm sure no one has kept count, it's been something like 25 weeks since I've thrown together a list. I have chosen Oscar fashion for my triumphant return.

5. Maggie Gyllenhaal. I'm pretty sure that my BFF Rose would be proud of me for this selection. It's the most fashion-forward of my choices. I can see why some might recoil at the crazy pattern, but I think Maggie pulled it off. Plus, the bustle-y back should give critics pause.

4. Demi Moore. Moving on to what I would consider the most conventional of my favorite Oscar fashions. It's not so much that I think Demi's dress is spectacular, or even especially unique. It's the whole big picture that's great. The skin! The eyes! The hair! The spare but beautiful jewels! Demi has still got the elusive "it."

3. Sandra Bullock. This frock wasn't my favorite at first glance. In fact, I believe my initial reaction was "No, Sandra! No!" Upon closer scrutiny, however, and observing the way she carried herself on an evening that was bound to be all about her, I changed my mind. It's a glamourous, old-fashiond Hollywood gown, after all. A good choice for a big night.

2. Rachel McAdams. Love her, love the dress, love everything. Can Rachel McAdams lose? I don't think so.
P.S. Rachel presented with Jake Gyllenhaal, and they seemed quite smitten with each other backstage. Could the be the beginnings of a dreamy new couple?

1. Kristen Stewart. Say what you will, naysayers, about the shy, awkward presentation (which I found endearing). My girl NAILED it on the fashion front. Appropriately elegant for the occasion yet perfectly suited to her relative youth.

More to come soon on our Oscar soiree, my Valentine's day dessert, and my potentially hazardous Twilight obsession.

It's good to be back.