20 June 2006

Croquet Envy & Strawberry Mousse

We had my parents over for Father's Day dinner and more croquet. Croquet has always been a big warm weather activity in my family and, dear god, I played an awful lot of it as a child. You'd think, really, with all the practice I've had that I would possess teh l33t skillz, but I do not. Indeed, you could safely say I suck at croquet. Those video games that are supposed to be so good for hand-eye coordination? They're not helping here. Bust-a-move with it's cracktastic bubble flinging has not blessed me with any croquet foo.

O, woe. O, waly, waly.

Anyway, it was Father's Day and I was probably supposed to let my father win. Yes. That sounds good. I don't suck ... I just let him win.

And my mother. And The Husband. And ... who am I kidding?

Anyway, my croquet skills may not be so good, but my mad cookery skillz are coming right along. Since I seem to have some kind of sad foodie crush on Simply Recipes I went a little overboard preparing recipes from that site. My dad likes carrot and four bean salads, so I knew I wanted to make them for him, but I didn't want creamy carrots or tinny beans. Happily, my foodie crush came through with perfect recipes. I made the Grated Carrot and Three Bean salads and dad seemed to like them quite a lot. He even took some of the carrot salad home with him. I knew my mother and The Husband wouldn't be so keen on those sides, so I also made "American Potato Salad" (Joy of Cooking: All About Salads and Dressings, Scribner: 2001) and this Scandinavian cucumber salad (added minced red onion and omitted the celery). They also went over quite well. (Obviously, we didn't just eat salad -- The Husband grilled up some nice marinated steaks and all was omnivorous yumminess).

For dessert, we had Strawberry White Chocolate Mousse served in crystal whiskey glasses with a little extra puree on top. The mousse did take a fair amount of time to prepare, but it was pretty fun and easy to make so I didn't mind spending the extra time on it. It tasted delicious and we'd all eat it again.

I quite want to try my hand at the Strawberry Mousse Cake, now.

13 June 2006

A Year of Cake (It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time)

Yesterday, we celebrated my father's fifty-fifth birthday. My parents came over in the afternoon and we played several rounds of croquet (he won one) and then we went off to our favorite Mexican place for much yumminess and fun, and then back to our house for more croquet, and then the opening of presents, and the eating of cake, and the playing of too many hands of Uno.

Good fun all round.

I was at a complete loss as to what to give my father for his birthday. At first, when my mother said she was buying him a hammock, I said I would buy him a nice assortment of beer, because beer and hammock are a necessary pairing. However, my mother (tricksy as she is) went and bought both the hammock and the beer. So no beer. And, of course, when I asked my father what he wanted, he was all "oh, I don't really need anything." Yes, fine. Except I couldn't give my father nothing for his birthday. So I turned to my mother who (very offhandedly) suggested a year of cake.

And so that is what I have gave him. Twelve months of cake. The birthday cake I made yesterday counts as the first cake, so he gets eleven more. He wants his next one to be a vanilla layer cake with chocolate frosting. Not very adventurous, but it is his present, after all. Vanilla cake it is.

I will probably use the "White Cake" and "Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting" recipes from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (Meredith Corporation, 1996). I used that same cookbook to make the "Chocolate Cake" with "Truffle Frosting" (no double boiler!) for my dad's birthday cake and it yielded splendid results. I don't like chocolate cake all that much, but I thought this one was pretty damned good. Rich, but not leaden. Sweet, but not achingly. Chocolatey, but not disgustingly so.


Anyway, my dad seemed to like it (and the idea of eleven more) a heck of a lot and that's what really matters.

Alas, The Husband is now full of whininess and unrest over the giving away of cakes. Mutters about how everyone else gets cake made for them, but he doesn't get cake, and life is just teh sux0r. As if I had not made him a very nice chocolate bundt last week. As if I will not make him other cakes in the future. Poor husband. So benighted and put upon.

O, woe. O, waly, waly.

09 June 2006

Every Day is a Good Day for Cake

Yesterday, amidst lawn mowing and whatnot, I made a chocolate bundt cake. Not just any old chocolate bundt, but "The Darkest Chocolate Cake Ever" (Bundt Classics, Nordic Ware, 2003). Why a cake? I was in the mood to bake something bundt-esque and it seemed an easy recipe which needed no extra additional shopping.

I don't have a lot of experience with baking chocolate cakes. Whenever I've made a chocolate cake in the past, it was almost always from a box. I have made BHG's "One-Bowl Chocolate Cake" (Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, Meredith Corporation, 1996), too, but it calls for shortening and I didn't have any on hand yesterday (when was the last time I owned shortening??). Most recipes for scratch chocolate cakes tend to intimidate me, because they call for the melting of chocolate in double boilers and that is just too complicated for me. Happily, this cake required no double boilers. Instead, I made a paste of cocoa and boiling water which was allowed to cool and then added to the batter just before divvying between the cake pans. Easy-peasy. Even used powdered buttermilk and that was fine -- just followed the instructions on the tin.

I did have some concerns when I was divvying the batter up. The almond extract smell was very strong and the batter of this so-called "darkest chocolate cake ever" was more tan than not. Ahh, but no fear. Thanks to the wonders of kitchen chemistry, the cake that came out of the oven was a brown so dark it was nearly black and the chocolate smell was just amazing. Yes, a faint undertone of almond remained, but there was no doubting this was a chocolate cake.

02 June 2006

Basil-A-Go-Go

The pasta salad I made for our Memorial Day picnic used a fair amount of fresh basil. Because I'm not growing it this year (just thyme, dill, parsley, and fennel), I had to buy some and somehow ended up with a large plastic bin of it and so, obviously, there's a lot of leftover basil and I would like to get it used up while it is still "fresh," please. There's no point in freezing it as herbs that go into my freezer almost never come back out (I have the best of intentions for them, but no follow through).

Anyway, I found a recipe in Jamie Oliver's Happy Days with the Naked Chef (Hyperion, 2002) for "Roasted Cod with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella" (screw cooking with Google ... I'll take browsing the 641s) which came out really well and was fantastically easy to prepare. I used a double handful of leftover red grape tomatoes rather than the mix of red and yellow cherry called for and wasn't sure how big "1 ball of buffalo mozzarella" was supposed to be so only used a third of the biggish ball I had. I served the cod with a bag of Melissa's Gemstone Potatoes I had tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, chopped basil, grape tomatoes, and garlic and then baked in the same oven for about 10 minutes longer than the fish. It was nice to have everything go in the oven at the same time and temperature and then just take the cod out and cover it at the end while the potatoes finished off.

So, yes, it was all very scrumptious and I would happily make it again even though The Husband is not keen on fish that is not salmon. But he ate it all, anyway, (and without any accompanying retching-up noises) so he is stuck with it.