Thursday, December 10, 2009

Birthday Cakes(s)

Gabe had been talking about his birthday party 6 months ahead of time. He knew he wanted all of his friends to come over. He knew he wanted it to be at our house. He knew he wanted to have "lots of things to eat" and he knew exactly what he wanted his cake to look like.
Somehow he came up with the idea of having "5 circle cakes with cherries all around the top." I don't know where he came up with this idea, even though I asked him a hundred times. I tested him every few weeks to see if he had changed his mind. I suggested dinosaurs, polka dots, multiple layers, etc...but he was firm. He wanted what he wanted and I aim to please on his birthday. So, I set out to make 5 circle cakes.
He didn't want big cakes and he didn't want cupcakes, so when he saw me pull out the 6-inch cake pan he said "that is the right one, Mommy." Aha! The only bad part was that I only own 1 6-inch cake pan and he wanted 5 of them! Ugh. I didn't want to spend money on another cake pan so I baked each of the five cakes separately. I figured I had to make an adult cake to serve as well, so at least I was baking two cakes at a time. It still took 3 hours to bake, cool, wash, repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat.

The biggest challenge was finding a way to display and serve all 5 cakes. I thought about going to the home store and purchasing a long piece of wood, but decided on using things I already had. I found a big box leftover from some purchase and cut it into a 9''x36'' rectangle. Then I found two yardsticks which I taped to the bottom. Then I covered the entire thing with foil. It ended up being perfect. It was the right size and it was sturdy enough to move all the cakes at one time. Frosting them was pretty easy with the help of some wax paper underneath the edges of each cake.
Gabe was thrilled with the cakes and the kids attending all seemed delighted with so many cakes! I was just plain relieved that they turned out!!
Once again I turned to Deb at Smitten Kitchen for help. She knows how to make a cake!! If she only knew what a presence she had at this birthday party!!
I used this recipe for the chocolate cake...I liked it even better the second day when it wasn't quite soooo moist!
I used this recipe for the frosting...sooo yummy!! The only drawback was that I had to wait until the morning of the party to frost and decorate...but it was delicious!

The adult cake was a simple 1-2-3-4 cake. Worked like a charm! I made it three tiers and used a raspberry filling for a big "wow" factor when serving.

Steak Sandwiches with Mac and Cheese

My oldest turned four last weekend. How time flies! He was sure he wanted a big birthday bash with all of his friends and lots of cake and I set to work! I had an easy time deciding on decorations and entertainment, it was the food that I spent the most time worrying about. I wanted something pleasing to the kids as well as the adults, but nothing too simple or boring. After a few trial runs and much flip-flopping I decided on steak sandwiches (since we had lots of dads attending!) and mac and cheese for the kids and vegetarians attending.
I did a lot of researching for the mac and cheese and settled on this version from Smitten Kitchen who originally got it from the Martha Stewart Living Cookbook. I'm going to repost it here mainly so that I do not ever, ever lose this recipe. It is that good. It was so cheesy and delicious and reheated like a dream...just like she said it would. I got so many wonderful comments and requests for the recipe that I couldn't be happier with the results.

Best Ever Mac-and-Cheese
Adapted from who adapted it from Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics
I left out the cubed bread topping and just sprinkled the remaining cheese on top. This worked for me, but go ahead and add bread or breadcrumbs if you like. If you are making this for 4 or less people I would advise you to only make half the recipe. It more than filled one big casserole dish.

6 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyère or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter or spray a 3-quart casserole dish.
2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 10 minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyère (or 1 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.
5. Cook the macaroni in salted water until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup Gruyère (or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano). Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes and serve.

The second time I made this I did a small batch and reserved extra cheese sauce to use the second day when reheating the noodles and it was really good. It was still creamy and did not have the separated oil or curdled look that other mac and cheese dishes had in the past.

The steak sandwiches were really was just a bit of work at the last minute to slice and assemble the sandwiches before serving. I bought 4 dozen pumpernickel rolls from the bakery, sliced them, added a slice of beef, and allowed guests to finish them with horseradish sauce, red onions, baby spinach , and mayo.

A Guide for Beef Sandwiches
The beef was pretty easy. I night before I trimmed the beef 5 pound beef tenderloins and cut them into 10 inch sections. The morning of the party I liberally seasoned them with salt and pepper. I browned each side in a large pan with a little olive oil. I put all 3 sections onto a large sheet pan and baked them in a 350 degree oven for about 30-35 minutes. The best way to check if they are done is to insert a meat thermometer. It should read about 150-160 degrees for medium, about what you want for a large group.

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