Friday, August 15, 2008

Tommy's Birthday

My youngest child just turned thirteen, which actually means I no longer have any children – just teenagers and (young) grown-ups who call me Mom.

Tommy is the only one of my four who has a summer birthday, and we usually have a big family blow-out. This year was no exception. We had a cookout for twenty people. The first guests (Tommy’s friends) arrived at 4 in the afternoon and the last guests (family members) left at midnight.

For our kids birthday we usually cook their favorite food for dinner. This presents a problem when it comes to Tommy because he only likes food the rest of us aren’t terribly interested in eating. To make everyone happy we cooked a little bit of everything.

There was a big pot of clam chowder, a bowl of chips, a platter of hotdogs and a fruit salad for Tommy and his friends. For those with a more sophisticated palate we added ribs, grilled marinated chicken, potato salad, and three bean salad.

Putting out that kind of spread isn’t nearly as nerve wracking as THE CAKE. I love to cook, but baking – not so much. For me, cooking is an art. Baking is pure science, and science was never my favorite subject. Not that my family suffers. Did you notice the hubby made the last two desserts in the entry below?

The only thing I love to bake are pies. Cookies and cakes make my head hurt, but occasionally I still persist in trying to bake cookies (tons of them at Christmas, and no other time) and cakes (for my children’s birthdays, depending on my mood).

My mood was adventurous on Tommy’s birthday, so I flipped open my Mom’s cookbook and made the chocolate cake I grew up with. Every time I make this, I’m disappointed with the result, but still I persist. This time was no different.

Even though a hint of memory cautioned me to follow the directions to grease the cake pan, add wax paper and grease that too, I simply don’t remember ever seeing wax paper ever in my childhood home. Thinking about the bathroom I still had to clean, I simply greased and floured the pan, put the two nine-inch round pans in the oven, set the timer and went clean the bathroom.

Thirty minutes later, my bathroom was spotless, but my cakes wouldn’t come out of their pans. Using knives and spatulas, I managed to ease them onto the waiting racks, but I lost the bottom corner of one and seriously panicked about how the cake would look. The other one came out, but the thin bottom layer stayed in the pan, leaving a crumbly top that looked impossible to frost neatly.

Luckily, Tommy wanted the same cake his sister Julie decorated for him last year, something called a dirt cake that involves crushed Oreos and gummy worms. Crushed Oreos cover a multitude of crumb and frosting errors. I highly recommend them.

For those with sharp eyes, did you notice my photos are getting (slightly) better? Thanks go to Elise Bauer, food blogger extraordinaire, whose blog Simply Recipes has some awesome recipes and gorgeous photos. On her site, she has some extremely helpful tips for better photos of food. My husband won't let me I can’t really afford to buy a new camera with changeable lenses, but I did discover my camera has both a macro setting and a super macro setting. Check this out.

Macro of Three Bean Salad:

Super macro of Three Bean Salad:

Isn't that amazing?!!! Thanks Elise!

The Recipes:

Three Bean Salad

2 cups green beans, ends trimmed and snapped into thirds
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 medium Vidalia or walla walla onion, sliced and then cut slices in half
1/4 cup Ken’s Steak House Lite Olive Oil Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Mom's Favorite Chocolate Layer Cake

3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1/3 cup coffee
3/4 cup butter
2 1/4 cups brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coffee

Melt chocolate in 1/3 cup of coffee over very low heat, stirring. When melted, set aside to cool slightly. Measure dry ingredients and sift them together. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar very well. Add eggs one at a time and beat well. Add vanilla and then blend in chocolate. Beat well. Add dry ingredients, alternately with 1 cup of coffee, missing just enough to combine well on lowest mixer speed.

Pour into well-buttered 9-inch cake pans lined with buttered wax paper. Bake at 350 degree oven 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Do not remove cake too soon or it will fall. Cool 10 minutes in pan, then remove and cool on racks.

Butter Cream Frosting

1/3 cup butter
4 1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

In a bowl beat butter till fluffy. Gradually, add 2 cups powdered sugar, beating well. Slowly beat in the 1/4 cup milk and vanilla. Slowly beat in remaining sugar. Beat in additional milk if desired.


Elise said...

Hi Laurie,
Good work! I'm so glad you found the information helpful.

Laurie said...

Thanks for checking out the site, Elise!