The Gleeful Gourmand: June 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Very Happy Birthday Cake

I wanted to make something very special for Savannah and Delia's 1st Birthday party. On their actual birthday I made two small individual chocolate cakes with fresh homemade whipped cream sweetened with just a little bit of confectioner's sugar. They loved the whipped cream, but didn't want much to do with the cake, so I figured for their party not to bother. It was way too much work. They got Birthday Pudding instead and loved every single bite.

But months ago I got this idea in my head that I was unwilling to let go of. I had to make the cake that was featured on Better Homes and Garden's May cover, the Pink Lemonade Cake. Even though they couldn't eat it, it would be really special for their party, and I knew the adults would get a kick out of it. After reading over the recipe, I realized I could do this! The cake portion I could actually make days ahead and freeze (up to 3 months in fact!), and it was really easy to do, even when it came to making the different color layers. It smelled like heaven in the oven and I really thought I was super clever.
It looked better in person, trust me!

Then the day of the party dawned and all hell broke loose (as they usually do when you're trying to get ready for a big party). I got the cakes out of the freezer early and they defrosted beautifully. And then I noticed it: One cake was significantly smaller than the other height-wise. What the what? I had followed the directions perfectly, measured perfectly, but there it was; an inferior cake stacked up against the way it should have looked. Slicing the cakes into four equal layers confirmed my fear: the dark pink layer would be uneven.

Whatever, I had to press on and get to making the Lemonade Buttercream. I have made a lot of buttercream in my time, but this one was really different: namely that it requires a ridiculous amount of marshmallow creme. When I say a ridiculous amount, I mean ridiculous. Like 32 ounces worth of ridiculous (and 6 sticks of butter, but that's neither here nor there). I don't know if any of you have ever worked with marshmallow creme (supposedly you can make fudge with it), but it is really hard to get out of the jar.

By the time I was scraping the bottom of the first jar, the marshmallow creme started fighting back, grabbing my spatula and holding on for dear life. It was sticking to the jar, my hand was stuck to the spatula, and some fell on the floor and my flip flop then got stuck to the floor. Seriously, I actually had to stoop down and pull my shoe off the floor with force, and I still had a jar and a half to go. Meanwhile, Buck is marinating his chicken and basically staying quiet as I sweat, cursed, and fought with the stuff. I was really worried about how it would go down trying to turn all of this into buttercream, but I shouldn't have.

It turned out beautifully. And it made so much that even with four layers I still had plenty leftover (something I always worry about when making layer cakes, that I'll run out of frosting). And it was delicious. The cake was moist and light with hints of lemonade coming through, and the buttercream was to die for. It didn't look anything like the cake on the cover of the magazine, because let's face it, I'm no professional, but it looked really fun, and it got great reviews from the partygoers.

Would I make it again? Yes, but only for special occasions, and I would definitely do the final steps of slicing the cake and frosting when I have ample time and don't feel totally rushed and stressed. Baking the cake was no problem, assembling was dicey. I'd love for someone else to try the recipe and tell me how it went. You can find the recipe here: Pink Lemonade Cake.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Happy Birthday Savannah and Delia!

This year has certainly flown by. One year ago this morning I was 34 weeks pregnant, sporting a big torpedo-like belly and standing in a Barnes and Noble looking at books and thinking how truly weird it was that I was looking at books just one hour before having a C-section to give birth to Savannah and Delia. It was definitely a surreal moment, knowing that in just an hour our world would be turned upside-down by not one, but two babies.

The belly. Oh, the belly!
If you look back at my posts from that time, you can tell that I was nervous about how it would all turn out. I was nervous that the girls, and especially Delia (who was the littler of the two) would be okay. I was nervous about how to take care of two babies. I knew how to take care of one just fine, and had done a pretty good job so far, based on the facts that he looked well-fed and usually sported a happy smile. But two? I was plagued with doubts ranging from logistics to scheduling to wondering how our 3-year-old’s emotional state would be when faced with two little lumps who would need me constantly.

Delia (L) and Savannah (R) in the Step-Down Nursery in the hospital.
I’m happy to report that it all turned out fine, though not without hitting some major speed bumps, the occasional outburst (on all 5 of our parts), tears, and sleeplessness. At my worst during this year I will be honest: the thought, “I don’t want to be a mother anymore” crossed my mind several times. The terrible times usually involved trying to feed one baby who was being really difficult, only to have to turn around and feed the other baby. When the bad times were bad, they seemed never-ending, like when all of us were sick this winter and spring with bad colds, and then the stomach virus.

At those points, my state of being can best be summed up by Bilbo Baggins from The Fellowship of the Rings: “Why I feel all thin, sort of stretched; if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.”

Of course, Bilbo is talking about the way an evil ring is taking a hold of him, and I’m not at all suggesting that I think the girls are evil and are always trying to take me back to Mordor, or anything like that. But when I read that line, I thought: Bilbo, I know exactly what you mean. I think every mother ever knows exactly what you mean.

But we survived. And here we are at a place I could never envision in my mind: The girls turning 1 year old. Throughout the year we were so blessed with family and friends who pitched in to help, provided countless hours helping us shoulder the burden of feeding, and listened to our frustrations and joys with open ears and open hearts. We would not have been able to get through this year if not for those people. We were able to power through those tough moments, and it all led to this, June 13th, one year later.

Delia (L), and Savannah (R) playing their favorite game.
Our sweet girls have come so far. From the teeny tiny babies they were in the NICU, to the boisterous, sweet, funny, and adventurous girls they’ve grown into, these girls constantly amaze me. Take the last two months. In the span of just three weeks, Savannah learned to sit up on her own, then crawl, then pull up, then taking her first tentative steps in cruising. As is often the case, Delia followed suit a couple of weeks later (except for pulling up and standing, she’s not so sure about that yet). Now they follow each other around the house (not going in separate directions, thank God!) at top crawling speed, squealing and laughing and having so much fun. They love playing with Liam and have so much to say to us, and each other in their baby babble. Their favorite game is to sit on either side of the sliding glass door, leading out to the sun porch, and talk through the glass, and they love to cuddle with us and don’t seem to mind our smothering kisses one bit.

Their other favorite game: Attack the Photographer.
We thank God for our sunny little girls and can’t wait to see the women they grow into. This year may have had its share of long, tough moments, but it truly did go by in the blink of an eye. Learning to cherish every single moment is something having twins is teaching us every day. Happy Birthday Savannah and Delia, we love you so much!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Measure for Measure

There is a scene in the great movie Juile & Julia in which Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle are setting up Child’s kitchen to get ready for a cooking lesson. Child relates that she had a hard time making the conversion for the measurements on the recipe they’re about to make. Beck says that the argument over measurements was the biggest one she and Bertholle had while writing their cookbook, and Bertholle agrees, replying that, “measurements do not matter.” Child tells her that they absolutely do matter, and holds up a stack of measuring cups as much as to say, “Look, if they didn’t matter so much, why do we have all these tools? Measurements matter enormously.”

It’s an understatement to say that I agree with Julia Child on this issue. Measurements matter. At least, they matter to me. And that’s a big distinction, as we’ll see in a minute.
Julia Child (as played by Meryl Streep) is excited because she knows measurements matter. A lot.

It’s no secret by now that I love to bake. I love the science of it, and when things go wrong (and after the frustration has settled down), I love going back and trying again to figure out where it went wrong.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending which side of the debate you’re on) for me, the amount of time I spend baking and creating sweets where measurements absolutely, 100% matter, means that when it comes to cooking I rarely ever go off script. It used to make me incredibly tense when I would make the wrong measurement in cooking, or if I didn’t have all the correct ingredients. I have been known on more than one occasion to freak out, throw in the towel and call for takeout when it’s discovered that I’m missing one or two components of the dish I’m making.

Enter the other side of this debate, my husband, who has that rare and uncanny ability to look in the fridge and cupboard and use whatever is in there to whip up an impromptu gourmet meal. He is also, like so many males, very adept at looking at a recipe for the first time and then going off on a tangent and making it his own on the first go-round. He most definitely does not believe in measurements. But then, he doesn’t do much baking either. And sometimes his anti-measurement stance gets him into trouble. For example, when we threw that Kentucky Derby party, I was in charge of making the Mint Juleps. It’s a recipe I’ve worked hard to perfect (and one that is actually a compilation of a couple of different recipes together) and for the first half of the party I was solely in charge of doling them out. But by the last half we were running after little kids hopped up on sugar, and my husband took over the Juleps.

Not really understanding the ratio of Mint Simple Syrup to Bourbon, he made the drinks, well, a little too strong. Like gasping and spluttering type of strong. Even he had to admit that I should stick to mixology, and he should stick to wine pouring (that’s actually a compliment, his knowledge of wine is impressive).

The thing is, I want to get better at improvisation and creativity when it comes to recipes. I want to go off course without getting crazy tense about it and worrying so much about how it’s going to screw everything up. Knowing that there are things you can’t compromise on (oven and range temperatures for one, and having a basic knowledge of how the ratio of sweet to savory works) and things that you can (certain ingredients, and if one would taste better than another) is a good place to start. I think that a good compromise would be to try the recipe the right way first, and then go off on experimentation, as long as measuring spoons and cups were handy.

In that spirit, I submit a recipe my husband made the other weekend by researching a few different recipes and coming up with his own. When he initially told me about what he did to make these chicken drumsticks I was really skeptical. It sounded crazy, like too many ingredients that probably wouldn’t mesh well together. Since it was a dish we were serving for friends, I was especially worried, but kept my nose out of it. They turned out perfectly. Beyond perfect. They were so good it was enough for me to want to never question my husband in the kitchen again (mostly).  So in the spirit of being laissez faire (sometimes) when it comes to measurements, or at least attempting to, I give you this recipe. They are crisp, flavorful and so juicy and tender. And hey, you just might look at it and discover a way to go off on a tangent and make it even better.

Buck’s Mixed Up Chicken Barbecue

• One large package chicken drumsticks (about 12)
• One bottle of Italian Dressing
• Sea Salt, Pepper, Paprika
• ½ cup Panko Breadcrumbs
• 1 cup Flour
• ½ cup Italian Breadcrumbs
• Any mild Barbecue Sauce

Put drumsticks in a Ziploc bag and pour the Italian Dressing over them. Let marinate for 4 or more hours in refrigerate.

Take drumsticks out and add salt, pepper, and paprika. Mix flour, breadcrumbs and panko together. Dredge drumsticks in mixture, being sure to coat evenly. Shake off excess.

Place on a grill with the heat at medium. Grill for 40 minutes, turning as necessary to avoid burning. (Note: Buck didn’t use a thermometer, he could tell they were done when the meat started to pull away from the bone. Use your own discretion in this area)

In the last 5 minutes, baste the drumsticks all over with your favorite barbecue sauce. We love Stubbs Mild Barbecue Sauce. Enjoy!