Menu planning

I have a bad habit.  Well, let’s not lie, I have many.  But pertaining to food, I have one particular potentially disastrous practice: I like to make food for company that I’ve never made before.  I have experimented with risotto, fancy baked pastas, doughnuts, all for company for the first time.  I have tried to diagnose this habit, and I can’t be sure where it comes from.  Maybe I think that once I’ve made it before, it becomes simple and easy and not adequately fancy.  I like to be fancy.  Maybe I want to show off a little.  Maybe I just get excited about trying new recipes.  Who knows?

Oddly, I noticed that the menu I currently have planned for the “Belated Reception” party N. and I are throwing contains almost no unattempted recipes.  Despite permission, no, encouragement even, from K. (one of our guests of honor) to use this gathering as an opportunity to try out fancy new dishes, the ideas I immediately gravitated toward were tried and true. With guests bringing their own grillable mains, K. and I will be making a series of sides.

Here’s a preview of the intended menu:

Marinated tofu skewers, grilled.

Grilled corn, cilantro, and lime salad

Grilled garlic bread (seeing a pattern here?)

Fresh tomato bruschetta

Pea and mint puree on crostini, topped with nasturtiums

German or red potato salad

Pasta salad with tomatoes, mozzarella, olives, and sundried tomato vinaigrette.

(Chips, salsa, guacamole, etc.)

For dessert, I’ll make two types of cake for folks to try, both drenched in alcohol (because that’s just the kind of hostess I am):

A reprisal of my terrifically successful Chocolate “tiramisu” cake (featured here).

Pink champagne cake (N. and I had champagne cake with strawberries at our wedding, and I’d like to return the favor).

In addition to wine, beer, and the usual party beverages, I will also make a Champagne-rum punch, a deadly recipe because it is fizzy and sweet and delicious, making you forget the two kinds of alcohol it contains as it fizzes right into your bloodstream.

Ah, summer living.


Eight or nine months ago, two good friends of ours (mine, N.’s, our department’s) got married.  Because they were in Canada at the time on a Fulbright scholarship, no one here in Oregon who adores them were able to share their celebration in person.

But they are back now, and I have conspired to throw them a belated reception in my backyard in a few weeks.  We will be grilling, but I know there will be plenty of chopping, roasting, sauteing, and baking as well.  I have plans, but I’d love to hear some input:  if you were going to an upscale backyard BBQ, bringing your own grillables and perhaps a bottle of wine, what would you be bringing?  What kinds of side dishes would you hope to eat?  What items should not be missed when we assemble our menu?

Wedding Cake Redux

Yesterday, N. and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary.  I know, I know, we’re practically newlyweds still, and maybe that’s why I wanted to make something special for us to eat.  N. wanted to go out to dinner, since I cook a lot, and so I hatched a plan for dessert.  I’ve been getting a subscription to Cuisine at Home, and a few months ago I received an issue with a recipe for Pink Champagne Cake.  At our wedding, the cake flavor was champagne, and the filling was fresh strawberries.  It looked like this:


Though this recipe didn’t call for strawberries, the idea behind it seemed perfect, so early yesterday morning while N. was in a class, I set to work on what was easily the most complicated cake I have ever baked.  The first part was easy:


Like any cake, the layers needed to cool completely before frosting them, which was convenient because it gave me ample time to clean up the incredible mess I had created in the kitchen.  Not only do I enjoy creating food, apparently I like to throw my whole self into the process.  When the cakes were cooled and the kitchen was clean(er), I embarked on step two: frosting.  This cake was more complex than my normal baking projects not only because the batter involved champagne, two mixing bowls, and egg whites, but because the frosting was a multi-step process as well.  The first frosting step was for the filling between the two layers.  Here I decided to go a few extra kilometers in recreating our wedding cake, and arranged slices of fresh strawberries atop the frosting layer:


Next, after carefully stacking the cake and performing some fancy heating, cooling, whipping, and folding with gelatin, heavy cream, and the remaining already mixed frosting, I carefully stacked on the second layer, frosted the bejeezus out of the whole thing, and then covered the cake and refrigerated it so that the frosting could set up a little before eating.  When it came out, it looked like this:


Then we ate it.  The addition of strawberries was really wonderful, both for reminiscence sake and because the frosting was powdered sugar based, which is often too sweet for me.  The tart juiciness of the strawberries cut the almost overwhelming sweetness of the icing, and the layer of red in the middle was pretty, since I didn’t use the food coloring required to make the “Pink” part of the recipe’s title.  This didn’t seem necessary, both because our wedding cake was not pink, and because I didn’t want to spend the money on food coloring.  This is a change I would advise keeping.  My only other critique of the cake, which was ultimately my fault, would be to use white shortening in the frosting.  Mine was butter flavored and yellow, which is usually fine, but it did make the frosting on the cake a creamy color, when bright white would have been a little more aesthetically pleasing.


But the important thing here is the flavor.  It was delicious.  The cake was moist and a bit dense, and though it was not particularly strong, there was definitely a hint of champagne flavor in there.  It was definitely more complex than a simple white or yellow cake, and maybe with a simpler frosting – just whipping cream, sugar, and a splash of champagne – this would be a perfect showy dessert.  In fact, with so much left in the fridge, I might just have to taste it again and make sure it’s as good as it was last night…