Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Roughest, Toughest Cowgirl Party

I promise to get back to my NYC posts, but first, Bria's party. Bria turned three years old on Monday, so on Saturday we had a little party for her. Let's be honest though, the party was more for me. I have this tendency to Think Big-- just to get overwhelmed and in over my head before settling for something small. For Bria's party, I have to say I am proud of myself for having artistic vision and realistic expectations. All this means I accomplished everything I wanted for the party (except for a banner, but I'm ok with that).
We settled on a cowgirl theme months in advance, so there were games like Pin the Badge on the Sheriff, a Shooting Gallery (bean bags thrown at empty root beer bottles), and an Obstacle Course. Our friends down the street were generous enough to offer their backyard, so there was plenty of room for the kids to run around.
But my pride and glory was the pinata. I have not crafted papier mache since elementary school, so I tapped my inner 10 year-old and set to work every night the week before the party. I used this as my guide, and it turned out perfectly. I estimate about 6 hours of labor, but it was worth it. The kids couldn't whack it open (they could only muster light taps), so our friend Trent had to use his adult muscles to knock it open with the bat. (We at least made him do it sans glasses.)
And then there was the food. Besides the pinata, this was the real labor of love: corn cut from the cob, loaves of homemade bread, Swiss buttercream, ganache, homemade ice cream. Let's just say I am still doing dishes.

I forgot to tell my photographer (Sam) to get pictures of the spread, but just use your imagination. The menu:
PW's fresh corn and avocado salsa
My mom's salsa (recipe coming soon)
Taquitos (from Costco)
PB & Js for the kids
Cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches
Roast beef and horseradish sandwiches
Fresh strawberries (from Hannahwob)

(the aftermath)

I wanted so badly to make this rainbow cake for the party, but Bria was very insistent on having a chocolate cake. So I went with Orangette's Far-From-Disaster Cake layered with ganache and Swiss buttercream. And, you know what? 1 am the night before the party is the bad time to learn you don't like buttercream, but it was too late to change my mind, so I went with it.

Plus buttermilk frozen custard (and a batch with sweetened strawberry puree mixed in) made the perfect birthday party dessert. If you have an ice cream maker, you simply must try this ice cream. It was so full of flavor. That buttermilk adds the perfect slight tang and a depth of flavor often absent from homemade ice cream.
The main reason I cook and bake is to show my love for people in my life, so it follows that I would bake and cook my little heart out to show this girl how much I love her. And it was the perfect way to celebrate her turning THREE.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Consolation Cupcakes

I interrupt the NY posts (all one of them so far) to tell you about some cupcakes. There was a day last week when what were planned to be celebration cupcakes turned into consolation cupcakes. And I tell you, consolation has never tasted so sweet. I used Ina Garten's recipe again (it's just so good!) and then dipped the tops in a simple ganache. It was the perfect balance. The cupcakes are sturdy-- not dense or dry, but they are just substantial. The tops even have a type of crust, and that's actually what I love. They don't crumble or fall apart, yet they are still moist and delicate. (And, as a batter-eater, I can tell you, it is worth licking the beaters.) But because the cupcakes could stand on their own, they don't need copious amounts of intensely sugared frosting. A light coating of ganache is just enough to make them interesting and indulgent. The ganache was easy enough: I used semi-sweet chocolate chips and some half and half (leftover from making dutch babies). Fill a little dish with the chips then heat the half and half (or cream or whole milk, but let's be honest, I've even used skim milk in a pinch) in the microwave until it is very hot and very steamy. Then poor it over the chocolate-- just enough to not quite cover all the chocolate. Let it sit for a minute or two before using a fork or whisk to slowly bring it all together. Dip some freshly baked cupcakes in it, and there you have it: consolation on a dish.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

NYC Take One: In Which We Vow to Never Take a Rush Hour Bus Again

Instead of one long post detailing every moment and morsel of NYC, I'm going to break it up into pieces. So here we are, part one!
After dropping Bria off at her cousins' house, driving to and parking in Bethesda, taking the metro to DC, and meeting Sam at Union Station, we sprinted through rain to catch our bus to NYC leaving at 4:30. Now let's think this through: 4:30. On a Friday. In the rain. All of this led to a 6.5 hour bus ride to New York. We weren't particularly thrilled-- especially when the wifi didn't work the entire ride. I think we'll try Bolt bus next time.
Anyway, we arrived in the Big Apple at 11 pm and were absolutely famished (note to selves, bring heftier snacks on the bus). We thought about just grabbing something quick and easy, but I stuck to my guns: we had very few meals in NYC, and I wanted to make each one count. We had originally planned to eat at the Burger Joint, so we mapped it on our iphones and hoped it would be a quick subway trip to Midtown, which it was.
The Burger Joint is this little place inside a fancy hotel. Le Parker Meridien bought the space and tried to buy out the Burger Joint, but they wouldn't leave. They had to take down all signage and advertising, but they are still going strong! You have to walk into the luxury hotel, past the fancy concierge and then disappear down a tiny hallway. A tiny neon burger on the wall points the way behind a curtain, and you have a tiny little burger place full of hipsters.
When you combine our level of hunger with the quality of the burgers, you have one tasty meal. We scarfed it down in record time. The burgers were substantial (I couldn't finish my last bite), and we even splurged on a chocolate shake that was out of this world. We sneaked a couple shots before the girl at the register yelled "NO PICTURES!" at me and I tried to play it cool while I turned beet red. (So much for trying to get a picture of the two of us!)
I may have felt sick the rest of the weekend from my red-meat indulgence, but it was totally worth it. So glad we didn't scratch our plan just because of our late bus. A perfect start for the weekend!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In Which I Only Met Half My Goal

I have a loooong New York post brewing (Sam and I went to New York for my birthday!), but being married to someone who works in film means there is a very, oh, particular way I'm supposed to organize files on our computer, meaning I haven't even learned how to upload pictures from our fancy new camera yet, so you'll have to be patient. Until then, I have a (completely non-food-related) book list.
My sister-in-law Rachel read 365 books last year (really!), and it inspired me to read more. I read a ton the year after Bria was born, because, well, I didn't really have anything to do. But then things got slightly busier, and I just haven't been in the habit of reading like I used to. So sometime last year I decided I wanted to read 25 books when I was 25. Not a lofty goal, sure, but more than I was used to and totally doable. But I didn't do it. I blame it on two really long books (and a little laziness), but whatever. So it may not be 25, but here is the list of books I read in my 25th year. (And I am aiming for 26 books this year, and I think I have a better shot this time around.)
**Also, disclaimer: This is not a book recommendation list. I never recommend books because I know too many people who would probably be offended by my love of postmodern literature. So take from that what you will.

1. The Hunger Games
2. Catching Fire
3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
4. The Glass Castle
5. The Time Traveler's Wife
6. When You Are Engulfed in Flames
7. A Brave New World
8. Mockingjay
9. Pillars of the Earth
10. Revolutionary Road
11. Rich Dad, Poor Dad
12. Stress Free Potty Training
13. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

I have linked all the books to Goodreads, so if you're curious about my specific ratings for each book, you can check them out there. It's actually pretty difficult to pick my favorite book. I might say Hunger Games just because it was so exciting, thrilling, and captivating that I read it straight over two days. I was absolutely floored by the quality of writing in Revolutionary Road as well as Kavalier and Clay. I do recommend The Glass Castle to almost anyone, and The Pillars of the Earth is the longest book I've ever read or care to read again.
I am starting the year off with Bossypants by Tina Fey, which is making me laugh my socks off. That woman is a comedic genius. As for the rest of the year, I have a long and ever-growing list of books to read, but I always accept recommendations. So now please tell me books you love!