Sunday, March 29, 2009

Daring Baker Challenge - Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

"Behold, God is my helper;
The Lord is the sustainer of my soul." 
Psalm 54:4

I was so looking forward to this challenge. I love to make lasagna, and I was up for a new recipe. I even bought the cook book that the recipe came from. But unfortunately I came down with pneumonia last week, and the doctor even told me to go to emergency on Friday evening with a temperature of 104.  So I do no have the energy to tackle lasagna this weekend.  And besides, I can't smell anything.  I can only taste salt, sweet, sour, and bitter.  Yesterday I put chopped fresh jalapeno in my chicken soup and I didn't even notice it.  I had originally planned to do it for my husbands birthday dinner earlier this month. But he had purchased a big standing rib roast for me to cook, so what was I to do. I feel like a real flake of a daring baker, and I really hope they don't take me off the list.

But since I can't talk about my db event, I will talk about my lasagna for last Christmas. It was the snowiest Christmas any of us had ever seen, and our car was of no use to us. If you wanted to go anywhere you walked, unless you got someone with chains to give you a ride. I talked some about all this snow business on a blog in December, but I never got it finished. Everything was so hectic. But because I wasn't able to get to my Italian market to pick up fresh made pasta sheets for the lasagna we were compelled to make our own. Luckily my daughter Annie is an expert at this, and in our usual fashion we all dug in to get the lasagna make.

I was lucky to find all the ingredients needed for my sauce in the freezer, including a secret ingredient, which has become somewhat of a tradition.

And to my great amazement, there it was, Christmas Eve Lasagna, even though I didn't think I could do it. And we even had dinner on time (well, almost on time - 8:15).

And the nicest complement the lasagna got from my oldest daughter's French boyfriend, who said it was the best lasagna he'd ever eaten, and he had two pieces.

We all enjoyed the lasagna very much, and had a lovely Christmas eve dinner.

And then we follow dinner with our traditional buche de Noel:

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

And I know there are many many wonderful daring bakers out there who actually managed to do this month's challenge

"If I knew I was going to live this long,
 I'd have taken better care of myself." 
Mickey Mantle

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Riley's Birthday

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient, love is kind. 
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, 
it keeps no record of wrongs. 
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I was baffled for weeks about what to do for Riley's birthday. It was on Wednesday - the day our group meets. I liked the idea of including the group, but I didn't like the idea of excluding the family. Then I came up with the idea of having a family birthday dinner for Riley on the Sunday before his birthday. I can't remember the details, but that fell flat. So there I was, still wondering what I was going to do.

I often asked Riley what he would like to do, and he was not forth-coming with any good ideas. Well actually, he had gotten the idea that he wanted onion rings. That sounded terrible to me, due to the fact that I've been slightly nauseated ever since I got a bad cold in November. Fried food is not appealing. Then the morning of his birthday I made everyone pancakes, we took Christian to school, and then we went through the Starbucks drive-thru, where we talked with Caroline, who works there. In chatting with Caroline, who realized it was us and came to the window, she mentioned that her best friend from childhood - Jenny - had died on Monday. I immediately felt that it was a bad idea not to have the group. But Riley had already e-mailed everyone earlier in the morning that we weren't having the group because of his birthday.

Well I took Riley to work, all the while thinking of what to do. After dropping of Riley, Emily and I went to Goodwill, and while there I decided that I would just contact everyone to have them come, not telling Riley of course. So then I went back to Starbucks and told Caroline, who said they would be coming. Then I went home and found the phone numbers of both Jake and Merideth on Riley's computer, and I called both of them, needing to leave a message both times.

Then I needed to get a big cake made, and I needed to think of how to get Riley to dinner in such a way as to be able to get home by 7:30, not too late, but soon after out guests arrived. Heidi and her group - Christian, Emily, Stephane, and Parker - would be there, as well as Annie and Corey. The cake I made was from the Rose's cookbook, and was a cake Riley had requested. I made half the recipe, as the whole recipe called for putting the batter into 3 10 inch cake pans. I used the 6 1/2 inch pans, and each layer was perfect, coming just to the top of the pan when cooked. But the frosting was an absolute pain. I think that an ingredient was omitted. I just couldn't get it to turn into frosting, until I finally added about 1/4 cup heavy cream. I was then supposed to stir in the chopped pecans into the frosting before spredding onto the cake. That was a really big pain, and I had to affix the frosting to the cake using my fingers, because it just wouldn't spread. The cake was really tall and narrow, and looked rather silly. But what could I do.

I finally came up with the idea of picking him up after work and telling him we were going to go to a restaurant we'd never been to before. At first I'd thought of taking him to a restaurant that needed reservations, but in these hard economic times, reservations are not the thing. I decided that Italian was the best idea, and I soon came up with the idea of going to "3 Doors Down" in the Hawthorne district. It came well recommended.

I was just a tad late picking him up, as Corey was not really willing to help me. She was really miffed at the idea of having to entertain young married couples. But Riley was all ready to go when I got there, and he was delighted with the idea of a surprise new restaurant. As I headed up Hawthorne he was quite perplexed, as I'd told him that it was a slightly posh restaurant that he'd never been to. By the time we got to about 32nd he guessed "3 Doors Down", but I didn't tell him he was right until I parked the car. I really was quite the restaurant, especially for Hawthorne. We both ordered a seafood pasta dish, with a shared caesar salad before. I ordered a glass of wine, and Riley ordered a martini. By the time we were finishing our dinner it was getting very close to when we should leave, but I was doing my very best to not let Riley know I was in a hurry to get home. When the waitress asked if we would like dessert, I told Riley that we had a specially dessert at home. But upon seeing the dessert menu, Riley decided that he wanted to have some coffee. At that I knew we were going to be late getting home, but I remained as absolutely cool as possible, so as not to give a hint as to what was happening. Though I did help him a little with drinking his coffee.

Luckily, after leaving the restaurant, he did not suggest we go to Powells. We headed straight home. But as we arrived at our block he did notice that there was an unusual amount of cars parked outside our house. I told him that someone else must be having a party. But of course, as soon as he walked up onto the porch, he noticed all the people in the house. To my delight every one was there, and the table was all set up for dessert. It turned out that Corey, in an effort to not be social, had decided to get things ready.

We sang happy birthday.

Then we had cake.

We all watched

as Riley opened presents. I gave him a very nice garden fork.

""Think! How the hell are you gonna think and hit at the same time?" 
Yogi Berra

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

TWD - Chocolate Armagnac Cake

Then one of the young men said, 
"Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite 
who is a skillful musician, 
a mighty man of valor, a warrior, 
one prudent in speech, and a handsome man; 
and the LORD is with him."
1 Samuel 16:18

Tuesday with Dorie: Chocolate Armagnac Cake - page 279 
of Baking: From My House to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Yesterday I thought for once I'd get a head start on my TWD project, and get it done on Monday. Well I forgot that I was going to the Symphony. Riley called and asked if I would come down town and pick him up so that he could take a nap, as he worries about falling asleep and snoring at the symphony. This cut right into my progress - actually it stopped it all together. We first went for coffee, as I didn't want coffee too late because I am capable of being awake until 2 AM if I have late coffee.

We saw the Portland Symphony conducted by Itzhak Perlman. The first piece was Bach's Violin Concerto in A Minor. It was of course played by Perlman on his Stradivarius, and I thought it was wonderful. But to my great shock, I realized after the piece was over that someone had been playing a harpsicord, and I had never heard it. In part I can attribute this to my attention to the violin, but also it was because I am partially deaf, and that was sad to me.

But back to the cake. Trying to get it made with Emily in tow was darned hard. She was determined she was going to crack the eggs, not understanding that I needed to separate them. I had to do it the cheffy way, using my fingers to strain the whites out. This was because she cracked an egg before I could stop her. So then I put her onto the task of stirring the warm chocolate. That went much better.

I was glad that I already had the prunes steeped and the nuts ground, but this recipe sure uses more than it's fair share of bowls.  I finally got the eggs properly whipped, the chocolate melted, and began to combine everything. It all went together very nicely, and now I'm waiting for it to come out the oven - 1 minute to go. .... It didn't seem quite done, so I gave it another three minutes. The first time was for 21 minutes. This is because I made less than the whole cake.   I halved it, sort of.   I had missed the three eggs bit, so in the end I halved all but the eggs, using two, since I couldn't decide how to cut three in half, and so I omitted the water with the chocolate.    We'll see. ... In those last three minutes the top of the cake cracked. I don't know what that means.

So now I'm going into the kitchen to ice the cake and take some pictures. Be back soon.

The icing was "a piece of cake". I don't think mine would have turned into a glaze, and I used a knife to spread.   We soon all had a piece with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. It was very tasty, and I couldn't really detect the prunes. Did I chop them too small? The cake was very light, but then I halved the recipe, but still used 2 eggs (omitting the water).   That's to say that I think the extra egg white made the cake lighter.  I'd like to try the whole cake next time.  Since I had just made a flourless cake for the Daring Baker project, I didn't need too much more cake at this time.

I forgot to mention:  even though I made only half the cake, I made all the icing.  It was a good fit.

next day:  The cake is even better the next day - really.  Emily and I had tea and cake after lunch, and the first thing she said after having a little piece of cake was "More!"

Albert Einstein, who fancied himself as a violinist, was rehearsing a Haydn string quartet. When he failed for the fourth time to get his entry in the second movement, the cellist looked up and said, "The problem with you, Albert, is that you simply can't count."