Saturday, February 16, 2008

If You Want Something Done Right, Do It Yourself

by Erin

Last night I attended the birthday party of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Courtney V. It was her 26th birthday, and I wanted to do something special for her. Since back in the day, I remember Court loved cookie cakes (you know, the ones made with yummy soft chocolate chip cookies, and lots of brown and white icing?), so I thought I would order her one for the party as a surprise. I didn't have time to go to Great American Cookies all the way in Columbia, so I went to The Great Cookie (located across the street from the law school in the hospital) instead. Their cookies are pretty tasty, so I figured a giant one would be just as delicious!

I called in the morning, and I ordered a large (16-in) round cake that said "Happy Birthday Courtney!" in purple and white letters. Here's what I got:

Oh. My. Goodness. CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?? Worst cake EVER! I mean, yes, it's funny - hilarious, even - but please! I am still in shock over how hideously this cake turned out.

Let's talk about all the problems with this cake: it's a small cake (12-in) (not 16-in, like I ordered), it's heart-shaped (not round, like I ordered), "birthday" is on two lines, as is "Courtney," or should I say "Courney" since her name is SPELLED WRONG! Could there be more things wrong with it? Thankfully, there were no problems with the taste - it was delicious.

Clearly, I will never be going to The Great Cookie again. If I need a cookie cake, I should just do it myself! Harumph!

Happy cookie cake fiasco,


Thursday, February 14, 2008

I Choo-Choo-Chooooose You!

by Erin and Xani

I don’t think we’re alone when we say that Valentine’s Day (or Valentime’s Day, if you’re from north Baltimore) is a holiday designed to make money for the card stores, flower shops, chocolate shops, and fancy restaurants, while at the same time making single girls like us rue the day we didn’t call that guy back just because he was wearing a mock turtleneck. BUT, there is one good thing about V-day: it’s the perfect excuse to make adorable treats/crafts to give out to our friends!

It all started last Sunday, while we were in the midst of making Xani’s birthday dinner. We decided to make Ina Garten’s “Outrageous Brownies” since they looked so delicious and they would hold up for the few days before actual V-day. We thought about doing chocolate truffles or heart-shaped Linzer torts (like last year – so adorable AND delicious but alas, they were pre-blog so no pics!), but we finally decided on the brownies.

The brownie recipe began with a pound of butter (oh Ina...), unsweetened chocolate, and semi-sweet chocolate, melted together over a double boiler. Meanwhile, eggs, instant coffee, vanilla, and sugar (over 2 cups!) are mixed together and added to the cooled chocolate mixture.



Then, the flour, salt, and baking powder are mixed together and added to the chocolate mixture. Meanwhile, the chocolate chips (and walnuts, if you are using them - we didn't since we didn't want to run into any nut allergy issues) are tossed in flour before being added to the brownie batter. This is to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the pan during baking.

We buttered and floured a sheet pan and then poured in the batter (which, by the way, was better than any brownie batter we've ever eaten). It was baked at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or so until a toothpick came out clean. Then, you have to wait for the brownies to come to room temperature AND THEN refrigerate them before you can cut into them. What kind of patience do you think we have, Ina??

While we were waiting for the brownies to be done, we worked on the other parts of our little crafts - cutting ribbon, making little tags, and stamping hearts on the tags. After they were FINALLY cooled, we divided the brownies in half to be assembled at our respective homes later in the week.

We each had a little gadget we used in/during our assembly: EP chose to cut her brownies into hearts using a small cookie cutter, and Xani took her picture with the help of a new toy-- a portable lighting studio she received for her birthday! You'll definitely be able to tell which are her pictures!

Xani's secret weapon

Erin's secret weapon

We assembled our treats by putting the brownie in a little cellophane bag, along with 3-4 Valentine's Day-themed M&Ms. Then we tied the bag with one of four patterns of ribbon, and attached a little piece of cardstock with a heart-stamp and a hand-written V-Day note. If you didn't think it could get any cheesier, the hole-punch for the ribbon was heart-shaped!

We think they turned out pretty cute! Oh, and the brownies are DELICIOUS. Super-rich, but delicious. We're glad we cut them so small!

Happy Valentine's Day everyone, and if you like Valentine's Day, we hope it was a good one full of love, and if you hate it, you've got 364 days until you have to deal with it again.

Happy V-Day,

E & X

ps. Bonus points for anyone who knows the blog title's reference!

pps. If you didn't get a treat, or you got one but it didn't have the super-cute ribbon/bag/card treatment-- sorry!! No offense intended. Until we hit that MegaMillions, the madness has to stop somewhere!!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Happy Birthday to ME!!

by Xani

First of all, I want to say THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH to all my friends, family, etc who made my birthday this year super-special and fun! Twenty-nine is definitely one for the record books, celebration-wise. The grand finale was the traditional "birthday girl's choice" Sunday dinner at BCD Mom and Dad's house. And boy, did we do it up this time!! The menu:

  • Cocktails
  • Indian-style Mussel soup
  • Aged Prime Steak
  • Risotto with Roasted Garlic, Mascarpone Cheese, Toasted Bread Crumbs and Almonds
  • Peas Two Ways
  • Pear Tart
  • Espresso

What a spread! Is your mouth watering? Mine is!

For starters, this is what the kitchen looks like as we prepare for battle: organized chaos.

EP whipped up a fabulous batch of cosmopolitans (and a whiskey for Dad) to kick the evening off right (We discussed drinking champagne but I believe my exact words were "Eh, I drank champagne ALL WEEKEND"). Then we swung into action! First, the soup:

Dad prepared this dish early in the day and finished it just before service. No pictures of the prep, but check out the recipe which he compiled from a couple of online recipes and his own great ideas and thoughtfully wrote up for us to post on the blog. Thanks Dad! Its especially great that he wrote up the recipe because this soup was AWESOME. The creamy broth had a very intense mussel flavor that worked really well with the saffron, garam masala and other flavors. It was really a fantastic dish and we were all licking the bowls clean despite the promise of so much more delicious food! What a way to start the meal... especially with a chilled glass of Gewurztraminer.

With quite an act to follow we moved onto the main course. Dad was in charge of the GIANT steak, as usual, and as usual it came out perfectly! I took over the risotto, a Jamie Oliver recipe which was prepared in the traditional manner, with a few delicious additions. First of all, right before you begin adding the stock to the rice you throw in some roasted garlic and fresh thyme. Then you continue adding the stock, stirring constantly (my arm is sore today!) until all the broth is incorporated and the rice is cooked the to proper done-ness. Then you add in some softened butter and grated Parmesan and (this is a Jamie Oliver trick-- he says it creates the perfect creamy texture) cover the pan for 2 minutes before serving. I'm not sure how much this step really improves the risotto, but the next step definitely does: you serve the risotto with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and a sprinkling of toasted fresh bread crumbs and almonds. Talk about gilding the lily! But it was amazingly delicious, rich, and flavorful, with a pleasant crunch from the almonds and breadcrumbs (and NOT because the rice was under-done, right EP??!!)

The vegetable dish required a LOT of prep (shelling all those fresh peas!) and Mom took care of this as well as the final cooking, which was fairly straightforward. After toasting some sesame seeds, she sauteed the peas and snow pea pods in hot oil, then added water and covered the pan to allow them to steam. After a couple minutes they were tender crisp and she dressed them with a little sesame oil and the toasted sesame seeds. Simple and delicious!

And with the steak expertly cooked, rested and carved...

It was time to eat! Here's final plate, along with a glass (or three) of quality Bordeaux:

Everything was delicious. I could not have asked for a better dinner to celebrate my 29th!

For dessert we let the folks over at Bonaparte Breads in the Savage Mill in Savage, MD do the heavy lifting. This gorgeous pear tart was almost too pretty to eat. Almost. It went perfectly with some seriously strong espresso we made in our brand-new stove-top espresso maker!

It's a Bird!

After dessert we watched some nail-biting ACC basketball, did some finishing touches on a fabulous food/craft project (stay tuned for a post on this later this week) and I opened some great presents!! Here is me posing with one my awesome gifts from EP (a Hayden-Harnett cuff bracelet that I have wanted for months) and a representation of another fantastic gift from my parents-- a KitchenAid mixer!!

Bracelet on my right wrist, towel still over my left shoulder, post-cooking!

It was a fantastic meal and a absolutely fabulous birthday. Thank you again to everyone for making me feel so special and loved. Love you all!


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