Another Birthday, Another Cake

I love my kids.  I love 'em a lot.  But here's the thing:  I really have trouble with all the stuff that I'm supposed to 'like' doing as a parent.  Take, for example, the whole birthday party thing.  Going to a movie with 15 kids or going to the pool and then doing pizza and cake and all that crap - with 20 kids or booking some big party thing... oh god!  I can't deal with it.  All of a sudden I've got parents to feed and kids to entertain for 2 hours and, I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, hot dogs, chips and a pencil and ruler to take home just isn't cutting it with kids anymore...
However, I'm not entirely sure anymore because we've kind of given up on the big party circuit.  We still get invited to them and Kid #1 and #2 do go to them (gladly).  We just don't throw them.  We throw a bbq in the summer for Kid #2 because his birthday is on July 4th.  Perfect outdoor BBQ time of year.  We invite friends and family and make a deal out of the dinner part of it.  Kids can play outside and enjoy themselves.  There is birthday cake but no games or the obligatory stuff.  It's fun because my friends are there and we are enjoying ourselves.

December 31st is birthday time for Kid #2.  Not so BBQ friendly here in Toronto.  So after a couple of large birthday parties in the middle of winter we gave up.  Now all she wants is for a few friends to come over, they eat, they watch a movie, they sleep-over, they don't do much sleeping during the 'sleep-over', they eat again (maybe some homemade pancakes) and toddle off home.  Beautiful.  I can watch my own movie on the computer while they watch theirs.  I can put them to 'sleep' in the basement where they can giggle to their hearts content and I won't hear them.  Most of the partying is happening while I'm sleeping... can't ask for anything better.  If only there were such a perfect solution for taking your kid to the park or playgroup - ugh!

Here is the cake that I made for the 'sleep-over'.
It's from Nigella.  This cake uses custard powder which, before using it in this recipe, I had never seen or used before.  The can of custard powder is kinda cute:

I like this cake because it's cakey.  It's not too dense or wet on the inside.  It's nice, dry and spongy (hence the 'sponge' in the title, right?).
I like this cake because it looks appropriately fancy but not like it came from a bakery.  I like it when something looks homemade... especially when it is.  I like when a cake looks really good but wasn't really hard to make at all.
I also like that stuff drips over the sides because dripping chocolate is awesome.  And I like it when kids around a table look at this cake and get really excited when they see it.  I like baking something that garners a 'I can't wait to eat that' from somebody.  If you like these things too then try making this cake.

Birthday Sponge Cake (adapted from Nigella Lawson's 'Feast')

200 g (1 3/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tbsp Birds Custard Powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking sod
dash of salt
4 eggs
225 g (1 2/3 cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
200 g (1 1/4 cup) sugar
2 - 3 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Grease and flour two smaller sized (20 cm) cake tins and set aside.
Combine the flour, custard powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.  Mix to combine and set aside.
In another bowl beat together the eggs and butter until it's well incorporated.  Add the flour mixture to the butter and eggs and mix well.  Add in the milk 1 tbsp at a time until it forms a pourable consistency.
Divide the batter between the two cake tins and bake for about 22 min. or until a tester comes out clean.
Cool for a few minutes in the tins before removing to a cooling rack.  Cool completely.

Buttercream filling:
125 g icing sugar
4 tsp Birds Custard Powder
75 g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp boiling water

Whisk together the icing sugar and the custard powder.  Add the butter and mix until incorporating.  Add in the hot water just until the consistency is right for spreading over the cake.

Chocolate Icing:
175 g dark chocolate (or a mix of dark and milk - which is what I did)
1/4 cup cream

Over a pot of simmering water melt the chocolate and 1/8th of a cup of the cream together in a heatproof bowl.  The chocolate may seize a little bit once it's melted.  Remove from heat and add in the rest of the cream.  Mix gently until it becomes glossy in consistency.  Cool slightly if needed and pour over cake.

Beef Etc. Stew with Potato, Celeriac Mash

What a mouthful!  OK that was a stupid bad pun...

Potato Celeriac Mash... sounds so pretentious too.  So unlike me... I think... well, there's some food for thought.
Lately, we've been doing our best to limit our meat intake and are doing well with it I think.  There are entire weeks that can go by without us downing some kinda meat for our main meal.  That makes me proud.  Truth be told I'm a veggie deep down but let's keep it a secret for now.  I don't think that D, kid #1 or kid #2 would be terribly happy if I announced that we were becoming a 100% veggie household.

So that will be my own little pipe dream for now.  However, I can seem to talk the carnivores in my house off the ledge when we have long stints without big hunks of anything red (or pink).  I will gladly acknowledge that they've done very well...
So, with some stewing beef from Cumbrae's needing to be saved from freezer death, I decided that it was time to make some beef stew.  It's hearty, stick to your bones kind of winter fare.  The only thing that would have made this meal better would have been fresh bread.  I would love to have obliged but for God's sake, it's a weeknight people!  I just haven't mastered enough space in my brain to execute bread making along with all the other crap that goes on during my work day.
Bread crisis averted though.  I got some celeriac in the food box this week.  I know... CELERIAC.  Trust me, a year ago I didn't know what it was either.  I ended up though, making some potato and celeriac mash (think cheesy mashed potato's)

and it was just as good as fresh bread and more nutritious at the end of the day.  It feels posh too.  I had visions of the restaurant order I would place using '... celeriac and heirloom potato mash'.  You know, it just sounds right, rolls off the tongue kinda.  Plus, it's super good for you and it's beautifully seasonal.  As a side bonus, I got through my food box veggies a little more quickly too.  I love that feeling.  The food box comes in and I'm already cooking through it 2 hrs later.  As little waste as possible.  Great!

Wanda's Beef Stew
serves 6 - 8

2 lb of stewing beef, cut into bite sized pieces
2 small or 1 med onion cut into chunks
2 lg or 3 med carrots cut into chunks
2 lg ribs of celery sliced thick
7 or 8 brussel sprouts cut in half (I had these on hand and they needed to be used)
2 med potatoes cut into chunks
15 (or so) button mushrooms halved
4 lg cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 - 3/4 cup red wine
2 beef bouillion cubes (low salt)
3 - 4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 cup water reserved
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup ketchup
3 tsp salt
1 tbsp thyme
1 tbsp rosemary
1 tbsp marjoram
dash of cinnamon and cumin (just a dash)
4 tbsp muscovado sugar or honey
pepper sauce (to taste ;-)

In a large dutch oven heat some oil until over medium'ish' heat.  Add in the stewing beef and swish around until the pieces are looking well browned (let's say about 7 min).  Add in the onion, carrot, celery, brussel sprouts, potatoes and mushrooms.  Swish all this stuff around for another 7 - 10 min.  If the heat is too high then turn things down to med/low.
Add in the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add in the red wine, and Worcestershire and Soy sauce.  Swish everything around to get all the sticky bits off the bottom of the pan.  Add in the bouillion cubes and let them disintegrate in the liquid.  Add in the salt, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, cinnamon and cumin.  Let that simmer gently.
In a small bowl mix together the flour and the water until it forms a kind of paste and doesn't have any lumps in it.
Add the flour mixture and the ketchup to the stew.  Add in the sugar or honey and any pepper sauce.  Check the tastes and adjust as necessary.  Let the stew simmer on low heat for about 45 min.
Serve on a bed of potato and celeriac mash or with homemade bread (but I hate you if you do that)

Potato and Celeriac Mash
serves 6

6 med potatoes cut into large chunks
2 sm - med celeriac, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/4 - 1/3 cup of butter
1/4 - 1/2 cup milk or cream
3/4 cup shredded cheese
salt to taste

In a large pot, cover the potatoes and celeriac chunks with water and bring to a boil.  Boil for about 12 - 15 min. or until the celeriac seems soft and mashable.
Remove from heat and drain the water (you could use this water in the stew if you're super organised).  Add the butter and mash the whole mixture - you could use a potato masher or a ricer, either will work well.
Add in the milk until it gets to the consistency that you are looking for.  Add in the cheese and mix it in until it melts.  Add the salt to taste.

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St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.

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  • Naparima Girls High School Cookbook
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Wanda Thorne
St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.
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