Tag Archives: Birthday Celebrations

Happy Birthday to Me!

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Today is my 26th birthday! 

I celebrated with my officemates (who we’ve previously established are ah-may-zing). They brought me cards and a balloon and chocolate and we went out to lunch.

See how fancy my desk looks!

I also brought in the birthday cake my Mom made me (I told you that would come back again). Everyone else in my family pretty much always has the same cake: my Dad always has carrot cake with cream cheese frosting (seriously every year for my whole life), YoungerBrotherGreg generally has some variation of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and my Mom usually has some sort of store bought cake (by choice, because she likes it). Me, I have never been able to settle on one sort of cake. I have had dirt cake, mint chocolate mousse cake, ice cream cake, I think I even had a cookie cake one time. In recent years though I’ve been on a caramel kick. This years cake is a yellow almond-y cake with caramel frosting. It was very yummy.

Yummy Cake!

The day was topped off with fantastic pizza (well actually laundry, but the pizza was the fun part). Seriously if you haven’t been try Woodfired Pizza on Bearss and Bruce B. Downs.
=)

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American Honey – Pistachio Cake w/ Honey Vanilla Butter Cream

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I really love honey. I’m not one of those people who is all “Umm yeah, I’ll have honey in my tea once every six months” or “Honey on a biscuit sounds like it would be okay.” I seriously love honey; like in an eat it straight from the bottle, people bring me honey as souvenirs, always looking for new recipes to use all the honey in my pantry sort of way. This cake, or rather the frosting for this cake, is right up my alley. I made this for a birthday celebration for a few of my girl friends; we had dinner, drinks, dessert, and a night out on the town. 
All photos courtesy of Bentley @ lilybelleboutique
Pistachio Cake with Vanilla Honey Buttercream
by Matt Lewis, Renato Poliafito, and Tina Rupp.
 Cake:
1 cup shelled pistachios (plus 1/3 cup for decorating)
2 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon. vanilla extract
1 large egg
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups ice cold water
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
Make the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust parchment with flour and knock out excess flour. * I just sprayed my pans with nonstick spray.
2. In the bowl of food processor, pulse the pistachios until they are coarsely chopped. Transfer about 2 tablespoons’ worth of the coarse pistachios to a large bowl. Continue to process the rest of the pistachios until they are almost powdery- but not a superfine dust. Stir the pistachio powder into the reserved coarse pistachios. Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt, together over the large bowl containing the pistachios mix. Stir to combine.
3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add the whole egg, and beat until just combined. Turn the mixture to low. *I used a hand mixer, just start your mixer on its slowest speed and then increase gradually.
4. In a measuring cup, make 1 1/2 cups ice water. Add the flour mixture to the mixer in three parts, alternating with the ice water, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. For each addition, turn the mixer to low to add ingredients, then up to medium speed for a few seconds until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl, and then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.
5. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form (You can do this by hand. Don’t be intimidated, it should only take 2 to 3 minutes). Do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
6. Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack and let cool completely. Remove the parchment paper.
Honey Vanilla Buttercream:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoon honey  *I actually used close to ¼ cup of honey to achieve the flavor I wanted, just FYI.
Make the honey vanilla buttercream: 
1. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add milk and cream and cook over medium heat whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer with paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool (this takes at least 7 to 9 minutes of mixing) then add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. *Again I did this by hand, just be patient, one you add the butter your frosting will change texture dramatically (from smooth and sticky like sweetened condensed milk to fluffier like frosting).
3. Add the vanilla and honey and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bow over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.
Assemble the cake: 
1. Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface, and evenly spread about 1 1/4 cups frosting on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost it, then add the third layer. Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the sides and top of the cake and put it in the refrigerator for bout 15 minutes to firm up. (This is known as the crumb coating and will help keep loose cake crumbs under control when you frost the outside of the cake.) Spread the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Garnish the cake with crushed pistachios and refrigerate it for 15 minutes to it firm up before serving.
2. This cake will keep beautifully in a cake saver at room temperature for up to 3 days, if the weather is humidity free. Otherwise, put it in a cake saver and refrigerate it for up to 3 days. Let the cake sit a room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.
Serves: 12-16
 This cake was really good. The flavors were just fantastic; and the cake and the frosting together…OMG Yum! The cake itself was a little dry; I’m not sure if this is bake error ( I may have over beat my eggs…I’m still not sure) or if using milk in place of the water would help the dryness. Either way I’d definitely make this again. 
=)

FoodFest2010: The Strip District and Grandma’s Birthday

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So here’s your history lesson for today. Pittsburgh’s Strip District dates back to the early 19th century when it was home to mills and factories. The area has weathered the Great Depression and eventually the area shifted focus from steel to wholesale produce and now to “urbanization” with clubs, restaurants, and specialty shops crammed in amongst the local royalty. That is the end of the history lesson.

Monday morning we left my grandmother’s bright and early to visit The Strip. Two parents, one brother, two uncles, two aunts, one cousin, and me; nine people in two cars once everyone was settled for the drive (My grandma was supposed to go as well but wasn’t feeling well and wanted to rest before her big celebration dinner). The drive from my grandmother’s to downtown P-burgh is b-e-a-utiful, especially in the fall. It’s through the mountains and over several rivers, you have to cross both the Ohio River and the Beaver River as well as a few smaller rivers I can never remember the names of. The water is usually slate gray in the fall, almost the same color as the sky only darker. This backdrop makes the trees and leaves more vivid. Despite the constant rain and no sun it really is a beautiful time of year to visit Pennsylvania. And I now I’m boring myself with all the talk about the leaves. So…

Getting to the food and the shopping. We started out at Mon Amiee, actually that’s not true… our first stop was at a street vendor selling Steelers/Pens gear. Mom got a t-shirt and a couple people got sweatshirts, because it was a lot colder out than they thought it would be. Then we dashed into De Luca’s to use their bathroom (this is a big no-no, but it was a long car ride). We’ve been to De Luca’s before; it’s very inviting on a cold day. Filled with bright colors, fantastic food, and friendly staff; it’s one of the institutions on the Strip. We hit another Pittsburgh merchandise store (Yinzerville) where Mom bought Steelers drink umbrellas and a really cute gift for one of the cutest munchkins on earth (but I can’t give it away cause I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be a Christmas gift). Then we went to Mon Amiee.

Previously they’ve stocked these crazy good salted caramels, but they did not have them. I got a chocolate bar, with bacon. I didn’t buy anything else because the cashier/manager was kind of snippy and rude. I haven’t tried the chocolate bar yet, it’s still in my purse, but I’m totally looking forward to it.

Next up was Enrico Biscotti. OMG. Can I just tell you these people have the best biscotti on the place of effing planet. I buy  a dozen and freeze them and then pull them out one at a time to enjoy as a special treat. The bakery is warm and inviting and it smells absolutely amazing. It’s totally the kind of place you’d want to linger with a cookie and a cup of coffee, if the whole store wasn’t the size of my kitchen. Whatever, doesn’t matter, they still produce some of the best cookies I’ve eaten. They also have biscotti baking classes, for those of you who live anywhere near the store. And they ship! So yay for that.

Our group tumbled back out onto the street and made our way to the Pennsylvania Macaroni company. I have been to this store before, but it never ceases to amaze me. It’s part grocery store, part specialty market. The closest thing we have in Tampa is Whole Foods, but even that is anywhere near the same as experiencing this store. Let’s just go with the pictures…

As soon as you walk in the door they have barrels of dry goods and bins of spices. It smells fantastic; like every Italian kitchen I’ve ever been in times about 100.
They had a whole wall of extracts and flavored oils.
And racks and racks of olive oil.
OMG! So this just amazed me. They had canisters of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and people were just coming in and filling bottles, wither ones they bought at the store or refilling the ones they brought in from home.
There st least two containers of both Italian and Spanish olive oil.
They also have an entire room of fresh cheese, meats, olives, and prepared food.
This was my other favorite part. They were selling freshly made pasta in the produce section. The had everything from traditional spaghetti to cilantro & lime linguine.

We stopped for lunch at Primanti Brother’s. That’s another post though. After lunch we made our way down the rest of the strip. Wholey’s Grocery, Fudgie Wudgie’s a totally fab candy store that always has really creative chocolate dipped creations, more Steelers’ stores and I finally got a t-shirt, and an interesting kitchen supply store. There are tons of other stores in the area that I’m sure we missed, but it was time to pack it in and head back to Grandma’s.
It was a good afternoon, there were more Snyder’s Chips. Have I mentioned that my family loves those? We always seem to congregate around the dining room table and we spent the afternoon talking and helping some of my younger cousins with homework. By the time everything was wrapped up it was almost time to go to dinner.
We had dinner at Pagley’s Pasta & More in New Castle, Pennsylvania. All said and done with aunts, uncles, grandkids, great-grandkids, and extended family there were almost thirty people jammed around two tables. It’s always good when we all have dinner together like this, but it is difficult to talk to everyone. The food was pretty good. My Dad definitely hit the jackpot with angel hair with garlic oil, hot sausage, and hot peppers. It was tasty, but I don’t think I could’ve eaten the whole bowl. It was really spicy. I had veal piccata; it was good.

The veal was crispy on the outside and tender in the middle. The sauce was creamy and tangy and full of lemon flavor. It was very good. It came with pasta which was not as good as the veal.

I for got until I was uploading pictures: I also had pasta e fagioli, it was very good. The soup was rich, creamy, tomatoy, and cheesy. I also forgot to take a picture of it until I was done. My Bad.

Then we sang Happy Birthday and had cake. Everybody wish Grandma a belated Happy Birthday.

After dinner most people trekked back to Grandma’s. We spent the rest of the night talking and eating pumpkin flavored whoopee pies and traditional Italian cookies. It was a good way to spend our last night in Pennsylvania.

Smiles. =)

Happy Birthday, Dad!

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Today is my Dad’s birthday; so HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD! We’ve had a great day celebrating as family. We started with lunch from Panera and the USF/UF. It was a great game even though USF lost in the end. Then we went to dinner at Mama Nem’s; which has killer soul food. Then homemade carrot cake, presents, and a movie.

Smiles. =)