Turning 25 + Deb’s Yellow Birthday Cake

Happy New Year! It’s only been a week so far, and some things already hit the ground running. Back when I was a kid, I hated my birthday because it was so close to New Year’s. I still kind of hate that but I’m growing to love it because I get to start fresh at the same time everyone else does. Looking at it like that makes it seem less special but it is to me.

Looking back, my 24th year was pretty eventful. I started out 2014 at probably one of my lowest points. Sad but true. Everyone in my house was unemployed and miserable. The holidays that year was one of the worst, aided by the fact that Christmas didn’t even feel like Christmas. It just sucked. When my birthday rolled around, I hoped for a change in all of our lives. Despite whatever was going on, I was determined to keep it positive.

2014 birthday throwback! Remember this?

2014 birthday throwback! Remember this?

Fast forward to March. We’re still all kinda miserable and unemployed. Through my efforts on the internet, I was able to apply to some jobs for my mom. She was desperate for a career change, and I did my best to help her out. She loves kids and used to babysit when my sister and I were younger. She wanted to get back into that so I did what I could. Through one of those caretaking websites, I applied for her to one post that caught my eye from day 1. The poster replied back to me, which I honestly wasn’t expecting. Once I cleared up I was the one who applied for my mom, she insisted on meeting the both of us. Taken aback, my mom and I went and the rest is history. My mom now takes care of the cutest and smartest little baby girl. They welcomed my mom into their family, just as we did to them. My mom, the baby, and her family are all happy. That alone put me at ease, despite the fact I was still unemployed and unsure of my future.

For me, things didn’t start changing until maybe June or July. I got an email from my former professor, to whom I reached out because I was desperate for a job. Graduating into a recession is the worst thing ever because no one wants to hire a graduate. In that email was an application to a startup non-profit organization, called CO*OP, that focused on helping graduates find their footing in the industry. This sounded like what I needed so I applied. This was the best decision I had made in the entire year. It was the biggest blessing for me because it was exactly what I desperately needed. Not only did I learn a bunch of new skills, I got a group of friends (including a few special ones) that I never thought I’d have, and sort of had a new job. The founder of the program hired me this past December, so exciting things are happening!

Look who's on the front page of the website!

Look who’s on the front page of the website!

Thanks to CO*OP, I changed so much as a person. I figured out why I am the way that I am, and how to amplify my greatest skills. I became more outgoing and a little more confident in myself and the things I do. Still a work in progress! My new friends became my support system and they helped bring out the best in me; for that alone I’m grateful. I can’t wait to see what happens in my life this year but I’m hoping for some surprises, some love (ahem!), and stability.

Now, let’s talk birthday celebrations. I celebrated my 25th birthday this past Friday. As usual, I baked my own cake but before I get to that, let me tell you how I celebrated.

25th Birthday 1

My sister took me out to dinner at Cafeteria, a cool restaurant here in the city. I’d never been, so I was excited. I’m not one to go out to dinner for birthdays, mostly because that’s not something my family did frequently. I was dying to go out so my sister did me the honors.

Dinner was fantastic! For appetizers, we had mac and cheese spring rolls. As an entree, I had my usual cheeseburger with fries. I get that basically everywhere I go but this was the first time I had one medium rare; it was delish. My sister had a roasted chicken sandwich. I also had a “liquid passion” cocktail, which was a champagne cocktail with passion fruit. For dessert, we had deep fried Oreos that came with a mini milkshake and a scoop of mint chip ice cream with crumbled Oreos in the middle. Everything was amazing and my sister and I were beyond full.

From L to R: mac and cheese spring rolls, liquid passion cocktail, cheeseburger with fries, and deep fried Oreos

From L to R: mac and cheese spring rolls, liquid passion cocktail, cheeseburger with fries, and deep fried Oreos

We also had a mini adventure because every year, I dress up really nice for my birthday. I got myself a pair of heels to go with my pretty dress this year. The problem is that I don’t usually wear heels so my feet were killing me before we even made it to the restaurant! I had to go to the pharmacy and pick up a pair of those fast flats. After dinner, we walked to the nearest Marshall’s where I bought a pair of real flats. Let me just say, the judgmental looks I got from my little leopard print sock like flats were unreal but super entertaining.

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When we got back home, it was time for cake. Now, this year, I opted to make my cake the day before to save myself some of the hassle the day of. This was mostly a good idea except I ended up with kind of a huge cake fail. The cake itself worked beautifully. I made Deb’s recipe for yellow birthday cake, which is becoming a favorite now. However, due to poor planning, I never figured out how I wanted it flavored in terms of frosting, so I decided to give Swiss meringue buttercream a shot. This is where I messed up, big time.

I gave the buttercream a go the day before as well. When I was making it, I knew something was wrong but trucked on anyway. My meringue wasn’t as fluffy as it should’ve been so the texture was off. Using the instructions to troubleshoot the buttercream, I added more butter. It looked right, so I stopped there and put it in the fridge for the next day. To assemble the cake, I forgot to let the buttercream come to room temp. Another huge mistake right here, as my rushing messed up the buttercream completely. I tried adding more butter to fix it but it ruined the texture of the frosting and made things worse. I wasn’t about to whip up a new batch, as my butter supply is dangerously low, so I rolled with it anyway. Not my best or proudest cake but I couldn’t have a birthday without my cake.

25th Birthday 5

Despite the buttercream coming out way less than perfect, the cake itself was amazing. It was so soft and tender. Deb likens the recipe to her favorite Duncan Hines box mix and she’s definitely right about that. It totally brought back those feelings from when my dad used to bake us cake mixes. That alone was enough to complete my birthday. Even though the texture was off, the taste was still there, so my birthday cake was still somewhat of a winner.

I hope that the couple missteps I’ve had this past week aren’t any indication of how my year is looking. I didn’t quite start on the right foot (which I’ll talk about another time), but I handled it in an adult way. I guess this means I really am an adult? Either way, I hope this year is as successful and eventful as the last half of my 24th.

25th Birthday 8

Deb’s Yellow Birthday Cake – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 2 8″ round cake, plus 3-4 cupcakes

  • 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (530 grams) cake flour, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups (400 grams) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups buttermilk (475 ml), well-shaken

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and line two 8″ round cake pans with parchment, buttering the parchment as well. While you’re at it, line a couple of cupcake wells with cupcake liners. Set aside.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In another large bowl, cream the softened butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next one. At a low speed, add the buttermilk. The mix will look curdled but it’s right; keep going.
  3. Add the flour mixture in three batches, making sure each batch is incorporated into the batter before adding the next one. Divide the batter among the cake pans, filling them about halfway. Use the remaining batter to make a couple cupcakes. Rap the cake pans on the table a couple times to get rid of air bubbles. Bake the cakes for 35-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  4. Cool the cakes in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing the cakes out of the pans and onto the rack to cool completely.

Lucy’s Tips: 

  • The cake recipe is originally for two 9″ rounds. I only have two 8″ rounds, which is why there’s extra batter for cupcakes.
  • I forgot the ‘rap the pan’ part, which is why you can see the giant air bubbles. Not too pleasing to look at but still delicious. 
  • The buttercream recipe is obviously missing. I won’t post it till I get it right!
  • If you’re making the cake a day ahead, wait until it is completely cool before wrapping in several layers of plastic wrap. You can refrigerate it or keep it room temp after that. For a firmer cake that’s easier to level and work with, I suggest refrigerating.

 

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Christmas 2014 Recap

Hey all! Merry Christmas! I hope everyone had a lovely holiday full of warmth, happiness, and family. You probably noticed my absence all of last week. I took an unintentional blogging/baking break, by way of a stomach virus. I spent all of last week feeling absolutely terrible and nauseous at the sight of food. Not what you wanted to hear following Christmas wishes but it’s true! I had two more #CookieCraziness recipes planned, including one with a new gadget my plans were quickly brought down. I’m feeling much better, and have been slowly regaining my appetite for delicious things again. I’m glad too because as a food lover, not eating is blasphemous.

Christmas Tree

Anyway, let me tell you a bit about my holiday. In my house, we celebrate the 24th, not the 25th. It must be some Dominican tradition but that’s just always how it’s been. Back in the day, we used to have a full house but now it’s just us four plus our neighbors. I actually prefer it this way because there isn’t much pressure to be super social, and I can have more leftovers.

Besides the fact that there’s really only eight of us (plus/minus 1), my mom always cooks a lot. To be honest, Christmas Eve is basically a repetition of Thanksgiving in terms of food, except that the main protein changes. Instead of turkey, we have pork (or pernil for the Latin@ folks). I actually prefer the pernil to turkey but for tradition’s sake on Thanksgiving, we roll with it.

Christmas Dinner_1

From L to R: Pastelon, Pastelon de Verenjena, Moro de Gandules, Platanos Maduros, Cassava, Parker House Rolls, Pernil, Potato Salad, Basic Salad, Pastelitos.

On our menu this year:

  • Parker House Rolls: the same we had at Thanksgiving (from Bon Appetit), except that I doubled the recipe because of reasons. Still a winner!
  • Pernil (or pork): Star of the night. What Dominicans traditionally have on the table for Christmas Eve. Pray there’ll be leftovers.
  • Moro de Gandules: Rice with pigeon peas. Another holiday staple at my house. Super simple but delish dish, made with my mom’s secret sofrito (actually, almost everything has this stuff in it).
  • Pastelón: That starchy starch thing that has been at our table the past couple holidays. I still don’t eat it but there it is! (in depth description of it’s innards here and here)
  • Pastelón de Verenjena. Eggplant casserole, which is almost like a lasagna. This is my fave, and is always at the table specifically for me. Layers of tempura fried grafitti eggplant, ground beef, green beans, tomato sauce, and tons of mozzarella.
  • Potato Salad. Another holiday staple. I make the salad every time, this time was no different. (check out it’s ingredients here)
  • Basic green salad. About as basic as it looks/suggests. At the table for almost no reason as barely anyone eats this stuff.
  • Pastelitos or empanadas. “Appetizers” except not really. Two kinds: cheddar cheese, and ground beef mixed with hardboiled eggs.
  • Platanos Maduros. Last minute addition to the table of fried sweet plantains. Can’t no one say no to these.

As you can see, this is basically Thanksgiving part two. No one’s complaining, as basically everyone is all about that pernil (no turkey) (dang, couldn’t help that!). We had our littlest neighbor here, who’s eight and extremely hard to shop for. I don’t know but eight is such a weird age; not a teenager but not exactly a kid. That in between age is hard to gauge what they actually like. Strange, but we got her a password journal (which she LOVED), this super cute DIY jewelry box, and some trinkets from Claire’s. She and my sister decorated it in the kitchen. It was so fun to see her reactions to the gifts. One of the main reasons giving is the best!

Christmas Present_1

After all that, we had dessert. Since I was food adverse last week, I had nothing planned. Nothing, which is super unlike me. I asked my mom, which is moot as she never knows, what she wanted. Got nothing from her so I ran with my sister’s suggestion of making a tiramisu. I rolled with it for three reasons: my sister asked, easy to make, and was on my bucket list anyway. I made it the night before, which was awesome because that freed me up to bake bread the next day.

Christmas Dinner_3

It was super simple to make, and is actually super delicious too. I have to say, for such a simple dessert, it was really good. It’s also not very photogenic, if at all. I used this recipe and have a few suggestions. The main one is to mix the mascarpone with the yolks because this stuff is stiff and will never incorporate with the mix when folding. No one wants a lump of cheese in a supposed smooth dessert. Another is to only soak one side of the lady fingers. These things are literal sponges and they soaked up quite a lot. Do one side and hope there’s still some bite when serving. Finally, add booze to this. Every baker’s secret weapon should be in here. I threw a bit whisky in the cream and in the coffee but it could’ve used more.

All in all, it was actually a pretty nice Christmas Eve. There were a few minor setbacks that could’ve ruined things but others made up for it. If anything, this was a major upgrade from last year, and for that I’m most grateful. I hope everyone’s holiday was as uplifting as mine, and that this last week of the year is an awesome one!

Thanksgiving 2014: The Day After

WOW. Last night was pretty awesome. SO MUCH FOOD! We shook up this year’s menu a bit from last year’s. Like I mentioned on Wednesday, we aimed for a little more of an American Thanksgiving. I feel bad saying it but I try really hard to Americanize our food and household. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t because my culture is important to me and it’s something I want to keep going but I can’t help it.

Anyway, the table was pretty much half our traditional menu and the other was American.

On the menu we had:

Thanksgiving2014_TURKEY

Turkey, obviously! (regular green salad in the bottom right corner that literally no one ate. Thanksgiving is not the time for “healthy” things)

Thanksgiving2014_2

Parker House Rolls from Bon Appetit. So fluffy and so good! Spotlight may be coming soon!

Thanksgiving2014_Mac and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese. SO AMAZING. We added bacon and made the full recipe. This is that one time I am SO happy we have leftovers!

Thanksgiving2014_Pastelón

Pastelón de viveres. This is my mom’s ~thing~; I don’t eat this at all. It’s basically a starch heaven casserole made with two kinds of taro root, green bananas (not to be mistaken with plantains but those can be used too), and kabocha squash. In the middle, there’s a layer of cooked pork. If you’ve ever had Dominican (or Puerto Rican? I’m not sure) pasteles en hoja, this is similar to that minus the leaves and the boiling part. It’s a weird culmination of things but my mom likes it and has been making it for the holidays lately, so I guess it’s here to stay.

Thanksgiving2014_Salads

Salads and rice. On the left is my mom’s yellow rice with peas, below that is our potato salad, and next to that is macaroni salad.

The potato salad contains boiled and diced potatoes (duh) and carrots, diced hard boiled eggs, mayo, white vinegar, chopped cubanelle peppers and onions. The macaroni salad is almost the same as the potato salad; instead of potatoes, carrots, and eggs, it’s just tri colored macaroni.

Thanksgiving2014_Mashed Potatoes

Behind the salads was my sister’s mashed potatoes. She made this on her own, without a recipe! Very proud of her efforts, and they were delicious.

Thanksgiving2014_Pastelitos

Pastelitos or empanadas! These were filled with ground beef and diced hard boiled eggs. Some were just cheddar cheese. Crowd favorite!

For dessert, we had this Apple Cranberry Torta from Cooking Channel TV. I made several changes to the recipe but it was a moist and delicious little cake. I feel like it was maybe a cross between a pie and a cake. I’m still trying to edge that in, obviously! Recipe will be posted below.

Overall, we had a tasty Thanksgiving. I can see mac and cheese in my future! I’m ready to get my tree up and move on to Christmas! Can’t wait to see what’s on the menu then 😉

Thanksgiving2014_Table2

Full spread. And my mom’s arm.

 

Apple Cranberry Torta – adapted from Giada’s recipe on Cooking Channel TV

Makes one 8″ round cake

  • 1/2 cup Grand Marnier (or other orange liquer)
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 orange, zested
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups of diced apples

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the orange liqueur just until warm. Turn off the heat and submerge the dried cranberries and golden raisins. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and line the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan.
  3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the four eggs and add the melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix in the dry ingredients and beat just until combined.
  5. Gently stir in the apples, cranberries and raisins. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for up to 30 minutes. Cool slightly in the pan before inverting to peel off the parchment. Serve slightly warm.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I took the walnuts out of this and replaced it with golden raisins because half my family is allergic to nuts. 
  • I used one large Granny Smith apple but use any kind you’d like. 
  • I also soaked my dried fruit for quite a while, which helped them sustain the orange liqueur flavor. 
  • Technically the recipe didn’t state to line the pan with parchment but I don’t trust recipes that rely on just buttering the pan. /skeptic