If there’s one thing I love as much as cooking, it’s throwing parties. Lucky for me the two usually go hand in hand. Parties provide me with an opportunity to make two of my favorite things; cake and appetizers. For the cake, I’m known for my classic Magnolia recipe birthday cake, carved into a shape that ties into the theme of the party (and parties are always better when they have a theme). I have been known to deviate on occasion, and make a carrot ice cream cake or a cherpumple, like I did for Mary and Matt’s birthdays respectively. But mostly I stick to my standard, a dense sugar loaded yellow cake, topped with the most outrageous old fashioned icing you’ve ever tasted. I double the recipe and bake it in a large rectangular sheet pan and when it comes out I start hacking away. I’ve made cakes shaped like a martini glass, a champagne bottle, a Giants football, a dollar sign (it was an inside joke) and most recently “The Situation’s” abs.
This past weekend my friends and I thew a “Jersey Shore” themed party for Laura and Katie’s birthdays. Costumes were obviously required and we successfully transformed my friend Christine’s living room into a Seaside style nightclub, complete with glow sticks, strobe lights, and a delicious themed cocktail aptly named “Snookie punch” (get it?) But in my opinion the best part of this theme party was the cake. It was the brainchild of birthday girl Laura and when she first described carving a 3-D cake that mimicked “The Situation’s” signature ab exposing t-shirt pull, I thought it simply could not be done. Then she said those seven magical words, which in the last 22 days have been prompting me to throw rational thinking aside and attempt even the most daunting culinary tasks (like de-boning a turkey, a duck, and a chicken)…”you could put it in the blog.” DONE. We began sketching possible models and outlined a seemingly straightforward cake building plan. Now the only challenge left was finding the right food dye combination to make the icing the perfect shade of “fake tan” orange.
The key when carving cake into various shapes is starting with a cake that has a very dense consistency, this way when you are carving the sides don’t crumble and the edges come out very clean-looking. I use the cupcake recipe from the world-famous Magnolia Bakery in NYC. It’s the richest, most decadent, most delicious cake and icing I’ve ever had and the recipe found online actually tastes a lot like the real thing. When I make it into a cake I simply adjust the cooking time (about 50 minutes for a 12X17 pan)
Once the cake was cooled, I began carving. I started by lightly scoring the cake with my knife so I could visualize the shape before I cut. Once I had the t-shirt shape, I used the scraps to build the “abs.” I tried to carve them into gradually bigger pieces to mimic the way abs start small at the top and get bigger…yes I realize how absolutely absurd this sounds. Once that was in place, I died half the icing orangey tan using red and yellow food dye with a few drops of blue to make it less neon. I removed the “abs” and iced them separately from the cake, then stuck them back on once the base was iced. I decided to decorate the cake with the slogan “Birthday Time” based on an infamous line from “Jersey Shore.” When the male cast members get dressed for a night out at “da clubs,” they all don their t-shirts in unison and call it “t-shirt time.” If you’ve never seen the show you probably think I’m insane, if you have seen the show, you probably think I’m insane but at least you’re laughing.
The munchies for this party were simple, just some chips and dips. I decided, at the urging of my friend Terry, to make a roasted garlic bacon dip that I made for a party a few weeks ago. Terry fell in love with this dip and has been talking about it ever since. I on the other hand, didn’t like it that much. Maybe I have a more critical palette (wow could I sound like a bigger tool?) but I just was expecting more of a flavor punch. I mean come on, roasted garlic and bacon, that combo should knock your socks off. I thought the first attempt was too mayonnaise-y and that you couldn’t really taste the bacon, or the garlic for that matter. So I decided to tweak the recipe a bit and try my hand at this dip one more time. This time I roasted more garlic and mashed it up before adding it to the mayonnaise so that more flavor would be incorporated. I also used more bacon and fried it so it would be really crispy and would crumble into smaller pieces. The result was outstanding, I couldn’t get enough, especially when dipping with a pretzel, which we decided was the definitely the best dipper (beating out a chip, a tortilla chip, and a cracker).
On Sunday, after I had washed the ten pounds of hair spray out of my hair, removed my caked-on eye makeup, and peeled off my fake neon nails, I was ready to make a cozy Sunday night supper. As we laid on the couch watching football (ok let’s be honest, there was a lot more chic flick watching being done), Matt and I debated the evening’s meal. He was set on mac and cheese, I was pulling for chili. Neither one of us seemed very willing to concede…and that’s when it hit me…chili mac and cheese. I would make chili, I would make mac and cheese, and I would stir them together. It seemed like pure genius…and it was. Now, whatever dish I make Matt always gushes about how delicious it is, he is a very complimentary taste tester. But, last night he took it to another level. He was over the moon for this chili and mac combo and so was I. It was creamy, it was spicy, it was meaty, it was cheesy. It was chili mac and cheese, I don’t think I need to elaborate on why this concoction was so delicious. I don’t know what I was more proud of this weekend, the “ab” cake, the bigger and better bacon dip, or the chili mac hybrid. They all were the product of little of ingenuity and a bit of culinary courage, and they all made the people I love happier then a kid on Christmas. And that, is precisely why I love to cook.
In other news, the countdown has officially begun, Thanksgiving is in 4 DAYS! If my blog could talk it would tell you how excited it is for the gastro-olympics that are about to commence. I’ll be posting my menu and recipes prior to Turkey Day and I’ll be blogging (and maybe video blogging) ALL day Thursday. I can’t even contain my excitement. Get hungry people…
2 heads of garlic
1 lb bacon – diced
1 cup of mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
Cut the heads of the garlic and remove outer skin, drizzle with olive oil. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes until cloves are golden brown. Pop the cloves out of the skin and mash with a fork to form a paste. Fry the diced bacon in batches in a large saute pan until very crispy. Transfer to a paper towel and let cool. Crumble the bacon into smaller pieces. In a medium bowl combine the mayo, sour cream, bacon, and garlic. Serve with chips, pretzels, crackers or sliced bread.
Chili Mac and Cheese
1 lb cavatappi pasta
1 large onion – diced
2 cloves minced garlic
1 lb ground sirloin
3 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 14 oz can kidney beans drained and rinsed
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 14 oz can tomato sauce
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp ground mustard
2 cups milk
4 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, Mexican blend, etc)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain. Meanwhile heat olive oil in a large pot, add the onion, garlic, and sirloin. Saute until the meat is brown and the onion is soft. Add the spices, beans, tomatoes, and sauce. Stir to combine and let simmer for 20 minutes. In another large pot, melt butter, whisk in flour to form a roux. Add the ground mustard and whisk to combine. Whisk in the milk and let simmer for five minutes. Stir in the cheese and combine to form a cheese sauce. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to combine. Next, add the chili in three batches, stirring well after each addition. Top each serving with some additional cheese and enjoy!