Friday, September 29, 2006

Happy Birthday, Vicky!

Actually, my friend Vicky's birthday was this past Wednesday, but as it our custom in the Humanities Division, we celebrate each other on the closest scheduled meeting day so we can combine our official business with birthday CAKE! ;-) We draw names at the beginning of each school year, and then proceed "Secret Santa" style. I drew my dear colleague and friend, Vicky, this time around, and I have been sneaking around all week, getting things ready for her party. The problem was, we didn't actually have a meeting scheduled today (a freak fifth Friday of the month), so I had our division head send a fake e-mail around, saying that we had just one agenda item to take care of. Vicky was a little miffed, but she came anyway...whew! Vicky is an ex-hippie (maybe not that much of an "ex-!") who lives in a cabin in the woods and who is always fighting a good cause of some sort, so my theme was inspired by the activism of the 60's and 70's. I got some very groovy party decorations (lots of "Have a Nice Day" smiley faces) and favors (smiley-face bouncy balls and rainbow-colored miniature Slinkies), played some Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, and designed this t-shirt as a gift for her.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. quote ("Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter") sums up her spirit and personality perfectly. I also had fun making her her own seal at this cool website which I highly recommend if you have some time to kill. Her last name is Sloan, her righteous indignation over injustices made the scales a fitting icon, and the Latin phrase translates to "Not a day without a line drawn." Originally, that was in reference to some particularly industrious artist, but I thought it fit Vicky in a different way, as she is often drawing the line over some important issue! ;-)

Then of course, I provided lunch for the folks. There's always one vegetarian in every crowd (ours is one of the other English teachers), so I decided to start with a cream of roasted tomato soup made with organic vegetable stock. The soup was one of Bobby Flay's dishes, and everyone was clamoring for the recipe (see below). I also made the blue cheese and walnut chicken salad and added some chopped apples and served it on cocktail croissants. And as two of Vicky's favorite dessert flavors are cherry (she's from Michigan originally) and chocolate, the grand finale was a gorgeous four-layer Black Forest Cake. I intended to make the whole thing from scratch, as is my way, but the oven is still on the fritz (sigh--yes, it's true, the repair guy came Thursday morning, but it apparently requires some part that needs to be ordered). Thus, I had to bake the cake layers at school, so I just used a dark chocolate fudge cake mix from a box. But LOOK at what you can do with a boxed mix if you set your mind to it!

I am pleased to report that I am returning home with empty dishes, other than one piece of cake that I saved to share with Cyd who was kind enough to help me make the chicken salad and the soup last night. Bless her heart! Anyhoo, here are the recipes for the soup and the cake, if anyone is interested in trying them out (the chicken salad can be found in an earlier post from 9/11/06 entitled, "Weekend in New England").


Cream of Roasted Tomato Soup
(Source: Food Network, Bobby Flay)

10 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeds removed (or you can "cheat" and use one 15-oz. can of plum tomatoes and one 15-oz. can of Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes for a similar effect)
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 Spanish onion, diced (you can use any kind of onion here)
1 carrot, diced
3 cups vegetable stock (chicken stock would be fine, too, and beef stock might be even better)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme (I used lime thyme from my garden--yum!)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place tomatoes in a large baking dish and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with the garlic, season with salt and pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a medium stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the roasted tomatoes, garlic, and the juices that have accumulated in the roasting pan. Add the stock and fresh thyme and cook for 20 minutes. Place the cream in a small saucepan over medium high heat and cook until reduced by half. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until smooth (I used my stick blender right in the pot), strain into a clean saucepan over low heat (I prefer not to strain--the bits add texture that I enjoy), stir in the reduced cream, and cook for 5 minutes.

Black Forest Cake
Prep Time: 30 Minutes Cook Time: 40 Minutes
Ready In: 2 Hours 10 Minutes Yields: 12 servings (I got 16--you don't need big slices, it's so rich)


(*you can substitute a boxed cake mix here in a pinch)
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1/2 cup kirschwasser (cherry brandy)--I cut this by half with cherry juice for a less "boozy" effect
1/2 cup butter
3 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon strong brewed coffee (I used coffee liqueur instead and added a teaspoon of vanilla, too)
2 -14-oz. cans pitted Bing cherries, drained (I used Morello cherries from Trader Joe's)

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon kirschwasser (I used the kirsch/cherry juice mix that was leftover)
1 (1 oz.) square semisweet chocolate (I used probably 4 oz. of bittersweet chocolate)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line the bottoms of two 8-inch round pans with parchment paper circles. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

2. Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk, until combined. Pour into 2 round 8 inch pans.

3. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool completely. Remove paper from the cakes. Cut each layer in half, horizontally, making 4 layers total. Sprinkle layers with the 1/2 cup kirshwasser (I used a pastry brush, and I didn't use anywhere near a half cup!).

4. In a medium bowl, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add confectioners' sugar, a pinch of salt, and the coffee (or coffee liqueur and vanilla extract); beat until smooth. If the consistency is too thick, add a couple teaspoons of cherry juice or milk (I used some of the leftover kirsch/cherry juice mix which made the filling a lovely shade of pink!). Spread first layer of cake with 1/3 of the filling. Top with 1/3 of the cherries. Repeat with the remaining layers.

5. In a separate bowl, whip the cream to stiff peaks. Beat in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon kirshwasser (I also added about three tablespoons of powdered sugar and two tablespoons of nonfat dry milk to stabilize the cream so that it would last through the party). Frost top and sides of cake. Sprinkle with chocolate curls made by using a potato peeler on semisweet baking chocolate (I melted my chocolate over a double boiler, spread it thinly over the back of a baking sheet, let it cool, and made thick curls with a bench scraper instead). I would also chill this before serving to set the layers and make it easier to cut.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful cake. Black forest is one of my favorites...

Randi said...

My 40th bday( gasp) is Dec 2nd. (hint, hint).....