Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Marshmallows for the Birthday Boy


Versions of chocolate-dipped marshmallows have been popping up all over the place, peaking around Valentine’s Day. I don’t know why I waited for so long to try my own version, but Mateo’s fourth birthday was the perfect excuse to give them a go.

We used square-cut homemade marshmallows from this basic recipe, although you can make the pops with store-bought ‘mallows as Amy has done. You could also cut them into shapes, like these beautiful hearts from Brenda.


So the method is simple: melt chocolate ( I used 85% cacao for a bitter contrast to the sweet marshmallow) and dip skewered marshmallows about halfway into the chocolate.

Stand skewers upright in water glasses to dry, or jab them into a cardboard box as I did in the photo above.

Once the chocolate has partially set (it will lose its glossy sheen), but before it is dry, add the sprinkles. This is a fun job for kids! Mateo decorated all his own marshmallow pops.


And that’s it! I made these the day before the party and didn’t bother to store them in an airtight container. They were fine left at room temperature until the party…and after? Well there wasn’t even one remaining, so I can’t tell you how long they keep.

Enjoy! For more party-planning tips and Mateo’s ‘Doodle Cake’ check out my recap of the party on Simple Bites.

Dinner at Empire State South


Restaurant reviews are something that went out the window a looong time ago around here. I posted a few at the beginning and then realized that I strongly disliked writing reviews. I just wanted to enjoy my meal, not sweat the poor lighting for photos and hour long write up upon my return home. Non merci.

Plus, with two little children added to our family, our restaurant outings have slowed to a crawl. It’s not exactly like I stay on top of the local restaurant scene. And I don’t pretend to.

This past weekend, however, offered the chance for a dinner out on the town – in humid Atlanta, Georgia. Danny and I were in town for a mini second honeymoon and the Blogher Food conference – of course we wanted to eat Atlanta while we had the opportunity.

You can read my full BHF’11 recap on Simple Bites -I had a marvelous time- but over here we’re going to talk about dinner.

Danny & Shaina

The destination? Empire State South. A Canadian chef’s modern take on Southern food, served up in style, with plenty of love.

ESS proudly considers itself a farm-to-table restaurant, which reminded me a lot of our own Toque! and the scads of in-house charcuterie bordered on Au Pied du Cochon’s style.

Needless to say, I felt quite at home at Empire State South.

My dining companions? Eight fabulous rock-star food bloggers. You just may recognize a few names here: Alice & her husband Rob, Sandy, Carrie, Amanda, Tara, Jenny, Lori, Shaina.
Along with Danny and I, we invaded the small-ish Empire State South and proceeded to order half the menu.

Thanks to Amanda, I’ve got food photos from the meal. I was too busy gabbing with the girls to work the camera and was happy to hand it over to the competent Amanda.

Amanda’s first oyster! This ain’t no New York cupcake – The girl is fearless.

Carrie & Jenny

Soft Poached Farm Egg anson mills grits, maitake, baby celery.

Strawberry Gazpacho, pickled shrimp, asparagus, marcona almonds.

Ramp Orecchiette, carrot puree, carrots, english peas, squash and benne.

Roasted Grouper, pea broth, young zucchini.


There are no photos of desserts to speak of, save this one, snapped with my iPhone.


We ordered eight plates, but they disappeared so fast. I was sitting next to Amanda and I don’t know anyone who loves sweets more that that girl!

I knew that if I wanted a fighting chance at tasting dessert, I had to put the camera down. And so I did.

Alice, myself, Amanda

We sampled:

  • Coconut Cream Pie, almond brittle,
  • Fried strawberry pie, pickled strawberry, buttermilk ice cream
  • Coke soft serve ice cream, peanut funnel cake (pictured above)
  • Grasshopper Terrine, candied chocolate mint

Shaina and I have since been fantasizing over the strawberry pies.I think she’s going to have a recipe coming soon. Hopefully just in time for our strawberry season.

Shaina & Lori

Consensus? We loved Empire State South. The entire evening was surreal. Fantastic food. Brilliant company. Inspiring conversation. I think it lasted about three hours, and is definitely going in the books as one of my most memorable dining experiences.

How to Host a Pizza Party


1. Decide to throw a party. If it happens to be your little sister’s twenty-fifth birthday, so be it.

2. Invite friends who like pizza. (Warning: pretty much everyone does, so plan for a houseful.)


3. Make a big bowl of Honey Pizza Dough. OK, make that a GINORMOUS bowl. Don’t worry, you can always freeze the leftovers. (I think I did 8 batches)

4. Roast a several pounds of Roma tomatoes for Roasted Tomato & Garlic Pizza Sauce. This stuff is so good, you almost don’t need any pizza toppings. Almost.

5. Rock as many or as few pizza toppings as you like. (See suggestions below. I went with ‘many’, as you’ll see.)


6. Set up a station for roll/tossing/stretching pizza dough. Find all the pie pans in the house. Provide parchment paper, scissors, olive oil and a rolling pin or two.


7. Preheat the oven to crazy-hot. Like 450 degrees. Invite guests to shape their pizzas.

8. Snap some photos. Sigh. Wish you were twenty-five again. Pour a glass of wine.


9. Set out the prepared pizza toppings. Pictured above: diced sauteed bacon, sliced grilled chicken breast, baby shrimp, broccoli, pepperoni.

Toppings II: sauteed zucchini, diced feta, sauteed leeks, cherry tomatoes, sliced Vidalia onions.
And more toppings…diced colored peppers, Capicola, diced tomatoes, artichoke hearts, black olives, mushrooms, apples, pears, Gouda, oven-roasted tomatoes.


10. Encourage guests to create their own pizzas.


11. Get creative. Half pesto, half roasted tomato sauce…


…finished with shrimp, red onion, mozzarella and colored peppers on the pesto, and sauteed leeks, apples and Gouda on the tomato sauce. A.Ma.Zing.


12. Do not laugh at ‘stuffed crust’ attempts. Even if you think that looks like a lot of crust.


13. OK, go ahead and laugh.


14. Eat pizza, pour more wine. Laugh a lot.


15. Berate your friends for not eating more. Attempt to make up for it with another slice or three.

Inspiration for a sweet table


Remember my fall list? Well, it’s been keeping me pretty busy. Tonight, as we roasted cinnamon marshmallows over the open fire, and the flaming maple leaves fell all around us, I contemplated taking a little hiatus from this space. You know, since fall is such a busy time and all.

But then I realized that we’d be heading into Christmas once I returned, and after Christmas is Blissdom (yes, I’m going) and then in February is that engagement party I’m throwing and Mateo’s birthday and, and…

It’s always a ‘busy time’, so I’m just going to keep posting here and there when I have a few minutes and keeping you up to date with the goodness leaving my kitchen.

Speaking of which, have you seen the Chilled Pumpkin Cheesecake? Just in time for our Thanksgiving? Yep. Don’t miss it, nor the new vlog that I had a ton of fun making. (just ignore the pantyhose comment, OK?)


On to the food! In this case, the sweets. I had the opportunity to bake up a storm for a baby shower for one of my most favorite people ever, Angela. She makes up half of the Tim Chin Photography dynamic duo (check out our last family photo shoot with them) and she’s about eight months pregnant with Tiny Tim, as I like to call him.


I had to go a bit nuts with the food. Ange is such a stylish girl…and loves food almost as much as I do! Here are some of the sweets that the guests feasted on:


Sour Cream Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting. You’ve seen the cake before, now meet the mini-cupcake.


Chai-Scented Creme Brulé, because creme brulé is Ange’s favorite dessert ever. I infused the cream with a little of Philippe de Vienne’s Chai Spice Blend, and it was just enough to give the dessert a hint of something special.


Quebec Pear and Candied Ginger Individual Crisps, served warm with Cinnamon Whipped Cream.


Prosecco-Lime Gelée with Seasonal Fruits, inspired by this post on Desserts for Breakfast. Refreshing, elegant, and low-fat, if you’re concerned about that.


Chocolate Pecan Puddle Cookies are a must at any event, as are Orange Sandwich Cookies with Chocolate Caramel Ganache.

S’mores! Traditional graham crackers, cinnamon marshmallows (blue for ‘boy’) and dark chocolate squares. (I used Lindt). I torched these á la minute for the girls.


Close up of the sandwich cookies. I used Jamie’s Chewy Lemon Cookies, which were fantastic because they can be mixed up, rolled into logs and frozen in advance. I used orange instead of lemon and it paired well with the dark chocolate.
For the filling I prepared Robin’s Dark Chocolate Caramel Sauce, and let it firm up before filling. These cookies were pretty, bite-size and perfect for a baby shower, however they had to be refrigerated right up until serving. Not a warm weather cookie!

There were also mini Lemon Poppy-Seed Cupcakes, and these Nutella Brownies. And that was about enough.

Congratulations again to the mother-to-be. I’ll bet the little guy was kicking up a storm after this sugar rush! Way to get him hooked on crême brulé early…

Lemon Raspberry Layer Cake and a ‘Pat the Bunny’ Birthday


I already said my birthday congratulations to Mateo, so let’s get straight to the cake, shall we?
Now, as much as I love the typical ABC baby blocks/first birthday cake in its every form, I wanted to do something a little more original for Mateo, and so his tattered and much-loved ‘Pat the Bunny‘ book became the inspiration behind this cake. Here’s how it came together…


Flavors:
I loved this cake and was thrilled with how it came out! Friends who follow me on Twitter know how I haggled over the perfect flavor combination for this birthday. Chocolate and Chestnut? Too mature. Carrot and Maple? Too predictable. ( I see soooo many carrot cakes for a baby’s first birthday, and most of the time they are the recipe from ‘What to Expect…’)

I started with the marvelous yellow butter cake from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook and her classic Swiss Meringue buttercream. Then I had four egg yolks left over from the buttercream and fresh lemons to use up, so I made a tangy lemon curd and folded it into the buttercream. I sandwiched some fresh raspberries between the middle layer of cake, covered the entire project with Satin Ice rolled fondant and served it with a raspberry coulis.
It was fantastic!

This cake would be a showstopper even without the rolled fondant icing. The spectacular lemon buttercream can certainly stand on its own, so don’t sweat it if you are not up for the fondant. It would dazzle simply topped with a few fresh raspberries.


This cake felt like spring; and on a freezing cold March day, that was a good thing. In fact, as I was eating a slice the next morning for breakfast (perfectly acceptable, as long as the little ones don’t see) I was remarking on how it would make a lovely wedding cake. Hey, spring IS coming sometime, and with it many opportunities for C-A-K-E: graduations, wedding showers, birthdays…Oh, OH–Mother’s Day!
You better make a mental note of that: Aimée’s Lemon Raspberry Cake for Mum.


Decorations:
Even though the cake’s interior was pure Martha Stewart, the design and decoration was all my idea and execution.

  • The bunny was cut out of plain white rolled fondant and the markings added with edible marker. He came out quite cute, I thought!
  • I dyed the fondant peach (although it was pinker than I would have liked) and pinned a blue ribbon around the bottom.
  • For the pattern on the fondant, I wasn’t sure how to add the delicate three petaled flowers, as I certainly was not going to paint them on by hand. So I quickly carved a makeshift stamp out of a potato, dipped it into the food coloring and went nuts all over the cake. It took about five minutes and gave the effect that I wanted. Never underestimate the lowly potato!!
  • The invitations used a line from the book: “How Big Is Mateo? Sooo Big!” and I was originally going to pipe this onto the cake; however, I chickened out! I just don’t like writing on cakes: I don’t like how it looks and I don’t like doing it, so I stamped the top, too.

Looking to plan a party for your baby?! I’ve included some ideas at the bottom of the post on how to host your own Pat the Bunny theme party too. Yay!

Recipes:
All adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

Yellow Butter Cake
yields two 8-inch round cakes

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans

1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups sugar

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups milk

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter parchment, and dust with flour, tapping out excess; set aside. Into a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined after each addition.

3. Divide batter between the prepared pans, and smooth with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until cakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.
They may look like they are going to overflow the pan, but don’t worry they will be fine and you will end up with nice fat layers for your cake. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 20 minutes. Invert cakes onto the rack; peel off the parchment. Re-invert cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.

Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Makes about 4 cups, perfect for this cake.

4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons

3/4 cup lemon curd
(recipe below)

In the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the egg whites and sugar. Cook, whisking constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch.
Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. Continue beating until the mixture is fluffy and cooled, about 6 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment.
With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter several tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. If frosting appears to have separated after all the butter has been added, beat on medium-high speed until smooth again.

(Aimée’s Note: I do this every time. It brings the buttercream from a runny whipped cream consistency, to a thick frosting consistency. I prefer to work with it like this.)

Beat on low speed to eliminate any air bubbles. Stir in lemon curd with a spatula until smooth. Frosting is now ready to use or it may be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days. Before using, bring to room temperature.

I love this lemon curd recipe. It requires you to make it with the zest of the lemon, but at the end the zest is strained out through a fine sieve. This imparts the maximum lemon flavor, but the curd still has a silky smooth consistency. Mmm.

Lemon Curd
Makes 1 cup–enough for the buttercream with a bit leftover for you to scarf.

4 large egg yolks
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 4 lemons)

1/2 cup sugar

5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces

Prepare an ice bath fitted with a medium bowl; set aside. Whisk together yolks, zest, juice, and sugar in a small saucepan. Set over medium heat, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. Cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the wooden spoon, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, stirring until incorporated. Pass through a fine mesh sieve into prepared medium bowl. Stirring frequently, let stand until cool.
Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on surface of curd to prevent skin from forming; wrap tightly. Refrigerate until firm and chilled, at least 1 hour. Store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Assembly:
2 8-inch round Yellow Butter Cakes
Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream
1 pkg fresh raspberries
1 1/2 lbs rolled fondant (optional)
icing sugar

Slice cakes lengthwise in two ( I like to have them very cold for this part) so that you have four rounds.. Place the bottom layer on a cake stand and top with about 3/4 cup of lemon buttercream. Top with cake layer. Spread a thin layer of buttercream and top with a layer of fresh raspberries. Smear a generous amount of buttercream across the berries so that it fills any gaps.
Top berries with another round of cake, coat with buttercream and place the final layer of cake on top. Frost all over with remaining buttercream. Chill until very firm.
Dust counter with icing sugar and roll fondant into a circle measuring 14 inches in diameter. Lift gently and place on top of cake. Smooth sides, trimming excess fondant. Dust hands with icing sugar and smooth out air bubbles from top and sides. Decorate as desired.
Chill until ready to serve.


How to Plan a ‘Pat the Bunny’ Birthday Party:

OK, I can take credit for the cake, but the rest of this was the creative thinking from the super talented Abigail from Piece of Cake. Trust me when I say she has the credentials, and I don’t just mean graphic design! A master party planner, she processed my idea for a Pat the Bunny cake faster than my PC can re-boot, and offered these amazing (and affordable) suggestions for the whole Pat the Bunny experience! Abigail is also half the team behind the fabulous creations at paper and cake. You’ll never stress over another party again thanks to their adorable downloadable templates. Abigail designed Mateo’s darling birthday invitations (pictured above), which I’ll be saving for years to come. Thanks Abigail!
Party on!

Color scheme: turquoise, peach and white

Decorations:

  • Make cut outs of rabbits, carrots, or little bunny footprints of construction paper and affix to the walls or windows.
  • Purchase ribbon to swag everywhere.
  • Make a garland with the baby’s name by cutting letters out of peach/turquoise paper and gluing them to the opposite color cardstock and threading on a ribbon across the room/door/window.

Goodie Bags:

  • Pat the Bunny puppets
  • Bunny ear headbands
  • Pat the Bunny book in a clear cello party favor bag filled with some cotton balls and tied with your peach/turquoise ribbon. (My goodie bag is pictured above. I gave the book Peakaboo Bunny.)

Craft: (If the children are old enough)

  • Pat the Bunny coloring sheets (print from here) available on a kid’s table covered in butcher paper, lots of crayons.
  • Cut the bunny shape out of contact paper and affix (double sided tape, staple, glue) to peach or aqua cardstock. Adults will be needed to help the kids peel off the contact paper backing, then the kids can stick on cotton balls and maybe googly eyes too. This could also be done with glue, but it might get messy.

Activity:

  • Hide stuffed bunnies around the house, and have the kids go on a bunny hunt.
  • Play a touch/feel game. Put ultra textured items in a box or bag, show a picture of the item before having each child find that item (ie. pinecone) without looking.
  • Read Pat the Birthday Bunny or Pat the Bunny