Molten Chocolate (Birthday) Cake

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We celebrated a birthday round’ these parts this week. No huge fanfare – just a day packed with special memories, followed by a simple supper with close friends. Oh, and we had one ecstatic little girl. And cake.

A few months ago, I came across this dangerous recipe, and I’ve been devouring it ever since. It’s hard to top rich and buttery hot chocolate lava gushing out on to a silky bed of vanilla ice cream. Ahem. Let’s keep this a G-rated recipe, mmkay? Let’s just summarize it as just plain gooood. And easy. This recipe takes one bowl, one measuring cup, one tablespoon, and about 2 minutes to prepare. A very dangerous prospect for my waistline. The relative ease of preparation is what piqued my interest for our casual birthday dinner, though. A girl’s gotta have cake, but I didn’t feel the need to go “all-out” on any elaborate presentation.

So I opted for Molten Chocolate Cake. Since I knew my target audience for this birthday cake (a two-year old) might not enjoy molten deliciousness to the same extent her lava-crazy Mama does…a few minor adjustments resulted in an incredibly delicious dense, truffle cake, undeniably reminiscent of chocolate cheesecake.

One of my favourite aspects of this recipe is the size (originally designed to make 4 individual portions) which is easily customizable for small or large groups. I typically half the recipe which makes two perfect portions (they can also be refrigerated and re-warmed in the microwave…or you could just eat both portions yourself…I wouldn’t judge). This time I opted to make a single cake, perfectly toddler-proportioned.

After baking the cake for a bit longer than normal (see details below), I started debating my decorating strategy. First instincts were for a simple, classy look. Thirty seconds in Word and a few nifty scissor moves later, I had a stencil.

1. Overlay stencil on cake.

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2. Sprinkle with icing sugar (forgetting to move to better lighting, optional).

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3. Remove stencil and make everyone believe you spent hours meticulously placing every flake of powdered sugar by hand to create such a masterpiece.

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This would also look great with a monogram/initial…or anything your little ol’ heart desires. Easy peasy.

While I love the classic look, I thought it lacked the “joie de vivre” that should be synonymous with turning the big T. W. O.

So I upped the ante with some basic cream cheese frosting…

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and then jumped on the train headed straight to colour town (hive five, Guy Fieri)…

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…except, none of us are actually huge fans of sprinkles. So while I could appreciate the aesthetics, it looked like a bit more dyed sugar than our palate could handle (so I did tap the majority of the sprinkles off before it hit the table avec burning candles).

Fluffy icing, rich chocolatey cake…and just the right size for a little girl.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup butter

2 squares baking chocolate (I use Bakers brand, but plan to switch to regular dark chocolate from here on out)

1/2 cup powdered sugar (extra for garnish if desired)

1 whole egg

1 egg yolk

3 tablespoons flour

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425°

2. Place butter and chocolate into a microwavable bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Remove and stir with a whisk until smooth. Add icing sugar and stir. Add egg and egg yolk, and stir for about 30 seconds (the batter with become silky and thick). Add flour and whisk until just combined.

3. Spray small round dish (or two small custard bowls OR two silicon muffin cups) and add batter. I used one with a 4-inch diameter.

4. Bake single cake for approximately 15 minutes; custard bowls/muffins about 12-14 minutes depending on desired “doneness” – the longer you cook these bad boys, the less lava you’ll be rewarded with at the end. To get “truffle” cake (skipping the lava for the little one’s benefit), I baked the cake for closer to 20 minutes, but watch it carefully to make sure the top doesn’t start to burn.

5. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes, and then invert on to serving dish.

*I have also experimented with adding 1.5 extra tablespoons of icing sugar, adding 1.5 tablespoons cocoa powder, and eliminating flour completely, as an easy gluten-free alternative. Works great.

Jerk Chicken Biscuit Pizza

This…

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was supper. Isn’t she gorgeous?

Although our inspiration came from another source, we definitely made this recipe “our own.” A mouthwatering combination of red peppers, sauteed garlic and onion, spinach, mushrooms, and jerk chicken nestled on a bed of sweet and tangy tomato goodness laced with fresh cilantro…all smothered in a gooey layer of cheeses – biscuit pizza was a family hit.

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It was a winning combination from the start – the comfort of hearty homemade biscuits paired with the robust flavours of pizza. Our taste buds didn’t stand a chance.

My hubby jokingly insists he married me for my biscuits. Apparently they’re that good. My tried-and-true family recipe has seen it’s share of kitchens through the years. Aside from traditional biscuits, suitable for just about every occasion, this dough is also the base for our perennial favourite Cinnamon Coffee Cake which I’ll be whipping up in just a few days to celebrate Abby’s birthday.

So it wasn’t a stretch to imagine this humble biscuit dough could provide the perfect base for further culinary genius. I’ll spare you the suspense – it was even better than we imagined.

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Our version was rather labour intensive – prepping the veggies and mixing the sauce and layering the ingredients took a while. But, this could easily be pared down to a simple: pizza sauce + pepperoni + cheese, and skip from bowl to oven to plate in about half an hour. Finally, I must give credit where it’s due as my sweet hubby is solely responsible for bringing this dish to fruition. I’ll have to start saying I married him for his biscuit pizza – it was that good.

Biscuit dough:

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup shortening

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg

3/4 cup milk

Mix shortening into dry ingredients using a pastry cutter, until crumbly. Whisk 1 egg in a measuring cup, and fill with milk to the 1 cup mark (approximately 3/4 cup milk). Add wet ingredients to dry and stir. Do not overmix. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water as needed to moisten dough.

Sauce:

Equal parts: tomato sauce and BBQ sauce (about 1/2 cup each)

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

1 Tablespoon freshly chopped cilantro

Toppings:

Obviously totally optional. Make sure to sautee any veggies and meat ahead of time, since this pizza cooks for a shorter period than traditional recipes.

2 cups  jerk chicken (cooked and cubed)

1 small onion (diced)

3 cloves garlic  (minced)

1/2 cup mushrooms (sliced)

1 sweet bell pepper (diced)

1/2 cup fresh spinach

2 cups mixed cheese (shredded: cheddar, Parmesan, and mozzarella)

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Directions:

Mix biscuit dough, and knead gently (4-5 times) on a floured surface. Press to desired thickness, pinching the sides slightly to form a crust. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet (we made 3 9-inch round pizzas from one batch of dough). Cover dough with sauce, add toppings. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes (checking frequently).

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Several days later we’re still eating (delicious) leftovers, and have unanimously agreed this will be part of our regular supper rotation from here on out.

 

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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This book captured me. The rich prose and good ol’ fashioned storytelling are all evidence as to why this novel is a classic. It reminded me (both thematically and stylistically) of another book that captivated my attention and which was, at least until I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, my favourite work of fiction – The Grapes of Wrath. While I am astounded it took me this long to stumble across this gem, I’m confident it will become a perennial favourite (I’m a staunch advocate of re-reading).

I have a little quirk (one of many, actually) – I cannot resist a good quote. I have a series of little notebooks where I record favourite lines – everything from Bible verses to classic literature to little diddy’s I come across in toddler reading material (lots of the latter lately). A Tree Grows in Brooklyn supplied overwhelming fodder for my quotes collection. The vivid description of characters and simplistic elegance of the narrative made every page “quote” worthy. Here are a few favourites, though, that I’ve isolated from the pages. Perhaps it will whet the appetite to go explore this classic…

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue…a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”

*****

“The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself. This that I see now, she thought, to see no more this way. Oh, the last time how clearly you see everything; as though a magnifying light had been turned on it. And you grieve because you hadn’t held it tighter when you had it every day. What had Granma Mary Rommely said? ‘To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

*****

“In teaching your child, do not forget that suffering is good too. It makes a person rich in character.”

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“Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way,” said Katie.

Aw, somebody ought to cut that tree down, the homely thing,” said the midwife.

If there was only one tree like that in the whole world, you would think it was beautiful,” said Katie.

*****

“It’s come at last,” she thought, “the time when you can no longer stand between your children and heartache. When there wasn’t enough food in the house you pretended that you weren’t hungry so they could have more. In the cold of a winter’s night you got up and put your blanket on their bed so they wouldn’t be cold. You’d kill anyone who tried to harm them…then one sunny day, they walk out in all innocence and they walk right into the grief that you’d give your life to spare them from.”

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“And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn