Perfect Oreo Cake

Last month, I hosted a birthday party for my beloved J. I started planning the soiree months ago, as many of his closest friends live out of state. I found the cutest invitations on Evite (does anyone do paper invitations anymore?), then started a highly detailed spreadsheet and Pinterest page for menu ideas.

Yes, I’m a geek like that. 

Hey, I also had elaborate spreadsheets for Alexander’s birthday, and Sabrina’s birthday/graduation dinners, so I could prepare as much as I could ahead of time and not forget anything important. But…. even with all my planning, I forgot one item of extreme importance. I neglected to take pictures of Sabrina at her graduation. I’m not even kidding. We didn’t get one.single.picture of her in her cap and gown. It was crowded, suffocatingly hot, and she wanted to split from the venue ASAP and head to Ihop for pancakes. Fortunately though, the school graciously emailed an order form to me with several pictures to choose from. Saved by the school…..

You probably won’t hear me say that ever again.

Anyway, J’s party was perfect in every way. I had the right amount of people, a creative mix of food, and the cutest little setup of desserts:

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I made individual tiramisu, lemon cream pies:

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chocolate mousse, and no-bake cheesecakes:

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The coup de grace, though, was the Oreo cake for dessert. Literally, a “cake” of Oreo cookies:

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It was quite a focal point of conversation, although no one dared touch it. I guess they were hesitant to come between a man and his Oreos….

When all was said and done, I was exceptionally happy with the way everything turned out – and more importantly, J enjoyed himself immensely, everyone had a wonderful time, and cleanup was minimal.

The following week, we had a family dinner and I made a “real” cake for him:

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Yes, it’s as insane as it looks. Two layers of the most amazing chocolate cake (even better, in my opinion, than the Chocolate Cake That Started It All), then filled with whipped cream and lots of chopped Oreos. I had a blast making this, and was so pleased with the way it turned out.

So now that I’ve made my way through three birthdays and one graduation, the next big event is my birthday. Suffice to say, there will be chocolate and peanut butter this year. yum……

Perfect Oreo Cake – adapted from two different sources

Cake:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup hot coffee
Grease and flour three 9 inch cake pans.
In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients and whisk together. Add eggs, buttermilk and vegetable oil to the dry ingredients and mix well.
4. Add vanilla to hot coffee and add to mixture. Mix well.
5. Pour into the prepared pans and bake at 300 degrees for about 25-28 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs.
6. Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then remove from the pans to cooling racks to cool completely.

Filling / Frosting:

  • 50 Oreo cookies, chopped (plus an additional 5 cookies, cut in half, for decorating)
  • 4 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1 tbs. pure vanilla extract

Make the Oreo whipped cream in 2 batches. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whip attachment, whip 2 cups cream on medium-high speed to soft peak, spoon into large bowl and refrigerate. In same mixer bowl, whip remaining 2 1/2 cups cream, sugar, and vanilla to soft peak. Fold into already whipped cream. Fold in Oreos and chill until ready to assemble cake. Reserve about 1 cup of filling for cake decoration. 

Place one cake layer on a cake circle. Spoon about 1/3 of filling onto cake and spread gently to edges. Place another cake layer on top, and repeat. Top with third cake layer and spread remaining filling on sides and top of cake. Pipe remaining filling in rosettes on top of cake, then top each rosette with half an Oreo. Chill until ready to serve.

 

Chocolate Mousse

Tomorrow is July 1.

Say what??!

We are halfway though 2015, and it doesn’t seem possible. Yet it is, and it’s happening. Crazy. Isn’t it funny that when you’re a kid, time moves painfully slow. Once you’re an adult, however, time moves at light speed.

Or ridiculous speed.

Or ludicrous speed.

Classic – just like a good chocolate mousse.

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Chocolate Mousse – adapted from epicurious

I put crushed Oreo cookie crumbs into the bottom of the glasses to make them a bit more festive, as I served these at J’s birthday party a few weeks ago. The mousse is outstanding – perfectly textured and not cloyingly sweet.

  • 2 cups chilled heavy cream
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 tbs. sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped

Heat 3/4 cup cream in a 1-quart heavy saucepan until hot. Whisk together yolks and sugar in a metal bowl until combined well, then add hot cream in a slow stream, whisking until combined. Transfer mixture to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until it registers 160°F on thermometer. Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and stir in vanilla.Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water (or in a glass bowl in a microwave at 50 percent power 3 to 5 minutes), stirring frequently. Whisk custard into chocolate until smooth, then cool.

Beat remaining 1 1/4 cups cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Whisk one fourth of cream into chocolate custard to lighten, then fold in remaining cream gently but thoroughly.

Spoon mousse into 8 (6-ounce) stemmed glasses or ramekins and chill, covered, at least 6 hours. Let stand at room temperature about 20 minutes before serving.

Cooks’ notes: • Mousse can be chilled up to 1 day.

• To vary the flavor, you can replace the 1 teaspoon vanilla with 2 teaspoons instant-espresso powder (dissolve it in the hot cream) or 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or 2 tablespoons Cognac (either one whisked into strained custard).

 

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

In 8 days, the posse are leaving for a 3 week sojourn to Florida. I’m sure I will miss the little buggers after a few days…. after all, they’ve been glued to me for oh, the last 17 years or so…..

Not that I counted or anything…. 

Seriously though, Sabrina just informed me that her grand plan while on her trip is to catch an alligator – and is it all right if she brings him home? I can just picture the scenario at the gate: Sabrina: “Here’s my boarding pass, and here’s one for my pet alligator…. you can call him Wally….he only has carry on luggage…”

I’m sure TSA would have a field day with that.

Never mind TSA, where would we keep it? Oh that’s right, at the swamp ranch…….He would fit in perfectly with Monte and the goats.

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Monte doesn’t like that idea at all…..

Speaking of having field day, guess who FINALLY got her license?

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Yep! She finally mustered up the courage to face her disdain of the DPS (and government officials in general), and took the driving test. After all was said and done, her instructor informed her that “while she passed, she tends to disregard stop signs and cannot parallel park”.
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The first person that says she drives like me is gonna get slapped with a wet noodle…….

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta – adapted from The Pioneer Woman

  • 12 oz linguine
  • 4 tbs. butter
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 large jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
  •  Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  •  Fresh parsley, about a handful, chopped

    Cook pasta according to package directions.

    Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute for 2 to 3 minutes or until starting to soften. Add the chopped red peppers and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until hot.

    Remove the skillet from the heat. Carefully transfer the contents of the skillet to a food processor or blender. Place on the lid and puree the pepper mixture until smooth.

    Pour the pepper puree back into the skillet. Add the pepper, and stir until heated. Add the cream and stir to combine.

    Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the skillet and stir everything together, adding a bit of the cooking water if the sauce is too thick.

    Serve in bowls with extra cheese and a sprinkling of parsley on top.

 

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bread

I have been sitting here staring at the screen for the past 20 minutes, wondering where to start. The last two months have been a total and complete blur, and today is the first day I haven’t had hit the ground running with a to-do list a mile long.

** deep breath **

In other breaking news, it’s also the first day without any rain in the forecast. We’ve certainly had our share of water-logged days lately – in the month of May alone we had over 18 inches of rain, and so far this month, we’ve had over 6 inches. That’s a lot of days with soggy dogs and paw-print covered floors……

Side note: Alexander could have used his new canoe in the street the other day, as there was so much water in such a short amount of time – it was a real-time lesson for them at how quickly people and cars can get swept away in rushing water…

Edit: It is now pouring….. and has been for quite some time, apparently – judging from the amount of water pooled in the front of the house…..

Today will be a good day to stay inside and bake. Like I ever need a reason to do that…..

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Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bread – adapted from Bake or Break

I made a cinnamon/cocoa powder/brown sugar filling and topping for the bread – even though the original recipe didn’t call for it. I guess my creativity was in high gear that day….

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1  1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted (I think next time I’ll use oil – to see if it lightens the texture a bit)

    Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9″x 5″ loaf pan with cooking spray.

    In a large bowl, mix flour, oats, both sugars, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Stir in chocolate chips.

    In a separate bowl, beat together the buttermilk, eggs, and butter. Stir into dry ingredients just until combined. Batter will be lumpy.

    Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Mocha Marble Cake

Two weeks ago, I made a super short trip to Vegas to see Mom and Dad. Emphasis on the “super-short” part. I left Austin early Saturday morning, and returned late Sunday afternoon.

phew…. 

I purposely arranged my trip over the weekend, as I wanted to make sure the posse didn’t skip school during my brief absence. It’s not that I don’t trust them…… but I don’t trust them.

Anyway, before I left, and even though I was only going to be away for one night,  I prepped a pan of enchiladas for Alexander, Chicken Fajitas for Sabrina, and baked up two cakes. For her, a Banana Zucchini Bread – and for him, this Mocha Marble Cake.

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When I got back to the house Sunday afternoon, half of the cake was gone. His words? “Best cake ever, Mom”.

Mocha Marble Cake – adapted from a recipe by Flo Braker

1 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tbs. hot water
¾ cup Hershey’s chocolate syrup
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
8 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12 cup Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, mix together the espresso powder and hot water. Stir the mixture into the chocolate syrup and set aside. Sift together the flour, and baking powder, and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. On medium speed, slowly add the beaten eggs a bit at a time – this should take about 3 minutes.

On low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts alternately with the milk in two parts, scraping down the bowl between additions. Stir in the vanilla after the last addition of flour.

Spoon two thirds of the batter into the pan, and smooth the top. Stir the baking soda into the chocolate syrup mixture, and add this mixture to the remaining third of cake batter. Pour the chocolate batter on top of the vanilla batter and immediately put the pan into the oven. Bake until the cake is set, and a tester comes clean, about 65 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then unmold the cake and allow to cool completely.

Cacio e Pepe Pasta Pie – and a complaint

I generally don’t like to complain, because if you stop and think about it, complaining serves no purpose whatsoever. If you can change something, do it. If you can’t, work around it and move on.

That mindset has worked out quite well for me, until recently. I am faced with a dilemma that I HAVE to complain/vent about, because I can neither fix it nor work around it. My gripe? The school system. Here’s the situation: Sabrina’s graduation ceremony is at 8:00 a.m. on a Thursday. I have to get her to the school by 5:45 a.m., so she can attend the senior breakfast, then the entire class boards a charter bus that will take them to the ceremony site – which happens to be about 25 minutes from the school.

That, however, isn’t where the problem lies.

The problem is that Alexander naturally wants to attend his sister’s ceremony. It’s an epic day in her life and he really wants to be there to commemorate it with her.  Side note: The realization that she’s not going to be at the school next year hit him hard about two weeks ago. She has a potential plan to attend college in Indiana, and Alexander was genuinely upset, concerned about her ability to still have dinner with us every night. She just looked at him like he’d fallen out of the sky and said, ” I told you that you’d miss me someday!”

I gritted my teeth and took another sip of wine, because at that moment I realized she might actually move away this summer. Is it too early to start turning her room into an office? I’m kidding, I’m kidding…

Anyway, due to a school district member’s clever planning abilities, the rest of the high school students have final exams scheduled for the day of the graduation. And they thought that was a good idea? Why on earth would they plan the graduation ceremony on a day when the other students have finals that they obviously can’t miss? Why not have the ceremony in the afternoon? Or early evening? The other high schools in the district are scheduled for the following Saturday. How did we get the short end of the straw?

Oh – and one more thing: we (the family) are supposed to be at the ceremony site at 7:30 a.m. Again, no problem. Except that Alexander starts school at 8:45 a.m. Last time I checked, I was unable to be in two places at the same time. So I have to drop him off at 7:00 a.m. in order to make it out to Cedar Park by 7:30 a.m. Ok, I can do that. 

Then I made the mistake of saying, out loud, that I was going to go into the school office and see what could be done about having Alexander attend the ceremony. Surely I can’t be the only parent with this complaint? Sabrina put her hand out , looked straight at me, and said, “Mom, stop. Don’t be confrontational.”

Me? Confrontational. I think that’s a compliment. 

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Cacio e Pepe Pasta Pie – adapted from Food and Wine

I learned a very valuable lesson while making this – don’t judge a recipe by the simplicity of the ingredients. I am probably going to make this again for Sabrina’s graduation dinner – it’s equally delicious hot, or at room temperature.

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 6 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded (2 cups)
  • 6 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
  • Butter, for greasing
  • marinara sauce, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425°. In a pot of  boiling water, cook the spaghetti until barely al dente. Drain well.

In a bowl, mix the milk, Parmigiano, eggs, pepper, and 1 1/2 cups each of the Fontina and cheddar. Add the hot pasta, and mix well using two forks or tongs to get everything blended together, and that the pasta has a chance to absorb some of the liquid. Pour into a buttered 9-inch springform pan, then sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup each of Fontina and cheddar on top. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Transfer to 
a rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Remove the ring, cut the pie into wedges and serve with marinara sauce.