Monday, March 30, 2009

UtHC Bulletin

Under the High Chair bulletin is a scattering of various and sundry happenings, discoveries and news.Keep reading...

Garden News

"This is what's cruel about springtime: no matter how it treats you, you can't stop loving it."
Barbara Kingsolver
Truly March is the most frustrating month. It brings sunny warm days that cause you to cast away the wool scarf and haul out sneakers from the back of the closet, and then slams the door in your face with its plunging temperatures and occasional snowfalls. Still, I admit that I give in to its games and occasionally allow myself to believe that it is spring. My hope was validated today by the discovery of some very brave rhubarb poking its little heads up in the garden.
Consider this a warning that I will probably begin blathering about seedlings, compost and my garden in future posts and won't let up until about mid-October or so. It's almost gardening time!!

* * *

Interview with Aimée
Mother of three and food blogger, Kate of A Merrier World, has decided it's high time to discover the stories behind some of her favourite food blogs and guess who she picked to go first? Yep, in the very first installment of her fascinating Edible Lives series, you can read all about Under the High Chair's humble beginnings and the journey to what we are today. Curious as to how everything began? Head on over to the interview for a trip down memory lane and also discover which popular blogger she'll be interviewing next!!
Thank you for this opportunity, Kate!

* * *

Raw Pet Diet
Alright, so after the last fiasco with our cat, Cassis, I decided to put him on a raw diet to avoid going through anything like that again. Correction, I didn't really 'decide', more like I was told to by my little sister, resident family pet expert and B.A.R.F pioneer (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) around these parts. Note that I don't usually take commands from a sibling seven years my junior, but believe me when I tell you, if Miranda strongly suggests something pet related, I know I'd better listen up.
If you want to find out what is involved in committing to a raw diet for your pet or how to transition, my sister outlines the process at her informative, easy-to-understand blog My Mini Zoo. You can also follow her on Twitter.
Raw pet diets are not for the faint-of-heart, let me just say that! There's nothing quite like hacking up chicken carcasses (bone shards flying everywhere and the baby trying to eat them off the floor), mincing chicken hearts & livers, tossing in a raw egg, serving it to your cat--and then sitting down to your own dinner. They don't call it B.A.R.F for nothin'. Just saying.

* * *

Making Baby Food 101
From cat food to baby food, the lovely Cheryl from Backseat Gourmet has two articles on making your own baby food that I wanted to recommend to all my mommy readers out there. I've always made all my own baby food, but never got it together to post a how-to on the subject, even though more than a few of you have asked. (Sorry!)
Cheryl lays out the steps simply and smartly, without lecturing or sounding 'preachy', so if you're expecting a little one or about to transition your baby to solids, be sure to check out Step 1: Purees and Step 2: Textures.

* * *

So, it's only right that I share what has been both an inspiration and a kick in the pants these last few weeks (not to mention a darn good read). Barbara Kingsolver's book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life"
Written as both a love letter to the land and a wake-up call to the consumer, I haven't been able to put this book down. Even my Tweets are suffering. Her ode to asparagus alone had me weak at the knees.
Suffice it to say, this book is a must-read for any gardener, cook, environmentalist or the like.

* * *

Sugar Shacks
Lastly, I guess my last two posts about sugar shacks got you all fired up about sugaring off season and now you have a hankering for all things maple. Just so you know, I've considered all your requests and am now giving my recommendations! Unfortunately, I am not aware of any places that collect sap in the traditional method and allow you to participate as I did (lucky me! OK, now you just want to smack me). However, here are two places that allow you to get out of the city, admire the tall maples and feast to your hearts content.
  • For families, you won't regret a visit to Cabane à Sucre Bouvrette, which we visited last spring. If the amazing pea soup and tire d'érable don't do it for your little Johnny or Jane, the tidy petting zoo and old fashioned train ride will.
  • For grown-ups, gourmands and anyone who has $45 to spend very wisely, get yourself to Martin Picard's sugar shack: Cabane à sucre: Au Pied du Cochon. Be sure to make reservations ahead of time to ensure there is some maple-poached lobster left for you.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sugaring Off Part II and Rustic Maple Pie

This post is continued from Sugaring Off Part I...

In an interview with the National Post, world-renowned Montreal chef Martin Picard calls maple syrup extraordinary, underestimated, and the most emblematic product you can find in Canada; I love how this guy ticks. There is so much more to this 100% natural liquid gold than most people think and I'm really enjoying this discovery of how it is traditionally harvested and prepared. From the clear, perfumed sap that drips from the tap on the tree trunk, to the seductive dark syrup that coats our pancakes, this is truly Eastern Canada's most valuable resource.

Like Christmas Day for young ones, the goodies just keep coming on our sugaring off adventure. First the venison chili, then the maple cocktail, and now Uncle Marc (who had disappeared indoors for sometime) makes his way down the trail with a steaming kettle in one hand and a can of wooden paddles in the other. He sideskirts the bustling stove area and heads for a patch of clean snow in the woods instead. My foodie instincts propel me, and true to form, I am first on the scene.
He's making maple taffy or 'tire d'erable'.

He has reduced the syrup over a steady heat until it has reached the soft ball stage and now pours it on the snow in long strips. The taffy hardens--but not too much--and then is rolled onto a paddle; this lollipop of pure delicacy is handed to the closest awaiting hand.

Hmm, funny how many of those eager hands are little ones.
Like mother, like son, it hasn't taken Noah very long to discover this snow buffet. I watch with enjoyment as he cautiously takes a first taste and then observe in horror as he neatly devourers the rest of the tire on his stick in one massive sticky bite. As I brace myself for all twenty of his tiny, pearl-white teeth to rot out of his head and drop into the snow, I see him preparing to help himself to another stick and manage to stir myself out of my reverie enough to intervene. He doesn't complain much as I lead him away from the tempting spread, as if he knows it's too good to be true anyway.
I proceed to have four more sticks of taffy in a row and not to be a complete spoil-sport, I share some with him. Talk about a double standard!

My youngest child has now succumbed to the warm afternoon sun and is dozing in the jogger stroller. My heart is racing from the pure sugar fix (overload?) and I'm ready to see how the sap is collected. Let's go!

The sun is beginning to slant behind the tall maples as I hop on the back of the ATV and a handful of us set out to collect the sap. Facing backwards as we bump along the 'route', I am looking at a large barrel we are towing on a sled that holds the sap. We stop at various 'checkpoints' along the trail while folks, armed with 5 gallon pails, fan out into the woods. Each and every tin bucket is lifted from the tree and the contents dumped into the 5 gallon pails, which in turn are emptied into the barrel on the sled.
From the back of the quad where he sits, Marc is clearly pleased to have the extra help, as he usually does the sap run solo twice a day. Harvest time is a busy time, no matter what type of farmer you are.

When we return to 'camp', I don't stick around to see the sap transferred from the barrel to the stove top, because I'm badly in need of coffee and I'm off to hunt some down. As quickly as it came, my sugar rush has left, taking my energy stores with it. I'm getting old after all. I don't have the stamina of these monkeys picture below; of course, who knows just how much pure maple sugar is running through their veins right now.
I'm anticipating a major meltdown from the one in the red jacket before the hour is up.

I'm pleased to see the homestead kitchen is a bustle of activity and there are many signs of a promising full-on feast to come. Baked beans (with maple of course) are bubbling away on the stove, six dozen eggs are stacked on the counter awaiting their destiny, and pork in its many attractive forms is warming, including about five pounds of maple-glazed bacon contributed by yours truly. Some things are essential, and bacon is one of them.
My sister looks up from her post behind the griddle where she's turning out apple-cinnamon flapjacks with skill; these are not her first pancakes, people. I'm famished and I could smell these from outside. She doesn't object as I snitch one; it helps to have contacts in the kitchen.

Whether lured by the smells coming from the kitchen or driven by the need for dry feet, a steady stream of people begin to trickle into the house. Soon muddy rubber boots and various other footwear begin piling up on the back porch like wild mushrooms multiplying on a rotten log. To my utter relief, my brother-in-law and resident coffee geek, Kevin, turns up and begins pumping out expertly prepared pots of French Press coffee. I take the second cup (he has dibs on the first), we stir in maple syrup and sigh with pleasure.
Then it is time to eat.

Photos are scarce from this point on due to the fact that I am just too busy tucking in to the home cooking and feeding the little ones. This shot of Danny's plate--the first of many--is the only evidence of our sugar shack style meal.
There's nothing like fresh air to work up an appetite and this is apparent as we devour the aforementioned baked beans and flapjacks plus scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, bison sausages, coffee cake, bagels and hash browns. Everything is topped with maple syrup; a tribute to our day in the sugar bush.

My hands wrapped around one last cup of coffee and my tummy full of pie, I watch the sun set over the valley that stretches out below the farmhouse. I hear Lynn behind me:

"See why I moved to the country?"

She gestures at the view, but it doesn't require anyone to speak for it. It's stunning and the display has not been lost on me.
This whole day had only been a reminder of that I already knew: 'You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl'.

Thanks Marc & Lynn! See you next spring!

Rustic Maple Pecan Pie

I enjoyed my piece of pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of more maple syrup. Why not? Sugaring off comes but once a year.

Recipe by Auntie Lynn

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

2 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons melted butter

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400F.
Beat eggs in a bowl. Stir flour into brown sugar and add to beaten eggs. Add remaining ingredients. Pour into pie shell and bake for 40 minutes.
Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sugaring Off Part I and a Canadian Cocktail

We can smell the maple syrup as soon as we step out of the car. I can see smoke rising up out of the trees and the sun warms my face. I leave my jacket in the car and Danny, Noah, Mateo and I duck inside the family home. Auntie Lynn looks up from the maple pecan pies she is taking out of the oven and greets us. She barely bats an eyelash as we unload our car (about half the entire contents of our home) and trek our belongings to the guest room.

"For the month of March this isn't my home", she says in a resigned matter, "It's a community centre."

We've all come for one thing: sugaring off. During these warm days and cool nights, the sap is running in Lynn and Marc's 25 acre 'sugar bush'. The maple trees are tapped, and the collecting of the precious sap has begun.

On the kitchen counter sits an industrial sized canning pot with at least two gallons of dark maple syrup in it. A ladle hangs on the side and a jar of spoons next to the pot invites tasters.

"Try some", smiles Lynn, "I boiled it last night."

Unprepared for just how good it is going to be, I dip into the pot and spoon out a generous tablespoon. It's like nothing I've ever had before. Now, as a rule, we only use pure maple syrup in our house (there is never any Aunt Jemima hiding in my pantry) but even store-bought pure syrup doesn't come close to this.

"What? What? How...?" I splutter.

I think Lynn gets this reaction often, for she didn't seem surprised by it and explained that the difference is due to the fact that the sap was boiled in the traditional method over an open wood fire in the middle of the forest. I've camped enough in my life to get that; bake a potato at home and bake one in the ashes of a campfire and they are worlds apart. Such is the case here; underneath the sweet and true maple taste of this syrup is another level of flavor so complex it makes you shake your head in wonder. Not surprisingly, though, everything tastes better straight out of the ground--or in this case, the tree--than it does off of a shelf.

I surreptitiously tuck the spoon into my pocket (one wants to always be prepared, doesn't one?) and we exit the house, strike out into the woods, past an ancient outhouse, following the slushy trail and the barking of dogs.

(click on any image to enlarge)

Young saplings are interspersed with strong tall maples on either side of the path and almost every maple has a tin bucket hanging from it. Through the trees I can see a hub of activity. A pile of old wooden pallets towers precariously next to a massive cast iron stove; they are the fuel for the fire that reduces the sap. A couple of quads are parked nearby and the very sight of them causes Noah's footsteps to quicken. He is a boy for sure.

We enter the clearing and greet everyone; someone takes Mateo from my arms and another person offers me some chili. I'm actually not that hungry yet, but when I hear that it is Uncle Marc's homemade venison-maple chili, I accept the offer. It's incredibly flavourful, smoky & sweet--and yes, he harvested the deer himself. Next to a small campfire, I take a seat on a freshly cut section of log, and size up the stove. It's a big mamma and there's a raging fire inside, fueled by the wooden pallets.

On top of the stove is a massive metal box, bigger than most bathtubs, and it's half full with maple sap. Steam rises from the top as the sap boils rapidly, reducing itself to the precious syrup. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and out here in the fresh spring air is where the magic happens.

Buzzed from the jolt of maple from the house, and warmed by the chili, I'm raring to go. Noah has disappeared with his grandpa and, childless for the moment, I jump at a chance to tap some trees. A group if us head into the woods, armed with a drill, buckets and taps.

(Yours truly tapping a maple. You can see the smoke rising through the woods behind us)

The ancestral process is surprisingly elementary. Choose the side of the trunk that faces the sun; drill a hole (at a slight upwards angle so the sap can flow down); place a tap firmly in the hole; hang a bucket on the hook below the tap; cover the bucket with a lid. Then you wait. On a warm day like today, the sap is running fast and a bucket can fill within hours.

I hear voices through the woods and recognize Noah's among them. In our wandering we've happened upon a frozen swamp with a group of aunts and uncles on it, just enjoying the day. It's a charming spot, the smooth ice spreading through the trees creating many little frozen islands. Christmas lights encircle the pond and I suddenly wish it was night and I had my skates. Robert Frost's famous poem "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" comes to mind especially the line...'Between the woods and frozen lake'.

As I step onto the ice to approach the small group, I notice that most of the activity is centered around a small table set up in the middle of the pond. Curious. The table holds a bottle of vodka, a liter of cream, a bottle of fresh maple syrup and a stack of small paper cups. I'm beginning to understand why this is such a popular spot!

I'm not going to pass up this golden opportunity; after all, one doesn't happen upon a minibar in the forest very often, and I accept a drink. It's not just the beautiful natural setting that makes me rate this cocktail among my top ten, it is truly one to be savored; the sheer quality of the pure syrup leaves little to be desired as it plays a bold lead role in the drink.

There's not a car to be heard or a house to be seen; truly, this is roughing it with side benefits.

To be continued....

If anyone knows the official name for this most excellent drink, please let me know!

Recipe for Canadian Maple Cocktail:

Have the following ingredients chilled:

1 oz pure Canadian maple syrup

1 oz coffee cream (10%)

1 oz vodka

Pour maple syrup into a glass. Top with cream, followed by the vodka. Stir with a small tree branch (because what else are you going to use in the forest?) and enjoy. Add ice if desired.

If any bartenders or mixologists out there can recommend a way to keep the vodka and cream separate, please let me know!

Click Here for Sugaring Off Part II!: Making Taffy, Apple Cinnamon Flapjacks, and a recipe for Auntie Lynn's Rustic Maple Pie.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Today On Simple Mom: Cooking with Kids

Last month I joined Tsh at Simple Mom as her food columnist and just want to say again how thrilled I am to support this emerging influential blog. You an catch me over there today discoursing about Six Ways to Thrive In the Kitchen with the Kids!

If you've cooked at all with your little ones, you know that it's not always a picnic. I've given some tips on how to organize yourself and get the most out of cooking with your children while still maintaining your sanity.

See you over there!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

In Love With Berries & Cream Pavlova

See? I wasn't kidding before when I said that I had a parade of desserts coming up. I am trying to make up for those 6 or so pounds that I lost when I was sick. Kidding! I would love if they stayed away--I've got to go shopping for a bathing suit soon and am dreading it. Can't say I'm really trying very hard, though.

All kidding aside, my apologies if this post turns into a sappy love ode to pavlova, but you have to understand just how strongly I feel about this dessert. I hesitated before writing this, because it is probably going to come as close to labeling me as a glutton as I ever want to be; however, you need to know the facts.

This may possibly be the best dessert you'll ever eat.

What is so great about it? You ask. Well, how does a generous base of crisp sugary meringue with a soft marshmallow interior sound? Oh, no that is not all. It is then mounded--no skimping allowed--with velvety whipped cream, topped with fresh berries and lavishly sauced with a vibrant, tangy red raspberry sauce. It's magnificent. It's decadent. It's impossible to stop eating.

This is the kind of dessert that I could fantasize about climbing in to and rolling around. I wish it came in the size of a swimming pool.
Honestly? Two of us ate this whole thing, and I licked my plate. It was amazing.

I'm realizing I have a thing for fresh berries and I'm convinced it comes from my deprived childhood. Living in the Yukon, a frozen northern Canadian province, it was too cold to grow much in the way of berries, and fruit was ridiculously expensive since it had to get trucked half way up the Alaska Highway. Berries have always been like the ultimate luxury and still are to me. If I can enjoy them bathed in cream and presented on meringue, I'm a really happy girl.

A few notes on the recipe:

  • I don't sweeten my whipped cream. The meringue is so sweet, it would be overkill, even for a girl with a sweet tooth like me.
  • Really, almost any fruit it good on the pavlova. I slice bananas on top of Noah's because he doesn't like strawberries or raspberries (I know, unbelievable. How ironic is it that I longed for fresh berries as a child and he turns up his nose at them.) Nigella dollops passionfruit and lychees on hers.
  • The meringue base can keep for up to two days in an airtight container. Mine stayed nice and crisp, although I'm not sure if I would trust in in hot July weather.
  • Nigella notes that the meringue can be made ahead and frozen for up to one month. It would never last that long in my freezer, but it's cool to know it works.

Berries & Cream Pavlova
adapted from Nigella Lawson's 'Prodigious Pavlova'


4 egg whites

250g sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon vinegar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla


500 ml whipping cream (you'll have leftover for Irish coffees)

about 2 cups of fresh berries or fruit of your choice

Raspberry Coulis:
150 g raspberries (frozen work great)
25 g icing sugar

Preheat oven to 375F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment and using a 9 inch cake tin and a pencil, trace a circle onto the parchment.
Whisk the egg whites until satiny peaks form, then whisk in the sugar, a tablespoonful at a time, until the meringue is stiff and shiny.

Sprinkle the cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla over the egg white, and fold in lightly with a metal spoon.

Mound the meringue on to the baking parchment within the circle and, using a spatula, flatten the top and smooth the sides.
Put in oven and reduce heat to 325F. Cook for about 50 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave to cool completely. ( I leave mine for several hours)

Store the meringue in an airtight container until ready to serve.
When you are ready to assemble and serve the pavlova, invert the cooled meringue disc onto a large plate or a stand and peel off the baking parchment. Whip the cream until thickened but still soft, and pile onto the meringue, spreading it to the edges in a swirly fashion. Dot the top with fresh berries or prepared fruit.

Puree the raspberries and icing sugar in a blender until smooth, (this can be done ahead of time, too) then drizzle the colorful sauce over the top and sides of the pavlova. Serve immediately.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Blood Orange Cheesecake

Everyone has their favorite go-to recipe. It tends to surface around special occasions and has been around for as long as they can remember. It's probably won them a few friends, helped to keep a few more, and is the most requested recipe by these friends. It is fail-proof, flexible, and--sigh--fattening.

I recently realized that this perfectly describes my citrus cheesecake recipe. It's absolutely my 'go-to' recipe. I've been making it for over ten years now and it has served probably hundreds of people at countless celebrations: graduations, baby showers, and birthdays galore.
Why on earth I haven't shared it with you yet is beyond me! Please forgive the delay--I haven't been holding out on you on purpose, really--and be sure to give this cheesecake a go.

My last post was so epic, I'll keep this one short and sweet.

Feel free to use whatever citrus you have on hand in this recipe I made this cheesecake with blood oranges, which are in season right now, but it's also lovely with limes, lemons, or clementines.

Blood Orange Cheesecake
makes a 10-inch round, serves between 8 and 16, depending on how generous you are.

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup butter

675 grams cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup sour cream
zest and juice of one lemon
zest and juice of one blood orange (or regular orange)
5 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sour cream
juice and zest of one blood orange
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.
For the crust, melt butter and add to crumbs. Mix well and press into a ten-inch springform pan. Bake for about 8-10 minutes until slightly golden. Cool.

Beat together cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add sour cream, citrus zest and juice. Mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, combining well after each addition, but not too vigorously. Pour over crumb crust and bake for about 40 minutes. Middle will still be slightly jiggly.

Remove from oven and run a sharp knife around the sides, but do not remove ring. Cool 15 minutes on the counter.

Meanwhile, prepare topping. Combine sour cream, citrus zest, citrus juice and sugar. Pour over slightly cooled cheesecake and let stand for half an hour at room temperature.
Chill completely. Remove ring and serve.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

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...

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.

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!

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

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.

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

  • 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.
  • 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

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Birthday Cake For Bébé Mateo

Mateo, my sweet, you are One today.
Well, technically, it's not really your birthday because you were born on a leap year, but we are celebrating having you with us for a year. Already!

It seems like you've been lighting up our lives for a lot longer than twelve months; I can't imagine our little family without you. Your serious big blue eyes suggest a wisdom far beyond your year(s), but every time I hear those deep giggles spilling out of you, I know you're going to be a silly as your big brother. Thanks for every time you've lain your head on my shoulder and sighed a sigh as big as the world. It makes me feel worthy to be your mom. You're an expert cuddler, a clear sign that you belong in this family.

There are just a few little things I'd like to bring up, since we're having this talk. Now that you are crawling, please don't eat every speck of dust or unidentified object that you find on the floor, OK? I've already increased the vacuuming by at least 50%, but I'm only human.
I really appreciate you being slightly more tolerable to my cooking than Noah ever was, still, you could step things up a little in that department. Oh, and pretty soon you're going to find out that nursing is not the solution to life's problems. I'm sorry.

I will say this, though: bacon comes pretty close.

I love you, my baby. Happy Birthday!

To my readers: I know you're looking for the cake recipe, but you'll have to wait just a little bit! It's all coming to you in its Lemon Raspberry Layer Cake goodness VERY SOON (decorated with a "Pat the Bunny" theme), but right now I am just too tired! Time to kiss the birthday boy goodnight, his big brother too, and put my feet up.


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