Special Events

Impossible to Avoid

Almond Strawberry Cake-Duo Dishes

Birthdays come every year, and no matter what, they cannot be avoided. As we mentioned a few days ago, October is the favorite month for both of us for our own reasons. If you were to create a Venn diagram, you’d see one of the shared reasons is the fact that our birthdays are in October. (Not to mention several other friends as well.) First is Chrystal, then Amir, which makes us an interesting Libra/Scorpio pair, respectively. Very interesting! Never shunning an opportunity to cook, we threw the first party of the month with cake and cocktails of course. There’s no such thing as a birthday sans cake and cocktails. We are also responsible and do not want to send our friends out into the world on sugar alone, so we whipped up a few savory nibblets as well.

If you follow our Twitter stream, you may have seen the last couple weeks’ posts with questions, comments and queries about said birthday cake. Thanks to good advice from Courtney and Brocka and recommendations from other nice tweeple, we went forward with this delicious almondy, raspberry filled, dark chocolate covered fluffy cake. Layers baked and frozen one night, filling made the next night, then everything was assembled and frosted the day of the party. We love to do as many things ahead of time as possible. The nuts were made at least three days prior to the party, the hummus and the first step of breadstick croutons the day before. The chicken was also in the fridge the night before to marinate. The sangria was in the fridge brewing early in the morning, so it’d be ready by the afternoon. It’s funny how easy these kind of parties can be when you break it down into little steps.

Roasted pepper hummus-Duo Dishes

Roasted Pepper Hummus – Serves 12 to 16
30 ounces chickpeas, drained
9 ounces roasted red peppers, drained
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini (toasted, not raw)
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 tablespoon Tabasco
1/3-1/2 cup olive oil
Kosher salt

1. Toss nuts and garlic in a food processor and grind down to a paste. Add chickpeas, tahini and Tabasco. Blend until smooth.

2. Add lemon juice until incorporated, then slowly stream in the olive oil until mixture has reached desired consistency. Salt to taste.

Rosemary Brown Sugar Nuts-Duo Dishes

Rosemary Brown Sugar Nuts

Spinach Tomato Goat Cheese pizza-Duo Dishes

Spinach, Tomato and Goat Cheese Pizzettes – Serves 8 to 12
1 premade pizza dough
8 ounces fresh spinach, stems removed
2 vine tomatoes, diced
1/2 bunch fresh basil, torn
4 ounces goat cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1/8 cup olive oil, plus more for sprinkling
Kosher salt

1. Spread foil over a 9”x13” baking sheet and sprinkle cornmeal evenly over the surface. Set aside.

2. In a small sauce pan, add olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes over low heat just until garlic begins to sizzle. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Roll out pizza dough on a lightly floured surface. Carefully transfer to baking sheet.

4. Brush tops of the dough with infused olive oil. Top each one with spinach, basil, tomato and dollops of goat cheese.

5. Bake in a preheated oven at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cut each pizza into 24 squares. Drizzle with extra olive oil and salt to taste if desired.

Honey Balsamic chicken-Duo Dishes

Honey Balsamic Chicken Wings – Serves 15 to 20
4 pounds chicken wings and drumettes,
1 1/4 cups balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra for sprinkling
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon ground cayenne
1 1/2 cloves garlic, minced
1 scallion, minced plus more for garnish
Chinese five-spice powder
Kosher salt

1. In a large bowl, mix balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, olive oil, honey, garlic, scallions and cayenne. Whisk well. Add chicken and toss until all pieces are covered in the marinade. Let sit in the fridge overnight.

2. Spread chicken over two large aluminum foil covered baking sheets and drizzle with olive oil. Season liberally with salt and a light sprinkling of five-spice powder.

3. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes. then set over medium high heat and cook until thickened and bubbly.

4. Remove chicken from oven and, in small batches, dunk chicken pieces into sauce and return to tray. Continue baking for another 5-10 minutes.

5. Drizzle any remaining sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with extra scallions before serving.

Sangria-Duo Dishes

Red Sangria – Serves 16
4 bottles red wine
4 cups pineapple orange guava juice
4 cups mango juice
1/3 cup triple sec
4 oranges, sliced

Mix everything except the oranges in a large serving bowl. Steep for 4-6 hours. Add fruit just before serving.

Sugar Coookie Pops-Duo Dishes

The last time we made cookies, we used an egg white royal icing, and we mentioned that we’d use a glacé next time for the smooth, glossy finish. Our Best Bites had a great recipe for the icing, so we went with that. We also used their recipe for the cookies, but we added milk to loosen the dough. Who needs flowers if you have a cookie bouquet?

Sugar Cookie Pops (Adapted from Our Best Bites) – Approximately 2 1/2 dozen
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
Zest of 1 large orange
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup whole milk

1/2 pound powdered sugar
1/8 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk, plus more if necessary
1/8 cup plus 1 tablespoon light corn syrup, plus more if necessary
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

6” lollipop sticks
Food coloring and various decorations

1. Using an electric mixer, cream butter, zest and sugar until fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Add egg followed by vanilla and mix well.

2. While wet ingredients mix, whisk flour with baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Slowly add to wet ingredients until just combined, then stir in milk.

3. Divide dough into two balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll each one into a smooth ball, flatten with your palm and wrap tightly in plastic wrap paper. Chill at least one hour.

4. Roll dough out to 1/4” thick, cut shapes using a cookie cutter and lay on top of lollipop sticks about halfway up the middle of the each cookie. Press down slightly in the center to secure sticks. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges just begin to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely on wire racks.

5. When all the cookies have cooled, whisk powdered sugar with milk, corn syrup and vanilla until smooth. Add more milk if it’s not thin enough to spread. Add food coloring if desired.

6. Spread icing over cookies and sprinkle with jimmies and candies, then dry completely. (If you plan to pipe onto the cookies, let the foundation of icing dry and harden first. Add a little more powdered sugar to the icing until it is thick enough to use for piping.)

We did mention breadstick croutons, and they were the basis for a surprising appetizer that came out better than expected. We took the opportunity to test out a recipe with the Nature’s Pride bread samples we received a couple of weeks ago. We actually had no clue if the bread would work for this recipe, but it did. Very well too.

Prosciutto & Brie Breadsticks-Duo Dishes

Proscuitto and Brie Breadsticks – Serve 10 to 15
6 slices Nature’s Pride 12-Grain Bread, cut into 5 strips
2 ounces prosciutto, slices cut into 5 pieces
3 ounces brie cheese, cut into thin strips
4 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 bunch fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

1. Stir garlic into the melted butter and set aside.

2. Spread bread strips over a parchment paper covered baking sheet. Brush both sides of the bread with the melted butter, lay them on the baking sheet and sprinkle half of the parsley on top. Bake in a preheated oven at 300 degrees for 20 minutes.

3. Remove baking sheet from the oven. Turn bread over and sprinkle the rest of the parsley over the bread.

4. Return to the oven and bake another 15 minutes or until hard and golden brown in color. Turn off oven and leave baking sheet in there overnight. Bread should be dry and crunchy the next day.

5. When ready to assemble, lay a piece of brie on top of the bread followed by a leaf of basil then proscuitto. Before serving, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The slice of cake below is three layers of almond cake split into a total of six layers. We simply made one full version of the cake, along with another half as its originally designed to only fill two 9-inch cake pans. This monster of a cake was very filling and could easily feed at least 20 people due to its height. If you missed our last cake leveling and frosting run through, you can check it out here for a little guidance.

Almond Strawberry Cake 2-Duo Dishes

Almond Strawberry Cake with Whipped Chocolate Ganache – Serves 12 to 16

Cake (altered from Jacques Pépin)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
7 ounces almond paste, room temp and cubed
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Flour, for dusting the pan

1 pound fresh strawberries, chopped
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
2 cups red wine
1/4 cup simple syrup

1 pound dark chocolate, finely shaved or chopped
3 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cubed

1.  Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.  Tap pans to get rid of excess flour.  Set aside.

2.  Using an electric mixer, beat almond paste, sugar, zest and butter until well mixed.  Add eggs and vanilla, then milk.

3.  As wet ingredients mix, whisk flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Add to wet ingredients until just incorporated.

4.  Pour cake batter into the pans, tapping them lightly on a flat surface to remove any air bubbles and level the batter’s surface.  Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool in pans 10 minutes, then invert and cool cakes on wire racks.

5.  While cakes bake, heat raspberries, 1/4 cup sugar, zest and wine over medium high heat until mixture comes to a boil.  Turn down heat to a simmer and cook down until liquid reduces and thickens, approximately 10-15 minutes.  Mash berries with a fork throughout reduction phase.

6.  Remove raspberry mixture from heat. Take a small sieve and set over a food processor.  Carefully pour liquid into the sieve, pressing gently and scraping sides to push all liquid through the sieve.  Blend in food processor until smooth.  Cover and set in fridge to cool completely.  (Bring to room temp just before using.)

7.  Pour shaved chocolate in the bowl of a stand mixer or heat resistant bowl.  Set aside.  Add cream, vanilla powdered sugar and salt to a sauce pan and whisk until combined.  Bring mixture to a slight boil, then immediately remove from heat.  Pour cream over chocolate, let sit for 5-10 minutes, then stir until smooth.  Finally, stir in butter until it has fully melted.

8.  Take a piece of plastic wrap and cover frosting, pressing plastic against the surface of the chocolate mixture to prevent a skin from forming on top.  Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before placing in the fridge to continue to chill at least 4 hours.

9.  When ready, use an electric mixer to whip the ganache until soft peaks form and frosting holds its shape.  Trim and split cake layers into a total of four pieces.  Brush bottom layer with simple syrup, then spread strawberry filling on top.  Repeat with remaining layers, but only brush simple syrup on top of the last layer.  Press cake down firmly with the palms of your hands to flatten and shape it.

10.  Spread a light crumb coat of whipped frosting over cake and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.  Use remaining frosting to cover the cake.

Another birthday, come and gone. On to the next one!

Click HERE for printable recipes.


63 thoughts on “Impossible to Avoid

  1. Happy Birthday! What a celebration…Oh juz look at those fooooood…..hmm..mmm…!!! Am I invited??? I wish I were there.

  2. wow, what a spread. happy belated birthday you both. i havent heard the term Venn diagram for 20 years I think! that chocolate ganache looks soooo good.

  3. Oh yeah Oh yeah Oh yeah…btw it reminds me I still have not made my self a birthday cake…gosh this whole spread is the grandest present!

  4. Happy birthday to both of you!
    Your hummus, nuts and pizzettes look wonderful. And that cake- so many layers, wow!
    What a great spread for your party! You must have had some very happy guests.

  5. Happy Birthay to you two!!!

    The food, as always looks fabulous, decadent & so rich,…I also love the hummus, I have made a similar one before & your cakes look outstanding!!! What to say about the other food???

  6. Wow.
    What a beautiful celebration.
    There is so many recipes I would like to make in this post. My baby girls would love that cookie pop!

  7. Happy birthday to the both of you from a fellow Libran (Oct 15, as a matter of fact). I knew there was a reason I liked you!!

    That cake looks awesome… heck the whole spread looks pretty darned good. LOVE it. The almond is totally making me swoon. And then you go and put chocolate all over it… *geesh*

  8. What a great looking cake. Also, I totally have those same dishes you served the hummus and veggies. I love how white dishes bring out the colors of food so well.

  9. This sounds like a birthday feast! Yum! I’m totally digging those wings, and that cake! Wow, so many layers!

  10. Beautiful. The pizzetes look so good…actually everything looks wonderful. I all of a sudden wish my birthday was in October….and that I lived near you….and knew you…..and was on your A list. 🙂
    Happy Birthday

  11. Happy Birthday Crystal and Amir! The party delights look yummy! A grand celebration indeed!!
    ..those honey balsamic chicken wings are calling to me now!! 🙂

  12. I know I’ve said it before – you guys throw the most awesome parties. That cake looks awesome -I think I would start with that first and then dive into some of the other amazing things ( thinking chicken wings second).

  13. MY God! Have I gone to heaven.. what a brilliant feast!!

    I am going to make these sugar pops with my children.. they are home from school today, all 4 under 11, Ill have a freaking ball! Right.

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