Dinner at C’s house tonight, to celebrate her birthday.
C is a picky eater. She doesn’t like anything weird (like marmalade), or anything containing raisins, or sausage, or any food hiding in another food that shouldn’t be there. (Example: I gave her a zucchini brownie once, and she loved it until I told her halfway through there was grated zucchini in it. She thought it was such a mean thing to do.) She just, in her late 30s, started eating eggs and banana bread, and discovered she adores them.
But the things she loves, she loves passionately – like this orzo salad my Mom and I created on the fly one day with what we could scrounge up out of the pantry and fridge. Sometimes we make it with rice, sometimes with orzo, and it’s a toss-up as to which is better. This is how you make it: cook as much orzo or basmati rice as you want to make – the rice or pasta will take up about half the volume of the finished salad. Rinse it under cool water and drain well. Add a chunk of purple onion, finely chopped; some crumbled feta; about half a bag of baby spinach, torn or sliced; the grated zest and juice of a lemon or two, then drizzle with some rice vinegar, olive or canola oil, salt and pepper. We’ve never measured any of it, just adjusted each to suit our taste. This stuff is great to keep in the fridge to dip into for a few days, and bring to work for lunch.
But I had no idea what kind of cake to make, except that it could not be zucchini with raisins.
I settled on a deconstructed Black Forest cake, so that if there were any offending ingredients, she didn’t have to eat them. When I first pondered a sunken chocolate cake, my motivation was primarily ease of decoration: the great thing about sunken cakes is that you don’t need to frost them, only dollop a big billowy mound of whipped cream in the middle, and it always looks beautiful. It occurred to me that I could sneak some cherries in between the cake and cream, creating a sort of newfangled Black Forest cake without all the layering and decorating muss. Too overwhelmed by the sheer number of cookbooks on my shelves, I poked around Epicurious for a recipe and instantly came across these sunken chocolate-orange cupcakes. It was a birthday miracle: I had forgotten I was out of flour and, by sheer coincidence, down to only 4 eggs.
Still, they were revamped a bit: I took out the orange (potential for weirdness, plus I don’t much like raspberry or orange interrupting my chocolate) and added a bit of espresso, and used my toasted whole unblanched almonds – why use blanched when you can grind them up with their skins?
I have to say: these turned out to be one of my tastiest experiments ever. The edges are light and crispy, the insides soft, dense and fudgy. They are nubbly with nuts, and will make anyone who can’t eat gluten very, very happy. And I can’t think of a more easily transportable cake; brought still in their tins, they aren’t going to slide or sink on you. I stopped at the grocery store on the way over and picked up a can of cherry pie filling (I confess to loving the gelatinous canned stuff; a hangover from my childhood obsession with the Hostess Fruit Pies advertised in the back of Archie comics and unavailable in Canada, no doubt) and, because there was no cream in a carton, a can of whipping cream too.
C made spaghetti, curried squash soup from Best of Bridge (which was supposed to be served over bits of brie, set into the bowl with the hot soup ladled overtop – how great an idea is that?) and apple pies, which were fantastic. She promised me the recipe, but as a full-time doc and mom of 2 toddlers, we’ll see…