baking for a baker
I've invited my friend over for supper on her birthday. I'm very excited, but trouble is, I work that day until 5pm and she is a baker, so I don't think the Betty Crocker mix/frosting in a can/sprinkles on the top will cut it.
Any suggestions for an easy prep dinner menu and a yummy birthday cake?
I bake a lot myself, and I have to say that when I am pressed for time, I use Betty Crocker...I substitute the water for a fruit juice that is compatible, like Devil's Food Cake and Orange Juice...and I use melted butter in place of the oil. I think you should just go for it, but do make your own icing. Dozens of them at epicurious.com and you will find something for your comfort level.
She isn't going to care if you use a mix, she is your friend and it is the thought that counts. She isn't expecting you to come out with a professional level froofraw (and if she is, well, that is her problem and she should make her own cake). She will probably just love that you made it and didn't get intimidated and go buy something.
For a festive and easy prep dinner menu, how about steak/lamb chops, mashed potatoes, and steamed green beans?
For a killer birthday cake I have to suggest the much-discussed galleygirl's (Laurie's) pear tart. As an added bonus, it's even better if you make it the day before.
The pear tart was the first thing that popped into my head too. I haven't made it yet, but have some juicy, ripened pears ready for a go tonight! Must say that I'm excited to check out this tart after all the raves on this board...
While a cake mix would work if you don't have much time to prep and bake ahead of time, this is a birthday celebration for a baker after all, so I personally shudder at the idea of a mix. Pear tart recipe looks really easy actually, is better made ahead of time, and canned pears can be subbed in if no time to ripen pears.
For the meal, I would make baked fish (snapper, salmon, or sole) in papillote (parchment)--assuming you and your friend like fish. This is a one-package kind of meal when the fish is placed atop a bed of veggies. Right now, I might use sliced fennel, beets, fresh tarragon. For people who like standard veggies: green beans, sliced bell peppers, fingerlings (halved on the bias). Either way, I always season both the veggies and fish w/ S&P, EVOO, and lemon juice.
You could prep the veggies ahead of time and quickly assemble the packets when you get home. Bakes for around 20-25 min. at 375F. Impressive meal that's healthy and quick. Epicurious has some recipes to give you more details. Good luck!
re: Dennis S
Here's a good solution, the idea of which comes from Blackbird, a most excellent restaurant in Chicago. I was the birthday girl, and mentioned such when I made the reservation. My escort and I ordered cheese for dessert, rather than cake or such. Whoever put our lovely cheese platter together took it upon him/herself to deck it with candles! So put together a nice assortment of cheeses, maybe three or four, with some fresh fruit, water crackers, cracked walnuts, and perhaps a fig conserve, on a china, stoneware, glass, or metal tray or platter. Add some small birthday candles; melt the ends slightly and press on the tray or platter so they'll stay put.
As Ina Garten would undoubtedly say, "...what's not to love?" ;o)
Just make a homemade cake the day before. Regardless of whether it's from scratch or from a mix you're going to want to wait until it cools a bit before you frost it, so save yourself the stress of getting everything done in one evening.
It's a birthday & you probably are convinced that a cake is the only way to go, but my advice is not to make one. As a pro baker, I'm sure she's WAY past the point of really enjoying baked goods.
As an alternative, I'd perhaps poach some pears, served with a vanilla based ice cream and maybe some lemon sugar cookies (any basic recipe will do - just mix some zest with the sugar). You'll have a nice composed dessert of different textures, temperatures (if you reheat the pears before serving) and contrasting but complimentary flavors. It's light, easy, and best of all it can made ahead of time.
I'm sure she'll appreciate anything you make for her but doubt if she'll really enjoy a cake made from a mix with canned frosting.
I like your idea of poached pear. I had the most delicious poached pear at a restaurant a few months ago. It was a very welcome dessert, luscious and healthful. Poached pear on a plate of creamy pudding with a wrap of filo placed after it cooked, and a few fresh berries.
The whole pear was poached (without alcohol) with pumpkin pie spices, more heavy on the cinnamon than clove or allspice, and served warm. And, they cored the whole pear, pealed it, left it whole and left the stem on (but you can remove the stem). It looked beautiful and tasted heavenly.
It was presented lodged in a thick pond of creamy pudding (thicker than a creme anglaise, but kind of that flavor, thick as a Boston Cream Pie filling, but creamier).
Then, they placed a "wrap" of filo dough around it like a huge Pashmina (a popular fashion stole in @1999). I think they baked the filo by wrapping it a few times in a spiral around a form (can or glass), then placed it around the poachd pear when serving. Maybe this would be best baked when the pear is poaching on the stove top.
The plate was dusted with powdered sugar, the pear placed and "wrap" placed, then a few fresh berries (soft ones, boysenberry and respberry) were scattered.
All of the ingredients could be made the day or night before.
Or, just prepare pear a day ahead and then poach the pear after dinner and serve it warm. The half hour break between dinner and dessert may very well be a good idea. And, the aroma in the room while you sip a hot chocolate or tea and Drambuie will add the the pleasure, IMO.
I know its sounds complicated and you want to relax, but it is actually quite simple if prepared a day ahead. Maybe 5 minutes presentation set up if pre-made.
re: kc girl
I actually make my poached pears several days in advance, particularly if they're poached in red wine. I like to let them soak a while. You can warm them gently in the syrup. Something crisp on the plate definitely adds to the dessert, but instead of filo, which is intimidating to beginners, a ring of puff pastry (frozen dough) or just a nice not-too-sweet cookie would be fine.
And here's a tip for the obsessive-compulsive types: If you want your pears to have that lovely smooth finish that you see in pictures, without the little lines you get from the peeler, use a piece of (brand-new, of course) green scrubby to "sand" the pear down after peeling. It takes just a second and really improves the look. Of course, you feel crazy sanding pears, but that's the price you pay.