The great birthday cake disaster of 2010

Oh no!!!! Say it isn’t so…you didn’t!

…I’m afraid I did. I burned my own birthday cake.

It started out as a stubborn notion that, no, I didn’t want a store bought cake. I wanted the chocolate carrot cake I made for a previous year for my boyfriend’s birthday. The cake in question was baked years ago before this stupid, stupid notion that all of the homemade baked goods in this house have to be made of unrefined sugars, preferably from a local source. I wanted to make the cake exactly the way I made it the first time. It turned out perfectly. It had real sugar. Two cups of it (in the cake before you even start to think about the cream cheese filling and the gorgeous chocolate ganache). It was my boyfriend’s idea to use honey. He takes full blame for the catastrophe that ensued.

A perfect storm of too much honey, black cake pans and too many distractions during the allotted baking time conspired to leave me with two charcoal briquettes. But, where some people would see coal, I saw diamonds. I remembered some treats on Dan Lepard’s site that used cake crumbs. Once I cut away the blackened exterior of the cakes, I struck gold. The interior was soft, rich cake. After the salvage mission, I could still have a birthday treat: rum balls. Mine are a little different than the ones I read about, they are filled with raspberry instead of apricot. Heady with the aroma of rum, they may not be beautiful, but they are just wonderful!!

Before we talk about the method of turning a ruined cake into concentrated delight, I have a couple of happy announcements! I have a job and I completed my first week there. The people are nice and the work is interesting, so life is good! In addition, my good friend Amy at Ohiofarmgirl’s Adventures in the Goodland gave me an award. It’s been a wonderful week indeed!

Chocolate Raspberry Rum Balls

5 cups crumbs from any unfrosted chocolate cake

2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

5 tbsp fruit juice sweetened raspberry fruit spread

6 tbsp rum

½ – 1 cup chopped almonds

Mix cake crumbs, cocoa powder, raspberry fruit spread and rum. Form into 2” balls. Roll the tops of the balls in chopped almonds. Proceed to gobble them up!

 

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A friendly reminder: play with your leftovers

When I was a kid, my Mom would admonish me to eat everything on my plate because there were starving kids in (the third world country of her choice for that week). I’m not sure why parents did that. Kids are a bit selfish and it’s hard to get guilty about a kid you’ve never met in some country you’ve probably never been to. Sometimes I wish I had taken the parenthood route. Why? Because now you can hit ‘em with this one: “Jimmy finish your food! You know that food waste causes global warming and we’re all going to die!!”. Now that should get little Jimmy’s attention!

Anyway, the threat of global destruction isn’t half as personal as what many of us are going through economically right now and wasting food is really wasting money, isn‘t it? I am guilty like all of us of buying food and letting some of it go to waste each week and it makes me sad to toss out perfectly good food especially as we see our grocery bills go up and up. Lately, I’ve been concentrating on finding ways to identify what is hiding in the fridge and I’ve been finding creative ways to make use of it. For instance last week when we weren’t particularly hungry for an actual dinner but we wanted something to munch while watching the Olympics, I made a veggie tray of carrots, celery and radishes (all things I buy for soups and salads and toss out a few of each week as they rot). A quickie guacamole made out of an overripe avocado, lemon juice and salt made a terrific dip. This was healthy and strangely satisfying. That same week I also turned leftover brown rice into sourdough rolls.

A couple of days ago I made the Indian Spiced Salmon from the Muir Glen cookbook that I got with the tomatoes I reviewed. The recipe is a knockout, full of garam masala and sweet from honey. The problem with this recipe is that it makes a lot of sauce since you need to braise a couple of pounds of salmon fillets. We ate a generous amount of the sauce with our four servings of salmon over two days, but when we were done, we had a full two cups of the sauce left over! Organic canned tomatoes are pricey so it seemed like a shame to waste the sauce but I didn’t really want to eat it on pasta due to the garam masala and sweet honey flavors. I saved the sauce anyway (which normally means putting off throwing it away until I find where it got pushed into the back of the fridge two weeks later). I also made a pan of homemade polenta to go with the Tuscan chicken dish we liked so much from the same book. This makes a load of polenta. Such great food but what on earth do you do with the odds and ends and things you are tired of eating?

I was so proud of myself this morning. Having a desire to try an Israeli/North African dish called Shakshouka (tomato sauce poached eggs) for a very long time, but a failure to remember to buy the ingredients, I suddenly realized I could use leftovers to make something similar. Fifteen minutes later we were eating breakfast food good enough to be served in a fine restaurant on leftovers that could have ended up in the trash next week. Here is how simple this meal was:

Mock Shakshouka (tomato poached eggs)

2 cups leftover tomato based sauce of your choice (I used leftovers from this salmon dish)

5 large eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat the sauce over medium high heat until simmering. Crack 5 eggs over the sauce, season with salt and pepper to taste and lower the heat to medium. Cover the pan and cook for 5-8 minutes to the desired doneness (5 minutes for runny yolks, longer if you like a hard poached egg). Serve eggs with a liberal amount of sauce.

Griddled Polenta

6 or more 1” thick slices of homemade or store bought cooked polenta

Olive oil spray

Heat a cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Spray liberally with olive oil spray. Lay polenta in pan and griddle for 3 – 4 minutes on each side, until browned and slightly crisped.

Wow! That was easy and so delicious. We got an extra high quality meal this week with little more than the effort to imagine what could be done with leftover food. Please, I encourage you to go into your kitchen today and really look hard at what is sitting in your pantry and your refrigerator. A box of macaroni and cheese, a can of tuna and frozen peas could be your next satisfying lunch with the benefit of keeping wasted food out of the trash, money savings and the end of that nasty fast food habit.

You can thank me later.