March 31, 2008

bouillabaisse & birthday cake

[ARGH. I forgot to post this b/c it had no photos. Lame. Posting now, a month late.]

My Daddy's birthday is coming up, and so i cooked dinner for my parents yesterday as part of his present. He's had bouillabaisse on the brain since a few weeks ago, when he had a disappointing one at Naked Fish, which i guess was to be expected, though really it's kind of an easy dish especially if you've got access to decent seafood. I knew I could do better, having made a version of it for a dinner party a few years ago, so I busted out the Joy of Cooking and got to work.

It turns out that the nice boys at the Whole Foods fish counter will give you a big plastic box full of the skeletal remains of a halibut, for free. It also turns out that this makes a huge amount of lovely fish stock once simmered for half an hour with fennel tops, leek tops, parsley stems, celery leaves and peppercorns. And furthermore it turns out that you can pick a big plateful of fishmeat off those bones when you're done, so even though I sent all the leftover bouillabaisse home with Dad, me & tallasiandude are gonna have our own yummy fish soup tonight, made with all that free fishy goodness. Extra-thrifty cooks, take note -- fish frames aren't just for stock; if you're not feeling fancy, you get the soup contents too.

I made the broth ahead, so that all I had to do was heat it up, chuck in the seafood, and toast the croutons. I used monkfish & halibut fillets, littlenecks, mussels, and some frozen lobster meat that Dad found on sale, and it came out great. For some reason, bouillabaisse always makes me feel like it's summer -- i think it must be the bright oranges and reds of it, or maybe it's that I don't eat much seafood (aside from sushi) in the colder months. Dunno, but it was a nice feeling in any case, what with the cold and the gray outside. (Quick note to self: the organic Italian bread from Whole Foods was particularly nice, because it has a finer, more uniform crumb than other kinds, which makes for a solid crouton to float.)

We had some little snacks to start (in which Dad discovered a deep and abiding love of marinated white anchovies, yum yum), and a green salad to end, and then we got on to the birthday cake course.

I have in the past had some, let us say, issues with layer cakes. At best, they usually look lopsided, like a 4 year old made them, and sometimes they just go horribly, horribly wrong, like the year that i used a fruity filling that was too runny, and between that and the overly-domed layers, the filling squirted out the sides, the layers slid around, and the entire cake ended up looking like a pile of vomit there on the cake plate. Not good. It's still a running joke in the family, that vomit cake. Therefore I am particularly happy to report that this year's cake went remarkably well, and wound up looking like an actual normal cake from start to finish.

All the recipes were from the 1997 edition of Joy of Cooking. I made the white cake recipe, and filled the layers with brown sugar frosting, and iced the outside with quick white icing I (the easy one, where you beat together powdered sugar, butter, and a little milk & vanilla). The cakes came out relatively flat, and the filling and icing all tasted good, not that it's likely to go too far wrong when you mix butter and sugar, and because both icings were relatively stiff and dry, we maintained structural integrity. And then I put some purple Peeps on top, nesting in coconut. Awww. [Note: arty photo at top is of the cake, plus the fabulous spray of white orchids that my father grew and brought over, and in the foreground, the Cumulus dessert plate my brother the glassblower made and gave me for Christmas last year.]

This was the maiden voyage of my new bright-orange KitchenAid mixer, purchased with wedding-gift dollars, which has been sitting decoratively (it's ORANGE, whee!) on the counter since we got it. I bought two bowls for it, which is totally the way to go, because then you can just cruise through all the cake making tasks without washing anything. I think maybe its super-ultra-mixing-power kind of overmixed my cake, because it was a little bit denser than I was expecting, or maybe i overfolded and crushed the whipped egg whites, but it's all cool -- it tasted good, it wasn't dry, and now i know what to expect from the big orange beast.

Posted by foodnerd at March 31, 2008 06:17 PM
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