Friday, August 31, 2012

Fish Cake

Perfect Pairing:  Child’s Birthday
A couple of years ago my mom gave me the task of coming up with a birthday cake and theme for my nephew’s 4th birthday party at the lake house.   It was just going to be family at the party, but we still wanted to make it special. 
I was pretty sure my cake decorating skills were not so great since I had never attempted decorating a cake before, and that seems like something that takes a lot of practice.  I watch shows about cake decorating on the Food Network and that makes me an expert on what I don’t know.
After throwing around a few ideas I landed on a fish/underwater theme since we were at the lake.  I am not sure if my nephew has an affinity towards fish or water themed creatures, but I thought it would be fun.  The entire theme revolved around a fish cake.  I chose a fish cake because it seemed like something I could pull off with help from my sister-in-law!
Here is what we did….
I baked two 9-inch chocolate cakes, left one cake intact, and cut shapes from the other cake, including the tail and fins. 

To craft the fish extremities I traced the cake pans onto waxed paper and cut out the circles.  On one of the waxed paper circles I sketched out the fins and tail, cut out the shapes, and played around with them until it started to look like a fish.  It took a few attempts, but it was worth it to figure it out before I started cutting into the cake!  Once all of the templates were cut out of waxed paper I laid the shapes over the cake and trimmed the cake with a sharp knife.  I found it was much easier to cut the cake while it was frozen.  I would recommend doing this.

We did not have a platter large enough for the cake so I had to get creative.  I found a sturdy piece of cardboard and covered it with blue tissue paper and then covered that with plastic wrap.  Voila!  The fish is now on water.  We frosted the cake with orange icing and decorated it with M&Ms and decorating gel.  For the eye, I cut a marshmallow in half and placed a blue M&M in the center, secured with a little frosting.

Here is the birthday boy with his fish cake!  Notice there are a few M&Ms missing.  It was hard to keep little hands away from them.

Case in point….

It was not hard to guess which piece of the fish the kids wanted on their plates! 

We even had themed party hats!

But they got in the way….

I think it was a hit!

It is hard to believe he turned six years old this week and started kindergarten.  I think he is a head taller than all the other kids in his class.  Happy birthday little man! 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Year One in Review

Today is a very special day for me, it is the one year anniversary of Perfecting the Pairing.  I absolutely cannot believe it has been one year.  If someone told me 365 days ago what this blog would become, I would have been shocked.  I have been so pleasantly surprised with the response I have received from family, friends, and folks that just found the site.  Let’s face it, I knew my mom would like it, but to hear nice things from strangers is pretty exciting.  Thank you to everyone that left comments.  I love receiving and reading them, even if they are less than complimentary!  I suppose that is what happens when you open up your recipe books to the world!
The last year has been quite a learning process.  In September and October I posted about 20 times per month.  I quickly realized that was not feasible long-term if I wanted to spend time on other hobbies, or life in general.  Now my goal is about 10 per month.  You may have noticed some changes in photography.  I just cringe at some of those early pictures, but still have so, so much to learn.
Thank you to all of my family and friends who have suffered through photo sessions, failed recipes, and delayed dinner times.  Most importantly, thank you to everyone that visits the site!  I hope you have all enjoyed reading the posts and trying the recipes.  I can’t wait to see what happens in year two.
Now, a summary of year one!

Top Posts (Most Pageviews)

While the posts above are great, some of my favorites were left out.  Below is my favorite recipe from each month.  It was difficult to narrow it down!
August 2011
Green Herb Dip – Did I really post a picture of dip in a plastic container??  Yikes.  I really loved the pairing here, Personalized Memory Cookbooks.
Tomato Pie – It might sound strange but it is crazy good.  CRAZY good.  The one-dish, press, no-mess, pie crust is fantastic and should be added to everyone’s recipe box.  No more boxed crusts, no more rolling out. 
Roasted Vegetable Dip – This dip has ended up being one of my favorite recipes.  I make it all the time because it is delicious and incredibly healthy.  It is great as a dip with crackers or bread, but also fantastic as a topper to chicken, quinoa, or on top of crostini with a smear of garlic and herb cheese.
Lasagna Soup – No one is thinking about soup in this heat but this will be top of my list when the leaves start to change.
Corn and Avocado Salsa – I have made this about 10 times this summer.  That tells you something.
Grandma Marge’s Fruit Dessert – Favorite dessert.
August 2012
Darn Good Ham and Cheese Sliders – So simple and darn good.

Bring on year two!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Salted Caramel Cookie Bars

Perfect Pairing: Quality sea salt

I am going to keep this short and sweet. 
These cookie bars are as good and gooey as they look.  How can you go wrong? 

 Cookies + Caramel + Sea Salt = Winner

 Who was the genius that started adding sea salt to dessert? 

The Perfect Pairing for these delights is quality sea salt.  It seems weird, but good sea salt is not very salty, not like table salt.  Sea salt actually comes from evaporated seawater and is minimally processed, so the flavor is natural and subtle.  Table salt, or iodized salt, is more intense and can taste like chemicals.  You don’t want Chemical Caramel Cookie Bars, do you?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Darn Good Ham and Cheese Sliders

Perfect Pairing: Non-stick foil

I really like all of the recipes I post on this blog.  I would not put them on this site unless I thought they were really good.  A lot of recipes/experiments do not make the cut. 
I don’t go out for lunch very often but when I do it is usually to Bravo, an Italian restaurant in Evanston.  Typically I like to try different things at restaurants, but I don’t even look at the menu anymore at Bravo.  I always get the mahi mahi fish wrap.  I absolutely love it.  I tried to re-create a version at home and it was good, everyone seemed to like it, but I knew it just didn’t quite compare to the restaurant version.  So I will not be posting it until I get it right.
So, all of this was just to say that while I stand behind everything on this site, some recipes stand out above the rest.  This is one of those recipes.  These Darn Good Ham and Cheese Sliders may look like any other sandwich, but they are so much better.  They are darn good.
My dear friend, Devon, brought these to the lake this summer.  Devon and I go way back, and I mean way back to those super awkward stages where it is painful to look at pictures.  Fortunately, things have improved through the years!  I am sure I could dig deep for some humiliating pictures but I am going to skip that step.

She has been a huge supporter of me and this blog and I love her for that.  Dev is just one of the best people I have ever met, not to mention the strongest, and has a very moving story.  Please also be sure to visit her foundation's website.  

Devon brought these sliders over this summer and everyone pretty much flipped over them.  My grandma even asked for the recipe.  I have made them multiple times since then and each and every time people ask me for the recipe and say over and over again how good they are. 
So you start with a basic ham and cheese sandwich on a Hawaiian roll.

 Then you drizzle a sauce over them made from butter, brown sugar, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and poppy seeds. 

Bake them until gooey and ridiculous.  Make them now.

 The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is non-stick foil.   The sauce that runs onto the pan can be a bit of sticky mess so it is great to line the pan with foil and throw the mess away!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sesame Cucumber Salad

Perfect Pairing: Handheld Mandoline

Happy Monday! 
Is the sign of a great weekend being totally exhausted on Monday morning?   If it is, that means I had a ridiculously awesome weekend. 
A few friends made the drive to the lake on Friday night and we caught up over appetizers, wine, and Loaded Questions (fantastic game, by the way).  Saturday we all headed to Dixon, IL for the Mumford and Sons Concert.  Dixon has a population of 15,000 and they sold 15,000 tickets for this concert.  It was quite the experience!  The people watching was….. something else.  I can’t say enough about the Mumford and Sons performance.  They were absolutely amazing.  It was probably one of the best live performances I have ever seen.  I will definitely see them again.  Here are a few pictures from the day in Dixon.

We started our Sunday with brunch and champagne on the boat, which didn’t suck.  I ended the weekend on a high note.  Last night I had dinner (9:30 reservation, yikes) at the famous Next Restaurant in Chicago.  Whoa…. It was remarkable.  I will definitely be posting all about that experience.  We were at the Chef’s Table which meant we could look right into the kitchen.  This foodie was in heaven. 
I may be in detox mode for a few days to recover from the corndog in Dixon and the Sicilian menu at Next!  This Sesame Cucumber Salad sounds pretty perfect right now.  It is light, fresh, and easy. 
People who love to garden probably have an abundance of cucumbers on their hands right now.  I have made it clear that is not an issue I have to deal with!  Garden cucumbers would go to fantastic use here.

There is a decidedly Asian flavor to this salad because of the sesame oil, rice vinegar, and cilantro.  It would be great alongside a spicy curry or Thai dish.   It would also be fantastic with BLTs or deli sandwiches.
The Perfect Pairing for Sesame Cucumber Salad is a handheld mandoline.  I have always had a soft spot for cooking gadgets.  I also have a weird attraction to infomercials.  This could be a bad combination.  I spotted a handheld mandoline at Sur La Table and decided I needed it.  I may have pointed it out to my dad and planted a “stocking stuffer” idea in his head.  I’m glad it stuck!  Some mandolines are pricey but this was under $20 and totally worth it.  I could have cut cucumbers all day long with this thing.  It was pretty amazing.  Just keep in mind, that sucker is sharp, so watch the manicure.  I also used it to slice the red onions.  There is an adjustable dial on the back to change the width of the slice.  I went with a smaller setting for the red onions, which was perfect.  Love this gadget!  Expect to see some beautifully sliced things on here in the near future. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Payday Bar Cookies

Perfect Pairing:  Sticky ingredient measuring method

My mom has been making these bar cookies for years.  The stained recipe card says that it came from Natalie, who is a friend of my mom, but I don’t know the original source.  I love stained recipe cards and cookbooks.  You usually know you have located a good recipe in a cookbook if the pages are stuck together and splattered with something.
This dessert is named after the candy bar, they are similar, but the bar cookie is better in my opinion.  It is a great recipe because the ingredients are simple and easy to remember. Most importantly, they taste pretty fantastic.  I think if a person set their mind to it they could have the whole thing done in 7 minutes. 
I would keep these in the refrigerator if you want them to last awhile, but they definitely need to be eaten at room temperature so that they are gooey.  Boy, are they gooey.

The Perfect Pairing for Payday Bar Cookies is the sticky ingredient measuring method.  When you need to measure something sticky like peanut butter, syrup, molasses, etc. just spray the measuring cup with cooking spray first and it will come right out without any effort.                          
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