An Absolute Birthday Feast

It was the husband's birthday the other day and we've decided to celebrate it simply at home. As far as home made meal is concerned, nothing can beat it on special occasions. Hence, I dressed up our dining table with sure hit dishes that dining outside is no longer an option.  
As in any birthday celebration, a cake is always a must have. This time around, I braved Ina Garten's very popular chocolate cake. And to tell you honestly, this is by far the best chocolate cake that I've tried! I can now attest to all the positive comments Ina Garten had on this cake recipe. The recipe is easy to modify yet the overall quality of the cake is not affected.  Although I didn't follow the recipe by heart, the cake still turned out perfectly fine. The sponge is moist, a bit decadent but still light in mouth feel. This will definitely be my favourite chocolate cake base. I can complement it with any ganache or frosting next time. Indeed, it's another satisfying recipe from the Barefoot Contessa! As usual, Ina didn't disappoint.    
Beatty's Chocolate Cake by Ina Garten
What you need:
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (I prefer unbleached)
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder (I used Valrhona, dutch processed)
2 tsps. baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter milk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil (sunflower oil)
2 extra large eggs, at room temp
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup hot coffee (original recipe calls for freshly brewed coffee but I used decaffeinated instant coffee )
Chocolate butter cream, recipe below
How to make:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Butter 2 x 8 inch x 2 inch round cake pans (I used 8.5 inch and it worked just fine). Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
3. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 mins, until the cake tester comes out clean.
5. Cool the pans for 30 mins, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
6. Place 1 layer, flat side up on a cake stand. With a knife or spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up and spread the frosting evenly on the top and side of the cake.
7. Decorate with fresh berries and macarons.

Chocolate Frosting

What you need:
6 ounces good semi sweet chocolate (I used Valrhona 64%)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra large egg yolk (I opt out for this one because I will be serving the cake to my kids I don't want to use any raw ingredient)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1 /4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
1 tbsp. instant coffee powder (I used Nescafe decaf, but it gave a sourish after taste on the frosting. You can try other good brands of instant coffee)

How to make:
1. Place chocolate in a heat proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 mins. Add vanilla and continue beating for 3 mins. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add confectioner's sugar then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy.
3. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 tsps. of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don't whip. Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

I also bought some easy to prepare finger foods and treats for the kids which I just arranged nicely on a plate.
Almond Bread Sticks and Baked Potato Wedges

Tortilla with Salsa - any store bought tortilla or nachos will do for this appetizer; Tostitos and Old El Paso are the good brands for Chunky Salsa (medium hot)
Here's the 3-course meal that I prepared from scratch:

Prawns and Mango Skewers
How to make:
Sauté prawns in garlic and olive oil until tender, remove head and shells. Skewer prawns with mango squares and sprinkle with chopped Italian parsley.

Salad Nicoise
How to make:
Mix together in individual serving size baby lettuce, hard boiled egg, black olives, tuna chunks and cherry tomatoes. Drizzle with vinaigrette dressing (3 tbsps olive oil, 2 tbsps balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp caster sugar, 1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic mixed until homogenous).
Beef Medallion with Rosti and Asparagus
Beef Medallion (Grass Fed Tenderloin, 2 fingers-thickness)
1. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Season beef tenderloin with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
2. Bring a heavy bottomed pan to high heat. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil, 2 cloves garlic and sprig of fresh rosemary.
3. Pan-fry beef tenderloin 4 mins per side.
4. Put in the oven for 8 mins for medium-rare doneness.
5. Take out from the oven and cover with foil for 5 mins to seal in the meat juices.
Mushroom and Onion Sauce
1. Sauté 1 med yellow onion (chopped into rings) and 6 Portobello mushrooms (sliced thinly) in 2 tbsp olive oil until onion is caramelized.
2. Add 2 cups of beef stock and allow to boil. Add the juices from the meat. Simmer for a few minutes. Add corn flour mixture (2 tbsp corn flour and 3 tbsp water). Continue to simmer until the sauce thickens. Adjust thickness when necessary.
1. Parboil potatoes (unpeeled) in boiling water for 2 - 3 mins.
2. Put in the fridge for a few hours (2 - 3 hours).
3. Peel potatoes and shred.
4. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
5. Heat a non-stick pan and add 2 tbsp olive oil.
6. Using an egg shaper, pan fry potatoes until browned on both sides. Add 1 tsp of butter when flipping to the other side.
Asparagus - blanched in salted boiling water for 1 min.
Plate beef medallion on top of rosti and asparagus. Finish with the mushroom and onion sauce on top.

We capped our night with a slice of heavenly good chocolate cake. What a way to end a lovely meal! Do you agree?


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