Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cheap Date

Dear Boo,

I've been suffering lately from a painful condition called Broke, brought on by prolonged exposure to graduate school and a severe income deficiency. It's been difficult. So when the birthday of a certain tall person with whom I share an apartment rolled around, I realized I'd have to make a few adjustments to my celebratory plans. In other words, no Per Se for us. Now, while the Boyfriend has never been one for big, overblown, expensive celebrations, if there's one occasion that I believe calls for splurging, it's a birthday. So I was determined to find a way to plan a worthy date, sacrificing none of the exuberance, specialness, or sexy, while conserving some of the cash.

What I came up with, I think, has taught me a few things about dating on the cheap. And birthdays. And cake.

Going somewhere out of the ordinary automatically = special.
Unless, of course that place is Guantanamo, within reason, getting out of the usual neighborhood or the haunts where everybody knows your name, feels good. In fact, it's scientifically proven. Ever wonder why vacation makes you feel like you're falling in love all over again? It's because you are. Just changing your environment tricks your brain into thinking everything is new--it actually mimics that feeling you get when your partner is brand new and everything feels exciting and special. I told the Boyfriend we would be--gasp--Brooklyn bound. Shudder. Tremble. Flutter.

If you're going to go cheap, at least go clever.
The Boyfriend loves fried chicken. And has been known on a few occasions to suggest that one of the great tragedies of our era is that no one goes out for a slice of pie anymore. Not long ago, I read a post on this blog about Pies n Thighs in Brooklyn, a humble establishment devoted to just that--fried chicken and pie, and pleasantly reminiscent of that classy Providence offering, Legs n Eggs which had a slightly more x-rated take on things. It's cheap, it specializes in two of the best things on the planet, and the answer to the Boyfriend's ubiquitous question: Can I wear shorts? would be a resounding YES.

But I had to find at least one thing to splurge on. Sorry, it's just my nature.

An expensive drink is still cheaper than an expensive meal.
I asked around to those more in the Brooklyn-know, and found Hotel Delmano, a hipster paradise just a short walk from our final fried and greasy destination. If we were going low-brow for dinner, we'd go high-brow for cocktails. Candle-lit, and of course, lacking any visible signage, the bar is a converted tattoo parlor with fogged mirrors and a long wooden bar. We sidled up, elbowing our way through the handlebar mustaches and high-waisted pants, and ordered a Smoke & Flowers for me (St. Germain, sherry, dry vermouth, Ardberg single malt scotch) and a Rattlesnake for the Boyfriend (rye, absinthe, lemon, egg white). Both delicious. Both strong. Both excellent with the oysters we ordered to round out the experience. Our appetites whetted, and before we could end up waist deep in a sea of hipsters, we struck out for our next stop.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Eating with your hands is sexy.
There was a wait at the restaurant when we got there, but when you're on a good date, a little standing around under a streetlight never hurt anyone.

At a table for two, in the courtyard out back, we dug into our Chicken Boxes, three pieces of perfectly fried, juicy and crispy chicken, alongside a biscuit the size of a frisbee, flaky, warm and the essence of butter. The Boyfriend got collard greens, and I had the waitresses favorite, a special of green beans in a tomato sauce, over the creamiest bowl of hot grits. And I have to say, knowing the bill would be well within my means (the box is $11), freed up some mental guilt space to spend on the fried chicken and biscuit. And spend it, I did. We took a banana cream pie for the road. Because it's true. Going out for a slice of pie is a lost art.

It's not a birthday without (this) cake.
The next day, on the Boyfriend's actual birthday, I made a cake. But not just any cake. It's a special cake because a) it's probably hands down the most delicious chocolate cake I've ever made. and b) it was made during my fast for yom kippur and baking a cake for someone--a big huge, frosted, chocolate cake--when you have not eaten all day and your stomach is talking LOUDLY to its neighboring organs, well if that's not love, I don't know what love is.

It's a combination of a few recipes--the cake is from a recipe given to me by our Uncle, after hearing about it on some Morning Show, as Epicurious' most viewed recipe. And lemme tell you, there's a reason for the hype. It's deep and rich and perfectly moist, with a texture that I can only describe as having just the right amount of air in between the crumbs. And, because I always have to complicate things, I decided to make a milk chocolate frosting. It's a little fussy, but it's so worth it. And you get to exercise your custard-making abilities which is good not only for your cooking repetoire, but your stand-up routine, because let's face it, custard is comic gold.

In the end, a good date is a good date, no matter how much you end up spending. Duh. And a birthday? Well, they're more complicated. But nothing makes the future look a little brighter than a slice of chocolate cake.


The Mouse

The Best Chocolate Birthday Cake Ever
(with thanks to Gourmet)

For cake layers

3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

For frosting

2/3 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces and softened
8 oz milk chocolate, melted and cooled
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

Make cake layers:
Preheat oven to 300°F. and grease pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well. Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

Make frosting:
Heat milk in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot. Whisk together yolks, flour, 1/3 cup confectioners sugar, and a pinch of salt in a bowl, then add hot milk in a stream, whisking. Transfer custard to saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking, 2 minutes (mixture will be very thick), then transfer to a large bowl. Cover surface of custard with a buttered round of wax paper and cool completely, about 45 minutes.

Add vanilla and remaining cup confectioners sugar to custard and beat with cleaned beaters at moderate speed until combined well, then increase speed to medium-high and beat in butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, until smooth. Add chocolates and beat until combined well.

Frost cake. Make sure the cakes have cooled COMPLETELY. I thought I was good, only to discover the middle layer of frosting had melted and oozed out. I must have gotten a little impatient. Learn from my mistakes.


Roger said...

This was such a great and fun read!!!

The Mouse said...

Thanks, Roger!

Marisa said...

Mmmmmmmmm.....sounds heavenly. :-)

The Boo said...

I wish to go on this date. I will have to find an occasion. And someone to bake cake at the end of it.

Anonymous said...

one of those entries that takes me on a journey - both the doing and the tasting...lovely

Anonymous said...

What a fun idea! I vet that was one of the best birthday celebrations! I wanna go there too!

Anonymous said...

it was truly the best chocolate cake I've ever had!

I wish I could have shared it with everyone, but instead I froze a huge chunk so that I could relive the experience at a later date. It may be selfish, but I become a slave to the cake.

thank you for a perfect weekend, especially the yom kippur part. That break fast was kickin'.

the boyfriend