Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An Airplane Cake for First Birthday Boy, Liam

When my friend Jessica asked me to make her son's first birthday cake, I felt so honored. Every child's birthday is special and a first birthday is especially so! Jessica is such a creative person- the party could not have been more gorgeous. The invitations were plane tickets! The color scheme was blue and orange- absolutely perfect. Ahead of time, I made a gum-paste plane and white chocolate banner (actually I made several of each- to allow for breakage) as well as some teeny tiny gum-paste blue birds. The only non-edible part of the entire cake was the small piece of tooth-pick I used to spin the propeller on the plane. I felt it just had to be able to spin!

 I used a round tip 10 for the clouds and top border and a round tip 12 for the bottom border, piping with my recipe for Basic Buttercream.
Just before placing it,  I made a small 'rope' from gum-paste to connect the banner to the airplane.
Since the birthday boy loves birds, tiny blue birds adorned the clouds. They were challenging to shape due to their small size. I started with a pea-sized piece of gum-paste, rolling it into a cylinder, then pulling the wings from the sides and tail and beak from the front and back. I used a toothpick to add the eyes and a bit of feather texture on the wings and belly.
The birthday boy needed his own cupcake to taste, so I made him one using Wilton's 2D tip and a round tip #3 to make the white dots. Topped it off with a Number 1 candle from HEMA, one of my favorite stores in the Netherlands.
In order to create the curved banner in white chocolate I needed to have it dry on something curved in the same shape. I used a cardboard tube from a paper towel roll, cut in half and re-taped together to form the "S" shape. After piping the white chocolate banner on waxed paper I carefully lifted it onto the "S" and let it dry there overnight. The following day I piped the dark chocolate lettering, "Liam is 1!"
From the moment Jessica explained her request and theme I knew I was going to have a blast making this cake. It was a pleasure to create and I feel so lucky to have been a part of a very special boy's first birthday.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Budapest- Castro Bisztro Restaurant

I had low expectations for Budapest mostly because of my own ignorance of this ancient, amazing city. Whenever you hear of Eastern Europe, invariably Prague gets mentioned, or perhaps Warsaw. Prior to our August trip we'd never been to Eastern Europe. I am so sorry that was the case! We're definitely going back, and Budapest is high on my list due, in part, to the baths.

Unfortunately, I do not have many photos from this particular evening out to dinner at Castro Bisztro because it was directly after we visited the famous Széchenyi Baths, and I had not brought along my camera (not even my purse!) simply because I wasn't sure if we'd have a secure place to store stuff while we visited the baths. Silly me, not only could we store stuff, but we could rent a small changing room, with a lock activated using the wrist watch-thingy they assigned to us. Very modern, very amazing, and how I wish we had visited the baths every day of our trip! We almost did not go at all, because we were not sure if children were allowed (we'd read they were discouraged) but not only were there a few (admittedly less than a dozen) kids there, it was no problem blending in with the hundreds of people in the many, many natural spring baths.

Szechenyi scene
The water was incredible- I've never felt anything quite like that- healing, soothing, smooth. Of the 20 or so baths inside, I most enjoyed the ones marked '30 degrees'. Yes, different baths were different temperatures, and seemed to contain different amounts of the famous chemical cocktail said to heal various illness: sulphate, calcium, magnesium and bicarbonate, to name a few. It did smell a bit like rotten eggs, but not overly, and once you slipped into the water, all you felt was 'ahhhhh'.

The restaurant I'll tell you about was down a side street, past other fine looking establishments, and yet completely worth the extra walk. Castro Bisztro had both meat and vegetarian options and catered to both those seeking traditional Hungarian fare and also offered fusion style. Their trance-style music and mismatched chairs made me feel comfortable. I'm sure post-baths I was in a great mood for good food.
We started with a squash soup with kidney beans. How interesting!
Since there were so many options, we decided on sharing two very different meals. The first had red beet patties (beetcakes?) alongside grilled chicken pieces and a very interesting herb cream sauce. The second was more traditional Hungarian fare with pickles, potatoes, boiled eggs, and a similar sauce - a very unfamiliar combination!
 I highly recommend Castro Bisztro for both vegetarians and meat-eaters. It was difficult to decide which entree to choose- everything sounded so good! One warning- they do not take credit or debit cards- cash only. For the price, it was an amazing value.
 Castro Bisztro, 1075 Bp. Madach ter 3, Pest, Hungary... check it out!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Restaurant Review in Prague

On our most recent trips we've used a Trip Advisor app on our mobile phone to find restaurants. (It is the "Offline City Guide".) It has been amazingly accurate, and now I won't sit down somewhere to eat unless I know where the place ranks on this app. We ate at top-25 places in Rome, Amsterdam, and now most recently Prague and Budapest. No need for wireless internet, either. You download the city you want before you leave home, and then you can browse the map (if you are somewhere and want a good place close to you) or the rankings (if you are keen to find the very best place in that city).

Needless to say, I am hooked on this app! Good food is something I sorely miss here in the Netherlands, so every time we travel I don't want to risk a bad meal because we're in a hurry or we don't know where to go. The app always knows where to go!
Prague: gorgeous architecture, great food, and Starbucks on every corner.
 One of the popular things to do in Prague is to touch certain parts of statues, facades, etc.

It is apparent, both because of the queue to do so, and because of the shininess of the proper area to be touched, so of course I got in line (for this one).
The Three Storks was the closest highly ranked restaurant to where we ended up at dinner time in Prague.  Despite the lack of customers (it was early in the evening), we settled down at a huge table, and tried to entertain Dina while we waited for culinary greatness.

We didn't have to wait long for the assorted bread and herbed butter. The squash soup was amazing, with just the right level of spice and creamyness.
My husband's appetizer was unique, pairing goat cheese with red beets, caramelized onions, and sunflower seeds.
Unfortunately, my Spicy Chicken with Jasmine rice entree was way too heavy on the salt.
Those black specks? They are some kind of salt-pepper mixture which made the dish one-dimensional and completely overpowered the lovely chicken and cilantro.
My husband's entree of duck with beets and dumpling-like potatoes lived up to the hype.

A fancy bar added to the ambiance. Dina is in the picture for scale and cuteness.

On a less sophisticated note, everywhere we turned we saw a special kind of breaded-snack for sale called, "Trdelnik".
After the fourth or fifth spotting, we realized we had to try this "traditional cake and sweet pastry" from this part of the world. 
 The shop we selected was on the stairs up to the castle area. Perhaps it was too close to the end of the day because the last remaining trdelnik were no longer spinning.
Unfortunately I'd not recommend this pastry because it was rather chewy, with perhaps too much yeast flavor and not enough flake. One might suggest we got a bad one, however, so take this review with a grain of salt.

Go to the top of the stairs for the view of the city, however, because it is gorgeous.
I was so pleased with the ubiquitous architecture in Prague.
Meticulous details, like the mosaic at the top of this building, are everywhere:

 We also got some fancy coffee in a small cafe in the same building as the cubist museum, which is closed on Mondays, d'oh!
Yes, that is Dina swiping my cookie.
If you have kids, I also recommend the "Mirror-Maze", if you can find it. Here's your hint: follow the signs pointing to "Bludiště".

Stay tuned for a review of a very interesting restaurant in Budapest.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sugar cookies with a Ballerina Cake

A very sweet girl I know well turned three recently, and I made her a Ballerina Cake and cupcakes.

The cake was a three-layer chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache filling, decorated with white chocolate (colored pink), swiss buttercream, and a sugar cookie ballerina on the top.
Sugar cookies adorned the cupcakes, creating little ballerina costumes that tasted as good as they looked. The method I used included re-shaping an oval cookie-cutter so that I could create the toppers for the cupcakes:
 Then, I decorated the cookies using my basic buttercream frosting and candy pearls.
It seemed like a good idea to make a few crown shaped cookies as well (I purchased that cookie-cutter).
For the cupcakes, I used a petal tip (Wilton #104). Piping a blob in the center to begin, then doing three layers of petals:
I transported the cupcakes and cookies separately, then did the final assembly at the party.
My passion is creating unique desserts that taste as good as they look.
For the chocolate cake, I made a 6" round and two 8" round cakes, and torted them.
I filled the chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache, so it was almost like eating a truffle with every bite.
I frosted the cake with Swiss buttercream, and had previously made pink-colored white chocolate decorations in the shape of bows, dots, and zig-zags a few days in advance.
For the ballerina cookie(I made two, in case one broke!), I decorated it with buttercream icing and 'pearls' (that were actually white sprinkles painstakingly placed).
To assemble, I used a white lolipop stick and buttercream icing to secure the cookie to the top of the cake.
Overall, the cake and cupcakes were a hit. The best part was ballerina-loving Leticia's reaction to the cake and cupcakes. Happy Birthday, Leticia! My Dina is so blessed to have you as her friend.