Dinner Plans #33
Fudgie the whale could never.
Let me set the scene — it’s last week and Gab and I are discussing plans for her sweet boyfriend Jack’s birthday. I was expecting we’d get right into Cake Talk (my favorite type of talk). Instead, she mentions offhand they have reservations at King, to which I say, “Wait so do we?” Turns out we made near identical reservations for both of our boyfriend’s birthday dinners and ate them mere feet apart from each other. And yes, we did trade bites of dessert. Great (simple?) minds think alike? All this heteronormativity aside, we both recently found ourselves tasked with celebrating our S.O.’s second #PandemicBirthday albeit this one with a little more optimism and less stringent masking. Today we’re sharing the elaborate cakes we made for their birthdays, in the hopes that they may inspire you to do a little extra for those loved one’s still stuck celebrating in this pandemic purgatory. More importantly, we’ve also got Dinner Plans from Tyler, Alex, and Serey, the folks behind Perfectly Imperfect, one of our favorite newsletters. Give them a subscribe, follow, like, et. al. for pristine recommendations for any and everything, and read on for their perfectly perfect menu.
ON THE MENU THIS WEEK:
PERFECTLY IMPERFECT’S DINNER PLANS
Salted Watermelon Margaritas: If you’re at my apartment on a Friday night you can count on the ambient noise of me shaking up some margs followed by me topping off your glass. I feel like Margaritas get a bad rep since a lot of the time they're served in a big ol' corny glass and taste either way too sweet or of just tequila, but when made properly with high quality fresh ingredients (squeeze the lime juice! no pre-bottled shit) & served in a rocks glass, I think they’re worthy of the same "cool" status as Martinis, Negronis, etc. Every once in a while, usually on a hot summer day when I have extra watermelon around, I like to mix it up with this Salted Watermelon Margarita recipe. Making the juice itself is ez pz, just throw a bunch of watermelon and pinch of salt into a blender/nutribullet, let it rip, and strain with a sieve. From there the watermelon juice basically assumes the role of the orange liquor in this slightly altered version of a classic Marg. Best enjoyed with friends old & new, or by yourself when seated in a lawn chair. -Tyler Bainbridge
Cowboy Caviar Pasta Salad: What’s up Sifters, I’m dropping by with a classic Betty-Crocker-google-special (a true gem from the 3rd page of a google search) - a quick and easy recipe that excels on the effort to taste ratio - a cowboy caviar ….. pasta salad (what! Not a dip or appetizer? Nope! A pasta salad baby!). It’s super simple to make - just some pasta, veggies, beans, a bright and tangy dressing, and you’ve got the necessities. Check out the recipe for the finer details, but I’d recommend swapping in some pancetta for the bacon and maybe tossing in some avocado. Go wild with swaps and additions, it’s begging for more fresh veggies! This was a filler meal for the wife and I, trying to whip up a quick mid week meal that felt healthy, but we both ended up loving it and for good reason — I mean, there is definitely a lot to love. A crisp and refreshing meal, smart on the calories, easy to whip up, and stores great for multi-day meal planners (you eat it cold so the next day it’s like you’re eating it fresh again!), oh ya, and it’s delicious. Enjoy! -Alex Cushing
Steamed Soy & Ginger Fish: I think the most common proteins I’ve been cooking have always been either chicken, beef, or pork. Unless I’m getting some sushi, fish has just always been out of the picture for dinner nights. It’s mainly the smell for me. Recently, my roommates and I wanted to break that barrier. This recipe is perfect for those who haven't experimented with a lot of fish. The ginger and scallion does a great job of cutting out any fishy smell. In our experience, using haddock, sea-bass, or salmon worked really well. It only takes about 12-15 minutes to cook, so this quick dinner is a bi-weekly thing for us now. Oh and the best part? Since the thinly sliced ginger and scallions are fresh, heating up some vegetable and sesame oil, and pouring it over the dish will give you that sweet sizzling sound everyone breaks their necks over when someone orders fajita at a restaurant. -Serey Morm
SO IT’S YOUR BOO’S BIRTHDAY
Carvel-Style Ice Cream Cake: My boyfriend hails from the hometown of the original Carvel, so when I set out to make him an ice cream cake for his birthday, I had my work cut out for me. I wanted to make two flavors of ice cream with a layer of Crunchies in the middle (duh) and a fluffy, Cool-Whip adjacent frosting (but better way tasting than whipped vegetable oil a.k.a. Cool Whip.) As I teased a few newsletters ago, I made this Buttered Popcorn Ice Cream for the top layer, and a Malted Chocolate Ice Cream for the second, subbing my usual custard base (2 cups heavy cream to 1 cup milk) and ditching the nutmeg because we’re not going for fancy here. I froze both layers and then started building. Since I missed out on this, I had to make my own Crunchies using this recipe (note: next time I’d sub chocolate wafers for Oreos because the cream didn’t do it any favors.) Finally, I frosted the entire thing with a half batch of Stella Parks’ incomparable 7-Minute Frosting. It’s a meringue frosting that can best be described as sophisticated marshmallow Fluff. It can also be, and in many cases, should be bruléed with a torch for the full toasted-marshmallow effect. I’ve watched too many Great British Bake Off disasters to attempt a Baked Alaska myself, and luckily the entire thing came out insanely good and appropriately nostalgic while tasting significantly better than the Carvel Cakes I remember from my youth.
Perfect Coconut Cake: My boyfriend requested a coconut cake for his birthday this year, and by “requested” I mean he sighed and said, “I guess I like coconut cake?” after asking him what kind of cake he wanted every single day. Naturally, I consulted the Sifted Guide to Birthday Cake for my favorite fluffy coconut cake base. I tweaked it a little by adding some coconut extract I found in my pantry and folding a few handfuls of sweetened shredded coconut into the batter for extra-coconutiness. Once the layers were completely cool, I slathered them with a made-up coconut cream cheese frosting i.e. lots of cream cheese, half that amount of butter, enough powdered sugar to turn the fatty mixture into a smooth, sweet, shiny frosting, plus salt and both coconut and vanilla extracts. To ~decorate~ I cut letters out of a magazine I didn’t care about (this month’s Bon Appétit), laid them across the frosted cake, and showered it with a combo of sweetened and unsweetened coconut flakes. Then, I peeled the letters off and very carefully sprinkled golden brown toasted coconut flakes onto the empty areas — yes, I love the man!!
BBOTW (BEST BITES OF THE WEEK):
Court & Gab: On our accidental double date night, Court and I were slightly shocked to discover we ordered opposite halves of the menu. She ate a piled-high duck confit salad, some warm and springy vegetable soup and briny, saffron-y scallops, while I ordered minty fava bean pasta, lemony, crispy-skinned mackerel, and an herby pork chop. Court ended her meal with a slice of dense, fudgey, crackly-topped chocolate cake (which you can make at home!) and I finished mine with the light and airy, but also rich and walnutty torta di noci. All that’s to say, we both started with King’s absolutely perfect panisse — a creamy chickpea batter that’s deep fried into long, flat, rectangular shapes. The hot and crispy fries showed up to our table(s) hanging off their tiny plates, sprinkled with delicate fried sage leaves and big, crunchy flakes of salt. The salty, crispy, creamy, herby, beany bites were both of our favorite ones of the week and ones we’ll be thinking about for weeks to come.