Archive for the 'Birthday' Category

Birch and Barley

Birch and Barley
1337 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20005

My birthday weekends usually turn into food weekends, and this past birthday weekend was no exception. Only hours after my parents’ plane landed in DC, I drug them down Wisconsin from their hotel to Sushi Ko. Friday night brought a stressful cab ride and an amazing meal at Rasika, where I drowned my transportation nerves in champagne cocktails spiked with candied ginger, fried spinach, and tandoori lamb so tender and flavorful that even my lamb-shy dad raved about it. Saturday was the highlight of the weekend and a meal that had been planned since October: Table 21 at VOLT.

All of these were wonderful, and I waved goodbye to my parents with a full stomach and a larger ass.

It was a great birthday weekend, but none of these meals were on my birthday.

This year, my birthday fell on that purgatory of all days, Sunday, and my parents were on a plane back to Little Rock that morning. Nevertheless, I still wanted to go out and do something for my birthday. What’s a girl who likes to eat to do? Why not … eat some more?

So I rounded up a small group of friends and decided to head to Birch and Barley. Chirchkey had fully impressed me with their beer list during my first and only visit, and the things I had heard about their food were mouth watering.

My friends and I were sat at a long rustic table lined with clear plastic modern chairs by a 10-foot window that covered nearly the entire front of the restaurant. The lighting was low, with a low buzz of conversation filtering through the large room and hovering around the bar.

Birch and Barley’s menu is broken down into 4 catagories: starters, flatbreads and pasta, mains, and sides. The options are small in number, but that didn’t mean I had an easy time choosing what to get. Per recommendation from our waiter, I started with the crispy fried duck egg, accompanied by pork belly, frisee, and quince. I ordered the dish based on the pork belly alone, which was succulent and brined in cider, but the egg was really the star, fried whole with a silky texture.

Lucky for me, I have other friends who love to eat, and one of them ordered the veal sausage flatbread topped with mushrooms, pecorino and parsley for the table. Also lucky for me, one side of the table decided not to try the pizza, which just left more for me. This could easily be a meal, and was really, really good, with a chewy crust and flavorful, fresh ingredients.

Unlucky for me was my main dish choice, the braised pork cheeks with white grits, parsnip, and pearl onions. Usually pork cheeks are deeply flavorful, but these were just bland and watery. The grits likewise lacked flavor, and the whole dish needed a good hit of salt and pepper. Again unlucky, none was to be found on our table.

My friends, however, favored better with their dishes. The hand rolled gnocchi with braised lamb neck was rich and flavorful, although I would not recommend it unless you really like lamb. Both of my friends who ordered the pasta also ordered the maple-glazed brussel sprouts, easily some of the best I have tasted, and they said that mixing the sprouts in with the lamb helped to cut the strong flavor and richness of the pasta. Another friend ordered the brat burger, something I must come back and order all for myself, and others tried the venison (did not get a chance to try) and the duck breast. Everyone else raved about their meals, I think I just ordered the wrong thing. Nevertheless, I would happily go back to try everything else.

Dessert was a real treat and both of our dishes were very imaginative, and very good. My dessert, the french toast, was brought out with a birthday candle and was free of charge.

Birch and Barley was one of the best birthday meals I have had in a long time, even given the weak pork cheeks I ordered. Good friends, good beer, and good food that we all shared, it was like a family meal around the family table.

Birthday Cinnamon Rolls

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Cinnamon rolls have got to be my all-time favorite baked good. Even better than chocolate cake with chocolate icing, and if you know me, you know I love my chocolate cake. I would eat cinnamon rolls every day if I could, but after discovering Cinnabon’s had something like 800 plus calories a roll, I decided to cut back. I cut back so much, in fact, that I stopped eating them.

It’s not like I can’t find them in town, but the ones available from our local bakery just don’t do it for me. They’re flatter, the icing is MUCH heavier, and it’s like royal icing. WHAT??? That’s just not right!

Jay and I were watching Good Eats one night, and lo and behold Alton cranked out some cinnamon rolls that looked pretty fab. On going to commercial break, we made a very important discovery: my birthday is the same day as national sweetroll day!

Coincidence? Well, you can say yes or no, but it just seemed right that my birthday would be the same day as cinnamon roll day. So, when my birthday finally rolled around, Jay made me the best birthday cake ever: a whole pan of fresh, from-scratch cinnamon rolls.

These are the kinds of cinnamon rolls that all other cinnamon rolls hope they can be when they grow up. The icing was perfect, and the flavor of the rolls was absolutely rockin. Even the day after the rolls were made, they were still soft and moist and delicious. It will probably be another year before I allow one of these sweet delicacies to cross my lips, but with these kinds of rolls, it’s well, well worth the wait.

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Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
(original recipe Alton Brown)

Ingredients:
Dough:
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 large whole egg, room temperature
2 ounces sugar, approximately 1/4 cup
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted, approximately 6 tablespoons
6 ounces buttermilk, room temperature
20 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 cups, plus additional for dusting
1 package instant dry yeast, approximately 2 1/4 teaspoons
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Vegetable oil

Filling:
8 ounces light brown sugar, approximately 1 cup packed
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
3/4 ounce unsalted butter, melted, approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons

Icing:
2 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened, approximately 1/4 cup
3 tablespoons milk
5 1/2 ounces powdered sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups

Method:
For the dough: in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add approximately 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; whisk until moistened and combined. Remove the whisk attachment and replace with a dough hook. Add all but 3/4 cup of the remaining flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Check the consistency of the dough, add more flour if necessary; the dough should feel soft and moist but not sticky. Knead on low speed 5 minutes more or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand about 30 seconds. Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, cover and let double in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until well incorporated. Set aside until ready to use.

Butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently shape the dough into a rectangle with the long side nearest you. Roll into an 18 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with the 3/4-ounce of melted butter, leaving 1/2-inch border along the top edge. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border along the top edge; gently press the filling into the dough. Beginning with the long edge nearest you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal and roll the cylinder seam side down. Very gently squeeze the cylinder to create even thickness. Using a serrated knife, slice the cylinder into 1 1/2-inch rolls; yielding 12 rolls. Arrange rolls cut side down in the baking dish; cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 16 hours.

Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and place in an oven that is turned off. Fill a shallow pan 2/3-full of boiling water and set on the rack below the rolls. Close the oven door and let the rolls rise until they look slightly puffy; approximately 30 minutes. Remove the rolls and the shallow pan of water from the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

When the oven is ready, place the rolls on the middle rack and bake until golden brown, or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, approximately 30 minutes.

While the rolls are cooling slightly, make the icing by whisking the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Sift in the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Spread over the rolls and serve immediately.
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Cupcake Potluck

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My close friends and I are getting to the age where we all turn 25, so there’s a sense that we should all do something special for our birthdays. When my friend Corinne, a big (and very good!) baker, turned 25, she decided to have a cupcake party. Everyone was encouraged to make their own cupcakes, and we would all share. I thought it was such a good idea, and it gave me an opportunity to try making cupcakes out of a wonderful pumpkin cake recipe.

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I used the same recipe that I used for the Pumpkin Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting that I made for Thanksgiving, only altering the cooking time. At first I baked the cupcakes for 25 minutes, but I think the batter was a littler thicker than your average cupcake batter, so it ended up taking more like 30 or 35 minutes to cook all the way through. Even with the extra time, I don’t think the cupcakes were completely cooked through, but they were very, very moist. As expected, the cupcakes were pretty dense, but the flavor was just out of this world. All of the spices in the recipe really shined, and I think I actually made the icing better this time around. If you don’t want to make the pumpkin cake, you should definitely try making the cake in cupcake form. And don’t just take my word for it either: everyone was raving about them.

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Corinne the birthday girl made chocolate cakes with chocolate ganache icing, and they were a chocolate lover’s dream. My friend Brett, who lives in New York, made the Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, chocolate with chocolate chips and different flavors of icing. These were definitely sweet. Also making an appearance were cupcakes with coconut icing. I’m sure there are some other cupcakes that I left out.

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Corinne and Me

The party was so much fun and was such a good idea. I recommend doing something like this for a birthday, because it makes the event entertaining without going full-throttle and spending all your time cooking. It’s also fun to see what everyone comes up with. You never know, you might get some good ideas for yourself.

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Oh, and yes, we love Guitar Hero. 🙂


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All posts and images copyright 2008 & 2009 Jenny Robertson, unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Any use of images without prior written consent is prohibited.
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