Thursday, November 12, 2009

My cousin's 30th b-day dinner

I decided to make dinner for my cousin for her 30th b-day. Instead of going out or letting her cook as usual, I decided that I wanted to make something for her. I had to think of something that she would love and of course, something that I can make at home so I didn't dirty up her kitchen, but still could finish cooking at her place so it was yummy and fresh from the oven and hot and delicious. LASAGNA!!! Duh!!! What else is there? :) Oh, and of course, chocolate cake w/ tons of chocolate frosting!!!

I made the sauce, cake and frosting all the night before. My sauce is not exact, so I apologize, but I'll give you the basics. The sauce MAKES the lasagna. That and the cheese. Mmmm.... the cheese.....

Saute one whole large yellow onion and an entire head of garlic in a pan w/ butter. Once the onions are pretty translucent, add them to a simmering pot of 4 (8 oz) cans of tomato sauce, 1 (6 oz) can of tomato paste and 1 (28 oz) can of diced tomatoes. In the same pan that you were sauteing the onions, brown the 2.5 lbs of ground beef until fully cooked. Season w/ salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle some garlic powder if you like lots of garlic. Believe me, this was not too garlicky!

There are no measurements in my sauce. Which is why it always comes out good. I normally add a palm sized amount of the following dried herbs and spices to give it flavor and then add more as my taste test says I need.
Garlic powder (yep, I love that stuff!)
Ground black pepper
Greek oregano
Cinnamon (yep, that's right, cinnamon)
A wee bit of salt, as needed

If you are making less sauce, obviously start w/ less seasonings!

I usually will add all of these, let it simmer for about 15 mins before I taste it. Then I add as needed, allowing for 15 mins of simmering time in b/w each taste test.

I used a 12 3/4 X 10 3/8 foil roasting pan to make the lasagna in b/c it is a little deeper than more 13X9 pans and I don't have to clean it when I'm done!
I started by pour some of the sauce in the bottom, just enough to coat. Then I topped that with the lasagna noodles. Here is the deal. You can use the Barilla no cook noodles or you can use the ones you need to cook first. Honestly, it does not matter. I've used both and they both work just fine.
So after I placed a layer of noodles down, I spooned a mixture of ricotta cheese, grated parm cheese, parsley and garlic powder over that. I bought the largest tub of ricotta from the store, put a palmful of dried parsley, half palmful of garlic powder into a bowl w/ the cheese and mixed it. I let it sit out a bit before doing this, just so the cheese would soften a little and be just a bit easier to work with. After putting the ricotta mixture on the noodles, I put more sauce over that, then topped the sauce with shredded mozzarella cheese. I repeated this until I was super close to the top, about 3 full layers. On top of the final noodle layer, I put more ricotta on top, the remaining sauce and completely covered the top with shredded mozzarella and shredded parm. Make it a thick layer. It'll brown up nice and yummy later.
So here's the tough part. I baked mine for about 45 mins, then took it over to my cousin's house to finish cooking in her oven. I set the oven to 350 degrees F. When I got it to her house, it took an additional hour to finish. I know it is b/c I transferred it from my house ot hers and it cooled some by the time I got there (she only lives 10 min away), so it won't take you that long. I would hike the oven to 375 or 400 degrees F and just watch it after about 45 mins to see how much longer it needs.

Yummy, cheesy layers. And a nice brown cheesy top.

And now the cake!!! Oh yum is all I gotta say. I found this recipe on after searching through tons and tons of recipes to pick the best one. I did change two little things- I didn't add espresso powder and made two 9 inch layers rather than three 7 or 8 inch layers. I WILL make this cake again, but with one minor change. I will use milk chocolate for the ganache instead of bittersweet. I did it for my cousin, but next time, it is all about me!!!

Chocolate Ganache Cake
adapted from

3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Not Dutch-process)
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9 inch (or three 7 or 8 inch) round baking pans. Cut a circle of parchment paper to line the bottom of the pans; spray again.

Whisk the water and cocoa until smooth then whisk in milk and vanilla.

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt.

Beat together the butter and brown sugar w/ an electric mixer until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and cocoa mix in batches, starting with the flour mix and ending with the flour mix. Do this at a low speed until just combined.

Divide the batter amoung the two or three pans. Make sure the tops are smooth. Bake on the middle rack for aprx 30 min. Taste the cake w/ a knife or toothpick. If there are little crumbs clinging, it's done. It is it coated w/ gooey-ness, it's not. Cool in the pans for about 30 mins, then invert onto the cooling rack, remove paper and cool completely.

The cake is much easier to work with, i.e. spread frosting on if you make the cakes the day before, cool them completely, then wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in the refridgerator overnight.

Ganache filling and frosting
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
20 oz of fine-quality, finely-chopped chocolate. I used bittersweet this time, but next time, you better believe I am going with milk chocolate

Bring cream to a simmerand remove from heat. Whisk in chocolate until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and chill, covered stirring occasionally until thickened but spreadable, about 4 hours.
You can make this the night before, but take it out before you are ready to spread b/c it will be too hard and it will be too hard on the cake.

I strongly advise placing wax or parchment paper underneath the sides of the cake to keep your cake plate clean. After you've put a nice thick layer of ganache on top of the bottom layer, place the top layer on and put a crumb coat on and place it in the fridge to "harden" up. It'll be easier to spread a nice thick layer of frosting on after you do that.
I've heard of the trick of taking a blow dryer to the cake as you're spreading the frosting to make the frosting shiny. But I didn't have a lot of time to mess around and I didn't want it to melt. So it was a matte finish :)

I also melted some red candy melts, put it in a sandwich baggie and snipped of the tip off and wrote on the cake. I'm a horrible decorator! And duh, I should ahve realized that the candy melts would harden, but I was so tired and out of it. They ate them off instead of trying to cut through them!

So Happy 30th Birthday Rita!!!! I hope you enjoyed the dinner and cake and good company! Thanks for Susan and Jamie for joining us in the celebration!


Holly said...

Your cousin is very lucky! Your dinner looks great. Thanks for sharing.

Margarita said...

I am lucky! It was an awesome dinner and a great night!