We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Italian Cream Cake

by Michelle

   Ahhhh, to behold a beautiful homemade cake displayed as a centerpiece on a dining table or buffet provides a visual cue for each guest to save room for dessert. For us, it is pretty easy to politely decline a slice cut from a commercially made cake because, let’s face it, most of the time a disappointing interior is encased by an artfully decorated exterior; the taste doesn’t live up to the hype. Homemade, on the other hand, allows for the tiny gap in the door of rationalization to be kicked wide open and marched right through, with guilt booted to the curb.
   My first introduction to Italian Cream Cake was through my friend Michelle whose family favored it as a special occasion cake. The cake, accented with toasted walnuts, has a moist crumb, and is covered with cream cheese frosting sprinkled with toasted coconut, to which we could hypothesize, if the Italian Cream has a sister, her name is Carrot.
   A few years ago, my friend Michelle struck upon the idea of combining her birthday party and house warming (for the newly completed living and bedroom wings) into one gigantic celebration. As good friends will do, I offered to take the lead on food preparation, so birthday girl would be unencumbered to fully enjoy her own party.

   As the guest list grew, and the menu became more elaborate (because I just can’t help myself), I quickly realized that I needed assistance. As good sisters will do, Linda purchased a plane ticket, and my mind was put to rest. With Linda at my side, wielding kitchen utensils, and lending her expertise, I had no further concerns about holding up my side of the food bargain.

   Because we planned an extensive Northern Italian menu that included a lot of prep work, Michelle offered to make her own birthday cake. No way, I replied without a second thought. I assured her it wasn’t a burden that Linda would easily whip up the cake relying on her years of experience when she baked professionally. Michelle handed over the recipe and Linda applied her tricks of the trade to transform a wonderful two layer cake into a lighter more intensely flavored three layer showpiece.
   The party became an extended weekend of fun from advance preparation through successful implementation to the inevitable morning after, where we three ladies happily chatted about the more entertaining aspects of the party while we traipsed around our favorite antique fair. We discussed how the guests marveled at the newly completed construction and oohed and ahhed over the plentiful food, and in particular the admiration bestowed upon the gorgeous cake, the centerpiece of the dessert buffet.
   One overly friendly guest loved the cake so much that after Linda finished portioning and serving the cake, he offered to lick every last sticky frosted crumb from Linda’s fingers. In case wondering minds want to know, Linda politely declined. The memory still induces laughter.
   Start a new tradition by making the Italian Cream Cake for your next special occasion. To be forewarned is to be forearmed - you may want to decide in advance where you stand on finger-licking-good offers.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pineapple Martini a.k.a. "Happy Juice"

by Michelle

   Do you have a desire to make new friends or perhaps to find your existing friends a tad more interesting? Have you contemplated how to transform an upcoming family reunion into oodles of fun? Are you ever in the need to convert a bad day into a lovely evening? If you answered yes to any of these questions, the Pineapple Martini might just be the answer for you (and yours.)
   The proverb “a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” also applies to making friends. Food is the common denominator. We all must eat to live. My best friend, Michelle and I (yes, we’re referred to as the two Michelle’s and to top it off, our daughters’ names just happen to rhyme) met through our daughters' themed birthday parties each held in the same month. Michelle and I quickly became friends through our love of throwing parties. We were both in a place in our lives where we wanted to have more fun, and the party started with us. One of our favorite parties, a birthday luau for Michelle’s daughter, was fun for both the young and the young at heart.
   To reach BFF Michelle’s house, one must drive a nearly inhospitable bumpy dirt road lined with cacti – saguaros, prickly pear, and cholla to name a few – and it is not uncommon to see various scurrying reptiles, wandering coyotes, dashing Jack rabbits or birds of prey hunting the terrain. The first time I pulled into their unpaved driveway way back when, I saw a gorgeous adobe home (now a guesthouse) with a covered patio, brick floor and wooden beams that supported a corrugated metal roof – a beautiful melding of traditional and modern design. I also noticed an extensive apricot colored concrete foundation and partially built walls for two new buildings - the living area and a bedroom wing - connected by a huge patio, and in the center, a courtyard, anchored by a fenced pool and a play area nearby for the kids (where we could see but not clearly hear the amicable screaming of small children.)
   In other words, my BFF and her husband, over the past decade, have created an ideal environment, an oasis in the desert suited for entertaining. The rooms and patios are perfect for intimate affairs, raucous parties and anything in between. For the luau, the plan was for the kids, sporting grass skirts and bright silk flower leis, to have an afternoon together racing around the property, and in the early evening, the parents would return to enjoy an island themed dinner featuring Roasted Pork and Hawaiian Skillet Vegetables.
   A few weeks before the party, Michelle mentioned to me that she was searching for a fun cocktail to serve. I had recently run across a knock-off recipe for Roy’s of Hawaii’s Pineapple Martini and thought it would be a perfect complement to the menu. We made it and the rest, as they say, is party history. After sipping a martini or two, the guests, who were all for the most part acquaintances, had quickly progressed to back-slapping, story-swapping friends, bursts of laughter intersecting the conversations.
   After a few similar effervescent events, Michelle and I started calling the concoction “Happy Juice” because everyone seemed so happy after drinking just one. Be warned though, consume more than two and expect an ecstatic evening to turn into a bad morning after.
   My sister, Linda and I consider this particular martini a pantry staple. Yes, that’s right, as necessary as extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamic, all-purpose flour and the other hundreds of items we keep on-hand in the kitchen. Nice pineapples are available year round and the liqueur is easy to make and store. It is also well received as a holiday or hostess gift. Linda altered the recipe over the years to reduce the sugar in the original recipe and to use real vanilla beans instead of vanilla flavored vodka, which to us, doesn’t taste as good as Mother Nature intended.
   Whether you serve the martini cold in a punch bowl ladled into small pretty glasses accessorized with a few ice cubes or vigorously shaken then poured into oversized martini glasses, make this signature cocktail and you are guaranteed to get the party started. The luau is optional.

Pineapple Martini a.k.a. "Happy Juice"

   Not all vodkas are created equal. Recognized leading brands typically distill vodka from grains, wheat and rye. What most folks don't know is that vodka can also be distilled from byproducts of oil refining or wood pulp processing - no thanks! We recommend verifying the source on the label. If it's not listed, choose another brand.
   While most of the vodkas made from grains are considered superior, we prefer to make the pineapple martini with Vodka Monopolowa, that is distilled from potatoes in Vienna, Austria and available stateside at a reasonable price. In California, you will find it on the shelf at Trader Joe's, and elsewhere at a well-stocked liquor store.

2 liters Vodka 80% proof
750 milliliters Malibu Rum
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and scraped, then chopped
1 ripe pineapple, remove top, bottom, rind and core; finely diced
Agave syrup or simple syrup, to taste


1. Combine vodka, rum, and diced pineapple into a large covered pan or wide mouthed jar with lid. Scrape the inside of the vanilla bean into the mixture, and then cut pods into 1/3 inch slices and add to liquid. Reserve empty liquor bottles to store martini mix once it is ready. Let mixture rest for 7 days, stirring daily.

2. Into a clean pot, strain solids. In a small sieve, one cup at a time, push on solids extracting as much liquid as you can. Alternatively, place pineapple, one cup at a time in swath of cheesecloth and squeeze to extract as much liquid as possible; discard pulp. Use a funnel to pour liquid from container to reserved bottles. Seal and store indefinitely in dark cupboard, or in the refrigerator.
3. To serve two generous portions, in a cocktail shaker add 8 ounces pineapple martini mix and scant 1 tablespoon agave syrup or simple syrup; taste for sweetness. Fill shaker with ice, cover, and vigorously shake (at least 20-30 times) and immediately strain into two martini glasses.
4. For a large party, pour the chilled mixture into a punch bowl and stir in simple syrup (recipe below), a little at a time, to desired sweetness. We prefer to keep the concoction on the drier side so friends sip and not guzzle. Garnish with chunks of freshly cut pineapple, if you like. Serve in small glasses over ice cubes.

To make simple syrup: Heat 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water over medium heat. Stir, occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved, about 3-5 minutes. Turn off heat, let mixture cool to room temperature, then transfer to sealed bottle. The syrup will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.

Note: The flavor of the stored martini will continue to develop with age.
Servings: 24
Yield: 3 Quarts (96 ounces)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...