I was home in Toledo for a few days last week, delivering a Scrumptious Company party for the lovely ladies of my mom’s book club. It was Carolyn’s sixtieth birthday, and so something special was in order. I do feel pretty proud that an SC luncheon was deemed that special something. And I feel pretty lucky too, because after years of hearing stories of all the fun that goes on at these gatherings, this birthday party was my in. My first chance ever, to be part of one of my mom’s book club gatherings, with these fun and fabulous females. I had an absolute blast, an amazing afternoon, well worth the wait. And I was honored to cook for and share time with such a wonderful group of women!
The menu was simple, as I think it well should be for any civilized ladies luncheon. But it was filled with some of my absolute favorite recipes.
The curried chicken salad, another gem from Ina Garten, is to me, just about the best idea for lunch, ever. Spread between two slices of seedy bread, it’s a wonderful brown bag treat, something I like to surprise Ben with every now and again. But served alongside a tender greens, fresh fruit and wedges of crusty bread, it makes for a sensationally elegant luncheon salad. So full of all sorts of deliciousness – bites of tenderly roasted chicken breast, sweet and chewy raisins, salty roasted cashews, crunchy slices of celery and spicy scallion specks - I just
can’t get over it. And the dressing is simply delicious, just perfect. Creamy yellow with bright hints of white wine, sweet complexity from mango chutney, and full of warm curry flavor.
As for salad, something simple is always best, alongside such a fully flavored dish as the curried chicken. This mix of tender greens certainly stayed on the simple side, while sacrificing not an ounce of flavor. A basic dressing of red wine vinegar, mustard and thyme lightly bathed the curly greens, paper thin rounds of fresh red beets, wide orange streamers of sliced carrots, and pink ribbons of pickled onions. With an extra sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper, this simple salad became simply stupendous.
And what would a birthday luncheon be without birthday cake?! And this cake, my goodness, is quite the birthday-worthy cake!
While the cream cheese frosting recipe is one of my own, one that I tinkered with for years until reaching a certain level of self-proclaimed perfection, the recipe for the cake itself comes from Gale Gand, a famous Chicago-area pastry chef. I baked this incredible cake at least a dozen times over the last few years, and by now I’ve become a little bit famous for it myself. With loads of freshly grated carrots, sweet golden raisins, snow white flakes of coconut, tender bits of chopped walnuts, and bright flecks of pineapple, this cake is just absolutely full of incredible taste. And the crumb is moist and tender, just the perfect place between light and dense. And the frosting – like I said, as far as I’m concerned, it’s just about the perfect cream cheese frosting, the best out there to my taste. The right amount of sweet, the right amount of tangy, and utterly, utterly delicious. A dusting of toasted coconut flakes is the final element of this four story tower of a cake, and also the secret to its gorgeousness. Not only because it’s pretty, but because it hides any crumbs and imperfections in the frosting! Seriously, this is one of my favorite secret tricks. Frosting this cake, a chore that most of the time is a total headache, is as simple as can be, because I know the coconut will hide any mistakes! And even though loads of people have gone so far as to say that this is the best cake they’ve ever had, I sometimes think that this coconut trick is maybe the best part about it!