Saturday, October 11, 2008

Birthday Dinner for the Boyfriend: Cheesy Potato Bake and Chocolate Cake with Strawberries and Coconut

Food is meant to be shared. 

It's why dinners for one comes in frozen plastic containers. It's why you don't buy a single slice of bread.  It's why we always want our gluten eating friends and family to try our latest gluten free creations. 

If there ever was a food that was indisputably meant to be shared, it is birthday cake. Perhaps that's why the seemingly simple request overwhelmed me so. "What I want for my birthday," my boyfriend said, "is a cake I can eat with you." 

I was determined to make a good, no great, gluten free cake for my gluten eating guy. He's a real meat and potatoes, beer and football kind of guy. The type who thinks owning anything pink is be an affront to his masculinity and that popcorn might as well be a food group. How he ended up with a vegetarian - much less this gluten free, vegetarian city girl - is somewhat a mystery to us both at times. 

In the beginning, he didn't understand celiac. The first time I came to stay with him, we had to go to the grocery store practically the moment I stepped off the plane. But with a little gluten free education and a lot of practice, we've learned to love to cook together. Over the past year, we've made everything from Asian inspired stir-fries to gluten free spinach and ricotta cannelloni. When eating with me, he's learned to forgo the meat and the wheat and embrace chickpeas and lentils. I, meanwhile, have learned to be a little more lenient on the subject of floury, white potatoes (which, no matter what he says, are not vegetables...well okay they ARE, but they're the starchy variety of vegetable, the kind in league with pastas and rices). It's been an experience for us both, but I think we'd both agree it's been fun. 

But birthday cake soon blossomed into birthday dinner. And with the focus shifted from one dish to two, my desire to create the perfect gluten free confection turned into a much less selfish desire to make sure the chocolate-on-chocolate cake requested actually tasted good. 

In the end, I used a mix. 

I figured it was safer that way, a guarantee no one would have to smile though a chocolate cake with a distinct potato flour undertone.  He'll be 40 next year; hopefully by then I'll have learned to perfect my own cake recipe and make something really special. The mix turned out to be a good choice, though, everyone loved it. It had the consistency and flavor of a regular chocolate cake. No. Not regular cake - a good chocolate cake. And yes, while I tweaked the recipe with some of my own ingredients, I can't claim the cake as my own. 

But I should never have thought of it as my own anyway, food is meant to be shared. 

Cheesy Potato Birthday Bake 

6 small potatoes
1 zucchini
1 yellow squash
3 leeks, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped (more or less to your liking)
3/4 cup of broccoli florets  

1/2 cup 1% milk
3/4 cup vegetable broth or stock
dab of butter, perhaps 1/2 tablespoon 
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
1/2 - 3/4 cup of shredded cheese (we like a mixture of monterrey jack and cheddar)

additional cheese to sprinkle over the top
chopped parsley 
salt and pepper to your taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Peel and slice the potatoes in to thin slices, no more than 1/3rd of an inch. Slice the zucchini and yellow squash to roughly the same size, though they can be at a somewhat heartier thickness. 

(The following sauce is an adaptation of Ginger Lemon Girl's recent blog post on Cream Soup. I'd remembered reading about this base on her blog a few days earlier and it served as the inspiration for my casserole. Thanks, Ginger Lemon Girl, the birthday boy loved it.)

In a small sauce pan, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the milk, vegetable stock, and stir in the cornstarch. Cook for 3 - 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens. Next, add in the shredded cheese. Give it a good stir and watch as the cheese dissolves almost instantly - it's a pretty cool trick. Season with salt and pepper as desired.  

Combine the potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, leeks, and garlic, and broccoli in a casserole pan, and giving them a good toss together. Sprinkle salt and pepper to your liking over the top and toss it once more. Pour the cheese mixture evenly over the vegetables and bake in the oven - covered with tin foil - for 30 minutes. 

After 30 minutes, remove the tin foil and add the remaining cheese and parsley (if desired) to the top of the casserole. Bake an additional 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. 

Side note: This casserole reheated be-autifully the next day when I put it next too some scrambled eggs at breakfast. Yum. 

Chocolate Cake with Strawberries and Coconut 
(lactose free & nut free, too)
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup water
1 cup strong brewed coffee

1 large container of strawberries, sliced very thin
1/4 - 1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Spread evenly between two cake pans and bake for 25 - 30 minutes. Take out and let cool. (This is a great time to slice the strawberries, a surprisingly time consuming task.)

Once the cakes have cooled, ice one of the layers and cover it with most of the sliced strawberries. Place the second layer above it and continue icing the cake. Place the rest of the strawberries on the center of the top layer and sprinkle the shredded coconut around them. 

Share. And Enjoy. 


Earlene said...

Your bf is lucky :-)

Maureen "Hold The Gluten" said...

How wonderful! I really enjoyed reading this post! Love your Cheesy Potato Bake recipe -- sounds delicious! I always forget about cooking with leeks.

I love how your meat-eating, beer drinking BF has embraced chickpeas! That cracked me up. He sounds like a good man :)

Dana Wax said...

Haha, he is lucky.

Thanks Maureen! Leeks are one of my BF's favorite ingredients, so he's opened me up to them while I slide the chickpeas on his plate.

He's a very good man, even if I did get a fake scolding about writing how old he is!

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I like the recipe of chocolate cake with strawberries and coconut . I am going to try it .....Thanks for posting this recipe....

James said...

Thanks Maureen! Leeks are one of my BF's favorite ingredients, so he's opened me up to them while I slide the chickpeas on his plate.

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Felicia M said...

Hmm..I think I will cook this recipe for a dinner in two ;)

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