33 1/3rd Birthday + Grapefruit Cheesecake with Lemon Licorice and Vodka Cream

Last week, I celebrated my 33 and a third birthday. 33.33. I know it isn’t commonplace to celebrate a fraction of one’s birthday, but turning exactly one third of a century was too good to pass up without festivities. An old roommate and friend of mine from Montreal invited me to her 33 1/3rd birthday some years ago. It really struck me as a perfect event to celebrate; after all, three is a magic number.

cheesecake with licorice cream 2 Three. Past, present and future. Spirit, mind and body. Mother, father and child. Beginning, middle and end. The Three Furies, the rule of three, triangles, etc. 3 or 33 has appeared as important numbers in history, science, astronomy, sports, spirituality, nature, math and even geography. It symbolizes balance, clarity and wholeness. Threeness had overwhelmingly sold itself to me as something awesome. I was determined to do something great when I hit the big 33.33 and since my actual 33rd birthday was kind of a non-event, it was even more reason to party.

cheesecake bite So, I did. My real birthday is on July 12th. I added a third of a year (4 months) to find that the precise date of my 33 1/3rd birthday was November 12th, 2012. In lieu of all the threeness, I decided that the theme of the party would be: (surprise!) 3’s! Here’s what I did:

Invite: I thought a party with a 3 theme could possibly be confusing and overwhelming for some of my guests, so I outlined the requests of the evening very simply in the hopes that my guests would interpret the theme in their own way. I asked everyone to dress up and bring food with 3 in mind. I told them that this was a very loose idea and could be interpreted in any way they like. It could be as simple as wearing three colours and bringing a 3-bean salad. I encouraged their creative ideas and humour to lead them more than what they thought I was expecting. It was all about fun.

Note: I wanted to celebrate on the exact date, which landed on a Monday. I asked my guests if they could manage coming on Monday or if they preferred Sunday. I tallied the votes before making the decision. Luckily, it worked out to be Monday. The official start time was 3:33pm, but I told everyone to come later.

Ideas: I encouraged my guests with a few ideas to pique their interest. Actually, I really just googled “things in threes” or “common threes” and loads of lists came up such as:

3 minute egg
3 Stooges
3 Cheers
3 Musketeers
3 piece suit
3 dimensional
3 ring notebook
Small, medium and large
On your mark, get set, go
Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil
Etc…

The list was pretty long. But effective!

Our Trio costume: Ready, Aim, Fire!
Our Trio costume: Ready, Aim, Fire!

Another clever costume: Third eyeAnother clever costume: Third eye

Some of the dishes we ended up with were Shepard’s pie (3 layers), dip (also 3 layers), 3 different snacks, tri coloured soup, multi layered cocktails (details on those to come) and multi alcohol cocktails.

Food: My guests were most confused about food. I guided them with a few ideas like:
3 ingredients
3 layers
3 containers
3 colours
3 dishes

grapefruit cheesecake with licorice vodka cream

My main contribution to the food selection was the grapefruit cheesecake with lemon licorice and vodka cream (with the crust it qualifies as 3 layers).  Gorgeously balanced in flavour and decadently rich.

Grapefruit Cheesecake with Lemon Licorice and Vodka Cream

Ingredients

Crust

  • 2 cups crushed graham crackers
  • 2 tsp grated grapefruit zest
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon

Filling

  • 2 grapefruits
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ¼ cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp agar agar (powdered)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 pound (16 oz) of softened cream cheese
  • 1 ¼ tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp grated grapefruit zest
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup whipping cream

Cream

  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 3 tbsp licorice powder (NOTE: I used hard candies I had brought back from Iceland and powdered them in the food processor. You could experiment with various different licorice candies to see which ones crush and/or melt well).
  • 2/3 cups vodka
  • ½ tsp lemon extract
  • 3 cups heavy cream

Directions

Cheesecake

Mix crust ingredients until evenly combined. Press the crust to the bottom of the pan you will be keeping your cheesecake in (about 9 inches).

cheesecake crustcheesecake crust 2Peel the grapefruits and separate segments into small pieces. Drain the juice for the filling.

grapefruit sections Combine agar agar and water in a pot and heat on high. Stirring constantly, allow the mixture to boil and remove from heat. Separate 2 eggs. Combine the yolks and remaining whole egg, sugar, salt and 1 tbsp of the juice in a double boiler. Stir regularly. Remove from heat when thickened. Combine this mixture with the agar agar in a bowl.

cheesecake stuff Beat the cream cheese with the remaining grapefruit juice (½ cup) and lemon juice/rinds. Combine with the egg mixture. Lightly whip heavy cream. Beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the cream and egg whites into the cheese mixture.

cheesecake mix Pour this on top of the crust and chill for several hours.

grapefruit cheesecake spreading

Cream

Mix licorice powder, sugar, lemon extract and vodka in a bowl. Stir until well combined and smooth.

Icelandic licorice candy

licorice vodka cream Whip heavy cream with a whisk or an electric mixer until stiff and forms soft peaks.

licorice vodka cream mix 2 Gently fold licorice mixture into the cream until well mixed.

licorice vodka cream mix Chill for at least an hour.

licorice vodka cream in jar Serves 8-10 lucky people.

cheesecake with licorice cream 3

DIY Halloween: Spiced Rum Sea Salt Tootsie Rolls and Oriole Costume

Like most North Americans, I love Halloween. The history, the nostalgia and the excitement all jump-start us into Do-It-Yourself action to where we can’t help ourselves but to dress-up and party. It’s a very special annual event and I try to pay my respects by putting effort into costumes, candies and parties.

Having spent my previous three Halloweens in the massive metropolis of Seoul, this year’s quaint Berkshire retreat center Halloween just didn’t get my heart pounding. Though Korea doesn’t traditionally celebrate Halloween, the large ex-pat community (composed mostly of English teachers) and a general love of partying have made certain areas of Seoul a fountain of pure Halloween joy. A few Seoul neighborhoods, such as Itaewon and Hongdae, have become foreigner hot spots, so there is an endless stream of bars, people watching, parties and costume contests.

My Halloween this year was very, uh, … quiet. Many of the people I was surrounded by didn’t dress up or acknowledge that a special occasion was occurring. I, on the other hand, was possessed by the idea of a homemade DIY Halloween and fully allowed the spirit to blow through me like a hurricane (speaking of Sandy, we were extremely lucky in the NY Berkshires. We had very few power outages and little damage. A few weak trees were loosened and are threatening to fall, but haven’t yet. Hopefully, they will be removed soon. Other than that, it was just a very windy storm).  

My costume this year was of an Oriole. I was inspired to make this for two main reasons:

1) I’ve had a ridiculous bright red-orange gown for years and have always wanted to alter it into something I’d actually wear.

2) I found this fun, easy and fabulous DIY wing tutorial that made me want to be a bird of some kind. A quick Google search of what birds fit my colour criteria told me that an oriole made perfect sense. Voila!

 

And, for obvious reasons of delciousness and awesomeness, I had to make some spiced rum tootsie rolls, too. They’re very easy and extremely satisfying.

Homemade Spiced Rum Sea Salt Tootsie Rolls

Ingredients

  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 cup icing or confectioners sugar
  • 2 cups nonfat milk powder
  • 3 tbsp melted butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp spiced rum
  • A pinch of sea salt (coarse is preferable)

tootsie ingredients

Directions

In a bowl, mix the cocoa, honey, molasses and vanilla together. Once smooth, add the butter, powdered sugar, salt and rum.

tootsie mix

Using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix the milk powder into the mixture. Knead the tootsie mix with your hands, if you prefer. It should form a smooth looking lump when finished.

tootsie lump

Let it rest and further merge into tootsie-ness for 20 minutes.

tootsie lump cut

Using a knife or pizza-cutter cut the giant tootsie into strips. Then into one inch chunks. The chunks should be malleable and not sticky.

tootsie chunk

Cut some wax paper into pieces large enough to wrap your tootsie chunks in.  Wrap them.

tootsie wraps

Bring them to a party and watch your friends devour them.

tootsie rolls

Makes 40-45 pieces.

tootsie costume tray

Flavour Pairing: Chocolate Beetroot & Black Tea Cake with Sweet Cream Cheese Icing

Yes: chocolate. And since you ask, yes: beets.

Dusted with cocoa powder and basking in glory

It was in Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus (one of my food bibles) where I first heard of chocolate and beetroot being paired. I think my head exploded a tiny bit when I saw the two foods listed side by side. Once I’d gotten over my initial shock of the idea, I found it made perfect sense to combine these two flavours (and textures, I might add). To my surprise, Segnit’s critique of the pair was rather negative. She wrote that it tasted like “a cheap chocolate cake that’s been dropped in a flowerbed”. No matter. Nothing could deter me from trying it. I was hooked.

Holy red and brown goodness

In fact, Segnit’s comments only fascinated me more. I wanted to start a chocolate and beetroot movement. Somehow I felt I had a duty to get the word out, because certainly no one else had the thought of making this sort of thing before…right? A quick web search proved me wrong and revealed that chocolate and beetroot cakes are everywhere. And in all sorts of forms: molten lava cakes, sweet breads, brownies and cupcakes. They looked good and the bakers/reviewers/eaters couldn’t stop raving about how gorgeously the two complemented each other. I felt the need to catch up with these baked goods. The challenge was on. ON!

 

Based on their individual flavour merits, beets and chocolate are meant for each other in cake form (or a gorgeous liquid nitrogen ice cream. Anyone?).  Here are a few reasons why:

beets for beet cake

Beetroot: Beets are unique for their sweet and earthy character. These qualities together have a tendency to turn people off. As a beet advocate, I find it tragic when people decide they don’t like beets based on one or two poor experiences. Like the time they tried plain boiled beets (or worse… canned beets!) or were the victim of someone’s boring, mushy cooking. The genius in the complexity and tones of beets is how they accent and respond to other flavours; sour, salty, herby and in the case of this recipe, sweet. The beetroot not only compliments the chocolate in flavour, it also makes the cake incredibly moist and light while still providing that rich chocolaty experience we all want when eating cake. Yum, yes and yeah. 

Chocolate: Chocolate has a wide variety of flavour due to the multitude of processing it undergoes. Cocoa beans, fresh off the tree, are bitter, astringent and pretty much horrible. Once processed, chocolate falls into the roasted flavour category. Left unsweetened, chocolate is still quite bitter, but the roasting process introduces a rich nuttiness that responds incredibly well to sweeter flavours. I like to think of cocoa powder as a black canvas ready for lightening, and since it’s sort of a black hole of roasted goodness, it is very forgiving and accepting. Chocolate regularly opens its loving arms to coffee, mint, fruit, nuts and chilies. I found no reason that beets shouldn’t also be a part of that following.

More? Yes, please!

Did chocolate beetroot cake disappoint? No, it’s only surged my expectations higher. There were no flowerbeds in my kitchen that day.

Chocolate Beetroot & Black Tea Cake with Sweet Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients

For the cake:

    • 1 ½ cup beets, boiled and mostly blended (about 2 or 3)
    • 1 cup cocoa powder (or melted bittersweet chocolate)
    • 1 cup sugar
    • ¼ cup black tea (or water)
    • 1 cup butter (melted)
    • 1 cup flour
    • 1 ¼ tsp baking powder
    • 5 eggs (separated)
    • ¼ tsp salt

For the icing:

    • 1 cup icing sugar
    • 1 cup plain yogurt
    • 3 tbsp cream cheese
    • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Directions

Peel and quarter the beets. Boil for about 30 minutes. Blend the beets in a food processor (I left a few small chunks unblended for a pleasingly colourful effect).

Preheat oven at 350ºF/180ºC/Gas mark 4.

In a large bowl mix cocoa, tea and butter together until smooth. When it mixed well, add egg yolks and the blended beets.

In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking powder and salt.

In yet a third large bowl whip the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold in sugar until it combines with the egg whites. Then fold in the chocolate/beet mixture. Once combined, fold in the dry mixture until smooth.

Pour into a greased pan and bake for 30-40 minutes. Test your cake by poking it with a fork. If it comes out clean, your cake is done.

While the cake is baking, combine your icing ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add more cream cheese to achieve a thicker consistency. Add more yogurt to achieve a runnier icing. Let your icing set in the fridge.

Let your cake cool. Then ice it. Then drool over what you just made.

Join the chocolate beetroot movement.