The day began with the brownies, since they would have to cool awhile before being frosted and cut. They were also the easiest because I know the recipe almost by heart. Surprisingly, it is hard to find good, cheap chocolate in China. Most major stores only carry chocolate meant for eating directly, Dove, Hershey, etc. I don't want to spend over 5 US dollars on chocolate that is going to be melted and put into brownie batter. RT-Mart, a Korean Walmart-like store, is the only place I can find suitable chocolate, and it's only 50 cents a bar.
The other day my mom said that she made brownies from my recipe and they turned out dry and dense. I think she jinxed me because this time the brownies took 10 extra minutes and I could tell from the toothpick test that they were going to be dense. Usually, the brownies are very fudge-like, but these had the consistency of a flourless chocolate cake. At least they were moist.
After the brownies were out, I decided to continue baking and make the Cheese Straws next. The dough is insanely simple and I will tell you know that the result is fantastic. It's basically a pie dough, flour, salt, butter, milk, plus a few cups of grated cheddar cheese and a good dose of cayenne. Roll out the dough into rectangles and cut into strips.
I experimented with the first couple batches, twisting and braiding the strips, but I gave up because the straws weren't coming out as crispy as I would have liked.
I decided to go straight and skinny. They sizzle wonderfully in the oven. If you like the crispy edges macaroni and cheese or the provolone browned onto the side of a bowl of French onion soup, then you will love these. And especially if you are a Cheetos fanatic (mom!) these are the next best thing and there is no fake coloring or chemicals. I ate the rest of them for a morning snack.
By this time, noon had come and gone and I had only made two items from today's to-do list. It was time to turn up the heat. In the form of a frying pan! While the tomatoes cooked down (they had yet to scorch) I started frying batches of meatballs for the meatball sliders. No fancy recipe, just beef, pork, egg, breadcrumbs, milk, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper.
I smashed them down a bit as they browned because they would be sitting on my garlic buns like mini hamburgers and meatballs have a tendency to roll. These went in the tomato sauce to finish cooking while I labored over the hard-boiled eggs to get them read for deviling.
It's no fun removing the shell from one egg, but twelve is downright tortuous. I've never actually made deviled eggs myself, but I have watched them being made and have thoroughly enjoyed them on the buffet table. I now have enormous respect for any maker of deviled eggs. The itty-bitty pieces of shell stuck to the white. The chunks taken out by my nails. The off-center yolks. The slippery bodies sliding around the plate. I could have thrown them at the windows (oh what a splat they would have made). I didn't though and managed to successfully recreate deviled eggs.
By the time Latte and Wendy showed up, I had finished everything except the Zucchini Patties and the Tuna and White Bean dip. We shredded the zucchini and let it sit with some salt to draw out the extra water, then I put Latte to work shredding potatoes and Wendy frosting the brownies. Some egg, flour, green onion salt and pepper got mixed in with the potatoes and zucchini to form a wet batter that we then fried in batches. The patties turned out wonderfully once we got the oil hot enough, all golden brown and crispy on the outside and soft like a pancake inside. Meanwhile, Wendy moved on to mixing together the tuna dip, which I have posted about before. Simple really, just some cans of tun and beans plus lemon, olive oil, and green pepper.
As party time got closer, we assembled the Meatball Sliders. Latte thought they looked like little farmers with their hats. Wendy smeared the ketchup on the bun, I placed the lettuce and meatball, and Latte secured the top with a toothpick. They made perfect buffet food!
All the food was set out on the tables and we waited for more guests to arrive. And we waited. And then we gave up waiting and started to eat!
Latte, the birthday girl!
Once everyone had arrived and eaten, I went to put together the pudding dessert. I filled each cup about half full with the vanilla pudding layered with thinly sliced bananas. Then I sprinkled some chopped candied walnuts on top of that. Next came the chocolate pudding and a whole walnut to top the entire dessert. They were sinfully delicious and smooth. I never knew that pudding was so easy to make from scratch. So long Jello.
Everyone really enjoyed the puddings, and some didn't have any room left for the ganache brownie. But we stuck a candle in one and sang "Happy Birthday" anyway.
The guests: (from left) Susie, Juan, Vivian, Latte, Sara, Wendy, Clement; (in foreground) Auda and Cherry