A lot of bakers--myself included--would say that most cakes actually benefit from a stint in the freezer (tightens the crumb). Freezing it overnight will not be a problem at all, and is probably a better approach than leaving it out (to potentially dry) and then freezing just before cutting and frosting. Just be sure that the cakes are thoroughly cooled to avoid condensation and well wrapped to avoid absorption of odors.
I would take the cakes out a couple of hours before you plan to cut and frost. Mostly thawed cakes will work ok, but I have had less success when the cakes are more than slightly frozen.
I imagine that the call for freezing one hour before cutting is to get it to the semi-frozen state. Perhaps this is a very moist (ie., potentially very crumbly) cake, in which case, it might be too soft to cut and handle at room temperature.
Please report back on the results and how you like this particular recipe. I've been looking for an excuse to make a red velvet.
Secrets of the Red Lantern is a newish cookbook that I recently enjoyed reading. It's the story of a Vietnamese family, covering the author's parents' memories of Vietnam during and after the war and their subsequent move to Australia, as well as her experience growing up in an immigrant family and in her family's restaurant. The family story is a bit harrowing, but the writing is well done, the book is beautiful, and there are many, many recipes.
Nigel Slater is also an excellent recommendation.
One of my favorite cookbooks to read is Nigella Lawson's How to Eat.
Everything I've made from the Daily Soup cookbook has been excellent, although it's a bit on the complicated side. I also love Deborah Madison's recipes, and she has a soup book (vegetarian).
I thought that traditionally, baking was done in an enclosed oven and roasting over a fire.
In a chicken and mushroom stew with a bit of cream and white wine...yum
You can do some lamb meatballs in tomato sauce. It's been ages since I made some, and the recipe was not really a recipe, more of a eyeball-it set of guidelines (ground lamb, parsley, mint, cumin, onion powder, baking soda). Here's a recipe (I haven't tried it), but there are many around:
Several years ago I had no problem locating anchos and chipotles at a larger Sainsburys (O2 Centre). There's also the Spice Shop on Notting Hill, which might carry guajillos (they have them on their website):
I generally like something green with casserole: salad, or steamed broccoli, or maybe some spinach. For King Ranch, I would also like some corn, off the cob, although I know it's not the most nutritionally balanced meal.
I vote for panzanella, it's so delicious. If you're set on a puree, you could try broccoli. I think Giada has a recipe with butter and parm, but there's got to be others out there.
I like mashed potatoes with roast chicken. A decadent version with garlic, it's a puree.
In a pinch, I've gone to my local grocery bakery department and bought one of their disposable containers. Cost about a dollar.
@ Ribster I think they were red potatoes (from my CSA)
I tried grilling potatoes a few weeks ago (1/2 to 3/4 inch slices, simply brushed with olive oil and seasoned) and they were terrible: dry tough surface, dry interior.
Any suggestions how to make them good?
Mac and cheese here as well (surprised it's come up so often, I always thought that everyone loved it), and any kind of Mexican food that involves a tortilla (I'd say Mexican food in general but honestly it slips past most of the time, so long as there isn't a tortilla in the picture). He just doesn't like them. Also, cornbread.
And pancakes, which makes me sad.
There is artificially flavored liquid smoke, which is quite inferior, but natural liquid smoke is also widely available ; just check the ingredients. I use one by Colgin and was really surprised how much I like it.
Ancho chile powder has a nice flavor as mentioned above, and cumin can be helpful too. Even better if you toast them dry in a skillet before using.
They look really cool chopped and roasted with zucchini or yellow squash. Season well with garlic, some chopped onion, and whatever you prefer.
One of my favorite cookbooks to use and to read is a Junior League cookbook out of Houston (where I grew up) Stop and Smell the Rosemary. It's tends towards the elegant yet approachable, and the recipes are thoroughly tested and show a lot of the local influences (Texan, Cajun, Southern).
It was one of the first cookbooks I ever had (Christmas gift)
I like Ace of Cakes, and I've watched a few cake shows, but I absolutely agree that way too many hours are devoted to them, and of course, it's not even the "food" aspect that is the focus: these are frosting sculptures, and I wouldn't doubt if most of them tasted blah. If it was a pastry competition, about the actual food and not merely the decoration, I'd be much more interested.
I would also like a krabby patty.
Try Earth Balance. They make a tasty vegan butter substitute that works for baking, and they also do a 50/50 blend with butter. They also make a stick shortening without the bad stuff: http://www.earthbalancenatural.com/#/products/shortening/
I've tried a pastry crust from Sally Schneider that was intended to have less fat, and it turned out very well. It only has 4 tbs. butter. If you eat baked goods often, it's good to have up your sleeve:
Browned lettuce. I don't mind a few dark edges on a salad at home, but if I see it at a restaurant, it peeves me (happened all the time in England).
As far as cooked ingredients go, you can be sure that most restaurants would not throw out any veg just for a little tiredness. They get used, somewhere.
I like to keep spaghetti sauce on hand for emergency quick cheap meals. For less than a dollar, I can get a can of Hunts mushroom and garlic tomato sauce, which is not overly sweet and has no corn syrup. The best tomato sauce, no, but totally fine for most purposes.
And for #5 - the paper goods are necessary/appreciated.
Sorry about the stepmom situation: does she really bin your gifts, or is it possible she hides them away to eat on her own after everyone's gone?
Proper Chinese food. And Indian.
I think morgancain nailed it.
It's brownies with cinnamon. Take your favorite brownie recipe--or a mix--and just add cinnamon. There's nothing esoteric or ethnic about them, and also nothing unmanageable: brownies with cinnamon.
Easier than a flan, certainly easier than churros, and while it's a bit oddly demanding, the most tactful way to deal with it is to show up with some Mexican brownies. I was expecting you to say she asked you to make baklava or mochi or something.
Assuming you have a good brownie recipe, they are also delicious, whatever you decide to call them.