Happy Birthday Lindsay! (ft. Martha Stewart’s tiramisu cupcakes)

Fact: every dessert is better in cupcake form.

Heck, lets just broaden that statement to say that anything is better in cupcake form.

Including tiramisu.

This past Friday was my roommate Lindsay’s birthday.

Since we haven’t been living together for very long, and because we are both lovers of good dessert, I wanted to make her something special for her birthday.  She requested either ice cream cake or tiramisu.  I settled on the latter, having already conquered the frozen fates when I made my homemade ice cream cake back in February.

Obviously I couldn’t just make any old tiramisu.  Silly you for thinking so.

Martha Stewart’s website has a bounty of creative cupcake ideas, albeit ones that are fairly complicated (to the point that the recipes come accompanied by a tutorial video – yikes!).  It was here that I discovered the recipe for these.

I have never used so many kitchen do-dads to make one batch of cupcakes.  I was boiling, brewing, sifting, melting and brushing… It all worked out though.  What can I say? #justcallmemartha

Having just moved into a new house with many left behind/forgotten baking utensils, I had to get creative with my methods.  For example, I used a cheese grater from IKEA as a sieve and a salad-bowl-in-a-pot as a double boiler.  I try to be resourceful, I really do.

The outcome of much kitchen labour was a batch of 15 pretty awesome cupcakes.  The cake was spongey and light (although a tad burnt on the bottom, woops).  The chocolate-marsala sauce that was brushed over the top tasted delicious (although, as Matt pointed out, it tasted a little like some sort of sushi sauce, but he is just crazy).  Finally, the pièce de résistance was the mascarpone cheese icing that was so light but so rich.

ONE more thing: I splurged and bought vanilla beans for these cupcakes!  A real life vanilla bean (actually, two).  It cost me an arm and a leg (AKA $7), but it was totally worth it.

PS (I lied with the one more thing): can you tell that I’ve been making a conscious effort to create the “setting” for my food photos?  I’ve noticed that most food blogs feature a bunch of random background items (emphasized by their sweet cameras and actual ability to achieve some sort of bokeh), so I thought I’d try doing the same thing.  These shots featured Lindsay’s container of cocoa and a silk scarf I bought at a garage sale.

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Mother’s Day and dad’s birthday, served up in one family feast

My mom and dad sure have a talent for celebration co-ordination.

Mom (don't mind the beached whale of a pitbull in the background)
Dad (sorry - I had nicer pictures but Garrett insisted I use this one)

Huh?  Let me explain…

As you know (if you are good little sons and daughters), yesterday was mother’s day, the holiday where you are meant to wine, dine and brunch your dear ol’ mum to her heart’s content.  Also accompanying the Sunday festivities, however, was my dad’s Friday birthday.  See, celebration co-ordination, requiring a double whammy of gifts and cards galore.

The other peak of festivity in my household falls in early September, thanks to my parents having decided to get married on my mom’s birthday.  A few years ago her 50th birthday corresponded with their 20th wedding anniversary.  Guess who played grade 10 party planner?

But anyways, NBD.  It’s fun, and it means that I can hit up two holidays with one hometown return.

It also gives me a shameless excuse to make food for my family.

What was on the menu? Check it out below.

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Happy Birthday Kristina!

Kristina was one of the fantastic people that I worked with this past summer at Carleton’s Student Experience Office.  We had a series of inside jokes involving turtles eating things (google image it, cutest thing ever), and this card pays tribute to those weird (but hilarious) exchanges.  Last year Kristina’s belated birthday card had a penguin wearing a tuxedo on it.  Clearly we’re starting some sort of animal pattern here.

In case you can’t tell, the turtle is wearing a party hat.  Just accept it.

Happy Birthday Brittany!

Since March is the best month to be born in, it’s no surprise that one of my favourite people is also born during this time.  I’ve mentioned Britt several times on my blog in passing, but just to review, she is my roommate, best friend, and motivator extraordinaire.  She is also mature beyond her years and, despite her only just turning 20, she has acted as my mother figure in Ottawa since second year.  My learning to cook can also be accredited to Britt, who coaxed me out of my safe haven of grilled cheese sandwiches and George Foreman grilled chicken.  B, I owe you one.

I tried (and perhaps failed) to make this card as rad as Britt’s personality.  She’s into the whole rock and roll thing, and thought that sparkly paper from The Papery would suffice in meshing this musical genre into birthday card form.  There’s also some groovy, multi-coloured sparkle paper on the inside, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say it was wicked.

PS: I PROMISE I’m going to start blogging about food again. I’ve basically been eating cupcakes non-stop for the past week, and am dying to eat healthy meals.  I made a great dinner tonight and am planning something extra-special for breakfast tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Vanilla Pavlova with Chocolate Mousse and Fresh Berries

I made this pavlova for my best friend and roommate Brittany’s birthday. She just turned 20 on St. Patrick’s Day, but is wise beyond her years.

Birthday girl Brittany, rocking a very Lara Croft-esque outfit (Nat lurking in the background)

But before I start, I believe the majority of you will need me to define “pavlova.” And by that, I mean you’ll need Wikipedia to define it. So here we are:

Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. Colloquially referred to as “pav,” it is a cake similar to meringue with a crispy crust and a soft, light inner.”

So basically it’s a light, heavenly dessert with an initial crunch and a satisfyingly chewy middle. Delicious.

I have fond memories of many a dessert eaten in Ireland visiting my dad’s family (yes, this is how I’m attempting to tie this in with St. Patrick’s Day). Whenever there was any sort of a fancy or important event, like my Nana and Pop’s 50th wedding anniversary, my talented aunt and godmother Ann would make pavlova.  She made the best pavlova I’ve ever tasted. Alright, so technically I didn’t have a lot to compare it to, but I just remember it being good.  Also, back then I was a picky eater, so anything that a younger Hilary declared delicious must have been extraordinary.  Ann would always pile whipped cream and strawberries on top, adding to the already decadent value of the cake.

I decided to do the same, except with chocolate mousse and a variety of berries.

When Britt originally asked me to make pavlova, I was incredibly worried and hesitant. I’d heard several a pavlova horror stories, many of which involved the delicate pavlova shell simply shattering (this partially happened to me).  On the day that I was making it, I ran into my friend/foodie extraordinaire Ella who gave me some helpful tips. These tips included things like make sure there is not a drop of egg yolk in the egg whites, dry your bowl completely before using it, etc. etc. If you’re reading this Ella, please know that I took your advice extremely seriously, and that I full on give you credit for this pavlova being a success.

It turns out it wasn’t really that bad to make.  Sure I had to turn our powerful oven down to a mere whimper of the recipe’s ordered temperature (it was in at 150 degrees fahrenheit), but other then that, everything went off without a hitch.

Mixing egg whites with sugar is really quite a phenomenal experience. Seriously, it is magic. How can two seemingly simple ingredients create such a marshmellowy smooth cream? It’s wonderful, really. I am stunned and humbled everyday by the power of desserts.

Anyways, the recipes I used to make the pavlova and chocolate mousse and down beneath the pictures.  The only thing I would have changed would have been to make my pavlova larger in height, versus diametre. This would have lent itself more to that chewy pavlova centre I made reference to earlier. You want all that you can get of that good stuff.

PS: Be gentle with this one. Pavlovas are all about precision and carefulness. I kept the finished pavlova in my bedroom so it wouldn’t face torture in our shared dining room. Promise me you’ll keep this in mind.

Source, vanilla pavlova: Phe.MOM.enon (note: I didn’t use her mousse recipe)
Source, chocolate mousse: Joy of Baking