When folks in our department have birthdays, we tend to use the occasion as an excuse to eat. We typically have a lunchtime potluck and the birthday honoree gets to choose a theme. Because of my love for all things baking--and the dozens of delightful dessert recipes I've collected from my moma and her sisters--I'm almost always in charge of cake. This also works out nicely for me in that I don't necessarily have to conform to the theme.
(Let me just mention as backstory here that I am great at following a recipe, and I have lots of success with those I've collected from the great cooks in my life--but I follow recipes. I'm not one of those creative geniuses who experiments and creates new delights. I'm rarely even the kind of girl who finds herself missing some key ingredient and improvises a delicious solution. When I have a situation like that, I book to the store for the missing ingredient. And because of my rather by-the-book cooking style, I also don't venture into new territory very often, recipe-wise. I like to know what something's going to look or taste like in the end. It's just the kind of hairpin I am.)
But in my role as resident dessert maker in our department, I haven't often had to branch out. My strawberry cake (originating with my great-grandmother) is an oft-requested hit with the work folks as well as orange juice cake and Heath bar cake with a Butterfinger variation, depending on the preference of the birthday girl or boy. Back in March, Ellie requested the most chocolate cake I could make. It was a culinary adventure, to be sure. I ended up making a dark chocolate version of Pioneer Woman's chocolate sheet cake in round layers. I used a chocolate cream cheese buttercream icing (recipe from PW's Tasty Kitchen recipe site) as the filling between the layers. Then I iced the whole shooting match with chocolate ganache (a million recipes out there, but I used this one I found on Tasty Kitchen) and then piped on some decorations with some whipped ganache. It was a feat, a thing of beauty, and though I was blogging and sort of living and breathing other people's food blogging, I couldn't be bothered to take any pictures or write about it.
In June we celebrated a couple more birthdays with a joint potluck, the theme of which was "exotic" foods. And though I rarely feel compelled to make the dessert fit the theme, I did this time. I chose to make pavlova, a meringue covered in fruit and whipped cream that I first encountered in Australia (though the internet is full of debate about whether pavlova is actually from New Zealand). But I was also quite afraid that my first attempt ever at making meringue would be an epic fail, so as a back-up, I made Tres Leche cake (thanks again, P-Dub). Both turned out pretty decent, I'm pleased to report.
So the point I've been rambling towards is that lately I've been trying more new recipes with positive results, and that, imaginary readers, brings us to our most recent birthday potluck. The theme this time was all things spicy, but the birthday boy (Cory the page to his many fans) had requested a cake iced with that chocolate cream cheese buttercream I first made back in March, so I thought I'd be doing somewhat of a repeat recipe, which was fine by me--that icing is a snap to throw together. But Sunday I decided that I wanted to make something spicy in addition to the cake, so I went exploring. By now you've realized that PW is my go-to for new recipes, so that's where I started, and that's where I found Pastor Ryan's Mexican Lasagna. I was drawn to a few things about the recipe, but I knew it wasn't exactly what I wanted. So I headed over to the fine folks at Tasty Kitchen and found ten more varieties of Mexican Lasagna, none of which were exactly what I wanted. And in that moment, I became that person I am not--the inventive, off-the-cuff, thrower together of new recipes. And since I was being a brand-new kind of cook, I grabbed the camera and became a food blogger too. Or at least I will be in a minute.
Stay tuned for the next post where I'll actually get around to the recipe.