50th 39th birthday was this past week, and my husband and I decided to do more than the usual, go out to dinner and give a small gift from both of us type celebration. This time, we decided to go to her house before she got home from work, decorate with fresh flowers and tasteful streamers, and prepare a gourmet feast in her honor.
She was already very pleased just to not have to plan her own dinner at the end of the week…
But she said she felt extra special and loved by all the little details that went into the evening.
I found a lot of these recipes on Pinterest, and Martha Stewart’s website.
As much as it surprises me to say so, I really love Martha Stewart recipes. You know they will be good because they’ve been tested and perfected, plus they are always as simple as possible, with only as many steps and ingredients as necessary. Plus, I love looking at the photos.
Here’s the lineup:
This was so delicious that it was almost gone within fifteen minutes of setting it out! No one even touched the store-bought herbed goat cheese, which is usually a fast seller. I didn’t bother finding pink peppercorns or buying fresh thyme—I just used my regular pepper grinder over the warm cheese, and then sprinkled dried thyme from my spice cabinet before drizzling with olive oil. We served it with slices of a fresh baguette and baby carrots.
Broken Noodles with Tomato Sauce and Ricotta (main dish)
I couldn’t find papardelle noodles at the grocery store, so we just used lasagna, and it came out wonderfully! We also skipped the ricotta in favor of parmesan, as we were already buying so many cheeses, but one thing I wouldn’t skip is the fresh basil—it just adds so much flavor.
Asparagus Gruyere Tart (side)
I don’t like asparagus, but I would love to eat this again. We could only find one kind of gruyere at our usual grocery store, and it was very expensive, so we went with havarti instead. I think you could use almost any white cheese, as long as it melts well, and this would be delicious—so delicious.
These were also very good, but next time I will probably brush some butter on top of the potatoes and sprinkle more parmesan over them to even out the flavors.
Winter Fruit Salad (side)
Apparently pomegranates are not in season here during the winter, so our fruit salad was not as colorful as I would have liked. We also substituted minneolas for the grapefruit. Next time you serve orange or tangerine slices in a salad, try cutting them in half like a grapefruit and cutting the sections out. That way you won’t have the bitter skins, and even the pickiest eaters will be happy (yes, some of the oranges in this salad still have the skins—my husband cut these for me, but forgot halfway through and cut the second orange the wrong way; it was still good).
To drink, we tried the Sparkling Cider with Cara Cara Orange Punch
Instead of using regular sparkling cider and adding liquor, we just bought some Harpoon Hard Apple Cider and mixed it into the orange juice (you could use any hard cider, but Harpoon has almost an apple juice flavor, which is good in the punch). It was really tasty, and a lot like a mimosa. In fact, it’s a cheaper, but just as good—or better—version of a mimosa, and I’ll probably use this recipe again for brunch.
And for the grand finale, I made Key Lime Cupcakes with my own amalgamation of recipes:
For the graham cracker crust, I used the recipe from these Key Lime Tarts
I did not bake the crusts before putting the batter on top, because I recently made S’mores cupcakes and felt that baking the crust ahead of time made it taste somewhat overcooked and too crumbly.
For the batter, I used this Key Lime Cupcake recipe, with a little extra lime juice. I did not like the look of their lime curd recipe, so I modified the lemon curd recipe from these delightful Blueberry Lemon Cupcakes. I actually ended up saving the curd for topping, rather than for filling, as I remembered my mom does not like filled cupcakes, but if you do want filled cupcakes, both of those recipes include instructions for filling cupcakes.
To top the cupcakes, I used the curd as a glaze while it was still warm, and refrigerated the rest to mix into the whipped cream.
The curd as a glaze is absolutely delightful. I think I might use it entirely instead of icing for a layer cake sometime. For the whipped cream icing, I used this Strawberry Whipped Cream recipe as a guide, but used the lime curd in place of the strawberry puree.
I also included alterations from this Stabilized Whipped Cream recipe, since I need to make these ahead of time and wanted them to hold up well in the car ride, and going in and out of the fridge (also, I hoped there would be leftovers!). In the end it didn’t turn out as expected. The whipped cream did not whip—or more accurately, it whipped and then fell, but I’m convinced it was a user error. I will update the recipe if I do it again with better results, but these were still absolutely delicious!
After a delicious and hearty meal, we finished off the night with twelve rounds of mexican train dominoes (that is the actual name of the game, I don’t know why) and a few more rounds of punch! The birthday meal was indeed a success.
If you’d like to include my version of Key Lime Cupcakes in your next celebration (St. Patty’s day is only a month and a half away!), here’s my final recipe:
Graham Cracker Crust
- 1 ½ cups crushed graham crackers
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 3/8 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- zest from one lime
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ½ cup lime juice
- zest of 1 ½ limes (the last half is for garnish, but you could zest two whole limes if you’d like)
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- pinch of salt
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 tsp unflavored gelatin
- 4 tsp cold water
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons Lime Curd
- Line cupcake pans with 24 cupcake liners.
- Make the graham cracker crusts. Combine all three ingredients in a small mixing bowl until the cracker crumbs are well coated.
- Spoon out a heaping tablespoonful into each cupcake liner. Press each crust with the back of a spoon or with your fingers until well packed.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F for the cupcakes.
- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.
- With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until combined and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl as you go.
- Add the eggs one at a time, until combined.
- Slowly add the milk and the lime juice.
- Add the dry ingredients a half cup at a time, and add the lime zest last.
- Mix on low until well incorporated. Beat on medium speed for about 20 seconds.
- Immediately pour the batter into the cupcake liners and bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck in the center of the cupcakes comes out clean (they may look gooey still, but if you press the top and it holds up, they’re definitely done). If your oven is uneven like mine, rotate the cupcake pans about halfway through the baking time.
- Let cupcakes cool in the pans, on a rack, at least 15 minutes before glazing.
- To make the curd, melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat.
- Remove from heat and add the lime juice and zest.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, salt and cornstarch, then add it to the pan.
- Whisk in the egg yolks until smooth and return to heat.
- Cook over medium-low heat (I suggest using a double boiler) for 6-10 minutes, stirring often and scraping the sides of the pan, until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
- Once thickened, strain the mixture though a fine mesh strainer into a medium-sized bowl.
- Let cool slightly, until it is still warm but not too hot to touch.
- Dip the tops of the cupcake into the curd just deep enough so that they are covered, but try not to get the cupcake liners messy.
- Allow the remaining curd to cool completely in the refridgerator before starting the whipped cream.
- To make the whipped cream topping, combine the gelatin and cold water in small saucepan, and let it stand until it thickens.
- Place the sauce pan over low heat, stirring constantly just until gelatin dissolves. Remove from heat and let it cool.
- Whip cream and sugar, until slightly thickened.
- While beating slowly, gradually add gelatin and curd to whipped cream mixture.
- Beat on high speed until stiff.
- Fill a large disposable pastry bag with an open coupler or cupcake icer with the whipped cream and top your cupcakes (in my case, I spooned it on).
- Garnish with slices of lime or curls of lime peel. Serve slightly cool.