warm brussels sprouts salad with bacon and hazelnuts

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The first time I made this was years ago, at a very different time in my life. It was a time in which I would consider individually pulling leaves off of Brussels sprouts, as the original recipe recommends. It was a time in which I expected my opinion of individually pulling leaves off of Brussels sprouts to be: tedious, but not too terribly bad, and ultimately worth it. It was a time before I had kids.

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And you know what? Even then, it was too tedious. Even then, I didn’t actually think it was worth it.

I will admit that it makes a nice presentation, but you know what else makes a nice presentation? Bacon crumbles. Let’s stick with that and just give our sprouts a quick slice. Heck, push them through the slicing blade of your food processor if you want. That salad will taste just as good.

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Bacon and Brussels sprouts are a common combination, and for good reason; the rich and flavorful bacon is a nice foil to the green vegetables. The hazelnuts add some crunch, and the dressing is just a bit tart, just a bit sweet from the honey. It might not be worth pulling each leaf off of a bunch of little sprouts, but it’s certainly worth making at any stage in life.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad with Bacon and Hazelnuts
(rewritten from Serious Eats)

The original recipe calls for crushing the nuts under a skillet, which I thought was an odd method to call for until I tried using a knife and ended up chasing hazelnuts rolling all over the cutting board and counter. Crushing doesn’t turn them into powder or paste, it just breaks them into smaller pieces.

I prefer using a nonstick skillet for this. A regular skillet works, but you’ll end up leaving lots of flavorful brown bits behind in the pan.

Serves 2

3 ounces bacon (2-3 slices, depending on thickness)
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sherry (or red wine) vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces Brussels sprouts, halved through the stem and then sliced crosswise
½ cup hazelnuts, toasted, roughly chopped or crushed with a skillet

1. Place the bacon in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat; cover and cook until it’s browned and crisp, turning occasionally, about 8 minutes. While the bacon cooks, add the shallot, honey, sherry vinegar, oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pinch of black pepper to a large bowl. Transfer the cooked bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour 1 tablespoon of bacon fat into the bowl with the dressing ingredients. Leave approximately ½ tablespoon of bacon fat in the skillet; discard the remaining fat. Crumble or coarsely chop the bacon.

2. Heat the skillet with the bacon fat over high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring constantly, until bright green and slightly wilted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the dressing. Toss the Brussels sprouts with the dressing; top with bacon and hazelnuts. Serve immediately.

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summer fresh tomato sauce

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My requirements for the perfect tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes were very specific – the same issues that everyone has with removing enough liquid from the tomatoes without cooking away all the fresh flavor that makes them so special, plus one more – I did not want to peel the tomatoes. I hate peeling tomatoes. I hate using a vegetable peeler to peel them, and I hate cutting an X into the bottom of each one, then boiling them, then dipping them in cold water, and then pulling the peels off. I cooked sixteen pounds of tomatoes into this batch of sauce, which was well over fifty tomatoes. I do not want to individually peel fifty tomatoes.

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This recipe satisfies all of those requirements, with an added bonus – you don’t even have to core the tomatoes. The tomatoes, very roughly chopped, are cooked down slightly to soften them, then pressed through a food mill – the mill strains out the seeds, cores, and peels. For a batch this large, it’s still a somewhat tedious process, but nothing compared to the prospect of coring and peeling each tomato individually.

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From there, the fresh tomato puree is divided into three portions – one portion is simmered on the stovetop with aromatics until it reaches a sauce consistency. Another is kept fresh, with no cooking at all. If just these two portions were combined, the resulting sauce would be too liquidy, so the final portion is transferred to a baking pan and roasted until it’s thick and slightly caramelized.

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These three mixtures each have something different to offer to the final sauce, and the combination of them makes a sauce with the best that tomatoes have to offer in any form – the bright summeriness of uncooked tomatoes, the deep savoriness of roasted tomatoes. It’s thick enough for anything you’d normally use tomato sauce for – meatballs and spaghetti like we did here, pizza, lasagna. All that, and the only real work you have to do is quarter the tomatoes and push them through a food mill. This has become my summer staple, with extra in the freezer to hoard as long as I can stand.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Summer Fresh Tomato Sauce
(slightly adapted from Serious Eats)

The original recipe starts with 25 pounds of tomatoes. The largest batch I’ve made was 16 pounds, but I’ve also made much smaller batches with just a handful of tomatoes. I’ve based my recipe on ten pounds because it’s a nice round number.

While the recipe recommends any variety of tomato, I’d be hesitant to use all cherry tomatoes, which could make the sauce too sweet. Also, wetter variety of tomatoes will take longer to reduce to a sauce or paste consistency.

If you’re scaling this recipe up or down, put about 40% of the puree in the oven, leave 10% uncooked, and cook the remaining 50% on the stove.

Makes about 1 quart of sauce, although it will depend on the type(s) of tomatoes used

10 pounds tomatoes, any variety, quartered, or halved if small
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh basil
1 small tomato plant cutting with about 5 leaves attached (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a large (7- or 8-quart) stockpot over medium heat, cook the tomatoes, covered, until they begin to soften and release their liquid. (You may need to do this in multiple batches, depending on the size of your largest pot and the size of the batch you’re making.) Transfer the tomatoes to a food mill on the finest setting set over a large bowl and press the tomatoes through. Discard the skins and seeds that accumulate in the food mill.

2. Spray two 9-by-13-inch (or similarly sized) baking pans with cooking spray (or grease lightly with olive oil). Pour 3½ cups of tomato puree into each of the pans. Transfer the pans to the oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until the puree has reduced to a paste and leaves a clean trail when a spatula is dragged through it, 2 to 4 hours.

3. Pour another 1½ cups of tomato puree into a small container. Set aside.

4. In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the onion and a pinch of salt, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the remaining tomato puree and cook, stirring very occasionally, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 1 to 2 hours. Remove from the heat, add the basil and tomato leaves (if using) and set aside for about 5 minutes. Remove the basil and tomato leaves and discard them.

5. Combine the three mixtures, and add salt to taste. Serve, refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze.

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roasted cherry ice cream

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In addition to all the other excitement around here, we found out the day that we closed on our new house that I’m pregnant. I’m so relieved that, at over four months along now, I’m past the stage of being tired all the time. One thing that hasn’t changed throughout this pregnancy? My desire for cold, creamy desserts.

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Ice cream isn’t usually a craving of mine, so it’s been fun to take this opportunity to play with recipes that wouldn’t normally catch my eye. This one seemed worth the extra effort even back when dragging myself off the couch took all of my limited energy. But it certainly has some tedious steps. Even pulling all the stems out of 3½ pounds of cherries takes a while. Then you just throw the chreries in the oven with some sugar, and once they’re soft and squishy, you squeeze the pits out – which is faster than pitting fresh cherries even with a pitter, but still slow.

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But the worst is pushing the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Based on the flecks of solid fruit in the picture on Serious Eats, compared to my smooth un-flecked custard, I believe my strainer is finer-mesh than Stella’s, which could be why straining was such an arduous, frustrating task. Next time I’ll just use my food mill on its finest setting – it’s not nearly as fine as my strainer, but it’ll be good enough, I expect.

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I would say it was worth the effort in the end, because this ice cream is intensely cherry-y. It’s so fruity that it almost tastes more like sherbet than cream-filled ice cream. It was the perfect treat at the end of a work- and toddler-filled day, when I could sit down with a book, a mug of tea, and a scoop of ice cream and then not move for at least an hour.

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Roasted Cherry Ice Cream (rewritten but not adapted from Stella Parks at Serious Eats)

I used the leftover cherry solids in sweet rolls, substituting it for the cinnamon-sugar mixture in this recipe.

To get the amount of strained cherry juice required by the recipe, I had to return the cherry pulp to the saucepan, add water, heat it up, then strain again. And again. And again. Don’t use your finest-mesh strainer for this. I’ll try a food mill on its finest setting next time.

3½ pounds (56 ounces; about 10 cups) whole cherries, washed and stemmed but not pitted
¾ cup (5¼ ounces) granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
1¾ cups (14 ounces) heavy cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the cherries and sugar in a 12-inch stainless-steel skillet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the cherries are wilted and soft, about 40 minutes. Let cool slightly, then use your fingers to pull the cherries apart and remove the pits. Transfer the cherry pits to a medium saucepan. Transfer the pitted cherries to a food processor bowl. Leave the cherry juice in the skillet.

2. Add the heavy cream to the saucepan with the cherry pits. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside to steep.

3. Pulse the cherries in the food processor until minced but not pureed. Transfer them back to the skillet with the juice. Heat the cherries and juice over medium heat; reduce the heat to retain a simmer and cook until jammy, about 5 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer (see note). You should have 20 ounces of cherry juice. Discard the cherry solids or reserve for another use (stored in the refrigerator, they can be kept for up to three weeks and used like jam).

4. Strain the cream into the same container as the cherry juice; discard the pits. Stir in the salt and the lemon juice. Chill the mixture until it is 40 degrees, either for several hours in the refrigerator or more quickly by setting the bowl of custard inside a larger bowl filled with ice water.

5. Churn the custard in a prepared ice cream maker until it’s the consistency of soft-serve ice cream, about 25 minutes. Immediately transfer to a chilled container. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.

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honey bundt cake

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For the first few weeks at my old job, I was probably known as “the girl whose desk is by the men’s bathroom” due to the unfortunate arrangement of my office. But it wasn’t long before I became “the girl who brings in treats”, and that label stuck for my seven years there. Fortunately, it also wasn’t too long before I got moved to a new office.

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Eventually, people started giving me ingredients to use up – apples or peaches from their trees, pecans, and, one of my favorites, the annual Christmas jar of honey from my beekeeping boss. I hoarded the honey. Dave got into the habit of putting some in his tea every day until I made him stop so I could hog it all to myself. But I needed a recipe that would really showcase it, not something that was “honey cake” in name only.

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This recipe caught my eye because the cake is sweetened completely with honey. As a result, it actually tastes like honey, but even with no granulated sugar, the texture isn’t compromised. It’s dense and moist, but not soggy or heavy.

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Much to the regret of my coworkers, I quit that job last summer. Since then, Dave and I have started new jobs, sold our old house, started working from home, moved to a rental house in my hometown, bought a house, and moved again. Things are good right now. Really good. Pretty much the only thing I miss about that old life was having an office full of people eager for sweet snacks to break up their workday.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Honey Bundt Cake (from Cook’s Country)

2½ cups (12½ ounces) all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup water
4 large eggs
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¾ cups honey

1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
4½ teaspoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt

1. For the cake: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Heavily spray a 12-cup nonstick Bundt pan with baking spray with flour. Whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in large bowl. Whisk the water, eggs, applesauce, oil, orange juice, and vanilla together in a separate bowl until combined. Whisk the honey into the egg mixture until fully incorporated.

2. Whisk the honey mixture into the flour mixture until combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.

3. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Using a small spatula, loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and invert onto a rack. Let cool completely, about 2 hours. (The cooled cake can be wrapped with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

4. For the glaze: Whisk together all ingredients. Drizzle the glaze evenly over top of the cake. Let sit until the glaze is firm, about 30 minutes. Serve.

tahini-swirled brownies

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These took me by surprise. I like to experiment, and my coworkers are willing testers. I thought tahini in brownies sounded more interesting than the customary peanut butter. I was not, however, expecting it to be better than peanut butter.

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These did actually taste similar to peanut butter brownies, but the tahini was just a little more subtle. Instead of battling the chocolate for dominance, it was a quieter complement.

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No one ever complains about treats in the office kitchen, and certainly they didn’t mind brownies, even brownies with ground up sesame seeds in them instead of ground up peanuts. My favorite comment was from a coworker who grew up in New York, who said these reminded him of the halvah he remembers eating as a kid. I’ve never had halvah, but after these, I am definitely on board with tahini in desserts.

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Tahini-Swirled Brownies (rewritten and doubled, but not changed from Milk Street)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons (32 grams) cocoa
6 eggs
2¼ cups (446 grams) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 teaspoons salt
1½ cups (360 grams) tahini
⅔ cup (94 grams) all-purpose flour

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square pan with cooking spray.

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolate and cocoa, and stir until melted and smooth.

3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar, vanilla, and salt until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Whisk in the tahini. Add the flour; use a rubber spatula to stir until just combined. Measure out 1 cup of this mixture; set aside. Add the chocolate to the remaining egg/tahini mixture and stir to combine.

4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Dollop the reserved tahini over the chocolate mixture; drag a sharp knife through the dollops to create swirls.

5. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the edges are set and the center appears slightly moist, about 40 minutes. Cool to room temperature before serving.

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garlic-roasted mushrooms

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I’ve learned that when I make an antipasto tray for myself, it should be a meal and not an appetizer – it’s so delicious that I want plenty. And a meal, even one that I don’t claim to be healthy, requires a vegetable. And a meal as good as this one needs something that can hold its own with so many of my favorite foods.

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Usually I default to tomatoes, either simply roasted or made into sun-dried tomato jam. But I’ve made that jam so many times, I needed a new staple. These mushrooms fit in just right – the garlicky strong flavors stand up to the cured meats, the mushrooms make a nice bite with a toothpick, and the liquid on the bottom of the dish doesn’t go to waste when there’s bread nearby.

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It also helps that it’s an easy dish. If my dinner plan is to put cheese, salami, and bread on a tray, it’s probably because I don’t want to cook. Throwing mushrooms into a pretty baking dish with garlic, salt, oil, and butter is about all I’m willing to do. And fortunately, that’s all that’s necessary to turn a tray of snacks into a meal.

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Garlic-Roasted Mushrooms (barely adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

1 pound cremini or button mushrooms, halved lengthwise if large
2 tablespoons capers, drained
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a medium baking dish, combine the mushrooms, capers, garlic, oil, ⅛ teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper; stir to evenly coat the mushrooms. Dot the butter on top of the mushrooms. Transfer to the oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and parsley; serve.

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strawberry balsamic slab pie

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After grabbing a slice from the office kitchen, one of my coworkers asked me why I decided to add balsamic vinegar to pie. My answer of “because the recipe called for it” surely did not impress him. However, it’s a great question: What does the vinegar add to this pie?

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I was surprised that the recipe calls for strawberry juice to be drained off and discarded (we used it in place of the sugar syrup in daiquiris). I suppose the balsamic vinegar is replacing the strawberry juice. No one could taste the vinegar or the angostura bitters in the baked pie, but we all agreed that it was particularly delicious and intensely strawberry-y.

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The changes I made from the original recipe weren’t intentional; I was basing my recipe off of a friend, who’d adjusted the thickener herself. As a result, the filling is more solid, which is perfect for a slab pie intended to be eaten out of hand instead of cut into slices and served plated. In the end, even if I can’t explain just what made it so good, there isn’t a thing I’d change about this pie, from the thickener to the straining of juices and nontraditional additions.

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Strawberry Balsamic Slab Pie (adapted from Emily Elson’s and Melissa Elson’s Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book via Apple a Day; crust rewritten from Serious Eats)

3¾ cups (18 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoon kosher salt (or ¾ teaspoon table salt)
30 tablespoons butter (3¾ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
9 tablespoons cold water

Filling and topping:
4½ tablespoons granulated sugar
3 pounds fresh strawberries, rinsed and quartered
1 large Granny Smith apple, grated
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup (7 ounces) light brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons Minute tapioca
3 grinds fresh black pepper
¾ teaspoon kosher salt (or ⅓ teaspoon table salt)
egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt)
demerara or other coarse sugar, or regular granulated sugar

1. For the crust: In a food processor, process approximately two-thirds of the flour, the sugar, and the salt just to combine, a few pulses. Add the butter; pulse until the dough is evenly combined and begins to form clumps. Add the remaining flour and pulse just until the flour is evenly distributed. Transfer the dough to a large bowl; sprinkle the water over the dough and use a rubber spatula to fold the dough until the water is absorbed. Divide the dough into two portions, with one portion slightly larger than the other. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

2. For the filling: In a large bowl, combine the strawberries and granulated sugar; set aside at room temperature for 1 hour. Strain the strawberries, discarding the liquid (or reserving it for another use). Return the strained strawberries to the bowl; add the apple, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, cornstarch, tapioca, black pepper, and salt.

3. Arrange an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. On a 12-by-17-inch sheet of parchment paper, roll out the larger portion of the dough to the edges of the parchment paper. Transfer the dough, still on the parchment paper, to a 10-by-15-inch baking sheet. Roll the smaller portion of dough to a 10-by-15-inch rectangle. Leave it whole to top the slab pie, or cut strips or other shapes.

4. Spread the strawberry mixture evenly over the dough in the pan. Top with the remaining dough. If you’ve left the top layer of dough whole, cut many 2-inch slashes into it. Brush the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle with demerara or other sugar.

5. Transfer the pan to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees; continue baking for an additional 35 minutes, until the crust is browned and the filling is bubbling. Transfer to a cooling rack; cool to room temperature before serving.

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crepe manicotti with ragu and bechamel

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As we adjust to life with a toddler, I’m finding myself tending toward simpler meals, not weekend projects. Which is to say, I made these manicotti months ago, when that toddler was a baby who couldn’t move and therefore didn’t follow me around in the kitchen emptying all the cabinets. It’s too bad for her, because she’d love these.

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Instead of stuffing a meatball-like mixture into a pasta tube, these are crepes filled with a meat sauce mixed with thick bechamel. It’s rich and creamy, holding its shape without being dry or chewy. There’s no mozzarella, but between the bechamel and the crepes, there’s plenty of dairy. A generous grating of flavorful parmesan tops the dish.

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As delicious as these were, I do think they’d benefit from more sauce, which I’ve indicated in the recipe below. I’d also put all of the bechamel inside the crepes instead of leaving a portion for spreading between the stuffed crepes and the tomato sauce. For better or worse, it’ll be a while before I get a chance to make these again with those changes. In the meantime, I’ll be putting all my storage containers back in the cabinets.

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Crepe Manicotti with Ragu and Bechamel (adapted from Serious Eats)

I don’t remember what meat I used for this, but I’m sure it wasn’t the veal recommended in the original recipe. It was probably pure beef.

For the Ragù:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced fine
1 medium carrot, diced fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds ground beef, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup whole milk
1 bay leaf
2 fresh rosemary sprigs

For the Crepes:
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
2½ cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the Béchamel:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

To Assemble:
3 cups tomato sauce
parmesan cheese

1. For the ragu: In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add half of the ground beef and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring frequently to break the meat into small pieces, until well browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the remaining meat; stirring to break up the meat, cook just until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add the wine; simmer until the wine is syrupy, about 5 minutes. Add the milk, bay leaf, and rosemary; bring the liquid to a simmer, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the ragu is thick and the meat is tender, about 30 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and rosemary. If necessary, season with additional salt and pepper.

2. For the crepes: Add the flour, egg, milk, and ¼ teaspoon salt to a blender canister; blend until smooth. Heat a 9-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Brush the pan with a thin layer of melted butter. Pour about ¼ cup of batter into the pan; swirl to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Cook until the top looks dry, about 1 minute. Flip the crepe and continue to cook until the second side is dry, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter, brushing the pan with butter each time, stacking the cooked crepes on a plate.

3. For the bechamel: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming subsides, add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. When the mixture simmers, reduce the heat to medium-low, add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and simmer 5 minutes. Combine with the meat sauce.

4. To assemble: Cover the bottom a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with 1 cup of tomato sauce. Divide the meat mixture evenly between the crepes; roll the crepes and place seam-side down over the sauce in the pan. Spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the manicotti. Top with a generous layer of grated parmesan. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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chocolate hazelnut tarte soleil

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After the last two years, I feel like I have a certain standard to uphold for my contribution to the office holiday potluck. However, there was simply no time this year for a time-consuming project. I needed to find a recipe that looked like a showstopper but didn’t require the work of one.

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Two ingredients? This recipe fit the bill. Although, since, where I live, I can’t buy puff pastry made with real butter, I did make my own. (I used this recipe; while I think this one puffs more and isn’t much, if any, more effort, I didn’t have the mental fortitude for the multiple steps, even if each step takes just a minute or two.) In another life (like one before this), I would have made my own chocolate hazelnut spread too, but for once, I managed to be reasonable and bought this instead. As I’d hoped, It was more chocolately and less sweet than Nutella, although it still wasn’t particularly nutty.

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Okay, so this wasn’t as visually impressive as a foot-tall cake. But it’s pretty, and it tasted just as good as those past projects. It was flaky and buttery, chocolately without being too sweet. At this point in my life, it was perfect.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Tarte Soleil (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

2 (1-pound sheets) thawed puff pastry dough
½ cup Nutella or other chocolate hazelnut spread
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water (for egg wash)

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. On a sheet of parchment paper or a silicone mat, roll one sheet of puff pastry dough into an approximate 12-inch circle. Use a 12-inch round plate or bowl as a guide to cut a 12-inch circle into the dough.

2. Spread the filling in an even layer over the round of puff pastry dough, leaving the outer 1-inch of the circle bare.

3. Repeat the rolling and cutting of the second portion of puff pastry dough to form another 12-inch round. Transfer this portion of dough to the top of the Nutella-covered puff pastry round, aligning it with the bottom ricle.

4. Place a small round cup or dish in the center of the circle, pressing it lightly to form a visual indentation without pressing through the dough. Remove the cup. Use a pizza roller to cut slits into the dough from the edge to the center circle. Each slit should be about an inch apart on the outer edge of the dough round, for a total of about 32 slits. Once all the slits are cut, pick up the outer edge of each segment while pressing gently on the center edge of the segment. Twist a couple times; repeat with all segments.

5. Transfer the pastry, still on the parchment paper or silicone mat, to a baking sheet. Brush with the egg wash. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until browned. Transfer the tart, still on the pan, to a cooling rack and allow to cool for ten minutes. Slide the tart onto a serving plate. Serve immediately or within about twelve hours.

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white chocolate macadamia nut cookies

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I’m behind on Christmas. I’ve been behind on everything since Thanksgiving. Every one of the baby’s naptimes through the weekend are currently booked with baking plans, and once that’s done, I’ll start preparing for our trip to visit family over the holidays. And at some point, I should probably buy some presents.

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These aren’t on my Christmas baking list, but maybe I should rethink that. I’d always considered white chocolate macadamia cookies bland before these – white chocolate mostly just tasting sweet, and macadamia nuts mostly just seeming rich and fatty without offering much flavor. But the addition of cream cheese adds some tanginess to counter the sweetness. The milk powder keeps the cookies soft and tender.

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They’re straightforward to make; browning the butter adds an extra step, but it isn’t a difficult one. With a long shelf-life, they can hold up to being shipped to your friends and family across the country. Most importantly, they’re one of the best cookies I made last year.

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White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies
(rewritten but not adapted from Joy the Baker)

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups (14.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup instant milk powder
1½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup (7 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
2 cups coarsely chopped white chocolate

1. In a medium not-nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt 8 tablespoons of the butter. Continue to cook the butter, swirling the pan occasionally, until the milk solids brown and sink and the butter smells nutty. Immediately remove it from the heat and pour the butter into a heatproof bowl. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, milk powder, baking soda, and baking powder. Break the eggs into a small measuring cup, whisk them lightly, and mix in the vanilla.

2. Place the cream cheese and the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand-held mixer). Beat on medium-low speed until the butter and cream cheese are smooth, then add the salt and both sugars. Continue beating on medium-low until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the browned butter and beat until evenly combined. With the mixer running, gradually add the egg mixture. Once the eggs have been added, scrape the sides of the bowl once, then continue mixing on medium speed for about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing it’s mostly combined. Add the nuts and chocolate and mix until the flour is completely incorporated and the nuts and chocolate are evenly distributed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are browned around the edges and do not look wet on top, 8 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

white chocolate macadamia nut cookies 3