roasted brussels sprouts and butternut squash with bacon-porter dressing

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Vegetables, cooked right, are delicious, a fact all-too-often forgotten as they’re relegated to an afterthought. It’s fortunate that roasting vegetables has become popular, because those can be an afterthought and still be tasty with just salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, but what could happen if we put the same effort into a vegetable dish as we did the main dish? What could happen is that Brussels sprouts will be the most popular dish at your party.

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A friend and I threw a beer tasting party last month, with amber ale cheddar soup, stout-braised beef topped with potatoes, scotch ale creme brulee, and these vegetables. This was the dish that got the most compliments and recipe requests. (Although I need to ask my friend for the creme brulee recipe, because that had a really interesting and delicious bitter edge to the sweet custard.)

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Brussels sprouts and squash are roasted, which is always a good start, but then the ante is upped with a dressing made from bacon renderings, minced shallot, malty beer, mustard, and apple cider vinegar. I wasn’t sure about the pairing of Brussels sprouts and squash, but the earthy and sweet combination ended up being great, and it was all tied together with the sweet-tart dressing. I admit, it isn’t quite as easy as just throwing vegetables in the oven with salt and olive oil to roast, but every once in a while, don’t vegetables deserve to be the star?

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash with Bacon-Porter Dressing (adapted from Beer Bitty via Craft Beer)

8 servings

1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch dice
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped (or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme)
4 slices thick-cut bacon
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
4 ounces porter or brown ale
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

1. Place a heavy rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven; heat the oven to 475 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the Brussels sprouts, squash, oil, cayenne, nutmeg, and thyme. Transfer to the hot baking sheet and roast until the vegetables are browned and tender, about 20 minutes, stirring twice.

2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate; when cool, coarsely chop or crumble. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the skillet. Add the shallot and garlic; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and maybe a little browned, 2-3 minutes. Add the beer and vinegar, increase the heat to medium-high, and simmer until reduced and slightly syrupy, 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, mustard, sage, salt and pepper. Pour the beer mixture over the vegetables and stir to combine. Top with the bacon and nuts; serve.

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spanish chickpea and spinach stew

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I wasn’t big on life-changing, be-a-better-person resolutions this year, but I did get inspired for a lot of projects. There’s the cookbook goal; a list of house projects; an effort to post on my blog’s Facebook page more often; and a desire to take more pictures. To hold myself accountable (and give myself a satisfying box to check when I complete something), I’m tracking everything.

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My goal is to put effort into photography almost every day. It was easy the first few days, when we were traveling, but I was at a loss the first day back at work, when I don’t do much other than sit in my office all day, make dinner, and fold laundry. But of course I love food pictures, and dinner was right there, so I figured I might as well see if I could get a decent shot without much effort.

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In this case, not only were the shots decent (maybe from all that practice I’ve been getting taking random dinner pictures!), but the meal itself was fantastic. I’m a sucker for tomato-based soups, but with all the other good stuff in there, I didn’t even feel the need to dip a grilled cheese sandwich into the bowl. It’s lucky that I’d snapped a few quick pictures before we ate, because there were no leftovers – not that making it again soon would have been a hardship.

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Spanish Chickpea and Spinach Stew
(rewritten but not significantly changed from Serious Eats)

I was worried that the spinach would turn to mush after 40 minutes of simmering, but even the baby spinach I used was okay. A heartier spinach would likely be even better.

For the tomatoes, I transferred half of the tomatoes from the can to a small bowl and used scissors to chop them. I used an immersion blender to puree the remaining tomatoes and ginger in the tomato can.

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 1-inch knob ginger, peeled
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for serving)
1 medium onion, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 teaspoon sweet or hot smoked paprika
12 ounces fresh spinach, roughly chopped
2 (14-ounce) cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), undrained
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (optional)

1. Blend half the tomatoes, all the liquid from the can, and the ginger until smooth. Coarsely chop the remaining tomatoes.

2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onion, garlic, and paprika, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato-ginger puree; stir to combine. Gradually add the spinach, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is tender, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the chopped tomatoes, garbanzo beans (with their liquid), bay leaves, and soy sauce, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a bare simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir in the sherry vinegar. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately, drizzling with extra virgin olive oil.

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devil’s food cookie butter cookie sandwiches

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I thought these were going to be all about the cookie butter, that delicious mashup of ground cookies and stabilizers and fat, but the devil’s food cookie itself was remarkably good. It was meltingly tender, but somehow the very edge had just a big of crackle to it. It turns out that I hadn’t added enough cookie butter to the middle of the sandwiches, but I didn’t even care because the cookies themselves were perfect.

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Another reason I wish I’d spread more cookie butter on the cookies is that now I have an open jar of cookie butter in the pantry, constantly tempting me to eat it by the spoonful. This is the first time I’d baked with it, and I’m glad I chose a recipe that put the spotlight on the cookie butter, because I love the graham cracker flavor. That delicious spread, combined with a perfectly cakey chocolate cookie? I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I ate the last one.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Devil’s Food Cookie Butter Cookie Sandwiches
(slightly adapted from Le Pain Quotidien)

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (4.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
⅓ cup (1 ounce) cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
7 tablespoons butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons cookie butter
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon (5.65 ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
additional cookie butter for assembly

1. In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking soda.

2. Place the butter, cream cheese, and 2 tablespoons cookie 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 mixture is smooth, then add the salt and sugar. Continue beating on medium-low until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running, add the egg, then the vanilla, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined. Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

4. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they no longer look wet on top, about 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

5. Spread the bottom of half of the cookies with additional cookie butter. Top with the remaining cookies.

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pan-seared shrimp with tomatoes and avocado

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I hate to be a cliche, but it’s January and I’d like to eat a little healthier for a while. That is, a little healthier than normal, and a whole lot healthier than I did over the holidays. I have no regrets; it was a delicious holiday break, full of cookies, holiday meals, restaurants, and fun new beers. But I’m happy to be back to eating the occasional green thing now.

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A book with Light and Healthy in the title was the obvious choice for choosing cookbook recipes in early January. It’s simply shrimp, cooked in just a bit of oil, then topped with barely softened vegetables. A bit of brown rice helps soak up any extra sauce.

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As much as I crave healthy foods when I’m eating feasts every night, sometimes when I’m trying to get back into eating lots of vegetables, I find myself missing sugar and fried food and cheese and all those delicious treats. Light, vegetably dishes like as good as this one help ease the transition – especially since each serving has plenty of fatty, buttery, creamy avocado.

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Pan-Seared Shrimp with Tomatoes and Avocado
(from America’s Test Kitchen Light and Healthy 2011)

Serves 4

I used cherry tomatoes since they tend to be better in the winter than bigger varieties. I also substituted about ¼ cup minced roasted and peeled Hatch green chile for the chipotle.

1 pound tomatoes (2 to 3), cored, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
6 scallions, white and green parts separated and sliced thin
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce
salt and pepper
1½ pounds extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
⅛ teaspoon sugar
4 teaspoon canola oil
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces
lime wedges

1. Combine the tomatoes, scallion whites, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, chipotle, and ¼ teaspoon salt in bowl.

2. Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and season with the sugar, salt, and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add half of the shrimp and cook until curled and lightly browned, about 2 minutes.

3. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl and cover with aluminum foil. Repeat with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and shrimp; transfer to the bowl.

4. Return the skillet to high heat, add the tomato mixture, and cook until the tomatoes soften slightly, about 1 minute. Off the heat, return the shrimp to the skillet and toss to coat. Transfer the shrimp and tomatoes to a platter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle with the scallion greens and avocado. Serve with lime wedges.

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soba bowls with tea-poached salmon and roasted broccoli

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I’ve lost count, but I think this is the fourth year in a row I’ve made it a goal to use my cookbooks more often. I love them so much, but on the other hand, the recipes online are available even when I’m not home, plus they all have reviews. But, again: I can’t justify buying new cookbooks unless I use the ones I have, and I can’t seem to stop buying new ones whether I use them or not.

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So I made a list, and everyone knows if you have a list, you have a plan. The goal is two recipes per week from cookbooks, and at least two recipes from each cookbook by the end of the year.

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Another advantage of finally opening up my cookbooks, instead of searching through epicurious yet again, is that I’m finding new ideas. Salmon poached in green tea? How interesting. Soba noodles, which I usually keep around but rarely think to use. Roasted broccoli combined with poached salmon and boiled noodles (which does seem a little inefficient, but it’s too good to care), all combined under a sauce of tahini, soy sauce, and grated ginger. My cookbook goal is off to a delicious start, which is hopefully just the encouragement I need to keep it going.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Soba Bowls with Tea-Poached Salmon and Roasted Broccoli
(rewritten but barely changed from Sara Forte’s The Sprouted Kitchen)

Serves 4

I used about 6.5 ounces soba instead of 9.5, and it seemed like a fine amount.

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons agave nectar
grated zest and juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 bunch or 2 small crowns broccoli, chopped into approximately 1-inch florets
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of sea salt
3 green tea bags
1 tablespoon peppercorns
½ cup mirin or dry white wine
1¼ pound salmon fillet
1 (9.5-ounce) package soba noodles
4 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
½ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup white or black sesame seeds

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a small bowl, combine the sesame oil, tahini, agave nectar, lime juice and zest, soy sauce, and ginger. Set aside.

3. Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven. Spread the olive oil on the sheet, then add the broccoli and a pinch of salt, tossing to coat the broccoli with oil. Roast until the broccoli is tender and caramelized, about 15 minutes, stirring once.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

5. In a medium skillet, bring 1 cup of water to a simmer. Add the tea bags and peppercorns, cover, reduce to the heat to low, and let steep for 3 minutes. Discard the tea bags and add the mirin to the skillet. Place the salmon in the liquid, skin-side down. Cover and cook over low heat until the salmon flakes and is no longer translucent in the middle, 8-10 minutes.

6. Cook the noodles in the boiling water according to the package instructions, 4-5 minutes. Drain and briefly rinse.

7. Remove the skin from the salmon and transfer the meat to a large bowl, breaking it into large chunks. Add the broccoli, noodles, dressing, green onions, and half the cilantro to the bowl; toss to combine. Top with the remaining cilantro and sesame seeds; serve.

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2014 favorites

I’m late to the game, as always, but I was having too much fun enjoying the holidays. I have no regrets, but I do always love to review the previous year. Here are some of my favorites.

Corn Tortillas
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As if tacos weren’t delicious enough, fresh corn tortillas come along. I’ve got it to where I can make a batch for me and Dave in about fifteen minutes, so it’s definitely worth it just for the perfect foldability, not to mention how great they taste.

Strawberry Daiquiris
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Dave and I have tried dozens of recipes for tiki drinks over the last few months, and I love so many of them. Still, these strawberry daiquiris are safe in their position as my favorite cocktail.

Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes
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Of the many desserts I made last year, I think this one was my favorite. It’s so perfect for spring.

Braised Artichokes
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I’m eagerly waiting for artichokes to come back into season so I can start making this every week, just like last year.

Crab Towers with Gazpacho and Avocado Salsas
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Not only are crab, avocado, and tomatoes some of my favorite foods, but they make a great match, especially in these beautiful towers.

Halibut in White Wine Sauce with Green Beans and Tomato-Scallion Relish
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Now that Dave cooks fish for dinner once a week, I don’t cook it myself much, but this is one I made over and over this year.

Cocoa Nib Peanut Butter Bites
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We’ve already got our annual family beach trip planned, which gives me an excuse to make these healthier treats in my annual pre-beach trip diet.

Quinoa Puttanesca
quinoa puttanesca 2Dave did a bunch of traveling last year for work, so I probably made this more than any other meal. While I much prefer him to be home, this is a nice consolation prize for when he’s away.

Peach Raspberry Galette
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My coworkers are always appreciative when I bring snacks in to share, but they went crazy for this.

Sweet Potato Mezzalune with Sausage Ricotta Filling
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Everyone knows that filled dumplings are the best foods, whether ravioli, potstickers, or empanadas, and that’s especially true when it’s sausage and cheese wrapped in crisped and browned sweet potato gnocchi dough.

Let’s see what 2015 brings, shall we?

buche de noel

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I was tense for the entire 2½ hours I spent making this cake. I’d signed up to bring it to the office holiday party potluck, and I wasn’t sure which title was more commonly known, yule log or buche de noel, so I wrote down both. This was a mistake; several hours later, Big Boss came barreling down the hall blustering about using fancy French words and/or bringing a piece of wood to the party.

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He was mollified when I told him it was a cake. “Chocolate”, he asked? “Um, yes, chocolate”, even though I hadn’t really planned on chocolate.

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So I felt like the stakes were high. And considering that I hadn’t made a rolled cake in seven years, the risk was high as well. This is why I spent all afternoon nervous, waiting to make a mistake that would result in a cake disaster.

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There were no cake disasters. It wasn’t a perfectly smooth process – the grocery store ran out of mascarpone, the cake cracked when I rolled it, my baking pan is too small so the spiral was loose, the ganache didn’t set up, the cake cracked again when I tried to move it, and the last minute sugared rosemary and cranberries I made for decorations weren’t dry so the sugar dissolved instead of sparkled – but there was nothing that a little ganache couldn’t cover up. Once the ganache was frantically put in the freezer so it would set, that is.

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Substituting cream cheese for mascarpone worked in my favor in the end, because when Big Boss asked me what the filling was made of, I told him cream cheese and didn’t mention the mascarpone. I’ve learned my lesson about fancy European words. Fortunately, the cream cheese/mascarpone filling really was delicious, just like the chocolate cake, and the ganache. Even the mushrooms were all gone by the time we left the party. It was an unqualified success; still, next year I’m bringing all-American cheesecake.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Bittersweet Chocolate Yule Log (slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

Serves 8 to 10

The ganache didn’t firm up for me in an hour at room temperature, so I put it in the refrigerator for a 10 minutes or so before icing the cake.

I was afraid to move the cake after it was formed and frosted, so I put it together directly on the serving plate. I slipped thin strips of wax paper under the edges of the cake to catch extra ganache, then discarded the strips before serving.

My grocery store ran out of mascarpone, so I used half mascarpone and half cream cheese in the filling, which worked very well.

The original recipe calls for an espresso-flavored filling instead of vanilla, but I didn’t think espresso would be as popular with the crowd I served this to. If you’d rather have the espresso, replace the vanilla flavorings in the mascarpone cream with 2 teaspoons espresso powder.

Dark Chocolate Ganache:
¾ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces semisweet chocolate (high-quality), chopped
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy

Vanilla Bean-Mascarpone Cream:
½ cup heavy cream
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar (1½ ounces)
16 ounces mascarpone cheese (about 2 cups)

Roulade:
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour (about 1¼ ounces), plus more for dusting baking sheet
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate or semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into two pieces
2 tablespoons cold water
¼ cup cocoa (¾ ounce), Dutch-processed, sifted, plus more for unmolding and garnish
⅛ teaspoon table salt
6 large eggs, separated, room temperature
⅓ cup granulated sugar (2⅓ ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar

1. For the Dark Chocolate Ganache: Bring the cream and butter to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Place the chocolate in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. With the machine running, gradually add the hot cream and brandy through the feed tube and process until smooth and thickened, about 3 minutes. Transfer the ganache to a medium bowl and let stand at room temperature 1 hour, until spreadable (ganache should have consistency of soft icing).

2. For the Vanilla Bean-Mascarpone Cream: Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over high heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla seeds, extract, and confectioners’ sugar; cool slightly. With a rubber spatula, beat the mascarpone in a medium bowl until softened. Gently whisk in the cooled cream mixture until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

3. For the Roulade: Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray an 18 by 12-inch rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray, cover the pan bottom with parchment paper, and spray the parchment with nonstick cooking spray; dust baking sheet with flour, tapping out excess.

4. Bring 2 inches of water to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Combine the chocolate, butter, and water in a small heatproof bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set the bowl over the saucepan, reduce the heat to medium-low, and heat until the butter is almost completely melted and the chocolate pieces are glossy, have lost definition, and are fully melted around edges, about 15 minutes. (Do not stir or let water in saucepan come to boil.) Remove the bowl from heat, unwrap, and stir until smooth and glossy. While the chocolate is melting, sift the cocoa, flour, and salt together into a small bowl and set aside.

5. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the egg yolks at medium-high speed until just combined, about 15 seconds. With the mixer running, add half of the sugar. Continue to beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary until the yolks are pale yellow and the mixture falls in a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted, about 8 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat to combine, scraping down the bowl once, about 30 seconds. Turn the mixture into a medium bowl; wash the mixer bowl and beaters and dry with a kitchen towel. (If you have 2 mixer bowls, leave the yolk mixture in the mixer bowl; wash and dry the beaters and use second bowl in step 6.)

6. In a clean bowl with clean beaters, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With the mixer running, add about 1 teaspoon of the remaining sugar; continue beating until soft peaks form, about 40 seconds. Gradually add the remaining sugar and beat until the egg whites are glossy and supple and hold stiff peaks when the whisk is lifted, about 1 minute longer. Do not overbeat (if the whites look dry and granular, they are overbeaten). While the whites are beating, stir the chocolate mixture into the yolks. With a rubber spatula, stir a quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in the remaining whites until almost no streaks remain. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the egg and chocolate mixture and fold in quickly but gently.

7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan; using an offset icing spatula and working quickly, smooth the surface and spread the batter into the pan corners. Bake until the center of the cake springs back when touched with a finger, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes.

8. While the cake is cooling, lay a clean kitchen towel over a work surface and sift 1 tablespoon cocoa over the towel; with your hands, rub the cocoa into the towel. Run a paring knife around the perimeter of the baking sheet to loosen the cake. Invert the cake onto the towel and peel off the parchment.

9. For the finished cake: Starting at a long side, roll the cake and towel together into a jelly roll shape. Cool for 15 minutes, then unroll the cake and towel. Using an offset spatula, immediately spread the mascarpone cream filling evenly over the surface of the cake, almost to the edges. Reroll the cake gently but snugly around the filling. Set a large sheet of parchment paper on an overturned rimmed baking sheet and set the cake seam-side down on top. Trim both ends of the cake on a diagonal. Reserve ¼ cup of ganache for attaching meringue mushrooms. Spread the remaining ganache over the roulade with a small icing spatula. Use a fork to make wood-grain striations on the surface of the ganache before it has set. Refrigerate the cake, uncovered, on a baking sheet to slightly set the icing, about 20 minutes.

10. When ready to serve, carefully slide two wide metal spatulas under the cake and transfer the cake to a serving platter. Arrange the meringue mushrooms around the cake, attaching them with dabs of reserved ganache. Sift a light dusting of cocoa over the mushrooms. Sift the yule log with confectioners’ sugar. Serve within 2 hours.

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Meringue Mushrooms (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Makes about 30

I didn’t need 30 mushrooms, so I cut the recipe in half, using a hand mixer and a small mixing bowl. Although maybe 30 mushrooms wouldn’t have been so bad, considering how smooth and airy and delicious these were.

CI note: If the caps and stems become soggy during storage, crisp them in a 200-degree oven for 30 minutes before assembling the mushrooms.

¼ cup water
½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch table salt
⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven racks to the middle and lowest positions and heat the oven to 200 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Combine the water and sugar in heavy saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil, swirling the pan once or twice, until the sugar has dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. If necessary, wipe down any sugar crystals on the side of the pan with a damp pastry brush. Cook, uncovered, until the temperature registers 238 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.

3. While the sugar is cooking, place the egg white in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk. Beat at medium-low speed until frothy, about 1 minute. Add the salt and cream of tartar and beat, gradually increasing speed to high, until the whites hold soft peaks, about 1 minute.

4. With the mixer at medium speed, slowly pour the hot syrup into the egg whites, avoiding the whisk. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the meringue cooks to room temperature and becomes very thick and shiny, 5 to 10 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the vanilla.

5. Fit a pastry bag with a ¼-inch pastry tip and fill with the meringue. Pipe about 30 caps and an equal number of stems onto the prepared pans.

6. Bake the meringues for 2 hours, then turn off the oven, leaving the meringues in the oven until very dry and crisp, about 30 minutes longer. Cool the mushroom caps and stems on the baking sheets. (Caps and stems may be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.) To assemble the mushrooms, use ganache to glue the caps and stems together.

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cranberry swirl shortbread

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I was not feeling it the Monday night I made this shortbread. I was, however, feeling it the day before, when I had a relatively chore-free Sunday, and went ahead and made the cranberry filling, a double batch. In fact, I was so in the mood to bake that afternoon that I made a batch of my favorite Christmas cookies, just for the heck of it. But I forgot how long it takes to shape those cookies into their spirals and stripes and by the time that was over, I’d pretty much had my fill of baking.

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Which left me with a weeknight to make the shortbread dough, roll out four circles, chill the circles, partially bake two of the circles, layer them with cranberries, add more dough, pipe on more cranberry filling, score the dough, and add designs in the filling. All when I just wasn’t feeling it.

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My coworkers, however, were definitely feeling it the next day when a double batch disappeared in no time. Not only are these bright and attractive – even when you rush through making the design – but they’re tender and sweet with refreshingly tart filling. I will definitely make these again, but next time I’ll make sure I’m in the mood.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Cranberry Swirl Shortbread (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Makes 16 wedges

4 ounces (1 cup) fresh or frozen cranberries
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon grated orange zest plus 2 tablespoons juice
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces and chilled

1. Bring the cranberries, ¼ cup granulated sugar, orange zest and juice, and cinnamon to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the cranberries have burst and the juice has just started to thicken, 2 to 4 minutes; let cool for 1 hour.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Process the flour, confectioners’ sugar, salt, and remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar in a food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. Scatter the butter over the top and process until the dough starts to come together, about 1 minute. Gently knead the dough by hand until no floury bits remain. (Do not wash the food processor bowl.) Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a 9-inch circle on parchment paper; refrigerate for 20 minutes. Process the cooled cranberry mixture in the food processor until smooth, about 20 seconds.

3. Press one dough circle into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and poke all over with fork. Bake on a baking sheet until the edges are light golden brown, 15 to 17 minutes, rotating the tart pan halfway through baking. Spread the dough with ¼ cup cranberry puree, the top with second dough circle, and poke all over with fork. Pipe the remaining cranberry puree over the dough in a spiral shape. Score the dough into 16 wedges. Between the score marks, lightly run a knife in the opposite direction of the cranberry spiral. Bake until the top is pale golden, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the tart pan halfway through baking. Let the shortbread cool for 10 minutes, then remove the outer ring of the tart pan. Cut through the score marks, transfer the wedges to a wire rack, and let cool completely before serving.

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creamy brussels sprouts and mushroom lasagna

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After making a few lasagnas that all started to look the same, I needed new ideas. Here’s one, cooked in homemade broth with meatballs between the layers of pasta, that breaks the mold. 19 steps! 125 miniscule meatballs! I’ve been excited about that recipe since the moment I saw it, almost a year and a half ago, but even with my obsessive weekend cooking habits, I haven’t found time to make it.

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This one isn’t quite that original, but I had never put brussels sprouts, one of my favorite vegetables, in lasagna before. I can’t remember adding heavy cream to lasagna either, instead depending on the bechamel and cheese to add rich creaminess.

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I did reduce the cream by half, and I still found it plenty decadent. The mushrooms dominated the flavor, but not in the overly earthy way of some pure mushroom lasagnas. It definitely hit the spot, even without meat or tomatoes, some of my standard lasagna crutches. But I still want a completely free weekend that I can spend making homemade broth and (125!) tiny meatballs to layer with fresh pasta.

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Creamy Brussels Sprouts and Mushroom Lasagna (slightly adapted from The Food Lab)

8-10 servings

Stirring the creamed mushrooms and the creamed brussels sprouts together does not result in an attractive mixture. However, it won’t make a difference in the final lasagna, and it simplifies the layering.

As the picture above shows, I divided the ingredients between a loaf pan and an 8-by-8-inch pan. I baked one immediately and put the other in the freezer for an easy and indulgent meal a few weeks later.

For instructions on boiling and rinsing the noodles, see step 4 of this recipe. You’ll only need half of a recipe of fresh pasta.

I’ve increased the brussels sprouts and decreased the mushrooms slightly, because even though I didn’t have enough mushrooms when I made this, they were the dominant flavor. I love brussels sprouts and want to taste them.

Mushrooms:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
16 ounces button mushrooms, roughly chopped in a food processor in 4 batches
2 medium shallots, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon picked fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup white wine or sherry
½ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Brussels sprouts:
2 tablespoons canola oil
24 ounces Brussels sprouts, shredded on the grated disk in a food processor
salt and pepper
½ cup heavy cream

Bechamel:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups whole milk
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
12 ounces mozzarella, shredded
salt and pepper

To assemble:
1 pound fresh lasagna noodles or 12 7-by-3-inch lasagna noodles, boiled and rinsed
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ cup (1 ounce) grated parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. For the mushrooms: Heat the butter in a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until the foaming subsides. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid they give off has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to sizzle and brown, about 12 minutes. When the mushrooms are browned, add the shallots, garlic, and thyme. Cook, stirring, until the shallots are translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Add ½ cup heavy cream and cook until the mixture is reduced to a loose paste, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl; wipe out the skillet.

2. For the brussels sprouts: In the same skillet, heat the oil over high heat until shimmering. Add the shaved Brussels sprouts and a pinch of salt. Cook, tossing occasionally, until well-charred on most sides, about 10 minutes. Add ½ cup heavy cream and cook until reduced to a loose sauce-like consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms; stir them together.

3. For the bechamel: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture is pale brown and nutty, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk in a thin, steady stream. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg and 12 ounces mozzarella. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. To assemble: Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread one-sixth of the cheese sauce on the bottom of a 9-by13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of boiled noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Top with one-fourth of mushroom/sprouts mixture, another one-sixth of the cheese sauce, and a sprinkle of grated mozzarella. Repeat the pasta, sprouts, and sauce layering three more times. Layer a final layer of noodles, then cover with the remaining béchamel and mozzarella.

5. Transfer to oven and bake until heated through and top is browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with Parmesan and parsley, let rest 10 minutes, and serve.

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arugula salad with prosciutto, figs, walnuts, and parmesan

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This is my salad of the season. It seems like there’s always one, something I make every time we have a big meal (i.e., every Saturday night). This one was so good we had it for Sunday lunch too.

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Maybe I should start making soup as a first course instead of salad, especially this time of year, but this salad seems appropriate for winter. It has deep, rich flavors from the prosciutto, figs, and walnuts, so it doesn’t taste bright and light like a lot of summer salads do.

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And yet, even piled with crisp prosciutto and slivers of parmesan, it’s still a salad, still mostly vegetables. That makes it a great accompaniment to rich winter braises and casseroles. If this is my salad of the season, I’m glad it’s still early in the season.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Arugula Salad with Prosciutto, Figs, Walnuts, and Parmesan (from Cook’s Illustrated)

4-6 servings

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into ¼-inch-wide ribbons
1 tablespoon raspberry jam or honey
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ cup dried figs, stems removed, fruit chopped into ¼-inch pieces
1 small shallot, very finely minced (about 1 tablespoon)
Table salt and ground black pepper
5 ounces lightly packed stemmed arugula (about 8 cups)
½ cup toasted, chopped walnuts
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved into thin strips with vegetable peeler

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; add prosciutto and fry until crisp, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper-towel-lined plate and set aside to cool.

2. Whisk jam and vinegar in medium microwave-safe bowl; stir in figs. Cover with plastic wrap, cut several steam vents in plastic, and microwave on high until figs are plump, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons oil, shallot, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper; toss to combine. Let cool to room temperature.

3. Toss arugula and vinaigrette in large bowl; adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Divide salad among individual plates; top each with portion of prosciutto, walnuts, and Parmesan. Serve immediately.

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