2015 favorites

I’m late on this, but with no end in sight to the flood repairs on our house, plus a daunting end in sight to being pregnant, I’m late on everything lately. Dave and I are getting by the best we can right now, but looking at last year’s recipes is a nice reminder of simpler times. Here are some of my favorites:

Beef Satay with Spicy Mango Dip
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This was so good, I made it again for the tiki-inspired meal my brother and I served on our family’s annual beach trip. It stood out even among a spread of crab rangoons, coconut shrimp, kalua pork, and a pitcher of tonga punch (plus a virgin version for me and the kids).

Poblanos Stuffed with Black Beans and Cheese
stuffed poblanos 3My standards for weeknight dinners are so high – delicious, healthy, easy, vegetarian or seafood-based – that it’s rare to add a new meal to our rotation. This one fits all of the requirements, and as an added bonus, it can be made ahead. I often make enough for two dinners and have it early in the week and then the night before we leave for a trip.

Confetti Cookies
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These cookies scream ‘birthday’ to me, but they’re also just a fun cookie – colorful enough to grab the attention of kids, and they taste just as good as they look.

Goat Cheese and Braised Lamb Shank Raviolilamb goat cheese ravioli 6I wish I had infinite amounts of time to make this every week. It’s one of the best things I ate last year.

Cheesecake Squares with Sour Cream Topping
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I love a grand and celebratory cheesecake, but this one can’t be beat for simple good flavor. It’s a childhood favorite that’s become an adulthood favorite.

Mai Taismai tai 6Dave and I have had so much fun making tiki a hobby, trying new drinks every week and sharing notes with my brother across the country. We struggled to find the perfect mai tai recipe and nailed it right around when I got pregnant. I’m looking forward to enjoying one of these next month.

Berry Jam and Chocolate Mousse Tart
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I love chocolate, but I don’t think I’m one of those chocolate people. I always want something to brighten it up, and a thick layer of berry jam is the perfect tart balance to lots of chocolate mousse.

Stovetop Macaroni and Cheesestovetop mac and cheese 8
I started making this last year as a pregnancy craving, but in this rough beginning to 2016, it’s become a comfort food favorite.

Slow-Ferment Pizza Dough
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Definitely the recipe I made more than any other this year. A quick mix on Monday night makes bubbly, crisp pizza Friday after work.

Lemon Cheesecake
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Macaroni and cheese and cereal have been my primary pregnancy cravings, yet somehow, I seem to have made cheesecake at every opportunity as well. That might not have anything to do with pregnancy and everything to do with how delicious and creamy cheesecake is. This one is one of my favorites; that lemon curd on top goes so well with the rich cake.

Honorable Mention: Transportation Cake
tranportation cake 1The coconut cake recipe I shared here is a light, moist, and coconutty, but what really makes this worth talking about is the decorating, which was so much fun that I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity to make layered cakes since then – including my own baby shower.

Frankly, it’s been a rough start to this year, but soon enough, we’ll have a baby and hopefully a house to put her in, and we can start finding our new normal. I can’t wait to see what that looks like.

salted chocolate caramels

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It might be silly, but one of the things I was the most upset about when my house got flooded was that I wouldn’t be able to do all of the Christmas baking I’d planned. I didn’t enjoy sharing a hotel room with two cats who take out their anxiety by playing in the litter box in the middle of the night, I don’t like the concrete floors in my house, and I wish my favorite black boots hadn’t been among the many casualties, but it was the baking that I kept coming back to. I started planning my holiday baking in October; I remember trying to order packaging and not being able to find anything but Halloween themes. (I did order packaging in early November, but it unfortunately was another casualty and had to be reordered.)

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But a little flood damage can’t hold me back. The weekend we were stuck in a hotel while contractors tore out our carpet and cut the bottom two feet from all the walls, a friend of ours was going out of town and was generous enough to give us the keys to his house. His kitchen didn’t give me much to work with – I was able to carve out just a few square feet of workspace – but when there’s a will, there’s a way. In that tiny kitchen, I baked cranberry-orange bread, mocha biscotti, and lemon spritz wreaths, which actually put me ahead of the schedule I’d originally planned for the month.

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We’ve now spent two weeks at home in our torn up house before construction starts, and I was able to make almost everything else I’d planned, including a tiered Christmas tree cake for the office holiday party, which I got the idea for all the way back in the summer. (Fortunately, the cakes were already baked and in the freezer, but decorating it was not trivial.) These caramels were the last treat I needed to make, and I had the recipe picked before I read the very mixed reviews – about half of the reviewers raved, but the other half had massive failures. I had neither the time nor the mental fortitude for a failure.

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Fortunately, the recipe came together perfectly. I wasn’t expecting it to take quite so long for the chocolate-caramel mixture to reach the right temperature, but I knew how important that was, since most of the problems people had were with the consistency of the final caramels, which is based on that temperature. Another problem I read about was butter separating from the caramel mixture after it had hardened. I remembered all of the pan sauce recipes that specifically call for cold butter because it emulsifies better and was sure to keep my butter, cut into tiny cubes, in the fridge until I was ready for it. I don’t know if it was that, or if the universe is just cutting me a break after a rough month, but I’m grateful for a recipe that came together easily and flawlessly, so I was able to finish my holiday baking and enjoy the part of the season I was looking forward to the most.

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Chocolate Salted Caramels (adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

64-96 candies, depending on how you cut them

Here’s what I’ve changed: reducing the final temperature to 246 degrees, based on many reviews that said their candies were too hard at 255 degrees; keeping the butter cold before adding it; and putting more salt into the mixture and less salt on top.

2 cups heavy cream
10½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1¾ cups (12.25 ounces) granulated sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon flaky salt, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch diced, cold

1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-by-8-inch square pan with two sheets of crisscrossed parchment paper.

2. In a 1- or 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Let set for 1 minute, then stir the cream and chocolate together until evenly mixed.

3. In a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat the medium. Simmer, occasionally swirling the pan or stirring with a metal spoon, until the mixture is reddish-amber in color. Immediately add the chocolate mixture; the caramel with bubble vigorously. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring very frequently, until the mixture reads 146-148 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter.

4. Immediately pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Let set for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with flaky salt. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before cutting and serving. Wrapped tightly, the caramels with keep for about 2 weeks.

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julia child’s boeuf bourguignon

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I wanted winey beef stew. I knew there were easier recipes out there, and maybe even better recipes, but Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon is a bucket list recipe for me. I guess sometimes I can’t resist using every pot and skillet I own just to make one dish.

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But it was worth it for one single thing I learned from this recipe: how to enjoy pearl onions. The French seem to love using them in their fancy braises, but I’ve never liked their texture in the coq au vin or other beef burgundy recipes I’ve tried. Instead of the quick saute most recipes call for, Julia braises them in broth for almost an hour. At the end, they’re meltingly tender – okay, maybe they’re mushy. But that’s a lot better than the feeling that there are crunchy eyeballs in my stew. They also soak up meaty flavor from the broth, which doesn’t hurt matters.

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Other than that, the stew was very good, but probably not any better than my favorite pot roast recipe. Am I allowed to say that about one of Julia Child’s most famous recipes? It’s not that it wasn’t good, because I always really enjoy braising beef in wine. It’s just that I also enjoy using one pot for that braise. But now I can check this one off the bucket list, and that, plus those soft pearl onions, makes this a win.

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Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon (adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

Serves 4

I liked the onions a lot, but I would have preferred the mushrooms cooked until they were drier and browner.

6 ounces (about 6 slices) bacon, sliced ¼-inch thick
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
3 pounds chuck roast, trimmed, cut into 2-inch cubes
salt
1 large or 2 small carrots, cut into ½-inch dice
1 medium onion, diced
ground black pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1 (750-liter) bottle medium red wine, such as pinot noir, cotes du rhone, or chianti
2 cups beef broth, plus ½ cup to cook the onions
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons butter, divided
24 pearl onions, peeled (or frozen)
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 small bay leaf
4 sprigs parsley, plus more for garnish
1 pound mushrooms, halved or quartered in large

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the bacon and 6 cups of water to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and dry the bacon. In a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon until it’s slightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove it from the pot, leaving the rendered fat in the pot; set the bacon aside.

2. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pot with the bacon fat and heat over medium-high heat until just smoking. Season the beef generously with salt. Add half of the beef in a single layer, leaving space between each piece. Cook without moving until the bottom side is browned, about 2 minutes. Rotate each piece, searing and rotating until all sides are browned. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining beef.

3. Add the carrots and diced onion to the pot and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Return the beef and bacon to the pot with the vegetables; add 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper; stir to combine. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the mixture; stir to evenly distribute the flour. Transfer the pot to the oven and cook for 4 minutes. Stir, then cook in the oven for an additional 4 minutes. Transfer the Dutch oven back to the stove. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

4. Add the wine and 2 cups of broth to the pot with the beef and vegetables. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover the pot, transfer it to the oven, and cook until the meat is tender, 2½ to 3 hours, stirring about once an hour.

5. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the pearl onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they’re browned. Add ½ cup of broth, the thyme, bay leaf, parsley, and a generous sprinkling of salt, then cover the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the onions are very tender, about 40 minutes. If there is any liquid left in the pan at this point, let it evaporate. Set aside.

6. In a medium skillet over high heat, heat 2 tablespoons butter and the oil. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, until they are lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

7. Remove the Dutch oven from the oven. Strain the liquid into a separate saucepan, returning the beef and bacon to the Dutch oven or a serving dish. Add the mushrooms and onions to the beef. Skim the liquid in the saucepan of fat and simmer until it’s reduced to about 2½ cups and is thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. Pour the reduced sauce over the meat and vegetables. Serve, topped with minced parsley.

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quinoa with roasted brussels sprouts, pine nuts, and parmesan

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We had a great visit with family over Thanksgiving, but not nearly so nice a homecoming. Instead of the hour or two of relaxing we were picturing after a long day of travel home, we had half an inch of water covering the entire house, caused by a leak in the hose that feeds the refrigerator’s icemaker. This also put a kink in my plans to eat healthier after a week of pie, cookies, and cheesecake.

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Fortunately, I hoard freezer meals. If I make a recipe that freezes well and makes enough for multiple meals, I freeze some, but then I have trouble convincing myself to ever eat them. What if I need those one day?

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Well, I need them now. We ate hastily defrosted chili in between stunned shop-vaccing the first night, squash-black bean burritos the next night while we watched contractors cut into the walls and set out fans, and four cheese lasagna over the weekend when we were staying in a hotel but had an out-of-town friend’s housekey.

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I’m quickly depleting my freezer stash, so while things are somewhat stabilized and we’re living at home in our torn up house before reconstruction begins, I’m still keeping things very simple. This has become a staple. It’s not quite as easy as dumping a ziploc bag of stew into a pot and heating it up, but it’s straightforward enough to make in a kitchen full of boxes in between doing load after load of laundry. Best of all, it tastes like comfort food to us – maybe not tomato soup and grilled cheese level of comfort, but close enough for something so healthy. But now it’s time to start thinking about building my freezer stash back up to help get us through reconstruction.

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Quinoa with Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Pine Nuts, and Parmesan (adapted from a recipe I adapted from Gourmet)

Serves 4

1½ cups water
salt
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
½ cup (6 ounces) pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup (2 ounces) parmesan, shredded

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the water and ½ teaspoon salt to a boil. Add the quinoa, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Without removing the lid, remove the pot from the heat and set aside for another 15 minutes.

2. While the quinoa cooks, remove the heated baking sheet from the oven and spread 1 tablespoon of oil over its surface. Place the brussels sprouts on the sheet, generously season with salt and pepper, and stir to coat with the oil. Arrange the sprouts cut-side down. Transfer to the oven and cook for 12 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the pine nuts, garlic, and red pepper flakes. After the brussels sprouts have roasted for 12 minutes, add the pine nut mixture to the baking sheet and roast for an additional 2-3 minutes, until the brussels sprouts are browned and tender and the nuts are just toasted. (Keep an eye on the nuts; they burn easily.)

4. Stir the lemon juice into the quinoa, then add the roasted sprouts and pine nuts and the parmesan. Stir to combine; serve immediately.

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mocha biscotti

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My brother isn’t a coffee drinker, but when he travels with me and Dave, he indulges our desire for fancy coffee every morning. In Oregon last fall, he tried a variety of drinks, from the oversugared coffee slushy to a fancy shakerato. He was just going along with the crowd though; none of the drinks seemed to impress him.

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In Iceland this summer, however, he settled on one drink, getting a swiss mocha every day with our morning pastries. I hadn’t tried a mocha since high school, but these were good – the bitter espresso balances the sweet hot cocoa. My favorite has always been a good cappuccino, but I even ordered my own mocha one afternoon.

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Coffee is often added to chocolate desserts to enhance the chocolate flavor, but it was the coffee that I wanted to stand out here. With plenty of espresso powder and a shot of Kahlua, I think I succeeded. Even a non-coffee drinker would like these – although my brother can no longer count himself in that crowd, because now he makes mochas a regular treat even when he’s not on vacation.

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Mocha Biscotti

Makes about 40 biscotti

3¼ cups (15.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 large eggs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Kahlua or coffee liqueur
4 teaspoons espresso powder
6 ounces (about 1 cup) bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
3 ounces (about ⅔ cup) slivered almonds

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Break the eggs into a small bowl or measuring cup, but do not whisk them together.

2. In a large pot over medium-low heat, heat the butter until it’s just melted. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sugar, then the salt, vanilla, Kahlua, and espresso powder. Stir in the egg yolks, then the egg whites, reserving about 1 tablespoon of egg white to use for an egg wash. Stir in the flour mixture until almost combined, then add the chocolate and almonds, folding until evenly combined and there are no pockets of dry flour.

3. Divide the dough into two portions and shape each into a log that is 2-inches wide and as long as your baking sheet. The dough is very sticky; it’s easiest to use a spatula and butter knife to push the dough into position instead of trying to use your hands.

4. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until just golden, 30-35 minutes. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the loaves cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then use two spatulas to transfer the loaves from the pan to the cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

5. Place an oven-proof cooling rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to cut the loaves into ½-inch slices, on the diagonal if desired. Transfer half of the biscotti to the cooling rack in the pan, spaced about ¼-inch apart. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, until the edges just start to brown. (This baking step is to crisp the biscotti, but they’ll still feel somewhat soft when they’re hot.) Repeat with the remaining biscotti. (You can bake all of the biscotti at once if two pans fit on one level in your oven or if you have cooling racks that stack.) Let the biscotti cool completely on the rack before serving.

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maple nutmeg cookies

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There are more practical things I could be doing with my time, but none of them are as fun as baking cookies. This is why I have three types of Christmas cookie dough and a Christmas cake in my freezer. Plus I’ll be 8 months pregnant at Christmas, and I never know when my body is going to cry uncle and let me know that I can’t keep up my normal level of activity indefinitely.

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I have five more holiday treats planned (plus decorating that cake in the freezer), which seemed ambitious until I talked to someone who makes at least twenty types of cookies every December. Still, the only way I can get it all done and still enjoy my life is by spacing it out, and I have so many plans this year that my holiday baking spilled over into November. This is not a hardship, as I’m not sad about having more excuses to play with butter and sugar, even if it does mean using red and green food coloring before Thanksgiving.

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With no food coloring here, these cookies work for either holiday. They’re simple but not plain, as the maple flavor really is evident. Cutting them into fall leaves makes them seem more appropriate for Thanksgiving, but they’re going in my Christmas care packages anyway – along with at least five other treats.

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Nutmeg Maple Cookies (adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

Yield depends on size of cutters used; I made at least a hundred 1-inch cookies (which took forever)

I can’t find Grade B maple syrup where I live, but I do have maple sugar in the pantry, so I substituted 2 tablespoons of that for an equal amount of granulated sugar. The original recipe suggests adding a few drops of maple extract, if you’re more likely to have that around than maple sugar. I also considered starting with a couple extra tablespoons of Grade A maple syrup and simmering it down to ½ cup; if you do this, be sure to let it cool to room temperature before adding it to the dough.

I substituted some brown sugar for white sugar and added vanilla to the original recipe, because I thought both would help bring out the maple flavor.

I know it’s annoying to chill the dough and then have to wait for it to soften up again after chilling, but it’s so soft at room temperature that there’s no way you’d be able to transfer the cut shapes to a baking sheet. You could, however, roll it out immediately after mixing (you’d need a pretty big area) and refrigerate it until it hardens enough to cut and transfer, which would only take 15 minutes or so. I often do this with the scraps.

I tried baking the cookies for 8 minutes and for 10 minutes. The cookies baked for 8 minutes were just a bit chewy. The cookies baked for 10 minutes were crunchy, which isn’t usually my preference but was nice here. If you want your cookies softer, increase the brown sugar to ½ cup and decrease the granulated sugar to ½ cup and bake for 8-10 minutes, until the tops looks dry but the edges aren’t browned.

3 cups (14.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon table salt
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) light brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
½ cup Grade B maple syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a small bowl, combine the flour and nutmeg. Place the 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) and beat on medium-low speed until it’s smooth. Add the salt and both sugars and 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 egg yolk and mix until fully incorporated, then, with the mixer running, gradually add the maple syrup and vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or up to two days.

2. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

3. If chilled for longer than 2 hours, let the dough sit at room temperature until it’s just soft enough to roll out. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of ⅛-inch. Use floured cookie cutters to cut shapes; transfer the shapes to the prepared pans. Re-roll and cut shapes from the scraps, using as little flour as possible.

4. Bake the cookies until the just golden around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the pan for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack cool completely.

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marbled pumpkin cheesecake tart

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I’m finding that I don’t prefer eating the desserts I bring to events at the events I bring them to. For one thing, by the time I’m finished baking them, I’ve been surrounded by sugar for so long that I’ve lost interest in eating it. For another, and this is surely the real issue, I’ve usually spent the whole party grazing on the food that the host or other guests have provided, and I’m simply out of room for dessert.

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I haven’t figured out just what to do about this yet. When I brought the chocolate port wine cake to a crowded party, I didn’t think the host would notice that a slice was already taken out (for pictures! and to save for later), but much to my embarrassment, she most definitely did. I’ve taken to bringing a container with me and sneaking – or openly snagging, depending on how friendly I am with the host – a piece to bring home. Every bite of that treat will be savored over my tea the next morning, far more than if I tried to stuff in more food after gorging on stuffed jalapenos.

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This was a classic example. I brought it to a party last year, set it on the dessert table already crowded with cookies and cupcakes, then went outside to drink cocktails and eat pulled pork. One of my friends makes green chile cheese rice for most potlucks, and it’s one of my favorites, so that was my dish to overeat that night. After several servings, I was in no mood for a slice of tart.

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But I hadn’t yet established my policy of bringing a slice home for the next day, so I stuffed some down without the wherewithal to gauge flavor and texture details. So then I had to make it again. This time I just brought it to work, and after all the treats I’ve shared there, no one would begrudge me a tart with one slice removed. This time I got to eat it at home by myself after the workday; it isn’t as good as a weekend morning after a party, but at least I paid attention to how good it was this time.

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Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

8-12 servings

The original version of this recipe has a full cup of cream in the pumpkin batter and none in the cheesecake batter. On her blog’s cookbook page, Deb mentions that she’s received feedback that the two batters were difficult to swirl together due to their different consistencies, so she recommends using two tablespoons of cream in the cheesecake batter and ⅞ cup (which is 1 cup minus those 2 tablespoons) in the pumpkin batter. I found that using a little more cream in the cheesecake batter and less in the pumpkin batter worked even better for me.

I used pumpkin pie spice because I’m lazy, but if you don’t keep it around, the original recipe calls for 3⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1⁄4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves, and a few fresh gratings of nutmeg. I’ve also added a step for pre-baking the crust to make it a little more sturdy.

Crust:
4 ounces gingersnap cookies
3 ounces graham crackers (5½ full sheets)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
¼ teaspoon salt

Cheesecake batter:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
pinch salt
1 large egg yolk
¼ cup heavy cream

Pumpkin batter:
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1¼ cups (10.5 ounces) pumpkin purée
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated white sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) brown sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup heavy cream

1. For the crust: Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In the food processor, process the gingersnaps and graham crackers until finely ground (or put the cookies in a large ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush them, then transfer them to a bowl); you should have about 1½ cups crumbs.
Add the sugar and salt and pulse to combine. Pour the melted butter over the crumbs; pulse until evenly coated. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch round (or equivalent size) tart pan. Bake until fragrant, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while preparing the filling. Increase the oven temperature to 425°F.

3. For the cheesecake batter: In a small bowl, use a whisk or hand mixer to beat the cream cheese until creamy. Add the sugar and salt, mixing until evenly combined. Add the egg yolk and cream, mixing until smooth. Set aside.

4. For the pumpkin batter: In a medium bowl, whisk the egg and egg white until broken up. Add the pumpkin, sugars, salt, and spices, mixing until smooth. Add the vanilla and cream and mix until evenly combined.

5. Spread the pumpkin batter evenly over the cooled crust. Use a spoon to dollop the cheesecake batter over the pumpkin batter, then run a knife through the cheesecake batter, dragging it into the pumpkin batter to create swirls.

6. Transfer the tart to the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until the center of the tart is just slightly jiggly, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before serving. (Can also be covered and refrigerated overnight.)

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lemon cheesecake

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I read somewhere the sanctimonious line that “eating for two while pregnant doesn’t mean eating twice as much, it should mean twice as healthy.” I decided early on that my my regular diet is plenty healthy, so my extra calories could come from string cheese, cereal, and a few more servings of dessert. As a result, I’ve started making the occasional dessert just for me and Dave to have at home, which pretty much never happens otherwise unless it’s our birthdays.

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Of course, more dessert isn’t so bad when you’re growing a new little person, which I am but Dave is not. So sometimes the desserts are just for me. I didn’t exactly hide this one from Dave, but I just sort of never offered him any. I’d only made a mini version, and it was just too good to share. He never showed any interest, which was a relief. I did make a big version first, to share at work, but when I didn’t get my fill from the two slivers I saved for myself, I needed a little one to hoard to myself at home. Hey, I’m growing a tiny person, I deserve my own tiny cheesecake, right?

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Lemon Cheesecake (slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

I made a few changes to this. First, if you make the lemon sugar in the food processor before the crust mixture, you don’t have to clean the processor bowl between uses; a little lemon in the crust is okay, but trace amounts of cookie crumbs in the cheesecake is not. Second, I accidentally overbaked mine slightly the first time, but I thought it was the perfect texture. The same week, my brother baked it to the temperature recommended in the original recipe and found it underdone for his taste. Therefore, I’ve increased the goal temperature of the cheesecake from 150 degrees to 155 degrees. Third, my brother and I both agreed that we prefer making the curd in a double boiler instead of directly in the saucepan. For both of us, when made in the saucepan as per the original recipe, the curd curdled. The lumps smoothed after straining, but I feel more comfortable using a double boiler and it isn’t more work, so I’ve adapted the recipe for a double boiler.

Filling:
1¼ cups (8¾ ounces) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
¼ cup lemon juice
1½ pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, room temperature
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon table salt
½ cup heavy cream

Cookie-Crumb Crust:
5 ounces animal crackers
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Lemon Curd:
⅓ cup lemon juice
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and chilled
1 tablespoon heavy cream
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch table salt

1. To make lemon sugar: Process ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) of the sugar and the lemon zest in a food processor until the sugar is yellow and the zest is broken down, about 15 seconds, scraping down the bowl if necessary. Transfer the lemon sugar to a small bowl; stir in the remaining 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar. Do not wash the food processor.

2. For the crust: Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. In the food processor, process the cookies to fine, even crumbs, about 30 seconds (you should have about 1 cup). Add the sugar and and salt; pulse 2 or 3 times to incorporate. Add the melted butter in a slow, steady stream while pulsing; pulse until the mixture is evenly moistened and resembles wet sand, about ten 1-second pulses. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch springform pan; using the bottom of a ramekin or dry measuring cup, press the crumbs firmly and evenly into the pan bottom, keeping the sides of the pan as clean as possible. Bake until fragrant and golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 30 minutes. When cool, wrap the outside of the pan with two 18-inch square pieces of foil; set the springform pan in a larger baking pan.

3. For the filling: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese on low to break it up and soften it slightly, about 5 seconds. With the machine running, add the lemon sugar in a slow steady stream; increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until the mixture is creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the eggs one at a time; beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl well after each addition. Add the lemon juice, vanilla, and salt and mix until just incorporated, about 5 seconds; add the heavy cream and mix until just incorporated, about 5 seconds longer. Give the batter a final scrape, stir with a rubber spatula, and pour into the prepared springform pan; fill the larger baking pan with enough hot tap water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

4. Bake until the center jiggles slightly, the sides just start to puff, the surface is no longer shiny, and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the cake registers 155 degrees, 60 to 70 minutes. Turn off the oven and prop open the oven door with a potholder or wooden spoon handle; allow the cake to cool in the water bath in the oven for 1 hour. Transfer the springform pan without the foil to a wire rack; run a small paring knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the sides of the cake; cool the cake to room temperature, about 1 hour.

5. For the lemon curd: Set a metal or glass bowl on top of a saucepan that contains 1 inch of simmering water (do not allow bottom of the bowl to touch the water). Add the lemon juice to the bowl and heat until the juice is hot but not boiling. Whisk the eggs and yolk in a separate bowl; gradually whisk in the sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly pour the hot lemon juice into the eggs, then return the mixture to the bowl set over the saucepan and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, often at first and constantly when the mixture begins to thicken, until the mixture registers 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and is thick enough to cling to a spoon, about 5 minutes. Immediately remove the bowl from the saucepan and stir in the cold butter until it’s incorporated; stir in the cream, vanilla, and salt, then pour the curd through a fine-mesh strainer into a small nonreactive bowl. Cover the surface of the curd directly with plastic wrap; refrigerate until needed.

6. To finish: When the cheesecake is cool, scrape the lemon curd onto the cheesecake while it’s still in the springform pan; using an offset icing spatula, spread the curd evenly over the top of the cheesecake. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours. To serve, remove the sides of the springform pan and cut the cake into wedges.

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apple slab pie

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I’m such a hoarder. A couple months ago, I oh-so-casually asked my coworker how her apple tree was doing this year, and, just as I’d hoped, the next day she brought in a bag of apples. A big bag, which she said I was welcome to take, but she’d give away whatever I left behind to other coworkers. I really wanted them all – I had so many apple plans! – but I tried not to be greedy. I ended up with something like fifty apples.

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And I still have about twenty in my fridge. I made this, I made baked apple oatmeal, I made applesauce to put in the apple oatmeal, I made apple cinnamon rolls, I sautéed apples to top pancakes, I ate apples as snacks, and then…I kind of lost interest. Not that I ran out of apple recipes I want to make, but I also want to make pumpkin recipes and lemon recipes and chocolate recipes.

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Even this pie-that-serves-a-crowd hardly made a dent in my stash. It does have a higher ratio of crust to fruit than a regular pie, but if you make an excellent pie crust, one that’s flaky and crisp and buttery, that’s not a bad thing. But maybe it’s time to make a regular apple pie to use up some more apples. In fact, a deep dish pie is probably best. Or, maybe I can keep hoarding my apple stash for just a little while longer. I still have a few fun apple recipes up my sleeve.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Apple Slab Pie (slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Crust:
3¾ cups (18 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons table salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold
¾ cup very cold water

Filling:
3½ to 4 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into approximately ½-inch chunks (about 8 cups)
⅔ to ¾ cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like your pies)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

To finish:
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Glaze:
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the crust: Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Cut the butter into ½-inch cubes; add to the food processor and pulse until the largest pieces are pea-sized. Transfer the mixture to a bowl; stir in the water. Divide the dough in half and wrap each portion in plastic wrap; chill at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. If chilled longer than an hour, leave the dough at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to soften before rolling.

2. For the filling: In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt. In a large bowl, toss the apples with the lemon juice. Add the sugar mixture and stir to evenly coat.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line the bottom of a 15-by-10-inch (or something roughly equivalent) baking pan with parchment paper.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll one portion of the dough to a 18-by-13-inch rectangle. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. If it breaks, patch the pieces together. The dough should overhang the pan rim. Roll out the second portion of dough to a 16-by-11-inch rectangle.

5. Spread the apple mixture evenly over the crust-lined pan. Top with the second portion of dough. Seal the edges of the two sheets of dough together, trimming excess if necessary. Crimp the edges if you’d like. Cut about twelve 2-inch slits into the top crust. Brush the top crust and edges lightly with the 2 tablespoons heavy cream.

6. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, 40-45 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Cool about 45 minutes, until the pie is warm but not hot. (Can also be stored overnight at room temperature.)

7. For the glaze: In a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled pastry.

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slow ferment pizza dough

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Since I make pizza once every two weeks or so, it’s only natural that my dough recipe has evolved over the years. The recipe I’ve been using lately doesn’t bear much resemblance to my favorite from several years ago beyond the obvious flour, water, and yeast. My current favorite couldn’t be easier to make – with a few caveats.

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The first is that it’s best if you think ahead – far ahead, if you can. I usually mix the dough on Monday night to cook it on Friday night. That being said, if I didn’t decide I wanted pizza until Thursday, I’d still use this recipe, with just a one-night rest.

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The second is that I’m using flour I special-ordered from Italy. I’ve entered the deep end, where flour for pizza is no longer taken out of the grocery budget, it comes out of my fun money allowance. But then I tried the recipe with bread flour (King Arthur), and to be honest, it was so good that it doesn’t seem like the special flour is worth the splurge.

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So, thinking in advance helps, and fancy flour might help, but after that, it’s just mixing up flour, water, yeast, sugar, and salt. I don’t bother with a whole wheat pre-dough; I just use half whole wheat flour in the dough, and the long wait in the fridge is plenty of time to soften the grains. I also don’t put much effort into kneading the dough. I mix it, put it in the fridge overnight, and spend a minute or two kneading it once it’s evenly hydrated. If you’d rather do all the work up front and forget about it for a few days, you can just knead it longer right after you mix it up.

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Then it sits in the back of the fridge until I’m ready for it at the end of the week. I come home from work on Friday, take the dough out to warm up, and go sit in my favorite chair with a book and my cat. An hour or two later, somewhat refreshed, the dough is easy to stretch out to a circle and ready to top.

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Another pizza splurge I indulged in last year was a Baking Steel. It does make homemade pizza better, and I recommend it, but of course a pizza stone will do a fine job too. With the Baking Steel, it gets so hot that the dough crisps and browns within a few minutes, so I put it on a high rack and turn the broiler on when the pizza goes in. This is not recommended with a stone, since the direct heat could cause it to crack (heck, in my experience, anything causes them to crack!).

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And then you’ve got pizza as good as you can get with a home oven. The bottom is crisp and browned, the middle is full of bubbles, the dough has great flavor on its own, even without whatever delicious toppings you pile on top. I’ve been making this new favorite for almost a year, and I have no plans to change it up – but you never know. There’s always something new to try, so maybe in a few years, I’ll be sharing yet another new and improved pizza method.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Slow Ferment Pizza Dough
(adapted from Serious Eats’ Cold-Fermented Pizza Dough)

I’ve reduced the yeast from Kenji’s recipe, because with the full amount, my fermented dough was developing an unpleasant sour aroma.

Whether baking on a steel or a stone, I’ve found that the dough is easiest to transfer to the oven with parchment paper, but it crisps and browns better if the paper is removed once the dough sets. Furthermore, a baking steel is hot enough to burn the paper after a couple minutes in the oven, creating a mess.

10 ounces (2 cups) bread flour or 00 flour
10 ounces (2 cups) whole wheat flour
2 teaspoon salt
⅔ teaspoon yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
1¾ cups water

1. In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients until there are no dry bits remaining. Tightly cover and store in the refrigerator, at least overnight or up to 5 days. The following day, knead the dough for about a minute, until it’s smooth and elastic. Cover and refrigerate. (Alternatively, the dough can be kneaded for about 5 minutes right after mixing, with no additional kneading necessary.)

2. About two hours before baking, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Use a dough scraper or rubber spatula to transfer the dough from the bowl to a damp dishtowel or a lightly floured surface. Use a knife to divide the dough in half. Shape each portion into a ball. Cover the dough balls loosely with plastic wrap; leave at room temperature for 1½ to 2 hours, until the dough is easily stretched.

3. About 45 minutes before baking the pizzas, place a baking steel (about 6 inches from the broiler) or pizza stone (lowest rack) in the oven; heat the oven to its hottest setting. Line a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. Stretch one portion of dough to a 10- to 12-inch round; lay it on the parchment paper. If necessary to even out thick areas and fix the shape of the dough, pull the edges to an even circle. Top with desired toppings.

5. Transfer the pizza on the parchment paper to the heated steel or stone. If using a steel, immediately turn the oven off and the broiler on to its hottest setting. After 1 minute, use a metal spatula to lift the pizza while using tongs to remove the parchment paper. Continue cooking until the cheese is bubbling and the bottom of the crust is spottily browned, about 4 additional minutes for a baking steel or 6-7 minutes for a baking stone. Use the metal spatula and pizza peel to remove the pizza from the oven and transfer it to a cooling rack. Cool for about 5 minutes before cutting and serving. Repeat with the remaining dough.

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