strawberry daiquiris

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These ain’t your mama’s strawberry daiquiris. Or at least, they’re not my mama’s strawberry daiquiris, which are slushy and sugary and delicious and rightfully earn their classification as a foofoo drink.

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These strawberry daiquiris are no foofoo drink. They’re serious. Made from nothing but strawberry-infused rum, sugar syrup, and lime juice, they are also the most delicious cocktail I have ever had.

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It’s all thanks to Dave, who found an interest in rum after we went on a Caribbean cruise with his parents last year. Our liquor cabinet is now half rum, which is fair since that’s all we drink now that Dave is willing to mix up a variety of rum drinks and I’m willing to let him bring them to me.

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My part in this recipe is to think ahead enough to pour a bottle of rum over strawberries. Let them sit for a week (or really, just a few days if you’re in a hurry), strain, and you’re on your way to a seriously great cocktail. Just be careful, because these ain’t no foofoo drink.

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Strawberry Daiquiris

4 drinks

Make the sugar syrup by heating 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Cool before using. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for several weeks.

Make the strawberry rum by pouring 1 (750-ml) bottle of rum over 1 pound of stemmed and quartered strawberries. Strain after 5-7 days. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for several weeks. Your yield, unfortunately, will be slightly less than 750 ml, as the strawberries soak up some of the rum.

Our favorite rum for mixing is Shellback Silver.

1½ cups strawberry rum
¾ cup lime juice
½ cup sugar syrup

In a large measuring cup, mix the three ingredients. Fill a cocktail shaker with crushed ice; add half the rum mixture. Cover and shake until the sides of the cocktail shaker are frosty. Strain into two glasses. Add more ice and repeat with the remaining mix. Add some of the ice from the shaker into each glass. Serve immediately.

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beer ice cream

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I wish I could think of a more appetizing name for this. If I’d used one of the chocolate porters in my fridge, I could have called it Chocolate Porter Ice Cream, which sounds good, because, you know, chocolate. Scotch Ale Ice Cream sounds marginally better, but this recipe isn’t limited to scotch ales. A variety of beers can be used, and therefore Beer Ice Cream really is the most appropriate name.

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Not necessarily any beer can be used though. You want something full-flavored, but not too hoppy. IPAs are out. The original recipe specifically recommends Samuel Smith’s Yorkshire Stingo, with Oskar Blue’s Old Chub Scotch Ale as a close second. I happened to have a can of Old Chub in the fridge, and, bonus, we were celebrating my friend’s birthday by drinking beer, and this is one of his favorites.

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So beer ice cream sounds a little weird, and to be honest, it tasted a little weird right after I mixed up the custard. Once I froze it though, it was much better; it almost had a caramel flavor to it, with a little extra something. No matter what you call it, it’s a great match for chocolate stout cake.

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Beer Ice Cream (slightly adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Feed)

Makes about 1 quart

ATK notes: This recipe is best made with a malty beer that is 8–11% ABV. Avoid overly hoppy beers since hops become bitter once cooked. Make sure to cook the custard slowly in step 3 so that it thickens properly, which will ensure a creamy, rich-tasting ice cream.

The article accompanying this recipe has some specific recommendations for beer options to use.

12 ounces 8-11% ABV beer
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
6 large yolks
2 cups heavy cream

1. Pour 5 ounces of the beer into an 8-inch skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until the beer is reduced by half, about 10 minutes, lowering the heat as necessary to avoid creating too much foam. Mix the reduced beer with the remaining 7 ounces of beer; add the vanilla and stir to combine.

2. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a medium shallow bowl. In a large bowl, prepare an ice bath.

3. In a large saucepan, whisk together the sugar, salt, and egg yolks until smooth. Whisk in the cream and cook, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat, until the mixture thickens to a custardy consistency and registers 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes. (The custard should coat the back of a spoon so that dragging your finger through the custard on the spoon’s back leaves a visible trail).

4. Immediately pour the mixture through the strainer into the shallow bowl. Whisk in the beer mixture, and set the bowl into the ice bath. Whisk occasionally until the custard reaches room temperature, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

5. Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a glass or plastic container, pressing plastic wrap or waxed paper against the surface of the ice cream, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Freeze until firm, at least 8 hours and preferably 24 hours. Ice cream will keep, frozen, up to 5 days.

chocolate stout cake

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We celebrated my friend’s 40th birthday by eating meat and drinking beer. He’s a hunter with friends who are hunters, so we had two types of venison, Barbary sheep, rabbit, quail, partridge, and dove. We also compared ten different stouts. It was a nice manly birthday party.

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Obviously chocolate stout cake is the perfect birthday cake for Game and Stout Night. (And just wait until I tell you about the perfect ice cream for Game and Stout Night.) For one thing, a glazed bundt cake is simple to put together compared to a layered, filled, iced, and decorated cake, which was good because I also contributed baguettes, ravioli filled with homemade venison sausage, and ice cream.

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Small slices of bundt cake are also easier to handle than a triple-layer wedge of cake when you’ve been eating meat and drinking heavy beer all night. But there’s a lot of flavor packed into a small serving, with lots of rich chocolate and a hint of bitterness from the stout and the espresso powder in the glaze. I left the leftovers with the hosts, and I was so annoyed the next morning when I didn’t have any cake to eat with my coffee, but at least it was the perfect cake for Game and Stout Night.

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Chocolate Stout Cake (via Bon Appetit via Smitten Kitchen)

Cake:
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 large eggs, room temperature
⅔ cup sour cream

Glaze:
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons heavy cream
¾ teaspoon espresso powder

1. For the cake: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a bundt pan with baking spray, or spray with cooking spray and then dust with flour. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the stout and butter together until the mixture comes to a simmer; add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth; set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sour cream until smooth. Slowly whisk in the stout mixture. Add the flour mixture; using a rubber spatula, fold the flour into the batter until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool the cake on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto the rack to cool completely.

5. For the glaze: In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan containing 1 inch of simmering water, melt the chocolate, cream, and espresso powder until smooth and glossy. Drizzle over cooled cake.

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blood orange cosmopolitans

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My new favorite thing is to sit in my favorite chair in the living room, the one that gets the most direct sun, and read a book with my cat on my lap, while drinking something delicious. On a weekend morning, this delicious thing is coffee. On a Sunday evening, it’s a cocktail.

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I’m a latecomer to blood oranges, both in life and this season, so I’ll probably have to move on to a new cocktail soon, but while they’re in season, I’ll be enjoying these cosmos. I have nothing against oranges, I’m just not usually all that interested in them. Maybe blood oranges are sweeter and juicier than regular oranges, but I wouldn’t know, because as soon as I buy them, I mix their purple juice with cranberry juice, orange liqueur, and vodka.

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Then I add ice and give it a shake-shake-shake, strain into a glass for me and one for Dave, and plop myself down in my spot. My cat will run over to wait for me as soon as she sees me heading that direction. Then I finish up my weekend with all of my favorite things – a cozy place, a good book, a cuddly cat, and an excellent drink.

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Blood Orange Cosmopolitans (adapted from Pink Parsley)

Makes 2 cocktails

I had to reduce the orange liqueur a bit, because while I used to like the one I’m using (Pitron Citronge), lately it seems a little harsh. If you’re using Grand Marnier or another higher quality liqueur, you might prefer the higher amount. Similarly, you might want to adjust the vodka depending on the quality of the one you’re using. This Crystal Head vodka was nice and smooth.

3 ounces blood orange juice, from 2 blood oranges, strained of pulp
3 ounces unsweetened cranberry juice
2 ounces orange liqueur
5 ounces vodka

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, attach the lid and shake until the sides of the shaker are frosted. Strain liquid into 2 glasses. Serve immediately.

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mulled wine cranberry sauce

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This, finally, is the cranberry sauce I’ve been looking for – the one that is worth making not just because making cranberry sauce is fun, but because this is better than anything you could buy. And it’s no more effort than any other cranberry sauce; the only difference between this and the most basic recipe is that wine is used to simmer the cranberries instead of water, and there are a handful of warm winter spices thrown in.

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With so much wine, you might think that the sauce ends up tasting like wine, but that isn’t the case. It tastes like something much more than the in-your-face tart and sweet of regular cranberry sauce, but it isn’t particularly boozy. It’s just deeper, more complex, with a little buzz on your tongue.

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Unfortunately, with half a bottle of wine stirred into one bag of cranberries, there’s no chance of claiming that all the alcohol cooks off, so this isn’t the best cranberry sauce for kids. That’s why my friend offered to bring a can of jellied cranberry sauce for her kids when I invited them over for a big turkey feast.

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When she forgot, we figured what the heck, what harm could a few tablespoons of winey cranberries do? Not much at all, it turns out, as her son took one spoonful of sauce, noted that there was wine in it, and pushed it aside in favor of the stuffing. So maybe it’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely my new favorite.

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(turkey cranberry green chile sandwich on a crescent roll)

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Mulled Wine Cranberry Sauce (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

I pressed the sauce through a food mill right after simmering, because I like my cranberry sauce smooth.

zest from 1 orange
1½ cups red wine
½ cup (3.5 ounces) packed brown sugar
½ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 ounces fresh cranberries

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the berries burst and the mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Transfer sauce to bowl; chill until cold. (Can be prepared 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

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all-grown-up s’mores bars

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I’m going to say something here, and it might shock you: These were too rich, and they were too chocolately. I know, you’re thinking that that isn’t possible because you love rich food. Or you’re thinking that the easy solution is to serve small pieces. But the problem goes beyond that – it’s an issue of balance, of mimicking everything that’s good about a s’more, but in an elegant way that doesn’t require a campfire.

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S’mores are mostly marshmallow, a generous amount of graham cracker, and just a small wedge of chocolate. Any more chocolate and the heat of the marshmallows won’t be able to melt it. It’s a ratio that’s pleased people for generations; we don’t need to change it now.

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These bars, on the other hand, were reversed: almost all chocolate and a smidgen of marshmallow. Both layers on their own were everything you could hope for, the chocolate mousse airy and smooth with enough bitterness to balance the fluffy toasted marshmallow topping. This wasn’t an issue of quality, just of relative quantities.

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So, for the recipe below, I’ve mixed around the ratios. No, I haven’t tried it myself, but each portion is basically the same recipe as the original, just scaled up (in the case of the marshmallow) or down (the chocolate). With these new proportions, you’ll have a treat to please everyone, with plenty of marshmallow and graham cracker and still more chocolate than you get in a real s’more, but not so much that it’s the only thing you notice. All that with no sticky fingers afterward.

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All-Grown-Up S’mores Bars (adapted from Jill O’Connor’s Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey)

For the graham cracker crust:
3 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs (from about 26 full crackers)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

For the chocolate filling:
6 large egg yolks
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
2 tablespoons Kahlua
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1½ tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
9 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

For the Marshmallow Fluff meringue:
5 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1½ cup Marshmallow Fluff

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with oil.

2. To make the crust: Combine the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and granulated sugar until well combined. Press into the bottom of the prepared ban. Bake the crust until it starts to brown and become crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

3. To make the filling: Using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and confectioners’ sugar together in a large bowl until they are thick and the color of butter. Beat in the cognac, Kahlua, vanilla, and salt.

4. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat and whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolate, and stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly, then gradually beat into the egg mixture.

5. Fold the softly beaten heavy cream into the chocolate mixture just until combined. Spoon the chocolate cream over the graham cracker crust, smoothing it evenly with a spatula. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very firm, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

6. When ready to serve, make the meringue: Using an electric mixer set at low speed, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the salt and cream of tartar and beat at medium speed until soft peaks form. Beat in the vanilla. Add the Marshmallow Fluff to the egg whites a little at a time, beating constantly until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue on the chocolate layer, using the back of a spoon to create peaks. Toast the meringue using a kitchen torch or the broiler. Cut into squares and serve immediately.

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pot roast pappardelle

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Our company closed between December 21st and January 1st. That’s twelve days – count them! I did! – off from work. We knew we’d be spending a big chunk of it visiting my family for Christmas, but we weren’t sure about the rest. We considered taking an overnight detour on the way back from Albuquerque, but sleeping in our own bed was too tempting, so we came straight home. But we were still thinking of ways to fill the time – maybe a long hike? kayaking? going to the movies?

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We did none of that. Mostly we hung out at home, reading, watching movies, catching up on sleep. Dave played his guitar and I cooked. It was glorious. I made fresh pasta twice in four days!

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I thought this pot roast would turn out a lot like this one, since it has most of the same ingredients, but I was pleasantly surprised by the difference. It seemed lighter, maybe because this meat is braised in white wine and tomato juice instead of red wine and broth. I don’t have a preference either way; both are delicious.

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Most of the fresh pasta I make goes into lasagna, which is a huge hours-long process. Compared to that, this was simple – it’s just browning meat and sautéing vegetables, then forgetting about it for almost 3 hours while it tenderizes and soaks up flavor in the oven.

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The cookbook recommends serving the pasta and sauce as a first course and the meat as a second course. Being American, we don’t generally eat in courses, and besides, that would require dragging myself off of the couch halfway through dinner, interrupting the movie, to serve the beef. (We are classy folk.) Instead, I served the beef on top of the pasta and sauce, and it was perfection. Just like the entirety of my break.

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One year ago: Ricotta
Two years ago: Chocolate Madeleines
Three years ago: Lighter Chicken and Dumplings
Four years ago: German Apple Pancake
Five years ago: Macaroni and Cheese

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Pot Roast Pappardelle (adapted from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Pasta of Italy)

Serves 4

The original recipe calls for cooked tomato sauce and water. Because I didn’t have cooked tomato sauce on hand, I simply replaced the sauce and water with a can of diced tomatoes with their juice.

1 (2½ to 3 pound) boneless chuck roast, tied
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
1½ teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 batch fresh pasta, rolled to the third-to-last setting, cut into ½-inch strips
freshly grated parmesan cheese, for serving

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Season the roast on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, place the roast in the pot and brown it on all sides, turning it every 3 to 4 minutes for even coloring. Transfer the browned roast to a plate. Reduce heat to medium, add onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, and sauté, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the onion is golden. Stir in the thyme, wine, tomatoes, and ½ teaspoon salt. Return the meat to the pot, along with any juices that accumulated on the plate. Bring liquid to a simmer, cover, and place the pot in the oven.

2. Braise the meat, turning it every 45 minutes or so, for about 2½ hours, or until the meat is fork-tender and the sauce has thickened.

3. When the meat is almost done, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and stir to separate the noodles. Cover the pot until the water returns to a boil, then uncover and cook the pasta for just a few minutes, until al dente. Drain the pasta.

4. Remove the roast from the pot, and slice or shred it. Serve with the pasta and sauce, topped with the cheese.

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short rib and dried porcini lasagne

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I am in the mood to braise. It must be like the leaves changing in the fall; it’s based on the length of the day, not the temperature, because our temperatures here have been getting up to the high 70s. But I don’t care; I want to run the oven for three hours anyway, if the result is tender rich meat in a savory sauce.

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Now this recipe – it’s an endeavor. Because that three hours of oven time? It’s after 10 minutes of browning meat and 20 minutes of chopping vegetables and before, oh, about 2 hours of meat shredding, béchamel whisking, pasta rolling and cutting and boiling and rinsing, and lasagna layering. Then there’s an hour of baking while you clean up after the tornado that seemingly passed through your kitchen.

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It’s a different sort of lasagna than you might be used to, with tomatoes and cheese just playing backup roles to the meat. There isn’t a large volume of meat left after shredding the non-fatty portions of the short ribs after braising, but because the sauce spends three hours soaking up flavor from the ribs, the whole lasagna is deeply beefy. It’s just perfect. Maybe more so if you can justify four hours of oven use to warm your house, but even if you hadn’t had to turn the heater on yet, this dish is a treat.

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One year ago: Berry Chocolate Ice Cream
Two years ago: Beef in Barolo
Three years ago: English Muffins
Four years ago: Buttery Jam Cookies

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Short Rib and Dried Porcini Lasagne (adapted slightly from Fine Cooking)

Serves 6

Complete instructions on how to prepare fresh pasta for lasagna can be found in this recipe.

¾ ounce (1 cup) dried porcini mushrooms
2 pounds beef short ribs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
½ cup dry red wine
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
¼ cup minced parsley, plus more for garnish
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
Pinch nutmeg
¾ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1½ ounces)
1 batch fresh pasta, rolled, cut, boiled, and rinsed

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a small bowl, soak the porcini in 1½ cups warm water until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the soaking liquid. (There will probably be some grit settled to the bottom of the soaking liquid. Be careful to leave this behind.) Coarsely chop the mushrooms; set aside.

2. Season the short ribs with 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. In a 5-quart Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the short ribs, in batches if necessary, and brown all over, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Pour off and discard all but a thin layer of fat.

3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, carrot, celery, and a pinch of salt and cook until the vegetables are tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and bay leaf and cook, stirring, until the tomato paste darkens, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the red wine and simmer, stirring and scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon, until syrupy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the reserved mushroom liquid and the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add the porcini and the short ribs with any accumulated juices; cover, transfer the pot to the oven, and cook until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender, 2½ to 3 hours.

4. Transfer the ribs to a plate to cool. Pour the sauce into a heatproof bowl and discard the bay leaf. When the fat rises to the surface, skim it off and discard. (If you have the time, refrigerate the sauce at this point so you can just pick off the hardened fat from the surface.) Mix in the parsley; season to taste with salt and pepper. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the bones and any fat or cartilage. Shred the meat; set aside. Increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

5. Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly until light golden, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook at a gentle simmer, stirring often, until the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and the nutmeg. Stir in ½ cup (1 ounce) of the parmesan. Mix this béchamel sauce into the short rib sauce.

6. Spread about ¾ cup of the sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Mix the shredded meat into the remaining sauce. Cover the sauce in the dish with a layer of cooked noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Alternate layers of pasta and sauce until you run out of sauce, ending with a layer of sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup (0.5 ounce) of parmesan.

7. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top is browned and bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle additional minced parsley over the top of the lasagna. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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eggnog cupcakes

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Eggnog is sort of ridiculously bad for you. I think of it as a Christmasy milkshake. I enjoy it, but moderation is key. Dave, on the other hand, learned a hard lesson about moderation recently, as he poured himself a big glass of the nog and topped it off with a generous pour of Bailey’s Irish Cream. Declaring it delicious, he went ahead and poured himself another big glass, while I attempted to point out without being too terribly annoying that that there is a whole lot of eggnog. An hour later, lying on the floor clutching his stomach, he agreed.

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Perhaps iced tea glasses are not the best way to enjoy eggnog, and cupcakes, instead, are. The ingredients are similar anyway – eggs, sugar, dairy – and because eggnog is so thick, you can add a decent amount to cake batter without hurting the texture of the cake. I started with this recipe, but it’s clearly based on a vegan source, with its lack of eggs and butter. That’s fine, but I like the structure eggs give to batters, and I thought butter would be a good match with the dairy-flavored cake. I’ve always had good results with this vanilla bean cupcake recipe, which is a pretty standard cake batter, so I combined the two. For the frosting, I used an easy American-style buttercream, with just a couple ounces of cream cheese added to enhance the pudding flavor of the eggnog.

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The batter, with just 2 tablespoons of bourbon, was like a sweet cocktail, with alcohol fumes dominating the flavor. Of course most of that burns off in the oven, resulting in tender, moist cupcakes with just a hint of bourbon. The frosting was particularly dangerous, and I had to be careful that I didn’t eat so much that I had to join Dave in stomach-clutching. Powdered sugar-based American buttercream can be one-dimensionally sweet, but the cream cheese, eggnog, and bourbon give this one plenty of extra flavor. A generous grating of nutmeg brings home the Christmasy overtones. This is definitely the right way to enjoy eggnog, although I wouldn’t be opposed to a small glass of the stuff with a shot of Bailey’s either. I’m not sure Dave is recovered enough to join me.

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One year ago: Spelt Crackers
Two years ago: Bolognese Sauce (comparison of 3 recipes)
Three years ago: Thai-Style Chicken Soup (Tom Kha Gai)
Four years ago: Cranberry Orange Muffins

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Eggnog Cupcakes (adapted from Annie’s Eats and these Vanilla Bean Cupcakes)

Makes about 15 cupcakes

I included butter for flavor and a couple tablespoons of oil because it does a better job making cakes tender and moist than butter does.

1¼ cups (5 ounces) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup eggnog, at room temperature
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons bourbon or dark rum
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (5.75 ounces) sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature

For the frosting:
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
Pinch of salt
2½ cups (10 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons eggnog
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons bourbon

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour and baking powder. In a 2-cup measuring cup, whisk together the eggnog, oil, vanilla, and bourbon.

2. Place the butter and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color. Gradually add the sugar to the butter mixture. Mix in the eggs one at a time, until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed, add one-third of the flour mixture, followed immediately by half of the eggnog mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Repeat with another third of the flour and the rest of the eggnog, then the last of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

3. Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about ⅔ of the way full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

4. To make the frosting: Place the butter, cream cheese, and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the powdered sugar and nutmeg, and mix on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the eggnog and whip on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 4 minutes. With the mixer on medium-low speed, blend in the bourbon and vanilla. Frost the cupcakes as desired.

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mussels fra diavolo

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Dave took to mussels before I did. They, along with all the other bivalves, weren’t even on my radar when he came home from a dinner with coworkers raving about them. It was one of the first foods he’d tried before I had.

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Not long after, we went to a Belgian mussels and beer restaurant, and after that I was hooked. It took me a few bites to get past the slightly boogery texture, but I was sold when I tasted the liquid they were served with. It was buttery and winey and briney, and the housemade ketchup didn’t hold a candle to it as a dip for the crisp French fries served alongside.

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We’ve eaten mussels many, many times since then, but this is our favorite way. It’s garlicky and spicy, and the pasta is the perfect vehicle to mix with the sauce the mussels cook in. And the best part? Dave likes it so much, he’s willing to make dinner. This makes me love mussels at least as much as he does.

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One year ago: Normandy Apple Tart
Two years ago: Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies
Three years ago: Herbed Lamb Chops with Pinot Noir Sauce
Four years ago: Truffles (chocolate brand comparison)

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Mussels fra Diavolo (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Shrimp fra Diavolo and Gourmet)

Serves 4

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
12 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about ¼ cup), divided
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup medium-dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
salt
¾ to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon sugar
1 pound linguine
3 pounds mussels, cleaned and debearded
¼ cup minced fresh parsley

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil.

2. Heat a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil and 9 cloves of garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is sticky and light golden and begins to foam, about 7-10 minutes. Mix in the tomatoes, wine, 1 teaspoon salt, the red pepper flakes, and sugar. Increase the heat to medium-high and simmer until thickened and fragrant, about 8 minutes.

3. While the sauce is simmering, add 1 tablespoon salt and the linguine to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions until al dente. Drain; return the pasta to the now empty pot and add about ½ cup of the sauce. Toss well to coat.

4. Add the mussels to the remaining sauce and cook, covered, until they just open wide, checking frequently after 3 minutes and transferring to a bowl. Discard any mussels that remain unopened after 6 minutes.

5. Stir the remaining garlic and the parsley into the sauce. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Divide the pasta among warmed serving bowls, topping with the mussels and sauce. Serve immediately.

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