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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strawberry champagne cupcakes

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I loved how these cupcakes came out, but still, I’m not so sure about this idea of baking with champagne. On the one hand, it certainly sounds fun and fancy, doesn’t it? On the other, it’s awfully hard to get the flavor of alcohol to come through after a dessert is baked, so adding something as pricey as champagne to cupcake batter is quite a splurge.

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Sure enough, I couldn’t taste the splash of champagne that I added to the cupcake batter. On the other hand, the full cup of champagne that I reduced to just 2 tablespoons and then added to the frosting, that flavor was very evident. It made the powdered sugar-based icing, which can often seem overwhelmingly sweet, tangy.

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Between the champagne cake, the champagne frosting, and the glass of champagne I drank to finish the bottle, my favorite was the pure bubbly liquid, but I couldn’t bring that to work for a coworker’s bridal shower. In that setting, the only way to include champagne is in dessert, which makes strawberry champagne cupcakes the perfect festive, not to mention delicious, way to celebrate, even if it is a splurge.

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One year ago: Tapioca Pudding (comparison of 3 recipes)
Two years ago: Stuffed Squash Flowers
Three years ago: Brioche Plum Tart
Four years ago: Pain a l’ancienne

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Strawberry Champagne Cupcakes (adapted from Sky High’s strawberry cake and Cook’s Illustrated’s white cake recipes)

Makes about 36 mini cupcakes or 12 regular cupcakes

2 egg whites, at room temperature 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (3 ounces by weight) strawberries, pureed
3 tablespoons champagne
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 drop red food coloring
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (4.5 ounces) cake flour
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin wells with paper cups. In a large measuring cup, beat the egg whites, strawberry puree, champagne, vanilla, and food coloring.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl if using a handheld mixer), whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter; beat at slow speed until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. With the mixer running, pour in the strawberry mixture and continue to beat on medium speed (or high speed if using a handheld mixer) for 2 minutes, stopping to scrape the bowl once or twice.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared muffin cups.  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out dry, 11-14 minutes for mini cupcakes or 18-24 minutes for regular cupcakes.  Transfer the pan(s) to a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes, then remove the cupcakes from the pan.  Let cool completely before frosting.

Champagne Buttercream (slightly adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

Makes enough to frost about 36 mini cupcakes or 12 regular cupcakes

A few comments on the original recipe note that their champagne reduction came out bitter, which seemed to be a result of using dry (brut) champagne. Stick to a sweeter champagne like demi-sec to avoid this.

1 cup demi-sec champagne
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
pinch salt
2½ to 3 cups (10-12 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

1. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the champagne to a simmer.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the champagne is reduced to 2 tablespoons, 15-20 minutes.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl if using a handheld mixer), beat the butter and salt on medium speed until smooth.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the sugar, then increase the mixer speed to high and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add the reduced champagne, mixing just until combined.

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tiramisu

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I got confused when my coworker told me, while studiously avoiding eye contact, that the only thing they needed to figure out for another coworker’s rehearsal dinner was the dessert. I started trying to evaluate our previous history of eye contact. Was the lack of eye contact normal between us, or was that a hint? I was willing to help her out, but I was going to feel awfully silly if I jumped in to bake for thirty people I’d never met if it wasn’t necessary.

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Well, I did volunteer, of course, because it was an opportunity to make desserts without eating them all myself! The dinner had an Italian theme, with big pans of lasagna, loaves of garlic bread, and pots of Italian wedding soup, so tiramisu was a natural choice. It didn’t hurt that I’d made this recipe once, years ago, and had wanted a reason to make it again ever since.

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It’s the perfect balance of sweet and bitter and tinged with alcohol. The ladyfingers soak up just enough of the coffee and rum to turn soft and cakey, but not enough to get mushy. The creamy mascarpone layer is like a rich custard filling between layers of cake. The cocoa and grated chocolate (optional, but I added it) provide a welcome hint of chocolate, but it doesn’t dominate.

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I made a double batch for the party (and was lucky enough to have a friend come over to dip and arrange nearly a hundred ladyfingers in the pan) and kept a tiny taster serving for myself. It was a smart move, because there wasn’t one bit leftover from the rehearsal dinner. Savoring my tiramisu at home that night, I didn’t regret volunteering to bake this dessert one bit.

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One year ago: Lemon Ricotta Strawberry Muffins
Two years ago: Slaw Tartare
Three years ago: Chocolate Amaretti Torte
Four years ago: Breakfast Strata with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Monterey Jack

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Tiramisù (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Cook’s Illustrated’s notes: Brandy and even whiskey can stand in for the dark rum. Cook’s Illustrated prefers a tiramisù with a pronounced rum flavor; for a less potent rum flavor, halve the amount of rum added to the coffee mixture in step 1. Do not allow the mascarpone to warm to room temperature before using it; it has a tendency to break if allowed to do so. Be certain to use hard, not soft ladyfingers.

2½ cups strong black coffee, room temperature
1½ tablespoons instant espresso powder
9 tablespoons dark rum
6 large egg yolks
⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
1½ pounds mascarpone cheese
¾ cup heavy cream (cold)
14 ounces ladyfingers (42 to 60, depending on size)
3½ tablespoons cocoa, preferably Dutch-processed
¼ cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, grated (optional)

1. Stir coffee, espresso, and 5 tablespoons of the rum in a wide bowl or baking dish until the espresso dissolves; set aside.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the yolks at low speed until just combined. Add the sugar and salt and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, 1½ to 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons rum and beat at medium speed until just combined, 20 to 30 seconds; scrape the bowl. Add the mascarpone and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain, 30 to 45 seconds, scraping down the bowl once or twice. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and set aside.

3. In the now-empty mixer bowl (there’s no need to clean the bowl), beat the cream at medium speed until frothy, 1 to 1½ minutes. Increase the speed to high and continue to beat until the cream holds stiff peaks, 1 to 1½ minutes longer. Using a rubber spatula, fold one-third of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Set the mascarpone mixture aside.

4. Working with one at a time, drop half of the ladyfingers into the coffee mixture, roll, remove, and transfer to 13 by 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. (Do not submerge the ladyfingers in the coffee mixture; the entire process should take no longer than 2 to 3 seconds for each cookie.) Arrange the soaked cookies in a single layer in the baking dish, breaking or trimming the ladyfingers as needed to fit neatly into the dish.

5. Spread half of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers; use a rubber spatula to spread the mixture to the sides and into the corners of the dish and smooth the surface. Place 2 tablespoons of the cocoa in a fine-mesh strainer and dust the cocoa over the mascarpone.

6. Repeat the dipping and arrangement of ladyfingers; spread the remaining mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers and dust with the remaining 1½ tablespoons cocoa. Wipe the edges of the dish with a dry paper towel. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours. Sprinkle with the grated chocolate, if using; cut into pieces and serve chilled.

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homemade mustard

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My sister got me hooked on fancy mustard by buying me a jar of champagne mustard for Christmas a couple years ago. I had had no idea that mustard could taste so good. It was tangy, a little spicy, maybe just a bit sweet. We slathered it on bread, no other toppings necessary. It’s still the best mustard I’ve ever tasted, despite a newfound appreciation for the variety and quality that was possible in mustards. Right now I have four mustards in my fridge – a whole grain version, a smooth French Dijon (this one is sharp!), red chile mustard, and a generic Dijon I use for cooking.

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But then my sister took my mustard fixation one step further when she started mixing up her own mustards. While I’d always had some vague idea of the relationship between prepared mustard and the mustard powder I add to my roux for mac and cheese, it had never occurred to me to take it to the next step and make homemade mustard. But the types she was making, flavored with herbs, cognac, or beer, sounded too good to pass up.

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The article she led me to had six mustard recipes, and never one to be able to make a decision, I opted to make three of them. Mustard is easy enough that this was reasonable – to make, although it was far too much mustard for us to eat. All of the recipes required several days of soaking mustard powder or seeds in vinegar, but then one just needed to be blended and the other two were cooked briefly over a double boiler.

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The thing about making condiments (or anything, really) from scratch is that they really need to be better than a storebought version to justify the effort.  On that note, the rosemary thyme mustard was by far my favorite. Not only was the texture just right – thick with fun mustardy bits when you pop the seeds in your mouth – but this was a flavor you don’t often see for sale.  The other two mustards I made, which both required an egg and a trip over the double boiler, ended up too thin, but I still loved the sweet flavor of the agave version. The bright yellow beer mustard certainly wasn’t bad, but it had a lot more bite than the others.  And if I thought I was fixated on mustards before, that was nothing to how I am now that I know I can make any flavor I want.

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One year ago: Scampi fra Diavolo
Two years ago: Chicken Mushroom Spinach Lasagna
Three years ago: Lemon Poppy Seed Waffles
Four years ago: Whole Wheat Pasta with Greens, Beans, Tomatoes, and Garlic Chips

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Rosemary Thyme Mustard (from Sunset magazine)

3 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
3 teaspoons minced fresh thyme, divided
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
¾ teaspoon salt

1. Stir together the mustard seeds, 2 teaspoons thyme, the rosemary, ⅓ cup water, and the vinegar in a bowl until seeds are submerged. Let sit at room temperature, covered, 2 to 3 days.

2. Put the mustard mixture in a blender along with the brown sugar and salt and blend until mixture is thick but still coarse-textured. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon thyme. (Can be made 2 weeks in advance. Cover and refrigerate.)

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Seeded Agave Nectar Mustard (from Sunset magazine)

¼ cup Colman’s dry mustard
½ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup agave nectar
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 tablespoons black or brown mustard seeds
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
2½ teaspoons cornstarch

1. Stir together the dry mustard, vinegar, 2 tablespoons water, and agave nectar in a medium metal bowl until smooth. Chill, covered, overnight.

2. Put the oil and mustard seeds in a small frying pan and heat over medium heat, covered. As soon as the mustard seeds start to pop, about 3 minutes, remove from the heat. Let cool.

3. Bring a medium saucepan filled with 1 inch of water to a simmer. To the mustard-vinegar mixture, add the toasted mustard seeds in oil, the egg, salt, and cornstarch and whisk to blend. Set the bowl over the simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until the mustard thickens, 3 minutes. (Can be made 2 weeks in advance. Cover and refrigerate.)

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Ballpark Beer Mustard (from Sunset magazine)

¼ cup Colman’s dry mustard
½ cup light-bodied beer
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 egg
1¼ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon sugar

1. Whisk together the dry mustard, beer, 2 tablespoons water, and turmeric in a medium metal bowl until smooth. Chill, covered, overnight.

2. Bring a medium saucepan filled with 1 inch water to a simmer. To the bowl of the mustard mixture, add the egg, salt, cornstarch, lemon juice, and sugar; whisk to blend. Set the bowl over the simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until the mustard just thickens, 4 to 6 minutes. (Can be made 2 weeks in advance. Cover and refrigerate.)

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Sadly, I had to punt on the mozzarella I had originally hoped to make this month, because I haven’t figured out where I can get milk that isn’t ultrapasteurized.

guinness chocolate cupcakes with irish cream buttercream

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Despite my penchant for baking, I’ve only very rarely baked by request. So when a coworker asked me to help plan for another coworker’s bridal shower, mentioning while studiously avoiding eye contact that one thing they needed someone to do was prepare dessert, I jumped at the excuse to bake, but then I got nervous.

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It’s one thing to bring extra crumbly rice krispy treats to set out in the office kitchen, where nearly anything sweet is appreciated during a long work day, but the standards are significantly higher for someone’s bridal shower. Complicating matters was the timing, because the party was scheduled for after work on a Thursday, so I would need to do everything during weekday evenings. (I know you can freeze cupcakes, but I haven’t tried it myself and wasn’t ready to experiment.)

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Neither the bride nor the host had any suggestions, so I decided that cocktail-inspired cupcakes would be fun for a bridal shower. I wanted a chocolate option and a fruit option and settled on Guinness cupcakes with whiskey ganache and Bailey’s buttercream (based on the controversially titled Irish Car Bomb drink, in which a shot of whiskey and Bailey’s is added to Guinness, and the whole mess has to be chugged before it curdles) and margarita cupcakes – lime cupcakes brushed with tequila and triple sec and topped with tequila lime swiss meringue buttercream.

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A couple days in advance, I mixed up the Bailey’s buttercream and attempted the whiskey ganache. Unfortunately, I learned that if the cream is too hot when you mix it with the finely chopped chocolate to make ganache, the mixture will curdle. I went home at lunch the next day to try to save my curdled ganache, but it remained curdled. (It’s in my freezer now. Does anyone have any suggestions on what I can do with broken ganache? Some sort of cake with chocolate and cream maybe?) Wednesday evening, I still needed to bake both batches of cupcakes, make the swiss meringue buttercream, remake the ganache, brush the margarita cupcakes with alcohol, fill the chocolate cupcakes, and frost both. Thursday I would go home at lunch and apply garnishes.

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One problem I consistently have with cupcakes is the wrappers pulling away from the cake, and I’ve finally figured out that this is a result of moisture building up, probably in large part from the frosting, while the cupcakes are stored tightly overnight. I only loosely covered these overnight, because loose wrappers would not do for the party, and only a few wrappers separated just slightly.

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Surprisingly, everything went off without a hitch, and I wasn’t even up all night on Wednesday. Even the hardest part of preparing cupcakes, getting them to your destination without mussing them, went smoothly. My first attempt at baking for an event was a definite success that gave me more confidence to do it again – which is good, because I had agreed to make dessert for the rehearsal dinner just a week later.

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One year ago: Baked Reuben Dip
Two years ago: Masa Pancakes with Chipotle Salsa and Poached Eggs
Three years ago: Spinach Bread
Four years ago: Almost No-Knead Bread

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Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes with Bailey’s Buttercream (slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 24

For the cupcakes:
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
⅓ cup sour cream

For the filling:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
⅓ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (optional)

For the frosting:
4 cups (16 ounces) confections sugar
8 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 to 8 tablespoons Irish cream (or milk or heavy cream)

1. Make the cupcakes: Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin wells with liners. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring 1 cup stout and 16 tablespoons of butter to a simmer. Add the cocoa powder; whisk until the mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

2. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, and ¾ teaspoon salt in a large bowl. With a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer), beat the eggs and sour cream to blend. Add the stout mixture to the egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add the flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter until completely combined.

3. Divide the batter among the cupcake liners, filling them about ⅔ full. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, rotating the pan once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, 18-22 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

4. Make the filling: Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until just simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can return it to a double-boiler to gently melt what remains. 20 seconds in the microwave, watching carefully, will also work.) Add the butter and whiskey (if using) and stir until combined.

5. Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped, about an hour. Meanwhile, using a 1-inch round cookie cutter, an apple corer, or a paring knife, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes about ⅔ to the bottom. Fill the holes with the ganache, using either a piping bag or a spoon.

6. Make the frosting: With a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer), whip the butter very light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and gradually add the powdered sugar, then the Irish cream. Frost the cupcakes with the Bailey’s buttercream; serve.

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wine braised beef

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I don’t really consider myself a team player. I’ve never been excited about sharing or compromise (which makes me really fun to live with, as you can imagine). And yet, in the last several months, two good friends have asked me to collaborate with them on big projects.

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The first was a dinner party for twenty women. It didn’t need to be fancy or involved, except that we wanted it to be. Through a long series of emails, discussing the merits of lasagna versus baked stuffed chicken versus braised meat, we finally decided on a “deconstructed stew” theme, with glazed carrots, mashed potatoes, and beef slow-cooked in a pot of simmering wine and broth. And then just for kicks, we added pesto palmiers, cheese and crackers, mushroom farro soup, orange cream tarts, truffles, and cranberry bliss bars to the menu. Also mulled wine and flavored waters.

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Around this time, the call for proposals to present at the BlogHer Food conference was released, and Brady had asked me if I was interested in submitting a proposal with her about free photo post-processing software programs. Of course I was! Brady and I got our proposal accepted, and so we’re traveling to Seattle the second week of June to talk about editing photos, and, most importantly, doing it using free software.

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Surprisingly, to myself at least, both projects have been unqualified successes. The dinner party was great fun, to plan, to prepare, to serve, and to eat, and my friend invited me to host with her again next year, so I couldn’t have been too hard to work with! Brady and I are still in the beginning stages of planning our presentation for the BlogHer Food conference, but just the fact that our proposal was accepted is a positive sign of our ability to work together. Maybe I’m not so bad to team up with after all.

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One year ago: Toasted Almond Scones
Two years ago: Honey Wheat Cookies
Three years ago: Honey Yogurt Dip
Four years ago: Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

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Wine-Braised Beef

Serves 4-6

The goal was that the main dish be stew-like without being stew. It was going to be served on plates, so it couldn’t be too saucy, but we wanted meltingly tender chunks of beef. A cheaper cut of meat so we could serve a crowd was definitely a bonus. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s no last-minute work and it can be made in advance and actually improves with being stored overnight.

I’m a big fan of Yellowtail’s wine for recipes like this. It’s cheap but pretty good. I used a Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 (3 to 3½-pound) boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce pancetta, diced into ⅛-inch cubes
1 yellow onion, diced fine
1 medium carrot, diced fine
1 celery stalk, diced fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups dry red wine
1½ cups chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 sprig thyme
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Pat the meat dry, season it generously with salt and pepper, and arrange the pieces, without touching, in the Dutch oven. (You may need to do this in two batches.) Cook the meat, without stirring or flipping, for 2-3 minutes, until the bottoms are deeply browned. Turn the chunks of meat and brown a second side. Transfer the meat to a plate. Discard any fat in the pan (but leave the cooked-on brown bits).

2. In the same pot over medium heat, cook the pancetta until fat starts to render, 3-5 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until the edges of the onions start to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic; cook and stir for about one minute. Pour the wine into the pot, scraping up the sticky brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the stock, tomatoes with their juice, thyme sprig, and reserved meat back to the pot. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Once the liquid simmers, reduce the heat to low, partially cover the pot, and simmer slowly until the meat is tender, about 3 hours.

3. Mix the butter and flour in a small bowl until smooth. Remove the thyme sprig from the pot. Whisk the butter/flour paste into the sauce. Increase the heat to medium to medium-high and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened. Serve, topping each portion with a sprinkling of parsley.

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