lemon cheesecake

lemon cheesecake 2

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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Printer Friendly Recipe
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.

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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sventiki 1

It started casually enough when my brother asked me to share a few tiki drink recipes with him. I sent him some of my favorites and some information about rums, and he seemed happy enough. Then Christmas rolled around, and, at a loss for gift ideas, I got him two tiki cookbooks. In the months since, the student has far surpassed the master in tikiness – and that was before he started garnishing.

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What you see here is but a poor example of Todd’s garnishing prowess. My bachelor brother has now planted flowers and mint plants in his yard so that he always has some available for tiki garnishes. These pictures were taken on vacation, when he had to make do with just maraschino cherries, pineapple leaves, lime wedges, umbrellas, and citrus curls. Too bad he didn’t pack his Moai ice/jello molds. My garnishes, by contrast, are far less fun more restrained.

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We were limited in our tiki ingredients on vacation, but we’d packed enough grenadine and good rum for this one. I like it because while it’s still light and fruity, the dark rum makes it more interesting. The bubbles from the club soda are refreshing and fun. Maybe not as fun as creative garnishes, but it all comes together for a great drink.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Sven-Tiki (slightly adapted from Jeff Berry’s Beachbum Berry Remixed)

Makes 1 drink

Recommended rums: Shellback or Flor de Cana for light/silver rum; Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old or Old Brigand Black Label for dark rum.

1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce orange juice
1 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
1 ounce grenadine
1 ounce dark rum
2 ounces light rum
½ ounce club soda

Put all ingredients except the club soda into a cocktail shaker. Add 1½ cups crushed ice; cover and shake until the shaker is frosted over. Pour unstrained into a glass. Top with club soda.

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pizza with zucchini, goat cheese, and lemon

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Thank god for my zucchini plant. Despite some cucumber beetles and slugs, it is growing quite nicely. This is in contrast to most of my other plants. The tomatoes, peppers, and cucumber plants are all just barely holding on, and of course I can’t figure out what’s wrong with them. Seeing the huge, green zucchini plant and cutting off a zucchini every few days makes me feel much better.

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Almost all of my zucchinis so far have gone into enchiladas with goat cheese and black beans, but I saved one for a light, summery pizza. The zucchini is julienned and salted to draw out liquid, so it doesn’t waterlog the pizza. If you’re lucky, it might brown a bit in the oven too.

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I’m not completely sold on the slices of lemon called for in the original recipe; even sliced paper-thin, they still caused a few shockingly lemony bites. I did like the hit of tartness though, so I think a quick squeeze of lemon juice on the just-baked pizza would be a nice substitute. I’ll have to try that next time; since my garden apparently won’t be producing gazpacho ingredients, I’ll just make more zucchini pizza.

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Pizza with Zucchini, Goat Cheese, and Lemon Pizza (adapted from The Food Lab)

Makes one 10-inch pizza

I use a baking steel, not a baking stone. I’ve found that it makes for a lighter crust with a crisper base. However, if you leave the parchment paper on the steel under the broiler for the full five minutes, it will burn to a blackened flaky crisp. After one minute under the broiler, I use a spatula to lift the edge of the pizza and pull out the parchment paper with tongs.

¾ pound pizza dough (⅓ of this recipe)
1 small zucchini
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced into 1-inch cubes
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Place a pizza stone on a rack about 5 inches below the broiler and heat the oven as high as it goes for at least 45 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball; cover and set aside for about 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.

2. Slice the zucchini into rounds ⅛-inch thick, then slice each round into slivers ⅛-inch thick. In a small bowl, combine the zucchini, garlic, and salt; set aside for 30 minutes.

3. Drain the zucchini, then transfer it to a kitchen towel; squeeze it as dry as possible. Transfer the zucchini back to the empty bowl, add the oil, and stir to evenly coat it.

4. Gently flatten the dough, then pick it up and stretch it out to about 10 inches, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches unevenly, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots.

5. Line a pizza peel (or the back of a baking sheet) with parchment paper and transfer the round of dough to the peel, rearranging it to something reasonably circular. Top with the mozzarella, then the zucchini and goat cheese. Transfer the pizza with the parchment paper to the hot pizza stone.

6. Immediately turn the oven off and the broiler on (to high, if yours has settings). Bake the pizza for about 5 minutes, until the bottom crust is spotty browned. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack and drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the top, then evenly distribute the scallions over the pizza. Cool about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

mai tai

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So you’ve got a nice batch of rich, aromatic orgeat, but what do you do with it? It’s time for a mai tai. I used to think mai tais were fruity over-the-top frou frou drinks. Like daiquiris, maybe that’s true in some cases, but a true mai tai, like a true daiquiri, is relatively simple. The original mai tai contains only lime juice, sugar, orgeat, orange liqueur, and two types of rum.

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With all that alcohol, it’s a strong drink, and I’ve found that I’m particularly picky about the alcohol quality in a mai tai. I’ve already told you about my favorite light (or silver) rum, Shellback, which fortunately is relatively easy to find. Amber and dark rums, the types used in mai tais, aren’t quite as available, but if you have a favorite liquor store, you should be able to find what you need.

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Technically, a mai tai calls for an amber rum from the island of Martinique. Clement VSOP is the most widely available, but even it’s hard to find. Dave and I usually stick to a Jamaican amber rum; Appleton Estate Signature Blend (recently renamed from Appleton Estate V/X) is our favorite, because it’s really good and readily available. My brother likes Denizen’s Merchant Reserve, although I’ve never seen that one for sale where I live.

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There are a number of dark rums out there, although quality varies. My favorite is Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old (just renamed from Appleton Estate Extra 12 Year Old), but my favorite liquor store doesn’t sell it. We use Old Brigand Black Label when we can’t get the dark Appleton, which isn’t Jamaican, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to dark rum. The most common dark Jamaican rum is Myer’s, which I haven’t tried in years. I remember it being harsh, but it should work in a pinch.

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You might have different options available to you, and they’re worth trying. Trying new rums is part of the fun of tiki, although I understand that not everyone wants a liquor cabinet that’s overflowing with rum bottles like ours is. Fortunately, a mai tai is a very enjoyable way to test out a new rum.

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Mai Tai (rewritten from Rum Dood)

Makes 1 drink

If you can find it, our favorite orange liqueur is Clemont Creole Shrubb. It’s rum-based, instead of brandy-based like most other orange liqueurs.

Dave prefers this without the sugar syrup, but for my taste, that seemed off-balance. Ideal level of sweetness is a personal preference, but this is a good starting point. The sugar syrup we use is an equal volume of sugar and water, heated until the sugar dissolves.

¾ ounce (1½ tablespoons) lime juice
½ ounce (1 tablespoon) orgeat
¼ ounce (1½ teaspoons) simple syrup
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Martinique or Jamaican amber rum
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Jamaican (or other) dark rum
½ ounce (1 tablespoon) triple sec, such as Cointreau
mint sprig (optional)

Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Add 1½ cups crushed ice; cover and shake until the shaker is frosted over. Pour unstrained into a glass. Garnish with a mint sprig (or lime wedges, maraschino cherries, pineapple leaves, and cocktail umbrellas, as my brother did here), if desired.

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lavender almond peach tart

lavender almond peach tart 3I shouldn’t complain about too many good things happening at once, but there were moments when it all seemed just a little overwhelming. Within a month, there were two big international vacations, trips for work, nephews’ birthdays to bake for, and another tiered baby shower cake to deliver. I probably didn’t have to keep up with my normal routine of baking something for my coworkers once a week, but I figured if I planned ahead, I could handle it. lavender almond peach tart 1

So I prepped this tart dough and put it in the freezer, waiting for rhubarb to appear at the store, when I would mix up the simple filling for a quick dessert. Unfortunately, I never saw any rhubarb this year. It was peach season and a vacation later before I gave up on it.

lavender almond peach tart 2Life hadn’t slowed down by then, so it was lucky I had something partly prepped. It was easy enough to press the dough into a tart pan and make a simple peach jam. With nothing but tart dough and peaches, I thought the tart might be plain, but I loved the peaches with the floral lavender. As a bonus, it’s fun to bring a fairly fancy dessert to work and pretend my life is so effortless, when really I’m barely keeping up. lavender almond peach tart 5

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Lavender Almond Peach Tart (adapted from Desserts for Breakfast; jam recipe rewritten from Cook’s Illustrated)

Serves 8

I started with ground almond meal instead of almonds.

I sliced the reserved dough and layered it over the jam, which was easy, but I don’t think it made for the prettiest presentation.

¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
zest of 1 lemon
¾ cup (3.75 ounces) almonds
1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ tablespoon dried lavender buds
¼ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
11 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup peach jam, recipe follows
powdered sugar

1. Add the sugar and lemon zest to the bowl of a food processor; process until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the almonds, flour, lavender, salt, and cardamom; process until the ingredients are mixed and the almonds are finely ground. Add the butter and process until the largest butter pieces are the size of peas. Add the egg yolk and almond extract; process until the dough just comes together into a crumbly ball.

2. Press three-quarters of the dough into a 9-inch round or 14-by-4-inch rectangular tart pan. Freeze the lined pan for at least 30 minutes. Cover the remaining dough and store in the refrigerator. (Both the dough in the pan and the reserved dough can be stored in the freezer, covered tightly, for up to a month.)

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the cooled jam over the dough in the pan. Break the remaining dough into ½- to 1-inch pieces and scatter over the jam. Transfer to the oven and bake until the crust is browned and the filling is bubbling, 40-45 minutes. If the tart browns too quickly, loosely cover it with foil after 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Serve, dusted with powdered sugar, or loosely cover and store for up to 24 hours before serving.

Simple Peach Jam (rewritten from Cook’s Illustrated)

Makes about 1 cup

This jam cannot be canned. It probably makes a little more than 1 cup; I used it all in the tart.

8 ounces peaches, pitted, sliced, peeled if desired
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (4.4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine the peaches, sugar, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened and syrupy, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature before using in the tart.

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tonga punch

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Our experiments with rum cocktails have progressed from comparing how well different fruits infuse into rum (strawberries and raspberries work the best; apples don’t work at all) to trying a new tiki drink almost every week. Over the last year, we’ve tried over thirty tiki drinks!

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On Sunday evenings, after the chores are done, workouts are finished, food for the week is prepped, we reward ourselves with a couple cocktails. Sometimes we sit outside in the backyard while we sip; sometimes I sit inside on my computer and plan our next vacation. (We’re going to Iceland, which is about an untiki-y as you can get.) It’s one of my favorite times of the week, even though I know we have to go back to work the next day.

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Of all that we’ve tried, this one is both Dave’s and my favorite. It’s so refreshing – not too sour, not too sweet, not too strong, not too weak. As a bonus, it doesn’t require any particularly rare ingredients. It also doesn’t require tiki mugs, but if you’ve got them, they make the best time of the week just a little bit better.

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Tonga Punch (rewritten from Stephen Siegelman and Maren Caruso’s Trader Vic’s Tiki Party)

Makes 1 drink

I recommend Shellback, Flor de Caña, or Appleton white rums.

Technically, triple sec and orange curaçao are different and not interchangeable (Grand Marnier is curaçoa; Cointreau is triple sec), but using triple sec instead of curaçao won’t ruin this drink. We use Clement Creole Shrubb, which is neither triple sec nor curaçao.

Look for grenadine with pomegranate in the ingredient list; otherwise you’re just buying a combination of high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, and food coloring.

2 ounces silver rum
1½ ounces orange juice
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce orange curacao
¼ ounce lime juice
¼ ounce grenadine
1 cup ice

Combine the liquids in a blender. Add the ice and pulse until the largest pieces if ice are approximately ½-inch. Pour unstrained into a glass and enjoy.

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blueberry lemon date bars

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Dave and I had a Serious Discussion last year about hiking. He loves it; I’m okay with it. I like the part that involves relaxing exercise (usually an oxymoron) in a pretty place, but not the part that requires several hours of driving. Dave doesn’t love the driving either, but for him, it’s worth it for the hiking. So we’ve compromised and are making more of an effort to get miles in; Dave’s goal this year is 100 miles.

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The more often we go, the more we get into a routine. Make coffee at home; stop for breakfast burritos to eat on the road; almonds, these bars, and camelbaks full of water for snacks; and a grain or pasta-based salad for lunch if it’s a long enough hike. Having a series of tasty foods lined up definitely helps get me motivated.

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Breakfast burritos win as my favorite food of the day, of course, but these bars are delicious too. They’re a perfect mid-morning treat, when you’re just over halfway up the mountain, the burrito has worn off, lunch is still a ways off, and your feet could use a break. They’re easy to make and last a while tightly wrapped in the fridge. I need to keep a stock handy; the easier it is to get out the door, the more likely we are to get those miles in.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Blueberry Lemon Date Bars (slightly adapted from Use Real Butter)

Makes 8 bars

I should probably mention that I’ve never eaten a real Larabar, blueberry or otherwise.

I’ve found that these are great for plane rides too.

2 cups unsalted cashews
1 cup dried blueberries
1 cup dates, pitted
grated zest from 1 lemon
⅛ teaspoon salt
seeds of ½ vanilla bean

Transfer the cashews to the bowl of a food processor; pulse until coarsely ground. Add the blueberries, dates, lemon zest, salt, and vanilla seeds; process until the mixture forms large sticky clumps. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with parchment or wax paper, with the paper coming up the sides by several inches. Press the mixture tightly into the lined pan. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes (or up to several days). Use the ends of the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan. Cut into 8 bars; wrap individually. Can be stored in the refrigerator for several months.

lemon cake with lemon curd filling and cream cheese frosting

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Two years ago, I made this cake for a Tiffany-themed baby shower (and I’m just now telling you about it), and it became infamous for the cake that made me cry. I wouldn’t have told anyone that myself, but Dave blurted it out when we delivered the cake. “Never again!”, he told our friends.

tiffany fondant collage

I’m actually proud of the cake, but it’s true that it wasn’t a smooth process. When my friend showed me a picture of the cake and asked me to reproduce it for the baby shower she was hosting for her daughter, I ambitiously agreed. I had never worked with fondant before, but how hard could it be?

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Well, pretty hard, actually, at least when you’re both inexperienced and a perfectionist. I found a few opportunities to practice before the shower and learned some valuable lessons, but on the morning of the shower, the ruffles and lace were still uncharted territory. Looking back, I can’t remember what caused the tears, but it could have been any number of things – the lace sticking to the mold, running out of fondant, running behind schedule.

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Fortunately, whether the lace had obvious seams or the fondant cracked at the corners, I knew the cake itself would taste good. I’m much more confident in my baking skills than my decorating skills. I took one of my favorite white cakes and added lemon zest, so that, at least, was one part of this project that wasn’t complicated.

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Despite my struggles, I think the cake turned out great, and the host seemed pleased. It tasted at least as good as it looked. Still, it was two years before anyone asked me to make a tiered cake with fondant for them again. That is what I’ll be doing this weekend. Any bets on how many times I cry this time?

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Classic White Cake)

Makes a double-layer 8-inch or 9-inch cake

1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
6 large egg whites (¾ cup), at room temperature
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 small lemon
1¾ cups granulated sugar (12¼ ounces)
2¼ cups cake flour (9 ounces)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks), softened but still cool

1. Adjust an oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8- or 9-inch-wide by 2-inch-high round cake pans and line with parchment paper. In a 4-cup liquid measure or medium bowl, whisk together milk, egg whites, and vanilla.

2. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt at low speed. With the mixer running at low speed, add the butter one piece at a time; continue beating until the mixture resembles moist crumbs with no visible butter chunks. Add all but ½ cup milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed until mixture is pale and fluffy, about 1½ minutes. With mixer running at low speed, add remaining ½ cup milk mixture; increase speed to medium and beat 30 seconds more. Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium speed and beat 20 seconds longer. Divide batter evenly between cake pans; using rubber spatula, spread batter to pan walls and smooth tops.

3. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, about 20 minutes for 6-inch pans, 22 minutes for 8-inch pans, and 26 minutes for 10-inch pans. Loosen cakes from the sides of the pans with a small knife, cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert onto greased wire racks; peel off parchment. Invert the cakes again; cool completely on rack, about 1½ hours.

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Lemon Curd Filling (from Cook’s Illustrated)

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

1. Heat lemon juice in small nonreactive saucepan over medium heat until hot but not boiling. Whisk eggs and yolk in medium nonreactive bowl; gradually whisk in sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly pour hot lemon juice into eggs, then return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with wooden spoon, until mixture registers 170 degrees on instant-read thermometer and is thick enough to cling to spoon, about 3 minutes.

2. Immediately remove pan from heat and stir in cold butter until incorporated; stir in cream, vanilla, and salt, then pour curd through fine-mesh strainer into small nonreactive bowl. Cover surface of curd directly with plastic wrap; refrigerate until needed.

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Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 6 cups

You can use 12 ounces powdered sugar instead of 16 if you’re going to make pretty swirls with the icing instead of decorating. It’ll taste less sweet and more cream cheesy.

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter room temperature
4 cups (16 ounces) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla. Beat on low speed to combine.

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salmon tacos with tomatillo-avocado slaw

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I’ve always made my fish tacos with white fish and been perfectly happy with that, but salmon actually makes a lot of sense. Just like barbacoa and chicken thighs, its richness makes a nice contrast to the crunchy slaw and tart dressing. Plus, I just really like salmon.

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In this case, it’s rubbed with chili spices, a little sugar, and just a bit of finely ground coffee for an extra bite. Rather than serving slices of avocado in the tacos, it’s pureed along with tomatillos and cilantro into the dressing for the slaw. As much as a pile of different toppings on tacos is fun, on a weeknight, I appreciate the simplification of mixing them all into one bowl with the cabbage.

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I don’t plan on pushing my white fish tacos aside – or my shredded beef tacos, or my Asian-inspired tacos, or even my lentil tacos – but we eat tacos often enough to enjoy plenty of variety. Combining one of my favorite types of fish with a creamy dressing made with avocados and stuffing it all into fresh corn tortillas? Plus it’s easy and healthy? Yes, this can be added to the list of tacos I make regularly.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Dry-Rubbed Salmon Tacos with Tomatillo-Avocado Slaw (rewritten from Food and Wine via JBean Cuisine)

Serves 4

4 cups of pre-shredded coleslaw mix would work well here in place of the cabbage.

Tomatillo-avocado slaw:
2 tomatillos, husked and halved
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 small jalapeño, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 ripe avocado, halved, peeled, and pitted
salt to taste
lime juice to taste
½ head cabbage, cored and finely sliced

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon finely ground coffee
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (8-ounce) salmon fillets
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice of ½ lime

For serving:
12 small flour or corn tortillas, heated and wrapped to keep warm
hot sauce, for serving

1. For the slaw: Transfer the tomatillos, cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, sour cream or Greek yogurt, and avocado to a blender or the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth; season to taste with salt and lime juice. In a large bowl, stir the dressing into the cabbage. Set aside.

2. For the salmon: In a small bowl, combine the cumin, chili powder, brown sugar, coffee, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Dry the salmon fillets, then rub them with the spice mixture. If the salmon has skin, use all the rub on the skinless side; if the fillets are skinless, spread the spices on both sides.

3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the salmon (skin-side up if it has skin), and cook without moving until well-browned, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, flip the salmon, and cook until the salmon just flakes, another 4-6 minutes. Transfer the salmon to a plate and break into approximately 1-inch pieces. Season with lime juice.

4. To serve: Top each tortilla with a portion of the salmon and the slaw; sprinkle with hot sauce. Serve immediately.

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pan-seared shrimp with tomatoes and avocado

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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