strawberry lemonade bars

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I’m always trying to find desserts that Dave will eat because they’re so good he can’t resist, and not just to be polite. It isn’t that those desserts don’t exist – crème brulee, eclairs, and tapioca pudding come to mind – it’s just that the desserts he loves don’t require me to use the mixer, and where’s the fun in that? So the real challenge is finding a dessert that Dave loves to eat as much as I love to bake it.

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Strawberry lemonade bars weren’t a sure thing, but it was a good bet, I thought. He does like lemon bars – not as much as, say, snickerdoodles, but more than brownies at least. And his favorite ice cream flavor is strawberry, so strawberry lemonade bars seemed like they’d have potential.

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The browned flaky crust, taken from my lemon bar comparison last year, didn’t hurt, and neither did the creamy filling. The filling was not just a lemon bar filling with some strawberry juice added; it incorporated a generous portion of flour, necessary to hold all the extra liquid together. The result was a bar that was soft and gooey (maybe I should have cooked it longer) and tasted perfectly of lemons and strawberries. I loved the bars, and as for Dave – he liked them enough to eat a couple to be polite.

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One year ago: Caesar Salad
Two years ago: Whole Wheat Brioche
Three years ago: Blueberry Crumb Cake
Four years ago: Spinach Feta Pine Nut Tart

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Strawberry Lemonade Bars (adapted from Annie’s Eats via Sophistimom)

For the crust:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅓ cup (1.33 ounces) powdered sugar
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt

For the filling:
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
⅔ cup (3.3 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons lemon zest (from 3 lemons)
⅛ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (8 ounces) frozen strawberries, thawed
3 large egg whites
1 large egg
⅔ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 3 lemons)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-by-8 inch baking pan with nonstick spray.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour and salt, mixing just until incorporated.

3. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan, pressing into an even layer over the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust for about 25 minutes, or until light golden brown. Remove from the oven, maintaining the temperature.

4. While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. Combine the sugar, flour, lemon zest and salt in a blender. Add the strawberries; blend until smooth. Add the egg whites and eggs; blend until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, processing just until evenly mixed.

5. Pour the filling over the crust and bake until the center is just set and no longer jiggles when gently shaken, about 30-40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Dust the top with confectioners’ sugar before cutting and serving.

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poached salmon pasta salad

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It’s a recipe that doesn’t require butter and flour! These have been few and far between around this joint lately (and an unscheduled break didn’t help matters), or at least it would seem that way if your only window into my kitchen was through this blog. We’ve actually been eating dinners that are just as healthy as always (in other words, very healthy on the weekdays, decidedly less so on weekends), but while I was going through my excessive baking phase for a few weeks, I stuck to meals that were familiar and easy, so cooking dinner would minimize the time I had to spend apart from butter and sugar.

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Now that I’ve settled down and slowly stepped away from the mixer, I’m more willing to try new recipes after work. This one was a nice way to get out of the salmon rut I’ve been in. I know I can’t go wrong with pasta and a yogurt-based sauce. This one also has several other ingredients I love, like capers, mustard, and red onion. Since there was no cooking fat in the recipe, I indulged a bit and stirred in some mayonnaise to the sauce in addition to the Greek yogurt.

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I keep trying to serve things in romaine leaves, and it keeps turning out to be a mess. But there are worse things than tangy bites of salmon and pasta falling out of their lettuce cups. There’s no butter or sugar and I didn’t get to use the mixer, but it’ll do.

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One year ago: Lentil Goat Cheese Burgers
Two years ago: Soft Chocolate and Berry Tart
Three years ago: Chicken Artichoke Pesto Calzones
Four years ago: Sushi Rolls

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Poached Salmon Pasta Salad (adapted from An Edible Mosaic via Prevention RD and from Cooks Illustrated’s Poached Salmon recipe)

Serves 6

2 lemons, 1 sliced ¼-inch thick, 1 juiced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves, stems reserved
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup water
4 (8-ounce) salmon fillets, about 1½ inches at the thickest part
Salt
12 ounces dry pasta
½ red onion, minced
1 tablespoon capers
2 teaspoons mustard
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1. Arrange the lemon slices in a single layer across the bottom of a 12-inch skillet. Scatter the parsley stems and minced shallots evenly over the lemon slices; add the water and wine. Place the salmon fillets in the skillet, skin side down on top of the lemon slices; set the pan over high heat and bring the liquid to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the sides of the salmon are opaque but the center of the thickest part is still translucent, 11 to 16 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully transfer the salmon to a cutting board. When cooled, remove the skin and cut the salmon into bite-sized chunks.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to rolling boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta; cook according to the package instructions. Drain.

3. Combine 2 tablespoons lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt, the mustard, parsley leaves, capers, yogurt, and mayonnaise in a large bowl. Fold in the pasta and salmon. Serve immediately or chill for several hours.

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pear almond danishes and lemon ricotta danishes

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I went through a baking drought early this year that lasted a few weeks, maybe a month. I couldn’t explain it, but I just wasn’t interested in baking for the first time in years. I was kind of worried – how long would this last? When would my drive to bake come back?

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Oh it’s back. It crept back in, but it’s in full force now. The last few weeks, in particular, I’ve taken on some ambitious projects. It started with these danishes, made for a brunch potluck that was in the evening after work. The very next day, I stayed up until midnight flooding sugar cookies with royal icing. A week after that, I made two batches of fancy cupcakes for a bridal shower. I breathed a sigh of relief when that was over, but mixed up another batch of sugar cookie dough just one day later. I’ll decorate those sugar cookies this week, plus make a double batch of tiramisu for my friend’s rehearsal dinner on Friday.

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Baking projects that are for an event in the evening after work are particularly complicated, especially if the event is toward the end of the week instead of shortly after the weekend. It requires careful balancing of chilling time, lunch hours, and evening schedules. Of course it’s worth it when you’re sitting around with your friends, drinking bellinis and eating eggs Benedict and buttery, flaky danishes on Thursday evening after work. Not just worth it, but so enjoyable that I did it again a week later with cupcakes, and a week after that I’m sure it will be something else. My baking obsession is back.

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One year ago: Chocolate Pots de Creme
Two years ago: Toasted Coconut Custard Tart
Three years ago: Lemon Cream Cheese Bars
Four years ago: Raspberry Bars

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Danishes (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

I made 18 danishes from this batch of dough, and they were about 3-inches on a side after baking. Bigger danishes are probably easier to work with; many of mine unfolded when the dough expanded during baking, particularly the square shape with the corners folding in.

½ cup warm milk
2 teaspoons instant yeast
10 ounces (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 batch of filling (recipes follow)
egg wash (1 egg mixed with ⅛ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon water)

1. In a small measuring cup, stir the yeast into the milk. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add 2 tablespoons of butter; mix until evenly combined. Pour in the yeast and milk; mix until the dough starts to look shaggy. Switch to the dough hook; add the egg and knead until the dough just starts to look smooth, 2-3 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a 12-inch by 8-inch rectangle, about ¼ inch thick. Distribute the softened butter over two-thirds of the dough, leaving a short end free of butter. Fold the non-buttered third over the middle, then fold the last third over the middle, like folding a letter. Pinch the edges to seal. Roll the dough out to a 12-by-8-inch rectangle again, then fold it in thirds again. Rewrap the dough in plastic wrap; chill 1 hour.

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(see here for an explanation of the creases on the dough)

3. After the dough has chilled, roll it out and fold it in thirds twice more, then chill another hour, and roll and fold twice more. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. (This is a good point to freeze the dough too; thaw in the refrigerator overnight.)

4. Roll the dough out to a 12-by-18-inch rectangle about ⅛-inch thick. If the dough becomes too elastic and springs back, cover it and place it in the refrigerator for at least ten minutes, then try rolling again. Be patient; the rolling and chilling could take up to an hour. Cut 12 to 18 squares (see note).

5. For pinwheels: Cut from each corner halfway to the center of each square. Dab about ¼ teaspoon of filling into the center of each square, then fold every other corner toward the center, pressing to seal. Top with one (for smaller danishes) to two (for the larger size) tablespoons of filling.

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For squares with folded corners: Spoon one (for smaller danishes) to two (for the larger size) tablespoons of filling into the center of each square. Fold each corner to the middle of the dough; press to seal.

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6. Transfer the danishes to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Cover and either chill overnight or set aside to rise. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. When the danish dough is about doubled in height and is starting to look puffy, brush the danishes with the egg wash. Bake one baking sheet at a time until the danishes are golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; let the danishes cool on the pan for a few minutes before transferring them to cooling racks to cool to room temperature. Serve within a day.

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Cheese Danish Filling

Makes enough for 1 batch of danishes

1 cup ricotta cheese
6 tablespoons (2.6 ounces) sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Combine all ingredients. Chill.

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Pear Almond Danish Filling (rewritten from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

Makes enough for 1 batch of danishes

⅔ cup slivered almonds, toasted and cooled completely
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 large egg
2 pears, peeled, cored, diced finely
¼ cup lemon juice

1. In a food processor, grind the almonds, flour, ½ cup sugar, and salt; add the butter and egg; chill.

2. Heat the pears, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon sugar in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the pears caramelize, 8-10 minutes. Chill.

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black bean quinoa salad with tomatillo salsa

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A few weeks ago, I was skiing, and I was having fun, but I felt stale. I felt like I was doing the same things I always do when I ski, back and forth across the slope, not too fast, just nice and comfortable. After a morning of this, I was getting impatient with myself – why are you so timid, I asked myself? Go faster, mix it up, challenge yourself, get out of that comfort zone. So I did, and I fell, and I twisted my knees, had to sit in the lodge and read a book the next day while my friends skied, and I couldn’t run or progress in my weightlifting routine for three weeks (and counting*).

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My weeknight dinner routine has felt stale lately too. So many grain salads, so many beans. It seems like I always use quinoa the same way, in some sort of salad. And how many different ways can I possibly combine black beans, chiles, and avocadoes?

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On the other hand, maybe I’m in this rut because it works – it’s healthy, it’s fast, and it’s good. Sometimes it’s better to stick with what works. Quinoa salads work. Black beans and cilantro works. And avocado works on everything. This was one of the best meals I’ve made lately. Mixing it up is overrated.

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*Eventually, I decided that if resting wasn’t helping my knees heal, I might as well run. (Impeccable logic, right?) A couple runs in, my knees feel better than they have in weeks. Crossing my fingers to start weightlifting again this weekend!

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One year ago: Chocolate Frosting (comparison of 3 recipes)
Two years ago: Dorie Greenspan’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
Three years ago: Devil’s Food White Out Cake
Four years ago: Cream Cheese Brownies

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Black Bean Quinoa Salad with Tomatillo Salsa (adapted slightly from Cate’s World Kitchen)

Serves 3-4

I substituted about 4 ounces of roasted peeled Hatch green chiles for one of the jalapenos.

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
salt
4 tomatillos, papery skins removed
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 jalapenos, stemmed and seeded
¾ cup cilantro, divided
juice of 1 lime
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 avocado, diced

1. In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring 1 cup water, ¼ teaspoon salt, and the quinoa to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and let sit, still covered, for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the broiler. Broil the tomatillos and garlic until the tomatillos are browned, 5-8 minutes. Peel the garlic; transfer it to a blender with the tomatillos, ½ teaspoon salt, jalapenos, and ½ cup cilantro. Puree.

3. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl. Stir in the lime juice. Once the quinoa cools to slightly warmer than room temperature, add the beans, tomatoes, avocado, remaining ¼ cup cilantro, and salsa. Serve.

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grapefruit margaritas

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If 2010 was the year of the vodka gimlet, 2011 was dedicated to margaritas. It started with these, and then when grapefruits went out of season, we tried strawberry margaritas, pineapple margaritas, classic lime margaritas, and, most recently, cranberry margaritas. I love them all, but nothing holds a candle to the grapefruit version.

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It’s perfectly balanced – not too sweet, not too sour, not too strong. The light grapefruit mellows any harshness from the lime and alcohol, and the result is perfectly refreshing. As an added bonus, one grapefruit yields enough juice for four drinks – which is just the right amount to split between two people.

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One year ago: Feta and Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese
Two years ago: Apple Muffins
Three years ago: Twice Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar, and Scallions
Four years ago: Maple Walnut Cupcakes

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Grapefruit Margaritas (adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride)

Technically 4 servings, but you’ll be sad if you only get one

Of the many grapefruits I have juiced for margaritas, one grapefruit has always resulted in 4 shots of juice. Two limes will usually give two shots of juice, but not always, so it’s best to buy a third just in case.

As with all things, alcohol quality matters. I’ve used Cointreau, Gran Marnier, Gran Gala, Controy (which can only be purchased in Mexico), and Patron Citronge in these, all with good results. I’ve never used a bargain triple sec. For tequila, I tend to buy whatever is on sale in the $20-25 range.

2 shots lime juice
4 shots grapefruit juice
3 shots orange liqueur
3 shots tequila

In a pitcher or 4-cup measuring cup, mix all of the ingredients. Pour over crushed ice in individual glasses; serve immediately.

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ricotta

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Here are some things you need to know about making ricotta at home:

1) It really is as easy as they say. The process involves nothing more than heating milk and salt, stirring in lemon juice or vinegar, and straining the mixture.

2) It requires a lot of milk for a relatively small amount of cheese – you’ll start with about four times more volume of milk than you’ll end up with of cheese.

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right after adding the acids

3) About that milk – you can use the regular ol’ stuff from the grocery store, ultrapasteurization and all. That’s all I have access to, and I’ve made some nice ricotta with it.

4) If you’re feeling decadent, you can substitute some of the milk with cream. I started out using about seven times more milk than cream, but in the pictures you see here, I was almost out of cream and used about twenty times more milk than cream. I like this batch just as much as the others.

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right before straining

5) You can use either regular white vinegar or lemon juice. I read here that using all lemon juice gives the cheese a lemony flavor and vinegar is more neutral. However, I was worried about my cheese tasting like vinegar, which would be gross, so I always use a mixture of the two.

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after 5 minutes of straining with no cheesecloth or paper towel liner

6) The pH of the acid you add to curdle the milk matters. That’s one reason vinegar is more dependable than lemon juice; the acidity of lemons varies. It also means you can’t substitute other vinegars, because they might not be as acidic as white vinegar. I learned this the hard way when I realized I was out of regular vinegar and tried to use white wine vinegar instead; the milk didn’t form many curds.

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after 15 minutes of straining with no cheesecloth or paper towel liner

7) You don’t need cheesecloth. The first two times I made this cheese, I strained the mixture in my fine-mesh strainer. Worried that I was losing too much of good stuff, I tried using a double layer of paper towels, but it was draining too slowly and I got impatient and went back to just the strainer. That being said, I really am trying to remember to buy cheesecloth.

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after 15 minutes of straining with no liner, stirred

8 ) You’ll feel wasteful throwing all that whey down the drain, but the bit of internet research I did indicated that it isn’t good for bread dough, because the acid breaks the gluten molecules, weakening the dough’s structure.

9) It isn’t technically ricotta, which is made from the whey leftover from making other cheeses. (The word ricotta, in Italian, means re-cooked.) When I first heard this, I wondered why anyone would call it ricotta, since it isn’t made the same way. Then I made it myself and realized that it looks and tastes just like real ricotta.

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after 2 hours of straining with no liner

10) Homemade ricotta is better than the stabilizer-filled tubs you’ll find in most grocery stores. However, if you do happen to have access to real fresh ricotta, it’s probably cheaper to buy that rather than using half a gallon of milk to make 2 cups of cheese. As for which is better, the last time I bought fresh ricotta from an Italian market was a couple years ago, too long to remember the details of how good it was. I know it was really good, but I know this is really good too.

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finally bought cheesecloth; after 1 hour of straining with double layer of cheesecloth; smoother, creamier cheese

One year ago: Beef Short Ribs Braised in Tomato Sauce
Two years ago: Maple Oatmeal Scones
Three years ago: Chopped Salad
Four years ago: Country Crust Bread

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Ricotta (adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Serious Eats)

Makes about 1 cup

You can adjust the amount of cream down (to 4 cups milk and no cream) or up (to 3 cups milk and 1 cup cream), depending on how rich you want the ricotta to be.

3½ cups whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the milk, cream, and salt to 190 degrees. Remove the pot from the heat, add the vinegar and lemon juice, stir once, and set aside for 5 minutes.

2. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl. Line the strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth or a single layer of paper towels. Pour the curdled milk mixture into the strainer. Set aside for about an hour. It will get thicker the longer it sits to drain.

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fresh orange cream tart

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I’ve come full circle. The second recipe I made as part of Tuesdays with Dorie was a lemon cream tart; the alternative offered for that recipe for lemon haters was this fresh orange cream tart, and now this is the second-to-last thing I baked for the group. I swore after that lemon tart that I was done with citrus creams, because, as good as they are, a full pound of butter in a 9-inch tart is extreme. But it was a never say never situation, because I made a lemon cream as part of this lemon meringue cake and now I’m making an orange cream to say I baked every single dessert recipe in the book.

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Fortunately, this time I was smart enough to give them all away without telling my guests that they were eating orange-flavored butter on a cookie. Plus I made them tiny, so each little tartelette only contained maybe one tablespoon of butter. Which is still a lot. It’s good enough that it might be worth the calories. But what I can say for sure is that making this one very rich dessert was worth it to say I finished off an entire cookbook.

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Three years ago, one very busy day of candy-making: Candied Orange Peels, Buckeyes, White Chocolate Lemon Truffles, Pumpkin Seed Brittle, Vanilla Bean Caramels

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Fresh Orange Cream Tart (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours)

I skipped both the orange segments and the jelly garnishes.

For the Orange Filling:
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
Grated zest of 3 oranges
Grated zest of 1 lemon
4 large eggs
Scant ¾ cup fresh blood-orange or Valencia orange juice
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1¼ teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon cold water
2¾ sticks (22 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at cool room temperature

1 9-inch tart shell (round or square) made with Sweet Tart Dough or Sweet Tart Dough with Nuts, fully baked and cooled

3 orange segments, for decoration
⅓ cup quince or apple jelly mixed with ½ teaspoon of water, for glazing

Getting Ready: Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender (first choice) or food processor at hand. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the sugar and orange and lemon zest in a large heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zests together between your fingertips until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the orange and lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. You want to cook the cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. As you whisk – you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling – you’ll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger and then, as it gets closer to 180 degrees F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point – the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don’t stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience – depending on how much heat you’re giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.

As soon as it reaches 180 degrees F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or food processor); discard the zest.

Soften the gelatin in the cold water, then dissolve it by heating it for 15 seconds in a microwave oven (or do this in a saucepan over extremely low heat). Add the gelatin to the filling and pulse once just to blend, then let the filling cool to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high (or turn on the processor) and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going – to get the perfect light, airy texture, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.

Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. (The cream can be refrigerated, tightly covered, for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months; thaw overnight in the fridge.)

When you are ready to construct the tart, whisk the cream vigorously to loosen it. Spread the cream evenly in the crust. Arrange the orange segments in the center of the tart and prepare the glaze: bring the jelly and water to a boil. Use a pastry brush or pastry feather to lightly spread the jelly over the orange segments and cream. Serve now or refrigerate the tart until needed.

Sweet Tart Dough

1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup (2 ounces) confectioner’s sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioner’s sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in – you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses – about 10 seconds each – until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change – heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

To Press the Dough into the Pan: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don’t be too heavy-handed – press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

To Fully Bake the Crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, butter side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. For a partially baked crust, patch the crust if necessary, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack (keep it in its pan).

Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

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earl grey madeleines

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Coffee makes me feel like bees are buzzing in my head, so I save it for the weekends. At work, I stick to tea, and I’ve developed a little ritual with my electric kettle, collection of looseleaf teas, and steeper that drips from below when I set it onto my mug. I’m picky about my teas too; I don’t like any teas with weird fruity flavors, and I prefer my black tea with some bitter bite to it.

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I like Earl Gray tea, but it can’t be too orangey. I once bought one that tasted like a creamsicle, and I threw the whole tin away. Rishi makes my favorite black tea, but their Earl Grey is too strong for me. For months, I’ve been mixing Rishi Earl Grey tea leaves with another black tea I have that isn’t as bitter as I like. My morning mug of tea is an art.

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Overly strong tea leaves are perfect for putting into dessert though, where they have to battle to be noticed past the sugar and butter. The batter for these madeleines smelled and tasted noticeably of Earl Grey, but the flavor was muted once baked. They smelled more tea-y than they tasted. Clearly, the perfect way to really taste your Earl Grey with your Earl Grey madeleines is to have a mug of tea alongside your tea cake.

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Nicole chose these madeleines for Tuesdays with Dorie and has the recipe posted. Watch them carefully if you make them! I baked mine for 9 minutes, and it was definitely too long.

One year ago: Maple Tuiles
Two years ago: All-Occasion Sugar Cookies
Three years ago: Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart

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cranberry apple brandy

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When I was simmering sugar syrup, smashing fruit, and measuring alcohol for these cocktails, my mom made the excellent point that opening a bottle of wine is a heck of a lot easier. And while I appreciate how wine compliments food and how beer signals relaxation, I love cocktails too. Cocktails are special. They mean fun and celebration. You can’t help but be happy when enjoying a cocktail with friends and family. And that’s why they’re worth the trouble.

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This one takes more work than the citrus squeezing, liquor measuring, and syrup simmering of my favorite vodka gimlets and magaritas, as apples need to be sliced, then crushed along with cranberries before the liquor and syrup are stirred in – and that’s in addition to the squeezing, measuring, and mixing of citrus, liquor, and syrup, respectively.

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It’s a strong drink, undoubtedly, as it is mostly brandy.  But it has all of the ingredients in a good apple dessert – sugar, a touch of citrus to brighten the flavors, cranberries in case you needed another reminder that it’s the end of fall and the beginning of winter.  Fortunately, that’s just the time for celebrations worthy of the trouble involved with mixing up a seasonal cocktail.

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One year ago: Cranberry Apple Galette
Two years ago: Carne Adovada
Three years ago: Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms

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The Normandy
(from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser)

Serves 1

9 cranberries
2 thin slices green apple
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
2 ounces Calvados or other good-quality apple brandy

Combine 6 cranberries, 1 apple slice, the brown sugar, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker and muddle (crush with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon). Add the simple syrup, Calvados, and a few ice cubes, cover, and shake well. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with the remaining 3 cranberries and apple slice.

cauliflower with mustard-lemon butter

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While you don’t want to serve plain steamed vegetables on Thanksgiving, maybe not every dish needs to be drowned in cream, you know? These cauliflower have enough flavor from spicy mustard and tart lemon to stand up to the rich foods at Thanksgiving, but they’re also light enough to serve with any weeknight chicken dish.

mustard cauliflower 2

It’s almost too simple to provide a recipe for, as this is nothing more than roasted cauliflower topped with mustardy, lemony butter. Fortunately, that means it’s easy. Whether you’re making this for a busy holiday or on a busy weeknight, the cauliflower can be chopped in advance and the flavorings can be mixed. That means it takes even less time to make than green bean casserole – but it tastes a lot better and has a fraction of the calories.

mustard cauliflower 4

Two years ago: Pumpkin Biscotti
Three years ago: Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

Printer Friendly Recipe
Cauliflower with Mustard-Lemon Butter (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

6 servings

If you aren’t a fan of cauliflower, I don’t see any reason that this method wouldn’t work just as well with broccoli or Brussels sprouts.

1 small head of cauliflower (about 1¾ pounds), cut into 1-inch florets
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the cauliflower in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet; sprinkle with salt. Roast until the cauliflower is slightly softened, about 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the lemon juice, mustard, and lemon peel.

3. Scrape the mustard-lemon butter evenly over the cauliflower; toss to evenly coat the cauliflower and roast until crisp-tender, about 10 minutes longer. Transfer the cauliflower to a serving dish; sprinkle with parsley and serve warm.

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