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I have now cooked all* of the recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours. Every week, for the last four years, I have baked whatever recipe someone else picked. I was late a few times but never missed a week. I also managed to make up all of the recipes that the group made before I joined a few months after it started.

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It’s been challenging, I will tell you that. That’s a lot of baking, and it’s a lot of baking that has to be done by a deadline. It often included recipes that were complex, recipes that I knew I wouldn’t love, and in worse case scenarios, complex recipes that I knew I wouldn’t love.

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But, there were far more recipes that I thought I knew I wouldn’t love only to be pleasantly surprised. There were lessons learned, friendships made, and so much confidence gained. Now I have a generous handful of favorite new recipes in my arsenal.

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And what a huge goal to be reached – checking an entire* cookbook off the list. I don’t know what I’ll do now, as I’m not joining the spinoff group.  I might relearn how to choose my own dessert recipes.  I might get into those healthified desserts.  Maybe I won’t bake at all, although I suspect my coworkers, spoiled after months of weekly Dorie treats, would protest.  These cookies, rushed to work on my day off because I was enjoying them a little too much myself for breakfast, were the last in a long line of sweets that quickly disappeared from the office kitchen.  Tuesdays with Dorie is over, but I suspect the baking will continue.

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This final recipe of Tuesdays with Dorie is posted on Dorie’s blog, along with her own reflections on the group. I was too lazy to deal with the egg white and chopped peanut coating but kept to the recipe otherwise.

*Okay, I haven’t made really all of the recipes. I skipped the two fresh fig recipes, and there’s a handful of garnishes and toppings in the last chapter that never came up as part of other recipes.

Final note: My favorite recipes from this book are marked with an asterisk in my blog page that lists posts associated with baking groups.

One year ago: Quintuple Chocolate Brownies
Two years ago: Pecan Pie
Three years ago: Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

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butternut squash pie

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The winter squashes are a multifaceted group. Pumpkin is obviously perfect with sweet flavors and can be used in custards, pies, cakes, quick breads, cookiesthe whole dessert (or breakfast!) spectrum. Pumpkin does take well to savory dishes, but it’s more common that you’ll see butternut squash used in dinner instead – despite their very similar flavor.

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Furthermore, pumpkin in desserts is nearly always pureed. Squash in dinner is often diced, sometimes pureed. This pie, with its diced butternut squash, did not follow the rules.

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My brain had some trouble deciding if this was dessert or dinner, is what I’m saying. The pears and raisins were obviously sweet, but the big chunks of squash had a strong earthy tone. I think with more sugar and smaller chunks of squash, they would blend into the other pie ingredients, and the whole thing would seem more dessert-like. It isn’t bad as it is, but, perhaps, a little confusing.

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Valerie chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. Instead of steaming the squash, I roasted all of the filling ingredients except the orange juice in the oven until the squash was softened, mostly because my oven was already on but also to potentially get some delicious caramelization.  Because roasting drove off some liquid, I didn’t feel I needed to add the breadcrumbs to the filling.

Two years ago: Buffalo Chicken Pizza
Three years ago: Gallitos (Costa Rican Breakfast Tacos)

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glazed pecans

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One of the hardest parts of making a full Thanksgiving dinner for two is dealing with the ridiculous amounts of food. Probably I could have made a course or two less than what people make for a huge group, right? But that would be too easy. I have to go the other direction and make every single course I would make for a crowd.

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If family and friends were coming over, I would want casual snacks set out to munch on while people sip their wine and wait for the appetizers to cool. With only the two of us, these little pecans were supposed to hold us over between breakfast and the big eating part of the day, but instead they became irresistible little nibbles whenever the pecan bowl was in sight.

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I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed these, because pecans aren’t one of my favorite nuts. I think of them as bitter, but once they were coated in a sweet herby glaze, the nut itself seemed almost meaty. Now I know that sharing them with a crowd is actually a bad idea – because I want them all for myself.

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Two years ago: Cranberry Orange Scones
Three years ago: Chickpea and Butternut Squash Salad

Printer Friendly Recipe
Rosemary and Thyme Candied Pecans (adapted from Seven Spoons)

Makes 8 servings

I bought demerara sugar just for this recipe and have found other uses for it, but if you don’t want to buy it, I’m sure brown sugar would work just fine.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
¾ teaspoon finely minced fresh thyme
½ teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Scant ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 pound pecan halves

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the maple syrup and the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the herbs, spices, and salt. Add the pecans to the butter mixture; stir to coat. Spread the nuts in a single layer on the prepared pan.

3. Bake, turning occasionally, until the nuts are glazed, shiny, and deep golden, around 15 minutes.
Cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

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honey nut scones

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I made these for the first time almost three years ago, in the beginning of my scone phase, which has now become a scone way of life. While it is undeniably convenient to keep a stash of unbaked scones in the freezer that just need to be popped in the oven, my favorite part of scones is how easy they are to eat, not just to bake. A warm scone, a cup of coffee, and a food magazine make for a perfect weekend morning.

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I’m under no illusions that a smidgen of whole wheat flour in place of white makes these scones healthy; instead, the whole grains, plus the use of honey as the only sweetener, provides a wonderful earthiness to the scones, making them the ideal vehicle for jam or apple butter.  These are so good they might not even require a food magazine to make a perfect weekend morning – but the coffee is non-negotiable.

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Jeannette chose these scones for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted.  The only change I made was to double the salt, since I like my baked treats saltier than Dorie usually recommends.

Two years ago: Sandwich Rolls
Three years ago: Phyllo Triangles with crawfish and mushroom fillings

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apple nut muffin cake

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I wasn’t expecting great things from Pisa, although that wasn’t Pisa’s fault. I had a cold, because I learned the hard way that you have to eat the occasional fruit or vegetable, even on vacation. We had to get up early and rush to the train station, spend 2 hours on a train to get to Pisa, where we had 3 hours before we had to board another train to get to Rome, where I had a suspicion we’d get lost looking for the hotel. I knew it would be worth it to see the iconic Leaning Tower, but I wasn’t looking forward to the trains, the constant concern over my Kleenex supply, or the crowds I assumed surrounded the famous tower.

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But I was wrong. Not about getting lost in Rome, which we did, and not about the need for Kleenex, which lasted for the next few days, but about Pisa having nothing to offer other than a poorly constructed tower and hordes of tourists. Instead, we took a relaxed walk down a lovely street full of bicyclists, shops, and cafes; peeked into a dark, quiet church that was perhaps my favorite of the trip; and detoured to a wonderful street market where, having learned our lesson, we bought some fruit to snack on while I ogled the squash blossoms, giant porcini mushrooms, crates of fresh figs, bins of artichokes, and baskets of uncured olives. Best of all, we found a farmacia that sold six-packs of Kleenex packets – a lifesaver for the 4-hour train ride ahead.

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But that was Pisa and now I’m back in southeast New Mexico, where fresh figs are nowhere to be found, to say nothing of squash blossoms and fresh porcini mushrooms. (They do have Kleenex here, gladly.) So I skipped the fig cake chosen for Tuesdays with Dorie – but here’s the apple cake I missed while traveling.

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I tried to pretty it up by adding streusel, but it melted into the cake and didn’t contribute much more than a delicious sugary crust. Not that the cake needed any help in the taste department, as it was already moist and sweet and pleasantly appley. Next time I’m in Pisa, I’ll pick up some fresh figs to make Dorie’s fig cake with; until then, apple muffin cake will have to do.

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Katrina chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie a few weeks ago, and she has the recipe posted. If you want to add streusel to the top, try this one; the one I used didn’t work very well.  I doubled the salt, as usual, since I like my desserts saltier than Dorie.

One year ago: Apple Pie
Two years ago: Sweet Potato Biscuits
Three years ago: Chocolate Cupcakes

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cooks illustrated’s ultimate banana bread

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I’ve always wanted to do a banana bread comparison post, and I still plan to someday, but usually I make banana bread for one primary purpose: to use up old bananas. And this recipe is the best for that, because it uses five bananas (six if you include the garnish, which I usually don’t), which is about twice as many as most other banana bread recipes. Furthermore, this recipe actually works better with previously frozen bananas, which mine always are.

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It manages to fit so many bananas into one loaf because the liquid is extracted before the batter is mixed. I love sucking the liquid out of ingredients before using them in recipes, especially quick breads like this zucchini bread. But I have to admit that I hadn’t realized bananas contained so much water. With zucchini, it’s obvious because water droplets immediately appear on a newly cut surface, but bananas had always seemed relatively dry to me.

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That’s until you freeze and then defrost them, when they turn into a pile of gross brown mush soaking in gross brown liquid. And this is perfect, because the mush is ready to mix right into the batter, and the liquid can be simmered down into a concentrated banana syrup, so not one bit of banana flavor is wasted. And if you don’t constantly have a bag of bananas taking up space in your freezer, of course you don’t need previously frozen bananas for this recipe – a quick trip to the microwave achieves the same effect.

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The end result is a banana bread that’s moist and tender, even if I go ahead and utilize my favorite quick bread tricks of subbing half whole wheat pastry flour and reducing the fat by 25% by replacing some of the butter with oil. Plus I figure that all that extra fruit in there contributes more fiber and nutrients. It’s not over-the-top banana-y either, despite containing so much more banana than most loaves. It’s so good that it’s actually worth making just for the sake of eating it, not just to use up the ingredients!

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One year ago: Pappa al Pomodoro
Two years ago: Risotto with Swiss Chard
Three years ago: Gazpacho

Printer Friendly Recipe
Ultimate Banana Bread (from Cooks Illustrated)

I’ve reproduced Cooks Illustrated’s recipe exactly below. However, I don’t particularly care for the sliced bananas on top. They’re pretty, but they’re too sweet and candy-like (which really doesn’t sound like me, come to think of it).

You can slightly healthy up this recipe by replacing half of the flour with whole wheat pastry flour, and using 4 tablespoons butter plus 2 tablespoons canola oil instead of 8 tablespoons butter. The oil helps keeps the loaf moist, and of course leaving all that butter in contributes flavor.

1¾ cups (8¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
6 large very ripe bananas (about 2¼ pounds), peeled
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 large eggs
¾ cup packed (5¼ ounces) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.

2. Place 5 bananas in a microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in the plastic with a paring knife. Microwave on high power until the bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes. Transfer the bananas to a fine-mesh strainer placed over a medium bowl and allow to drain, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes (you should have ½ to ¾ cups liquid).

3. Transfer the liquid to a medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until it’s reduced to ¼ cup, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, stir the reduced liquid into the bananas, and mash with a potato masher until fairly smooth. Whisk in the butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.

4. Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined with some streaks of flour remaining. Gently fold in the walnuts, if using. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Slice the remaining banana diagonally into ¼-inch-thick slices. Shingle the banana slices on top of both sides of the loaf, leaving a 1½-inch-wide space down the center to ensure an even rise. Sprinkle the granulated sugar evenly over loaf.

5. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, 55 to 75 minutes. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and continue to cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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chocolate allspice cookies

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September is an ambiguous time. School and football, two signs of fall, have started. Labor Day is over. It might not be meltingly hot out every single day. On the other hand, that all important sign of autumn, fire-colored leaves, hasn’t started except in the most extreme of climates. And besides, tomatoes are still in season. Everyone knows that tomatoes belong to summer.

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When I lived in upstate New York, where summer was disappointingly short, I refused to acknowledge fall until October 1st. I wouldn’t make anything with pumpkin or apples, and I wouldn’t buy candy corn for Dave. (I’m mean.)

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But come October 1st, I was all about fall. I love it for all the reasons everyone loves fall – the colors, the chill, the apple cider. We don’t get any of those things in southern New Mexico, so I welcome what little there is here that feels like fall, no matter when it happens.

Dave thinks anything with ginger or allspice or cloves tastes like Christmas. I say it tastes like fall. And even in early September, I’m not complaining.

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Jessica, who chose these cookies for Tuesdays with Dorie, has the recipe posted. I doubled the spice, plus I freshly ground my allspice berries in a coffee grinder just before mixing the dough. I also increased the salt.  I had ground almonds to use up, so I made the dough in the mixer instead of the food processor.

One year ago: Peanut Butter Crisscrosses
Two years ago: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies
Three years ago: Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops

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kofta

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A lot of people in my town hunt. I think they expect me to be against hunting, due to my hippie stance on other issues, like recycling and reducing waste. (The blue recycle bin is right next to the trash can, so what possible reason could you have for not recycling paper? And what’s with drinking your daily coffee out of Styrofoam cups?) But, assuming it’s carefully controlled, and in my area it is, I’m pro-hunting. I’d rather eat animals that lived their lives outside doing animal things than stuffing themselves in a feedlot.

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That being said, I don’t want to do it myself. There is the issue of whether I could actually bring myself to kill a beautiful creature, and I really don’t know how that would go. But moreover, I have plenty of hobbies as it is and don’t need to take up another. But if someone wanted to bring me venison, that would be okay.

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And someone has! Twice, my coworker has brought me ground venison. We made burgers with the first pound, and for the second pound, I took his suggestion to make kofta. I’d never had it before, but it was so obviously something I’d like, with the mix of meat, savory seasonings, and warm spices, not to mention tzatziki and grilled pita. (Incidentally, I brought my coworker two pounds of Tartine country bread dough to thank him for the meat – and encourage him to give me more!)

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Lean venison is perfect in kofta because the addition of bread helps the meatballs hold onto moisture. Plus, lamb is the traditional main ingredient, and both meats are often considered gamey. Dave and I love that gamey flavor, and it just gets better when it’s liberally seasoned with herbs and spices. And everything is better with grilled pita and tzatziki. I suspect I’ll be making this meal with lamb in the future, because my desire for kofta will surely outrun my uncertain supply of venison.

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One year ago: Rhubarb Crumb Coffee Cake
Two years ago: Pickled Coleslaw
Three years ago: Sausage and Red Pepper Hash

Printer Friendly Recipe
Kofta (adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

The original recipe includes grilled chunks of marinated zucchini, but I didn’t think they added anything special to this.

Grilling meatballs on skewers is a hair-raising experience, but they turned out great and we only lost one on the grill. Just be careful and try not to move them around much.

I grilled some onions to add to the sandwiches, because you can’t go wrong with grilled onions.

2 slices firm sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
¼ cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
¼ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
16 ounces ground lamb
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon black pepper
⅓ cup pine nuts, toasted and finely chopped
tzatziki

1. Pulse the bread, onion, and herbs in a food processor until finely chopped. The juice from the onion should start to soak into the bread, and the mixture will form a paste. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and mix with all of the remaining ingredients except the tzatziki. With your hands, mix until well blended. Form one tablespoon of the mixture into a ball; repeat with the remaining mixture to make about 24 meatballs.

2. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Thread meatballs onto skewers, leaving about ¼-inch between each. Generously oil the grill rack. Grill lamb, turning over once, until golden and just cooked through, about 6 minutes. Serve warm with tzatziki and grilled pitas.

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tropical crumble

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My family’s beach vacations in Mexico always include swimming, beer drinking, wave watching, margarita drinking, cooking, and wine drinking. And so far, they’ve always included hovering neaby while someone cuts cubes of perfectly ripe mangoes, which are snatched up as soon as the knife is out of the way. There are few things in life better than eating mangoes on the beach in Mexico while on vacation.

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Baking a banana-mango crumble the day after vacation is less fun. For one thing, after a week of fried fish tacos, I was ready for some detox. For another thing, I do not feel that chunks of banana are meant to be baked.

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To compromise, I made the recipe with many changes. I cut the butter in the fruit filling by half, then cooked only the banana, over medium-high heat to brown it in the sugar mixture, bananas foster style. I reduced the butter in the crumble topping to 6 tablespoons and doubled the flour. Alongside a scoop of lowfat Greek yogurt, this dessert wasn’t half-bad, and it was only half-bad for me too.

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Gaye chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. However, other members of TWD had a number of problems with it. With the changes I noted above, mine came out well.

One year ago: Oatmeal Breakfast Bread
Two years ago: Brownie Buttons
Three years ago: Granola Grabbers

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carrot spice muffins

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I am against vegetables in cake, but I am pro vegetables in muffins. I am against raisins in cake, but I am pro raisins in muffins. The same goes with nuts. Basically, carrot cake is an abomination, or at best just a vehicle for cream cheese frosting, but carrot muffins are awesome.

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Awesome to eat, that is; they’re a bit of a pain to make, what with the carrot shredding and nut toasting and spice measuring. But they’re worth it in the end, hearty and moist and studded with sweet raisins and bitter pecans. I have to confess to wondering if they would be even better topped with cream cheese frosting though.

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Nancy chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I reduced the oil to ½ cup, replaced 1 cup of all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour, doubled the salt, and increased the carrot slightly.

One year ago: Chocolate Ganache Ice Cream
Two years ago: Banana Bundt Cake
Three years ago: Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

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