strawberry and chocolate cupcakes

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There were probably better things I could have been doing with my time instead of making fancy cupcakes. Surely I should be focusing on easier, more straightforward treats right now. Even better, I had planned to get the flower garden ready for spring that Sunday afternoon. Or I could clean my house. Instead, I couldn’t resist the siren call of my mixer, plus butter, sugar, and flour.

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It went about how most things do these days: I thought I’d have enough time to get the batters made and the cupcakes in the oven, but the baby woke up earlier than expected. Once she’d eaten and we gave her a bath and read a few books to her, I hurried back to finish the cupcakes while Dave took a turn trying to get her to sleep. Then he removed the cupcakes from the pan while I took my turn trying to get her to sleep.

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Baking, frosting, and garnishing cupcakes all in one day is nearly impossible right now, at least if I want to do anything else with my time, like dress the baby up in silly outfits and take pictures. I packed the cupcakes away overnight, then got halfway through making the frosting the next morning when the baby woke up earlier than expected. (The baby almost always wakes up earlier than expected, unless she sleeps for hours longer than expected.)

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Fortunately, I was able to finish the toppings when Dave came home for lunch. He took most of the cupcakes to share at work, and I stashed a couple away for a well-deserved treat for myself. I’ll work in the garden next week (unless I find another fun dessert to bake instead).

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Strawberry Chocolate Cupcakes (cake recipes are both adapted from Alyssa Huntsman’s and Peter Wynne’s Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes via Smitten Kitchen; chocolate frosting is from Martha Stewart)

Makes 24 cupcakes

I’m years overdue for a thorough chocolate cupcake comparison, but right now, I’m really happy with this recipe. It’s chocolately, tender, and moist.

A friend gave me this fun cupcake batter divider, but I’m sure you can just simultaneously spoon both batters into the cups.

Strawberry cake:
1 cup (4 ounces) cake flour
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1¾ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup pureed frozen strawberries (from about 5 ounces of strawberries)
3 egg whites
3½ tablespoons milk
1 drop red food dye, optional

Chocolate cake:
1 cup (4 ounces) cake flour
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
½ cup (1.5 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 egg
½ cup freshly brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature

Frosting and garnish:
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1½ cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
pinch salt
½ cup sour cream
12 strawberries, halved through the stem

1. To make the cupcakes, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 cupcake wells with paper liners.

2. For the strawberry cake: Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl. With an electric mixer on low speed, blend for 30 seconds. Add the butter and strawberry puree and mix to blend, then raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. In another large bowl, whisk together the egg whites, milk, and red food dye, if using. Add the egg white mixture to the batter in two or three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well and mixing only to incorporate after each addition. Set aside.

4. For the chocolate cake: In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. With an electric mixer on low speed, blend for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low until moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Whisk the eggs and coffee together, and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition.

6. Simultaneously spoon the two batters into each cupcake well, filling them about two-thirds full. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove them from the wells and cool completely on the rack.

7. For the frosting: Melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Set aside to cool until just barely warm.

8. In a large mixer bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Gradually mix in the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Beat in the melted and cooled chocolate and then the sour cream. Continue beating until the mixture is smooth and well blended. Frost cupcakes immediately. Top each cupcake with a strawberry half.

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rhubarb sour cream pound cake

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The newborn stage hit all of us hard – including the baby, who apparently found life outside the womb to be unsatisfactory. I was grateful for a freezer full of dinners, although I did manage to do some simple baking – chocolate chip cookies, pound cake. My favorite recipes, made almost more for the comfort of going through the motions, of feeling like me, than to have a delicious dessert to share and enjoy.

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I’m hesitant to put this in writing, but things are a little better now. We’ve figured out how to calm the baby’s cries (usually), she smiles and even sometimes coos, and we’ve learned to adapt to a routine where nothing is really routine. For example, I learned the hard way, when a pissed off hungry baby had to wait to eat until the cookies I’d just put in the oven were done baking, that I can’t bake unless Dave is home to take things out of the oven if necessary. Also, it’s best if I divide up the baking as much as possible; for one cake I made recently, I had the measured dry ingredients and the baking pan sitting by the mixer for almost a week until I finally got a chance to mix it all together.

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This cake was slightly more impromptu, only because the days before I baked it had gone so fast I couldn’t make time to prepare the ingredients. Fortunately, the baby had a particularly sleepy day on the last day of the weekend, and I was able to mix and bake a cake. She woke up hungry when I was doing the final mixing of the dough, so Dave did his best to soothe her while I rushed to get the cake in the oven. I left myself a bit of batter in the mixing bowl to enjoy after the nursing session. After this last month, I definitely deserve a treat.

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Rhubarb Sour Cream Pound Cake (rewritten and slightly adapted from Cook’s Country)

16 servings

The original recipe is for cranberries (fresh or frozen), but I’ve found that rhubarb and cranberries are interchangeable in baked recipes like this. I also doubled the recipe so I could bake it in a bundt pan instead of a loaf pan.

10 large eggs, at room temperature
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
3½ cups (17.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ plus ¼ teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅔ cup sour cream
½ cup milk
28 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2½ cups (17.5 ounces) granulated sugar
2 cups (8 ounces) finely diced rhubarb
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Grease and flour (or spray with baking spray) a 12-cup bundt pan. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, 1½ teaspoons salt, and baking powder. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and milk.

2. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer), beat the butter on medium speed until smooth. Gradually add the granulated sugar, then increase the mixer speed to medium-high and continue to beat for another 3-4 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary, until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium; gradually add the egg mixture. Scrape the sides of the bowl, then continue to mix on medium speed until evenly mixed; the mixture will probably look curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the sour cream mixture, another third of the flour, the remaining sour cream, and the remaining flour. Mix until almost combined, with a few streaks of flour remaining.

3. Toss the rhubarb with the powdered sugar and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Add the rhubarb to the batter and use a large rubber spatula to fold it in until the rhubarb is evenly incorporated and the batter is thoroughly mixed. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan.

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 1½ to 2 hours. Transfer to a wire rack; cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert the cake onto the rack. Cool the cake completely, about two hours, before serving. Tightly wrapped, the cooled cake can be stored for up to three days.

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strawberry crinkle cookies

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It’s May, and strawberries are in season! Delicious red fresh strawberries are available for snacking, baking, and daiquiris. And I’ve done my share of snacking and daiquiri-ing. But when it comes to baking, I have to confess, I often prefer frozen strawberries, no matter what time of year it is.

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Maybe using frozen strawberries defeats the purpose of eating seasonally, but I like that they puree more thoroughly. Plus, because they’re not so perishable and delicate, frozen strawberries can be picked when they’re really ripe, unlike fresh strawberries you buy at the store, even this time of year. I have no shame in using frozen strawberries for baking, even in the peak of their season.

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I was impressed by how much strawberry puree was in these cookies. The dough (almost more of a batter) was delicious – like strawberry ice cream, except without the brain freeze. Once baked, the strawberry flavor was more muted, but still evident. These might become a spring tradition for me – or any other time of the year, since frozen strawberries are available whenever I want them.

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Strawberry Crinkle Cookies (slightly adapted from Merry Gourmet)

I used one drop of Americolor red food coloring, which made the batter the perfect color, but the baked cookies weren’t quite as pink as I wanted.

3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick; 113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar, plus ¼ cup for rolling
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup strawberry puree (from 6 ounces or 2 cups strawberries)
2 drops red food coloring (optional)
½ cup confectioner’s sugar

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and baking powder.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the butter, salt, and 1½ cups sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated, then mix in the vanilla, strawberry puree, and red food coloring. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Chill the dough for 4 hours or up to 3 days.

3. Transfer the ¼ cup granulated sugar and the confectioner’s sugar to separate small bowls. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Coat the balls of dough with granulated sugar, then powdered sugar. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are puffed and do not look wet in the cracks, 12-16 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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strawberry rhubarb crisp bars

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I never make pies anymore. Most of what I bake is meant to be easily shared by a large crowd, either at work or at a party. That’s fine, but pies are fine too.

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This was part of my annual frenzy to use rhubarb as much as possible during its short season. When the grocery store has it, I buy it, whether I have a plan for it or not. That’s easy when you have a bunch of coworkers who will eat anything – preferably anything handheld, easy to grab along with a cup of coffee.

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Until I find a small gathering – with plates and even forks – to make a pie for, these bars are a good stand in. The balance of tart, juicy fruit to buttery flour is spot on, and although the crispness isn’t like a flaky pie crust, the oaty crunch is a good stand-in. Best of all, I actually had an opportunity to share them, unlike a silverware-demanding pie.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars (adapted from Yvonne Rupert’s One Bowl Baking via Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 9 to 16 bars

I un-one bowled this. I’m spoiled by my dishwasher and would rather mix things conveniently than use less dishes.

1 cup (80 grams) rolled oats
¾ cup (95 grams) all-purpose flour
½ cup (95 grams) light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup (125 grams) small-diced rhubarb (from about 1½ medium stalks)
1 cup (155 grams) small-diced strawberries
1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Powdered sugar, for decoration, if desired

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8-by-8 inch square pan with cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, mix the oats, flour, brown sugar, and salt. Add the butter and stir until clumps form. Set aside ½ cup of the crumble mixture and press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the prepared pan.

3. In a medium bowl (you could even use the same bowl; see, one less dish to wash!), combine the rhubarb, strawberries, granulated sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Evenly distribute the fruit over the crust, then scatter the reserved crumbs over the fruit.

4. Bake the bars until the fruit is bubbling and the crisp portion is golden, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

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braised artichokes with creamy dipping sauce

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My sister’s kids aren’t particularly picky, but sometimes I push their limits without meaning to. Like the time I thought they’d get a kick out of eggs cooked in bacon toast cups, but instead they were like, Hey, now where does the jelly go? And at least that wasn’t a vegetable.

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I don’t even remember why I thought artichokes would be a good idea in the first place, but then when I started thinking about it, I got worried. They tend to turn a military shade of green once they’re cooked. I tried to get the kids excited about saying “okey dokey artichokey”, but I was pulling at strings and knew it.

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And then, oddly, they loved the artichokes. I think it was the number one rule of feeding children that worked in my favor – opportunities to dip. Plus, maybe, just maybe, I was right, and the fun of pulling off leaves and scraping the “meat” off with your teeth was more important than the brownish green shade of the vegetables. It certainly is for me, as this is one of my absolute favorite foods.

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Braised Artichokes with Creamy Dipping Sauce

Serves 3 to 6 as a first course, depending on how big your artichokes are and how big your appetite is

Trimming artichokes isn’t hard, but you might want to watch a youtube video or two if you’re not familiar with the process.

99% of artichoke recipes call for transferring the trimmed ‘chokes to a bowl of water with a lemon squeezed into it to keep them from browning. Not only does it not work, but they look and taste the same after cooking, so I’ve skipped this step. (But a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated tested it and found it the lemon water worthwhile.)

If your artichokes are really big, you might need to use a 12-inch sauté pan instead of a Dutch oven to fit them in a single layer.

If you’re mayonnaise-adverse, crème fraiche would be a great substitute. Greek yogurt or sour cream would work if you stir it in off the heat so the dairy doesn’t curdle.

3 medium artichokes
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup water
½ cup white wine
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon parsley leaves, minced

1. Working with one artichoke at a time, cut off the top 2 inches of the artichoke. Working around the artichoke, use scissors to cut off the sharp tips of the leaves. Trim the base of the stem, then trim off the outside millimeter or so of the stem. Cut the artichoke in half from top to bottom and use a paring knife to cut out the sharp purple leaves and fuzzy choke from the center. Rinse the artichoke under running water to remove any remaining fuzz.

2. Heat the olive oil in a 5- or 6-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Arrange the artichokes cut-side down in the pot, overlapping the stems in the middle. Add the water, wine, pepper, and salt. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and braise artichokes until tender when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes for small artichokes and 40 minutes for very large artichokes. (If you’re not ready to serve the artichokes right away, remove the pot from the heat and leave the cover on; the ‘chokes will stay hot for up to 30 minutes.)

3. Transfer artichoke halves to a serving platter or plates. There should about ⅓ cup liquid remaining in the pot; if there’s less, add water until there’s a total of ⅓ cup liquid; if there’s more, simmer the liquid to reduce it slightly. Add the mayonnaise and parsley to the liquid; whisk to combine and pour into individual dipping containers.

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strawberry shortcake cupcakes

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I’ve had these cupcake wrappers for at least a year, maybe close to two years. But because they’re tulips, I was determined that I could only use them in the spring, and sometimes, a whole month or two can go by where I don’t think about cupcake wrappers. If that month is April and May, then it’s too late for tulips. Having actually remembered this year, I wanted to make the most springy cupcake I could.

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Strawberries are the obvious choice. And what dessert is more springy than strawberry shortcake?

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This isn’t too different than a cupcake adaptation of this strawberry cream cake, but the cake portion of that recipe is meant to be dense enough to stand up to layers of strawberries and whipped cream. I wanted something fluffier, so I started with my favorite basic vanilla cake. The filling in that strawberry cream cake would be perfect for adding to the middle of cupcakes, because the strawberries are minced and juicy, just right for maximizing the flavor they can contribute in just a small hole in the middle of each cupcake.

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The topping is perfect as well, since the cream cheese stabilizes the whipped cream enough to mound on top of each cupcake. With a slice of strawberry over the hole filled with strawberries to even out the top of the cupcake, plus more fresh strawberries on top, there were plenty of berries to balance the cake and rich cream topping. It was a perfect combination.  Tulips and strawberries, what’s better than that for spring?

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Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes (cake adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride; filling and topping adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Strawberry Cream Cake)

24 cupcakes

Vanilla cupcakes:
3 cups (12 ounces) cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Strawberry filling:
8 ounces fresh strawberries (about ½ quart), washed, dried, and stemmed
1 tablespoon sugar
½ tablespoon Kirsch or port
Pinch table salt

Whipped cream topping:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch table salt
2 cups heavy cream

6-8 strawberries, sliced crosswise into rounds
additional strawberries for garnish

1. For the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour and baking powder.

2. Place the butter and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer). Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

3. Gradually add the sugar to the butter mixture, beating until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated. Combine the buttermilk and the vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, add one-third of the flour mixture, followed immediately by half of the buttermilk, mixing just until incorporated. Repeat with another third of the flour and the rest of the buttermilk, then the last of the flour. Mix for 15 seconds longer.

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

5. For the filling: Quarter the berries; toss with sugar in a medium bowl and let sit 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain the juices from the berries and reserve (you should have about ¼ cup). In the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, give the macerated berries five 1-second pulses (you should have about ¾ cup). In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer the reserved juices and Kirsch until the mixture is syrupy and reduced to about 1½ tablespoons, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour the reduced syrup over the macerated berries, add a pinch of salt, and toss to combine.

6. For the topping: When the cake has cooled, place the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce the speed to low and add the heavy cream in a slow, steady stream; when it’s almost fully combined, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2½ minutes more, scraping the bowl as needed (you should have about 4½ cups).

7. To assemble: With a paring knife, carve a cone out of the center of each cupcake. Use a slotted spoon to transfer some strawberry filling to the cavity; top each hole with a round slice of strawberry. Frost the cupcakes; garnish with additional strawberries. If not serving within about an hour, refrigerate for up to 8 hours. Let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour before serving (otherwise, the cake will seem hard and stale).

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strawberry daiquiris

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

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

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

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

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Strawberry Daiquiris

4 drinks

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

Make the strawberry rum by pouring 1 (750-ml) bottle of rum over 1 pound of stemmed and quartered strawberries. Strain after 5-7 days. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for several weeks.

Our favorite rum for mixing is Shellback Silver.

Update 6/5/2014 – Unfortunately, I had this recipe wrong initially.  The sugar syrup has now been reduced from ½ cup to ¼ cup.  We use ¼ cup, although we like our drinks on the tart side.

1½ cups strawberry rum
¾ cup lime juice
¼ cup sugar syrup

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

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goat cheese almond strawberry cheesecake

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Sometimes you just nail it. I remember years ago, when I was barely starting to get into making rustic breads, I baked the best baguettes I’d ever made. I don’t remember what meal I cooked to serve with the bread, but I distinctly remember having leftovers of the main dish while we filled up on bread. Later, despite my best efforts, I was never able to reproduce that bread.

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Let’s hope this cheesecake doesn’t go the way of that bread, because I nailed it again and I definitely want it to be just as good next time. It might sound like an odd idea – how could goat cheese in cheesecake be even better than cream cheese? Honestly, I don’t know; I was trying to use up a big package of goat cheese.

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But, it was better. It was the best cheesecake I’ve ever made. Everyone who ate it raved; some said it was the best thing I’ve baked. Most said they wouldn’t have been able to taste the goat cheese if they hadn’t known it was there, and I agree; it was subtle, just a bit of extra tartness. The almond flavor wasn’t noticeable and even the strawberry was on the subtle side, but I’ll tell you this – there is not one thing I’d change about this, because it was perfection. And it had better be just as good, just as soft and creamy, next time I make it.

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Goat Cheese Almond Strawberry Cheesecake (adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

Crust:
8 ounces vanilla wafers, ground to make 2 cups crumbs
1 ounce (¼ cup) almond meal
pinch salt
5 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling:
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
3 eggs, room temperature
6 ounces whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed and drained if frozen, pureed

1. For the crust: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the bottom of a springform pan with nonstick spray. Either grind the cookies with a food processor or place them in a ziptop bag and crush with a rolling pin. Add the almond meal, salt, and butter to the crumbs and stir until evenly mixed. Press the crumbs into an even layer covering the bottom of the prepared pan.

2. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool on a wire rack. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

3. For the cheesecake: With a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese and goat cheese at medium-low speed until smooth. Add the sugar and salt; continue mixing for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy. Add the sour cream and flour, then vanilla and almond extracts, and the eggs one a time, mixing just until each one is incorporated.

4. Pour ¾ of the batter into the cooled crust. Mix the strawberry puree into the remaining batter. Dollop it over the plain batter in the crust and use a butter knife to gently swirl it.

5. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes or until the top is just barely jiggly. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a wire rack; run a thin knife or spatula around the edge to release the cake from the sides of the pan. Let cool completely to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight before serving.

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asparagus bacon and egg salad

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I have a nephew who is so picky that he wouldn’t eat blueberries in the middle of the summer. Blueberries! They might as well be candy that happens to be good for you. He was in elementary school then, but things aren’t much better now that he’s starting high school in the fall. Last winter, he balked at asparagus.

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Dave, understanding teenaged boys all too well because he still thinks like one (I dare you to tell him a poop joke), found the trick to making picky adolescents eat asparagus – tell them that their pee will smell like asparagus later. For better or worse, this is a phenomenon I have never noticed myself. My nephew choked down a few spears, but either it wasn’t enough or he isn’t subject to the asparagus pee smell either, because he responded in the negative when we quizzed him the next day.

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If you’re less interested in discussing (I accidentally typed “disgusting” first, which probably isn’t a coincidence) the smell of urine at the dinner table, perhaps adding bacon is a better way to make asparagus seem tempting. With eggs added as well, this is more like breakfast than a salad – which is exactly how I like my salads, as a light meal masquerading as a decadent one.  Not being a huge fan of asparagus myself, this might be my favorite way to eat it – and I, personally, find the lack of asparagus pee the next day to be a relief.

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Bacon Egg and Asparagus Salad (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table via A Taste of Home Cooking)

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 bunches (about 2 pounds) asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
kosher salt and ground black pepper
4 ounces (about 4 slices) bacon, diced
6-8 eggs
4 cups spring mix
1 avocado, peeled and diced

Dressing:
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and heat to 450 degrees. Once hot, spread the oil over the pan and add the asparagus; season with salt and pepper and stir to coat with oil. Return the pan with the asparagus to the oven and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking.

2. In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all about 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan. Crack the eggs into the pan, season with salt and pepper, and add 2 tablespoons of water. Immediately cover the pan and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, until the whites are set and the yolks are soft.

3. Mix all of the dressing ingredients.

4. Combine the spring mix, avocado, bacon, asparagus, and dressing. Top each serving with 1-2 eggs.

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rhubarb snack cake

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I never got around to telling you about my New Awesome Recipe Database back when it was new. It’s still awesome. But now that it’s well over a year old and has over 1500 recipes entered into it, it definitely isn’t new.

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I love it. I built it myself, something I’d wanted to do for at least a decade. I remember getting Microsoft Access for Dummies from the library shortly after I moved out of my parents’ house for graduate school. But without anything to really push me or anyone around to help me, the project never got off the ground. It wasn’t until I had to use databases at work that it finally clicked.

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I seem to have a bit of a natural aptitude for them, probably because I love organizing things and playing with data. There were a couple online recipe databases I could have downloaded and built upon, but they didn’t have all of the categories and features that I was looking for, so I made my own database from scratch. And almost a year and a half later, I still absolutely love it.

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One of the ways it’s so useful is that when the grocery store carries relatively fresh-looking rhubarb, I snatch it up whether I have a plan for it or not. And then I can go to my Not-New Awesome Recipe Database and do a search of all the recipes I’ve saved over the last few years that include rhubarb.  Narrowing down to the one that only includes ingredients I already have and can be made after work takes no time at all.  The only problem, other than the tedium of entering recipes (my goal is 6 per weekday), is that searching for recipes is so easy and fun with my database that I hardly use my beautiful and inspiring cookbook collection anymore.  Until someday, when I enter those recipes into my Awesome Recipe database, and then I’ll have the best of both worlds.

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One year ago: Shrimp Ricotta Ravioli
Two years ago: Barbecued Pulled Pork
Three years ago: Cream Cheese Spritz
Four years ago: Orange-Oatmeal-Currant Cookies
Five years ago: Snickery Squares

Printer Friendly Recipe
Rhubarb Snack Cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes about 24 servings

Crumb:
1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) light brown sugar
⅛ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Cake:
1¼ pounds rhubarb, trimmed and cut into ½-inch lengths
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1⅓ cup (9.65 ounces) granulated sugar, divided
8 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 large eggs
1⅓ cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
⅓ cup (2.75 ounces) sour cream

1. To make the crumb mixture: In a small bowl, whisk the flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon together, then stir in the melted butter. Set aside.

2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, then line the bottom with parchment paper, extending the lengths up two opposite sides of the pan to form a sling. In a medium bowl, stir together rhubarb, lemon juice and ⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) sugar; set aside.

3. For the cake: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a medium-sized mixing bowl with a hand-held mixer), beat the butter, remaining ⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) sugar, and the lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and ground ginger. Add one-third of this mixture to the batter, mixing until just combined. Continue beating, adding half of the sour cream, half of the remaining flour mixture, the remaining sour cream, and then the remaining flour mixture, mixing between each addition until just combined.

4. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Pour the rhubarb mixture over the batter, spreading it into an even layer. Scatter the crumbs evenly over the rhubarb layer.

5. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out free of the cake batter. It will be golden on top. Cool completely in the pan on a rack. To serve, use the parchment sling to remove the cake from the pan; cut into 2-inch squares.

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