stuffed mascarpone strawberries

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We moved into the new house! And less than a week later, we went on vacation! And now we’re back, and although we don’t have internet or television at home, and there are no curtains or pictures hung, and we haven’t bought mirrors for the bathrooms, it’s safe to say that we’re settling in. The kitchen is unpacked and has been through multiple rounds of tweaking, and what else matters?

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With the move, the vacation, and a couple big projects at work, March got a little crazy. It started off with a visit from a friend, here to interview for a job at our company. Which, by the way, she got, so she and her husband will be moving out to our little New Mexican town sometime this summer. After her interview, we showed her around town, but there really isn’t much to see, so we spent most of the evening hanging out at home, drinking wine and eating a nice meal.

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I’d forgotten that she eats like a bird, so I’m glad I kept dessert light. Fruit is a nice ending to a meal of salad, shrimp, bread, and lasagna, but plain fruit is a snack that I eat several times a day. Stuffing the berries with a lightly sweetened and spiced creamy mixture was the perfect way to make these a treat worthy of being called dessert. Plus, it was easy, and last month, easy was extremely important.

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One year ago: Strawberry Lemonade Bars
Two years ago: Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries and Pecans
Three years ago: Vodka Gimlet
Four years ago: Black Bean Squash Burritos
Five years ago: Scotch Eggs

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Stuffed Mascarpone Strawberries (adapted from The Quinces and the Pea via Pink Parsley)

1 pound strawberries, rinsed and dried
½ cup mascarpone cheese
⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
½ teaspoon cardamom
cinnamon, for sprinkling

1. Halve each strawberry through the stem-end, and use a melon baller or paring knife to scoop out part of the middle.

2. In a medium bowl, beat the mascarpone, cream, sugar, vanilla, and cardamom until soft peaks form. Using a piping bag fitted with corner snipped off (or a round tip), fill each strawberry with the cream. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon; serve.

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strawberry white chocolate brownies

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I know white chocolate isn’t as sexy as its darker sibling, but I think it has its own charm. It’s not much beyond sweet and soft, which could be boring, but you can use those traits to the advantage of the treat you’re making with it. Mixed into a batter, it adds a little more interest than plain white sugar would, although I think you’d be hard-pressed to pick out the white chocolate flavor if you didn’t know it was there.

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That being said, while I expected these to turn out quite nice, they exceeded my expectations. I reduced the sugar from the original recipe, suspecting that the white chocolate would contribute plenty of sweetness, and that, combined with an extra dose of salt, resulted in the perfect balance. Bright, juicy strawberries added a welcome flavor and texture contrast. Forced to choose between these and my favorite dark chocolate brownies would be a tough call, but these tamer white chocolate brownies would stand a good chance.

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One year ago: Pizza Bianca with Goat Cheese and Greens
Two years ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers
Three years ago: Tribute to Katharine Hepburn Brownies
Four years ago: Vanilla Ice Cream

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Strawberry White Chocolate Brownies (adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

Makes 16 squares

1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
⅓ teaspoon salt
5 ounces white chocolate, chopped fine
5 tablespoons butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
4 ounces strawberries, hulled and quartered

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a slight overhang. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

2. Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan containing one inch of simmering water. Add the chocolate and butter; stir frequently until the mixture is melted and smooth, then remove from the heat. Whisk in the sugar (the mixture will appear curdled), then add vanilla and the eggs one at a time, whisking constantly.

3. Switch to a rubber spatula and add the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Gently fold in the strawberries. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it into an even layer.

4. Bake the brownies for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; cool completely. Use the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan and cut into 2-inch squares. (The brownies can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

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strawberry rhubarb pie

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My parents have a cabin in the mountains in Colorado, where they have a neighbor who is officially a Mountain Man, with a long scraggly beard, horses running around on his property, and the requisite amount of woman trouble. One day the Mountain Man and I got to talking about pie. He declared that pie is simple – it’s a mixture of fruit, flour, and sugar baked in a crust. I don’t recall whether we discussed his crust recipe, but I have to believe it comes from a vacuum-packed tube.

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While I can agree that fruit pies are, at their most basic, a mixture of fruit, sugar, and thickener, I would disagree that that makes them simple. In fact, it makes them particularly tricky. First, the best thickener for each fruit varies – is it flour, cornstarch, tapioca, or something impossible to find in the average grocery store? Second, and worse, is that the perfect amount of thickener will vary depending on how ripe the fruit is. Exceptionally juicy peaches will need more thickener (and less sugar) than just barely ripe peaches.

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I’ve gotten strawberry rhubarb pie wrong at least as often as I’ve gotten it right. Cook’s Illustrated has a recipe for it that starts with sautéing the rhubarb with sugar to get rid of some of the excess liquid. I did make an awesome pie with this recipe, but it resulted in the worst burn I’ve ever had when a chunk of super hot sugar-coated rhubarb landed on my foot. Plus it’s a hassle – who wants to deal with pre-cooking the filling in addition to rolling out dough and chopping filling ingredients?

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I tried Deb’s recipe last year, which calls for tapioca as the thickener, but didn’t like the bits of gelatinous tapioca mixed with the fruit filling. I thought the answer was grinding the tapioca to a powder with a spice grinder (aka repurposed coffee grinder) until I saw Cook’s Illustrated comment (in The New Best Recipe) that tapioca and rhubarb don’t make a great pair. I happen to have arrowroot powder in the cabinet, so I used that instead.

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And what I got was a perfect strawberry rhubarb pie. When the first slice was removed, the filling didn’t flow in to fill the void, but it wasn’t dry. It was just sweet enough. I didn’t use flour in the filling, but I still think that even Mountain Man would approve.

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One year ago: Whole Wheat Almond Bread
Two years ago: Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Three years ago: Strawberry Tartlets
Four years ago: Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies

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Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

I used Deb’s recipe for pie crust.

If you can’t find arrowroot powder, use ¼ cup of tapioca, ground in a spice grinder.

Baking the pie on a baking sheet catches any drips; preheating the baking sheet helps the bottom crust become crisp and flaky instead of soggy.

dough for a double-crust pie, rolled into two 13-inch circles and refrigerated
½ cup + 2 tablespoons (4.4 ounces) granulated sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) light brown sugar
¼ cup arrowroot powder
¼ teaspoon salt
24 ounces (about 3½ cups) rhubarb, sliced ½-inch thick
16 ounces (about 3½ cups) strawberries, hulled and sliced if big, halved if small
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg beaten to blend with ¼ teaspoon salt (for glaze)

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven; heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, mix the sugars, arrowroot powder, and salt. Add the rhubarb, strawberries, and lemon juice; stir to combine well.

3. Line a 9-inch pie plate with one round of dough. Transfer the filling to the lined pan. Scatter pieces of butter over the fruit. Top with the second round of dough, sealing and fluting the edges. Cut 8 slits in the top crust and brush with the egg wash.

4. Transfer the pie to the hot baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees; bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.

5. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool at least 4 hours before serving.

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roasted rhubarb jam

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One of the things I’m trying to do with my rhubarb surplus this year is not mix it with strawberries. (Please disregard this statement when my next post is strawberry rhubarb pie.) It isn’t that I have anything against strawberries and rhubarb together. Those two are often paired up for reasons beyond their aligned seasons. Sweet strawberries are a natural match for sour rhubarb.

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But now that I’m starting to realize how much I enjoy rhubarb for its own merit, I want to use it more often by itself. Mixing it into batter for muffins was a good start, but a simple mostly-hands-off jam is an even more direct way to enjoy rhubarb. All it takes is cutting it up, mixing it with sugar, and giving it a few stirs while the oven softens and sweetens the stalks.

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I used a spatula to mash up the roasted rhubarb, but if you wanted something smoother, you could puree it in a food processor or press it through a food mill. The chunky version would go wonderfully with tart plain yogurt, especially with some crunchy granola on top. And I can guarantee that it makes the perfect topping for brown rice pudding – along with some sliced strawberries, of course.

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One year ago: Grapefruit Honey Yogurt Scones
Two years ago: Croissants (Martha Stewart’s recipe)
Three years ago: Rhubarb Scones
Four years ago: La Palette’s Strawberry Tart

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Roasted Rhubarb Jam (from hogwash)

2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
Pinch salt

Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a 9-by-13-inch dish, mix the ingredients. Bake them, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is soft enough to mash into a spread, about 1½ hours.

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ginger fried rice

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Telling someone you’re having fried rice for dinner – not with dinner, but for dinner – doesn’t sound very impressive. Someone asked me if I was adding a bunch of stuff to it, and I had to think about it before I realized that no…not really. It’s really just aromatics stirred into rice, topped with an egg and some soy sauce.

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But it did seem to me that serving the egg fried and on top of the rice, instead of scrambled into the rice, made this more worthy of being a stand-alone dish. Plus, I added one leek per person, which seemed like a fair enough vegetable serving; not generous, perhaps, but adequate considering what else we’d eaten that day. With that, it has all the components many of my favorite weeknight dishes do – a whole grain, a vegetable, some protein.

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It certainly tasted like it was worthy of having the dinner plate to itself. I thought the rice would be bland, without any sauce stirred into it, but a heavy dose of garlic and ginger, not to mention the grassy onionness of the leeks added plenty of flavor. The drips of soy sauce and toasted sesame oil offer hits of strong seasonings, especially once carried into the rice with the unctuous yolk. This won’t be the last time I have to tell someone I’m having something as simple as fried rice for dinner, so I’d better get used to it.

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One year ago: Green Pea Ravioli in Lemon Broth
Two years ago: Brown Sugar Cookies
Three years ago: Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Four years ago: Sichuan Green Beans

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Ginger Fried Rice (adapted from Mark Bittman via Smitten Kitchen)

I used 4 leeks, but since leeks are usually sold in bunches of three, I wrote the recipe for just three leeks.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon canola or peanut oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
salt
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced ⅛-inch thick
4 cups day-old cooked rice (from 1 cup uncooked rice)
4 (or more) large eggs
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1 green onion, sliced

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat; add the garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add another 1 tablespoon oil and the rice; cook until evenly heated, 3-4 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crack the eggs into separate small cups. Add the eggs to the pan, season evenly with salt, and cover the pan. Cook until the whites are set but the yolks are still soft, 6-8 minutes.

3. Divide the rice between serving plates. Top with the fried eggs and a drizzle of both soy sauce and sesame oil. Garnish with green onions; serve immediately.

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grapefruit honey yogurt scones

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Here’s what scones mean for me: Either I wake up on Saturday and immediately get out the butter, flour, and sugar so I can start mixing and making a big mess of the kitchen. Or, I wake up on Saturday and pilfer my time away on the internet, or, if I’m really smart, relaxing reading a book while scones go straight from the freezer to the oven. Either way, scones = Saturday = things that make me happy.

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I wasn’t completely sure that cooked grapefruit would make me happy, but it turns out that grapefruit pieces in the middle of a scone create a nice pocket of juiciness. The honey flavor, which is often overpowered, was distinct. The yogurt keeps the scones tender, along with the butter and careful mixing of course.  I’m generally already happy on Saturday mornings, but good scones certainly don’t hurt.

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One year ago: Eggs in Tomato Sauce
Two years ago: Anadama Bread
Three years ago: Baba Ghanoush, Falafel, and Hummus

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Grapefruit, Honey, and Yogurt Scones (adapted from Joy the Baker)

Makes 6 scones

I used nonfat Greek yogurt, and it worked fine.

This was my first time segmenting citrus. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Branny has detailed instructions in her blog.

As always, you can freeze scones after shaping, before baking. Bake directly from the freezer, adding 2-3 minutes to the baking time.

½ cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
1 grapefruit, zested, then segmented and coarsely chopped
1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into ¼-inch cubes

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven; heat to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. In a measuring cup, combine the yogurt, honey, and vanilla. In a small bowl, rub the sugar and the grapefruit zest together until the sugar is moist and fragrant.

2. Place the flour, 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture, baking powder, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the butter; process in 1-second pulses until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Pour the yogurt mixture over the flour mixture; pulse until the dough is crumbly. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and fold in the grapefruit pieces.

3. Turn the scone dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Form it into an 8 inch circle, about 1 inch thick. Use a knife or a bench scraper to cut the dough into six triangles. Place on the prepared baking sheet; top with the remaining grapefruit sugar.

4. Bake the scones for 15 to 17 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Allow to cool on the pan for 10 minutes before serving. These scones are best served the day they’re made.

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carrot avocado salad

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The problem with just about every recipe that contains avocado is that there isn’t enough avocado. The only exception I can think of is guacamole, because it’s almost entirely avocado. My favorite way to eat avocado is on toast with a sprinkling of kosher salt.

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My usual way of eating it, however, is as an accent in which there’s just enough avocado so that most bites have a tiny portion. And all the bites without avocado are just sad.  And all the bites that do have avocado need more of it.

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And that is what I love about this salad – avocado is the main event, or at least it shares equal billing with the sweet caramelized carrots. It might sound like an unusual combination, but it works. The radishes add a nice touch as well, crisp and spicy. I’m pretty sure the only way I could like this salad more would be if I left out the carrots, pepper, cumin, olive oil, and radishes. And maybe added in some toast.

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One year ago: Spinach Artichoke Pizza
Two years ago: Tofu Mu Shu
Three years ago: Crockpot Pulled Pork

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Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

4 servings

I prefer to use a regular olive oil to roast the carrots and extra virgin olive oil in the dressing.

1 pound carrots, scrubbed or peeled and cut into two-inch segments
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 radishes, chopped small
1 avocado, pitted and sliced

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. On a large baking sheet, toss the carrots with ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon pepper, cumin, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Roast for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender and browned.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and the remaining tablespoon olive oil. In a medium serving bowl, combine the carrots, avocado and radishes. Drizzle the vegetables with the dressing, adding more salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

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strawberry cream cake

Strawberries, cream cheese, and cake – is there any better combination? Strawberry shortcake is the iconic strawberries and cream dessert, and for good reason, but for me, this cake is a step above. Mostly because of the cream cheese, but I’m also partial to soft and tender cake over a craggy biscuit. And you can’t beat the wow factor of a beautiful layer cake with the innards exposed. Cake innards are my favorite.

Of course there’s a price to pay for alternating layers of sunny cake, swirled cream, and ruby strawberries, and that is in fussiness. And who doesn’t love fussiness? Not I.

Because this is a Cooks Illustrated recipe, there are a handful of tricks that make it work. The cream cheese stabilizes and thickens the whipped cream, not to mention it tastes so darn good. Half of the strawberries are halved for maximum visual impact, and the remainder is macerated to remove liquid. The extracted juice, full of strawberry flavor and not to be wasted, is cooked down to a syrup that won’t make your cake soggy.

Three parts that must be separately prepared and then alternately layered to make a tall, striped, impressive dessert.  A dessert which, when sliced, will collapse into a jumble of fruit, cream, and cake that shows a remarkable resemblance to strawberry shortcake.  But it was worth the trouble of all that layering, because fussing is fun, right?


One year ago: Cream Cheese Spritz
Two years ago: Strawberry Lemon Sorbet
Three years ago: Ricotta Spinach Tofu Ravioli

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Strawberry Cream Cake (from Cook’s Illustrated)

12 servings

I hate splitting cakes. I baked my cake batter in three separate cake pans instead of one pan which would later need to be split.

I made a half recipe in 6-inch pans.  6-inch round pans are slightly smaller than half of a 9-inch pan, so my layers are taller than the original recipe will result in.

Cake:
1¼ cups (5 ounces) cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
5 large eggs (2 whole and 3 separated), room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Strawberry Filling:
2 pounds fresh strawberries (medium or large, about 2 quarts), washed, dried, and stemmed
4–6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kirsch
Pinch table salt

Whipped Cream:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup (3½ ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon table salt
2 cups heavy cream

1. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a round 9 by 2-inch cake pan or 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and all but 3 tablespoons sugar in a mixing bowl. Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 yolks (reserving whites), butter, water, and vanilla; whisk until smooth.

2. In a clean bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. With the machine running, gradually add the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form, 60 to 90 seconds. Stir one-third of the whites into the batter to lighten; add the remaining whites and gently fold into the batter until no white streaks remain. Pour the batter into a prepared pan and bake until a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool in the pan 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto a greased wire rack; peel off and discard the parchment. Invert the cake again; cool completely, about 2 hours.

3. FOR THE STRAWBERRY FILLING: Halve 24 of the best-looking berries and reserve. Quarter the remaining berries; toss with 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar (depending on the sweetness of the berries) in a medium bowl and let sit 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain the juices from the berries and reserve (you should have about ½ 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 1½ cups). In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer the reserved juices and Kirsch until the mixture is syrupy and reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour the reduced syrup over the macerated berries, add a pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside until the cake is cooled.

4. FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: 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 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).

5. TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Using a large serrated knife, slice the cake into three even layers. Place the bottom layer on a cardboard round or cake plate and arrange a ring of 20 strawberry halves, cut sides down and stem ends facing out, around the perimeter of the cake layer. Pour one half of the pureed berry mixture (about ¾ cup) in the center, then spread to cover any exposed cake. Gently spread about one-third of the whipped cream (about 1½ cups) over the berry layer, leaving a ½-inch border from the edge. Place the middle cake layer on top and press down gently (the whipped cream layer should become flush with cake edge). Repeat with 20 additional strawberry halves, the remaining berry mixture, and half of the remaining whipped cream; gently press the last cake layer on top. Spread the remaining whipped cream over the top; decorate with the remaining cut strawberries. Serve, or chill for up to 4 hours.

strawberry cheesecake

When I want strawberry cheesecake, I want cheesecake that’s strawberry-flavored, not plain cheesecake topped with strawberries. And not a plain cheesecake with a swirl of strawberries. Although I’m certainly not against adding a strawberry topping and strawberry swirl to strawberry-flavored cheesecake.

I confess that the strawberry swirl wasn’t intentional. But when I had leftover strawberry puree, I didn’t know what else to do with it. I didn’t want to risk marring the cheesecake’s creamy texture by doubling the puree. So on my first try, I poured half of the cheesecake batter over the crust, then spooned on the puree, then finished with the rest of the cheesecake batter. I liked the hit of fresh strawberry flavor in each bite, but the leftover cheesecake’s crust got soft, almost soggy, after a day in the fridge, which I blamed on the watery strawberry puree.

So I thought I’d try putting the extra puree on top of the cheesecake instead of in the middle. Generally when you plan to swirl things together, you want them to be about the same viscosity, but that would require cornstarch and cooking to thicken the strawberry puree, and I didn’t want to mess with all that.

The swirl on top worked wonderfully, even without thickening the puree.  Of course I still topped the cheesecake with sliced strawberries, but with the bright flavor from the swirl, it was hardly necessary. Now this, with even pink strawberry flavor throughout, beautiful fresh puree, and if you can’t get enough strawberries, sliced fresh strawberries on top – this is worthy of being called strawberry cheesecake.

One year ago: Slaw Tartare
Two years ago: Comparison of 3 brownie recipe (and a box mix)
Three years ago: Red Beans and Rice

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Strawberry Cheesecake (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Tall and Creamy Cheesecake from Baking: From my Home to Yours)

Makes 16 servings

For the crust:
1¾ cups graham crackers
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1⅓ cups (9.67 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons cream
1 cup (8 ounces – both in weight and liquid measurements) strawberry puree, divided

1. For the crust: Spray the bottom of a springform pan with nonstick spray. Either grind the graham crackers with a food processor or place them in a ziptop bag and crush with a rolling pin. Add the sugar, 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. Put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool on a wire rack, then wrap the bottom of the pan in foil. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bring a pot of water to a boil.

3. For the cheesecake: With a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the cream 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 vanilla, then the eggs one a time, mixing just until each one is incorporated. Mix in the cream and ½ cup of the strawberry puree.

4. Pour the batter onto the cooled crust. Spoon the remaining strawberry puree over the batter and use a butter knife to gently swirl it. Place the wrapped springform pan into roasting pan; pour the hot water into the roasting pan.

5. Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Turn off the oven’s heat and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon; let the cheesecake set in the water bath for another hour. Remove the cheesecake from the hot water and let it come to room temperature on a cooling rack. When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and chill the cake for at least 4 hours.

I’m donating my Bourbon Pound Cake to Bloggers Bake for Hope.  This and over fifty other treats are available to be shipped directly to you. Bidding is open until midnight (EST) Friday, so hurry and bid to win this pound cake!  All proceeds go to Massachusetts Komen for the Cure.

lemon ricotta strawberry muffins

Sometimes it bothers me that I can’t buy any locally produced food. I get to thinking that if food can’t be grown here, maybe we shouldn’t live here. Clearly it’s an unenvironmental place to live if everything from greens to beef to beans has to be shipped here.

Then I remember that I’m here for an environmental reason. I work for a radioactive waste disposal site. And it’s here because there aren’t a lot of people here. Do you want radioactive waste stored anywhere near your city? Probably not. (Although the truth is that most of the locals here appreciate the repository’s presence, as it brings good jobs to the area and has had no environmental effect.) And there aren’t a lot of people here because stuff doesn’t grow here.

The upshot of this is that I have no qualms about buying California strawberries or Florida peaches. If I tried to follow a 100-mile diet in southern NM, we’d have to survive on pecans. Even the state’s prized green chiles are grown almost 200 miles away. I draw the line at Chilean berries, but anything from the US or Mexico is fair game.

If you try to eat local and you live farther north, you probably don’t have strawberries yet. When you do, here’s a great way to use them. These light, tender muffins are fragrant with lemon and studded with sweet berries. We enjoyed them while sitting outside in our sunbaked parched desert.

One year ago: Cauliflower Cheese Pie with Grated Potato Crust
Two years ago: Pan-Roasted Asparagus
Three years ago: Hazelnut Dried Cherry Biscotti

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Lemon Ricotta Strawberry Muffins (adapted from Mollie Katzen via Apple a Day)

Makes 12 muffins

I substituted ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour for an equal amount of the all-purpose flour.

2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1½ cups strawberries, chopped

1. Heat the oven to 350ºF. Spray the bottoms only of a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray or line with paper liners. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.

2. In a medium bowl, rub the lemon zest into the sugar. Whisk in the eggs, ricotta, buttermilk, vanilla, lemon juice, and butter. Pour the ricotta mixture into the flour mixture and fold until the flour is evenly dispersed but not completely mixed in. Add the strawberries and fold until the flour is moistened (some lumps are okay) and the strawberries are evenly distributed.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean, 18-22 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool slightly, about 5 minutes, then use a thin-bladed knife to remove the muffins from the pan.