cornmeal pancakes with cherry compote

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I haven’t forgotten my New Year’s resolution this year. I haven’t done a very good job following it, but at least I haven’t forgotten.

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I simply wanted to use my cookbooks more often. I love buying cookbooks, and I love looking through them, and I love the cookbook shelf I had built in my kitchen, but when it comes time to choose recipes, I default to my database and the internet all too often. The spreadsheet I made to track cookbook usage this year was neglected.

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Until one night recently when, for no special reason, I sat down with a pile of cookbooks and started flipping. Other favorites got set aside as I put breakfasts, dinners, and snacks on the menu, all from one book, Sara Forte’s Sprouted Kitchen. Something snagged me about her cookbook that night, probably the healthy, quick, interesting meal ideas. Interesting, like adding thyme to cherry compote. Interesting, like making pancakes with cornmeal and honey.

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I should let this be a reminder of why I need to pull out my cookbooks more often. Such undiscovered treasures are hidden on those shelves! I loved the extra cornmeal crunch in these pancakes, along with the honey notes. The cherries make these a summer reminder of a winter promise I made to myself.

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Cornmeal Pancakes with Cherry Compote (slightly adapted from Sara Forte’s Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook)

Cherry compote:
1 pound Bing cherries, seeded and quartered
2 sprigs thyme
¼ cup water
¼ cup honey
pinch salt

Pancakes:
1 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons honey
¾ cup boiling water
¾ cup (3.6 ounces) all-purpose or whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3 tablespoons brown or turbinado sugar
¾ cup buttermilk (or ½ cup plain yogurt and ¼ cup milk)
1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for cooking the pancakes

1. For the compote: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the cherries, thyme, and water, stirring occasionally, until the cherries start to break down, about 3 minutes. Stir in the honey and salt; set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the cornmeal, honey, and boiling water. Let sit 5 minutes to soften the cornmeal. Meanwhile, in a separate small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together, the egg, sugar, buttermilk, and oil. Whisk the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture until thoroughly combined, then gently fold in the flour mixture. Let set 5 minutes.

3. Heat a non-stick skillet or a griddle over medium heat. Add a few drops of oil and spread it over the bottom of the pan. Using a ¼ cup measure, pour the pancake batter onto the hot griddle. When the pancakes are golden brown, after about 2-3 minutes, flip to cook the other side another 2-3 minutes. Keep warm in oven heated to 200 degrees.

4. While the pancakes are cooking, warm the compote; remove the sprigs of thyme. Serve the pancakes topped with compote.

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all-grown-up s’mores bars

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I’m going to say something here, and it might shock you: These were too rich, and they were too chocolately. I know, you’re thinking that that isn’t possible because you love rich food. Or you’re thinking that the easy solution is to serve small pieces. But the problem goes beyond that – it’s an issue of balance, of mimicking everything that’s good about a s’more, but in an elegant way that doesn’t require a campfire.

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S’mores are mostly marshmallow, a generous amount of graham cracker, and just a small wedge of chocolate. Any more chocolate and the heat of the marshmallows won’t be able to melt it. It’s a ratio that’s pleased people for generations; we don’t need to change it now.

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These bars, on the other hand, were reversed: almost all chocolate and a smidgen of marshmallow. Both layers on their own were everything you could hope for, the chocolate mousse airy and smooth with enough bitterness to balance the fluffy toasted marshmallow topping. This wasn’t an issue of quality, just of relative quantities.

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So, for the recipe below, I’ve mixed around the ratios. No, I haven’t tried it myself, but each portion is basically the same recipe as the original, just scaled up (in the case of the marshmallow) or down (the chocolate). With these new proportions, you’ll have a treat to please everyone, with plenty of marshmallow and graham cracker and still more chocolate than you get in a real s’more, but not so much that it’s the only thing you notice. All that with no sticky fingers afterward.

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All-Grown-Up S’mores Bars (adapted from Jill O’Connor’s Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey)

For the graham cracker crust:
3 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs (from about 26 full crackers)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

For the chocolate filling:
6 large egg yolks
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
2 tablespoons Kahlua
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1½ tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
9 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

For the Marshmallow Fluff meringue:
5 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1½ cup Marshmallow Fluff

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with oil.

2. To make the crust: Combine the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and granulated sugar until well combined. Press into the bottom of the prepared ban. Bake the crust until it starts to brown and become crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

3. To make the filling: Using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and confectioners’ sugar together in a large bowl until they are thick and the color of butter. Beat in the cognac, Kahlua, vanilla, and salt.

4. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat and whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolate, and stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly, then gradually beat into the egg mixture.

5. Fold the softly beaten heavy cream into the chocolate mixture just until combined. Spoon the chocolate cream over the graham cracker crust, smoothing it evenly with a spatula. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very firm, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

6. When ready to serve, make the meringue: Using an electric mixer set at low speed, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the salt and cream of tartar and beat at medium speed until soft peaks form. Beat in the vanilla. Add the Marshmallow Fluff to the egg whites a little at a time, beating constantly until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue on the chocolate layer, using the back of a spoon to create peaks. Toast the meringue using a kitchen torch or the broiler. Cut into squares and serve immediately.

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blackberry pie bars

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We planned a picnic with my sister and her family recently, and two things were certain: I wanted to make these pie bars, and my sister wanted to make potato salad. So we had the important things figured out. I ended up making pizza wraps (the first time I’d ever made wraps!), and she brought deviled eggs. We both threw some cherries into our picnic baskets, because that’s what you do in the summer.

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It was a nice hike in the mountains, and a nice lunch, but mostly I just wanted to get to dessert. And that wasn’t the only waiting I had to do, as these took about three times longer to bake than I was expecting. I was mystified at the time, but eventually I figured out the culprit – the blackberries that I most definitely had not gotten around to defrosting before baking.

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They were certainly worth waiting through the hike (which I enjoyed anyway) and the lunch (same) and the extra oven time (not so much), because they were a perfect casual summer dessert. They had the perfect balance of fruit and buttery dough.  They were the perfect cap to a great picnic in the woods.

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Blackberry Pie Bars (adapted from Rebecca Rather’s The Pastry Queen via Pink Parsley)

Crust and topping:
3 cups (14.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled

Fruit filling:
4 large eggs
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
1 cup sour cream
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) flour
¼ teaspoon salt
zest of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 (16-ounce) packages frozen blackberries, thawed and drained

1. Adjust the rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray.

2. To make the crust and topping, combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to mix. Cut the butter into ½ inch cubes and add it to the flour mixture. Process until the butter is evenly distributed but the mixture is still crumbly, 30-60 seconds.

3. Reserve 1½ cups of the mixture to use as the topping. Press the remaining mixture into the bottom of the pan, and bake 12-15 minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes.

4. To make the filling, whisk the eggs in a large bowl, then add the sugar, sour cream, flour, salt, lemon zest, and almond extract. Gently fold in the berries and spoon the mixture over the crust. Sprinkle the remaining flour mixture evenly over the filling, and bake 45 to 55 minutes, until the dough is set and lightly browned on top.

5. Cool at least 1 hour before cutting into bars, or scoop out of the pan to serve cobbler-style.

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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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vegetable lasagna

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After spending the better part of a week visiting my parents and celebrating Christmas, Christmas Eve, my dad’s birthday, and a rare opportunity to eat sushi and get takeout from my favorite pizza joint and carne adovada breakfast burritos from my favorite burrito place (twice!), I thought maybe some vegetables were in order when we got home. On the other hand, we were still on break from work and I got a new lasagna pan for Christmas. Vegetable lasagna was clearly the answer, even if it isn’t necessarily healthy.

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I was feeling pretty good when I bought three big eggplants, three zucchini, three yellow squash (not the most seasonal recipe, but let’s face it, the quality of zucchini is pretty constant year-round even if it is a summer vegetable), and two bags of baby spinach. It seemed like an awful lot of vegetables for one pan of lasagna, but I figured they’d cook down a bunch. Besides, this is a Cooks Illustrated recipe, so they must know what they’re doing.

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Maybe they do, but my grocery store apparently doesn’t know what they’re doing when it comes to calibrating their scales in the produce department. Three eggplants resulted in quite an intimidating pile of ½-inch cubes, especially for someone who doesn’t generally love the vegetable. It didn’t lose much volume during its trip to the microwave, and the pan was so crowded when I sautéed the eggplant with the squashes that the vegetables mushed instead of browned.

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Once it became clear that I had far more vegetables than necessary, I adapted my cooking method and ended up with a big bowl of properly cooked vegetables in addition to a big bowl of mushy vegetables, plenty for two generous layers in my lasagna. The browned squash and wilted spinach were a great match for the bright tomato sauce and cheesey white sauce. But…

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That eggplant. It was just a bit rubbery and chewy. It tasted okay, but the texture was disappointing enough that I dreaded the eggplant bites, and with as much of the stuff as this lasagna contains, every bite is an eggplant bite.

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It seems like there’s a simple solution though – mushrooms. Mushrooms would go just as well with the other ingredients in this lasagna, and it’s such an easy fix that there’s no reason not to share this lasagna that has so much else going for it. And even if the eggplant was disappointing, at least I ate some vegetables and used my new pan.

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One year ago: Rice Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing
Two years ago: Pasta Puttanesca
Three years ago: Asian-Style Chicken Noodle Soup
Four years ago: Pasta with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Peppers
Five years ago: Pad Thai

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Vegetable Lasagna (from Cook’s Illustrated)

I bought three of each of the eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash, but two of each would be plenty. And if you decide to substitute mushrooms for the eggplant, like I will in the future, skip the microwaving step and just sauté them separately from the squashes until they soften, release their water, dry out, and brown.

No-Cook Tomato Sauce:
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

No-Cook Cream Sauce:
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (2 cups)
1 cup whole-milk cottage cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Vegetable Filling:
1½ pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (about 7 cups)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound zucchini, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1 pound yellow squash, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
12 ounces baby spinach (about 12 cups)
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
12 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1. FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

2. FOR THE CREAM SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

3. FOR THE FILLING: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Toss eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Line surface of large plate with double layer of coffee filters and lightly spray with vegetable oil spray. Spread eggplant in even layer over filters. Wipe out and reserve now-empty bowl. Microwave eggplant, uncovered, until dry to touch and slightly shriveled, about 10 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that eggplant cooks evenly. Let cool slightly. Return eggplant to bowl and toss with zucchini and squash.

4. Combine 1 tablespoon oil, garlic, and thyme in small bowl. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half eggplant mixture, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Push vegetables to sides of skillet; add half of garlic mixture to clearing and cook, mashing with spatula, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir to combine garlic mixture with vegetables and transfer to medium bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant mixture, 2 tablespoons oil, and remaining garlic mixture.

5. Return skillet to medium-high heat, add remaining teaspoon oil, and heat until shimmering. Add spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Transfer spinach to paper towel–lined plate and drain 2 minutes. Stir into eggplant mixture.

6. TO ASSEMBLE: Spray 13 by 9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Spread 1 cup tomato sauce in bottom of baking dish; shingle 4 noodles on top of sauce. Spread half of vegetable mixture over noodles, half of cream sauce, and 1 cup of mozzarella. Repeat layering with 4 noodles, 1 cup tomato sauce, remaining vegetables, remaining cream sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella. Place remaining 4 noodles on top layer of cheese. Spread remaining 1 cup tomato sauce over noodles and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Lightly spray large sheet of aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray and cover lasagna. Bake until bubbling, about 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack 25 minutes. Cut into pieces, sprinkle with basil, and serve.

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black bean-roasted zucchini-goat cheese enchiladas

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I had a tough week last week. One day I woke up to little ants crawling all over the kitchen. One afternoon I went to the dentist feeling smug about how often I’ve been flossing and left with an appointment to get three cavities filled. One morning I noticed blisters on my waist that were suspiciously familiar – because they’re exactly like the case of shingles* I had just a few weeks ago. The list goes on from there.

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I also learned that I definitely do not have time to make enchiladas on a weeknight, even if the sauce is made in advance. Mixing the filling, heating tortillas, rolling and baking is too much to fit in on top of the daily dose of exercise, laundry, and spraying the kitchen with Raid.

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I guess if all’s well that ends well, you could say I had a great week. After a series of challenging days, nothing could have been more relieving than a night spent sipping wine with friends – even if it’s for a wine appreciation class, we’re all furiously scribbling notes, and technically we’re not supposed to be swallowing the wine. And when I got home from class, a delicious dinner was ready, because I’d skipped a workout the day before to fill and roll and all Dave had to do was transfer the enchiladas to the oven while I was out drinking wine. Maybe last week wasn’t so bad after all.

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(*Getting shingles isn’t fun, but I’m extremely lucky that I only get mild cases.)

One year ago: Fried Eggs with Garlic Yogurt Sauce
Two years ago: Steak Sandwiches
Three years ago: Pumpkin Cupcakes (comparison of 3 recipes)
Four years ago: Pain Ordinaire

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Black Bean-Roasted Zucchini-Goat Cheese Enchiladas (filling adapted from Sprouted Kitchen; sauce from America’s Test Kitchen’s Healthy Family Cookbook via Prevention RD)

I roasted the zucchini on a baking sheet immediately after dicing them, but because zucchini is so wet, I think they would benefit from being sprinkled with about a teaspoon of salt, then allowed to drain for half an hour or so before roasting. If you have one, spinning them dry in a salad spinner would also help them pick up more roasted brown color in the oven. On the other hand, the enchiladas were delicious without this extra step.

Serves 4

Enchiladas:
3 large zucchini, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
5 ounces goat cheese, divided
12 corn tortillas

Sauce:
1 teaspoon canola oil
½ small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ tablespoons chili powder
½ tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup water
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
black pepper, to taste

For serving:
2 avocados, diced
½ cup minced cilantro
lime wedges

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, combine the zucchini, onion, oil, lemon zest, and salt. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is softened and maybe slightly browned, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; stir in the black beans and 4 ounces of goat cheese. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

2. While the zucchini roasts, heat 1 teaspoon of canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent and slightly browned around the edges, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and sugar; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the water and tomato sauce. Increase the heat to medium-high, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Maintain a low simmer until slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. To soften the tortillas, brush or spray them with a light layer of oil. Arrange 6 tortillas in a single layer on a baking sheet; transfer to the oven and cook for about 3 minutes; flip the tortillas and continue baking for 2 more minutes, until the tortillas are pliable. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

4. Spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Divide the filling evenly between the tortillas. Roll the tortillas over the filling, arranging the filled tortillas seam-side down in the baking dish. Cover the rolled tortillas with the remaining enchilada sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1 ounce of goat cheese over the top of the sauce. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the enchiladas are evenly heated. Let set for 5 minutes before serving with chopped avocado, cilantro, and lime.

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raspberry-swirled cheesecake cupcakes

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I did a lot of things I’m proud of this weekend. I didn’t have to work Friday, so I kicked off the three-day weekend with the second-longest run I’ve ever done, and the longest run that wasn’t part of a big race. Then I made Dave give me hourly high-fives for the rest of the day.

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The next day, I had my first-ever paid baking order. A coworker hired me to make a dozen each of two different types of cupcakes for her daughter’s wedding. Two dozen isn’t a lot of cupcakes, but I wanted to get them just right, with great taste and beautiful garnishes.

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Less than an hour after I dropped those off, we had a bunch of people over to watch football – the first time Dave and I have entertained more than a couple friends at a time since we’ve been married. By keeping things casual (or at least, my version of casual), enlisting a lot of help from Dave, and being creative with what I already had around, I managed to entertain the way I like to – with a lot of food, of course – but without a lot of stress.

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One of the ways I made the most of what I had available was to make extras of these cupcakes. The wedding’s colors were black, ivory, and red, so the bride chose these raspberry-swirled cheesecake cupcakes drizzled with chocolate and topped with raspberry truffles, as well as chocolate cupcakes with champagne frosting topped with chocolate-covered strawberries. While I was at it, I went ahead and made extra chocolate-covered strawberries and raspberry truffles for my friends too.

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Both sets of cupcakes turned out every bit as good as I’d hoped, and that never happens! The swirls on the cheesecake were pretty and not sloppy, the drizzle didn’t cover up as much as the swirls as I was worried about, the fresh raspberries fit nicely onto the tops. The chocolate cupcakes rose into a perfect mound, and the swirls of frosting didn’t look too amateurish. My first time making chocolate-covered strawberries went just fine, even the stressful part that involved melting white chocolate. I dropped the cupcakes off and then entertained guests all evening, only spitting half-chewed chips on someone once! This is about as successful as my life gets.

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One year ago: Croissants (Tartine Bread)
Two years ago: Coffee Break Muffins
Three years ago: Green Chile Huevos Rancheros
Four years ago: Pan-Seared Steak with Red Wine Pan Sauce

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Raspberry-Swirled Cheesecake Cupcakes (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes via Annie’s Eats)

Makes 32 cupcakes

The truffles and drizzle make for a nice presentation, but the swirled cupcakes are plenty tasty and pretty on their own.
For the crust:
1½ cups (about 8 full crackers) graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar

For the raspberry swirl:
6 ounces (¾ cup) frozen or fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

For the filling:
4 (8-ounce) cream cheese, at room temperature
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line 32 muffin wells with paper liners.

2. For the crust: In a food processor, process the graham crackers and sugar until evenly ground. Add the butter and pulse to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Press 1 tablespoon of the crumb mixture onto the bottom of each liner. Bake until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, maintaining the oven temperature.

3. For the raspberry swirl: Combine the raspberries, sugar, and cornstarch in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth, then pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. (Or press the raspberries through a food mill, stirring the cornstarch and sugar into the puree.)

4. For the filling: Beat the cream cheese on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and salt, then the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

5. To assemble, spoon 3 tablespoons of the cheesecake batter over the crust in each cupcake liner. Dot ½ teaspoon of the raspberry puree in a few dots over the cheesecake filling. Use a toothpick or a wooden skewer to lightly swirl the puree.

6. Bake until the filling is set, about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to the refrigerator and let chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Raspberry Truffles (seen on Annie’s Eats, but I didn’t use the same recipe)

6 ounces fresh raspberries
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2½ tablespoons heavy cream

1. Gently wash and dry the raspberries.

2. In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. (Do not rapidly boil.) Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a fork, gently stir, starting in the center and working toward the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

3. Let the mixture stand at room temperature until it’s thick enough to hold a shape, about 45 minutes, then, using a pastry bag with a small opening, pipe into the stemmed opening on the raspberries.

Chocolate Drizzle (adapted from Tartine’s Chocolate Friands)

I didn’t make this separately, I just stirred in more cream to the ganache leftover from the raspberry truffles. I’m offering it here separately as a good chocolate drizzle recipe.

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
⅓ cup heavy cream

In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. (Do not rapidly boil.) Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a fork, gently stir, starting in the center and working toward the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

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For the chocolate cupcakes, I used this recipe for the cupcake portion; this champagne buttercream for the frosting; and this method for the chocolate-covered strawberries.

tomato mozzarella tart with basil crust

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I planted tomatoes in my garden this year with high hopes and low expectations. Last year I lost all of my precious tomato plants to fusarium wilt, and even though I didn’t do anything to rid the soil of the fungus, I couldn’t resist planting a few tomato plants this year too. They started strong but succumbed to the disease before setting fruit. At that point, I settled in for a tomato-less summer.

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Instead, I’ve had what’s nearly been a landmark year! After describing my tomato woes to a coworker, she started bringing me some tomatoes from her garden. At first it was a trickle, just enough so I could make each of my favorite tomato dishes once. She also bought me a handful of zebra tomatoes while traveling. And then I bought myself a pound or so of tomatoes from our town’s little farmer’s market. And then the bonanza from my coworker – nearly ten pounds of beefsteak, romas, and cherries. This was enough to make all of my favorites again, plus try some new recipes.

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This was first on my list. It has all the ingredients of pizza, but rearranged and with a whole lot of butter added. How can that be bad?

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The basil crust is fragrant, tender but sturdy enough to hold up the toppings. The mozzarella holds the toppings on. And the real star is those thin but deeply flavorful slices of tomatoes. There is nothing I like more than a landmark year for tomatoes. But next year, I’m determined to successfully plant my own – but maybe I’ll still take some off my coworker’s hands.

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One year ago: Fresh Pasta
Two years ago: Pappa al Pomodoro
Three years ago: 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Four years ago: Lemon Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

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Tomato Mozzarella Tart with Basil Crust (adapted from Jack Bishop’s The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook via Ezra Pound Cake; crust adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Sweet Tart Dough)

I used fresh mozzarella (as seen on Annie’s Eats) both times I made this, but when I removed the tart from the oven, I noticed a puddle of liquid skimming across the baked cheese. Once cooked, I don’t think fresh mozzarella seems so different from the firmer type, which isn’t as moist and won’t release liquid onto the surface of the tart, so in the future, I’ll use regular mozzarella instead of fresh. (Fortunately, the crust didn’t seem to get soggy from the extra liquid.)

The original crust recipe was for a flaky pie type of crust, which used ice water. It shrunk when I baked it, plus I wanted something sturdier, so I adapted a traditional tart crust to include basil. This is a tart after all!

Crust:
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves
1 clove garlic, peeled
1¾ cups (8.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 egg, lightly beaten

Tart:
8 ounces mozzarella, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
salt
black pepper
parmesan
3-4 basil leaves, slivered

1. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the basil and garlic until finely chopped. Add the flour, cornstarch, and salt; pulse to combine. Add the butter; process in 1-second pulses until the largest pieces of butter are the size of peas. Add about half the egg, pulse, then add the remaining egg. Process continuously until the dough forms clumps and curds. The sound of the food processor will change when it gets to this point.

2. Evenly press the dough onto the sides and bottom of a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Spray a 12-inch square of aluminum foil with cooking spray and press it, sprayed-side down, onto the tart crust. Freeze for at least 30 minutes.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the tart crust from the freezer and spread pie weights over the bottom. Transfer the tart pan to a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 5 minutes, until the crust is just starting to brown. Remove from the oven, maintaining the oven temperature.

4. Line the crust evenly with slices of mozzarella, overlapping if necesary. Top the mozzarella with slices of tomatoes (do not overlap the tomatoes). Season with salt and pepper. Grate a generous layer of parmesan cheese over the tomatoes.

5. Bake the tart for 25-30 minutes, until the crust is brown and the cheese is melted and just starting to brown. Transfer to a cooling rack. Evenly distribute the slivered basil over the top of the tart. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

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pepper-crusted salmon with wasabi dipping sauce

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This is one of the best new meals I’ve made recently. The salmon was perfectly browned on top but still juicy in the middle. The Old Bay and lemon were interesting matches with the wasabi and ginger, but it definitely worked. The watercress and avocado salad I served the salmon with was the perfect bright balance to the umami-rich fish and soy sauce dip. The meal had a few of my favorite sushi components, with the fish, wasabi, and avocado, but it went a different direction with the salad and Old Bay.

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It was an unusually light weekend dinner for us. Usually those tend to include a lot more carbs and red meat. It isn’t rare that they also require a serious investment of time in the kitchen, and this recipe differs from that routine as well.

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In fact, there is absolutely no reason this wouldn’t fit right in with our weekday routine of healthy and quick meals. And that’s good news, because there are more weeknights than weekends, and that means more opportunities to make this dish.

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One year ago: Dulce de Leche Cupcakes
Two years ago: Beer-Marinated Flank Steak
Three years ago: Zucchini Bread
Four years ago: Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops

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Pepper-Crusted Salmon with Wasabi-Lemon Dipping Sauce (adapted from Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue! via epicurious and from Cook’s Illustrated’s Glazed Salmon recipe)

Serves 4

I served this with Avocado and Watercress Salad (without the apple), and it was absolutely perfect.

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
juice of 1 lemon
½ cup soy sauce
1 scallion, white and green parts, minced

For the salmon:
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon cornstarch
4 (8-ounce) salmon fillets
coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a small bowl, mix the wasabi powder and water until smooth. Set aside for 10 minutes to enhance the wasabi flavors, then add the remaining sauce ingredients.

2. In a small bowl, combine the Old Bay, salt, sugar, and cornstarch. Rub into the flesh (not the skin) of the salmon. Season with a generous layer of coarsely ground black pepper, pressing the pepper into the salmon.

3. Heat the oil in a nonstick 12-inch oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Transfer the salmon to the pan, flesh-side down. Cook without moving for 1 minute, then flip and cook for another minute. Transfer the skillet to the oven; cook 8-10 minutes, or until the thickest part of the salmon reaches an internal temperature of 125 degrees. Serve immediately.

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barbecue cowboy beans

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I feel like I should wait and do a comparison post with this recipe, because I have a friend who makes some seriously good cowboy beans. Hers are full of meat with a dominant sweet flavor. They’re always one of my favorite dishes on the potluck table.

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For my own version though, I wanted something lighter to serve as a side dish to barbecued ribs. When you’re spending hours cooking big slabs of meat, you don’t really need ground beef in your side dish. A few slices of bacon provide plenty of meaty depth, combined with sweet-bitter molasses and a slew of acidic ingredients like ketchup and beer.

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To be honest, I’m not sure what makes a pot of beans “cowboy” instead of just “baked.” A lot of recipes contain ground meat, but not all of them. This is the only one with spicy chiles. But honestly, I don’t much care. What matters most is that these are perfect along barbecued meat, and if I want a chile-less, meatier version, I can have that too.

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One year ago: Grilled Pita Breads
Two years ago: Whole Wheat Bagels
Three years ago: Amaretto Cheesecake
Four years ago: Blackberry Swirl Ice Cream

Printer Friendly Recipe
Barbecue Cowboy Beans (adapted from Something Edible)

Serves 6

If you don’t want to buy two kinds of beans, feel free to choose one or the other.

I didn’t use the liquid smoke because I didn’t have any, so I can’t attest to how it affects the beans. I doubt adding smoky flavor would be a bad thing though.

6 ounces (about 1 cup) dry pinto beans, rinsed and sorted
2 ounces (about ⅓ cup) dry kidney beans
salt
6 slices (about 6 ounces) bacon, chopped
½ medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon allspice ground
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
¼ cup beer
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with chiles
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup molasses
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon hickory liquid smoke (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the beans and 1 teaspoon salt in a 5-quart Dutch oven; add enough water to cover the beans by 1½ inches. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 75 minutes, until the beans are tender. Drain the beans. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

2. Add the bacon to the now-empty Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat until fat begins to render, 3-4 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic, allspice, coriander, black pepper, and mustard; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the beer and scrape the bottom of the pot to release the browned bits. Add the tomatoes and chiles with their juice, the ketchup, molasses, cider vinegar, liquid smoke (if using), and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

3. Cover and transfer the beans to the oven. Bake for 4 hours. Serve.

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