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July 10, 2018

Cheesy Bacon Jalapeno Corn Dip

I have about a week between my trip to New England (find all my favorite restaurants here) and leaving for the Midwest for various conferences and classes... oh and my job in August. I'm spending most of that in the kitchen making all sorts of meals for my family to freeze so they don't starve without me plus some desserts for my sister's birthday later this week. I have found time to squeeze in some more indulgent dishes just because, like this cheesy bacon jalapeno corn dip. It takes that sweet summer corn that you could pretty much eat raw and makes it even better with plenty of crispy bacon, gooey cheese, and spicy jalapeno. It's a hot and bubbly addition to your summer barbecues and everyday dinners.


As always, the first step is cooking the bacon. It gives you something to snack on for the rest of the cooking process and gives a salty, savory kick to everything else in the recipe. I cook it until it's crispy and the fat renders off before chopping it up. I make more than I think I need because bacon always shrinks and some of it always ends up getting eaten by someone in my house. You'll probably end up with some extra bacon grease, too, which you can use to cook anything from roasted potatoes to cornbread to collard greens.


The jalapeno and garlic are first in the skillet since they add even more flavor to infuse into the rest of the dish. I added one jalapeno for just a bit of heat, but you can tone it down (or remove it altogether), add more jalapeno, or switch to a spicier pepper depending on your heat tolerance. Whatever you land on, make sure it's minced finely enough that nobody gets a mouthful of spicy. Once that's all tender and fragrant, I stir in the corn kernels. At this point in the summer, the corn doesn't need much cooking at all (plus it will get baked later), so I really just stir them in to get everything coated in the bacon fat and make sure there's no big pockets of peppers.


The base of the dip is cheese, cheese, and more cheese. Specifically, cream cheese, pepperjack, and parmesan. The cream cheese is standard for dips like this and adds a rich creaminess and bulk that you just can't replace. I use pepperjack for more heat, but really any good melty cheese works, so you can try cheddar, mozzarella, or even gruyere for a fancy spin. Lastly, I throw in some parmesan for some sharpness and nuttiness. It doesn't really melt well, which is why you need all the other cheeses.


This is the best place to stir in some hot sauce if you want more heat beyond the peppers and pepperjack cheese. It's also where you add the corn mixture; stir it gently to avoid crushing the kernels but enough that it's all evenly incorporated. I transfer it to a baking dish and cover it with even more cheese for a gooey brown crust before baking until hot and ready to eat. If you don't have a dish like the one in my photos, a pie plate or something of similar size works well. The wider the dish the more area there is for a golden cheesy crust, so keep that in mind when selecting your bakeware. You can also go with something disposable if you're looking to bring this outside or to someone's barbecue. Just no straws please, even if this dip is good enough to drink!

6 Strips Bacon
1 Jalapeno, Minced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
6 oz Pepperjack Cheese, Shredded
1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese
Hot Sauce, to Taste
3 Ears Corn

Heat oven to 400F.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy. Remove and chop when cool.

Remove all but 1T bacon grease from the skillet. Add the jalapeƱo and garlic and cook for 2 minutes or until softened, then season with salt and pepper. Stir in the corn kernels to coat.

Combine the cream cheese, 4oz pepper jack cheese, parmesan cheese, and hot sauce to taste. Add the corn and jalapeƱos. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the mixture to a skillet or pie plate. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Serves 6
Recipe Adapted from Host the Toast

June 30, 2018

Strawberry Cheesecake

I'm getting pummeled with blueberries this week guys, from the blueberry oat scones for my mom's coworkers (recipe coming soon, I promise) to literally everything in the state of Maine, where I'll be spending the next few days. There's blueberry pancakes, blueberry pie, blueberry cake, blueberry ice cream, and more. I feel like Violet from Willy Wonka: I might just be one giant blueberry the next time you hear from me. That's why I think other berries deserve some love, especially with the 4th of July coming up, a great excuse to make red, white, AND blue desserts. I'll get things started with a strawberry cheesecake, a behemoth with the perfect combination of buttery graham cracker crust, decadent vanilla cheesecake, and perfectly glazed fresh strawberries. Throw on a couple of those ubiquitous blueberries and you've got yourself a patriotic crowd pleaser.


When it comes to graham cracker crusts, I'm usually a sucker for convenience and will go ahead and buy the pre-made pie crusts. However, those are limited to just the regular 9" pie plates or maybe some mini pies if you're lucky. As soon as you venture into tart shells or, in this case, cheesecake crusts, you need to start doing things yourself. Luckily, it's not too hard. If you have a food processor (or even a big ziploc bag and a rolling pin), you can crush up whole graham crackers. It's even easier if you can find a box of graham cracker crumbs and skip that step entirely. From there, it's just a matter of adding sugar to taste and enough butter to hold it all together. That buttery, crumbly mixture gets pressed into the bottom--and partially up the sides of--a 10" springform pan, which is worth the investment if you are a springform pan-less cheesecake lover.


One of the reasons I love this cheesecake recipe so much is because the filling is so adaptable. Here, I'm keeping things simple and just topping it with some strawberries, but you can add any sort of flavoring to the filling, switch up the crust with a different kind of cookie, and top it with anything from different fruits to candy bars. Just whip a scary amount of cream cheese with some sugar, add some sour cream (don't question it; your cheesecake definitely needs more dairy), and stir in the eggs and vanilla.


The cheesecake batter gets poured into the springform pan, which I first wrap with aluminum foil to minimize the mess from any potential leaks. It also protects the cheesecake itself from the water bath: you have to bake the cheesecake in a big pan of hot water. This prevents the sides from cooking too quickly, since they are limited to the temperature of boiling water, which, at 212F, is much cooler than the oven. The water bath ensures that the cheesecake cooks fully and evenly to avoid overly browned edges and a gooey interior. The toothpick test doesn't work on cheesecakes, so you'll have to go by eye: when the cheesecake just jiggles in the center when you move it.


Once the cheesecake is cooked and cooled, it's time to decorate. Clearly, summer means plenty of fresh berries, so I went with the classic strawberry cheesecake here. Normally I'm a fan of slicing up the strawberries to make some pretty design, but here I like the look of whole berries. To make sure they line up nicely with no big gaps, I actually arranged them on a plate the size of the top of the cheesecake (or a circle drawn on parchment to the same size) so I knew which berries to use and where to put them. A simple jammy glaze keeps things sweet and shiny. This cheesecake should stay for a few days if you only have a few people over, but after seeing my sister do some major damage just on her own I don't think you'll have that problem.


1 1/2 Cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
1 1/4 Cups Sugar
1/3 Cup Butter, Melted
32 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/2 Cup Sour Cream
1/4 tsp Salt
4 Eggs
2 tsp Vanilla
2 T Cornstarch
1 Cup Strawberry Jelly
1 tsp Lemon Juice
1 Quart Fresh Strawberries, Hulled

Grease a 9-10" springform pan. Wrap the bottom in aluminum foil to make it watertight and transfer to a deep baking dish or roasting pan.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar, and melted butter. Press into the bottom and sides of the prepared springform pan. Chill until firm.

Heat oven to 325F.

Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese and remaining 1 cup sugar together in a stand mixer until fluffy. Add the sour cream and salt. Stir in the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla.

Pour the cheesecake batter into the crust. Pour hot water into the roasting pan until it reaches about halfway up the cake pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until just set. Turn off the oven and let sit with the door cracked open for 15 minutes. Set aside on the counter to bring to room temperature. Chill for at least 4 hours.

Combine the cornstarch with 1/4 cup water in a small pot over medium heat. Whisking constantly, add the jelly and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, and cool until just warm.

Arrange the strawberries on top of the cheesecake. Brush with the glaze.

Serves 8-10

June 22, 2018

Cheesy Garlic Pull Apart Bread

One of my goals as a newly-graduated adult is to make more of my own bread. I'm talking sourdough starter, bread for sandwiches, and brioche for French toast every weekend. I'm getting started a little early with a more playful recipe: pull-apart bread stuffed with plenty of butter, cheese, and roasted garlic goodness. I'll rip off a hunk of it to snack on while working on more recipes or to serve alongside a bowl of pasta for dinner. The recipe for the bread itself is extremely easy and very forgiving, so you'll have no trouble making it, forming it, and baking it.


The bread dough starts with milk, yeast, and sugar. The yeast needs to activate in the warm milk before you can do anything else, and a spoonful of sugar makes sure they're alive and hungry. If your yeast isn't big and foamy after a few minutes, toss it and start again with fresher yeast (or cooler milk, if it's hot to the touch). From there, it's along the lines of a brioche dough: add some butter and eggs, then knead in the flour until smooth and elastic. Since this is still a fairly delicate bread, you can use your regular all-purpose flour; bread flour has a higher gluten content for a stronger protein network but it's not necessary here. You should be able to stretch the dough pretty thin without it breaking; if not, keep kneading. This is one of the endless reasons why I love my stand mixer, since doing this by hand can be a bit much sometimes.


While the dough is rising, I prepare the filling. It starts with roasted garlic, which goes much faster if you split the head of garlic into the cloves, leaving the skins on. It's done when the cloves are golden, soft, sticky, and fragrant. Roasting the garlic mellows the flavors for a sweeter addition to the filling. It gets combined with butter, parmesan, and herbs, which--may I add--is fantastic on pretty much everything.


The trick to a cohesive pull-apart bread that doesn't leak cheese everywhere when you assemble it is to do it taco-style. Although most recipes tell you to cut the dough into squares and stack them to put in the loaf pan, I cut the dough into rounds, smear on the filling, and fold them in half before putting in the pan. Cutting the rounds the same diameter as the width of the loaf pan ensures they fit properly, and folding them in half keeps all the cheesy, buttery goodness tucked in where it belongs. It also has a pretty, rounded, rustic look that I prefer.


I've tried cramming all the dough into one loaf pan, and all it does is compact it so much you can barely pull it apart. It's better to squish most of the pieces in there and leave a few to make a handful of rolls in muffin pans. I'll fold a few rounds of dough and garlic butter together and pop them in the cups of a muffin tin so I have something to snack on without people knowing I started eating the bread. It's genius, really.


1 Cup Milk
1 Packet (2 1/4 tsp) Yeast
3 T Sugar
1/2 Stick Butter, Melted
1/2 Stick Butter, Softened
1 1/2 tsp Salt
2 Eggs
4 1/2 Cups Flour
1 Small Head Garlic
1 T Olive Oil
1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1/4 tsp Basil
1/4 tsp Oregano
1/4 tsp Thyme
1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella


Heat the milk in a microwave or small pot until just warm. Add the yeast and sugar and let sit for 5 minutes or until foamy.

Transfer the milk mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add the melted butter, salt, and eggs. Gradually work in the flour and knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Cover and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled.

Heat oven to 425F.

Meanwhile, split the garlic into cloves, leaving the skins on. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 40 minutes or until caramelized, stirring occasionally.

Remove the skins from the garlic. Mash, then mix with the softened butter, parmesan, garlic powder, onion powder, basil, oregano, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

Roll the dough out to 1/2" thick and cut into 4" circles (the width of a loaf pan). Spread some of the filling onto each circle, sprinkle with some of the mozzarella, and fold in half. Place in the greased loaf pan, folded side down. Let rise for 30 minutes.

Lower oven temperature to 350F. Bake the bread for 28-30 minutes or until golden.

Makes 1 Loaf
Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour & How Sweet Eats