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 jalapeño 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 jalapeños. 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

June 11, 2018

Creole Grilled Pork with Corn & Okra

I'm doing a lot of traveling around the south lately, which doesn't really seem fair given that I know literally dozens of people that are going to Europe, going on safari, and going seemingly everywhere around the world. It's fine though, since I get plenty of great lowcountry and Gulf Coast eats. Plus, it turns out that Father's Day, summer produce, and that southern inspiration make the perfect storm for a delicious dinner. These pork cutlets (or pork chops, if you prefer) come together quickly with a fresh, summery salsa-esque topping for a meal fancy enough to celebrate Dad but quick enough for those weeknights when you inevitably make it again and again.

The pork part of the dish is pretty simple. I whip up a quick spice blend with plenty of Louisiana kick and add a splash of oil to distribute it and let the pork soak up all the goodness. Tonight, I went with a boneless pork cutlet, but this recipe would work just as well with pork chops (bone in or boneless) or even a pork tenderloin. I thought these pork cutlets were tender and tasty, plus they cooked in less than 15 minutes and stayed perfectly juicy. I used a grill plate so I could stay indoors and still get a nice char, but other options include an outdoor grill or a big, heavy skillet.

In all honesty, though, the pork is really just a vessel for this salsa/slaw/vegetable medley what-have-you. I'm still not sure what to call it; I just know it's one of the best ways I've come up with to get your veggies and take advantage of fresh, local, in-season produce. Like all the best veggie dishes, it starts with a bit of meat. Here, I use diced ham to add texture and saltiness and enhance the flavor of the pork underneath. I cook off some onions in the flavorful ham fat as a base for the rest of the veggies.

Corn and okra are up next: you might not be familiar with okra or you might think of it as a fuzzy, slimy thing you never willingly ate (sorry, Dad). However, once you slice it thin and toss it with all these other vegetables and a hint of a dressing, it transforms into a delicate, tender bite that adds a pop of color and that unmistakable southern flair. Just be careful to serve it quickly after cooking because it can go from tender to gummy very quickly. The 'salsa' just needs to be finished with a handful of diced fresh tomatoes (as much as I love canned tomatoes, they're not the best fit here) and a drizzle of honey and apple cider vinegar. To kick it up a notch, you can add cayenne or minced jalapeno as well.

To serve, I like to heap some of the veggies on a plate, top it with the pork, and spoon some more veggies on top so the juices drip down as sort of a mini sauce. It can be easily scaled up or down for any occasion, too. Just make sure you follow food safety guidelines by using different plates and grilling utensils for the meat to avoid cross-contamination, and refrigerate any leftovers quickly, though it's unlikely there will be much. There's a reason why foodborne illnesses spike in the summer, so don't let it happen at your cookout! I still have faith you can whip this dish up for Father's Day without any trouble, and you may even have time to make a frozen lemonade tart or caramel pretzel blondies for dessert.

1.5 lbs Pork Loin Cutlets, Pork Chops, Pork Tenderloin, etc.
4 T Oil
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 1/2 tsp Cayenne
1/4 tsp Thyme
1/4 tsp Oregano
4 oz Ham, Diced
1 Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Jalapeno, Minced (Optional)
2 Ears Corn
1/4 lb Okra, Sliced Thinly
1 Tomato, Diced
1 T Honey
1 T Apple Cider Vinegar

Combine the garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, 1 tsp cayenne, thyme, and oregano. Add salt and pepper to taste, approximately 3/4 tsp of each. Add 2T oil to form a paste. Add the pork and rub to coat evenly. Let sit for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2T oil in a large skillet. Add the ham and cook until crisp and browned, about 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the onion to the remaining fat from the ham and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the jalapeno, if using, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the corn kernels and okra and cook for 2-3 minutes or until just tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomato, honey, apple cider vinegar, and remaining 1/2 tsp cayenne (to taste). Cook for 1-2 minutes or until heated through.

Heat a grill, grill pan, or skillet. Add the pork and cook until cooked through, about 10 minutes total for cutlets. Let rest for a few minutes, then serve with the vegetables.

Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Food Network

May 27, 2018

Frozen Lemonade Tart

Memorial Day is generally regarded as the start of summer, at least for those of you who don't live where it's been 90 degrees for the last month (yes, I'm back in Atlanta!). My family has a barbecue lined up for tomorrow, which means that we will have plenty of burgers, hot dogs, watermelon, corn, and other tasty treats. For reference, "a barbecue" refers to grilling burgers, hot dogs, etc. while "barbecue" encompasses all those long-smoked meats like pulled pork and brisket. I can rant on for a while, but I'll spare you the details and get right to dessert. This year, I'm thinking a frozen lemonade tart, much in the spirit of Cinco de Mayo's frozen margarita pie, but more kid-friendly and suited for any summer festivities you may have planned.

Since it's already Memorial Day weekend and you may be looking at this for a last-minute dessert, you can speed up the process by turning it into a pie and using a store-bought graham cracker crust. However, I'm a crust girl and prefer the look and crust-to-filling ratio of a tart, so I tend to take 15 minutes to make my own graham crust in a tart shell. It's just graham cracker crumbs (again, save time by buying a box of crumbs instead of grinding your own), butter, and sugar, and it only needs to bake for a few minutes until golden and toasty.

The filling is essentially a frozen mousse: it has a delicate, airy structure that is set by freezing for a few hours. See how the tart looks kinda droopy in some of my pictures? That's because I'm very impatient and just had to try it before letting it freeze fully. Make sure your cream is whipped to stiff peaks and is gently folded in to avoid destroying the foam when you combine it with the sweetened condensed milk, lemon, and sugar, and let it freeze for as long as you can stand it. I use both lemon zest and lemon juice for an acidic punch of flavor and unbeatable freshness.

I like to garnish this tart simply with some fresh whipped cream and decorate it with some fresh fruit. Here, I just used some extra slices of lemon I had on hand, but you can decorate it with berries for a red, white, and blue patriotic feel for the holiday weekend or just with some of your favorite fruits. I'd recommend garnishing just before you serve because freezing berries in particular tends to ruin them and leak juices everywhere. Like I said, though, this tart is so tempting you might just eat it too fast for that to matter.

1 1/2 Cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
1/3 + 1/4 Cup Sugar
1 Stick Butter, Melted
2 Cups Heavy Cream
1 Can Sweetened Condensed Milk
4 Lemons, Zested & Juiced (2/3 cup juice, 2-3T zest)
3 T Powdered Sugar

Heat oven to 350F. Grease a 9-11" tart pan.

Combine the graham crumbs, 1/3 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt. Stir in the butter and quickly press into the prepared pan. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until golden. Alternatively, use a pre-made graham cracker pie crust.

Whip 1 cup cream until it holds stiff peaks. Set aside.

Whisk the sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, 1/4 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt together. Gently fold into the whipped cream. Spread into the cooled pie crust and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours.

Whip the remaining 1 cup cream until it holds soft peaks. Add the powdered sugar and whip until it holds stiff peaks. Use to garnish the tart, along with lemon slices and graham crackers if desired.

Serves 8

May 19, 2018

Summer Vegetable Tart

Based on my observations at the farmers' market this morning, the best way to take advantage of summer produce is to eat it all at once. I'm talking corn, tomatoes, zucchini, and more summer squash. And what's the best way to combine them? With plenty of cheese in a buttery, flaky crust. Yep, that's right: a savory tart. There's minimal cooking involved so you retain the freshness of the veggies (plus you get to eat it that much faster).

I typically make this tart with some sauteed onions, zucchini, and yellow squash. I then add tomatoes, herbs, and garlic and let a lot of the water cook off so the crust doesn't get soggy during baking. The trick is to cook it just enough so you lose some moisture but not too much that they turn to mush in the oven. Since the corn doesn't need to be cooked beyond the time in the oven, I stir it in at the very end with the olive oil and the parmesan.

The crust is my traditional buttery crust for savory recipes. I'm firmly in the all-butter camp, so no lard or shortening here. Butter just has the best flavor and a superior flakiness that can't be beat. Like with all my pie and pie-esque recipes, keep all the ingredients cold (especially the butter) and work them as little as possible. Once you roll it out to fit the tart pan, keep it chilled until you're ready to bake. I like to blind-bake my crust before adding the veggies, meaning that you bake it while covered until mostly cooked through. This prevents it from getting too soggy if the vegetables are too liquidy and ensures it is cooked through without overcooking the vegetables.

To dress the tart up a bit, you can add more of your favorite veggies, sub in colorful cherry tomatoes, or even throw in some bacon or crispy ham. You can also add some cheese to the crust, like in this mushroom galette. For extra cheese, try spreading a layer of ricotta or your favorite soft cheese on the base of the crust. If summer vegetables haven't quite hit you yet, this would be delicious with some asparagus or mushrooms as well. It's easily adaptable to your taste and to the season, so don't limit this recipe to just the summer.

1 Recipe Savory Crust, Blind Baked in an 11" Tart Shell
1 Small Zucchini, Sliced Thinly
1 Small Yellow Squash, Sliced Thinly
1 Small Onion, Diced
2 Roma Tomatoes, Diced
2 Sprigs Thyme
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Ear Corn
2 T Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Shredded Parmesan

Heat oven to 375F.

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and cook for 4 minutes or until translucent. Stir in the zucchini and squash and cook of 3 minutes. Remove from the pan.

Add the tomatoes, thyme, and garlic to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes or until some of the liquid has evaporated.

Combine all the sautéed vegetables with the kernels from the corn. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or until cool. Toss with the oil and parmesan and transfer to the crust.

Bake the tart for 12-15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the crust is golden.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

May 8, 2018

Mushroom Ravioli with Parmesan White Wine Sauce

For some reason, everyone is obsessed with brunch for Mother's Day. All the restaurants are booked, and brunch at home never works out as well as you think it will. Breakfast in bed is the worst of all: you have to get up extra extra extra early, pray your mom doesn't get out of bed before you're ready, force her to listen to you make a mess in the kitchen while she can only wait to see what she inevitably has to clean up, and you're guaranteed to have crumbs and/or maple syrup in the bed for days. Now, I do have some pretty tasty brunch recipes (quiches'mores French toastblueberry muffin bread, and plenty more in the recipe index), and I completely understand wanting to start Mom's day off right. However, I just think you can accomplish so much more when you have more time. This mushroom ravioli with a parmesan white wine sauce is definitely a time investment, but it is so luxurious and flavorful your mom won't mind the wait.

Fresh pasta is absolutely essential for ravioli. If you are lucky enough to have a pasta shop or gourmet grocery store with ready-made sheets, feel free to save yourself some time. Making pasta is an art, but you shouldn't be afraid of learning. To make pasta from scratch, put your flour in a big bowl and make a well in the center. That's where you add your eggs (usually about one egg per serving), gently stirring to bring in flour from the sides until you have a cohesive, slightly tacky, and elastic dough. You might need a bit of extra flour or a splash of olive oil to get the texture just right, and keep in mind that as it rests and hydrates it will become slightly more sticky.

The filling consists of ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, spices, an egg, and plenty of mushrooms. I use ricotta as the base because it as a nice creamy texture, mozzarella for some gooeyness, and parmesan for saltiness. The egg binds everything together and helps the filling set up a bit when cooked. The mushrooms are prepared simply with a bit of butter, salt, and pepper and cooked to draw out a lot of the moisture. This prevents the filling from getting too wet, plus the pasta only cooks for a few minutes and you still want the mushrooms to be cooked through. As with most of my mushroom recipes, my go-to is usually baby portobellos or button mushrooms but fancier ones like oyster or king mushrooms would add a bit of flair. Just make sure that they're diced pretty finely so that you don't end up with one big mushroom chunk and a little bit of cheese in your ravioli.

The pasta must be rolled extremely thin (almost see-through) to avoid gumminess after cooking. You can do this manually with a rolling pin, use a manual pasta roller, or use something like the pasta rolling attachment for your stand mixer. I typically go with my manual pasta roller, which only cost about $25 and has been well worth the investment. With any rolling equipment, you can't go from a block of dough straight to see-through pasta; I like to press my dough out to about a centimeter thick so it will go through my pasta roller on the widest setting then keep adjusting the dial so it gets thinner and thinner. Not only does this reduce the strain on your rollers but it also aligns the gluten and starches so you have a better texture when cooked.

If you don't have a ravioli former or mechanical filler (another common mixer attachment), a cookie cutter or glass would work well too. I take two similarly-sized pasta sheets and dollop the filling about 2" apart on one sheet. I brush egg wash in the gaps between, press the second sheet of pasta on top (pressing out all the air bubbles and adhering the sheets), and use the cookie cutter/glass/knife to shape the ravioli. The key here is to avoid air bubbles and leaky filling (make sure the edges are sealed well) so your ravioli don't fall apart or explode in the water. They only take a few minutes to cook in boiling, heavily-salted water, so make sure to cook in batches to avoid sticking.

My favorite part about this recipe is the sauce. It's garlicky, buttery, herby, cheesy, and salty but still somehow light enough to let the ravioli shine. The garlic and herbs cook in a shamelessly large amount of butter before being deglazed with white wine. I suppose you can add in chicken stock for an alcohol-free version, but it's just not quite the same. From there, all it needs is a touch of salt and pepper, a handful of grated parmesan, and enough starchy pasta water to make a smooth, velvety sauce.

I garnish the ravioli with some prosciutto for extra saltiness and a sprinkle more of parmesan because I've already committed to eating too much cheese anyway. You could also elevate it with some fresh peas, extra mushrooms, or even some asparagus ribbons for a springtime treat. Of course, you can't forget dessert on an occasion like Mother's Day, so I'd recommend something along the lines of some brown butter biscottibuttermilk pie with roasted fruit, or some rich chocolate mousse. Just make sure you don't leave mom with the dishes!

4 Cups Flour
7 Eggs
14 T Butter
12 oz Mushrooms, Diced
1 Cup Ricotta Cheese
1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella
3/4 Cup Grated Parmesan
1/4 tsp Basil
1/4 tsp Oregano
1/4 tsp Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp Onion Powder
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Sprig Rosemary
2/3 Cup White Wine
Prosciutto for Serving, Optional

Transfer the flour to a large bowl and make a well in the center. Beat 5 eggs together lightly, then pour into the center of the well. Gradually stir the flour into the eggs, scraping from the sides of the well to incorporate. Stir until combined, then knead until elastic and just tacky, about 4 minutes, adding additional flour or a splash of olive oil as necessary. Form into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and set aside to rest.

Heat 2 T butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 4-6 minutes or until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.

Combine the ricotta, mozzarella, 1/4 cup parmesan, spices, and 1 egg. Season with salt and pepper. Fold in the mushrooms.

Roll out the pasta dough to form thin sheets (2nd thinnest setting on a manual pasta roller). Beat 1 egg with 1 T water to form an egg wash. Using a ravioli mold if you have one, spoon the filling onto the pasta sheets, brush the edges with egg wash, top with another sheet of pasta, press to adhere, and cut into individual ravioli. Set aside on a flour-dusted tray.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the ravioli and boil for 4 minutes or until floating and al dente, working in batches as necessary.

Meanwhile, heat 12 T butter in a large skillet over medium heat until melted. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Deglaze with the wine and stir for 3 minutes or until mostly evaporated. Season with salt and pepper. Add the remaining 1/2 cup parmesan and whisk until smooth, adding starchy pasta water as necessary.

Toss the ravioli in the sauce, adding prosciutto as desired.

Serves 6

April 29, 2018

Frozen Margarita Pie

The weekend is winding down, but I'm already excited for the next one. I'll be done with classes and homework, I'll have more time to cook, and it will be Cinco de Mayo. Even though my friends are going all out at the bars, I know the real fun is with the food. There's nothing better than a party with a taco bar, and don't forget the salsa and guacamole. As for dessert? This frozen margarita pie is like the best key lime pie that made a pit stop at the bar. It has a bright, citrusy lime filling spiked with tequila cradled in a sweet and salty pretzel graham cracker crust, all topped with a torched meringue topping.

Normally I prefer a graham cracker crust for my custardy pies, especially the lime ones. I didn't stray too far off with this recipe, but I did add a secret ingredient: pretzels. They maintain the crunch and add some notable saltiness, which contrasts well with the sweetness and the tartness of the rest of the pie. Also, margaritas need salt and this is easily the tastiest way to incorporate it into the pie. I use the same method as a homemade graham crust: pulse the graham crackers (and pretzels) in a food processor until fine, add some sugar and melted butter, and quickly press into your pie plate. I pop it in the oven for a few minutes to firm up and toast a bit, then let it cool until the filling is ready.

The filling is surprisingly easy compared to other pies. I combine sweetened condensed milk, lime juice and zest (no need for key limes here unless you really want them), a splash of orange juice, some sugar, and, of course, tequila. I've made this recipe with other citruses and other (or no) alcohol, but I've found that the combination of lime and orange is unbeatable, and you really need the tequila to capture the essence of a margarita and hold on to the spirit of Cinco de Mayo. That all yields a very tasty but poorly textured filling, so I combine it with some stiff whipped cream to make a mousse-like filling. I prefer it frozen for a few hours to firm up and provide more textural contrast since you'll also have the fluffiness of the meringue.

The meringue is also very straightforward. I whip egg whites with some cream of tartar to stabilize them until soft peaks form. I then add some sugar and whip until the peaks turn stiff and glossy. There's a lot of debate about when to add the ingredients, how fast to whip the eggs, what order to do everything in, etc. but I've found that this turns out just fine. For some extra pizzazz, I broke out my new kitchen blowtorch and toasted the swirls of meringue. It adds that nice toasted marshmallow-y flavor and makes the dessert truly show-stopping. This could also be achieved by broiling it very carefully for about a minute on the top rack of your oven, though it runs the risk of melting the filling. If you've more risk-averse, this pie is still very tasty without the topping.

If this pie isn't enough, I have plenty more recipe ideas in my recipe index, so make sure to look for more dips, salsas, tacos, and other mains. I'm not sure what else could top this pie, but I'm sure I'll come up with something eventually. For now, enjoy this creamy, cold, refreshing dessert, and I'll get back to you soon.

1 Cup Pretzels (2 oz)
3/4 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs
3/4 Cup Sugar
6 T Butter, Melted
1 Cup Heavy Cream, Chilled
1 Can Sweetened Condensed Milk
4 Limes, Juiced & Zested
1/4 Cup Orange Juice
2 T Tequila
3 Egg Whites, Room Temperature
1/4 tsp Cream of Tartar

Heat oven to 350F. Grease a 9" pie plate.

Pulse the pretzels in the bowl of a food processor until only small bits remain. Add the graham crumbs and 1/4 cup sugar; pulse a few times until sandy. Add the melted butter. Quickly press into the prepared pie plate. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until set. Set aside to cool.

Whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks. Set aside.

Whisk the sweetened condensed milk, lime juice and zest (1/2 cup lime juice, 2-3 T zest), orange juice, tequila, and 1/4 cup sugar together. Gently fold in the whipped cream in 3 additions. Spread into the cooled pie crust and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours.

In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar together on medium speed until they reach soft peaks. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and whip until stiff, glossy peaks form.

Spread the meringue onto the pie and toast with a kitchen torch or under the broiler for 1 minute or until golden.

Serves 8

April 21, 2018

Mushroom Galette

It's finally spring! The forecast is above freezing for the next 10 days, the farmers market is open, and Earth Day is tomorrow so I feel obligated to eat somewhat healthy. Also, I graduate in 3 weeks so my clearing-out-the-apartment diet is in full swing. Is there really a better time to write a recipe for an easy appetizer made with fresh veggies and all the cheeses and butter and baking staples I'm trying to get rid of? I realize these are fairly unique circumstances but I think everyone could use a good appetizer idea (or side or light dinner or even breakfast, if we're being perfectly honest here). This mushroom galette has a creamy, cheesy layer topped with piles of savory mushrooms all on a buttery, flaky pie crust with a secret ingredient. Yes, the crust also has cheese in it. You're gonna love it.

I suppose I should mention that a galette might sound like a scary challenge that is easy to mess up, but it's quite the opposite. A galette is a free-form tart, so you essentially spread the filling on to a big round of crust, fold the sides up, and pop it in the oven. You can easily transfer it to a tart shell if you aren't going for that rustic look.

I adapted my regular savory pie crust recipe to fit the flavor profile of this galette. It still has all of that buttery flavor and delicate, flaky texture, and it also has the nuttiness and richness of good gruyere cheese. As with any pie crust recipe, keep everything cold and handle it as little as possible and it will turn out just fine. Keep it chilled in the refrigerator until the filling is ready so it's easy to roll out and the flour has a chance to hydrate.

The mushrooms are pretty simple to let their flavor shine through. As with many of my go-to mushroom dishes, I typically use baby portobellos or button mushrooms. However, there are plenty of other amazing varieties out there, so see what looks good at your grocery store or farmers' market, and don't be afraid to mix a few together. I cook them with some garlic and thyme until a lot of the moisture cooks off because I don't want it to puddle out and ruin the cheesy filling. There is a delicate balance since they'll be cooked again in the oven and you don't want them to disappear entirely, but I've found that 6-8 minutes does the trick.

The cheese layer gives some bulk and textural variation to the galette. I combine cream cheese, parmesan, and gruyere for the perfect creamy, melty texture and nutty, sharp, slightly tart flavor. It matches the gruyere flavor in the crust and is pretty hard to mess up: just combine softened cream cheese, parmesan, and shredded gruyere and season to taste.

To assemble the galette, I roll the pie crust out to a very thin circle. It doesn't matter if your circle is inevitably lopsided because it will be folded onto itself anyway. I aim for 1/4" thick so that it holds up to the filling without breaking but still cooks through. It's easiest to transfer the crust to your baking tray here (even if it's too big and hangs over the sides) because the assembled galette is nearly impossible to transfer while raw. I spread the cheese filling in the center up to about 1-2" away from the edges; it is important that your cheese is soft and your crust is cold to avoid any tearing or rips. The mushrooms get spread on top of the cheese (you should have a pretty full but even coverage with no gaps) and that 1-2" border gets folded over to hold everything in. I like to brush a quick egg wash over the sides to get a golden, glossy sheen. After about 40 minutes in the oven, your galette is ready to serve to graduation guests, friends, family, fellow farmers' market lovers, or just your fridge if you feel like indulging later.

1 1/4 Cups Flour
1 1/2 tsp Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Stick Butter, Chilled & Cubed
6 oz Gruyere, Grated (2 Cups)
1/2 tsp Thyme
2 Eggs
1 T Oil
1 T Butter
10 oz Mushrooms, Sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
4 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan

Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together in the bowl of a food processor until combined. Add the butter, 2 oz (2/3 cup) gruyere, and 1/4 tsp thyme and pulse until small lumps remain. Whisk 1 egg and 1 T cold water together, then add and pulse until it just clumps together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm.

Heat oven to 400F.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat with the oil and 1 T butter. Add the mushrooms and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and remaining 1/4 tsp thyme. Cook for 6-8 minutes or until softened.

Combine the cream cheese, parmesan, and remaining 4oz (1 1/3 cups) grated gruyere. Season with salt and pepper.

Roll the crust out to 1/4" thick. Transfer to a parchment-lined cookie tray. Spread the cheese mixture onto the dough, leaving a 1-2" border. Spread the mushrooms on top. Fold the edges of the crust over. Whisk 1 egg with 2 tsp water and brush onto the crust. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from How Sweet Eats

April 9, 2018

Chicken Marsala Pasta Bake

I'm feeling pretty conflicted right now, and it's surprisingly not because I have to graduate in a few weeks and enter the real world. No, it's because it's April and the outdoor farmers' market starts next week and, of course, it's supposed to snow tomorrow. I can't keep up with this crazy flip-flopping weather (sadly, no more flip flop weather since spring break ended last week), and it's confusing my diet as much as my wardrobe. It seems like one day I'm needing a cozy bowl of hot soup to warm me up and the next Spring is peeking through and I want to break out all my fresh springtime recipes.

Chicken Marsala is traditionally a lightly breaded chicken cutlet with a luscious Marsala wine and mushroom sauce. It's a great weeknight dish since it can be made fairly quickly and is just the thing to keep your warm and full. So how can you make it better? I'm always up for some pasta, and some extra bacon never hurt anyone. I crisp up some bacon, cook the chicken in the drippings, and make a mushroom and Marsala pan sauce. That velvety sauce gets tossed with the chicken, pasta, and plenty of cheese for a tasty spin on an Italian classic.

Most chicken in Chicken Marsala gets dredged in flour and pan-fried, but here I take advantage of all that flavorful bacon fat for just a quick sear. Thin boneless, skinless chicken breasts work best for quick cooking, and they can be easily cut up into bite-sized pieces for easy eating. The sauce is built on the drippings of the bacon and chicken, since those brown bits are the key to a well-rounded flavor. I start with onions then add garlic, herbs, and plenty of mushrooms. I typically go for sliced baby portobellos, but crimini, porcini, or whatever mushrooms you can find would also work. I deglaze the pan to scrape up the last of those brown bits, and of course you have to use Marsala wine here. Anything else would give you a perfectly delicious sauce, just not Chicken Marsala. Once the alcohol cooks off, butter and flour help to thicken the sauce, and I whisk in some chicken stock to achieve a silky texture that's just liquidy enough to coat the pasta.

I'm not particularly picky about which pasta to use here, but I do prefer one with lots of twists and turns and nooks and crannies to catch the sauce, the bacon, and the mushrooms. I cook the pasta until barely al dente since it will cook more in the oven and I still like it to have some texture. The cooked pasta is tossed with the sauce, chicken, bacon, and cheese and is topped with even more cheese. Since everything in the dish is already cooked, it only needs a little bit of time in the oven to melt the cheese and give the flavors a chance to meld together. It's a little more portable and rounded than a typical Chicken Marsala, so you'll want to make it for weeknight meals and leftover lunches all Spring.

8 oz Pasta
1/4 lb Bacon
1 lb Chicken Breast
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
12 oz Mushrooms, Sliced
3 Sprigs Thyme
1/3 Cup Marsala
1 T Butter
1/4 Cup Flour
1 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock
2/3 Cup Grated Parmesan
6-8 oz Mozzarella

Heat oven to 375F and grease an 11x7" baking dish.

Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente according to package directions.

Cook the bacon in a large pot until crisp. Remove and chop.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown in the bacon drippings until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the prepared dish and bake for 8 minutes or until cooked through. Shred or dice when cool.

Cook the onion in the drippings for 4 minutes or until tender and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper, then add the garlic, mushrooms, and thyme. Cook for 8 minutes until the liquid evaporates. Add the marsala and cook for 6 minutes or until reduced.

Stir in the butter. Once melted, add the flour and cook for 3 minutes or until thick. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock and cook for 6 minutes. Add the chicken, pasta, and 1/3 cup parmesan. Transfer to the prepared dish and top with the mozzarella and remaining parmesan. Bake for 18 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

March 29, 2018

Chocolate Peanut Butter Biscotti

I am currently sitting in a fluffy robe looking out onto some palm trees in the Bahamas after a long day of poolside reading. Sounds perfect, right? Yes, except for one thing. I am starving. With personal pizzas at $20+ and sodas at $6 and some inexplicable hostility towards snack-sized portions so you HAVE to buy full-sized meals, it's going to be a long weekend. And for me, the travel is just beginning. I'll be in 6 cities in the next 6 weeks or so, so I'm going to need some good snacks. One of my family's go-tos is biscotti. Any flavor will do, as long as they're sweet, crunchy, and made in dozens.

Normally biscotti are relatively healthy for a dessert. There's minimal fat since eggs are the main liquid and binder, and dried fruits and nuts are filling and healthy. This peanut butter biscotti recipe does stray a bit, but the flavors are worth it. There's peanuts, peanut butter, and mini chocolate chips, and you can up the chocolate flavor by dipping or drizzling with more chocolate or even subbing in some cocoa powder for part of the flour.

The recipe starts by combining the butter and sugar. You don't need a stand mixer or even a hand mixer to do this since the butter is melted, but, like most biscotti doughs, it will become extremely thick later so a stand mixer is still helpful. I then add the eggs and a splash of vanilla before adding plenty of peanut butter. I typically use smooth peanut butter when baking so I can control the crunch by adding the peanuts separately, though crunchy peanut butter would still work. The dry ingredients are pretty simple: just flour, baking powder, and salt. Those are mixed in until just combined, and then it's time for the chunky bits. I use chopped roasted peanuts and mini chocolate chips so that there's the peanut and chocolate flavors I promised and it's all evenly distributed so each bite is perfect.

What makes biscotti so special is that they are baked twice. The first round is when the dough is shaped as loaves that take a while to bake. The second is when the loaves are sliced into the shapes you're more familiar with eating, and their size depends on how wide your initial loaves are. This dough does spread a bit, so make it more narrow than you'd like the final product to be. Make sure it's cooked through and reasonably cool before cutting into slices. If you're going to dunk them in chocolate or add a nice chocolate drizzle, make sure your slices are cooled completely and always temper your chocolate if you don't intend to eat it immediately. It's worth the hassle for shiny, snappy chocolate.

This biscotti, like other recipes, is great for taking on the go because it's perfectly portioned and takes forever to stale. If peanut butter and chocolate aren't your favorites, I also have recipes for gingerbread biscottiorange almond biscotti, and pumpkin white chocolate biscotti. Even if you aren't traveling soon, these make for great gifts and also great snacks to have on hand for gatherings like Easter. If you're looking for some cookies to hold you over through Passover, nosh on these chocolate pecan thumbprint cookies for a few days first.

10 T Butter, Melted
2 3/4 Cups Flour
2 3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
3 Eggs
1 1/4 Cups Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla
1/2 Cup Smooth Peanut Butter
2/3 Cup Roasted Peanuts
3/4 Cup Mini Chocolate Chips

Heat oven to 350F and line three cookie trays with parchment.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.

Combine the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and peanut butter. Mix the flour in until just combined. Fold in the peanuts and chocolate.

Divide the dough in half and place each in the center of the baking sheets. Shape into logs. Bake until set and golden brown around the edges, 25-30 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325F.

Once the logs are cool, cut into 1/2" thick slices. Spread onto the trays and bake for 8 minutes; flip, then bake 8 minutes more.

Makes ~4 Dozen
Recipe Adapted from Food Network