September 16, 2018

Brownie Cookies

Now that I'm settling into my new kitchen in my new apartment, I've taken to baking treats for my office. Without any roommates or self-control, I needed a new audience. The one downside to working for a candy company is the fact that everyone already eats so much sugar so whatever I make has to be really, really good. It also helps if it's small, portable, and not too sweet, and these brownie cookies fit the bill. They're packed with chocolate flavor and are so incredibly fudgy and delicious. The three types of chocolate make for a rich, complex cookie that's just sweet enough for a midday pick-me-up.

The first chocolate is unsweetened chocolate. Since you melt it down and mix it with the butter, you could use a semisweet or bittersweet chocolate instead, but then you have to adjust the sugar, which then changes the texture. I like unsweetened chocolate here for its pure flavor, plus you can usually only find high-quality unsweetened chocolate so you know it's good. Once it cools slightly, it's a fairly normal process for making cookie dough. I stir in the sugar and brown sugar then the eggs and vanilla. The second chocolate, cocoa powder, is stirred into the dry ingredients, which are sifted into the dough to make sure it's all mixed in and there aren't any lumps.

The last chocolate is a big handful of chocolate chips. I've used regular ones, mini ones, jumbo ones, and even chopped up bars of chocolate. Whatever you have on hand will work just fine; it all depends on if you want itty bitty pockets of chocolate or molten nuggets. I fold them in gently to avoid overmixing then scoop the dough into balls and let them rest overnight. This distributes the moisture, allows the flour to hydrate, and solidifies the fat, which controls the spread during baking. Fortunately it only takes about an hour in the refrigerator to get some pretty tasty cookies, but if you can wait until the next day they'll be even better. I scoop the dough into balls first since it's much easier when the dough is soft and room temperature, plus it keeps me from dipping a spoon (or my finger) into the dough whenever I open the fridge.

The cookies will still be pretty soft when you pull them from the oven. I've always been a soft cookie person, and in my opinion you can't have a crunchy brownie cookie. As they cool, they'll set into soft, fudgy bites best served warm with an ice cold glass of milk. I realize my coworkers won't get to experience them at their peak like this, but they're still addicting on their own out of the cookie tin.

1 Stick Butter
4 oz Unsweetened Chocolate
2/3 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Light Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
1 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup Cocoa Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
3/4 Cup Chocolate Chips

Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate together. Set aside to cool slightly.

Transfer the butter and chocolate mixture to a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar and brown sugar. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together, then add to the bowl. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the dough into balls and chill for at least an hour or until firm.

Heat oven to 350F and line a cookie tray with parchment. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes or until just set.

Makes 24
Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

August 30, 2018

Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

I know, I know. I just posted a recipe for strawberry cheesecake. But it's 90 degrees outside, I need something to cool off, and I want to use all the end-of-season, ripe, juicy strawberries while I still have them. Labor Day weekend is also approaching, and I'm always looking for patriotic desserts that everyone will love, plus it's pretty cool and refreshing to follow a big outdoor barbecue. Strawberry ice cream is already pretty popular, but making the base cheesecake-flavored and folding in a crunchy graham cracker crumble really takes it over the top.

The ice cream base consists of cream, milk, vanilla, sugar, a pinch of salt, and, of course, cream cheese. I whisk the sugar into the cream cheese first since you're not going to have a smooth base if you try and stir in a whole block of cream cheese. The sugar softens up the cream cheese (which should already be at room temperature), making it much easier to gradually whisk in the other ingredients. That should set aside to chill for a while since you'll get much better results if you try and freeze a cold liquid than a warm one.

In the meantime, you can toss some graham cracker crumbs with butter and sugar then toast and crumble them. I'd make some extra because I was eating it with a spoon even before it was mixed into the ice cream, and it's extra tasty when you sprinkle more on top of the ice cream. The last component is the strawberry compote: I combine fresh strawberries (or frozen, since they'll be pureed anyway) with cornstarch and sugar to taste. That gets pureed until smooth since the strawberry chunks become icy and hard when frozen. The last step is cooking the puree for a few minutes to thicken so you don't have watery ribbons frozen in your ice cream; you should end up with a thick, jammy spread that you can swirl in.

As long as you have an ice cream maker, this recipe is incredibly easy but incredibly impressive. Yes, there are ways to make ice cream without one, like whipping cream and combining it with sweetened condensed milk, but you can get ice cream makers as cheap as around $30, which is worth it in my opinion if you have any interest in playing around with ice cream recipes. Coming from a lab where people literally get PhDs in ice cream, I know how important air cells, freezing time, and other factors are when it comes to getting a rich, creamy ice cream. Essentially, you want to aerate the ice cream base and freeze it quickly for a softer texture with minimal grainy ice crystals. The faster and colder you churn, the better the ice cream is, which is why you see so many places freezing theirs with liquid nitrogen. The freezing process depends on your ice cream maker, so be sure to follow directions. I swirl in the strawberry puree and graham cracker crumbs as I scoop it into a tin to freeze further so the ice cream doesn't all turn pink, but that's a personal preference. You can also switch it up with other cookies like oreos or vanilla wafers and, of course, other fruit purees. Cheesecake will always be in style, so don't be afraid to switch it up with some ice cream!

2/3 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs
1 Cup + 6 T Sugar
3 T Butter, Melted
1 1/2 Cups (8oz) Chopped Strawberries
2 tsp Cornstarch
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1 1/2 Cups Cream
1 Cup Whole Milk
1 tsp Vanilla
Pinch Salt

Heat oven to 375F.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, 3 T sugar, and butter. Spread onto a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes or until golden and fragrant.

Blend the strawberries with 3 T sugar and cornstarch in a food processor or with an immersion blender until smooth. Transfer to a small pot and simmer on medium-low heat until thickened, about 5-10 minutes. Refrigerate until cooled.

Whisk the cream cheese and remaining 1 cup sugar together until smooth. Whisk in the cream, milk, vanilla, and salt. Pour into a prepared ice cream churner and churn according to instructions.

While the ice cream is still soft, swirl in the graham cracker crumble and the strawberry sauce. Freeze until firm.

Serves 6
Recipe Adapted from Like Mother Like Daughter

August 17, 2018

Sesame Chicken Thighs

I apologize for the lack of posts lately but I have good news! I officially moved to Chicago, complete with a gas range, a new set of All-Clad cookware, Zwilling knives, gorgeous glass ingredient jars, my trusty Kitchenaid stand mixer, and all my baking pans crammed into a surprisingly small kitchen. Don't worry, I'll post a bunch of pictures on Instagram once I finish unpacking and organizing. For now, I'm just trying to survive my first week at work (so many Skittles!) and eat something besides candy and deep dish pizza. Between being exhausted at the end of the day and only having a few things out and ready to cook with, I'm all for quick and easy dinners, and I know all you back-to-school parents, college students, and fellow 9-to-5ers feel the same. The only thing better than takeout at the end of a long day is a cheaper, healthier copycat, and sesame chicken is one of my favorites.

Sesame chicken is usually battered, fried chicken nuggets tossed in a sweet and salty glaze with maybe a few limp vegetables underneath. I definitely love it, but I also know I can't eat it all the time. Chicken thighs are my favorite cut of chicken since they stay juicy and tender through pretty much anything, plus they can be seared off for crispiness without deep frying. I sear them off in a sesame oil blend until the skin crisps up then set them aside so there's room to cook the carrots. Carrots are probably my favorite vegetable (you know, besides potatoes and corn), and cooking them in sesame-infused chicken fat is the way to go. They'll finish cooking in the oven so they really just need a few minutes, but it's worth taking the time to build those layers of flavor first.

The sauce consists of soy sauce, honey, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, and Sriracha. I personally like this ratio of sweet, salty, and sour with the pop of ginger and spicy Sriracha, but it can certainly be adjusted to fit your taste. The best time to do so is after you bring the sauce to a boil in the skillet, when everything has a chance to cook down together. Once you have the recipe just right, add a cornstarch slurry to help thicken things up and form a nice glaze. That all gets brushed on the chicken, which goes on top of the carrots, and they all cook together in the oven so the sauce infuses the chicken and it all drips down into the carrots. I like to serve some more on the side for dipping both carrots and chicken since the glaze really is that addicting. If you want rice or noodles or even some sort of salad, go ahead and drown it in the sauce, too. You can get this meal from fridge to table in about 45 minutes, and of course the leftovers go even faster.

6 Chicken Thighs
1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Honey
2 T Rice Wine Vinegar
3 T Sesame Oil
1 T Canola Oil
2 tsp Grated Ginger
1 1/2 tsp Cornstarch
1 lb Carrots

Heat oven to 425F.

Peel and trim the carrots. Cut into coins.

Whisk the soy sauce, honey, vinegar, 2T sesame oil, ginger, and Sriracha (to taste) together. Set aside.

Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining sesame oil and canola oil together in a large skillet. Add the chicken thighs skin-side down and cook over medium-high heat until deep golden brown, about 8 minutes. Remove from the pan.

Drain all but 2T fat from the skillet and return to medium-high heat. Add the carrots and cook for 4 minutes or until browned. Stir and cook for another 4 minutes. Transfer to a baking dish.

Pour the sauce into the skillet and bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk the cornstarch and 1 1/2 tsp cold water together, then stir into the sauce. Bring to a simmer and whisk until thickened.

Place the chicken thighs on top of the carrots. Brush generously with half the sauce and roast for 15-20 minutes or until cooked through and the carrots are tender. Serve with the remaining sauce.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit

July 31, 2018

Blueberry Oat Scones

Cooked blueberries are my favorite. Yes, people dump them straight from the carton onto yogurt or cereal, into smoothies, or even just eaten by the handful. I'd much rather have them cooked down into something sweet and jammy, like blueberry pie or cobbler or pancakes or, yes, even scones. Here, you don't get the big mass of molten blueberries like in a pie but you do get pockets of sweet, juicy berries that dot the tender, flaky scone. And this isn't your normal vanilla buttermilk scone. No, it has a subtle nuttiness and heartiness from ground oats, plus a crunchy oat streusel and sweet glaze to bring it over the top. These are an end-of-summer treat that will make breakfast (or snacking or dessert) just a bit more special.

I normally treat scones like biscuits: combine the dry ingredients in a food processor, pulse in cubed cold butter, and add the buttermilk until just combined before rolling, cutting, and baking. I've done it by hand when I'm traveling or just too lazy to break out (aka commit to cleaning) my food processor, but I highly recommend using a food processor here, mainly because of the oats. I use rolled oats--not quick cooking--but grind them up with the flour for a finer texture. This allows them to hydrate better, cook faster, and not get stuck in your teeth. I don't grind them all the way down to a fine powder, just small bits so you still know they're there. It helps to grind it with the flour just to speed things along since you need some bulk for the food processor to work best.

The other ingredients for the scone are pretty simple. I use brown sugar (more than you would in a biscuit), lots of baking powder for rise, a bit of baking soda since I'm using acidic buttermilk, and some salt to enhance all the sweet flavors. The chilled butter goes in next but only until small lumps remain, and the buttermilk and vanilla go in last until just combined. The blueberries go in last so they don't get crushed; I toss them in a spoonful of flour so they don't sink to the bottom then stir them in by hand. If you pulse them in with the food processor, I can guarantee that they'll break and you'll end up with purple scones.

You can shape the scones however you like, whether it's scooping with a spoon or cookie scoop, rolling and cutting into squares or other shapes, or forming into a large circle or two and cutting into wedges. As long as they're not too big or too small, you shouldn't have to adjust the cooking time much. They'll be done when they're golden and a toothpick comes out clean. I do brush on some whole milk or cream or buttermilk to help the browning along, but it's not essential.

The last step is the toppings, specifically a crunchy oat granola and a sweet vanilla glaze. You can do one or both or none depending on your time frame and how sweet you want them. The granola consists of a quick caramel cooked down with some more whole rolled oats; the mixture should cool into a crunchy slab that you can crumble over your scones. The glaze is just powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla to taste and comes together in about 30 seconds. You'll need it for the granola to stick, but if you're not in the mood you can just press the granola into the scone dough before baking and it should stay put. These are pretty hardy scones that survived a car, a plane, and another car and still made a great impression, so take those end-of-summer berries and put them to good use!

For Scones:
2 Cups + 1 T Flour
1 Cup Rolled Oats
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
2 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Chilled & Cubed
3/4 Cup Buttermilk
2 tsp Vanilla
1 Cup Blueberries
2 T Milk/Cream/Buttermilk, Optional

For Granola:
3 T Butter
3 T Brown Sugar
1 Cup Rolled Oats
Pinch Salt
Pinch Cinnamon

For Glaze:
1 Cup Powdered Sugar, Sifted
2 tsp Milk
1/4 tsp Vanilla
Pinch Salt

Heat oven to 425F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine 2 cups flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until the oats are coarsely ground. Pulse in the butter until small lumps remain. Whisk the buttermilk and vanilla together, then add to the dough and pulse until just combined. Toss the blueberries in 1T flour then stir into the dough by hand.

Roll or scoop the dough into the desired shapes. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and brush with the milk/cream/buttermilk. Bake for 5 minutes at 425, lower the oven to 375F, and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the brown sugar and heat until bubbling. Stir in the oats, cinnamon, and salt and stir to coat. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until toasted and caramelized. Spread onto a sheet of parchment to cool.

Whisk the powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt together. Drizzle onto the cooled scones and top with the crumbled granola.

Makes 12-16

July 20, 2018

Thai Brussels Sprouts Salad

Between my food science conference with endless samples of random foods, a brief bout of food poisoning, and my pizza-filled return to Madison, I will fully admit my diet would make any nutritionist weep. Although I've been trying to eat healthier, between cooking my proteins with less fat and fewer carbs and attempting to eat more fruits and veggies, it's been particularly difficult for the past week. That's why I'm excited to be back in my apartment (for two weeks, at least) with a pantry and freezer to clear out and full access to my favorite farmers' market. I can make plenty of healthy dishes like this Thai brussels sprouts salad, which only uses ingredients you probably already have at home and tons of fresh produce. The dressing itself is particularly versatile and can be used for anything from other salads to drizzled on poultry.

The salad consists of brussels sprouts, red cabbage, carrots, and jicama with a Thai dressing, peanuts, scallions, and sesame seeds. None of the veggies oxidize (turn brown) particularly quickly like apples or potatoes, so you can make it hours in advance--or even the day before--and it will still be fresh and gorgeous. I wanted an easy-to-eat salad with lots of textural variation, which is why I shaved things like the brussels sprouts and cabbage (and sometimes even the carrots) and cut the jicama into matchsticks. The carrots are even prettier as thin coins, which is why I passed them over my mandoline as well. The mandoline makes everything so much faster and perfectly even, but some good knife skills will keep things moving as well.

Technically this can be a raw salad, so it's up to you whether you like your brussels sprouts raw or cooked. I cook mine in a sesame oil blend for a few minutes until crispy and cooked through, and it doesn't take long since they're shaved pretty thin. Cooking them also gives you the option of a warm salad instead of a chilled or room-temperature one. In my opinion, the textures of the other veggies are best when they are raw, but feel free to throw them in with your brussels sprouts as well.

The dressing only takes a few minutes since all you have to do is measure and whisk a handful of ingredients together: peanut butter, soy sauce, coconut milk, lime juice, honey, ginger, garlic, and a squeeze of Sriracha. Although the combinations may seem odd, they harmonize beautifully and the ratios are easy to adjust if you want it a bit more sweet, spicy, savory, etc. It may also seem like you're using a ton of some of the ingredients, but don't worry: that's only because I had to triple the recipe to keep up with my household's demands. If you like a lightly-dressed salad, you can easily cut the recipe back down. But trust me, that won't be necessary; I have witnessed my dad try to eat it like a soup, so you'll definitely want more.

1 lb Brussels Sprouts
1/2 Small Red Cabbage
3 Medium Carrots
1 Small Jicama
4 Scallions
1 T Sesame Oil
1 T Vegetable Oil
1 Cup Peanut Butter
1/3 Cup Soy Sauce
1/3 Cup Coconut Milk
3 T Lime Juice
3 T Honey
1 1/2 tsp Grated Ginger
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/3 Cup Sriracha (to Taste)
1/2 Cup Chopped Roasted Peanuts
3 T Sesame Seeds

Trim, wash, and shave the Brussels sprouts. Shave the cabbage. Grate or slice the carrots. Cut the jicama into matchsticks. Slice the scallions.

Heat the sesame oil and vegetable oil in a skillet. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook for 5 minutes or until crispy.

Whisk the peanut butter, soy sauce, coconut milk, lime juice, honey, ginger, garlic, and Sriracha together.

Toss the vegetables, scallions, and dressing together. Top with the peanuts and sesame seeds.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Evolving Table

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