Monday, November 21, 2011


I find baking desserts like cakes and pies very intimidating. 

I'm much more comfortable baking cookies, cupcakes, whoopee pies, and other desserts made in batches. Making things in batches allows the cook to make slight adjustments so that by the end, the dessert is baked to perfection. With cake or pie, you just don't know what you are going to get. In addition to not being able to make adjustments, you also can't taste it ahead of serving. So, say you are bringing dessert to a friend's house, there is a chance it might be terrible, and you won't know till you get there and serve it to your unsuspecting friends. I find it all very intimidating.

Thankfully, this super easy and totally delicious Salted Caramel Cheesecake Pie didn't disappoint at a dinner with our friends, Christianne and Chris.

Salted Caramel Cheesecake Pie (from Joy the Baker)
Makes one 9-inch pie

For the Crust
  • 2 cups ginger snap cookie crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
For the Cheesecake
  • 1 pound (2 blocks) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
For the Caramel
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt


Place two rack in the upper and bottom third of the oven.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  You’ll need a 9-inch pie plate and a 9×13-inch pan for boiling water.

To make the crust, place cookies in the bowl of a food processor and grind to a fine crumb.  If you don’t have a food processor you can crumble cookies in a zip lock bag with a rolling pin.  Once you’ve created a fine crumb, add brown sugar, salt, and butter.  Toss together, moistening all of the ginger snap crumbs.  Pour the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate and press with fingers until sides and bottom are evenly coated with crust.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool while you make the cheesecake filling.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.  Place a tea kettle of water on the stove top to boil.  We’re going to add hot water to the 9×13-inch pan to place under the baking cheesecake.

To make the cheesecake filling:  In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together cream cheese and granulated sugar.  Beat until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Beat in salt and vanilla extract until well incorporated.    Add eggs, beating one at a time between each addition.  Once creamy and smooth, slowly beat in the cream, beating on medium high until creamy and luscious.  Add lemon zest if using.

Pour cheesecake mixture into the prepared cheesecake crust.

Place 9×13-inch pan in the bottom shelf  of the hot oven.  Carefully pout in hot water, and fill to 1/2 full.  Push into oven.

Place cheesecake on the upper oven shelf.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until cheesecake is browned and puffed.  When cheesecake is puffed and doesn’t have  loose giggle in the center, turn oven off and use a towel to prop the oven open slightly.  Let cheesecake rest for another 45 minutes in the cooling oven.  Remove from the oven and cool completely, for at least 4 hours.  Overnight is best.

While the cheesecake cools, make the caramel so it can cool as well.

To make the caramel, add sugar, water, and corn syrup to a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring once or twice.  Bring to a boil and allow to brown.  Once sugar has browned to a medium amber color, remove from heat and immediately add heavy cream and butter.  Mixture will boil and foam.  Stir well.  Add salt and stir well to incorporate.  Caramel may seem thin… that’s ok.  Place in a bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and cool in the fridge for at least 4 hours, overnight is best.

Pour the cooled caramel over the cooled cheesecake,  return to the refrigerator until ready to serve.  Sprinkle with a dash of sea salt then slice and serve.

For a potluck dinner at friends, what do you bring for dessert?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I can tell you once were pretty

We all know that cherry is one of my favorite food flavors. Tart, sweet, juicy, cherries just make an incredible addition to any dessert. Ever since I received a copy of Bon Appétit Desserts from my mother-in-law for my birthday, I've been eyeing the Triple Cherry Streusel Bars. Cherries, in triplicate, yes please. I finally got down to making them over the weekend and they are fabulous little bites of sweet, brandied goodness.

Triple Cherry Streusel Bars (From Bon Appétit Desserts)
Makes 2 dozen bars

  • 1 cup dried Bing cherries
  • 1 cup tart red cherry preserves
  • 1 tablespoon kirsch (cherry brandy)
Dough and Streusel
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2⁄3 cup sugar
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 3⁄4 cup (1 1⁄2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
  • 1 3⁄4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 cup (packed) sweetened flaked coconut
  • 3⁄4 cup sliced almonds

Combine cherries, cherry preserves, and kirsch in processor; blend to chunky puree.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 13×9x2-inch metal baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, leaving overhang on both long sides. Spray foil with nonstick spray. Blend flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in processor. Add butter, vanilla, and almond extract. Blend, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk and blend, using on/off turns, until mixture comes together in small clumps. Transfer 1 cup (packed) mixture to medium bowl and reserve for streusel.

Blend remaining mixture in processor until large moist clumps form. Gather dough together in large ball. Press dough over bottom of prepared pan; pierce all over with fork. Bake dough until golden, about 22 minutes; cool crust 15 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

Add coconut and almonds to reserved 1 cup dough. Mix with fork, breaking streusel topping into small clumps.

Spread cherry filling over baked crust. Sprinkle streusel topping over. Bake cookie until cherry filling is bubbling and streusel topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool cookie in pan on rack. Using foil as aid, lift cookie from pan. Fold down foil sides. Cut cookie into bars.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No, I mean break-dance fighting

Up until about a week ago, canned pumpkin has been no where to be found in DC. Okay, I'm being a little dramatic, I couldn't find it at either the Harris Teeter or the Safeway supermarket near my house. So, craving all things pumpkin, I decided to go to the extreme. I went out, I bought a pumpkin and I made my own puree.

Did you know how easy this was to do? It was super easy. First you go out and buy a "pie" or "sugar" pumpkin. I'll let you in on a secret, I bought mine at Home Depot. Yep. Then you split it down the center, scoop out its guts, and place it face down in a glass baking dish. Stick it in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour and you are done. Let it cool, scoop out the soft pumpkin goodness and mash. Nothing to it.

Though not quite as quick and easy as popping open a can, it is less processed, tastes fresher and you get about twice as much. When I was done, I made my favorite pumpkin whoopee pies and pumpkin hummus. Yum. I also roasted the seeds for garnish and to snack on.

Pumpkin Hummus (inspired by Running to the Kitchen)
Makes about 2 cups
  • 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, drained & rinsed
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except olive oil and toasted pumpkin seeds and pulse until coarsely chopped.

Slowly add olive oil in small increments as food processor is running until it reaches desired consistency. You may want to scrape down the sides once or twice while processing.

Have you ever made your own pumpkin puree?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Love is a Crock Pot

Lately, I've been super into my Crock Pot. It's not flashy, not exciting, but it cooks at a low heat day in and day out and won’t fade.

We've also been watching a lot of Party Down.

If you've never seen Party Down, you should start tomorrow. Here's what you should do. Step one, wake up,  head to your kitchen, and quickly throw all of the following ingredients in your Crock Pot. Step two, go to work then come home. Step three, drop your bags, wash your hands, and toast some tortillas. Step four turn on your TV, start up your Netflix Watch Instantly, and find Party Down. Step five, top your tortillas, grab a fork, and get ready for a long night on the couch. Best grab yourself a beer or two also because you aren't going to want to get up and miss a moment of the hilarity about to ensue.

There is no rule that says you can't have fun on a Tuesday night.

Oh and thank you to Allie and Tyler for helping me fall in love with Adam Scott again and again.

Crock Pot Tostadas (adapted from A Cambridge Story)
Serves 4-6
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 16-oz can black beans
  • 1 16-oz can kidney beans
  • 1 can diced tomatoes 
  • 1 can corn kernels
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 3/4 lb boneless pork shoulder, trimmed lean
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 ounces light cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 4 tortillas for serving


Combine onion, beans, tomatoes, corn, taco seasoning, and pork in a crockpot. Cook on low for 8 hours. Shred pork using a fork and stir gently to combine.

Toast tortillas in a dry skillet until crispy and brown. Top with pork mixture, cilantro, shredded cheese, and sour cream.

Friday, November 11, 2011

I like pizza too, but I'm not gonna marry one.

Growing up in New England, the seasons are everything. Spring, summer, fall, and winter dominate everyday from wardrobe to outlook on life. They especially play a role in food choices. Whether it's what produce is in the store or what ingredients you can afford to buy, the seasons really affect how we eat.

As fall turns to winter in November, soups and stews dominate menus everywhere. In the summer, fruits and vegetables need very little help to taste vibrant and fresh. When cooler temps prevail, seasoning, blanching, boiling, and braising become necessary to create the flavors of fall.

With the winter months fast approaching, this potato, leek, and broccoli soup really hit the spot. Creamy, salty, and packed with wintery vegetables. Plus, who doesn't love crunchy bits of pancetta and toasty bread.

Potato, Leek and Broccoli Soup with Pancetta Crumbs (from Food and Wine)
Serves 6
  • 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
  • 3 small leeks (about 2/3 pounds), white and light green parts only, thinly sliced (2 cups)
  • 2 pounds large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch broccoli—florets coarsely chopped, stems peeled and sliced
  • 2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 1 cups fat free half-and-half
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • One 6-oz loaf of sourdough bread, crusts removed and bread cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped (2 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoons chopped sage
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped rosemary

In a very large pot, melt 1 stick of the butter. Add the leeks, potatoes and broccoli and cook over high heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the stock and 6 cups of water, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until all of the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Working in batches, puree the soup until very smooth. Return the puree to the pot and stir in the half-and-half. Season the soup with salt and white pepper. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, pulse the bread cubes in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. In a large skillet, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in the oil. Add the pancetta, sage, rosemary and bread crumbs and cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until the crumbs and pancetta are browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with the pancetta crumbs and serve.

What's your favorite winter dish?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Party Down

There are quite a few foods that I wish I liked, but I don't. Do you know how much easier breakfast would be if I liked eggs? Or coffee for that matter, which I can't stand at breakfast, or as a pick me up, or to sip during a casual meeting with a friend. I don't like tea either. I don't like mushrooms, or artichokes, or kale. I don't like rosemary, thyme, and nutmeg has always turned me off. Worst of all, I don't like olives.

In theory olives sound great. They are a fruit, usually from the Mediterranean, that has been cured in salty brine. Yep, that sounds pretty good to me. But put them within smelling distance, and my stomach turns. Even some olive oil bothers me, especially the dark extra virgin kind. It's really a pity because olives seem like the perfect snack.

A few months back, okay quite a few months back, Lindsay Olives was nice enough to send me a few samples of their California Green Natural Olives. Now while I don't eat olives, Alex is a huge fan, so I happily accepted their generous offer and told Alex this was his chance to write his own blog post. Well months have gone by, and there are still four cans sitting in my pantry.

This weekend, I hosted a clothing swap at our apartment and decided it was time to break out most people's favorite snack. While I didn't try any of my creation, they got a lot of rave reviews from my party guests. Most notably, guests were surprised that they came from a can instead of a jar. So props to Lindsay Olives and the New York Times. Thanks for making my hostessing job a success. I'm sure they were delicious, you know, to people that like olives.

Marinated Olives (from Lindsay Olives and The New York Times)
  • 2 cups Lindsay Olives California Natural Olives
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 lemon, cut in half and segmented like a grapefruit

Toss all ingredients together in a bowl. Marinate for an hour or longer at room temperature. Refrigerate overnight if not using immediately. (Remove from the refrigerator an hour or two before serving.)

What are some of your least favorite foods that you wish you liked?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Suzanne, you're all that I wanted of a girl

I've always preferred white chocolate to dark chocolate.

It started when I was little and my mom used to get my sister and me giant milk chocolate Easter bunnies and put them in our Easter baskets. Okay they weren't giant, but they seemed that way when I was little. She'd always put smaller white chocolate bunnies in our baskets as well. I knew, even at a young age, that it was more socially acceptable to want the milk chocolate bunny, it just wasn't my favorite. The white chocolate bunny was always gobbled up first. The milk chocolate bunny just couldn't compare.

When searching for a dessert to bring to a work cookout, I began leafing through my Bon Appétit Desserts cookbook and found White Chocolate Suzette Brownies. Inspired by famous Crepes Suzette, these brownies are full of sweet citrus and white chocolate goodness.

The recipe calls for a glaze, but I thought it would be too much and just stuck to eating them plain. Plain is exactly the opposite of how I would describe this treat.

White Chocolate Suzette Brownies (inspired by Bon Appétit Desserts)
Makes 12
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 2 pieces
  • 4 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup sifted flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 extra-large eggs, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 4 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped

Position rack in center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter the sides of a 9x9x2-inch baking pan. Line pan with foil, leaving overhang on 2 sides. Butter foil. Dust pan and foil with flour; tap out access.

Mix apricots, orange liqueur, orange juice concentrate, orange peel, lemon juice, lemon peel, and vanilla in medium bowl. Melt butter and cream cheese in heavy small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add finely chopped white chocolate and let stand 5 minutes. Stir gently to combine. Cool.

Sift flour, salt, and ginger into a small bowl. Whisk eggs and sugar in a large bowl until thickened, about 1 minute. Whisk in cream cheese mixture. Fold in apricot mixture and coarsely chopped white chocolate. Fold in dry ingredients. Spread batter in a prepared pan. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer pan to rack and cool.