Mar 29 2013

Lemon Cheesecake

Published by under Food,Recipes

To make the holiday easier on my aging grandmother, we do potluck for Easter with my family these days (not sure why we don’t ease the tasks for my aging grandfather who still paces across his farm to hide approximately 150 dollar-filled plastic eggs–I guess cooking is more fun than finding 150 hiding spots).  And my experience is that recurring potlucks eventually lend themselves to assignments.  It’s no longer “What would you like to bring?”, it’s “So you’re bringing the deviled eggs again, right?

The eggs are my mom’s assignment (because hers are 100% the best and I think everyone else hates hard-boiling, peeling, de-yolking and filling a bunch of eggs).  My assignment has become dessert for which I am psyched.  In the land of potluck, the dessert assignment is coveted by two completely divergent types of people: the super creative and the super lazy.  The super creative folks are the ones who scour Pinterest for cakes with ingenious piping techniques, mini masterpieces in royal icing on sugar cookies and brownies with more layers than you can see with the naked eye.  The super lazy folks are the ones who pick up a tub of two-bite brownies at Food Lion and consider their contribution made.

I’ll give you one guess as to which side I land.

Easter two years ago, I made a stunning strawberry cream tort.  Tender cookie crust filled with homemade vanilla pastry cream, topped with fresh sliced strawberries.  My aunt whipped it out of the refrigerator and the whole thing ended up on the floor.

Last year, I made a lemon cheesecake–and learned to tape the tart pan bottom solidly to the cake plate–and this dessert could not have been more heavenly.  It somehow manages to be both decadent and refreshing at the same time.  The flavor is light and so Spring-appropriate yet you can’t forget the cheesecake-iness because it is so dense and thickly satiny.

This year, I’m thinking coconut cupcakes.  Or maybe a Caramel Cake in homage to my grandmother.  Or maybe I’ll just save myself some time and pick up some two-bite brownies.

Ha, not a chance.


Lemon Cheesecake

Lemon Cheesecake

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated Cookbook


    For the Crust
  • 5 ounces vanilla wafer cookies
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • For the Filling
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted


For the Crust

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a food processor, process vanilla wafer cookies to fine crumbs. Add sugar and pulse to combine. With the machine running, add melted butter in a steady stream until whole mixture is moistened and resembles sand.

Press crumb mixture into a 9-inch springform pan, using the bottom of a glass or other flat surface to press the crumbs firmly into an even layer, not pressing crumbs up the side of the pan. Bake 15-18 minutes, to golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

For the Filling

In a food processor, process 1/4 cup sugar and lemon zest until incorporated, about 15 seconds. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in remaining sugar.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese on low speed until creamed. Add lemon-sugar mixture and beat at medium speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down bowl, add two eggs and beat to combine. Scrape bowl again, add remaining two eggs and beat to combine. Add all remaining ingredients EXCEPT melted butter and beat just until combined.

Brush melted butter up the sides of the springform pan, being careful not to disturb the crumb crust. Pour filling on top of crust and smooth top.* Bake until the center jiggles just slightly and outside edges are slightly browned, about 55 minutes to 1 hour. Turn off oven and prop door slightly open, allowing cake to slowly cool inside for 1 hour. Transfer to wire rack and cool at least 1 hour.

*Cook's Illustrated recommends a water bath but I don't trust my springform to form a tight enough seal to be immersed in water. If yours is ok, try a water bath method.

2 responses so far

Mar 22 2013

Bakery-style Jumbo Blueberry Muffins

Published by under Food,Local food,Recipes

I know, I know.  I get behind on blogging and all of a sudden weeks have gone by without a post.

But, I made these muffins and they WILLED me to put off doing the baby’s laundry, washing bottles, reading papers for work or whatever else it is that occupies most of my (sadly scant) free time and get back here to tell you about them.

I may never buy a bakery muffin ever again.  EVER.  The combination of buying myself a jumbo muffin pan and finding this recipe in my Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook has blessed me with the ability to make muffins that are not only giant, not only easy, not only fully customizable but are tasty enough to blow any bakery muffin out of the water.  Seriously, once you figure out how much batter to put in your muffin tin to get the right height on these babies you can put them in a pretty box and SELL THEM.  Or, at least, you can shock everyone at brunch with your amazing at-home baking prowess.

The crumb is dense and moist–kind of cake like but more dense and the flavor is not so sweet.  The tops on these muffins get so peaked and pretty, with or without a sugared or streusel-type topping.

And the phrase “with or without” can come up a lot when you’re following this recipe.  With or without blueberries?  Fine.  With or without lemon zest?  Ok.  With or without nuts?  Either will do.  How about chocolate chip?  We can make it with or without.  How about almond extract?  Yup, same there.  All you need is the base recipe provided below and you can mix in nearly whatever your little heart desires.  Mine desired to use up a Ziplock full of June-picked blueberries tucked into the deep freeze so that’s what I used but feel free to customize.

Your friends will think you spend your free time perusing trendy muffin shops instead of washing 25 drooled-covered onesies while this deliciousness is in the oven.

Bakery-style Jumbo Blueberry Muffins

Yield: 12 jumbo muffins

Bakery-style Jumbo Blueberry Muffins

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated Cookbook


    Basic Muffins (without add-ins)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I substituted 1 1/4 cup Greek yogurt + 1/4 cup milk with success)
  • Add ins for blueberry muffins
  • 8 ounces fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 12-cup jumbo muffin tin with cooking spray or line with jumbo muffin liners.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes). For blueberry muffins, add lemon zest and beat to combine. Add eggs one at a time and beat until each is incorporated into batter.

On low speed, add yogurt in 3 additions alternating with adding dry ingredients in 2 additions, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. For blueberry muffins, stir in blueberries by hand just until distributed.

Use a large spoon to distribute batter evenly among cups. Bake until tops of muffins are golden brown and a cake tester comes out with just a few crumbs attached, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool in muffin tins about 5 minutes then cool on wire rack.

6 responses so far

Feb 19 2013

Quinoa Salad with Spinach and Feta

Published by under Food,Recipes

My friend Wawa has a DIY spirit in the kitchen that I just don’t have.  Whereas I need a recipe 90% of the time to follow or at least give me inspiration, she’s one of those cooks who surveys the fridge and pantry and just comes up with something to eat.  She did just that when she put together this amazing salad as a contribution to a potluck baby shower.  I’m eating this stuff thinking My God, this is good!  This is way more delicious than most salads that typically show up at potlucks.  I gotta ask Wawa for the…

Crap.  There’s a 50% chance Wawa isn’t going to have a recipe because she’ll have just cobbled together ingredients to make this heavenly concoction.

Sure enough, the recipe Wawa sent me was her volumetric approximation of the “little of this, some of that” method that led to this wonderful salad.  But it worked.  This salad is delightfully tangy and acidic with tons of flavor coming from each of the components plus a substantive dose of filling carbs/protein from the quinoa.  Substantive enough that this recipe can do double duty–as a side salad, like I enjoyed at the baby shower, or as a healthy lunch, which is my favorite role for it.  I’ll make a big batch of it and have lunch all week long.  It keeps well in the fridge and, unlike some healthy salads, is hearty enough to keep you from crashing around 3 pm.

On of the unexpected benefits of Wawa’s method of throwing in whatever sounds good is that this recipe is perfectly pliant to your own tastes.  For example, her original recipe had a pretty heavy dose olives which kinda turns my stomach so I left them out without compromising the rest of the dish.  You can add them back in if you’re a fan.  Greg doesn’t like sundried tomatoes so I leave them out of his portion and we like the bite of pepperoncini so we toss in a few extra.  Feel free to adapt the ingredients and the amounts to suit your tastes.

If I keep winging it like this, I may end up with a little of this, some of that method of my own.  Not good for a recipe blog but good for my lunches, if my versions turn out as well this.

Quinoa Salad with Spinach and Feta


    For the Salad
  • 1 cup dry quinoa, cooked and cooled
  • 2 cups packed baby spinach, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped roasted red pepper (jarred or fresh roasted)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped pepperoncini
  • For the Dressing
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar,
  • 1/3 cup olive oil,
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh minced oregano (scant 1 teaspoon if dried)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh minced basil (scant 1 teaspoon if dried)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh minced parsley (scant 1 teaspoon if dried)


Cook quinoa according to package directions and completely cool. In a large bowl, toss together all salad ingredients.

In a small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Add dressing to salad and toss to thoroughly coat all components. Serve cold or at room temperature; refrigerate leftovers.

One response so far

Jan 29 2013

Peppered Sausage Gravy and Biscuits

Published by under Food,Recipes

Since Greg and I got married, my mother has been hosting breakfast on Christmas morning as a way to accommodate our ridiculous holiday schedule that ensures we make appearances at several different houses, eat several different meals and wish a Merry Christmas to nearly every relative either of us has ever had.  Some people complain about hectic holidays but we love it, even this year with a 2 month old to tote around.  My mom goes all out for breakfast, always including her egg casserole with bacon, sausage or peppers, and adding whatever else she feels like in a given year.

This year, I was asking Greg what I should contribute to the Christmas morning table.  Baked french toast?  Cinnamon rolls or sticky buns?  Cheese danish?  Then I brought up biscuits and gravy but quickly shot that down because I wanted something that was easy to make a head of time.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Slow down there,” he said.  You sure you can’t make biscuits and gravy?”

“No,” I replied.  “The gravy might get gummy once I reheat it and the biscuits won’t be so flaky.”

“But you could make biscuits one weekend just for us, right?”

Clearly I had hit on something with that suggestion.

So, I ended up making eggnog french toast and cinnamon bun bites for Christmas and back burner-ed the biscuits and gravy until recently.  I have to say, as good as the french toast and bites were, the savory sausage gravy and flaky biscuits I made were just glorious.  The gravy is spicy and silky and has that meaty, savory heft to it that you want out of such a breakfast.  The biscuits are kind of like scones–buttery with a flaky-tender mix that sops up some of that gravy deliciousness without turning into a soggy mess.

And, as it turns out, the gravy reheats really well if you add a little more water the next day and the biscuits do pretty when re-warmed in a toaster oven.  Maybe we have our answer to what to bring for breakfast next Christmas.

Peppered Sausage Gravy and Biscuits

Yield: Serves 6

Peppered Sausage Gravy and Biscuits

From Prevention RD. Originally from Cracker Barrel (biscuits) and Food Network (gravy).


    For the Biscuits:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • For the Gravy:
  • 10 oz bulk pork sausage (not low fat)
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • pinch of salt


For Biscuits:

Preheat oven to 450 F. Grease a large baking sheet and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the milk and softened butter until a crumbly dough forms. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic.

Roll the dough out to 1/2 inch thickness and, using a circle cookie cutter, cut into 12 rounds. (My dough was just a bit too sticky to roll out so I patted mine into rounds instead of cutting.)

Place rounds on the prepared baking sheet, brush with melted butter, and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

For the Gravy:

In a large pan over medium heat,brown the sausage, breaking it up into crumbles with a wooden spoon, until cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the sausage to a bowl, leaving the rendered fat in the skillet. Whisk the flour into the fat and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute.

While whisking, pour the milk and butter into the skillet and bring the gravy to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 2-3 minutes, or until desired thickness is reached.

Stir in the sausage and season with pepper and salt.

To serve, split each biscuit in half and divide them among plates. Top each biscuit with some gravy and serve immediately.

One response so far

Jan 18 2013

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Published by under Food,Recipes

I set out to make healthy muffins, really, I did.  I thought I was going to make some sort of power muffin with flax and applesauce and wheat germ and other stuff they sell in the health food aisle at the grocery store–you know, the aisle that is usually brown and green with pictures of wheat and sunshine.  The one at Giant also has hardwood floors instead of the institutional floor tiles that the disgustingly normal rest of the store has.  Being healthy and natural is too beautiful for tiles, only hardwoods for the crunchy customers!

Or maybe the jacked up prices on all the healthy stuff paid for just enough flooring for its own section.  I don’t know.

The point is, I wanted to utilize that aisle to its fullest and yet, when it came down to it, I used the brown banana and chocolate chips I already had in the house to make a delicious if not overly healthy batch of muffins.  The result was a chewy but not too dense muffin with a lot of flavor and the little bits of chocolate made them satisfying enough to a sweet tooth like mine that I could eat them as a sweet snack instead of as the power breakfast I had envisioned.  All in all, I’d say a sweet yet homemade muffin with banana and a touch of whole wheat flour lands us somewhere between the healthy aisle and the cookies-crackers-crap aisle–I guess it’s appropriate we have laminate floors?

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Yield: About 18 muffins

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Adapted from Allrecipes


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 medium ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 18 cups of muffin tin with paper liners or grease and lightly flour.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine butter, sugar, egg, bananas, milk and vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, stir together flours, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat just until combined. Do not overmix.

Stir in chocolate chips with a spoon.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake for 25 minutes or until an inserted cake tester comes out clean. Turn muffins out onto a baking rack to cool.

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