It’s starting to look like I moved to New Orleans as an excuse to deep fry my California vegetables, make melty cheese dip, live off Red Beans and Rice, and plate after plate of fresh beignets. That’s to say nothing of the sazeracs and oysters.
Truth is, I moved to New Orleans for the suffocating humidity alone.
Not true at all. No one has ever ever done that.
We’ve entered into the 12 most beautiful days of the year here in New Orleans. After living here for one year, I’m talking like I know…
These are the 12 days when it’s perfectly warm with pleasantly bearable humidity, long pink sunsets, and almost cool evenings. It’s the perfection before the wrath of summer. It’s… well, it’s what California is like ALL THE TIME.
Let’s not talk about it anymore… let’s just fry these avocados.
Can I tell you a secret about free avocados?
If you’re in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans or Brooklyn you can place an order with the awesome people of Good Eggs and receive a free bag of avocados! Seems like the very best idea.
Photographs by the lovely Gabrielle Geiselman with styling (aka throwing food around) by me. Gabrielle is my friend, neighbor, and fellow avocado fiend.
Ripe avocados are sliced in half.
Pit them too. Do you know the trick? Here’s the best way to pit an avocado. It involves a big knife and a bit of gumption.
Lime, to keep avocados bright green and extra tasty.
Here’s what we’ll need to coat and batter the sliced avocados.
Eggs beaten with a bit of water for glue. Flour, combined with chili, spice, and salt. Panko breadcrumbs for an extra crisp fried coating. I mean… if we’re going to fry things they need to be crispy crunchy.
I lightly coat the avocado slices in seasoned flour, moisten them with a bit of egg wash, and then go in for the panko coating.
Nothing too heavy, but every bit of the avocado should be covered in either flour or panko. Take it easy… just fries!
A little flour here. A little panko there.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a ton of oil to fry. I used about 1-inch of oil in a medium, heavy-bottom pan. A candy/fry thermometer is key. We need to keep an eye on the temperature of the oil so that the fries to cook to slowly or quickly.
Good and golden brown!
To finish the fries: fresh lime spritzes, Maldon sea salt is lovely, and an extra sprinkling of chili powder. If you have beer on hand, even better. If you feel compelled to make an easy melty queso dip…. I mean… YES!
- 2 medium ripe avocados
- juice of 1 lime
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- generous pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 1/4 cups panko bread crumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
- salt, lemon, cayenne pepper for sprinkling
- 3 cups extra-sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1 (4 ounce) can diced milk green chiles, juice reserved
- Halve, peel and slice the avocados into long spears, it’s okay if they vary in size. Place the avocados on a platter and drizzle with lime juice.
- In a small bowl beat eggs and together water. Set aside.
- In a separate small bowl whisk flour and salt, chili powder, and cayenne.
- In a medium bowl, measure out panko crumbs, salt and pepper. Combine.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, you can set your breaded slices right on the sheet
- Dip the avocado slices lightly in the flour mixture, in the egg mixture, and finally panko crumbs.
- Clip a fry thermometer onto a medium heavy bottomed saucepan and heat oil to 375 degrees F. Using tongs, lower 6-8 avocado slices into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown. Remove from oil and place on lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with a bit of salt.
- Bring the oil back up to 375 degrees before frying the next batch. Continue frying until all avocado slices are golden brown.
- Sprinkle all of the fried avocado with a dash of cayenne pepper and fresh lemon juice. Serve immediately with queso dip.
- To make the dip, place cheeses in a medium bowl, sprinkle with cornstarch, and toss to coat. Transfer cheese mixture to a medium saucepan over low heat and add milk.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is smooth and melted, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Stir chiles with reserved juices until well combined. Serve warm with avocado fries.
I made rolls, of the cinnamon variety.
I use cinnamon rolls as a sort of… well, anxiety calming drug. I don’t pop pills, I definitely pop cinnamon rolls.
See… there was this thing invented a good long while ago called the 10 Year Class Reunion. It’s where you get together with all the people that made fun of you during your painfully awkward teenage years. Yea. Why? Why do I have to do this? Can’t we all just become friends on Facebook and Twitter and consider ourselves properly reunited!?
Seriously. The future is now!
Since I think I’m going to gracefully bow out of the reunion festivities, here’s the CliffsNotes of what I might have said to my old classmates.
Hi. Yea, it’s me Joy. I sat behind you in.. a bunch of classes probably. Here’s the update. I went to college. I read a lot of books. I graduated. I traveled around some. I haven’t gotten married or pregnant yet. Yea.. I’m prettier now, but that’s mostly because I was actually really ugly when you knew me. I’m a baker. I think it’s the most awesome thing ever. I know a crap ton about food. Would you like to discuss French cheeses at all? I have a blog… also awesome. Sure, I’d like to meet your boyfriend Steve. I recognize him from your Facebook photos. Your relationship status is “complicated” though… care to discuss? No? Hm… well, sure I’d like to see pictures of your kids. Would you like to see pictures of my cinnamon rolls? It’s only fair.
Don’t make me go to this thing. It will be awkward. Awkward. Awkward. Awkward!
I need counsel and another cinnamon roll.
These cinnamon rolls are nothing short of amazing. The cream cheese is folded (literally) into the dough, creating an extra moist, truly irresistible roll. They take time… sure. Yes. But when it comes to things like your 10 Year Class Reunion… you just take the time to make the rolls. It’s necessary.
Here’s the recipe.
Below the recipe are my step by step photos, in case you get knee deep into the recipe and panic.
Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls
Saveur October 2008
For the Dough:
1 – 1/4oz package active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon, plus 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk at room temperature
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for kneading
3/4 teaspoon salt
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
For the Filling:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup raisins
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
For the Icing:
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk
Making the Dough:
In the bowl of a stand mixer combine yeast, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 cup water heated to 115 degrees F. Stir to combine and let sit until frothy and foamy, about 10 minutes.
Add remaining sugar, milk, light brown sugar, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk. Beat with a wire whisk until well combined. Fit the bowl onto the mixer, fitting with the dough hook attachment. Add the flour and salt and mix on medium speed until the dough just begins to come together. Turn the machine on medium-high and knead the dough for 4 minutes.
Add the butter and continue to knead for about 6 minutes. The dough will the wet and sticky. Place the dough on a well floured work surface, and knead about 1/3 cup all-purpose flour into the dough. Don’t worry, the dough still might be a little sticky. It’s ok. Just set the dough to rest in a large greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
While the dough rises, make the filling. Combine the sugar, dark brown sugar, pecans, walnuts, raisins, cinnamon, salt and cloves in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Stir in the maple syrup. Set aside.
When the dough has doubled in size, dump if from the bowl onto a heavily floured work surface. Gently knead the dough until it is no longer sticky, adding more flour as needed. I think I added about 3 Tablespoons of flour. Work the dough for about 1 or 2 minutes. Once it’s no longer sticky, place a kitchen towel over the dough and let rest for 5 minutes before you roll it out.
Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 10 x 10-inch square.
In a small bowl, mix the cream cheese with a knife until it’s smooth and spreadable.
Spread the cream cheese evenly over the dough square. Fold the square into thirds like you would fold a letter to fit into an envelope. Take the open ends of the rectangle and fold into thirds again, to make a smaller dough square.
Invert the dough so that the seam is face down and, using the rolling pin, gently roll it into a 10 x 20-inch rectangle. You make find that some cream cheese sneaks through. Be as gently as possible with the dough, but continue to work it until you reach the size you need.
Turn the dough so that the short sides are parallel to you. You’re going to roll from the short sides of the dough.
Brush the top of the dough with half of the melted butter. We’ll use the rest of the butter after the rolls are baked.
Pour all of the filling onto the dough. Spread evenly, leaving a 1-inch boarder at one of the short edges of the dough so the roll can be properly sealed. Lightly press the filling into the dough.
Using your hands, lift up the bottom edge of the dough and roll it forward into a tight cylinder. Place dough cylinder seam side down on a cutting board. Using a sharp, thin knife, trim off the uneven edges.
Cut cylinder into 8 equal slices. Nestle the slices, cut side up and evenly spaced in a butter 9 x 13-inch (light colored) metal baking dish. Cover pan with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to let rise for 2 hours. You may also refrigerate rolls overnight.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Uncover the rolls. If you refrigerated the rolls, let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before baking. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
Make the icing: While the rolls are baking, whisk together the sugar and buttermilk in a small bowl until smooth.
Transfer the pan of cinnamon rolls to a cooling rack. Brush with remaining butter. Let cool for 5 minutes. Dip the tines of a fork into the icing and drizzle over the rolls. Serve immediately.
Some of the stuff you’ll need.
This is what the dough looks like as it’s coming together after the flour is added.
After kneading in the mixer for 10 minutes, I took the dough out, added 1/3 cup more flour and kneaded.
Gettin’ ready for the first rise.
Now make the filling!
Big, happy dough after 2 hours!
Knead the dough on a heavily floured surface, adding more flour so the dough is no longer sticky.
Roll that darling in a 10 x 10-inch circle and cream cheese it!
Fold it up.
Now roll again. This time to 10 x 20-inches.
Time for the good stuff.
Trim the edges and slice into 8 slices.
Into the pan.
That’s good stuff. Great job.
Think this recipe is a little too daunting!? I understand… you might like this one though!
These are simple Lemon Scented Buttermilk Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting, decorated with fondant flowers and edible pearls.
Cream cheese frosting is one of my favorite toppings for cakes and cupcakes! From citrus scented cakes, to rich chocolate cupcakes, cream cheese frosting is a decadent and versatile cake topping.
Cream cheese frosting is also fairly easy to make. But what happens when cream cheese frosting goes wrong?
Have you ever found yourself with a mixing bowl full of curdled cream cheese frosting? Ugh! How frustrating! It’s more than frustrating… it’s an outrage, and I’m here to get to the bottom of it.
I’d experienced my fair share of curdled cream cheese. While I don’t claim to understand the science behind curdled cream cheese, I do have my theories on its prevention.
Cream cheese frosting is a combination of butter, cream cheese and sugar. The temperature of the ingredients and the manner of incorporation are important when it comes to the curdling factor. Cream cheese must be at room temperature. I make sure my cream cheese is completely soft by letting it sit out overnight. Butter is a different story. I leave my butter out for about 2 to 3 hours before making the frosting. It should be at room temperature, but still a bit cool. The butter shouldn’t be completely soft and mush in the package. It should be soft, but still hold its cube shape. Got it?
In the mixing bowl, start with the cream cheese alone. Beat it in the mixer on medium speed for about 1 minute minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the butter. Beat the butter into the cream cheese for about 1-2 minutes. At this point, you’re just seeing that the butter and cream cheese are incorporated into one another.
Here’s the kicker- I find that if the butter is overly warm, and I start it off in the mixer with the cream cheese, my end product is curdled cream cheese. I think that the water in the butter, separates from the fat and creates a curdled mess. The trick is to keep a soft but slightly firm butter cube and beat the cream cheese before adding the butter. I think the incorporation of these two fats is important, so be kind to them, and mind their temperatures.
Once the fats are friends, add the brown sugar, vanilla extract, sifted powdered sugar, and milk for thinning. You should be clear of curdling from here on out, and have a oh-so-yummy topper for your cupcakes!
Lemon Scented Buttermilk Cupcakes
adapted from Demolition Desserts
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
2 large eggs, at room temp
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1. Preheat the oen to 325. Sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add the kosher salt after sifting and set aside. Measure out the buttermilk. Rub the lemon zest into the sugar until fragrant and tinged a slight yellow.
2. Cream the butter and the lemon sugar using an electric mixer, until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, letting the eggs beat for 1 mintue in between additions. Scrape down the bowl in between additions.
3. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients. Start by adding one third of the flour mixture. Mix just to incorporate. Add half of the buttermilk. Add another one third of the flour mixture. Mix to incorporate. Add the last half of buttermilk, followed by the last third of flour.
4. Spoon into paper lined cupcake pans. Check the cupcakes after 12 minutes. Makes 12 cupcakes.
The cupcake recipe should be doubled for the amount of frosting the below recipe produces. The make 24 cupcakes, or a two layer 8-inch or 9-inch round cake, double the cake recipe above, and use the frosting recipe below as is.
Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
8oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
4-6 cups powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons milk
depending on desired consistency
Cream the cream cheese in an electric mixer for 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and add the butter, beating for 1-2 minutes, or until incorporated. (Be sure that the two are at room temperature. Cold cream cheese or butter can make your frosting lumpy.) Add the brown sugar, pinch of salt and vanilla extract, and beat until incorporated. Turn off mixer and add 2 cups of powdered sugar. Turn the mixer on a low speed so the sugar doesn’t fly out of the bowl. Slowly add more sugar alternately with the milk until you reach your desired consistency. I like my cupcake frosting to be slightly more thick than cake frosting, so it can hold its shape on the cupcake.
Hey Dude (that I’m currently dating),
We need to talk. It’s about your mother.
Mostly… it’s about how I need to meet your mother. We’ve been carrying on for a while now… and I need to meet the lady that birthed you, clothed you, slapped you upside the head, and made you the awesome man you are now. If I don’t meet her soon, she will surely think me some sort of hussy harlot who was born in a barn and doesn’t much care for other people’s mothers. This is not the case. I care about most mothers, often.
It’s a lady thing that perhaps you don’t understand. I need to be nervous. I need to bite off all my nails. I need to agonize over the perfect outfit that will make me look sophisticated, but sweet and approachable, womanly without being more womanly that her. I need the outfit that says I can damn well take care of myself, and keep her dear and darling son in line for the rest of his life. It’s a fine fine fiiiine line.
I need to let your mother look me up and down in examination. I need to stand there and let her envision me as her daughter-in-law. I need to eat her casserole, express my desire for the recipe… then I need to do her dishes.
I need to let her tell me how to do things that I already know how to do, like make a pie, and pluck my eyebrows. We need to watch 60 Minutes together. She in her recliner, me sitting on the floor. I need to offer to bring dessert. She’ll make a face when it’s being served, and enjoy it despite herself. It’s all a dance. Every moment of it. It’s all a test… because mothers do not let their sons go quietly… they let them go passive aggressively.
Lastly, she needs to see that I make you happy. That’s where you come in. Don’t act weird. Well, don’t act weirder than you usually act. Be natural… and put your arm around me once in a while. It’s your job to make sure that no one gets a third glass of wine. That’s when things get weird.
It’s also your job NOT to tell your mother that there are beets in the cake I’m serving for dessert. That will be our little secret. Unless she loves it… then I’m taking all the glory.
Quite right. This chocolate cake is chocked full of roasted beets.
Beets are trimmed of their greens (which are delicious sauteed) and roasted whole in foil and just a touch of oil. You know… like you’re making a beet salad, but you’re totally making cake.
Besides beets, this cake also has the usual cake- y suspects: flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, powder, and salt.
I love preparing cake pans for baking. Something about the ritual just calms me.
Parchment paper rounds (that are cut by hand) totally ensure that the cake will come out of the pan in one piece. It’s an extra bit of work, but I love the insurance.
Roasted beets are cooled and peeled (which is easy… not to worry), and grated on the fine side of a box grater.
If you’re wondering about beet stained hands… yes, I had two. They eventually wash clean.
Beets add moisture and sweetness to the cake. Beets do not make the cake taste like a salad. That’s an important thing to know.
The cake batter will be a purple color, but will bake into a moist chocolate cake with no trace of beets.
Let’s talk about frosting. Butter and cream cheese are left at room temperature until soft. They’re beaten with powdered sugar, vanilla, and a squeeze of lemon.
Beets, too! Beets, shredded and mashed add a slight sweetness and intense color to the frosting. It’s all you need for food coloring. It’s delightful and delicious. And again… it does not taste like salad.
You may have a few beet strands in your frosting as you decorate the cake. Think of it as nature’s sprinkles.
… I can’t believe I just typed that.
I want you to fall in love with this cake. I did.
The cake itself is moist and chocolate-y. It’s not too sweet either! Bonus. The frosting is bright pink, speckled with beet bits, and creamy sweet.
No one would ever know this cake is chocked full of vegetables. We can just keep that little bit of information between us. Secret ingredient power!
Pssst… Valentine’s Day Cake! I’m just sayin…
Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes one 8 or 9-inch layer cake
adapted from Fine Cooking November 2001
For the Cake:
2 medium beets, unpeeled but trimmed of their greens
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the pans
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
2/3 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
For the Frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons finely grated beets, mashed with a fork
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or scrapings of one vanilla bean pod
1-2 teaspoons milk, depending on desired consistency
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt
Place a rack in the center and upper third of the oven. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Thoroughly wash beets under running water, and trim their leaves, leaving about 1/2 inch of stem. Place clean beets in a piece of foil. Drizzle with just a bit of vegetable oil. Seal up foil. Place on a baking sheet in the oven. Roast until beets are tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour.
Remove the beets from the oven. Open the foil and allow beets to cool completely. Beets will be easy to peel (just using a paring knife) once completely cooled.
Using a box grater, grate the peeled beets on the finest grating plane. Measure 3/4 cup of grated beets for the cake and 2 tablespoons for the frosting. Set aside.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Use butter to grease two 8 or 9-inch round baking pans. Trace a piece of parchment paper so it is the same size as the bottom of the cake pan. Cut it out and place inside the cake pan. Butter the parchment paper. Add a dusting of flour to coat the pan. Set pans aside while you prepare the cake.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars. Beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, for one minute after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Once eggs are incorporated, beat in beets and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture. Beating on low speed , slowly add the buttermilk. Once just incorporated, add the other half of the dry ingredients. Beat on medium speed until milk and dry ingredients are just incorporated. Try not to overmix the batter. Bowl can be removed from the mixer and mixture folded with a spatula to finish incorporating ingredients. Cake batter will be on the thick side… not pourable.
Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes (for a 9-inch pan) or 30-32 minutes (for an 8-inch pan). Cake is done when a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove cakes from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake.
To make the Frosting:
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese for 30 seconds, until pliable and smooth. Add the butter and beat for another 30 seconds, until well combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl as necessary. Beat in the beets. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, milk, lemon juice, and salt. Beat on medium speed until smooth and silky. Refrigerate the frosting for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.
To assemble the cake, place one layer of cake on a cake stand or cake plate. Top with a generous amount of pink frosting. Spread evenly. Place the other cake on top of the frosting. Top with frosting. Work frosting onto the sides of the cake. You will have extra frosting left over. Refrigerate for an hour before serving (it will make the cake easier to slice). Cake will last, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days.
I feel like I have some explaining to do. Everything I’ve brought to you since the beginning of the year has been savory and somewhat healthy. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I think my sweet tooth might be broken. Temporarily broken.
Everything I’ve wanted to eat lately has either been green, soupy, or French-fried.
In this, the latest installation of ‘Joy the Baker Has Lost Her Mind and Gone Savory’, I’d like to offer you an all-green salad. The gemstone about this salad is the pink-stained goat cheese hearts. You might consider this a healthful Valentine’s Day celebration tool. Yea… I said the V-word.
Speaking of Valentine’s Day (I’m sorry…)… yes it is a real thing, and yes you can totally ignore the holiday should you not be the pink and red and heart-shaped cheese sort. I made a Be My Valentine Pinterest Board just in case you need some clever pink and red holiday inspiration.
I’m going to go watch How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Cupcake Wars until I crave chocolate pudding. Thanks for your understanding. Ps. Fever ramblings? Maybe a little.
We’ll need a fork and a pinch of salt and fresh cracked black pepper along with our fresh goat cheese and raw shredded beets.
Welcome to the world of the smashbang. We mix and stir the crumbled cheese and beets until the cheese is stained pink. It’s crumbly yet satisfying.
We’ll dump this pink cheese mixture out in between two pieces of parchment paper and press it together into a flat, 1/2-inch disk. Allow it to rest in the freezer for 30 minutes, then the cold cheese will be easier to cut into little hearts with a heart-shaped cookie cutter.
A little bowl of hot water will help to clean the cookie cutter as the hearts are shaped and help to tame any oddly shaped hearts.
I’m not sure if I want to pat myself on the back or kick myself in the shin for making heart-shaped cheese.
Let’s talk about salad!
I know that you’re grown enough not to need a detailed recipe for green salad. You can pretty much just empty your produce drawer into a large bowl and call it a salad.
With this particular salad I chose a bright, light and leafy green called escarole.
This salad is an exploration in green with thinly sliced cucumbers, chopped pistachios, and chopped green olives.
Lemon and olive oil are the two ingredients that make up my favorite salad dressing. Keep things simple.
Salad. Getting all geared up.
Maybe you’re looking for some Valentine’s Day inspiration that isn’t leafy green, goat-cheesed, and annoyingly healthy. Last year I made these Pink Raised Doughnuts with Toasted Coconut inspired by my very favorite pale pink frosted doughnut house doughnuts.
Cream puffs are surprisingly easy to make. If you can wrap your mind around cooking a pastry dough, then cream puffs are in your future. Real talk: the dough cooking step was sort of a brain-bender for me, but once I got over that hump, Strawberry Cream Puffs with Milk Chocolate Sauce were my sweet reward.
So maybe Valentine’s Day is just an excuse to make doughnuts for the one you love. Is that so wrong? No… Chocolate Cream Filled Vanilla Sugar Doughnuts.
This salad is a simple meeting of greens. This salad is an elaborate excuse to make pink-stained goat cheese hearts. You’ll probably find some other awesome ways to use goat cheese hearts. I hope you do… and I hope there’s chocolate involved.
Green Salad with Pink Goat Cheese Hearts
For the Pink Hearts:
11 ounces fresh goat cheese
1/2 cup raw shredded beets
pinch of salt and coarsely ground black pepper
coarse ground sea salt for sprinkling
For the Salad:
Four big handfuls of greens (I used sweet escarole)
Thinly spiced cucumber
Sliced green olives
Shelled pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped
lemon and olive oil for dressing
salt and pepper to taste
To make the Pink Hearts:
In a medium bowl mix together goat cheese and raw shredded beets. Add salt and pepper. Mix with a fork until the mixture is pink and beet-studded throughout. The mixture will be a bit crumbly, and that’s ok. Transfer pink goat cheese mixture to a piece of parchment paper and use another piece of parchment paper to press and flatten the goat cheese into a 1/2 inch disk. The goat cheese disk will be sandwiches between two slices of parchment paper. Place in the freezer to chill and harden for 30 minutes. This will make the hearts easier to cut.
While the goat cheese hardens, assemble the salad. In a large bowl, toss together greens, sliced cucumber, olives, chopped pistachios, lemon juice and olive oil, salt and pepper. Taste to make sure the mixture is seasoned to your taste.
Remove the goat cheese from the freezer. Peel off one piece of parchment paper. Use a 1-inch heart cookie cutter to cut heart shapes out of goat cheese. Have a small bowl of warm water on hand to rinse off the cookie cutter between hearts. Use a bit of water on your fingers to reshape the hearts should they need a bit of love. Sprinkle shaped hearts with coarse ground sea salt
Place goat cheese hearts on top of salad and serve. Hearts can be stored on a flat surface, covered with parchment paper, and refrigerated until ready to serve.
This is the second time in a week that the Pioneer Woman has me bringing down my Dutch oven from the top kitchen shelves. First it was the Pistachio, Orange, and Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls… and now it’s this extra rich caramelized onion and mushroom Shells and Cheese. Pasta and cinnamon rolls came successfully come from the same pot? Gosh… it’s a good life.
These creamy Shells and Cheese are inspired by Ree’s Fancy Mac and Cheese. Ree adds just about every cheese in the book to her mac and cheese. Bacon, too. Because, duh. We have another Bonkers Awesome episode to prove it! It’s Part II of my visit to Ree’s Oklahoma ranch. Can I tell you a secret? I forgot my belt in Los Angeles for my visit to the ranch, and my boots still have mud on them. That’s just real life. Also in real life? Ree’s totally ridiculous Fancy Mac and Cheese that I wanted to take on the plane home with me.
Let’s talk about my interpretation!
Original Photography Shot with the Canon EOS 6D Digital SLR. The perfect multimedia solution.
All good things (well… most, really), start with a homemade cream sauce. These shells and cheese are no exception. This cream sauce starts with melted butter, all-purpose flour, and milk. If you ever hear anyone refer to a Bechamel Sauce… this is what they’re referring to. Nothing fancy. You know what’s up!
The cream sauce is cooked until thickened. It just takes about three minutes of stirring and random daydreaming.
Next, we’ll mix a bit of the warm cream sauce with a beaten egg. I’ve never added egg to my macaroni and cheese, but leave it to Ree to make me live dangerously. The egg really adds to the richness. It’s delicious! We beat the egg with a bit of the warm cream sauce to prepare the egg for the hot life without scrambling it. That’s called tempering. I don’t know why I’m being so obtuse.
Eggy cream and and actual cream marry.
I’m really itching to add the cheese. That’s the best part, really.
Cheese, yes please! Shredded cheddar, a smidge of shredded Gruyère, and goat cheese too!
I love these three cheeses because they’re super melt-able and have different levels of sharpness and saltiness that balance each other out wonderfully.
This is the sort of sauce you could bathe in.
Not that I would… or did.
Shells in. Shells tossed.
Now would be a good time to sample (twist my arm). Adjust the saltiness and spiciness accordingly.
Now it’s time for layering!
Half of the shells and cheese go into a baking pan. I used a pretty deep 10-inch pie pan. I think a 9×13-inch pan would work as well.
On top of the first layer of shells and cheese go the caramelized onions and mushrooms.
Finally, the remaining shells and cheese get piled atop the toppings. Lastly, butter sautéed panko breadcrumbs. I mean…
After the shells and cheese are baked, the panko will be golden brown and the cheese will be sizzling. Take a big spoon to the whole deal and it’s just beyond. Perfectly salty, and hearty, and comforting, and if you’re not careful you could stand in the kitchen and get through half of the pan no problem.
Winter comfort! Extra cheesy.
Bonkers Awesome Mushroom and Onion Mac and Cheese
4 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, for cooking the onions and mushrooms
1 large yellow onion, sliced in semi-circles
half a pound of button or cremini mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, divided
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus a bit more for greasing the pan
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 large egg
1 scant teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup shredded Gruyère
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 pound pasta shells, boiled until just undercooked
1/3 cup panko crumbs
In a medium skillet over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. When heated, add the sliced onions and saute until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add a pinch of salt, a pinch of black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, and reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook until the onions are completely browned and thoroughly cooked, about 5 minutes. Spoon caramelized onions into a small bowl and set aside.
In the same skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the quartered mushrooms and stir to coat in fat. Allow the mushrooms to soften and brown, about 2 minutes. Add a pinch of salt, a pinch of black pepper , and remaining thyme and reduce the heat to low. Cook until mushrooms are browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a large saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir until mixture is combined. Add the milk and whisk together until mixture has thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add scant teaspoon of salt and black pepper. Stir to combine.
In a small bowl, beat the egg. Add a few tablespoons of the warm cream sauce to the egg and whisk together. Once the egg is warmed, add it back to the cream sauce and whisk well to combine.
Reduce heat to low and stir in cheeses. Stir until melted and combined.
Add the cooked pasta and stir until all of the pasta is coated in cheese sauce.
Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking pan. I used a deep 10-inch pie pan, though a 9×13-inch pan would be great as well.
Spoon half of the pasta mixture into the greased pan. Top with caramelized onions and mushrooms. Top with the remaining pasta mixture. Set aside for a moment.
In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Add the bread crumbs and toast until panko has absorbed all the butter. Remove from heat and spoon the bread crumbs over the top of the pasta mixture.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the bread crumbs are browned and the pasta is sizzling. Remove from the oven and serve warm.
Pasta can be made a day ahead and left in the fridge unbaked. Just add the bread crumbs just before baking.
I’ve got New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day duties to tend to. By duties, I mean that people will be coming to my house expecting to eat and drink delicious things, and… I have a reputation to maintain. This holiday is about celebrating! It’s about remembrance and hope, love and champagne. It’s not about being the hostess with the mostess, as much as it’s about being the hostess with the most streamers and bubbly.
Sidenote: I wish I could teach my cat to do something useful… like, wash champagne flutes.
In the absence of a dishwashing cat, I’m keeping things simple and festive for the holiday. Simple yet totally impressive.
Puff pastry is the key to all things simple and impressive. Fancy mustard, ham, and good cheese are just a bonus.
It’s really important to use all-butter puff pastry for this recipe.
Any puff pastry that doesn’t boast about its all-butterness is made of weirdo fats that just aren’t cool.
Puff pastry is thawed, but still cold… and rolled out just slightly.
Oh! My puff pastry is usually rectangular. This round puff pastry was a surprise. This recipe will work both round and rectangle shaped. Go with what ya got!
Egg wash. Whole grain honey mustard. Thinly sliced Black Forest Ham.
I’m so satisfied with myself.
Scratch that. Now I’m satisfied with myself.
Here’s what’s so clever about this recipe: it’s a total make-ahead situation.
The puff pastry can be thawed and assembled (just like above), and then placed in the fridge overnight. When you wake up on New Year’s Day, you can brush this with egg wash and toss it in the oven. Almost instant brunch. Add an egg. Call it success.
Oh how you are filled with beautiful mustard, salty ham, and creamy cheese.
This dish is wonderfully simple and gloriously make-ahead. Because this pie highlights just a few ingredients, I like to use the best ingredients I can find/afford. All-butter puff pastry is a luxury and so worth the splurge. Whole grain mustard pops with flavor. Black Forest Ham and Gruyere cheese were meant to be married for life. It’s simple, because delicious doesn’t have to be complicated.
Ham and Cheese Puff Pastry Pie
inspired by Ina Garten
1 package (2 sheets) all-butter puff pastry, defrosted but still cold
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
1/2 pound thinly sliced Black Forest Ham
1/4 to 1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, sliced (depending on how much cheese you like)
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet, or round pizza pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
Unfold or unroll one sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Gently roll with a rolling pin until each side is increased by about 1/2-inch. This is just a light rolling. Place the pastry on the prepared baking sheet.
Brush pastry, from edge to edge with egg wash. Spread mustard atop the egg wash, leaving 1/2-inch of space between the mustard and the edge of pastry. Layer on ham slices. Top with sliced cheese.
Gently roll out the second piece of puff pastry. Layer on top of the ham and cheese pastry. Press the edges together with your fingers. Gently fold about 1/2-inch of the edges over, creating and thick crust. Press with the tines of a fork. Dip the fork in flour if the fork sticks to the puff pastry during pressing.
Brush with egg wash from edge to edge. Use a sharp knife to cut three venting holes through the top pastry.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm.
Hello Dream Boy,
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I dreamt you up. Biscuits and cream and veggies and chicken. I must must must have dreamt you up, pulled you in the oven, and put you right in my life.
I’m going to keep you around Dream Boy. I’ll get those fluffy feelings in my belly when I see you across the room. I’ll smile at you often and forever. I totally won’t stalk you on Facebook. I’ll just be here, being super cool. No biggie. High five.
I want you to get in on this recipe. I want you to think it’s a Dream Boy too.
There are three things going on here.
1. Cream Cheese, Chive and Black Pepper Biscuits
2. Creamy Cream Sauce
3. Rotisserie Chicken and Diced Veggies
I smashed them all together in a pot… then I totally fell in love.
Cream cheese helps make the biscuits extra tender, and utterly unstoppable.
I took the cream cheese left over from the biscuits and tossed it in the cream sauce. I’m a thinker. The cream sauce is rich, flavorful, and you’ll surely want to bathe with it. Don’t… it’s probably too hot.
I am crazy lazy when it comes to cooking chicken… mostly because there is a thing called Rotisserie Chicken. Already cooked! Already super delicious! Come on! I stripped the meat off of a rotisserie chicken, measured up a generous three cups and swirled it into the rich cream sauce. Hallelujah.
Note! A touch of lemon juice and fresh ground nutmeg totally set this cream sauce apart from all the rest. Brightness. Nuttiness. Depth. Trust.
Veggies are nice. Flavor, sweetness, a bit of crunch. They’re necessary. Get into it.
What are you thinking?
Did this just get bumped to the top of your weekend baking list? Say yes.
Maybe Easter Brunch? Maybe? Totally possible.
Dinner for that hardworking husband? Totally. He’ll fall on the floor and want to marry you all over again.
Chicken Pot Pie with Cream Cheese and Chive Biscuits
Makes one 9×13-inch dish with 12 biscuits
For the Biscuits:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper (depending on how spicy you like your biscuits)
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
4 ounces (half of a brick) cream cheese, cold
3/4 cup buttermilk, cold
For the Filling:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups whole milk
4 ounces (half of a brick) cream cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
3 cups shredded chicken meat
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cup thinly diced carrots
1 cup diced zucchini (optional)
1 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
Start by making the biscuits. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, black pepper, and chopped chives.
Add butter and cream cheese to the dry ingredients. Use your fingers to quickly incorporate the fat into the flour. Break up the butter and cream cheese with your fingers until some of the fat is the size of oat flakes and some of the fat is the size of small pebbles.
Make a small well in the center of the fat and flour mixture. Add the buttermilk. Using a fork, combine the wet and dry ingredients. Try to moisten all of the flour bits with the liquid. Dump the shaggy biscuit dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead together until dough forms a disk about 1 1/2 inches thick.
Use a round, 1 1/2-inch biscuit cutter to cut biscuits. Gather the dough scraps, knead for a few turns, and cut out more biscuits until no dough remains. Place biscuits on a small cookie sheet and place in the fridge until ready to bake.
Next, make the filling. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Dice onion, garlic, carrots, zucchini, and thaw the frozen peas. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Whisk in the flour. Mixture will be very thick. Heat for 1 minute. Turn flame to low and add the chicken stock. Whisk until no flour bits remain. Whisk in the milk and add the cream cheese. Heat over medium low heat, stirring often, untilcream cheese has melted and the mixture is the consistency of warm, thick pudding. Add chicken, lemon, and nutmeg. Stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove mixture from heat and set aside.
In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt butter (or olive oil, if using). Add onions and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add minced garlic and saute for one minute more. Add carrots, zucchini, and peas. Cook for about 3 minutes. The vegetables will not be entirely cooked through. That’s ok! Remove from heat and add vegetable mixture to the creamy chicken mixture. Stir to combine.
Spoon filling into a 9×13-inch pan. Remove the biscuits from the fridge and place them on top of the filling. Brush the tops of the biscuits with heavy cream, buttermilk, or egg wash.
Bake for 20-23 minutes, or until biscuits are puffed and golden, and the sides of the pot pie are bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.
To reheat, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Cover dish with foil and bake until warmed through, about 15 minutes. Serve.
Chicken Pot Pie will last, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days.
Let’s be people that host parties.
Let’s not just have people over… let’s host parties.
Let’s be people that look effortlessly elegant all night… even if this just means wearing the perfect pair of flattering jeans.
Let’s be people who always have perfect lipstick. Let’s be people who wear comfortable and stylish heels all night. Let’s be people who rock the most appropriate obscure playlist.
Let’s be people who start the game of Pictionary.
Let’s be people who send guests home with full bellies and warm cookies.
It all starts with a perfect cheese plate! And it’s totally not even hard! Come on… Play along!
The Perfect Cheese Plate!
These are just suggestions. It’s totally a create-your-own-adventure situation:
You’ll need a clean board, a piece of parchment paper, or a large brown paper bag, cut open and crinkled.
4 to five cheeses.
Try an aged cheddar like Hook’s 12 year cheddar. Pair cheddar cheeses with sweet cherry or blackberry jam. The sweet fruit and sharp cheddar combination is stellar.
Try a French cheese like Abondance. Semi-hard, raw cow’s milk, almost Swiss like cheese with salty pickles and crisp crackers. Straight classy!
Try a a creamy goat cheese like (mmmm!) Truffle Goat Cheese. Let the truffle take center stage. Simple crackers and a sprinkling of black pepper are totally major. This is a popular cheese. It will be gone in a flash. Be warned!
Try a stinky and bold blue cheese. This cheese is made from raw cows milk… Making it even more crazy tangy… It’s also aged in grape leaves. This strong, blue-veined cheese pairs really well raw honey. The sweetness eases the aggressive nature of the cheese.
These are two VERY simple recipes. Feel free to just eyeball it all. Keep it simple.
To make Quick Pickles… it’s easy!
this recipe is adapted from Rachel Ray
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon whole mustard seed
1 teaspoon salt
1 smashed clove of garlic
a bit of fresh dill
a bay leaf
2 english cucumbers, sliced thin
In a small saucepan, heat vinegar, sugar, mustard, and salt over high heat. Heat until sugar dissolves. Add garlic clove, dill and bay leaf. Pour mixture over sliced cucumber and chill. Leave in vinegar mixture and serve with cheese plate.
Roasted Chick Peas
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas
about 2 tablespoons olive oil
generous sprinkling Spanish paprika, cumin, black pepper, and salt.
a sprinkling of cayenne pepper
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
Rinse and dry chickpeas. Toss with olive oil and spices. Bake until crispy and slightly golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Toss a few times through baking.
Remove from the oven. Cool slightly. Serve with cheese.
Let’s categorize this post as not cupcakes, not pancakes, and not kale. Let’s categorize this post as real life real talk.
Five Ridiculous Things I’ve Said to Boys that I May or May Not Have Had Crushes On:
“Oh my goodness! You have two different colored eyes! You look just like a dog I know!” It turns out that’s not really the compliment I intended. But seriously… do you know the dogs I’m talking about?
“I like your shoulder cat!” Because a dude in raver jeans, smoking a clove cigarette, with a cat that lives on his shoulder is totally a giant heap of red flags.
“Yea. You can totally borrow my car to pick up your girlfriend from the airport.” Rethink! No car + girlfriend = NO GO! Ps. Jerk!
“Yea… I love The New Yorker.” Be real, Joy. You know you don’t actually read The New Yorker. Seriously… unless Nigella Lawson is on the cover, you probably didn’t read it. It’s ok. It really is.
“No… it’s cool. I’m spiritual, not religious.” Oooh this one. Oooh these words that are not true for me. These words that I used to say because I thought it would make me more palatable in the dating world. These were my worst of words… making me more palatable to the wrong people for me. Grow up and learn things, Joy!
Learn from me. Don’t be like me. Don’t compare boys to dogs and project yourself as a fancypants New Yorker reader. It’s ok if you don’t listen to vinyl. It’s totally cool if you want to throw your cat a birthday party and hang out at church. I’m just sayin’. It’s cool.
This recipe is a result of standing in the kitchen… hungry… having just taken a beautifully golden, but utterly disastrous cheese danish out of the oven. Apparently I’m still learning how to make a cheese danish without pulling an oozing, melted mascarpone mess out of the oven. I’m working on it.
Danish aside, I mustered up the last of the delicious ingredients I found hiding in my cupboard and pantry. The result is a sweet and savory, breakfast and lunch dish. It’s a delicious surprise! Danish though? I’m comin’ for ya. I’ll figure you out.
Disasters happen. Praise God for polenta and hazelnuts.
Creamy golden polenta is a solid base for just about anything.
Heavy cream, butter, and black pepper.
You might just grab a little spoon and go at this pot as is.
If you listen closely, you can hear hazelnuts roasting in the oven.
Their oils sizzle, and their tough brown skins burst just slightly.
It’s like roasted nut romance. Wait… was that gross?
Tough hazelnut skins are loosened in the oven.
A clean kitchen towel will rub most of them right off.
Creamy and salty, crunchy and sweet, topped with blue cheese.
I don’t know if this is breakfast, dinner, or a super extravagant midnight snack. It’s warm and comforting and I absolutely LOVE the salty cheese and sweet honey. If blue cheese scares you, I do believe this dish would be just as lovely with goat cheese.
Try something new! … as long as there’s not a shoulder cat involved.
Blue Cheese, Hazelnut, and Honey Polenta
makes 6 small or 4 medium servings
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
scant 1 cup hazelnuts
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles
fresh thyme or parsley
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place hazelnuts on an ungreased baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to sit until cool enough to touch. Place toasted hazelnuts in a clean kitchen towel and rub together to remove the brown skins. Some skins will be stubborn. That’s ok! Coarsely chop hazelnuts. Set aside.
Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add salt, and slowly whisk in polenta. Reduce heat to low and stir polenta as it thickens. Depending on the grain of your polenta, it will thicken in 15 to 25 minutes over low heat.
When polenta has thickened to the consistency of a thick pudding, remove from heat and taste. Polenta should be cooked through with just a bit of a toothsome crunch. Stir in heavy cream, butter, and ground pepper.
Spoon warm polenta into serving bowls. Top with hazelnuts, blue cheese crumbles, and honey to taste. Sprinkle with fresh thyme and/or parsley.