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Apple Pie Cheesecake Bars

photo 1I’m starting to think I should rename this blog “Mostly Recipes For Apple Pie,” because that’s what it’s turning into. I’m not even that big of an apple pie lover, but the classic combination is my go-to when I’m faced with feeding lots of people…because everyone likes apple pie! This would be a great treat to make for an Olympics watch party because it encompasses some quintessential American characteristics – apple pie, and gluttony. What else can you call it when you layer two already decadent desserts together? I’m trashing up desserts, one recipe at a time.

Pretty simple in theory – shortbread crust + cheesecake filling + apples + crumb topping. If you REALLY wanted to trash it up, you could drizzle some caramel sauce over the top.

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Apple Pie Cheesecake Bars

Makes 24 bars

Ingredients:

Crust:
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Cheesecake:
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla paste or extract
Apples:
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. white sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
Crumb Topping:
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 c. flour
1/2 c. quick-cook oats
1/2 c. softened butter
1 tsp. cinnamon
Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray a 9×13″ pan with cooking spray. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. At low speed, beat in the flour and salt until a soft dough forms.

Press the dough over the bottom of the prepared pan creating an even layer. Bake in the center of the oven for about 20 minutes, until the crust is barely cooked and turning golden.

Turn oven down to 325 degrees F.

Beat cream cheese and sugar until fluffy, then add eggs and vanilla. Pour over crust.

Toss apples, spices, sugar and flour. Distribute evenly over cheesecake layer.

Add all crumb topping ingredients and combine with a pastry cutter (or your hands). Layer it on top, making sure everything is even.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the crumb topping is golden and firm, and the bars don’t jiggle when shaken. Let cool overnight, slice and serve!

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Slow-Cooker Pear Sauce with Ginger, Vanilla and Red Wine

I hope you’re all staying toasty warm despite the rapidly plunging temperatures! It has been frigid here this last week, so here’s something warm to make.

7bui0BtWinter produce is such a mixed bag – either fruits and veggies are pumped full of preservatives and have no flavor, or they’re just not around at all. I find it better to just work with what’s in season – for me, that means citrus fruits, root veggies, hearty greens and pears. I love making homemade applesauce in the slow cooker, so when I found this bag of “rainbow pears” at — where else — Trader Joe’s, I thought I’d try the same method but with pears.

tbI4zEmI’ve mentioned before the amazing book I got for Christmas – The Flavor Bible. Like I’ve said, it’s not exactly a cookbook… instead, it lists more information about ingredients and complementary flavors as well as the best cooking techniques and even wine pairings. It’s seriously an incredible asset and if you’re a creative cook, I highly recommend adding it to your collection. Here’s a photo…bonus shot of my fuzzy socks in the background ;)

8u9zlUuI’ve been using this resource a lot lately, and I chose a few complementary flavors – freshly grated ginger, vanilla paste and red wine – to add to my pears. If you don’t have vanilla beans, vanilla paste is the next best thing. It has more depth than vanilla extract, plus you get some little black vanilla bean pieces in there that lend some authenticity. I just used a Cabernet Sauvignon that I had open for the wine, too. And as for the ginger? I keep a giant piece in my freezer so I can just chop off a bit or grate a small amount as I need it. I added a touch of honey to sweeten it up because my pears probably could have stood to ripen for another few days. It really is a lovely sauce, and it would be delicious on a stack of spiced pancakes, served warm alongside pork or as a relatively guilt-free snack and dessert.

Slow-Cooker Pear Sauce with Ginger, Vanilla and Red Wine

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients:

3 lbs. pears (any kind), peeled and cored

1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger

1 tsp. vanilla paste

6 Tbsp. red wine

1 Tbsp. honey

Instructions:

Add all ingredients to the bowl of your slow cooker. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 7-8. Will keep for at least 10 days in the fridge.

 

Simple Roasted Carrots, Potatoes & Onions

Here’s a quick, easy side dish that’ll add a rustic, colorful and homemade touch to any dinner table.

7kjDzuiIt’s been a few weeks since we last caught up, so here’s what’s going on with me:

  • Still crazy busy with work – nearing the six-month mark, which is exciting!
  • My first winter in Chicago is kicking my butt – I’m no stranger to cold temperatures and frequent snow, but good lord, this is extreme. I feel like the Polar Vortex has moved into my apartment as the fifth roommate.
  • New year = trying to eat healthier (AKA not eating Christmas cookies for breakfast, lunch and dinner) so some future recipes might reflect that initiative.
  • This song has been on repeat on Spotify for the last few weeks. Also this one. And this one. And, okay, fine, this one too.
  • Bought myself a Christmas gift… a subscription to Cook’s Country Magazine and Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. So, so good.
  • Got this book for Christmas, which has legitimately changed the way I look at flavors. I highly recommend it. It doesn’t actually include any recipes, but instead details how and why different flavor profiles work together to create beautiful, harmonious mouth parties.
  • Another New Year’s resolution of mine is to read four new books a month. Here are the four I’ve read. Please send any and all recommendations my way!

Anyway… these veggies. Pretty cut and dry (food pun!) but entirely customizable. I bought these delicious and colorful carrots from Trader Joe’s and just went from there. Although you may think Trader Joe’s is sponsoring these posts from the amount of love I give them, that unfortunately is not the case. I just really believe in their products and I hope there’s a TJ’s close to you so you can enjoy them as well!

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I think the freshly-cracked pepper and salt adds a special kick to these veggies – use it if you have it. RUFt4FS

 

One issue I ran into while roasting the vegetables is that the carrots and potatoes took longer to cook through than the onions. You can either add the onions halfway through the cooking process, or cut them larger to increase the time it takes them to cook. Personally, I like my onions crispy, so I didn’t mind the blackened ends. It’s all up to you.

Simple Roasted Carrots, Potatoes & Onions

Serves 4-6

5 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped into 1-inch rounds

1 lb. fingerling potatoes, washed and chopped into 1-inch rounds

1 white onion, roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces

2 Tbsp. olive oil

salt + pepper

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. The key here is to make the pieces of vegetables as even as possible so everything cooks at the same speed. In a large bowl, add veggies and olive oil. Toss to coat, then spread onto cookie sheet. Try to get it all in one even layer – if they’re covering each other, the veggies will get steam trapped under them and may not be as crispy. Using a pepper/salt grinder, crack fresh pepper and salt over the top to taste. Don’t be afraid of seasoning – potatoes need salt. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until everything is crispy on the outside.

Triple Grapefruit Cupcakes

Triple Grapefruit Cupcakes

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Grapefruit is one of my favorite flavors – have you ever tried the Neutrogena grapefruit face wash? …I haven’t, because I’m obsessed with another one, but the grapefruit in that smells SO good and I sniff it every time I’m in the face wash aisle at Target. True story.

kB5KFpqIt’s difficult to really capture the tart, citrus bite of a grapefruit in baked goods, but I did my best. Basically, this cupcake is a simple yellow cake with some finely chopped grapefruit zest added in. After the cupcakes have baked, the top is soaked in a grapefruit reduction. Once it’s absorbed, a cream cheese butter cream is piped onto the tops and a piece of candied grapefruit zest is added as a garnish. In all, this used two full grapefruit and I used all of it – from the zest to the pulp to the juice. Grapefruit are so beautiful in winter, and their fresh flavor is somewhat lighter than the classic holiday dessert. I can see this as a cake, but I wanted something a little more mobile so I could share the cupcakes with my coworkers!

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Grapefruit Cupcakes

Makes 12

Cupcake:

Adapted from Joy of Baking

1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 c. sugar

3 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

2 Tbsp. grapfruit zest, finely chopped

1 1/2 c. flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 c. milk

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. In the bowl of your mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, whisk together the grapefruit zest, flour, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 17 – 20 minutes or just until set and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out with a few moist crumbs. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
Grapefruit Reduction
Makes 1/3 cup
Ingredients:
Juice of two grapefruit
Pulp of two grapefruit
Instructions:
Heat grapefruit and pulp in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let it come to a simmer and cook down until it’s reduced by half. You’ll know it’s done when it start to take on the appearance of jelly. Remove from heat and brush on the tops of the cupcakes with a silicon brush.
Frosting:
Ingredients:
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2 c. powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
red gel coloring
Instructions:
In the bowl of a mixer, combine butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add in powdered sugar, milk and vanilla. If you want a pink tinge, stick the end of a toothpick into red gel coloring and run it through the frosting. Beat to combine. I used a Wilton 1M tip in a piping bag to make the top. Refrigerate to harden the tops.
Candied Grapefruit Zest
Ingredients:
2 grapefruit, washed thoroughly
2 c. sugar
1 c. water
3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
2 c. sugar, separated
Instructions:
Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the grapefruit. Try to avoid getting any of the bitter white pith on the slices. After the grapefruit has been peeled, slice them into 1/4 in. wide pieces. The length doesn’t matter. Fill a medium saucepan with cold water and add the zest. Let the cold water and zest come to a boil, then drain. Do this twice more. Finally, add 2 c. sugar, water and corn syrup in the saucepan and stir until it turns clear. Add in the zest and cook until it’s transparent, around 5-10 minutes. On two rimmed cookie sheets, distribute a cup each of white sugar. Using tongs, place the zest on the sugar and shake to coat. Let it sit – they should cool overnight. Garnish the cupcakes with the zest.
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Cranberry Cheesecake

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It’s almost Thanksgiving! If you’re organized, you’ve probably got your shopping either completed or at least a list made, and you’ve already planned what you’re making for the big day. If you’re not organized, you might be waiting for the perfect dessert recipe to fall into your lap. Let me help.

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Since moving to Chicago, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some truly delightful people, a few of whom were gracious enough to invite me to “Friendsgiving.” I made this cheesecake to contribute (as well as a few other things — what can I say, I love to cook!) and overall, it was a success! I did use a recipe as a guide for the cheesecake portion and oh my gosh, it was absolutely the best-tasting, most pleasantly textured cheesecake I’ve ever had.

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This time around, I tried the water bath. I found that it took longer to cook than other cheesecakes but there weren’t any cracks. And as there was nary an affordable roasting pan large enough to accommodate a 9-inch springform to be found in my local Target, I had to improvise using a sturdy foil roasting pan. It was only $3, and I’ll be able to use it again!

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Cranberry Cheesecake

Makes 1 cheesecake

Recipe adapted from Simply Recipes

Ingredients

Crust:

2 c. graham cracker crumbs

6 Tbsp. melted butter

Filling:

4 8-oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature

1 1/3 c. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. vanilla

4 eggs

2/3 c. sour cream

2/3 c. heavy cream

Topping:

1 c. whole cranberries

1/4 c. sugar

1/4 c. water

1/4 c. orange juice

1 Tbsp. orange zest

White chocolate shavings, optional

Instructions

Crust:

It’s important to prepare the springform pan for baking before the crust and filling actually goes in. Tightly and evenly wrap heavy-duty aluminum foil around the pan. Crimp it around the top.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Spray the springform pan on the bottom and sides with cooking spray. Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter in a bowl, and, using your hands, press the mixture evenly on the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 325 F.

Filling:

Beat softened cream cheese until it’s light and fluffy. Add in sugar until combined, then salt and vanilla and, one by one, the eggs. Stir in sour cream and heavy cream, taking care to avoid beating too much as an excess of air in the filling can lead to cracks. Pour the filling onto the prepared crust.

Topping:

In a small saucepan, bring all ingredients to a simmer. When berries start to burst, keep cooking it down until it’s well combined. Pour the mixture into a food processor and puree until smooth. Using a spoon, drop blobs of topping into the top of the uncooked filling and swirl it around with a knife.

At this point, fill a large roasting pan with two quarts of boiling water. Put the prepared springform pan in the roasting pan and bake for 1 1/2 hours or until the cheesecake is only slightly jiggly on top. It took me closer to two hours, probably because the water I put in the pan wasn’t boiling.

After the cheesecake has cooked, cool it in the pan on a rack and then cover with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight. Serve with white chocolate shavings, if desired.

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Veggie Hash… With Bacon

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When I was a server, I would come home at night and collapse into bed, smelling like a burrito, arms weary from carrying tray after heavy tray of fajita plates, and I would pray for the day to come swiftly – the day I would walk across the graduation stage, receive my diploma and settle into a job where I could sit down at a desk and not have to sling enchiladas for $2.13 an hour.

Well, my day finally came, but real-life work is a whole different kind of exhausting. The kind where you wake up at 4 in the morning with an idea for a client, or, as is usually the case with me, you wake up thinking you’re already late for work.

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Anyway, after sitting through a LONG commute and standing in a really unnecessarily long line at the grocery store to buy coconut La Croix (because I’m a diva), I was absolutely not in the mood to be creative and cook. In fact, I was more in the mood to order some Pad Thai off Grub Hub.

But then I remembered that we, for some reason, have three dozen eggs in our fridge. So I made breakfast for dinner, because breakfast is by far the best meal of the day, so why not eat it several times?

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As most “recipes” born out of necessity tend to be, this is very customizable. I’ll add in more precise measurements, but honestly, I just chopped up some veggies that were in my fridge. Literally any vegetable tastes good when you cook it in bacon grease, so don’t be shy.

I put three slices of bacon in a really hot pan, cooked them about halfway, took them out of the pan, left the grease in, diced two potatoes, some peppers, half an onion and two stalks of celery and cooked that in the bacon fat. Then, I added the bacon back in, seasoned it all and put two over-medium eggs on top. It was GOOD.

If bacon/bacon fat grosses you out, please see yourself to the door. Or just use butter. But bacon fat tastes better, you know.

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Veggie & Bacon Hash

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 slices bacon

2 russet potatoes, diced, rinsed and drained

1/3 c. white onion, diced

1/2 c. bell peppers, diced

2 stalks celery, rinsed and diced

2 tsp. coarse salt

1 tsp. ground pepper

2 tsp. Trader Joes 21 Seasoning Salute (amazing spice combination – no salt, either!)

8 eggs cooked however you like them

Instructions:

Heat a pan over medium high heat until it’s very hot. Lay bacon slices down and let cook for 3 minutes on each side, or until pink (like in the picture, above) but not fully cooked. Remove from heat and lay on paper towels. The bacon should leave behind around two teaspoons of fat. While the pan is still hot, add diced potato, being careful of hot grease that may splatter. Stir the potato pieces around so everything is coated with bacon fat. Let this cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes or until it looks halfway done. Add the salt and pepper. At that point, add in your veggies and stir everything together. Once the veggies look like they’re getting soft, dice up the bacon and put it back in the pan. Add the spices. Cook it for an additional 5 or so minutes, or until the bacon is crispy, the potatoes are nice and brown but not mushy. Top with eggs.

Take Me to South America

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Take Me to South America

I know this isn’t a recipe, but I wanted to share a link (above) to a great story from Saveur Magazine.

This is my dream job, right here. Traveling the world – not just the big, well-known cities but the rural areas, the islands, the forgotten villages – and learning the secrets of cooking native cuisine from old women who have recipes committed to memory that have been passed down for centuries.

I want to get on a plane to Bogota or Caracas or Santiago and travel through South America, stopping wherever I want to stay with families who will teach me about their culture, their language and their food. I want to stop in Argentina, rent a cheap room and hike in Patagona, go fishing in Tierra del Fuego, make chimichurri in La Pampa. I want to visit a spice market and fill a basket with herbs. I want to tear up the bottom of my feet walking on old-world cobblestone streets, just because. I want to drink coffee in cafes, read a book on a rooftop, drape myself in colorful fabrics, get lost in a maze of streets with unpronounceable names.

Someone needs to take me to South America.

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