Senegalese Peanut Tofu Soup

One of my favorite lunch places in Charlottesville is Revolutionary Soup – located both at the Corner and in the Downtown Mall, this little place offers some of my favorite soups that are absolutely irresistible during the winter. My favorite one  is their Spicy Senegalese Peanut Tofu Soup – as someone who does not even like tofu, I was amazed by how much the tofu had taken on the taste of the tomato and peanut broth in which it had been cooked. So a few weeks ago, we decided to try replicating it, thanks to the recipe I found at It’s Not About the Recipe. We were away for a mini-vacation and this soup, along with some guacamole grilled cheese seemed like the perfect dinner for a chilly evening in a cabin. Though the final version was not spicy like that in Rev.Soup, the rest of the flavor profile was the same and the next time I’ll definitely add jalapenos to the soup as well. This recipe gives enough servings for 5-6 people.

Senegalese Peanut Tofu Soup with a Guacamole Grilled Cheese

Senegalese Peanut Tofu Soup with a Guacamole Grilled Cheese

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 tsp, chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne or red pepper flakes
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 5 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 lb tofu, diced into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup scallions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Directions

  1. Heat oil over high heat in a large heavy pot.  Add onions, ginger, and sweet potato and saute about 8 minutes until the onion starts to brown.
  2. Add garlic after five minutes.  Add 1 tsp of salt, some ground pepper, and the cayenne pepper.  Cook for two more minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and use the juice to scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  Add the vegetable stock or water, bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 25 minutes.
  4. Add the peanut butter and stir until dissolved.
  5. Puree the soup until smooth using an immersion blender or in batches in a blender (since we did not have a blender at that point, we ended up just mashing the mix, and it turned out pretty delicious even when it was a little chunky!).
  6. Add the tofu and cook until tofu is heated through.  Serve hot. Top with scallions and cilantro.

Munching my way through Portland

As someone who is skeptical of every new hipster food obsession that emerges (constantly eating gluten-free food even when you aren’t celiac? kale in everything?), I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect when I visited Portland in late December last year. I knew that there existed a high number of food trucks and some amazing wineries and breweries in and around this city, but other than that, would I be underwhelmed by hipster food trends in an otherwise hipster city? Thankfully not! I got more than my fair share of amazing food in this city over a few days, and also got to check out some of their famous breweries. So here’s my recommendations for some delicious (and definitely unique!) foods to check out the next time you’re there:

Screen Door

Serving Southern (particularly Cajun) and soul food, I was eager to visit this place and with an impressive 1,500 reviews on Yelp, I had my hopes up quite high for this one. Everyone recommended arriving there before they opened in order to not wait in a line for over an hour. We arrived half an hour before it opened, and we were still the 20th party standing in line! Thankfully, the restaurant is pretty spacious and we managed to get in the first cycle. Service was quick and we were not disappointed by their famous chicken & waffles and the bananas foster french toast. I preferred the french toast a lot more than the chicken and waffles, even though the latter is more popular – the bananas were perfectly caramelized, the rum paired perfectly with the bananas and it definitely convinced me to make one of my resolutions for this new year – which is learning how to flambé!

Chicken & Waffles @ Screen Door, Portland, OR.

Chicken & Waffles @ Screen Door, Portland, OR.

Bananas Foster French Toast @ Screen Door, Portland, OR

Bananas Foster French Toast @ Screen Door, Portland, OR

Mother’s Bistro and Bar

Located in the heart of downtown Portland, Mother’s has a warm, inviting feel that would be perfect for a lazy brunch or at their Velvet Lounge next to the bar, for some pre or post-dinner cocktails. We went there for a Sunday brunch and it was absolutely packed – though we were on the waiting list, it surprisingly did not take more than 20 minutes for us to get seated given how many other people were also waiting. Service was prompt and courteous and the food came out quickly and was quite delicious. I especially liked their breakfast nachos which contained roasted red potatoes sauteed with bacon, caramelized onions and a touch of sour cream, topped with melted cheddar cheese, green onions and some sour cream. Definitely a must-prepare the next time I’m hosting brunch. The peach compote on top of the crisp belgian waffle was also really fresh, and was the right balance of sweet and acidic.

Breakfast Tacos @ Mother's Bistro & Bar, Portland, OR.

Breakfast Tacos @ Mother’s Bistro & Bar, Portland, OR.

Crispy Belgian waffle with a peach compote and whipped cream @ Mother's Bistro & Bar

Crispy Belgian waffle with a peach compote and whipped cream @ Mother’s Bistro & Bar

Voodoo Doughnuts

Which indepedent donut seller makes $600,000 in revenue each year? Voodoo Donuts established a little over a decade ago, has shown that donuts can be just an empty canvas and can given whatever flavor that a baker chooses. With a rotating menu, some of their most famous donuts include their signature Voodoo Doll Doughnut, Captain my Captain doughnut (both of which I ate and was surprised by how amazing they tasted) and the Portland Creme donut (which I unfortunately did not taste!), also designated as Portland’s “Official City Doughnut” by a resolution introduced by Portland Mayor Tom Potter and passed by city commissioners the same night. Their Bacon Maple Doughnut was also pretty great with the sweetness of the maple syrup pairing excellently with the saltiness of the bacon, which also provided a nice crunch to the glaze on top of the doughnut.

The signature voodoo donut

The signature voodoo donut

Bacon Maple Doughnut

Bacon Maple Doughnut

I also tried the Mexican Hot Chocolate Doughnut which is a chocolate cake doughnut dusted in cinnamon sugar and cayenne pepper. It might have been good if I had tried it at some other shop on some other day, but after the above listed donuts, this one, as well as the Lemon Chiffon Doughnut, both tasted a bit underwhelming. The latter was a bit too sweet for my taste with lemon dust and three marshmallows melted on top of the donut.

Cap'n Crunch Doughnut

Captain my captain Doughnut

Food Carts

Given how many food carts exist throughout Portland, I immediately felt overwhelmed and didn’t quite know where to start. With hundreds of food carts concentrated throughout various hubs in Portland, there is probably no better place to grab a quick, cheap and delicious lunch. Some of the notable ones that stand out in my memory include The Frying Scotsman – I’m not even a huge fan of fish, but his fish and chips had light, crunchy batter that paired perfectly with a squeeze of lemon. Currently, their fried cod and chips is their main bestseller, with the other dishes in large demand being haddock and chips, halibut and chips. Sideshow, also located in downtown Portland, offered 5 beignets for $3 – I wasn’t too sure about how beignets from a cart would turn out, but they were fresh, warm, light and fluffy. They could have used a little more powdered sugar, but other than that I was quite pleased with their quality. The other famous item at Sideshow Eatery is their poutine – a Canadian dish consisting of fries doused with gravy and topped with a pile of cheese curds!

In case you’re looking for specific kinds of food carts, check out this map of food carts in Portland.

Beignets from a food cart? Check.

Beignets from a food cart? Check.

And in case this post made you hungry, here’s how to make some of these delicious goodies at home:

 

 

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

I ate Muhammara for the first time 2 years ago, and I’ve thinking of trying out the recipe ever since then. It’s a Syrian red pepper dip that has a nice, nutty flavor to it from walnuts and is really versatile and can be used as a smear or a dip. Unfortunately, that thought totally skipped my mind while roasting some red peppers and I decided to go with roasted red pepper hummus. This recipe is perfect for eating with pita chips, or what I did – stuffed into some cucumbers. These make for some amazing party appetizers, look good and taste great. Plus, they’re gluten-free, which is good for those who can’t dip pita bread or crackers into this hummus. This recipe can be easily adjusted depending on your preference, so go ahead and experiment with the amount of salt, paprika and cumin you want in your hummus.

Cucumber rolls stuffed with roasted red pepper hummus

Cucumber rolls stuffed with roasted red pepper hummus

Recipe adapted from Crepes of Wrath

Ingredients

  • 3 large red bell peppers or 1 jar roasted bell peppers
  • 1 15 oz. canned/rinsed/drained garbanzo beans
  • 2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

 

Directions

1. If you have fresh bell peppers, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Cut your peppers in half, removing the pith and seeds, and place skin side up on a roasting tray. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until nice and charred. Allow the peppers to become cool enough to handle, then simple peel away the skin and roughly chop the peppers so that they will all fit in your food processor.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

 

2. Add the chopped roasted red peppers, garbanzo beans, tahini, minced garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, paprika, cumin and salt to your food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. This keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days.

Salted Caramel Popcorn

I can’t believe this is my 100th blog post! :) This blog began a little over two and a half years ago when I was living in Turkey and finally had a big enough kitchen/oven to embark upon my baking (and sometimes, cooking) adventures. My love for baking would have not been possible without a few people who inspired and taught me along the way. Margot Conover is one of my main inspirations and she showed me that it was possible to bake anything, and that I didn’t need to go buy delicious baked goods when I had a craving for them – I think her espresso and spicy Mexican chocolate brownies were the most memorable things she ever baked for us. Numerous other people’s baking talents also stand out in my mind – Kristen Smart, especially the Irish car bomb cake truffles and braided lemon sweet cheese-filled bread, James Duncan Welke’s lemon bars, as well as numerous desserts by Brenda Kay Zylstra. In short, my desire to start baking would not have been realized had I not met these amazing people in Chicago :) Later, when I was living in Turkey and finally started baking, Aisha Bradshaw taught me the basics of mixing butter and sugar, while Owen Barron with his pie-skills, as well as his spontaneity and imagination, showed me that baking and cooking didn’t always need to be a science. Though on the other side of spectrum, I had Matt Scroggs who always emphasized the science of measuring ingredients correctly, got me hooked to Food Network, and taught me to keep trying if my initial attempts resulted in underwhelming results. Maybe if I keep trying, one day I’ll be able to replicate my mom’s rajma chawal – a meal that I’ve never stopped craving. In short, I wouldn’t have felt half as passionate about this blog if it weren’t for these people!

Now that my emotional outburst is over, I’ll get back to talking about how easy it is to make salted caramel popcorn! I made some for the superbowl last weekend and they turned out pretty great. Next time I might try adding a little extra flavor as well – maybe some paprika for some kick. Before actually starting this recipe, I would highly recommend having everything ready to go – the caramel hardens extremely fast, so if the popcorn isn’t already popped, or you don’t have your spatula in hand, then things might get difficult. Also, when you first mix the vanilla extract into the brown sugar and butter mixture which had been boiling on the stove, be careful! Since vanilla extract has alcohol in it, the mixture might splash,and unlike me, you should be smart enough to put the vanilla extract into the mixture either more gently or from a distance.

Salted Caramel Popcorn

Recipe adapted from The Kitchn

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unpopped corn kernels (10-12 cups popped)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Special equipment

  • Large heatproof mixing bowl
  • Heatproof spatula
  • 2 baking sheets
  • Parchment paper or silpats

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line the baking sheets with parchment or silpats.
  2. Make the popcorn
  3. Make the caramel sauce. Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Mix in the sugar until the sugar is completely moistened. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, boil for 4-5 minutes while stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan continuously. The longer you cook the syrup, the crunchier it will be. For very crunchy popcorn, stop cooking when you see the first wisps of smoke coming from the sugar mixture.
  4. Take the saucepan off the heat, add the vanilla, kosher salt, baking soda, and any extras, and stir until combined. Be careful – The sugar mixture will bubble up violently. Continue stirring until you form a thick, glossy sauce.
  5. Slowly pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn while stirring the popcorn . Continue stirring the sauce into the popcorn until all of the kernels are coated.
  6. Divide the popcorn between two baking sheets, spreading the popcorn out into an even layer. It’s ok if the popcorn clumps together. Bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes and breaking up any clumps.
  7. When you take the trays out of the oven, sprinkle the baked popcorn with sea salt while it is still warm. Let the popcorn cool completely on the baking sheets. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Chocolate-Caramel Macadamia Nut Tart

It’s hard to believe how the last few weeks have flown so fast – Christmas and New Year’s looks like a really long time away. The semester’s started in full swing, and as I settle back into my normal work routine, I can’t believe there are still so many recipes and foods from over the holiday season that I want to blog about! I miss all the wonderful food I had in Seattle and Portland and I can’t wait to write a blog post about the wonderful (and fattening, haha) food that I had in Portland, and what a great food truck culture that city has, but that will have to wait for another day.

Over Christmas, one of the gifts that I got was a tart pan, so I decided to make this tart whose recipe I’d been eyeing since last Christmas actually. So far an indulgent New Year’s day dinner, we decided to make this chocolate caramel macadamia nut tart – I didn’t have the requisite amount of macadamia nuts, so I used a mixture of pecans and macadamia nuts. This tart is actually on the heavier side, so I’d recommend cutting it into really small pieces while serving – one can easily serve at least 8 helpings from this 9-inch tart. The macadamia nuts combined with the salt in the caramel give it more of a salty flavor, which goes really well with the bittersweet chocolate. If you’re looking for a less salty flavor, I’d recommend scaling down the salt in the pie crust. My main word of caution before setting out to make this – read through the entire recipe once! It’s quite time-consuming, and will probably be hard to complete if you just start a few hours before you intend to serve it.

tart300

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2009

INGREDIENTS

Crust:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) ice water

Ganache:

  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Lindt 70% cocoa dark chocolate)
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted macadamia nuts (about 7 1/2 ounces), toasted , coarsely chopped

Caramel filling:

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Vanilla ice cream (optional)

DIRECTIONS

For crust:

  • Blend flour, powdered sugar, and salt in processor.
  • Add butter and cut in using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 1 tablespoon ice water and blend just until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if mixture is dry.
  • Transfer dough to 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Using lightly floured fingers, press dough firmly and evenly onto bottom and up sides of pan.
  • Chill crust 1 hour.
  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Line crust with foil; fill with dried beans or pie weights.
  • Bake crust until pale golden around edges and sides are set, about 20 minutes.
  • Remove foil and beans; bake until crust is golden and cooked through, about 14 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool crust completely in pan.

For ganache: 

  • Bring cream to simmer in heavy small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; stir until smooth. tart2
  • Spoon 3 tablespoons ganache into 1 corner of small resealable plastic bag and seal; set aside at room temperature for piping. Spread remaining ganache evenly over bottom of crust. Sprinkle chopped macadamia nuts evenly over ganache layer in crust. Freeze crust while preparing caramel filling.tart3

For caramel filling:

  • Combine sugar and 1/3 cup water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves.
  • Increase heat and boil without stirring until syrup is golden amber, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 8 minutes. Remove pan from heat. tart4
  • Add cream and butter; stir until any caramel bits dissolve and mixture is smooth.
  • Attach candy thermometer to side of pan and bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Boil without stirring until thermometer registers 210°F, . Remove from heat. Whisk in vanilla and salt.

Assembling the tart

  • Remove crust from freezer. Working quickly, pour caramel filling into crust. Gently shake tart pan to allow filling to settle evenly in crust. Cool completely at room temperature, about 3 hours. Remove crust from freezer. Working quickly, pour caramel filling into crust. Gently shake tart pan to allow filling to settle evenly in crust. Cool completely at room temperature, about 3 hours.

    Let the caramel cool completely before piping the chocolate ganache on top

    Let the caramel cool completely before piping the chocolate ganache on top

  • Place reserved resealable plastic bag with chocolate ganache in microwave and heat in 5-second intervals just until smooth and pourable. Using scissors, cut off very small tip from corner of bag with ganache. Pipe ganache decoratively over caramel filling in crosshatch pattern. Chill until chocolate is set, about 20 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled. Bring tart to room temperature before serving.
  • Remove sides from tart pan. Place tart on platter. Cut into wedges and serve with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Eggnog

My favorite thing about making food resolutions is that those are actually things that I end up completing/accomplishing (as opposed to any ahem, fitness-related resolutions). My last year’s food resolutions was learning how to make a souffle and a creme brulee and my new year’s food resolution recipes include learning how to flambé (yay bananas foster!), how to make paella (but without the shrimp because I really dislike shrimp), and finally, making my own infused liquors. I also got a tart pan over Christmas, so I guess I’ll be making more tarts this year as well – the one tart I’ve been dying to try out is a lemon curd tart. Of course I’d love to have really amazing chopping skills as well, but I don’t really envision myself spending hours perfecting those! What are some of your food /cooking/baking resolutions for this year?

In the meanwhile, here’s a recipe for eggnog in case you still have a little bit of holiday spirit left in you, or are procrastinating on your fitness-related resolutions, haha. This recipe is on the stronger side, so if you want to dilute the strong flavor, I’d recommend putting in a little less of the bourbon or a little more of the cream and milk. We made it over Christmas and it makes 8-10 servings. Definitely try this out because it takes 5-7 minutes to whip this up and it tastes much, much better than the store-bought version.

eggnog

Ingredients

  • 1 pint cream
  • 1 pint whole milk (if you only have low-fat milk, then use a little bit more of the cream)
  • 6 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 oz rum
  • 1 cup bourbon
  • grated nutmeg

Directions

  • Separate the egg yolks from the whites.
  • Beat the yolks separately and then mix 1/2 cup sugar into them.
  • Beat the whites separately and mix 1/4 cup sugar into this whipped whites. The whites should be whipped until they achieve soft to medium peaks. (What does it mean for egg whites to have soft peaks?)
  • Mix the whites mixture and the yolks mixture together.
  • Stir in the other ingredients except for the nutmeg.
  • Sprinkle the nutmeg on the top and serve cold.

Eggnog

Finally, I read one resolution in Huffington Post that is absolutely fitting for me - Cook at least one recipe from all the cookbooks we “collect” and never use. Seems like a great resolution for me, especially after collecting books from Anne Burrell, Ina Garten and Aaron Sanchez (yes, I’m a huge Food Network Fan!). What’s the point of collecting cookbooks by such great chefs if you never try their recipes? Happy new year, everyone!

How to Make Fresh Pasta

I’m in Seattle for Christmas and one of my favorite places in Seattle is Pike Place Market – full of small shops selling jewelry, arts & crafts, handcrafted foods, flowers, fresh fish, books, vintage stores – I could spend an entire day here. One of my favorite places there is the Papardelle’s store next to the Fish Market. They have a range of fresh-made pasta including basil garlic fettuccine, artichoke lemon tagliatelle, dark chocolate linguine (!), orange szechuan linguine and so on. You can check out the entire list here, they also have some excellent oils and vinegars! That place made me want to try making fresh pasta from scratch, especially because I have some time this week as I’m taking it easy on the work. We ended up making pasta dough using half-semolina and half-all purpose flour. Though I didn’t flavor it this time, next time I intend to use some basil and oregano in the dough as well. More excitingly, I can’t wait to try and make fresh ravioli!

Fresh Pasta

Letting the pasta air dry before cooking it

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups semolina flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

  • Put all the ingredients in a stand mixer and follow your respective mixer’s instructions regarding speed and time to mix the ingredients.
  • Knead the dough, divide it into two discs and store it in the refrigerator for at least an hour. The dough is kneaded when it forms a smooth elastic ball and has very few air bubbles when cut. At this point, the pasta dough can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. Let it come back to room temperature before rolling.
  • Once the disc is cold, take it out of the refrigerator. Sprinkle flour on a surface and divide the disc into quarters.
  • Now take the quarters one by one and flatten one piece of dough into a thick disk between your hands and feed it through the pasta roller set to the widest setting.
  • Begin changing the settings on your roller to roll the pasta thinner and thinner. Roll the pasta two or three times at each setting, and don’t skip settings. Roll until the pasta is as thin as you’d like it.

    pastadough2_opt

    Roll out the pasta dough as thin as you’d prefer before putting it through the noodle cutter

  • If cutting into noodles, switch from the pasta roller to the noodle cutter, and run the sheet of pasta through the cutter.
  • Bring water to a boil in a large pot, then add 4 teaspoons salt. Cook pasta until tender but not mushy, 1 to 8 minutes depending on thickness. Drain immediately and toss with your favorite sauce.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

The first time I ever had cheesecake was this blueberry cheesecake at Delhi’s famous Big Chill Cafe. It was the first of its kind in Delhi and that place made me fall in love with a variety of cheese desserts, including an Oreo Mouse Cheesecake – it was rich, had a soft and velvety texture and lay on an oreo crust topped with a drizzle of chocolate sauce. Since I miss these cheesecakes, I decided to try and make a version of a cheesecake that also allowed me to use an ingredient that is part of my current obsession – pumpkin. These cheesecake bars are not as thick as traditional cheesecakes, making it possible to have small bites instead of having 400 calories in one sitting. The recipe also uses whole-milk yogurt or full-fat Greek yogurt instead of heavy cream, making it even lighter.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars on an Oreo Crust

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars on an Oreo Crust

Recipe adapted from Texanerin Baking

Ingredients

For the graham cracker crust

  • 12 full-size graham crackers (about 6 1/2 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) sugar, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) butter
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) water, optional

For the cheesecake:

  • 7 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • ⅓ cup (75 grams) light brown sugar (though you can use granulated white sugar as well)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1⅓ cups  pumpkin puree
  • ¼ cup plain full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ginger

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).
For the crust:
For the cheesecake:
  1. With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar until fluffy.
  2. Add the eggs and mix until combined.
  3. Add the remaining cheesecake ingredients and mix just until combined. If there are still clumps of cheesecake remaining, blend the mixture together to make sure it is smooth.
  4. Pour the filling over the crust and bake for 35 minutes or until the middle of the cheesecake bars appears set and no longer jiggles when you move the pan.
  5. Open the oven door and let the bars cool completely before removing from the oven. This is to prevent the cheesecake from cracking.
  6. Cover and store the bars in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars on a Graham Cracker Crust

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars on a Graham Cracker Crust

Apple Yogurt Cake

Butter. There is no word that better encapsulates baking during the holiday season  and I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has contradicting feelings – wanting dessert ever so often, but not wanting to feel so full all the time. This cake does precisely that – captures all the holiday flavors and tastes of apples, cinnamon and nutmeg without the heaviness that comes with a butter-ful sinful dessert. Instead, this cake uses whole-milk yogurt. This gives it both a great texture, plus gets more moist the longer it is stored in the fridge. The only change that I would make is that the recipe called for freshly ground nutmeg and I didn’t have any, so I ended up using ground nutmeg instead. There’s something about freshly ground nutmeg that just can’t be found in its already ground version and I’ve decided that from now on I’m always going to have fresh nutmeg on hand that I can always grate it and use in my baking. Since this recipe is big enough for two 8-inch cakes, I ended up taking one of the cakes to a potluck and the other one for a birthday in our office :)

I used Granny Smith apples, since they are one of my favorite apples for baking. In case you’re ever confused about what kind of apples to use for different kinds of baking or cooking projects, check out this helpful chart!

apple yogurt cake_opt

Recipe adapted from Faith Durand’s The Kitchn. Makes enough for a 13 x 9 inch cake pan, or two 8 x 8 inch cakes.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-milk yogurt, well-stirred
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 lemon, juiced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 small tart apples, such as Granny Smith, about 1 1/2 pounds
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan or two 8 x 8 inch pans with baking spray or olive oil.
  2. Whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl. Peel and core the apples, and chop into chunks about 1/2-inch across. You should end up with 3 1/2 to 4 cups of apples. Stir the chopped apple into the liquid ingredients.
  3. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon right into the liquids and stir just until no lumps remain. In a small separate bowl, mix the remaining 2 teaspoons cinnamon with the brown sugar and butter.
  4. Pour half of the batter into the cake pan. Sprinkle the batter with half of the cinnamon-brown sugar mixture, dropping it on the batter in small lumps. Spread the rest of the batter over top, and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon-brown sugar.
  5. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, covering with foil at the end if the top is browning. When a tester comes out clean, transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let it cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.
  6. This keeps very well for several days in the fridge (I just stored it in the freezer), and it gets even moister as it sits, due to the apples.

What are your favorite light holiday desserts?

How to Make Pie Crust

The holiday season is synonymous with all kinds of pies – pumpkin, pecan, sweet potato, apples, pears and cranberry-raisin. While it is really easy to just buy crust, making your own pie crust from scratch means that you can customize it according to the kind of pie you want to make – add some bourbon for a crust for a pecan pie, or grind some nuts for a pumpkin or sweet potato pie, add some vodka for a fruity pie, or just add some spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg for that extra flavor. You can also make plenty of pie crust and freeze it (unbaked) for later use.

I made the crust given here for a pecan pie, so I added two tablespoons of bourbon to it. In case you  don’t want it, just substitute it with 2 tablespoons of icy cold water. When adding liquid to the flour and fat mixture, it should always be ice-cold in order to keep the pieces of fat cool and separate. Liquid can include any of the following -  fruit juices, egg yolks, sour cream, milk or cream, and not just water.

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp bourbon
  • Ice water

Directions

  • In a food processor, pulse flour with salt and sugar. Add butter.
  • Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-size pieces remaining.
  • Add 2 tablespoons ice water and 2 tablespoons bourbon; pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed. (If needed, add up to 4 tablespoons more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.) Do not overmix.
The dough should be crumbly but should hold when squeezed.

The dough should be crumbly and should hold when squeezed.

  • Turn out onto a work surface; knead once or twice, until dough comes together.
  • Divide dough in half, and flatten into disks. Wrap separately in plastic; refrigerate one disk at least one hour or up to three days. To freeze dough, put tightly wrapped disks in a resealable plastic bag. Label with the date, and freeze for up to three months. Defrost the dough overnight in the refrigerator before using.

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  • Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out. This lets the flour absorb the liquid and helps to prevent stickiness when rolling out the dough. It also allows the gluten (the protein structure) to relax, making it more elastic and less likely to shrink back as you roll it.
  • Generously dust a clean, dry surface with flour; remove and unwrap one of the discs of dough from the refrigerator. Flatten the dough slightly with your hands and dust the dough lightly with flour before rolling the dough out with a rolling pin. Start rolling at the center of the dough and work outwards. If you’re a beginning pie-maker–or prefer easier cleanup–you can roll out the dough between sheets of waxed paper.
  • The dough round should be two to four inches wider in diameter than your pie pan. Use a dry pastry brush to sweep away any excess flour. Gently fold the dough in half, and then into quarters. If it seems too brittle to fold, try another bakers’ trick: roll up the pie crust around the rolling pin and unroll it over the pie plate.

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  • Carefully pick it up and place it into the pie plate so the center point of dough is in the center of the pan. Unfold the dough, letting the weight of the dough settle it in the bottom and edges of the pan. Without stretching the dough, press the pastry into the pan with your fingertips.

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You can store unbaked pie crusts in the freezer and then prebake them at your convenience (Don’t store partially baked crusts in the fridge though!). On the question of whether to pre-bake a pie crust and how, see here.

A flour pie crust (left) and a graham cracker crust (right)

A flour pie crust (left) and a graham cracker crust (right)

And click here to learn how to make a fluted pie crust. Enjoy!