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Lattice-Crust Pear Pie

July 14, 2014

All pies, all the time!

Today I’m sharing another pear dessert recipe that I made back in the fall – a more complex pie instead of an easy tart this time! Although honestly the pie isn’t that much more complicated, just possibly more intimidating if you’ve never made a lattice crust before. :)

The most important thing when making a lattice is to not let your dough get too warm. As soon as your dough warms up, it’ll get really soft and tear easily. Which means you need to keep your top dough piece in the fridge until just before rolling it out and topping the pie with it. It’s also definitely to your advantage to have a stiffer dough rather than a soft, easy-roll pie dough. Adding sugar to pie dough makes it softer, so I choose to leave it out for this recipe.

The second important thing is knowing how to properly weave the lattice so it doesn’t look like you just have strips of dough sitting on top of other strips. GimmeSomeOven has awesome step-by-step photos of how to weave the lattice right on top of the pie itself, so you’re not trying to do it on your counter and then transfer the whole thing over (which makes tearing way more likely).

This past November was the first year my coworkers have let me make something for my own birthday. Since one of my coworkers and I share a birthday, I was able to pass it off as making it for her and not really for me. :) They always thought it was weird that I actually wanted to make my own birthday dessert, but since I love baking and I love to eat the desserts I make, I didn’t think it seemed too weird to me! Pear pie sounds a bit unusual, and since I love things that are out of the ordinary, I’d been wanting to try this recipe from Gourmet Today for a while. It was delicious! The texture was similar to apple pie, but a small amount of nutmeg instead of cinnamon allowed the pear flavor to come through without being overwhelmed by spice. I’ll definitely be making this again in the fall!

Note that this recipe requires a 9½-inch deep dish pie plate rather than a standard 9-inch pie plate.

Lattice-crust pear pie

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German Potato Salad

July 13, 2014

Have I really posted nothing here at all in 3 months? Time flies when you’re having fun… or not having fun, in this case. Since the middle of April and up until 2 weeks ago, I’d been agonizing over a career decision and due to the stress/anxiety/depression involved, I’ve not been interested in much else besides passive activities like reading novels, watching movies, and taking walks. Still been cooking but I haven’t felt like I had anything interesting to say about what I was making.

What made my job decision so difficult (and I realize I sound exceptionally privileged to say this, given how many people are struggling to find a job at all) was trying to pick between two amazing things that I love, when I can’t do both. My current job is awesome: I love the people I work with and psychiatric pharmacy is a special interest area of mine. But when my employer posted two brand-new positions in pharmacy informatics, I knew I had to look into it because of my IT background. So I interviewed at the beginning of May just to get some more information to see if it was something I might want to seriously pursue. And then I was stuck, because initially I thought I’d never leave my current position, but then this new one sounded so perfect for me. Due to a lot of HR logistics, they didn’t actually come back to me with an offer until 8 weeks after my interview, and in those 8 weeks, I think I probably changed my mind about 50 times. So it’s been a really rough 3 months, on both me and my husband!

Ultimately, I decided to accept the new position, and I start next month. :) It was really difficult announcing to all my coworkers that I’ll be transferring, but I feel better now that everyone knows and I don’t have to keep it a secret anymore. And I’m getting excited about all the new things I’ll be learning and doing! The types of projects with the informatics job are exactly the types of problem solving that I like doing, so I think I made the right decision. And I’ll be right up the road from the clinic I work at now, so I can always stop in to help them with their computer issues, and I’m sure I’ll be assigned to help them with some of their upcoming projects too.

So enough about jobs, back to the food… last weekend my husband, parents, and I met my in-laws at their condo in Chautauqua to celebrate July 4th. My father-in-law is currently undergoing chemotherapy, so he can’t eat anything with uncooked veggies or fruits unless they have an outer peel that can be removed. When my mother-in-law asked me to make a macaroni or potato salad, I wasn’t sure what kind would work well since all my recipes have fresh celery, etc. in them, or a lot of herbs. I finally settled on German potato salad, since the only veggies in most recipes are onions, and it wouldn’t affect the flavor too much to leave out an herb like parsley.

My grandfather always made amazing German potato salad, but I couldn’t find his recipe, so I turned to the internet to find a really good traditional version. I found one that sounded very similar to his at A Feast for the Eyes, so I adapted it a bit to my own tastes (and for my father-in-law’s restrictions). Turned out AMAZING. I increased the amount of bacon to 12 ounces (although it was probably closer to 11 by the time I finished snacking, haha) and used at least 1/3 cup bacon grease rather than 2 tbsp + lots of vegetable oil. I also used a little more than 1 cup diced red onion since my onion was big. I think my grandpa used red potatoes, which hold their shape better than Yukons, but I actually like the soft-with-chunks texture of the Yukons. I’ll have to try it with reds sometime and see how it turns out.

And with that, I hope to be back to a more frequent posting schedule now! Thanks for your continued reading. :)

German potato salad

See recipe

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Inside-out German Chocolate Cake

April 7, 2014

We visited my husband’s parents this past Saturday to celebrate his mom’s birthday, and as a surprise, I made her a birthday cake! I wanted to make sure that that cake would be something she would really love, so I got some inside information about her favorite flavors from my sister-in-law: citrus (lemon or lime), chocolate, coconut, or pecans. Not all together, obviously. :) But the last three of those flavors most certainly mesh well, and what better way to present all of them together but in a German chocolate cake?

The last time I made a German chocolate cake was a few years ago when I was still in school, and while the version from ATK was good, I don’t remember it being a totally amazing knock-your-socks-off cake. So I went looking in Bon Appetit and Gourmet for an alternative recipe. This one from the Gourmet Cookbook, called “inside out” German chocolate cake, appealed to me because the directions said it could be made up to 3 days ahead of time. No last-minute baking that morning: Perfect!

The “inside-out” in the name comes from that fact that traditionally German chocolate cake is covered with the coconut and pecans in addition to the filling, but this version is coated with a rich chocolate glaze. I did make one modification to the recipe as written: the original calls for baking the sweetened condensed milk in a water bath in the oven for an hour and a half, but I find it way faster to just caramelize the milk in the microwave. It requires more attention and stirring every few minutes, but it cuts the time down to about 20 minutes.

So the end result? Amazing. My mother-in-law loved it, and my husband’s aunt even said that it was one of the best chocolate cakes she ever had! It’s a very dense, rich cake… a small piece is more than enough to satisfy a chocolate craving. Totally worth the time and effort; I definitely need to make it again once Lent is over and I can allow myself more than one bite ! :)

Inside-out German chocolate cake

See recipe

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Caramelized Upside-Down Pear Tart (Pear Tarte Tatin)

March 20, 2014

One more month until Easter, and then I can eat dessert again! So far I haven’t had too many struggles giving up sugar for Lent… I don’t eat desserts often anyway (despite what my blog might seem to tell you). But when I’ve made something I know is really excellent and I can’t have even a single piece of it, that is when it gets tough! Last week we celebrated Pi Day at work: I made the same sour cream apple pie that I made last year, and once again I couldn’t allow myself to have any. (Last year I went gluten-free, so the flour in the crust made it off-limits.) Next year I’m reallygoing to have to find something to sacrifice that isn’t contained in pie! And coming up tomorrow is the last day at work for one of our technicians as she’s transferring to a different location at the hospital. And people’s last day always means baking! She’s been on a Nutella kick lately, so tonight I’ll be making a chocolate-hazelnut mousse cake with ganache topping. Which, assuming it turns out well, I’ll be sharing with you all. :)

So while I’m thinking about desserts, this is a tart (from the Gourmet cookbook) that I made back in the late fall after we purchased an overabundance of pears at the market. “Upside down” desserts are always fun… you never know exactly how they’re going to look until you turn them out of the pan! And they have that easygoing rustic nature; with all the popularity of painstakingly decorated cupcakes/cake balls/what-have-you, sometimes it’s fun to make something unfussy and imperfect instead. And if you know how to make pie crust, this recipe couldn’t be easier! Just involves peeling/halving/coring the pears, putting them in a skillet with sugar/butter/cinnamon (and you don’t even stir them once they’re in the pan), then covering with dough and baking. An incredibly delicious result for not much effort. I’ll definitely be making this tart again come next fall!

Caramelized upside-down pear tart

See recipe

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Pancetta

March 19, 2014

Brussels sprouts are easy to hate. As kids, most of us encountered mushy, sulfurous, overcooked sprouts and immediately wrote them off forever. But it seems that people have finally discovered that their flavor is highly dependent on cooking method (caramelization = good, boiling = bad), and as a consequence, they’ve actually become quite trendy as a seasonal offering on restaurant menus. I’ve also seen them served raw, shaved as a salad.

This fast and easy recipe from the Gourmet Today cookbook roasts simply dressed sprouts at a high temperature, creating those tasty browned bits that have such awesome flavor. I didn’t have pancetta or bacon on hand so I just used some leftover ham. This worked fine in the recipe, although it probably wasn’t quite as flavorful as the pancetta would have been. Overall, a great weeknight side dish!

Roasted Brussels sprouts with pancetta

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Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars

March 3, 2014

Lent begins this week, and over the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what sacrifices I want to make during this season. This is only the third year we’ve observed Lent: last year I went gluten-free, and the year before my husband and I both ate only vegetarian food. This year I’ve decided I’m going to give up added sugars, both in recipes and in packaged/prepared foods. I’m allowing myself honey, but that will be the only sweetener I can use. (I don’t use artificial sweeteners as a general rule anyway.)

So with that, I’m going to post some desserts from the past few months, before it gets too hard to look at them! ;) These bar cookies from the Bon Appetit cookbook were unusual, both in terms of taste and preparation. That’s not to say they didn’t taste excellent, but I was a bit skeptical at first of how they were going to turn out! The dough is made using the same techniques as press-in tart dough: cutting butter into the dry ingredients, then adding a liquid (in this case an egg), mixing until clumps form, and pressing into a pan. I thought this would lead to incredibly dense and crumbly cookies, but while they were dense, the texture was chewy rather than crumbly. The cardamom-ginger flavor was unusual but worked well with the texture, giving the cookies an exotic touch.

These cookies are too rich for everyday snacks/dessert, but I can definitely see myself making them again to take to a party or luncheon. Enjoy!

Chewy ginger cardamom bar cookies

See recipe

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Smoked Sausage Cassoulet

February 10, 2014

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time on the weekends cooking a few large main courses, for the purpose of having leftovers for the entire week. This cassoulet from the Bon Appetit Cookbook has been one of my favorites so far; I’ll admit that I made it 2 weekends in a row last month! The first time I used four different kinds of sausages from the public market, which turned out to be pretty expensive all added together. The second time I just picked up a few links of kielbasa from the grocery store, which wasn’t quite as fancy or authentic, but was a lot easier on the food budget. :) Next time I think I’ll use primarily kielbasa and throw in one package of fancy andouille for variety.

This recipe definitely has a very different flavor profile than the lentil-based cassoulet I made over the summer. That version has no tomatoes, instead including carrots and celery as a vegetable component. This cassoulet also has a thinner consistency: because the beans are canned and not cooked from dry, they don’t soak up as much cooking liquid as the lentils in the other version. This initially might cause you to think you were making a thick soup rather than a hearty stew, but the next day it thickens up considerably.

Although the original recipe says it can be made up to 2 days ahead, honestly this kept really well in my fridge for a whole week without any issues. It reheats wonderfully in the microwave as an individual serving; just keep the topping in a separate container in the fridge. It’s fine to sprinkle on the topping un-reheated because the heat from the stew warms it immediately, and that way it stays crispy. Enjoy!

Smoked sausage cassoulet

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