Bodacious Bourbon Cream Cheese Brownies

My mother was a baker extraordinaire, unanimously admired by family and her vast circle of friends for the pastries and confections she’d bring to every gathering and celebration.  Platters of rugelach, strudel, pecan tartlets, sugary toasted walnuts, brownies, and more.  There was always an ample supply of flour, butter, eggs, sugar, nuts, dried fruits and cream cheese in our pantry so she could jump into action whenever inspiration arose.

I am now, more than ever, my mother’s daughter.  Yesterday I was committed to finding that recipe for her cream cheese brownies that set us all to swooning with their rich, dark chocolate marbled with a cheescake-like filling.  They were the dessert counterpart to marble rye, and they never lasted more than a day.  Having everything on hand, I set out to research the various versions on the web, and truly struck gold with a recipe posted on Bake or Break, another food blog written by Jennifer McHenry.  The clincher was Ms McHenry’s shared affinity for adding a touch of spirits to her baked goods – in this case, bourbon, my current spirit of choice.

What a treat putting these bodacious brownies together while sipping on Knob Creek 9-year old bourbon on the rocks.  I followed the recipe exactly, with just a small change in the baking pan.  Instead of the recommended 9″ square pan, I used an 8″ Emile Henry baker, lined with parchment as she recommends, and adjusted the baking time to 50-55 minutes.  I used Trader Joe’s 72% Cacao dark chocolate, the stuff that comes in a 17.6-ounce bar, which is not only superb for baking, but also very nice to let melt in your mouth with a cup of coffee:


IMG_3161Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 9.12.25 AM.png

We each enjoyed one while still slightly warm, and the rest are under wraps for another day. The taste sensation brought me back to girlhood in Jennie’s kitchen –  I must freeze a few of these for when my son and his GF come home from their vacation in Seattle on Thursday.  Otherwise, they’d be gone by then.


Ricotta Obsession

Ever since I found the 2-lb container of whole milk ricotta on sale at Hannaford’s last week I’ve been preoccupied with thoughts of what to do with it.  Inspiration came from so many web cooking sources – pasta dishes, cheesecakes, pound cakes, quick mousses, blintzes!

Yesterday the solution came in the form of both a dinner entreé and a dessert – Baked Penne with a ricotta, mozzarella and romano cheese blend (yay, another excuse to use the new Emile Henry Rectangular Baker!) , and lemony ricotta pound cake adapted from Giada’s poundcake recipe.  Together the two dishes would require the exact contents of that container, leaving no sad little leftover dollops of ricotta cheese to repurpose some other day.

I mixed the cheese blend for the ziti early in the day and there it waited for full dish assembly while the poundcake baked and filled the house with a sweet lemony aroma.  The batter on the spatula was just as I’d hoped – creamy and refreshing – so my hopes for the poundcake were high.  Unfortunately, the decision to use my Breville countertop oven versus the Big Oven produced a cake that browned on top but sank in the middle and was underdone except for some of the slices pictured below.  Even with a toothpick coming out clean, I was duped – but the baked-through portion told me this was worth repeating.  Very much like the lemony yogurt poundcake I’ve made many times – light, moist, lovely on its own but also screaming for a raspberry or strawberry garnish:




1-1/2 cups cake flour (or take 3 tbsp of AP flour out of the quantity and substituted cornstarch for cake flour in a pinch)

2-1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp kosher salt

1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1-1/2 cups whole milk ricotta

3 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

zest and juice from one lemon (2 tbsp juice)

Confectioners sugar, about 1 tbsp


Butter a 9 x 5″ loaf pan and place a piece of parchment on the bottom to make release of the cake easy.  Preheat oven to 350.  In a small mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt.  In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle, cream together the ricotta, butter and sugar about 3 minutes.  then add the eggs one at a time while continuing to mix.  Add vanilla, lemon juice & zest and then gradually add in the flour, beating until well blended.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake about 50 minutes until top is golden brown and sides pull a bit away from pan.  Cool on a rack for about 10 minutes before turning out of the pan to cool completely.  When completely cooled, dust with confectioners sugar.

Much better results with the baked penne, a recipe I adapted from The Splendid Table:




About 5 cups of your favorite marinara sauce (when not making my own, it’s Trader Joe’s Low-Fat Tuscano Marinara)

2 cups whole milk ricotta

8 ounces shredded whole milk mozzarella

1/2 cup + 1/4 cup grated pecorino romano

2 large eggs lightly beaten

2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley

1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried)

A few grinds of white pepper

1/2 tsp kosher salt


Preheat oven to 350.  Combine the ricotta, mozzarella, and 1/2 cup of romano with the eggs, parsley, oregano and salt and pepper in a medium bowl.  Cook the penne in salted boiling water until al dente, and drain.  Toss the pasta with a bit of the marinara, just enough to lightly coat, and then add 1/3 of it in a layer to your 9 x 13 rectangular baker.  Add 1/3 of the cheese mixture in dollops and then 1/3 of your sauce.  Repeat this two times, and finish off by sprinkling with the remaining 1/4 cup of grated romano.

NOTE:  While this was essentially a meatless dish, I did add a couple of slices of rosemary ham chopped up – not enough for a sandwich, but just enough for a flavor boost when inserted atop one of the middle layers)

Bake covered with foil for 30 minutes, then uncovered for 15 minutes.  Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving.

Roast Chicken Provencal

With Thanksgiving behind us (how quickly it goes, after all that prep), and the leftovers now completely consumed, it’s time to resume cooking as usual.  One of my favorite meals, no matter what day of week or time of year, is a roast chicken – so much flavor for so little effort!

My new favorite New York Times cooking website had a recipe I tried several weeks ago using chicken parts, but I’ve since made it again twice  with a whole butterflied Bell & Evans chicken.  Our local health foods store carries the B&E chickens wrapped in cryovac for $2.89/lb, and up until today, that was without a packet of gizzards within.  I was surprised to find the gizzards today when I went to rinse and split the chicken open.  No harm – still a better deal than Whole Foods, and when they sell them frozen, they’re always $2 or $3 off.  But today, I purchased a fresh bird for dinner and frozen thighs, both on the bone and boneless, for future dinners.

Roasting a chicken in its butterflied state is my preferred way of cooking this bird, and in the summer we often do it on the grill ‘under a brick’.  With backbone removed and breastbone slightly cut or pressed to help it lie flat in your roasting pan, it cooks evenly in 50-60 minutes at 400.  Season it as you like, surround it with aromatic vegetables and maybe add seasoned cut potatoes halfway through, and you have a meal to be proud of.  Here’s what we’re having tonight and, sorry – no photo of my dish.  As soon as I took it out of the oven and cut it into serving pieces, my family pounced on it!  But here’s a view of how it looked on the NYT site:





2+ tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 Bell & Evans roasting chicken, 4-4-1/2 lbs., butterflied

8 very plump peeled garlic cloves

1/2 – 3/4 cup flour

2 very large shallots peeled and quartered, (or 4 smaller ones halved) stem end intact to keep the pieces together

1 lemon quartered

2-3 tbsp herbes de Provence


Flour for dredging

2/3 cup dry Vermouth (Noilly Prat is the best, in my opinion)

8 smallish red-skin potatoes halved and tossed with olive oil, S&P, a bit of paprika and some of the herbes de provence


Preheat oven to 400 and brush 3 tbsp olive oil around a roasting pan large enough to hold everything in one layer (I use a French enameled cast iron pan for this).  Season the chicken with S&P, dredge in flour, shaking off excess.  Place the chicken skin side up in roasting pan and sprinkle generously with 2 tbsp of the herbes de provence.  Scatter the garlic, shallots, and quartered lemon around it, and pour 1/3 cup of the vermouth into the pan.

Roast for 25-30 minutes.  Then flip the chicken over and back again, thus effectively basting the skin side.  Add the potatoes to the pan, add the rest of the vermouth…or more if you like – and continue roasting another 25-30 minutes until skin is browned and crisp and potatoes are fork-tender.

Mashed Potato Casserole

All the advance prep for Thanksgiving really paid off, and our guests enjoyed everything from appetizer to desserts, followed by hours of laughter playing Cards Against Humanity (should be X-rated…not for the easily embarrassed).

The new mashed potato dish on the menu from NY Times cooking site was a well-calculated risk – everyone went nuts over it.  I adapted the recipe to use unpeeled red-skin potatoes instead of the recommended Yukon Gold, and lowered the baking temperature to keep the crumb topping from burning.  Besides kicking up your mashed potatoes to a higher level, this dish stands out for its make-ahead value.  Can be prepped three days in advance and baked while your turkey rests, provided you take it out of the fridge a couple of hours beforehand.  My only snapshot of the dish shown below was from our dinner table:




2 sticks unsalted butter (16 tbsp)

5 lbs red-skin potatoes, unpeeled, cut into chunks about 1″

2 tbsp + 1 tsp kosher salt

1-1/4 cups Daisy Light sour cream

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2/3 cup Panko

2/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano

1/3 cup finely shopped scallions


Lightly butter a 9 x 13″ baking pan (used my new Emile Henry baker – such easy cleanup, and it held the heat for serving)

In a very large pot bring the potatoes to boil in 4 quarts water salted with 2 tbsp of the kosher salt, and boil until fork-tender, 12-15 minutes.  Then drain and return to the pot to mash with 1-1/2 sticks butter, all the sour cream, 1 tsp salt and the pepper.  Then mash in the scallions and spread the potatoes evenly in your prepared pan.

For topping, pulse the Panko, grated cheese and remaining 4 tbsp butter in a food processor to form coarse crumbs.

At this point you can wrap and refrigerate the potatoes in their baking dish and the topping in a ziploc bag or bowl for up to 3 days.  On day of serving, let potatoes  come to room temperature, sprinkle the topping all over and bake at 350 for about 35 minutes, until the topping is  golden brown and crisp.

Barefoot Contessa’s Pear, Apple & Cranberry Crisp

What I adore about a good fruit crisp is all the deliciousness without the crust angst.  Crust is my Achilles heel, and I avoid it whenever a better idea will provide a flavor-packed fruity dessert to grace our Thanksgiving table,  balancing against the cheesecake and chocolate cake we’ll be having.

Another appeal about this type of dessert is its make-ahead value.  Like a pie, a fruit crisp can be fully baked, allowed to cool, and then just covered and kept at room temperature for a day until time to reheat and serve.

What just came out of the oven, in my Homegoods bargain Emile Henry rectangular baker, is this:


IMG_0513 (1)


2 pounds ripe Bosc pears (4)…they are ripe when the stem end gives a little; the body of the pear will remain firm, but when you cut into it – so juicy

2 pounds firm Macoun apples (6 or 7)

3/4 cup or more (I added more) dried cranberries

1 tsp each grated orange zest and lemon zest

2 tbsp each lemon juice and orange juice

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

1 tsp cinnamon & 1/2 tsp nutmeg


1-1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 cup uncooked old fashioned oatmeal

2 sticks cold unsalted butter cut into dice


Preheat oven to 350 and set a 9 x 12 baking dish onto a parchment-lined sheet pan.

In a very large bowl, add the cranberries, zests, and juices.  Peel and cut the fruit into large chunks and add to the bowl as you go, tossing to keep the fruit from oxidizing.  Add the flour, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, toss all throughly with your hands and pour into the baking dish.

For the topping, use your stand mixer with paddle attachment.  Put everything into the mixer bowl and run on low (#1) speed for about two minutes to form large crumbles.  Sprinkle the topping all over the fruit filling, covering completely.

Bake at 350 about 30 minutes, until top is brown and the fruit is bubbly.  Serve warm.  If making a day ahead, as I just did, allow to cool completely, cover with plastic wrap, and rewarm before serving

Roasted Butternut Squash with Shallots & Sage

Today is make-ahead vegetable day – the stuffing is prepped and resting in the fridge, as are the blanched green beans.  And the butternut squash is roasting as I write this, soon to be done and laid out in an oval baking dish to be reheated tomorrow when the oven is committed to our turkey.  So helpful to have both a countertop convection oven and a new microwave to help with the warming up of things.

There’s no end to the many ways we can enjoy butternut squash, and I crave it in all its incarnations – roasted, puréed, in soup, in stew.  This dish roasting in the oven now is filling the house with the sweetest buttery aromas – I’m excited to have a little taste in just a bit.




4 pounds halved and peeled butternut squash, cut into 1″ pieces

2 tbsp fresh sage leaves finely chopped

2 tbsp dark brown sugar + 2 tbsp grade B maple syrup

4 tbsp melted unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

3 large shallots finely chopped

1 tsp Kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper


You can use the Balsamic Glaze sold at Trader Joe’s, or make your own by reducing 1 cup balsamic vinegar, 3 tbsp dark brown sugar and 8 sage leaves.  Reduce over medium heat until you have about 1/2 cup, and discard the sage leaves.  Cool and refrigerate


Preheat oven to 350 and line two rimmed baking sheets with heavy duty foil.

In a very large mixing bowl combine all the squash ingredients, mixing with your hands to get everything well coated.  Spread the squash out in one layer on each of the baking sheets and roast for about 30 minutes, rotating the racks between the two shelves and turning the squash over at the halfway point.

Remove from oven and arrange in a large rectabgular or oval baking dish.  Can be served right away, drizzled with the balsamic syrup, or cooled, refrigerated, and reheated the next day.  If you do this, do not drizzle the syrup until ready to serve.

Serves 10.

Corn and Red Pepper Bisque

Today’s the day to be making our Thanksgiving soup.  One thing I always try to avoid in a menu is redundancy.  If there’s butternut squash as a side, there’s no butternut squash soup to begin.  And since that’s the case this year, we’re having a gorgeously golden corn bisque with red bell pepper.

This recipe first appeared in Bon Appetit in 1998; I discovered it a few years later and have had it on our Thanksgiving menu several times.  It’s one of those dishes that’s short on effort and long on flavor – but only if you use the sweetest, most golden corn you can find.  Otherwise the result will not achieve greatness.  Trader Joe’s Supersweet Organic Corn beats all other in this regard, and I make sure to buy mine well ahead of time because a few years ago they ran out…and my search for a substitute took forever combing the frozen vegetable aisles of half a dozen markets.Unknown

The soup is simmering now as I write this, and already it’s smelling a little like heaven:




1/2 stick unsalted butter (4 tbsp)

2 cups chopped sweet onions

1/2 cup each diced carrot & celery

7-1/2 cups Trader Joe’s Organic Supersweet Corn (about 42 ounces or 2-1/2 packages)

2 tsp minced fresh rosemary

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (this tiny bit adds a nice kick to the whole pot)

6 cups chicken broth

1 cup half & half

1 red bell pepper chopped


In a large heavy pot, melt 3 tbsp of the butter and sauté the onions, carrots and celery on medium high heat about 3 minutes.  Add 5-1/2 cups of the corn, the rosemary and cayenne and sauté another 2 minutes.  Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer about 30 minutes.

Working in batches, pureé the soup in a blender (I originally did this step with an immersion blender, but the Vitamix works so much better).  Return soup to the pot, stir in the half & half and the remaining 2 cups of corn.  Season to taste with salt and pepper – it may not need any.

Melt the remaining  1 tbsp of butter in a large skillet over medium high heat and sauté the red bell pepper until almost tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir into the soup.  Done!

Can be made a day or two ahead of time and reheated.  This makes about 3-1/2 quarts of soup, enough for 12-14 first-course servings.