Pumpkin Custard with Cookie Crumble Crust and Bourbon Chantilly Cream

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If you were planning on making a pumpkin pie for that little holiday we have coming up next week, I have an alternative for you. All the creamy, custard-y, fall-spiced deliciousness of pumpkin pie, but without breaking out your food processor, getting flour all over your countertops, rolling out any crust, etc. And not a single can of evaporated milk. Sound good? I thought so too, especially when my batch yielded 10 individual custards instead of 8 and I was able to sample two one and still have 8, aka a full pie’s worth of servings, leftover.

Thanks to the blog post that introduced me to this cake, I ordered the “Rustic Fruit Desserts” cookbook this past June. As with most of my impulsive cookbook purchases, I had already forgotten about it by the time it arrived on my doorstep two days later. And as also with most of my impulsive cookbook purchases, I flipped through it and then put it in a pile of things I absolutely intended to carefully read and/or do something with ASAP, where of course it lay buried until a week ago. But it was meant to be, because I rediscovered it this week, in mid-November. I’m not sure pumpkin custards would have spoken to me as strongly back in June.

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We’ve done piecakecookies, granolamuffinscinnamon rollsbreadbread pudding, soup…..but I don’t think there’s such a thing as too many pumpkin recipes, especially when everyone’s favorite holiday is a week away. At least let’s hope not, since that list makes me realize that this is B&B’s 10th (!!!) pumpkin recipe. Aside from the pie tin and the pastry crust, this custard looks a lot like pumpkin pie – and as it turns out, tastes a lot like pumpkin pie. But even better, if that’s possible. And the best part is it takes literally 15 minutes to throw together (not counting the hour in the oven and the minimum 5 hours chilling in the fridge once it’s out of the oven – so it does require a bit of planning… and of course the potential trip to Crate and Barrel for whatever number of ramekins it takes to get you from the number you can dig up in your cupboards to 8).

The recipe as written calls for vanilla shortbread cookies for the crust – and the cookbook includes a recipe for them. I’m leaving it out here because I used a combination of store-bought gingersnaps and graham crackers instead (the recipe suggested gingersnaps as an alternative, I love a good graham cracker crust, and – confession – I first learned of the gingersnap/graham cracker combo from a recipe for a really yummy pumpkin cheesecake tart from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook that I’ve made every year since her cookbook came out, and it’s pretty much the best thing ever). You could use any type of cookie you like, however.

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Re: Chantilly Cream. Doesn’t that sound fancy? Turns out it’s just sweetened whipped cream. (As if we weren’t already sweetening our whipped cream?) The recipe told me to whip the cream by hand, which I tried to do but it didn’t take me long to switch to an electric mixer. Add a little sugar and vanilla halfway through, and perhaps a little brandy (as the recipe suggests), or bourbon (as I did). I’m not a huge bourbon drinker but I try to keep a bottle of Knob Creek on hand at all times, mainly for cooking but also because every once in awhile you have a friend that wants a glass of bourbon, and don’t real adults keep a fully stocked bar? Of course when I went to look for my Knob Creek as I was making the whipped cream I realized I was out (too many peach dumplings this summer!), but I did find a mini bottle of Maker’s Mark in my freezer. No idea where it came from, but it turned out to be delicious. I only used 1/2 teaspoon, and it was perfect – I would definitely recommend adding it if you have any on hand, although maybe not if you’re going to be feeding this to small children (I don’t think 1/2 teaspoon of alcohol in one cup of cream, which yields 2 cups once whipped, would be enough to hurt anyone when a single portion would work out to be 1/8th-1/10th of 1/2 teaspoon, aka a very trace amount, but just FYI. If I had offered the bowl of whipped cream to my one year old nephew I think he might have eaten the whole bowl, so just something to keep in mind).

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One Year Ago: Pumpkin, Sage, and Brown Butter Loafs
Two Years Ago: Carrot Mac and Cheese
Pumpkin, Previously: Cookies, Granola, Soup, Bread Pudding, Muffins, Cake, Pie, Bread, Cinnamon Rolls

Pumpkin Custard with Cookie Crumb Crust, from Rustic Fruit Desserts

Serves 8-10

1 1/4 cups crushed cookie of your choice (original recipe suggests vanilla shortbread, I used a combination of graham crackers and gingersnaps but either would be fine on their own)
2 cups half-and-half
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses (recipe suggests Barbados, I used Grandma’s because I had it in the fridge)
2 cups pureed cooked pumpkin, or 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (note: not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Chantilly cream (recipe below), extra cookies, and cinnamon, for garnish

Chantilly Cream:

1 cup cold heavy cream
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Recipe suggests adding Brandy, I used 1/2 teaspoon Bourbon (you could up it to 1 teaspoon but it might be pretty boozy)

To make the Custard: Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Divide crushed cookies among 8 5-ounce ramekins. In a small saucepan, bring the half-and-half to a light simmer over medium-low heat. Whisk the eggs and yolks together in a bowl, then whisk in both sugars and the molasses. Slowly pour the hot half-and-half into the egg mixture while whisking continuously. Stir the pumpkin, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and vanilla together in a large bowl. Slowly add the egg mixture, whisking just enough to combine ingredients; this will keep air bubbles to a minimum, which contributes to a creamier texture when baked.

Set a fine-mesh sieve over a 6-cup measuring cup or a bowl with a pour lip, then strain the custard into the measuring cup. Distribute the custard evenly among the ramekins, filling them almost to the top. Place a large roasting pan on the center rack of the oven, put the ramekins in the roasting pan, and carefully add enough hot water to the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake the custards for 50-60 minutes, or until puffed slightly on the edges and almost set when jiggled. Carefully remove the ramekins from the pan and place on a wire rack. Cool completely on the rack before covering lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerating for at least 5 hours and up to 2 days. Serve garnished with a small dollop of Chantilly cream.

Storage: The custard itself is best if eaten within 2 days, but any leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

To make the Chantilly Cream: Chill a metal bowl and whisk (or beaters). Pour the cream into the bowl and whisk until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla (and bourbon or brandy, if using) and continue whipping the cream until it hangs but does not fall from the whisk. Alternatively, if you are using an electric mixer, start whipping the cream on low speed, then gradually increase the speed until the mixer is on medium speed. (Recipe recommends whipping the cream by hand so that you have “more control over the process.” I tried that to begin with, but my arm got tired well before any soft peaks were forming so I happily relinquished control and switched to an electric mixer).

Storage: Chantilly cream is best if served immediately. You may refrigerate it in  covered container for up to four hours, but you may need to rewhip some of the cream at the bottom of the bowl before serving.

Top chilled custards with Chantilly cream, sprinkle cream with cinnamon, and serve with a gingersnap on the side. Yum!

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Friday Faves

IMG_3473{pumpkin snickerdoodles}

What are you up to this weekend? I have a long and ambitious list that includes a haircut, a trip to the pumpkin patch, and three dozen pumpkin sugar cookies that need decorating. [I have a new little cousin/nephew as of 2:00 this afternoon, just in time to get his name on his cookie! And one of B&B’s most loyal readers also welcomed a baby boy today – happy birthday Gavin and Cooper!] Some fun links and pics for your evening (I was supposed to post this 12 hours ago and somehow forgot ~ I’m blaming an early morning spin class that really threw off my routine):

IMG_3474{my new ‘godmotherglassybaby from my sweet godson}

photo-125{soup weather, finally}

IMG_3475{my new favorite sunscreen, thanks to my friend (and supergoop guru!) Steph}

IMG_3497{topping bar at Portage Bay Cafe, yum}

Warm Pear-Ginger Upside-Down Cake

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If you read this blog even semi-regularly, you might start to worry that I only own two cookbooks. While in truth I have about half a bookshelf’s worth, it would be a fair assumption since I sometimes don’t do a very good job of branching out. Last week, in search of an easy fall dessert, I remembered a pear upside down cake I had made a couple years back, when I was trying to use up some pears from a friend’s orchard and really into my cast iron skillet cookbook. I dug up the recipe, happily realized I already had almost all of the ingredients on hand (if you keep the Trader Joe’s ginger chews on hand like I used to, you might even find you don’t have to go to the store at all!), and whipped this up in under an hour. In a season flooded with apple and pumpkin desserts, often rich and heavy or overly sugary, I think this is a great addition to anyone’s fall recipe repertoire. The cake has a barely-sweetened cornmeal crumb, the pears are deliciously buttery, and the spicy ginger adds a little kick. And of course, what’s prettier than an upside-down cake in a cast iron skillet?

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I probably say this too often, in my attempt to encourage everyone to actually make these recipes rather than just read about them, but this really is so easy to throw together. The only caveat is, I do think you need a cast iron skillet. While you could definitely make something similar in a regular cake pan (or ideally an 8×8 brownie pan), the cast iron is ideal here, for the way it caramelizes the fruit and of course for it’s stovetop-to-oven multi-tasking ability. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, consider buying one – the Lodge brand is relatively inexpensive and I use mine all the time. While I’ve done meat and fish in it a few times, I use it primarily for cheese dips and giant chocolate chip cookies – so if that doesn’t sell you I don’t know what will.  But make this first, because I know you have someone in your life giving you a basket of pears from their orchard that you need to use. And if you don’t, it’s a great excuse to buy a couple pounds at the farmer’s market this weekend! You could also use apples if you went on an overly-ambitious apple picking trip recently… but I do recommend trying it with pears first, because just like with cookbooks, sometimes you’ve got to mix it up a little bit!

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One Year Ago: Brown Butter and Bourbon Apple Crisp
Two Years Ago: Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup

Warm Pear-Ginger Upside-Down Cake, from The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook by Sharon Kramis & Julie Kramis Hearne

Serves 8-10

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
3/4 cup sugar, divided
2 pounds firm but ripe Bartlett or Anjou pears (about 4 pears), peeled, cored, and cut into eighths
2 tablespoons minced candied ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup medium-ground yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup boiling water
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
Fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for topping, optional

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add 1/4 cup of the sugar, stir just enough to combine, and cook without disturbing until the sugar dissolves and starts to turn golden brown/caramelize, about 5 minutes. Beginning with the outside edge and working your way towards the center in a circular pattern, arrange the pear slices on top of the caramelized sugar. Sprinkle the ginger and nutmeg over the top. Cook until the pears are soft and the caramel starts to thicken, about 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Place the cornmeal in a large bowl, add the boiling water, and stir to blend.  Add the remaining 6 tablespoons butter and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar to the cornmeal mixture and mix until well blended.  (This can be done by hand). Beat in the eggs and vanilla.  Beat in the flour mixture, a little at a time, alternating it with the milk, making sure not to over mix. Pour the batter on top of the pears in the skillet.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the top starts to brown and the center of the cake feels firm and springs back when pressed, 18-20 minutes. Let the cake cook for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge to loosen it, and place an inverted plate on top of the skillet. Protecting both hands with oven mitts, flip the cake onto the plate. Replace any fruit that may have stuck to the skillet.  Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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Friday Faves

IMG_2901{fall foliage + fog}

Happy Friday! What are you up to this weekend? I’m off to Key West…looking forward to eating lots of Key Lime Pie, listening exclusively to Jimmy Buffet and Kenny Chesney, and doing everything the NYT’s “36 Hours” article tells me to do. We’ll have more than 36 hours though (5 days!), so if you have any recommendations I would love to hear them! Wishing everyone a lovely fall weekend. Some fun photos and articles for your Friday:

  • Facial mists – I’ve never really tried them, but this article makes me want to start!
  • I’ve been craving this pasta all week.
  • Loved this week’s Modern Love (Last week’s Modern Love? It’s published online on Thursdays but printed in the Sunday NYT, so depending upon how you read it…)
  • I’m really working on perfecting my roast chicken this fall (have you ever made “Engagement Chicken”? My friend Kristy did one time…..but it didn’t work.)
  • I can’t wait to go visit Eagle the Penguin!

IMG_2660{Queso Fundido for MNF – Go Hawks!}

IMG_2937{I made these photo books for Cooper per a recommendation from Cup of Jo – I did one with his monthly photos and one with pictures of his favorite people. He’s currently not that into them but I’m sure he will be at some point….right? I think it’s a cute gift idea, regardless!}

IMG_2938{Such a thoughtful “just because” gift from my dear friend Jessie ~ I’ve been drinking my detox tea out of it all week! In related news, did anyone catch that game last night? Go Dawgs!}

IMG_2932{My two favorite uncooperative photo subjects in the Petit Bateau outfits I got them about a year ago – now that Coop finally fits into his, Harper has almost outgrown hers. Damn those French sizes! And yes, this took two takes, thus the two different bows}

Yoona’s Chicken Noodle Soup

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I’ve made this soup dozens of times since it first came to my attention almost four years ago, so I apologize for not sharing it until now. I actually thought I had posted it last fall, but when I did a quick blog search the other day after someone asked me for the recipe, I found it buried in my drafts folder.  My friend Yoona calls it “Chicken Soup for Lazy People,” implying perhaps that a truly homemade chicken noodle soup would involve roasting your own chicken and making the stock from scratch.  Yoona has higher standards than I have, though – my definition of chicken soup for lazy people is the soup I get from the pre-made soup counter at Metropolitan Market, or something like this or this. [I used to think I didn’t like chicken noodle soup, mainly because I had only ever had canned versions, which I kind of hate.  The Met Market Chicken Noodle changed the way I felt about chicken noodle soup – I would get it even when I wasn’t sick, that’s how good it is – but an 8 ounce cup has about a year’s worth of sodium in it, so now that I have this recipe I like to make it myself.]

I would argue that there’s nothing lazy about this soup – it’s a little less involved, perhaps, but I still consider it “from scratch.”  Using a rotisserie chicken and store bought stock just means you can actually make “homemade” chicken noodle soup in under an hour – which is perfect if you or someone you love/need to feed is under the weather, or if you want to make it for dinner but you work until five and want to eat at a reasonable hour. My sister made a batch last weekend while my nephew was napping – and I should add that my sister, as a rule, doesn’t cook. Neither does my mom, but she makes this soup all the time.  So while I don’t think anything involving chopping veggies, simmering stock, shredding chicken, and adding fresh herbs can be considered lazy, we could perhaps call it a user-friendly chicken soup. Chicken soup you might actually make. Chicken soup you could make tonight.

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I chopped my onions/carrots/celery so that I could have pretty photos for blog purposes, but – true confession – I often use the pre-chopped mirepoix mix from Trader Joe’s. It’s just so quick and easy, and I don’t think you sacrifice a lot in terms of taste or texture. I actually don’t mind chopping the carrots and celery myself – you can do the ratios and dice-size just the way you like them that way, and it only takes a couple extra minutes – but normally I would definitely use the Trader Joe’s pre-chopped onions (yes, I’m lazy enough that I will make an extra stop just to avoid chopping my own onions. Although anything you don’t already have in your fridge/pantry, save for the chicken, you can get at Trader Joe’s). As Yoona will tell you (I encourage you to read her post, she’s a better cook and a better writer than me), it’s a totally flexible recipe and you can tweak it to your liking. I typically use low sodium stock and then add more salt and pepper to taste (I read somewhere that you’re always better off to use low sodium stock – no matter how much more salt you add it will still end up being much less than full-sodium stock. And one of the things I love about the Met Market chicken soup is how peppery it is, so I add a lot of freshly ground black pepper). And finally, if you’re the kind of person who would even consider making your own stock, you can use the carcass of the rotisserie chicken to do so – and then use that stock for the next time you want to make this soup.  See, not lazy at all!
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One Year Ago: Butternut Squash and Farro Salad
Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Soup, Previously: White Bean and Kale, Split Pea, Cream of Fresh Tomato, Pumpkin Black Bean, Curried Butternut Squash, Roasted Cauliflower, Minestrone, Roasted Sweet Potato and AppleRed Lentil, Roasted Tomato Basil

Chicken Noodle Soup, from Yoonanimous

Ingredients:

2 T olive oil
1 precooked rotisserie chicken, shredded (skin and bones removed)
3 medium carrots, diced
1 large or 2 small onions, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
8 cups chicken stock or broth (2 boxes)
1-2 cups pasta
1 cup chopped fresh dill, Italian parsley, or combination
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Oyster crackers or saltine crackers for topping, optional

Directions:

Coat the bottom of your stock pot with olive oil. Sauté carrots, onion, and celery over medium-high heat until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add stock or broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add pasta and chicken and cook for another 5-7 minutes, or until noodles are al dente. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove soup from heat and stir in fresh herbs.

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Friday Faves

IMG_2510{early morning on the lake}

Happy October from beautiful Lake Chelan! I had such a whirlwind trip with my sister and little nephew last week that I forgot to post on Friday – so last week’s Friday Faves are this Monday’s Faves instead! We had the best time splashing in the lake and in the pool, chasing ducks, digging in the sand…..and of course lots of wine and cheese! I hope your weekend was equally fun, and that your Monday is off to a lovely start! Some fun links and pics from the week:

IMG_2308{Smitten Kitchen’s apple cake and butternut squash galette (from the cookbook)…..and a salad}

IMG_2426{wine with my sis in my new Husky drinkers}

IMG_2536{obsessed with this anti-aging hand cream}

IMG_2293{Having a little baby around makes holidays so much more fun! Cooper’s pumpkin bag was one of the first things I ordered with his name on it (seriously – I just looked it up in my email archives and I ordered it the day he was born!), so of course I had to get one for Harper as soon as PBK released their Halloween stuff this year (order date: July 20).  And then I set about to fill it with everything I put in Coop’s last year. Treat bag from PBK, books from Amazon, sleepers from Hanna Andersson (similar here, I actually got this version on sale after Halloween last year) and Carter’s, onesie, tutu, and pumpkin hat from Gymboree, Lifefactory bottle with candy, Baby Bling Bows (black and orange knots). *The Gymboree onesie and hat are no longer available, at least online, but if you’re in the market Janie and Jack has some pretty cute options (onesie, hat) – probably would have gotten those for H if I hadn’t already given her her goodie bag! I’m thinking she’ll still be able to squeeze into the 12-18 month next fall, so I’ll be watching the sale racks on November 1st!}

IMG_2294{And don’t worry, Coop got a few things too! Gymboree tee (adorable J&J alternative here), Hanna sleeper (also purchased on sale after Halloween last year, 2015 boys version here), Curious George book, and two Beavs hats that aren’t pictured – really more of just a random purchase than a Halloween gift, but the team colors are black and orange so it’s a two for one}.

Friday Faves

photo-136 {layered carrot cake + birthday candles}

Happiest of Fridays, friends! I know it’s not technically summer for a couple more weeks, but with forecasts in the 80s this weekend it feels like we’ve left spring behind already! Any exciting plans for the weekend? We’re celebrating a dear friend’s birthday tomorrow, and I’m excited to sit out on a gorgeous patio and drink my favorite Moscow Mule in the sunshine. Sometimes it’s the little things, right? Wishing everyone a stress-free Friday and a lovely sunny weekend! Some favorite links and photos from the week (slash, past two months! A backlog of faves, as usual):

  • Love this list of Joanna’s top 12 recipes (I would like a #10 right now, please)
  • I ordered this on Wednesday – hoping it will be as amazing as advertised (thanks, Emily, for the tip!)
  • Can’t wait to try this salad and this salad – both from Bowl + Spoon (below – a double (triple?) fave this week!)
  • Love a cute summer tote (I would like 1, 2, 4, and/or 8)!
  • Has everyone read this post by now? So heartbreaking, but at the same time really beautiful.

photo-135 {a really good hostess gift/three of my favorite things}

photo-124 {my new summer treat}

photo 1-45 {Love Sara and Hugh’s new cookbook!}

photo-134 {So excited for summer with my two best buds!}
Chairs and sun hats from Pottery Barn Kids, beach towels from Serena & Lily, sand toys from Green Toys, and Fourth of July jammies from Hanna Andersson.

Coconut Bourbon Banana Bread

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I’m pretty sure that were this a legitimate food blog, the kind with paid advertisements and readership beyond friends and family and the odd instagram or pinterest searcher, I would have posts scheduled months in advance and planned to coincide with seasons and holidays. Instead, I’m realizing as I sit down to post this banana bread that Easter is in three days and I should probably be sharing a delicious brunch recipe. Not that you couldn’t serve this for Easter (because you definitely could), but it’s more of a it’s-raining-outside-and-I-have-rotting-bananas-sitting-on-my-counter-and-I’m-in-a-baking-mood activity than a holiday centerpiece. Luckily for all of you, I have no paid advertisers and am not that organized – so despite my best intentions I end up posting whatever I want, whenever I want. For example, I made this banana bread last fall (as evidenced by my dark red nail polish) and meant to post it back then, but it somehow got buried in my drafts folder. And when I discovered it there last night I decided I might as well just post it today. Though it may be sunny now, we all know the rain will be back soon enough. So even if you don’t make this between now and Sunday morning, bookmark it for the next gray day that coincides with rotting bananas.

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Deb has a “healthy” banana bread recipe on her site, which I’ve made quite a few times since she posted it two and a half years ago. I had been avoiding trying this one for fear I wouldn’t be able to go back – the healthy one is divine while still letting you feel at least a little healthy, so why introduce a richer version that makes no apologies for it’s butter and bourbon?  But with a bottle of Knob Creek calling my name from the pantry one afternoon, I decided to mix things up a little bit. I’m not sorry I did, because this one is really freaking good.  And while I’ll still use the healthy version most of the time, it’s never a bad idea to have something a little more exciting in your repertoire.

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One of my favorite things about Deb, besides the fact that I can always count on her recipes to be delicious, is that she writes them with the goal of using as few dishes as possible.  This is one-bowl banana bread (two, I suppose, if you count the pan or bowl you use to melt the butter): you just mash the bananas in your mixing bowl and then stir the other ingredients in. I added a cup of unsweetened coconut in at the end and I thought it made the bread even more amazing – but if you’re not a coconut fan or don’t have any on hand it would be equally yummy without it. You could also add chocolate chips (with or without the coconut), or crushed pineapple (also with or without the coconut, but probably not with the chocolate), or anything else you can dream up. But whatever you do, don’t leave out the bourbon.

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One year ago: Miraval’s Arugula Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette 
Two years ago: Jamie Oliver’s Eggplant Parmesan

Coconut Bourbon Banana Bread, (adapted) from Smitten Kitchen

3-4 ripe bananas
1/3 cup salted butter, melted
3/4 cup light brown sugar (or up to one cup if you prefer your banana bread extra sweet)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional but highly recommended)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup coconut (optional; ideally unsweetened)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and butter (or oil or spray) a 8″x4″ loaf pan. Mash your bananas in a large mixing bowl and stir in the melted butter. Add sugar, then egg, then vanilla and bourbon, and then the spices.  Sprinkle the salt and baking soda over the mixture and stir to combine. Mix in the flour, and then the coconut (if using). Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean (mine always seem to take the full hour if not longer; if you use mini loaf pans start checking them at 40 minutes).

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My Favorite Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I first discovered this recipe almost three years ago, when Emily first posted it, and I’ve been making it for every chocolate-chip-cookie-appropriate occasion since. I haven’t posted it until now, however, as I wasn’t entirely sure this blog needed another chocolate chip cookie recipe – it’s fourth in two years, which is a pretty high ratio, especially considering (a) I have a long list of “to make for blog” recipes, and (b) I don’t even like chocolate chip cookies that much.  Don’t get me wrong, I still eat them, but I would much prefer snickerdoodle or peanut butter over plain old boring chocolate chip any day. These cookies aren’t plain old boring chocolate chip, though, which I was reminded when I made them for baby Harper’s doctors and nurses a couple weeks ago and everyone got really excited about them.

When my nephew was born last summer, he made his debut via a scheduled induction over a week after his due date.  Those post-due-date days of waiting impatiently gave me plenty of time to whip up a double batch of sugar cookie dough, roll out what felt like a million “onesie” cookies, bake them, frost them, decorate them, and freeze them.  I took them out of the freezer the morning my sister was induced, wrapped them all up in cellophane bags and tied them with blue ribbon, and delivered them to her hospital room about an hour after she was admitted.  While of course at the time she rolled her eyes, she appreciated me later when the anesthesiologist made several trips back to her room for more cookies, topping off her epidural each time.

Baby Harper didn’t give me enough time for royal icing, so these cookies were a perfect fall back plan.  She had given us a few signs that she might be early, so a couple weeks before her due date I made a batch of this dough, rolled the dough into balls, and froze them. And I’m so glad I did, because when my brother called me at 7 am on the day my sister-in-law hit 39 weeks to tell me they were heading to the hospital, all I had to do was pop them in the oven. So while they didn’t make it to the hospital quite in time for pre-birth special treatment, I’d like to think that the nurses took extra good care of her once she arrived.

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But I digress. What you’re probably more interested in is why these chocolate chip cookies are that much better than your average chocolate chip cookie. The blog post they originated from lists seven reasons – it explains them in greater detail than I will, but the cliffs notes version is: (1) mixture of cake and bread flours – not sure why but it seems to really make a difference; (2) chilling the dough; (3) room temperature ingredients; (4) size of cookie (the bigger the better!); (5) good quality chocolate; (6) salt (my favorite part by far); and (7) don’t overbake them. The recipe tells you to let all ingredients come to room temperature, and then once you’ve made the dough to let it rest in the fridge for 24-72 hours (ideally 36), and then still to wait to eat them until the day after you bake them….so if you’re going to follow all of those steps it really requires some planning.  I’ve done it that way and they are amazing, but I’ve also done it with eggs straight from the fridge and only a few hours of chilling and they still turn out delicious.

My only other note: I’ve had really good luck freezing these cookies, either baked or unbaked. If I’m going to freeze them unbaked, I let the dough chill in the fridge for as much time as I have – anywhere from 4 to 72 hours (I feel like I should do at least 4; the original recipe says 72 max) and then scoop it into balls and place the balls on a parchment lined cookie sheet as though I was going to bake them (I sprinkle the salt on at this point too). I freeze the salted dough on the cookie sheets until firm, and then place the frozen unbaked cookies in a freezer-safe storage bag. I’ll often make a batch when I’m bringing dinner to friends with a new baby, and I’ll bake a dozen to deliver ready to eat and then include a bag or two of frozen unbaked cookies for them to bake later – the gift that keeps on giving!

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Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies, from For Me, For You via Cupcakes and Cashmere

Yield: 2-3 dozen cookies, depending upon size

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 2/3 cups bread flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt, such as kosher
2 ½ sticks (1 ¼ cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ¼ pounds bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks, preferably about 60% cacao content, such as Ghirardelli
Sea salt or kosher salt for garnishing

Combine flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Whisk and set aside. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until very light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low; then add dry ingredients, and mix until just combined. Add the chocolate chips, and mix briefly to incorporate. Press plastic wrap against the dough, and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. The dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Remove the bowl of dough from the refrigerator, and allow it to soften slightly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Using a standard-size ice cream scoop (or a large tablespoon), scoop six mounds of dough onto the baking sheet, making sure to space them evenly. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt, and bake until golden brown but still soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies onto the rack to cool a bit more.

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Melissa Clark’s Port Wine-Braised Short Ribs

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When I first started this blog two years ago (!!!), it felt like I was posting a Melissa Clark recipe every other week.  I forced myself to take a break for awhile, so that I wouldn’t post every recipe she’s ever written, but tragically that meant that this, my most successful dinner party recipe to date, never made it onto the blog. Since I don’t eat red meat, I can’t tell you from personal experience how delicious these ribs may or may not be. However, I’ve made them a number of times now, and have passed on the recipe to family and friends, each time with rave reviews. Since I cook primarily for the accolades, I make these ribs a lot.

This recipe comes from the January chapter of Cook This Now (Melissa organizes the recipes in this cookbook by month), so I had every intention of posting it two months ago. But as you may have noticed, Blueberries and Basil is off to a slow start this year, so my “January Short Ribs” are a little delayed – I hope you can forgive me.  After all, most of the country is still experiencing January weather. And even in the Pacific Northwest, where it feels like May, it turns out short ribs are still well received even when it’s 50 degrees at dinner time.

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Many of you are probably familiar with how to braise short ribs – but I really wasn’t, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it is. it’s the perfect make-ahead meal (dinner party or otherwise) because you can prepare it in advance, pop it in the oven, and not give it a second thought for the next three hours. Simply reduce your port* and wine**, brown your meat, sauté your veggies, dump everything into your Dutch oven and bake (technically braise, I suppose) for three hours while you clean your kitchen, make dessert, take a nap, run errands – you get the idea. Three hours to do whatever you like while a delicious meal comes together in the oven, all on it’s own. *Melissa uses port and wine, but if you don’t feel like buying a bottle of port only to use half a cup, I confess I’ve made them without the port before and haven’t heard any complaints. **The recipe calls for a dry red wine – I googled “dry red wine for short ribs” (because that’s the level of sophistication I have when it comes to using wine in cooking) and found most people recommend a petit syrah, so that’s what I’ve been using, but I think you could use whatever you have on hand.

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Meat usually grosses me out, but even I have to admit, they’re kind of pretty.  And they make your kitchen smell amazing!  The original recipe is technically for oxtails (speaking of being grossed out) rather than short ribs, so Melissa tells you the meat should be “almost” falling off the bone after two and a half hours. I’m assuming the rules for short ribs are different, as mine are usually actually falling off the bone after an hour or so. Again, I don’t eat them so I can’t say for certain, but I’m constantly asking people if they’re overdone and am assured they are perfect. But that said, if you needed to shorten the cooking time a bit I think you’d be ok. The beauty of braising, I’m learning, is that you really can’t go wrong. Bon appétit!

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Port Wine-Braised Short Ribs, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine
1/2 cup ruby port
3 lbs beef short ribs
Kosher salt, for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 shallots, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium leeks, chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary  sprigs
1 bunch parsley stems (use some of the leaves for garnish, if you like)
2 bay leaves
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and diced small
Balsamic vinegar to taste

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the wine and port to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, brown the short ribs. Season them generously with salt and pepper (you will need at least two teaspoons salt and one teaspoon pepper, or possibly more – enough to get the meat well coated). In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with the olive oil. Working in batches, arrange the short ribs in a single layer and brown on all sides.  Take your time with this and let them get good and brown; don’t crowd the pan, or they will steam and never develop that tasty caramelized crust. Transfer the short ribs to a bowl.
3. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the Dutch oven and add the shallots, garlic, leeks, and celery.  Cook the vegetables, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan, until softened, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.
4. Arrange the short ribs over the vegetables and add the reduced wine-port mixture. Using kitchen twine, tie together the thyme, rosemary, parsley stems, and bay leaves, and drop into the pot. (You can skip the twine and simply drop the herbs into the pot if you don’t have kitchen twine on hand – although it’s a bit of a pain to fish them out before serving).  Bring the liquid to a boil on the stovetop, then cover and transfer the Dutch oven to the oven. Cook, turning the ribs occasionally (or not), until the meat is tender but not yet falling off the bone, 2 to 2 1/2 hours (mine always seem to be falling off the bone by the two hour mark, but I give them 2 1/2 regardless if time allows). Add the carrots and cook another 30 minutes.
5. Season with balsamic vinegar and additional salt, if desired. Serve over mashed potatoes and top with parsley.

*If you’re serving the short ribs right away, as I usually am, you can spoon some of the fat off of the surface if it looks a little greasy (mine never seem to). You can also refrigerate and serve the next day; in that case the fat is easy to scrape off – although you lose a lot of your vegetables with it.

**In lieu of short ribs, you could use: 4 1/2 pounds oxtail pieces, 4 lamb foreshanks, 2-3 pounds brisket or chuck roast, or 2 pounds boneless beef stew meat.

***In lieu of mashed potatoes, you could serve over polenta, roasted potatoes, roasted root vegetables, or anything else that suits your fancy. You could also serve it on its own, as a simple stew.

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