bourbon pumpkin cheesecake

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I know what you’re thinking. A little late for the pumpkin desserts, right? And I absolutely agree with you. BUT, I have made this pumpkin cheesecake four times in the past three weeks – twice before Thanksgiving, and two more on Thanksgiving Day. The first cheesecake I made on Thanksgiving morning fell to its death in the oven as I was taking it out, so that’s why there were two. I experimented, I made adjustments. I burned my hand on the blistering hot rack of my oven. And I did way too much sampling. Therefore, I present to you… bourbon pumpkin cheesecake.

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I’ll be totally honest – I’ve never been much of a cheesecake fan. Only in the last five years have I come to appreciate cheesecake. But I never really go out of my way to eat it, and before three weeks ago, I had never made one. But since I’m convinced that pumpkin baked goods are almost always outstanding, and because I was bored with the idea of a traditional pumpkin pie, a pumpkin cheesecake sounded just delightful. And since I was racking my brain for desserts for this Thanksgiving, I set out for a recipe.

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This is a winner, dear friends. It’s pumpkin and spiced and rich in that cheesecake way, but not as heavy as traditional cheesecake. It has a nice, tangy sour cream top, also giving it a really stunning finish. The pecan-graham cracker crust is just off the hook good – it’s a little nutty but also slightly caramelized, two pluses in my book. And it’s spiked with bourbon, which is what drew me in initially. This beauty is definitely a contender for Christmas. I’m pretty sure you’ll thank me later.   

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bourbon pumpkin cheesecake 

adapted slightly from Gourmet

serves 12-14

for crust:

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (from about 6 or 7 graham crackers)

1/2 cup pecans (1-3/4 ounces), finely chopped

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar 

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled 

Invert bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (to create flat bottom, which will make it easier to remove cake from pan), then lock on side and butter pan.

Stir together crumbs, pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined well. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan, then chill crust, 1 hour.

for the filling:

1-1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin

3 large eggs

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2- 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and bourbon (if using) in a bowl until combined.

Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and salt in large bowl. Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.

Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks). Bake until center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

for the topping:

2 cups sour cream (20 ounces)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)

pecan halves (for garnish)

Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and bourbon (if using) in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake. Place cheesecake back in the oven and bake 3 minutes.

Turn off the oven, leaving cheesecake inside to cool for at least two hours, up to three to cool completely. This prevents the top from cracking.

Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.

**Cooks’ Note: Baked cheesecake can be chilled, covered, up to 2 days.

 

fried green tomatoes with buttermilk dipping sauce

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I know it’s super-late in the game to talk about tomatoes. BUT, there were green tomatoes at the market last weekend, so I’m taking that as a sign. It was meant to be.

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All summer long, I was on the hunt for green tomatoes. No joke. I went to all the markets. I asked around. My dad happened to get his hands on some in July. But they were kind of small. I was not satisfied.

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Why the obsession? Well, I had the best fried green tomatoes EVER at my friend Lindsey’s 30th birthday soirée back in June. I made my maiden voyage to San Diego just for the occasion, and it was a blast. There were margaritas upon landing, and pool time, and carne asada fries. But seriously, those fried green tomatoes were so incredible that I have not stopped thinking about them. I now associate San Diego with fried green tomatoes. 

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Thank goodness someone finally decided to bring their late crop green tomatoes to the market. I could barely contain myself. I busted out the panko and my cast iron skillet and it was on. There is just something about deep fried goodness. It’s almost unfair. Does anyone remember when McDonald’s used to deep-fry their apple pies? That’s what I’m talking about. Anyway, the combination of crunchy panko exterior, and tender, juicy, slightly acidic tomato just gets me. And when you throw in some tangy, creamy buttermilk dipping sauce, it’s like all the bases are covered. It’s crazy deliciousness. I made them for Sunday dinner and Granny approved. And we’ve got a winner. 

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fried green tomatoes with buttermilk dipping sauce 

adapted just barely from Down Home With the Neely’s via foodnetwork.com

serves 4-6

for the tomatoes: 

vegetable oil (for frying) 

4 green tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon garlic powder

4 eggs

1 -1/2 cups panko bread crumbs

pinch cayenne pepper

pinch paprika

In a deep-fryer or cast iron skillet, preheat oil to 350F.

Season tomatoes on both sides with salt and pepper. Combine flour and garlic powder in a shallow dish. In another shallow dish, beat the eggs. In another dish, mix bread crumbs with cayenne and paprika. Dredge tomatoes through the flour, then the eggs, and then through the bread crumbs. Add only a few pieces to the fryer at a time, so they can cook evenly, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve with buttermilk sauce.

for the buttermilk dipping sauce: 

3/4 cup buttermilk 

1/2 cup mayonaise 

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped chives

hot sauce (like Crystal Hot Sauce of Tobasco)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and mayonaise. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chopped chives and stir to combine. Add a few dashes of hot sauce to taste. Chill until ready to serve.

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buttered popcorn butterscotch cookies

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Let’s all just stop for a moment and take a deep breath. Now exhale. Maybe I speak just for myself, but I’m pretty sure everybody needed that.

Now we can talk about cookies. We like cookies around here. But they don’t happen very often. Luckily for us, my friend Marilen coordinates a quarterly cookie swap with a handful of the girls in the office. And so this week we have cookies.

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Because it’s so close to Halloween, I wanted to do a really fun, lighthearted cookie. Yes, I did just say that. Let me explain. I feel like there is a cookie fit for every occasion. In my mind, anything with dark chocolate or really good cocoa powder is more suitable for a grown-up gathering, rather than a bunch of kiddos. And macarons are perfect for something fancy, like a tea party or a bridal shower. And a good ole chocolate chip cookie is the right cookie for anyone that needs some comforting. I really spend a lot of time thinking about this kind of stuff. What can I say? This is straight from the mind of a crazy person.

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Anyway, I remembered a buttered popcorn cookie I had seen while flipping through The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook a few weeks back and I knew I was onto something. But I felt like it needed a little something to really make it pop. At first I thought bittersweet chocolate. Then white chocolate crossed my mind for a split second, though I’m not such a fan of white chocolate. And then it occurred to me – buttered popcorn + butterscotch chips = fun and delish (fundelicious!). I was certain I had found the winning combination.

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You guys, this is a really good cookie. It’s the first popcorn cookie I’ve ever had – popcorn in a cookie is mind blowing stuff. These cookies are strangely addictive. Some pieces of popcorn are crisp while others get a little soft, but in a good way. Kind of like those slightly stale bricks of Wright’s Pink Popcorn that I absolutely adore. Buttered popcorn, combined with sweet butterscotch chips in a buttery cookie dough; I don’t know how to describe it other than it’s like sweet, magical buttery butteriness. And there you go.

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buttered popcorn butterscotch cookies 

adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

makes 24 cookies

2 tablespoons vegetable oil 

1/4 cup popcorn kernels 

1/4 kosher teaspoon salt 

1 tablespoon butter, melted 

1/2 cup butter, softened 

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar 

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg 

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour 

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 

1/2 cup butterscotch chips

*alternately, you can substitute the first 4 ingredients with 4-1/2 cups popped microwave popcorn 

Pour the oil over the bottom of a large saucepan that had a lid. Add the popcorn kernels, shaking the pan around so the kernels arein one layer. Cover the pot and heat it over medium-high heat. Once the kernels start to  pop, keep the sauce pan moving until all the kernels have popped and you no longer hear popping, about 5 to 7 minutes total. Pour the melted butter and 1/4 teaspoon salt over the popcorn and toss. Transfer the popcorn to a bowl and remove any unpopped kernels. You should have 4 to 4-1/2 cups popcorn. Let cool.

Preheat your oven to 350F. In a large bowl, cream together the softened butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, egg,  and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Fold the butterscotch chips and popcorn into the batter until it is evenly distributed throughout. Don’t worry if the popcorn breaks up a bit.

Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each cookie. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are light brown. Let them sit on the hot baking sheet for a few minutes to firm up before transferring them to a rack to cool.

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concord grape cornmeal cake

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October feels like crazytown. I’m not sure exactly what’s happening, but it feels like everything is happening all at once. There’s definitely something in the air right now. Even Susan Miller says so. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy one.

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On a lighter note, we have Concord grapes. I’m sure I’ve gone on and on about Concord grapes around here at some point. They’re one of the things I look most forward to when the fall produce hits the markets. They’re not much of an eating grape (too soft for my liking and too many seeds), but they are great for baking and cooking. And boy are they flavorful. I started making my own Concord grape jam a few years ago and never looked back. The scent of Concord grapes boiling away on the stove is seriously heavenly. There’s nothing like it.

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I made this cake for the first time last year but never got around to sharing it. I made it again the other day and remembered exactly why I liked it so much. It’s a dressed up skillet cornbread, honey-kissed with a touch of lemon and a scattering of Concord grapes. Those jammy pockets of Concord grape really make it into something special. I especially like it served warm, with a cup of tea. It’s the perfect afternoon snack cake. It feels like fall.

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concord grape cornmeal cake 

adapted just barely from Bon Appetit

serves 8-10

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly, plus more

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour; more for grapes

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup vegetable oil

6 tablespoons buttermilk

2 tablespoons honey

3/4 pound Concord grapes (or black grapes), stemmed, seeds removed, divided 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch cast iron skillet (or an 8x8x2-inch baking dish). Whisk 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Whisk eggs, sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla in a large bowl to combine. Add oil and 2 tablespoons melted butter; whisk to blend. Whisk in flour mixture, then buttermilk. Stir in honey, being careful not to fully incorporate

Pour batter into prepared skillet. Toss about 2/3 of grapes with a large pinch of flour in a medium bowl until well coated. Scatter over cake batter.

Bake until cake turns light golden brown around the edges and starts to set, 15-17 minutes. Remove from oven and scatter remaining grapes over cake. Continue to bake until top is golden brown and cake springs back when pressed, 20-25 minutes longer. Transfer to a wire rack. Let cool slightly in pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

roasted plums and oatmeal

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What a whirlwind of a month. It was everything I could have asked for and more. September did not disappoint.

There was a little bit of everything in September:  a glorious beach day at Stinson, which basically consisted of perfect weather, an amazing nap, and an easy picnic of banh mis from Saigon Sandwich, a few bottles of wine, a basket of figs and white peaches;  a Saturday devoted to drinking wine in Healdsburg with the best bunch of boys; my 32nd birthday (a last minute brunch at Foreign Cinema, the best freakin mezcal Michelada, fancy pants desserts from Craftsman and Wolves courtesy of Sara, and a super mellow afternoon admiring the City from Twin Peaks); and a really special, very moving wedding in the South Bay, which was like an unofficial college reunion and resulted in a hangover that had to be nursed with an egg mcmuffin, pool time, and a bath the morning after.

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It was such a busy-busy month that I didn’t really spend much leisure time in the kitchen. There were things I meant to do, but just never got around to, like making myself a birthday cake, and canning some Flavor King pluots. I was so bummed to find out that I had missed the last of the Flavor Kings. The good news is there are still a few varieties of plums lingering in the markets. I call them the stragglers. I went crazy with the plums this summer. I made a couple of batches of jam. I made crumbles. I ate one with breakfast every day for weeks. It was fantastic.

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I’ve been really into roasting the last of the plums. There is something so satisfying about roasted fruit – it’s like pie without the crust. It’s really nice with a big dollop of yogurt. But lately I’ve been throwing it on top of oatmeal and I can’t figure out why I never thought to do this in the past. This is what I call a transition dish – the last of the summer bounty, combined with cold weather fare. It makes me a bit wistful. This summer was perfect and part of me wants it to never end. But big pots of soup and cozy sweaters don’t sound so bad either.

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roasted plums and oatmeal 

makes 4 servings

4 plums, halved and pitted

2 tablespoons honey, plus more for serving 

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme (optional) 

1 cup steel cut oats, prepared according to package directions, or here

1/4 cup roasted pistachios, chopped

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place plums cut side up in a baking dish. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with thyme. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on ripeness, until fruit is tender and just beginning to bubble. Divide the oatmeal and plums between four bowls. Drizzle with more honey if desired and top with pistachios.

fig & blackberry tartlets

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More summer, please! I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet. I have a maxi dress hanging in the closet that’s never been worn. And I could really, really use a proper beach day. And a few more bottles of rosé (aka summer drank). Can’t we keep the barbecues going for just a bit longer?

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We spent last weekend camping in Big Sur. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. My love for Big Sur runs deep. It’s been an entire decade since my very first trip down there. And just as long since the last time I camped. I almost forgot how much I love sleeping in a tent and lazy afternoons by the river and a good ole fashion s’more and cocktails by the campfire. I had such an amazing time. I can’t wait to get back there. I think this needs to happen every summer.

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Guess what else needs to happen every summer? If your guess had anything to do with these tartlets, you are correct. I get super excited when the late season figs come rolling into town. And they are abundant at the moment. There’s nothing like a super ripe fig, sweet and jammy and practically bursting at the seams. They are perfect as is, and they are equally wonderful baked with blackberries and hazelnuts in a sweet, buttery pastry. Make it happen.

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fig & blackberry tartlets

from Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard by Nigel Slater

makes 4 tartlets

for the pastry: 

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour 

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar , plus more for dusting 

1 large egg yolk 

Put the flour in a medium mixing bowl and add the butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour. Add the powdered sugar and egg yolk and mix until combined. Bring the dough together and squeeze it into a round. Roll it into a short log, fat log. Wrap the dough in plastic and transfer to the refrigerator. Chill for 30 minutes.

for the filling:

8 ounces blackberries, about 1-3/4 cups 

4 large figs, coarsely chopped  

4 tablespoons blackberry or red currant jelly, melted

juice of half a lemon 

1/2 cup ground hazelnuts 

Place the blackberries, figs, and chopped hazelnuts in a bowl. Add the melted jelly and lemon juice and toss.

to assemble:

4  3-1/2 inch tartlet pans

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Divide the pastry into four equal pieces. Place a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper over the dough. Using the palm of your hand, flatten each piece on a floured board. Line each pan with a round of dough, leaving the excess hanging over the edges. Don’t worry if the dough cracks – just patch it together. Divide the filling between the four tart shells, then loosely fold over the pastry, leaving the fruit in the center visible.

Place the tarts on a baking sheet and bake for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the fruit is bubbling. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve warm or cool.

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chocolate mascarpone cake with berries

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This cake is for the summer babies. I’ve accumulated quite a few Leos in my life over the years, not to mention both of my siblings, so July and August are always full of birthday celebrations. And cake. If I love you, and it’s your birthday, I can almost guarantee there will be cake.

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Since I only see my friend Ash once or twice a year, I really wanted to do it right for his birthday. This man is my idol. I don’t know anyone who hosts a dinner party with more grace or whimsy. We’re talking proper place settings and multiple courses. And party favors. And the most glorious tablescapes ever (and not in that Sandra Lee kind of way). Anyway, a birthday cake was in order and I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

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This cake. Now this cake really takes the cake. I may be partial to chocolate cake, but I know a good one when I see one. First of all, who can say no to a chocolate mascarpone frosting? It’s an excellent alternative to your everyday buttercream, with just the perfect level of sweetness but still incredibly decadent. And then there’s all the gorgeous summer berries. I love the combination of rich, creamy, chocolatey and bright, juicy berries. Plus, they really make this little cake quite stunning.

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What really makes this cake a winner is how simple it is to throw together. It’s just a matter of layering and building. I ended up making this beauty two weekends in a row because it was such a hit. The first time I made it, I put my cake pans in the oven without realizing the oven had been turned off, sending me into a panic because I was due in the City in less than two hours. But by some miracle I was able to bake, cool, frost and finish this cake in record time and disaster was averted. I wasn’t even late to dinner.  That’s how quickly this cake comes together. Pretty and easy. Need I say more?

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chocolate mascarpone cake with berries 

adapted just barely from call me cupcake

makes 1 6-inch cake

for the cake: 

1 cup all-purpose flour 

1/4 cup cocoa powder 

1/4 teaspoon baking powder 

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 

1/2 cup butter, softened 

3/4 cup light brown sugar 

1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

3 ounces semisweet or bitter sweet chocolate, melted

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1/2 cup whole milk 

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter two 6-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with cocoa powder, and knock out the excess. Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and brown sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until incorporated. Repeat with the egg yolk. Add the melted chocolate and beat until smooth. Add the vanilla to the milk. Alternately add the flour mixture and the milk, beginning and ending with the flour.

Divide the batter between the prepared baking pans, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then invert on a cooling rack and continue to cool completely.

for the mascarpone frosting: 

8 ounces mascarpone cheese

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1 cup heavy cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all ingredients. Beat on low speed and slowly increase to medium, beating until the mixture just comes together. Keep an eye on the mixture and beat for just a few more seconds until the mixture begins to thicken. Be extremely careful not to over-beat as this will result in a grainy frosting.

to assemble:

12 ounces fresh berries, I chose a combination of red raspberries, blackberries, and sunburst raspberries 

2 tablespoons powdered sugar (optional)

Place the first cake layer on a cake board or serving plate. Add half of the mascarpone frosting to the center of the cake. Using a spatula, gently spread the frosting over the cake layer until it just reaches the edges. Scatter half of the berries over the frosting. Add a dusting of powdered sugar over the fruit. Place the second cake layer on top of the fruit and repeat.

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