Galaxy Whoopie Pies

Galaxy Whoopie PiesFor the past two years, I’ve participated in a recipe round-up of Oscar-inspired treats based on the films nominated for Best Picture; thanks to Haley who is so kind to invite me back time and time again! If you’re a dear friend/long-time reader (or maybe my mom? Hi, Mom!), you might remember the Lemon Chantilly Cream Puffs I made two years back for The Grand Budapest Hotel or the Chocolate Stout Cannoli I dreamt up for Brooklyn last year. For this award season, I was super excited to be paired with the film, Hidden Figures, which immediately inspired these Galaxy Whoopie Pies!

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at the galaxy-themed dessert trend for a while now, but I won’t lie – making homemade buttercream and tinting all those colors both felt a little intimidating and like a lot of work. While delicious work it is, indeed, making those gorgeous, nebulous swirls is easy peasy with the right supplies.

Jackson, Vaughan, & JacksonBut before we get into the merits of gel food coloring and what size and shape pastry tip to use, let’s talk about Hidden Figures for a sec. If you haven’t yet seen it, do – not only because the vintage wardrobe of pencil skirts and fitted cardigans will make your femme heart swoon, but because you need to know this history of Black women in the space program (or at the very least, the three women whose stories are featured: Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson). It’s a feel-good film, which I get sugarcoats a lot more of the racism and sexism these brilliant women, undoubtedly, faced in their careers at NASA. But it also served as a relevant story of strength and resistance for this presently fraught time. It’s definitely worth a watch even if it casts Kevin Costener as the white man savior who wasn’t even a real person in the lives of Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson. I’m eye-roll-emojiing all over that!

Galaxy Whoopie PiesThese whoopie pies are delicious, but also really smart texturally: they’re moist in the center, but ever-so-slightly dry throughout to accommodate all of the thick, luscious frosting you sandwich between them. The cake has a deep, chocolate flavor, though they’re only slightly sweet, which is important because that gorgeous filling? That’s Swiss meringue buttercream, the richest, most delicious frosting of all! Yes, it’s also a complete departure from the fluffy, marshmallowy fillings of regular whoopie pies, but stay with me. In this recipe, I made a caramel Swiss meringue buttercream that is out of this world and, well, isn’t that just the most appropriate thing considering these are Galactic Whoopie Pies?

Galaxy Whoopie PiesThe ingredients here are all ones you would likely have in your pantry and fridge – Dutch-processed cocoa powder, a few sticks of unsalted butter, brown sugar, eggs, and a few other things. Things really only get fancy when it comes to creating those beautiful swirls of pink, blue, purple, and black. To achieve these intense colors, you’ll need to invest in gel food coloring. You could probably get close with the trusty McCormick set of liquid dyes that are synonymous, for many, with Easter eggs, but because they’re liquid, they’ll change the consistency of your buttercream and may even cause it to separate. Gel food coloring isn’t particularly expensive and you can pick it up at most craft stores and, of course, online. I’ve used my Wilton set for eons and still have a bunch left – a little goes a long way!

Galaxy Whoopie PiesBecause I wanted a great swirl effect, I opted for a large open star tip (#1M by Wilton – I’m not sponsored by Wilton, but I did take a Tuesday night cake decorating class at my local Joann’s a billion years ago and still have a ton of the supplies!) for my pastry bag, thinking the grooves would add a lot of definition and make the most out of all of those beautiful colors. Really, the most difficult part was getting the colors where I wanted them with the food coloring in terms of their depth and intensity. When I was ready to pipe, I simply alternated tablespoons of each color into the bag, used the dull end of a skewer to gently poke through the colors to blend them a bit, and then piped a few test stars until multiple colors came out at once. If you’ve never piped icing before, this is a great way to learn technique and tension, since you’re just piping circles and swirls as opposed to anything too elaborate. Plus, worse comes to worse, you’re going to pop a lid on these anyway!

Galaxy Whoopie PiesTo hammer home these Galactic Whoopie Pies, I played around with some edible pearlescent dust for the lids, as well as some edible glitter stars. I think the dust, in particular, added some visual interest to the lids, causing them to look a little bit like moons and planets with their craggy surfaces. And the stars? Well, they’re just pretty and make this dessert the perfect centerpiece for your Oscars viewing party. Check out the full list of talented folks taking part in this year’s recipe round-up with me below and happy watching!

Galaxy Whoopie Pies
Yields 8 whoopie pie sandwiches; whoopie pie cake recipe borrowed from here

Ingredients

For the whoopie pies:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg

For the caramel buttercream:

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • small pinch of kosher salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Pearlescent dust (I used lilac) or edible glitter stars, optional

Directions:

For the whoopie pies:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until combined. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in another small bowl and set aside. Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, then add egg, beating until well combined. The mixture should be pale and very, very shiny. Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk mixture in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.

Spoon level, 1/4-cup mounds of batter about 2 inches apart onto 2 buttered large baking sheets. Gently smooth each mound and spread them slightly with an offset spatula. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

For the caramel buttercream:

First, make the caramel by adding sugar into a small saucepan with enough water to give it the texture of wet sand. Cook the sugar and water mixture on low heat until it has dissolved, then raise the heat to high and let cook until it turns golden. Swirl the pan gently, intermittently, but do not stir or attempt to stir in crystalized bits of sugar on the sides of the pan, as it could cause the caramel to seize. Don’t walk away during this stage as the sugar can burn very quickly.

While sugar is cooking, add cream to a microwaveable bowl or cup and microwave for 30 seconds, just until it begins to warm. When the sugar has turned golden brown, remove it from the heat and pour in the cream in a slow, steady stream, whisking to incorporate thoroughly. Add a very small pinch of kosher salt and whisk once or twice more. If any crystallization occurs, place the caramel back over medium heat to melt. When finished, caramel may appear thin, but it will thicken as it cools.

To make the buttercream, begin by combining the sugar and egg whites in a medium metal bowl and place over a pot of gently simmering water. Whisk the sugar mixture constantly until it becomes smooth and shiny. Continue whisking until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F, then remove the sugar mixture from the heat and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled. You can test this by feeling the side of the bowl. Your egg whites should be smooth, shiny, and peaked.

Next, switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the room temperature butter one piece at a time, beating until smooth. Do not add too much butter too quickly, or beat the mixture at too high of a speed, or the buttercream may break. When all the butter has been added, switch back to the whisk attachment and beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth. If it appears to separate briefly, continue beating and it should come back together. If at any point you get true separation – you’ll know because it will look like a horrifying mess of watery liquid and big globules of fat from the butter, don’t panic. Scoop out about half the mixture and warm it in the microwave for a minute or so. Add it back to the mixer and beat on medium, graduating to high, and it should all reincorporate.

Once the buttercream is ready, stream the caramel into the buttercream and beat to combine. If the caramel has cooled too much in the meantime, or has solidified, just give it a gentle heat on the stovetop. The buttercream is now ready to go. If you’re not going to use it immediately, place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it, to prevent it from drying out.

When you’re ready to fill your whoopie pies, separate out the buttercream into four containers and tint each one to the desired hue of pink, blue, black, or purple. Fit a pastry bag with your tip of choice, then fill the bag with alternating tablespoons of each color. Once filled, I used the dull end of a skewer to push down inside the bag and gently blend the colors. Be especially careful if you’re using a plastic, disposable pastry bag, so you don’t risk puncturing it. Test your buttercream by piping a few stars and swirls on a paper plate or napkin. You’re ready to fill the whoopie pies when multiple colors emerge at the same time.

Fill each whoopie pie with a generous swirl of galaxy buttercream, then pop a lid on and decorate the top to your heart’s desire with pearlescent dust, edible glitter, or just leave them plain – they’re pretty as a peach no matter how you finish them.

Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter EggsEvery year when I was a kid, I could count on two things in my Easter basket – marshmallow eggs and maple cream eggs. Each served different purposes. The maple cream Easter eggs were my favorites and what I squealed over even more than finding plastic hidden eggs that held a dollar bill or a tiny toy. The marshmallow eggs were nothing I ever fancied and always found their way into the freezer for my parents to eat instead, transformed into cold little disks to snap between their teeth once I was out of sight. It was more a familial basket in that way.

Maple Cream Easter EggsBut maple cream Easter eggs aren’t always easy to find now, even at Easter. Russel Stover’s makes some yummy ones with a whipped center, but the ones of my childhood were filled with a dense maple filling that resembled a kind of almost nougat. Searches for recipes that might replicate these candies all included nuts in the filling, which sounds delicious, of course, but wasn’t what I was seeking. After getting some inspiration from recipes for what’s known as butter cream eggs and which are, apparently, a really big thing at Easter, I thought I’d try a modified maple variety – and they did not disappoint!

Maple Cream Easter EggsThese maple cream Easter eggs combine some of the very best things in life – sweetened condensed milk, butter, maple extract – along with confectioner’s sugar and a little bit of corn syrup to get a soft, pliable dough that can be easily shaped into eggs, balls, or rolled and cut out with a cookie cutter. I recommend going small on these. I made rather large eggs, I think, because I had Reese’s peanut butter eggs in mind and they’re about 2-3″. The filling in these is much sweeter, so when I make these again, I’ll probably halve the size of each egg because they can overwhelm you quickly. Keeping a small bowl or shaker of powdered sugar around as you handle the dough is essential to keep the dough from sticking to you and everything in its immediate vicinity.

Maple Cream Easter EggsWhen the eggs have had a chance to chill and firm up in the refrigerator, they get submerged in a bath of melted bittersweet chocolate and then garnished with whatever you can dream up. Bear and I decorated these together, which was a comedy of sorts because we’re both pretty messy cooks. We used toasted, chopped pecans, some tinted, unsweetened coconut, and a host of pastel sprinkles I had lying around from the Coconut Chocolate Peeps I made two years back. Needless to say that these toppings were all over the kitchen by the time we were done and I can’t begin to recount all of the weird places we found melted chocolate after. These maple cream Easter eggs came out pretty as a picture though and, more importantly, are a delicious Easter treat to share – or not!

Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter Eggs
Yields approximately 24 2-inch eggs; modified slightly from here.

Ingredients
1-1/2 lbs of confectioner’s sugar, plus more for dusting your hands as you roll
1/4 lb of butter, melted
7 ounces of sweetened condensed milk (half a regular sized can)
2 tablespoons of corn syrup
2 tablespoons of maple extract
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups of bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening, butter, or vegetable oil
Toppings of various kinds: sprinkles, chopped nuts, coconut, candies, etc.

Directions
In a mixing bowl, combine the first six ingredients and mix thoroughly. Chill the dough for a half hour then remove from fridge, scoop, and shape into eggs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You can decide how big you’d like the eggs to be. Mine are about 2 inches long here, but moving forward I’d make them about half the size because of how sweet they are. Be sure to dust your hands with confectioner’s sugar as you roll to prevent the eggs from melting into your hands. When your eggs are rolled into shape, chill for an hour. You can roll your eggs 3-4 days in advance if need be and then dip once you’re ready.

Fit a cooling rack inside of a baking sheet and lightly spritz the rack with cooking spray or grease it lightly with a little vegetable oil on a paper towel. When ready to coat your eggs, add 1 tablespoon of shortening, butter, or vegetable oil to the bottom of a small, microwave-safe mixing bowl and then add 1-1/2 cups of chocolate chips, followed by the remaining tablespoon of fat. Microwave for 10 second intervals, stirring after each, until the chips are completely melted and smooth. Submerge each egg in the chocolate and then lift out gently with a fork. Tap the fork on the side of the bowl gently until excess chocolate drizzles off of your egg. Place egg on the greased cooling rack and immediately sprinkle with your desired topping. Repeat with remaining eggs.

Allow chocolate coating to cure for an hour or two or until the chocolate is no longer tacky. Store in an airtight container with layers of wax paper or parchment between layers of eggs and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Chocolate Stout Cannoli

Chocolate Stout CannoliIt’s that time of year again – Oscars season! Once again, I’m thrilled to join Haley and a host of other food bloggers in coordinating a round up of Oscars-inspired recipes for 2016. This year, I was paired with the book-turned-film and romantic period drama, Brooklyn, starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, and Domhnall Gleeson. Brooklyn tells the story of a young Irish woman, Eilis (Ronan), who immigrates to the United States in the early 1950s and falls in love with a charming, working-class Italian-American boy, Tony (Cohen). While a number of things punctuate their evolving relationship and cause Eilis to struggle with questions of “home” – where she ultimately wants to makes it and with whom – her’s and Tony’s love sustains. And that’s how we get here, to Chocolate Stout Cannoli – a recipe that merges Irish and Italian flavors that are bound to make you swoon!Chocolate Stout Cannoli
Chocolate Stout Cannoli
The trick to cannoli – and especially these, with the addition of a kind of stout caramel – is a little bit of planning and patience. They’re not complicated, but require you to put a little thought into them. If you don’t have the time to drain your ricotta cheese overnight or reduce your stout by two-thirds, maybe wait until you have a window to allow these things. While runny cannoli filling isn’t the worst problem in the world – it is, of course, always tasty – you won’t be able to pipe and fill the shells to match the image in your head. Take the time with these; your patience will be oh-so-rewarded!

Chocolate Stout CannoliSimilarly, the stout reduction takes time and some attention, but don’t let that dissuade you! Reducing the chocolate stout and then adding honey to sweeten it causes it to form a soft, rich syrup that gets folded into your thickened ricotta filling and that is then joined by mini chocolate chips. The syrup gives the cheese a smoother, velvety texture and imparts a slightly hoppy, never bitter, flavor that plays really, really well with the semi-sweet chocolate. Chocolate stout cannoli are tremendously delicious and, I think, pretty unique! Consider serving them at your Oscars party as a sweet addition to the buffet – I promise that they’ll be a hit!

Chocolate Stout CannoliOn that note, I hope you’ll check out what the rest of the Oscar Blog Party contributors have made for the 2016 Academy Awards. I can’t get enough of the creativity in this group of bloggers and I think you’ll find so much inspiration in what they’ve imagined. Check out our posts from last year here and our newest set for the 2016 Oscars below the recipe!

Chocolate Stout Cannoli
Makes 8 large cannoli

Ingredients
2 cups of whole milk ricotta cheese, drained overnight
1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar, plus some more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1-1/4 teaspoon of orange zest
3/4 cup of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 cup of chocolate stout
1/2 cup of honey
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Directions
Set up a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and pour the ricotta cheese into the strainer. Set in the refrigerator overnight to drain.

On the day you want to serve the cannoli, add the chocolate stout to a small pot and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce to a low simmer and allow to cook until the stout reduces by two-thirds, stirring occasionally. When the stout as reduced, add the honey and stir until dissolved. Once again, bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Allow to cook for another 10 minutes or until the liquid is bubbling thickly – keep an eye on it during this process. When the syrup has formed, immediately remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, spoon in your drained ricotta and incorporate the half cup of confectioner’s sugar. Add the cinnamon and orange zest. While it is still warm, add two tablespoons of the stout syrup and stir. Taste and add more if you’d like the addition of more of the stout flavor. You can really adjust this to your liking. Last, stir in a half cup of mini chocolate chips and then place the ricotta mixture into the refrigerator to chill for an hour.

When ready to serve, remove the filling from the refrigerator and either spoon into a piping bag and fill with a flourish or load up the shells by hand with a long-handled spoon. You can dip the ends of your cannoli into the remaining mini chocolate chips should you wish. Serve immediately.

Oscar Blog Party 2016 Contributors

2016 Oscars Inspired Recipes

The Big Short: Jenga Veggie Towers with Creamy Cilantro Dip from Flour Arrangements

Bridge of Spies: Bitesize “TV Dinner” Meatloaf Appetizers from Pickles Travel

Mad Max: Fury Road: Ruby Red Grapefruitcello from Making It With Stephany

The Martian: Homemade Cheddar and Chive Tater Tots from The Honour System

The Revenant: Crock Pot Ribs from Dining With Alice

Room: Victoria Sandwich Cake from Savoury Table

Spotlight: Cheesy Boston Clam Dip from Cheap Recipe Blog

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving

5 Things You Can Do Now for ThanksgivingI’m a little bit giddy about Thanksgiving this year, but not for reasons you might think. Yes, I’ll get to spend it in the company of friends, of people I love, and yes, there will be delicious things to nibble and drink, games to play, and fun to be had with some of my favorite faces. But this year, Thanksgiving, or Friendsgiving as it really is, is the first time in five years that I’m not responsible for the meal – and I’m pretty thrilled about it!

Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook for my friends, to feed them delicious treats, to decorate my home and make it super inviting, but it’s a lot of work that starts weeks in advance. This year, I only have to bring two vegetable side dishes, my best beau, some board games…and that’s it! That’s all that is required of me! I’m so excited to spend time enjoying my friends and being very present in the moment, as opposed to running back and forth to the kitchen like I normally do when hosting. I’ll be the girl on the couch with her feet up and a glass of rosé in her manicured hand – and I can’t wait!

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
But all of my years of hosting in the past have taught me a lot about how to have a beautiful Thanksgiving and what you can do days, even weeks, ahead in order to make the day itself less busy and more enjoyable. Let’s take a look at the 5 things you can do now for Thanksgiving!

1. Prepare your Lists
I’m no one if not someone who loves a list. And while it can get borderline neurotic any other time, if you’re hosting any big event or holiday gathering, organization is key. So get yourself situated early on by preparing your four main lists: guest list, menu, shopping list, and your day-of agenda.

  • Several weeks in advance, you should have a firm sense of who is attending the fête and what they’re bringing. Lock in folks on one item or another based on their strengths. Once you know that one person is responsible for wine and another for their famous pumpkin cheesecake, you’re well on your way to organizing your menu and filling in the gaps.
  • Having a menu in place early on should give you a sense of calm as the day gets closer because you know what’s ahead of you. Building in old reliables that you’re comfortable with executing and the rare new recipe or technique allows you the ability to foresee how to structure your time before and the day itself. You’ll know where you need to build in extra time for your first-time making a meringue-topped dessert for instance versus the mashed potatoes you whip up once a month, that feel like old hat.
  • Planning your menu in advance also allows you to buy responsibly. Thanksgiving – and all holidays – can be expensive for the person hosting. If you take time ahead of time to plan a potluck or to designate specific items or dishes to others, it can alleviate some of the financial strain. If you’re going it alone and intend on not asking your guests to bring anything, planning your menu in advance also gives you time to take stock of what you have already. You’ll know if you’re down to half a bag of confectioner’s sugar or have four pounds stacked up in the back of the pantry.
  • A little planning prevents overbuying as much as it helps you to not miss any key ingredients as you head to the store. Organize your shopping list based on the layout of the spot where you plan to do your shopping. You’ll move through your list faster this way and will be less likely to forget something integral. I always make sure to mark on my shopping list what I have a coupon for or what the sale/deal is so that I’m also certain I’m buying the specific item (the 10oz box versus the 12oz box) that is actually on sale.
  • A day-of agenda for executing the meal itself is where many folks would draw the line with list-making, but I promise you that it’s worth doing – especially if you’re new to planning or cooking a big meal for a crowd. Doing so will allow you to have a schedule to keep yourself to – one that has already considered that the stuffing can go in the oven at the same temperature as the sweet potatoes, but 20 minutes after. A day-of agenda also comes in handy once you’re ready to put all the food out to confirm you haven’t forgotten to warm something or put out the dinner rolls. Consider it a little blueprint to get you through the day.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
2. Ready your serveware, your place settings, and your tools
A week or two before the event is the time to make sure you have everything you need in terms of your tools prior to the event. Take down your platters from the tops of your cupboards, pull out your box of extra wine glasses, dig through your utensil drawer and find the baster and meat thermometer, sharpen your knives. The worst thing is a stressful day before the holiday when you’re scrambling around trying to finish cooking and prepping and you still have to gather together all of the serving pieces you’re going to need the next day. Be good to yourself and take the time to plan so that on the night before, you can order a pizza, maybe trim some veggies, and take it easy. I like to gather all of my plates together, wash anything that got a little dusty during the year in the back of the closet, and then wrap everything in a clean, spare table cloth and keep them on an empty closet shelf.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
3. Wash and press your linens
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I have a thing for cloth napkins. Do Bear and I use them every day? No, of course not. Laundry isn’t free, nor is it in our apartment, and we’re not jerks. That said, though, I love a cloth napkin when I’m entertaining people, so the week before, I figure out what my table is going to look like and what table cloth and napkins I’m going to use. You know what you don’t want to be doing the night before Thanksgiving? Laundry. Two hours of work weeks ahead of time will save you last-minute annoyance and anguish closer to the holiday. Of course, if you’re thinking of using paper napkins for your event, I say there’s no shame in that. Easy clean-up where you can get it is totally respectable in the face of cooking a huge meal. If linens aren’t where you think your precious time needs to be spent, I get it! No shame!

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
4. Plan your table decoration and layout
A beautiful table doesn’t have to be difficult, elaborate, or expensive. A simple bouquet of flowers separated into smaller, shorter bouquets with a few small tea light candles won’t put you back much and will make you and your guests feel truly special. Pinterest, of course, is a great source of inspiration, so I recommend browsing around in your very early planning stages and getting some ideas. Two things I like to keep in mind as I plan what I’ll have on my table: 1) It’s important for your guests to be able to see each other, so I tend to put together items that aren’t very tall. For Thanksgiving, think pumpkins, gourds, candles shaped like maple leaves, pine cones, etc. An arrangement that includes lower-profile items will be beautiful and won’t risk interfering with conversation. 2) Remember that you’re going to have other things on your table aside from your centerpiece. Be sure you allow room for everyone’s place setting, rogue drinks that make it to the table, extra serving dishes of sides if you’re not buffeting your meal, and elbows! Don’t sacrifice you or your guests’ comfort and ability to stretch out a bit for a really elaborate table design. The whole point of getting together is to enjoy your time together and that’s not possible if you’re getting pushed out by too many wicker turkeys.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
5. Look to make-ahead dishes
After my first two years of cooking Thanksgiving, it took me about two to three days to fully recover from the amount of work and stress it was – and I was still in my 20s then! But all of that changed as I started to plan better and learned from experience that there were several key parts of the meal I could prepare ahead of time to save me such valuable time. The first? The gravy! Every Thanksgiving I’ve ever had includes this incredible gravy from the one and only Ina Garten. For me, there’s no turkey without this gravy. But you know what? Making gravy in the final moments before your meal goes to the table is hella stressful. It is the worst! So what do I do? I make my gravy two weeks ahead of time and keep it in my freezer. On the morning of Thanksgiving, I thaw it and warm it on the stove (or gasp! In the microwave!) right before we dig in. Sometimes it needs a little whisk or a quick buzz with the immersion blender to bring it fully together, but that’s nothing. Making the gravy in advance is such a time-saver and the result is piping hot, which is never the case when you’re whisking gravy together at the last minute. I make the gravy with drippings from a chicken I roast for dinner a few weeks prior and you’d never know that it didn’t start with a turkey. Take this tip and run with it, seriously!
Cranberry & Clementine Conserve
I also make my cranberry and clementine conserve weeks ahead of time and freeze it as well. For Thanksgiving prep, these containers are your best friends, allowing you to make several different pieces of your meal in advance, and strong enough to withstand the chill of your freezer for a few weeks. Last year, I even made my mashed potatoes a day or two prior (don’t freeze these – the texture will never be the same), smoothed them into a 9×13 pan, covered it tightly with foil, and about 40 minutes out from the meal, I put them oven covered and let them get nice and hot. They fluffed up beautifully as I added them to the serving bowl and there was no last minute mashing and whipping of potatoes either. If you plan a menu in advance, with the possibility of doing some of it ahead of time, you can really take a lot off your plate for the day-of, allowing you to do what you’re meant to: enjoy your friends and family and reflect on how to improve, or contribute more to, our various communities.

Whether you’re hosting your first big meal, bringing a pie, or staying home with take-out and Netflix, I wish you a wonderful, stress-free day of entertainment and one hell of a big piece of pumpkin pie. Enjoy, everyone!

Cookie Butter Buckeyes

Cookie Butter BuckeyesFall has just begun here in Minneapolis and with it comes the updating of the pantry and the cupboard. In our house, that means bagging up the excess charcoal and stowing it in the basement storage unit, securing the melon baller in its spot in the back of the utensil drawer, and switching out the deviled egg plates for the muffin tins in the cabinet above the refrigerator. It’s fall, y’all, and we have this reorganization ritual of mine to thank for these cookie butter buckeyes.

Had I not been doing the delicate dance of rehoming the barbecue tongs at the tip-top of the pantry, to make room for the slow cooker on a lower, more accessible shelf, I wouldn’t have peered in the deep recesses of my pantry a half-full jar of Biscoff spread wedged in the corner by the Thanksgiving platter. What? You don’t have a Thanksgiving platter? That’s neither here nor there, I suppose, what you serve your turkey on is  your business. Let’s get back to the Biscoff, yes?

Cookie Butter BuckeyesUsing a remaining cup and a third of cookie butter is hardly a nightmare – heck, on a Monday I could eat that after dinner straight out of the jar. The stuff, generally, doesn’t stand a fighting chance here between me and our most darling fat cat who likes to delicately lick it off the top of my finger while gently steading the back of my hand with his mighty paw. Bear said I couldn’t feed it all to Ollie, though, so here I was with a jar of cookie butter and I couldn’t remember when I had bought it, how long we’d had it, and this lit a fire in me to figure out a way to use it right away.

I’ll admit, it didn’t take a lot of imagination to follow a trusted peanut butter buckeye recipe and substitute cookie butter. I added a little extra cinnamon in these just to get more of that spiced Biscoff flavor to come through against the sweetness of the semi-sweet chocolate, but otherwise these are your familiar, creamy, cozy buckeyes with some, appropriately, fall flavors. A perfect treat for a drive through the foliage, a picnic in the leaves, or alongside a mug of hot, steamy tea after a long day. Wipe off that Thanksgiving platter and lace up your boots – cookie butter buckeyes are your new fall BFF!

Cookie Butter Buckeyes
Yields approximately 30 1-1/2″ buckeyes

Ingredients
1-1/3 cups of cookie butter/speculoos spread/Biscoff
2 sticks of salted, softened butter
1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
6 cups of confectioner’s sugar
4 cups of semi-sweet chocolate melted (use bars, not chips!)

Directions
Combine the cookie butter and softened butter in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer until thoroughly incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and the ground cinnamon and mix to combine. Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar bit by bit with the mixer on low.

Once all of the confectioner’s sugar has been integrated, the mixture will resemble coarse crumbs, but will hold together when pressed together. Form 1-1/2″ balls with your hands and set on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon baking mat. Place the sheet tray into the refrigerator for a half hour to allow the balls to firm up.

In the meantime, slowly melt your chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave, checking it every 10-15 seconds. Use bar chocolate here, as chocolate chips have stabilizers in them to keep their shape and they don’t melt as smoothly; in my experience, they seize and burn faster too. Once the chocolate has melted, remove it from the double boiler or microwave and take the buckeyes out of the refrigerator. Insert a skewer or toothpick into the top of the ball and gently dip it into the chocolate, swirling as you go. This will cause the chocolate to come up the sides of the ball, forming the buckeye’s distinct exposed cookie butter center and perfectly coated sides.

Place the buckeye back onto the baking sheet and remove the skewer gently. Smooth over the remaining hole from the skewer over with the tip of a butter knife (optional) and continue. When all the buckeyes are coated in chocolate, return the buckeyes to the fridge to set. When the chocolate has hardened, store in an airtight container in the fridge up to two weeks.

Lemon Chantilly Cream Puffs

Lemon Chantilly Cream PuffsI’m so thrilled to be joining Haley and six other food bloggers in this challenge to create a recipe and post for one of the 2015 Academy Award nominees for Best Picture. I was paired with The Grand Budapest Hotel, a quirky comedy from writer and director, Wes Anderson, and created these Lemon Chantilly Cream Puffs in response. As per most of Anderson’s movies – Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Royal Tenenbaums, among others – The Grand Budapest Hotel features an all-star cast. Part murder mystery, part art heist, part coming-of-age tale, the film grants roles to some of Anderson’s usual suspects, like Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, but also some new additions such as the lead opposite Ralph Fienne’s Monsieur Gustave, Zero, the Lobby Boy, played by Tony Revolori. Without question, though, my favorite character in the film whose screen-time is far too brief, is Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis, also referred to as “Madame D.”

Lemon Chantilly Cream PuffsMadame D., played by the incomparable weirdo that is Tilda Swinton, is the wealthy widow who visits The Grand Budapest regularly for its timeless service and the affections of Monsieur Gustave – a paramour of many an older lady. Madame D.’s first moments on screen are also her last, as she is murdered for her fortune shortly after. Stuffy, fancy, and lavish in her dress and accoutrement, Madame D. was, immediately, my inspiration going into this Oscar blog challenge. The image of her full, graying beehive and rich ochre dress quickly coaxed the idea choux pastry from my brain, developing, with time, into these gorgeous lemon chantilly cream puffs.

Lemon Chantilly Cream PuffsChoux pastry, which creates the actual puff itself, is a recipe that gets a lot of flack for being difficult, but I think this largely stems from American’s lack of familiarity with it. Truthfully, it requires only a strong arm that can endure some vigorous stirring and about 5 minutes of your absolute attention. Why don’t we make cream puffs all the time, right? I know! This version is filled with a mixture of stiffly whipped cream, lightly sweetened, and then folded together with bright, zesty lemon curd. Together, they create an airy, but rich, lemon filling that is every bit as regal as Madame D. herself. I can just see her biting into one with her crimson-painted mouth right now!

Lemon Chantilly Cream PuffsWhat makes these cream puffs extra fancy, though, is the lemon-enhanced meringue peaks that surround the cream puff lids in swirls and swoops, just like Madame D.’s coif. Set in the oven for just a few minutes, they toast up light brown and taste of the very best campfire marshmallow. They are as whimsical as the film itself, but, dare I say, far more delightful! Check out the recipe for these beauties below, but before doing so, won’t you see what these seven other wonderful bloggers have concocted for their Best Picture pairings?

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Inspired Recipes

I’m so impressed by the level of creativity here and can’t wait to try some of these delicious treats! Now, onto Madame D.’s puffs!

Lemon Chantilly Cream Puffs
Yields approximately 10 cream puffs

Ingredients
For the cream puffs
1/2 cup (or 1 stick) of butter
1 cup of water
1 cup of flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
4 eggs

For the lemon chantilly cream
1/2 cup of heavy cream, chilled
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of lemon curd
* If the lemon curd is store bought, add the zest of one half a lemon

For the meringue tops
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
A dash of lemon extract

Directions
Make the cream puff shells first, noting that they must cool completely before filling. I often make them the night before and leave them out on the counter, uncovered, overnight. If you put them in a container while they’re even slightly warm, they will get doughty. Once filled, they get soft, and then soggy, as they sit, so if making them for a party or for company, fill right before you’re reading to serve. Ready? Let’s go!

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Crack all 4 eggs into a pitcher, or bowl with a spout, so that they are ready immediately when needed. In a heavy-bottom pot, over medium heat, add the water and butter to the pan. When the mixture is boiling and the butter is melted, add the flour and salt and stir quickly to combine the ingredients. Continue stirring as the mixture integrates and forms a soft ball, which follows your spoon around the pot. The sides of the pot should be clean as the batter forms. Once the batter is ready, remove the pot from the heat and add one egg at a time, mixing vigorously throughout to incorporate each egg. You may need to alternate between a wooden spoon and a whisk, beating in the eggs. Your mixing should be fast and deliberate so that the eggs do not begin to scramble. The batter is finished when the eggs are all added and the mixture is smooth, thick, and holds its shape.

On a parchment-lined baking sheet, form 10 evenly-shaped mounds with a slightly peaked top. I create a larger mound as the base and then a smaller one on top. If your peak comes to a fine point, gently pat it down so that it does not burn in the oven. You may also pipe the batter onto the baking sheet if you prefer. Bake the puffs for about 40 minutes or until they are a medium brown (not golden). Set aside to cool completely.

In the meantime, create the lemon chantilly cream. In a chilled bowl, add the heavy cream and the sugar and beat on high until stiff peaks form. Separately, warm your lemon curd in the microwave or on the stove top, so that it is a very soft gel-like consistency and gently fold it into the heavy cream a bit at a time until it is thoroughly incorporated. If you are using a store-bought lemon curd that could do with a bit of freshness, also fold in the zest of one half of a lemon at this time. Return to fridge and allow to chill.

When the cream puffs are cooled and ready to be prepared for serving, slice each puff horizontally at the point where the two mounds merge, creating a clear, wide base and a peaked top. Very gently, scoop out the base of the cream puff and discard the moist, slightly doughy center to provide maximum space for the cream. In a clean, dry bowl, add the two egg whites and the cream of tartar and beat with a mixer until foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Once they have, pour in the dash of lemon extract and whip just to incorporate.

Preheat the oven to 400°F again. Fit a piping bag with a large round tip and fill with meringue. Pipe swirls of stiff, lemon meringue around the lids of the cream puffs and place on a lined baking sheet. You could also dip and swirl the lids into peaks if you want to avoid the piping work. Bake just the meringue-covered lids for about 5-8 minutes until they are golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to set and cool while you fill the base of the cream puffs with the chilled lemon chantilly cream. When ready, top each cream puff with a meringue-covered lid and serve.

Victoria Sponge Cakes

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesLike a lot of people, Bear and I ditched cable a while back and, for the most part, have no complaints! Not having a huge bill is the greatest perk, of course, but so is discovering new shows. This can go either way and, if we’re being honest, at least 20% of what we queue up is for hate-watching; have you re-watched any early 90s cooking shows lately? Hilarious…and also a study in food trends. Ah, the days when the portobello mushroom was “exotic,” as I recently heard it referred to or how we watched an entire show dedicated to the “wonders” of basil. I die.

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesRecently, our hunt for new shows of the cooking variety brought us to The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) series, which airs on PBS. Oh my god, you guys, we have lost the last three weeks to watching every single episode in all five of its seasons! It is so, so good! GBBO is a baking competition that follows 12 amateur home bakers through 10 weeks of challenges. Sounds familiar enough to U.S. cooking competition shows, yes? Well, that’s about where it stops. GBBO is wonderfully antithetical to anything you’ve  watched on the Food Network or Fox. It is believable, first and foremost, and the most impressive part about it is how genuinely invested the contests and judges are in the skills and in each other. There’s no “Welcome to the Thunderdome!” element to it, no sabotage, no surprise twist ingredient. It’s just an honest competition with lots of talent and two totally delightful co-hosts. I’m so sad we’ve watched, literally, all of it. Good thing Season 6 starts in just a few months! Eee!

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesAfter watching five seasons of GBBO though, you can imagine that there’s a strong impulse to bake alongside the contestants and try out the (new-to-this-American) confections. Season after season, it seemed as if each had a challenge where the bakers had to make classic Victoria sponge cakes (also called Victoria Sandwiches), a double-layer vanilla sponge cake filled with homemade strawberry jam and whipped cream, and named for Queen Victoria herself. While I was tempted by more complex undertakings, such as brandy snaps and mille feuille, it was the simple Victoria sponge cake I most wanted to try.

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesTraditionally, the batter for Victoria sponge cakes is evenly divided into two 8″ round cake pans, but with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I couldn’t resist using my heart-shaped muffin tin. I think I chose right! In tins such as mine, one batch made 24 mini cakes, which is perfect if dividing into small gifts, favors, or serving them alongside afternoon tea, as intended. Of course, these will taste just as delicious as a large two-layer cake in proper English tradition.

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesAt any rate, I hope you’ll try these. The cake itself is so buttery and airy – just strong enough to cradle layers of sweet preserves and a very lightly sweetened whipped cream between its halves. Everyone always says that simple is better and, in this case particularly, it is absolutely the truth. I would take a perfect, tender Victoria sponge cake over something complex covered in salted caramel and spun something-or-other any day – they are so sublime! Happy Valentine’s Day, lovies! xoxo

Classic Victoria Sponge Cakes
Yields one 8-inch double-layer cake or 24 mini layer cakes; recipe only slightly altered from here.

Ingredients
4 eggs
1 cup of superfine sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for whipped cream
1 cup of self-rising flour
1 cup of butter, softened, plus 2 tablespoons to butter tins
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of homemade strawberry or raspberry jam (or store-bought with visible pieces of fruit), approximately
1 cup of heavy cream
Powdered sugar for decorating

Directions
Preheat your oven to 355°F. Prepare your tins. If using two 8-inch round tins, cut a round of parchment for each. Butter the bottom of the tins lightly and then lay down the parchment rounds. use remaining butter to spread all over the top of parchment and all around the interior sides of the tin. You may wish to add a slight dusting of flour to these as well for easier removal. If using muffin tins, liberally butter each hole, as well as the area in between each section in case they bake up over their individual spot.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the butter, 1 cup of sugar, flour, eggs, baking powder, vanilla extract and salt. Blend with a hand-mixer until just combined. Do not over-mix or your cakes may sink. Fill your tins evenly and gently smooth the tops with a butter knife or a cake spatula. If you are using muffin tins, each hole needs only to be filled about 1/3 of the way. Place cakes in the oven and gently shut the door. Two 8-inch rounds will take approximately 25 minutes, while those in muffin tins will take approximately 15-20 minutes. Cakes are done when they are lightly browned, pulling away from the sides of the tins, and spring back with a gentle touch.

Allow cakes to cool in their tins for 5 minutes once removed from the oven. Next, transfer to a baking rack and allow to sit until they are cold. When ready to prepare your cakes, pour 1 cup of heavy cream and three tablespoons of superfine sugar into a medium bowl and blend with a hand-blender or a whisk until whipped peaks hold their shape. Under-mixing will cause the whipped cream to ooze out of the cakes once sandwiched and over-mixing will turn the cream to butter.

If you are baking the traditional 8-inch, two-layered Victoria sponge cake, place one layer upside down on a cake plate and spread as much, or as little, jam as you’d like on the top. Repeat with a layer of whipped cream. Affix the top cake layer top-side up and dust generously with powdered sugar. If you are using a muffin tin, slice each cake in half horizontally and fill as described above. Dust with powdered sugar. Store cakes in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Bagel and Lox Cheese Ball

Bagel & Lox Cheese Ball
As an only child who lives halfway across the country, it’s safe to say that when I go home to visit my family, it’s a pretty big deal. If you’re an SNL fan, you couldn’t have missed this year’s Thanksgiving sketch by the ladies of the cast about heading home for the holidays – Back Home Ballers – which feels like an only slightly exaggerated version of my reality. What can I say? My mom misses me a whole lot (it’s mutual, Mom! Promise!). While home a few weeks ago, I was greeted two Saturday mornings with the biggest perk of being a long distance daughter – fresh-baked Jersey bagels! Still slightly warm in the center, they were perfectly chewy and heavily covered in a dense “everything” style mix of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, coarse salt, garlic, and onion. Gah, so delicious!Bagel & Lox Cheese BallThese bagels reached true “baller” status, though, when my mom broke out the surprise of lox and cream cheese to go along with them. We bonded over this treat when I was little; when the sight and smell of lox saw my dad scurrying from the kitchen with his nose pinched and me following suit just because it seemed the silly thing to do. Left to enjoy her luxe bagel alone, my curiosity eventually got the better of me and I returned to the table one morning and asked my mom for a bite. I had never tasted anything so savory and so delicious! I was hooked and from then on it became a special, once-in-a-blue-moon treat shared between mother and daughter – my dad stayed firm in his position on the matter.

Bagel & Lox Cheese BallWhen I returned to Minneapolis after Christmas this year, I brought back with me some fresh bagels for Bear and I because that’s the kind of girlfriend I am. One who travels with food in her luggage to bring you a familiar taste of home. We gobbled them up in just three days (what? they go stale fast!) and each time I bit into one, I sighed and spoke about the bagel and lox of weeks ago. Laying in bed on the night of the last bagel, I fantasized about the bagel and lox plate at a cafe I used to get here in Minneapolis that was truly a tasty feast, save for the hard, dense bagels they served with it. The Midwest has many perks, but bagels aren’t one of them. At any rate, this bagel plate came with a mound of garlic and dill cream cheese, capers, thinly sliced purple onion, and tomatoes. Mixing and matching ingredients between bites of lox and everything bagel was an indulgent pleasure, but one I’d foregone in recent years because of those disastrous bagels that accompanied it.

Bagel & Lox Cheese BallBut wait – I had cream cheese and purple onion in the fridge…and capers too! I even had, after examining the specifics, all the spices and seeds I’d need to make an everything bagel. All I was missing was the lox itself and that certainly wouldn’t be hard to find. I was onto a re-creation of sorts as I drifted off to sleep. Thing is, though, I knew even as my dreams found me that night that I didn’t want to be bothered making bagels – and anything store-bought out this way was just going to be a cruel, doughy joke even if it was to be smeared with all the right fixin’s. Enter: the bagel and lox cheese ball that came to mind the next morning. Sleep really is good for the brain!

Bagel & Lox Cheese BallIf you’ve spent any time on Pinterest lately, you’ve seen that the humble cheese ball is having a renaissance right now and truly, thank goodness! Why did cheese balls ever go out of fashion? While they might not necessarily be the most chic thing, I’m willing to bet that there’s never any left at the end of a party, no matter what you add to them or what you roll them in. A bagel & lox cheese ball seemed like a natural next step, adding in all the familiar toppings and flavors within the ball itself and covering the whole thing in the crunch reminiscent of my favorite bagel.

It sounded so good in theory, but the execution was tastier than I could have even imagined! All of the flavors I dreamt about, enjoyed around the table with my mom, are right here in this cheese ball. The perfect bite, but wrapped up into one adorable, party perfect sphere! Served with bagel chips or rye crackers, this is the perfect cheese ball for a brunch spread or an afternoon tea party. Won’t you give it a try?

Bagel and Lox Cheese Ball
Yields one cheese ball, approximately 3 inches across

Ingredients
1 8-ounce block of cream cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons of thinly sliced green onions
2 Tablespoons of finely minced purple onion
1 Tablespoon of nonpariel capers, roughly chopped
3 ounces of lox or smoked salmon
Fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 cup of toasted sesame seeds
3 Tablespoons of poppy seeds
2 Tablespoons of dehydrated onion flakes
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1-1/2 teaspoons of coarse salt (I go a little light on the salt because of the salt in the ball itself)

Directions
Leave the cream cheese out to soften for a few hours or microwave for 30 seconds or until soft to the touch and set aside. Slice the green onions, the purple onion, the capers, and the lox. Add all aforementioned ingredients to cream cheese and crack in about half a teaspoon of black pepper. Combine thoroughly together. Put bowl directly into the refrigerator, uncovered, and allow to sit for 30-45 minutes. In the meantime, cut a 14″ piece of plastic wrap and lay on a flat work surface. After the time has passed, remove the cream cheese mixture from the refrigerator and spoon into a big mound in the center of the plastic wrap. Draw sides and edges of the wrap up together toward the center, shaping the mixture into a ball and twist the plastic wrap tightly shut. Finish shaping the plastic wrap-covered ball into as round a shape as possible. Return to a clean bowl where it will help hold the shape and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

While the cheese ball is resting and firming up, prepare the “everything” bagel coating. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine the sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dehydrated onion flakes, garlic powder, and salt in a bowl and than pour, in a single layer, onto a baking sheet. Bake in oven for 4-5 minutes or until the mixture is toasted. Keep an eye on these, as they go from toasted to burnt in a second. When finished, remove seeds from pan immediately and allow to cool completely.

When the topping is cooled and your cheese ball has had time to firm up, remove the latter from the plastic wrap and roll in the the toasted “everything” mixture, being certain you cover the cheese ball completely in the topping. Serve immediately.

Fennel, Onion & Fontina Pizza

Most of the memories I have of my father’s parents revolve around food. Due to the complicated nature of family, I didn’t grow up around them to the extent I did my mother’s parents. With the latter, we were together almost every weekend, vacationed together, and lived mere blocks away for the first few years of my life. My grandparents on my Dad’s side, Rose & John (seen below with my great grandmother between them), lived in apartment projects for the elderly in Hoboken, NJ, before it’s renaissance of the past decade. They were complicated people. Always kind to me, but there was a persistent and underlying tension present because of my dad’s strained relationship with his father stemming back to childhood.

Grandma & GrandpaAs a result, we didn’t visit often and when we did, it was more a result of my mom having to work on a weekend and my father thinking he could kill two birds with one stone: visit his parents and get us fed well at the same time. Though my memories of them are few and fleeting – they both passed within a year or so of one another when I was in the range of 10-11 years old – gathering around their tiny kitchen table with the heavy, clear, vinyl tablecloth remains one that is firmly in place.

Seated here, I marveled at the food they turned out of their tiny kitchen – dishes and ingredients that were largely unfamiliar to me, but which introduced me to the culture of this side of my family (Italian-American) that my mother’s side seemed less connected to. Fish cakes made with baccala at Christmas, celery logs stuffed with blue cheese alongside antipasto, the very best rice balls (arancini if you’re fancy) that I’ve had in my life – all of these things laid across the table with the gentle encouragement to try new things and flavors.

It’s from my grandparents that I fell in love with fennel. What 7 year old is like, “More fennel, Grandma!” but that was me. I happily crunched on it between courses as a palate cleanser (I knew nothing of this, of course, only that it was delicious and crunchtastic) and marveled at its completely different flavor when my grandfather served it baked as a gratin aside homemade braciola. They had me hooked on fennel early and my love for it is still going strong.

This pizza brings together the sweet taste of cooked, caramelized fennel and the slight anise flavor it has raw by scattering some of the fennel fronds over top. Layered with sautéed onions and creamy fontina cheese, it’s a delicious take on a vegetarian pizza option and works well right in your oven or, now that it’s warming up, on the grill. Serve it with a big salad for dinner or cut it into small strips for an appetizer; it’s completely malleable to all kinds of meals and occasions. If you’re not sure that you like fennel, or have only had it raw, give this recipe a try. The transformation between raw and cooked is night and day and that sweet flavor, coupled with the salty cheese, and the garlic and onions make for a perfect mouthful. Take it from 7-year-old me and give fennel a try!

Fennel, Onion & Fontina Pizza
Yields one pizza

Ingredients
1 pizza dough
1 bulb of fennel
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
7 ounces of fontina cheese, grated
1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
1-2 Tablespoons of cornmeal

Directions
Remove your pizza dough from the refrigerator about 20-30 minutes before you’re going to assemble your pizza so that it has time to soften a bit and becomes pliable. Sprinkle cornmeal over baking sheet and set aside. Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a small bowl, pour 1/3 cup of olive oil and add two cloves of minced garlic and some cracked black pepper. Microwave on high for 30 seconds, or until you just start to smell the garlic, and remove. Set aside.

Peel the onion and slice in half, cutting uniform 1/4″ half-moon slices. In a large, non-stick frying pan, drizzle 2 teaspoons of olive oil and apply a medium high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally. Once the edges start to turn brown, drop the heat to medium and cook until they are brown throughout and slightly translucent. Before removing them from the pan, salt and pepper them lightly, stir, cook an additional minute or two and then set aside in a separate bowl. Return the pan to the stove and drizzle with an additional teaspoon or so of olive oil. Remove the fennel stems and peel off the first layer of the bulb. Slice the bulb in half and cut each half into 1/4″ half moons. Sauté the sliced fennel over medium heat with a little bit of salt and pepper, allowing it to cook until softened and golden.

Unroll the pizza dough and stretch it accordingly to form the crust. When the dough has reached the size and shape you’d like, brush it with the garlic-infused olive oil and place in the oven for 5 minutes. While the crust is par-baking, grate the fontina and pick off some of the fennel fronds and set aside. Remove the par-baked crust from the oven and layer the onions and fennel over top. Top vegetables with both cheeses and cover with fresh cracked black pepper. Drizzle with a little olive oil if desired and bake for 10-12 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese is completely melted and bubbling. When finished, remove from oven, sprinkle with fennel fronds, and allow to stand for 5 minutes before slicing.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeThough I’ve never marched in a parade for it, nor have I ever drank green beer, I still like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day every year in some capacity. While there’s no Irish ancestry on either side of my family, my mom always made a corned beef on March 17th along with boiled potatoes and cabbage. We all looked forward to that meal each year, as if corned beef couldn’t be found and made for dinner the other 364 days!

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeWhile I’ll be making this same treat-of-a-supper for Bear and I this St. Patrick’s Day, we’ll end our meal with this totally decadent Irish-inspired fudge. Obviously, this recipe was developed after we recently had a conversation about Irish car bombs, the drinks, and how they’re a curdled nightmare if you don’t chug them quickly enough; hi, my early 20s! Because we’re socially conscious killjoys on occasion, Bear schooled me on how the name “Irish car bomb,” is actually really culturally insensitive, pointing to the violence that erupted in Northern Ireland – including the deadly use of car bombs – in the 1970s-1990s. Rather than perpetuate this kind of wackness, we made a decision right then and there that if I was going to try and make us a fudge that incorporated similar flavors, we’d leave that name in the dust.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeNow that your history lesson is out of the way, let’s talk about fudge and how there are, generally, two basic approaches to it. The one I’m most familiar with includes chocolate melted alongside a can of sweetened condensed milk , later folded together with marshmallow creme and nuts. It’s easy and often can be done in the microwave. The other contains evaporated milk in place of the sweetened condensed milk and requires some boiling, a candy thermometer, and confectioner’s sugar. It’s a bit more involved and seems to yield a softer, albeit still delicious, fudge.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeI had planned on making this via the former method, but when I started to organize my mise en place I noticed I had mistakenly picked up evaporated milk instead of sweetened condensed. Zut alors! While this version did require the stove (whoa!) and keeping a close eye on the fudge’s rising temperature, it still came together in about 10 minutes. After a good, long chill in the fridge overnight, followed by a blanket of glossy ganache, and another nap to cool down again, it formed into this smooth, creamy confection. The fudge itself actually tastes like Irish Cream, which I’m very happy about, and while it’s certainly sweet from the confectioner’s sugar the bitterness of the Guinness in the ganache creates a very sophisticated flavor pairing – one that should, like my mother’s corned beef, be enjoyed throughout the year and not just on St. Patrick’s Day.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache RecipeAs a final note about the fudge, I’m storing mine in the freezer because the booze in the fudge makes it especially soft. Coming cold out of the freezer, I can slice it easier and eat it without fear of it getting too messy. It never actually freezes and rather stays a typical fudge consistency housed in the freezer. In the fridge, it is almost the consistency of a cookie dough, so fairly soft.

Irish Cream Fudge with Guinness Ganache
Yields one 8×8 pan; This recipe should be made at least a day in advance of serving so that it has enough time to chill and firm up.

Ingredients:
For the fudge:
1/2 cup of evaporated milk
1 cup of light brown sugar, packed
1 cup of white sugar
1-1/2 sticks of butter
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/3 cup of Irish Cream liqueur
2-1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 cup of chopped pecans

For the ganache:
1-1/2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon of Guinness stout
Pinch of salt

Directions:
First, line an 8″x8″ pan with foil or parchment, allowing several inches to hang over the sides, and grease the lining lightly with butter or a non-flavored cooking spray. In a pot, over medium heat, stir together the evaporated milk, brown sugar, white sugar, butter and salt. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring often, and cook until your candy thermometer reads 236°F; this temperature is called the “soft ball stage.” Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and the liqueur. Pour into a mixing bowl and using either a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, slowly, on low speed, add the confectioner’s sugar in 2-3 increments. When thoroughly combined, stir in pecans until incorporated, and then spoon fudge into the prepared pan evenly. Next, cover the pan with foil and place in the refrigerator until firm. If you’re not adding the ganache, allow to harden for at least 6-8 hours. If you are going ahead with the ganache, check the fudge after 3 hours. It should be firm enough by then to continue.

For the ganache, add chocolate, cream, salt, and 1/4 cup of Guinness to a pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the chocolate melts completely and the mixture is smooth. A whisk will help remove any residual lumps. Remove the ganache from the heat and taste it. If you’re happy with it, leave as is; if you prefer more of a Guinness flavor add 1 Tablespoon of Guinness, stir well, and check flavor again. When the ganache has reached the flavor you desire, allow the mixture to cool by either putting the pot into a bowl of ice or by filling your sink with several inches of cold water and allowing the pot to sit there for 20 minutes; stir or whisk occasionally. When the mixture is no longer hot and has cooled, remove your fudge from the refrigerator and pour the ganache over it. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the ganache over the entire top surface of the fudge. Cover the fudge with foil and allow to set up in the refrigerator or freezer for another 6-8 hours.

When the fudge and the ganache have set, remove the fudge from the pan by grasping the overhanging foil or parchment and lifting out the block. Peel off the liner and place the square of fudge onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the fudge into squares. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 2 weeks.