maple bacon biscuits

So this is another post that starts with that trip to City Bakery with my friend Mimi. As we were enjoying our hot chocolate, vegan chocolate chip cookie, and pretzel croissant (mm…), Mimi informed me that the maple bacon biscuits City Bakery served at breakfast were amazing and something I needed to try. A week or so later, I took her advice, and I was not disappointed.

After slowly savoring a biscuit at City Bakery, I did some internet searching to see if their recipe was floating around in the ether. It wasn’t, but I did find a recipe from a bakery out in California called Huckleberry. I finally gave these a try yesterday, and they were so very delicious – the biscuits themselves were soft and flaky with a crisp top, the maple syrup added just enough sweetness, and then there’s the bacon – bacon, as far as I’m concerned, doesn’t need an elaborate description to make it sound tasty. Bacon speaks for itself. So instead of making biscuits, frying up bacon, and drizzling both with maple syrup (mm, also sounds good), you can enjoy all three parts in one tasty breakfast treat!

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quiche lorraine

This is perhaps not the light post-holiday fare one wants after stuffing oneself for several days, but I’ve got quite the backlog of posts at the moment, and since the picture has festive Christmas tree lights in the background, I’m going to go ahead and get it out of the way before the holidays are gone entirely. In any case, we can all start eating more healthily after New Years, right? I know I am certainly craving a big plate of vegetables, preferably not drenched in butter or cream.

This quiche is primarily composed of butter and cream, and yet it feels light when one eats it. Many recipes for quiche lorraine floating around the internet include cheese, onions, leeks, all kinds of things. This recipe is the classic: eggs, cream, and bacon. Julia Child says that a true quiche lorraine includes only those ingredients, and I trust pretty much anything she says (well, I don’t trust her crust recipe because it involves shortening and shortening freaks me out, but that’s another thing). You can serve this with a salad, fruit, and/or vegetables of some sort, but I definitely recommend serving it with brussels sprouts that are prepared simply – the flavors complement so well that I think they are made to go together. You should also be sure to have a glass of crisp white wine.

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big peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies

A few weeks ago I was at the wonderful City Bakery with my friend Mimi, who saw what looked like giant peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies as we were ordering our hot chocolate. I’ve always made the little peanut butter cookies that are rolled in sugar and marked with a fork, and for some reason adding chocolate chips never occurred to me. The City Bakery cookies turned out to be vegan chocolate chip, and Mimi tried one despite the disappointing lack of peanut butter-y goodness. But ever since, I’ve had the idea of giant, soft, melty peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies stuck in my head.

These cookies aren’t exactly giant, but they were definitely bigger than the usual peanut butter cookies. You could make them bigger, and I kind of meant to, but the dough balls I was making looked a lot bigger to me than they ended up being. In any case, if you are stumped for last minute gifts or want one more batch of cookies for the holiday cookie stash, these cookies would be an excellent choice. With big chunks of bittersweet chocolate, a soft center, and nutty, salty peanut butter flavor to contrast with the sweetness, these are everything I imagined a big peanut butter chocolate chunk cookie could be.

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the very best sweet potato casserole ever

I know it’s generally a bad idea to go in for superlatives when describing food – the reasons that we like particular foods are based on all kinds of different factors: culture, what we ate growing up, foods that are associated with particular memories. So, in other words, the best sweet potato casserole ever to me may not be the best sweet potato casserole ever to you. But, having made the family sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving and Christmas for too many years to remember now, I can say that this is by far the best I have ever made. It is the holy grail of sweet potato casseroles that I have been searching for the last few years.

Here’s why. First, most sweet potato casseroles are loaded with sugar. In fact, the recipe that I formerly used called for a full cup of granulated sugar to go in the sweet potatoes themselves. Sweet potatoes, as their name implies, are already sweet on their own. After making mashed sweet potatoes that didn’t involve any sugar, I realized that if I just used sugar in the pecan praline topping, this would still be enough to keep these potatoes in the realm of over-indulgent holiday foods. Without the overload of sugar, there is a nice contrast between the creamy, buttery (see: still over-indulgent) sweet potato filling and the sugary, crunchy topping.

Second, we always used to make sweet potato casserole with canned sweet potatoes. It’s certainly easier. However, if you really want an exquisite sweet potato casserole, you are going to have to start with whole sweet potatoes and roast them yourself. The taste and texture simply aren’t comparable. I started making the casserole this way when I lived in England, where there were no canned sweet potatoes to be found. Sweet potatoes are a royal pain to roast, as they always take about an hour longer than any recipe I’ve used says they will, so that is something to know ahead of time. Don’t roast the potatoes the day you need them, or you will find yourself, as I have found myself, cursing, pulling out hair, and desperately smashing the tough, uncooked portions of the potatoes in the hopes that they will decide to become soft and smushy (they won’t). If you roast the potatoes the night before you need them, the rest of the casserole will be a breeze to assemble and bake.

Finally, and I realize this is a subject that some people (including myself) have strong feelings about one way or the other, but brown sugar/pecan topping is vastly superior to marshmallows. I don’t know if this is a regional difference – I thought it was, but I’ve heard of exceptions, so who knows. This is one of those issues where one’s preferences are influenced by what one has grown up with – at big family holidays, we want the food that we remember from holidays past. It’s hard to talk about the two options in terms of healthiness, since they are both sugary toppings, but one of them is a pre-made, processed sugary topping (unless you make your own marshmallows) and the other is a sugary topping you make yourself from scratch. In any case, all of those deliberations aside, brown sugar and pecans are clearly the best. The end.

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chicken quesadillas

This may not look like the most Christmas-y of recipes, but in the run up to the big cooking days ahead, it can be nice to have a few quick and easy dinners planned. I don’t know how authentically Mexican or TexMex these quesadillas can claim to be, since I don’t know much about either of these cuisines (at least not yet!). I can say that they are spicy, tasty, make plenty of leftovers (depending on how many people you are cooking for), and are pretty simple to throw together.

I always liked “taco night” as a child, when the tacos were usually made from one of those El Paso kits that come in a box. This recipe offers something similar (except in quesadilla form, because why stop at soft tacos when you could fry the tortillas in butter?), but from scratch – so the spice mix is much healthier since it has a lot less sodium than those pre-made packages. I prefer to fill my quesadillas with chicken, cheese (generally a sharp white cheddar), and pickled jalapeños, and serve them with sour cream and salsa. You could obviously do all kinds of other things here – the original recipe I’m using recommends putting corn, sauteed onions and tomatoes into the quesadillas, for example. Served with rice, beans, or a salad, these make a delicious and easy dinner.  Read the rest of this entry »

german apple pancakes

American-style pancakes may be delicious, but they can also often be quite heavy, and you may find yourself (or at least I find myself) in need of a change. Even better, these German pancakes, unlike their American counterparts, are cooked primarily in the oven, and thus do not require you to stand over the stove flipping pancake after pancake. While these pancakes are baking away without requiring any attention from you, you can fry up some bacon and make the coffee to complete this leisurely weekend breakfast.

You start by sauteeing apples in butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon until they are soft, then pour in the pancake batter and transfer the pancake to a hot oven, where it puffs up and gets a little curly around the edges, as you can sort of see in the picture below. Some of those edges may look a bit burnt, but they are in fact caramelized and consequently the best part of the pancake, which is crispy on the edges, and custard-y in the middle. The original recipe recommends serving with caramel sauce or maple syrup, but I thought the pancake was perfect on its own.  Read the rest of this entry »