There really is a song,“If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Cake,” and somewhere in my stacks, I even have the music for it. This chocolate cheesecake, which can be made gluten-free (Double Chocolate with a nut crust) or not (Triple Chocolate with a chocolate wafer cookie crust), is without a doubt the cake you’d bake were someone ultra-special about to knock on your door. The wonderful original recipe by well-known baker and writer Abigail Johnson Dodge (author of the fun new book SHEET CAKE) is one I found in FINE COOKING magazine — or on its website–a number of years ago. (The famous site is no longer available, more’s the pity, though another site does have the recipe. See TIPS below.) I’d make it for one person’s birthday and someone else would say, “Can I have that cake for my birthday?!” Or I’d carry it to a dinner party only for the host to pull me to the side and whisper in my ear, “I’d really love that recipe!” It’s just that kind of cake. Everyone craves it, especially chocolate lovers. Even fine fruit folk (my apple and cherry pie people) have been known to ask for an extra slice to take home.
There’s no doubt it’s a blog record to post three cranberry recipes in a row and I promise you it not only wasn’t planned, I had little idea it had happened until this morning. Perhaps cranberries were on the brain, on sale, or in my heart, but I don’t think so though I adore them unabashedly. Just an oh-so-odd coincidence. Right then.
If you asked me what my favorite dessert was, those who know me are sure I would not say, “apple pie.” When a friend bakes one, naturally I’ll have a small piece. Without regret. But it’s pretty darned weird there are two apple pies on the blog within a month. I’m not a betting woman, but if I were, I sure as heck would have betted against that happening.
When fall finally arrives (not sure it’s here yet), it’s time to bake again — and by November, it’s time to think of baking for Thanksgiving and Christmas. If I am anything in life, I am a pie baker. I’m not a county fair blue ribbon winner, but I’m something better — I’m the person folks like to see walking into their house or the church potluck with a pie basket on her arm. It wasn’t always that way, but pie baking is a progressive art or one that is a lifelong undertaking. I began with pies that didn’t taste badly, but were pale and puny at best and were luckily called out by older, experienced pie bakers in the mid-70’s. (“You could have left that in the oven a while longer.”) Even now, hundreds and hundreds of pies later, there’s the occasional crust that won’t hold together, for example, and gets ceremoniously dumped straight into the garbage can. It doesn’t faze me anymore, but pies continue to be educational as long as you’re willing to bake them. If you don’t bake one for a while and then assume you’ll be fine, that pie may or may not bake into something worth eating with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.
In September as the peaches wane and the apples are just ripening, here in Colorado we have trees and trees full of plums. These aren’t the big old black, handful plums we see a bit later on, but rather are the small dark purple, firm-when-ripe Italian prune plums. While excellent for snacking, perhaps they’re even better for baking since they tend to hold their shape and aren’t overly sweet. You might think of plums as the fall bag-lunch fruit —and I do, too— but for the past few years I find I adore a beautiful plum tart or, in this case, crostata.
I know this story is starting to sound familiar to my faithful readers but the other day my friend Christa came to the front door with a bag of apples from her tree. She and her husband Jim had already given quite a few away, but the little green apples just kept coming. Could I use some? (Could I?!)
It came without warning. All of a sudden it was the end of June. It was nearly the 4th of July. Dave and I were both off by about a week and had no idea why. This man’s birthday is July 3 and yesterday he said to me, when I asked about a birthday dinner reservation, “What? Is my birthday this weekend??” Why, yes it is!
In the meantime, I’d been working on a risotto post for the blog. Having a fun old time making the risotto, finding the dishes, taking the photos, writing the text and recipe and so on. Except I had nothing for the immediate holiday. Necessity is the mother of disaster sometimes, but hopefully not here. (Watch this space for the risotto love coming up next week or maybe even the week after.)
SUMMERWEEKNIGHTMEAL PLANNING IS DONE. MAKE THESE 20 FUN RECIPES 3X EACH. Print them, along with a shopping list, place in a 3-ring binder or save them to a word file so you know just where they are for the next couple of months. Then make them again…and again!
Tired of trying to figure out what’s for dinner on any given night in June, July, or August? The summer struggle is real even if you sometimes take the time to write down the week’s menu and make a grocery list. Cooking at home for yourself, friends, or a family is a big commitment, but it’s also a wonderful thing to do to focus on health and togetherness; improve the use of your time; and rein in that food budget. Here’s a post highlighting 20 fun, MORE TIME AT THE TABLE lighter/easier recipes you can make over and over again — or with variations. I had an awful time choosing between so many yummy dinners and had to leave out things like Shrimp Ratatouille and BBQ Chicken Grilled Veggie Stack — next time, right? You can be sure your planning, shopping, prep, and cooking will become simpler/faster as you become better acquainted with each meal. Just click on RECIPE HERE to take you to the post, then scroll down to the recipe (there is sometimes a “jump to recipe” button) and print. Do throw in a COOK’S OFF! night every now and then so you can order pizza, go out, or let someone else make eggs and toast when you’re tired. If you like, make a big batch soup or extra chicken breasts once a week you can then also use for lunch. After the recipes, I’ve included some seasonal desserts, meal-planning basic information, cooking with kids ideas, and a few great links to get you going. So choose your favorites, make that grocery list (keep it on your phone from month to month?), and then it’s time to get busy with happy summer cooking!
While this sweet might be among the more difficult dessert names to pronounce, it’s also the simplest to make and make well. Clafoutis (clah-FOO-tee) —and yes, I must keep remembering it’s a singular noun! — is a much-loved and often-baked traditional French dessert that is a cross between a custard and a cake, but easier and faster to make than either one. When cherries (or raspberries, blueberries…) are in season and hence plentiful-cheap, the oven is heated along with a cast iron pan (can also use a casserole), a quick batter is whirred together in the food processor, blender, or by hand and poured right into that the pan. The fruit gets distributed on top and into a HOT oven it all goes for just a half hour or so. And there’s dessert, friends. At first it’s all hot and puffy golden brown if you like it that way (think Dutch Baby), but soon it calms and cools down and is just as good, if a tad deflated. Cold for breakfast the next morning? Of course. Bien sur!
For some believers, Christmas only begins December 25. I’m one of those or rather, I work at it. The world often conspires against me, I think. Still, the tree stays up until the Wise People arrive on January 6 (Epiphany) and you can bet there are still Christmas movies for husband Dave and me to watch until then. (We still have “Christmas with the Kranks,” “Christmas in Connecticut,” and “Fred Claus” — at least — to go.) So while other folks have frozen their hambones and relegated the Christmas lights to the dusty garage attic, there is still a (no longer quite so fresh) plate of cookies on the counter, holiday candles lit nightly, and we are committed to enjoying it all for a few more days. As one of my favorite cook-writers Dorie Greenspan said in yesterday’s NYTimes Magazine, introducing her recipe for Mulling-Spice Cake with Cream-Cheese Frosting, “Like most people, I’m sad this year.” I get it. Me, too. I was so glad for Christmas to come along in the midst of all the angst and division and fear — even if it arrived without all the regular bells and whistles. I guess I want it to last as long as it can. For there to be candy canes, inflatable Santas, cheese spread with crackers, and carols booming for just a bit more time. To look out on my deck and still see the colored lights if I wander up in the middle of the night…