Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies

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In nine days, I’m marrying this blog’s handsome hand model, pictured here with a batch of brownies. I’ve known I wanted to marry Danny for a long time, kind of ridiculously soon into our relationship, and I can’t believe that day is nearly here. The weather forecast for our wedding day says 75 degrees, sunny, and nooooo chance of rain — yes! My own forecast says pretty good chance of teary eyes as I say ‘I do’ to my favorite person in the world, and 100 percent chance of dancing.

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Muffuletta + New Orleans

Muffuletta

It’s true what they say about New Orleans. If a restaurant remains open in this city, it’s because it’s good. I got away for the weekend with seven girlfriends and an itinerary revolving around where to eat. We were not disappointed.

Cafe du Monde was at the top of the list for beignets, of course, and we were dusted in a thin cloud of powdered sugar as we dug in. It was delightful. Bowls of gumbo, too, with a kick. But on this weekend of donuts and sazeracs, two things truly stood out: the rigatoni at Domenica and the muffuletta at Cochon Butcher.

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2014: A Sweet Year

Dark Chocolate Waffles

Dark Chocolate Waffles

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2014 was a sweet year. We got engaged. We moved to St. Pete into a cute little house with lots of friends nearby and a porch and magical backyard. Lucky me, this year I traveled to Las Vegas, AustinCancun (recipe here), DC, and Charleston. On this blog, my favorites were pretty sweet, too. It’s all chocolate and fruit! But you don’t mind, right? I’ve rounded up my 10 favorite recipes of the year below. I’m thinking you should embrace 2015 with one of these treats. Happy new year, friends!

Salted Chocolate Rye Cookies

Salted Chocolate Rye Cookies

Hazelnut Cacao Nib Granola

Hazelnut and Cacao Nib Granola (with Coconut and Sesame Seeds)

Saffron Cardamom Ice Cream

Saffron Cardamom Ice Cream

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Lasagna Bolognese

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Last year I made Lasagna Bolognese without much drama, and we ate it on the couch by the glow of the Christmas tree, watching James Bond. This year, same lasagna, same time of year, but I was doubling the recipe to make two lasagnas, enough for a dinner party of 14, plus another lasagna with a vegetarian chickpea bolognese. While I browned meat for the ragu sauce, Danny strung up lights around the trunks of the trees in our backyard (!!!) and in between batches, I ran out to help pass the lights around the thick branches so he could loop them around. Him in the towering mango tree, me on a wobbly ladder.

Except for the salad, I wanted to get everything done the day before our friends came over. There were three parts to this lasagna: (1) the Bolognese sauce (2) the béchamel sauce (3) the fresh pasta dough. The day was getting late, but it hadn’t gotten away from me yet. I’d found a rhythm in our kitchen. Things left to do, still: roll out the pasta dough, cut it into strips, briefly boil the fresh pasta, assemble the lasagnas, grate cheese for the lasagnas, make dessert (though that could wait until tomorrow).

I’d tripled the dough recipe, whew, and when it was good and rested we quartered the first ball of dough. Danny pushed the dough through the top of our pasta maker, cranking it through with one hand. We were in the final stretch…

Except, when he tried to pass the first piece of dough through the machine again, it spit the dough right back out the wrong end. He tried again. Again. Again. Nothing changed, as you might suspect, but I prayed it would. And then it did, but not in the way I’d imagined. A piece of the machine broke off.

It was about midnight. My fingers were crusted in dried pasta dough, making my hands look like I’d broken free from a cast. Puffs of flour found their way into my hair, streaking it white. Like the countertops of our kitchen, I was a mess.

Our pasta maker was broken, and maybe I was, too.

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Dinner Party Dessert: Espresso Panna Cotta

Espresso Panna Cotta

I want to tell you about the lasagna, the one I first made a year ago and forgot to blog about. This year it lived up to its memory, but it took much longer to get into the oven. That’s a whole other story. Let’s start with something easy, which means I want to begin at the end. Let’s talk dessert.

With an Italian menu taking shape for a holiday dinner party —  fresh mozzarella drizzled in olive oil and herbs, a radicchio and arugula salad, lasagna bolognese — I considered my dessert options. Espresso granita with whipped cream? Maybe. That watermelon granita went over well with friends a few months ago, but it’s kinda chilly out. Tiramisu… love you but not doing it for me right now. Chocolate pudding? Man, I love chocolate pudding, and for some reason it reminds me of December. But Italian? Not so much.

Then it hit me: panna cotta.

Panna cotta, which in Italian translates to ‘cooked cream,’ has been on my to-cook list, and as it turns out, everything I’ve heard about panna cotta is true. It’s delicious, super easy to make, and you can make enough for a crowd or just enough to serve two. You can flavor it as you like, and unmold it onto a plate or not. You can make it two days before you need to serve them. In so many ways, panna cotta is the perfect dessert.

An espresso panna cotta to follow pasta? Totally perfect. I don’t think I can get away with saying this is a light dessert since the main ingredient is heavy cream, but it doesn’t feel heavy after dinner. I like to think of it as a sort-of pudding version of the after-dinner espresso, especially when it comes to you in a 4-ounce jar.

That little glass jar is important, by the way, when you’re serving dessert for 14. It didn’t take much to make this espresso panna cotta and it doesn’t need to take much more to serve. Pull the tray with the panna cotta jars out of the fridge, sprinkle the panna cotta with cacao nibs and raspberries, and then head to the table and let everyone take one. I mean, it’s not coming at you wrapped with a big red bow on it, but it does feel like a little gift at the end of a meal.

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