A Week with a Jug of Apple Cider: Donuts + Bourbon + Pork

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The week of apple cider recipes started with dinner. It was Danny’s first day at his new gig at the airport, and I was leaving work early to put together something good. My boss, knowing that I enjoy cooking, thoughtfully suggested the idea and it was brilliant. Excited, and feeling like now it had to be really good given the gift of extra time, I started a list of possible congrats-on-the-new-awesome-job-i-love-you dinners.

Spaghetti Bolognese
Pasta Carbonara
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Boeuf Bourguignon
Roasted Apple, Shallot, and Blue Cheese Tart

Pancetta, White Bean and Chard Pot Pies
Pork Shoulder Braised with Apples

All options on that list are solid, but it came down to that braised pork shoulder with apples. Why? Because we love pork shoulder. Maybe because it’s one of the first big cuts of meat we tackled in the kitchen together. This recipe also appealed to me because I had the time for a weeknight braise so I felt like I should take advantage of that. And bonus, it called for apples in a savory dish. I could also serve this on top of cheesy polenta, which probably sealed the deal.

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At the grocery store, I found myself asking that perennial question popping up in search engines each October: What’s the difference between apple cider and unfiltered apple juice? None of the store employees could really say until we googled it and came to the conclusion that they are basically the same thing (in the U.S. anyway). As for the apple brandy called for in the recipe, that was a problem that bourbon could easily solve. Continue reading  continue reading

Baked Camembert

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Something had to be done about this stinky cheese. In the generous mix of fancy cheeses, chorizo, and chocolate that Danny’s aunt sent us in a spectacular gift basket to celebrate his new job (!!!!) there was a wheel of Camembert. I guess I’d never actually tasted Camembert before because now it seems that if you met this cheese you wouldn’t forget it. It looks like a cousin of brie but Camembert packs a more pungent fragrance, and the rind has more character.

This cheese is no wallflower. Each time I opened the fridge, that ripe round of Camembert cheese said HELLO! I shut the door. Opened it again. I wrapped the cheese in layers of plastic bags and buried it at the bottom of the fridge. I closed the door once more and set out to find a recipe to use up this French cheese. I decided to bake the Camembert, which ends up looking incredibly luxurious and yet is so simple to make. The rich cheese turns out creamy and melty and only gets better with fresh herbs and garlic. This is an excellent thing to whip up when a few friends come over, especially as we get into the holidays. I plan on switching up the herbs with thyme rather than rosemary, and maybe adding dried cherries, cranberries or apricots to the baked cheese. That gift basket also came with a nice bottle of wine, a key part of serving up this Baked Camembert.

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Chicken Salad on Rye

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We had a good thing going. I’d go to O.E. Market once every week or two and get a sandwich. My go-to order: the chicken salad with bibb lettuce on rye. It was a solid choice. A light chicken salad with just enough mayonnaise to hold things together and not a dollop more. I loved the fresh herbs and dried cherries, and, obviously, the generous side of freshly fried potato chips with gray salt. I’m telling you. Solid. Lunch. Order.

That is until they upended their menu. In a recent revamp, they’ve switched from sandwiches to tacos. I haven’t been over to try the new menu… I love tacos, but this was my place for a great sandwich. So I did the next best thing: make my own. Continue reading  continue reading

Brown Butter Blondies

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It’s approaching midnight on a Monday — a Monday! — and you’ll find me in the kitchen because there’s no sleep til brown butter. BLONDIES have been on my baking to-do list for some time now, making their way from one week’s post-it to the next. This craving/plan was kicked up a notch on a recent trip to Miami when we stopped for coffee and I ordered a butterscotchy and crumbly blondie that everyone kept stealing bites from. Blondies and coffee go together like PB & J.

I love anything with the nutty flavors of vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, bourbon, toffee. These blondies get a deep butterscotch flavor from the combined power of brown butter (a lot of it), toasted pecans, and dark brown sugar. The salty-sweet thing in desserts really does it for me too, so I topped off the blondies with flaky Maldon salt to bring out the flavors some more. Another thing to love about this recipe is that for your effort you get a lot of blondie. The batter fills a 13-by-9-inch baking dish rather than the usual 8-by-8.

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Blondies also seemed perfect this week because today is the first day of autumn and it’s just starting to feel like something other than summer around here. Afternoon storms are still sticking around in a big way, but a rainy day in September isn’t so bad if you get a chance to bake something or catch up on a book. Things can get real cozy real fast. Our new place is feeling especially homey with a new (huge!) dining table, but the scent of blondies seals the deal. That’s what makes it feel like home. There will be a round two of blondies soon. Probably this weekend. Brown butter rules from now until January.
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The Original Plum Torte

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My announcement one Saturday morning — “I’m making a plum cake!” — fell a little flat. My fiancé was not enthused and when I explained that no, it would not be a cake with frosting, I was met with only more skepticism. But soon the house was scented with cinnamon and the plum torte sat proudly on my cake stand. The cake itself doesn’t take long to make, and it took even less time for this recipe to find its newest fans.

The New York Times first published the original plum torte recipe in the 80s. The recipe ran again each year during plum season for more than a decade. Readers demanded it! Who can resist a recipe with such folklore? I made the cake just a few days after coming across it on one of my favorite food blogs, and I was impressed with its flavor and ease. No wonder Amelia made it twice already.

While Danny was out taking care of errands, I whipped up the cake and perhaps never felt more relaxed and cool about baking. There’s a lot of love for this torte, and a lot of that has to do with its simplicity and versatility. The cake elevates plums, for sure, but it’ll take to other fruit. Apricot. Cherry. Even berries. Try apples and pears as September takes us into fall. Just tumble the fruit over the top of the batter and the cake will puff up around it.

Fellow bakers suggest not cutting into the cake until the second day. That is, if you can find the willpower to wait.  The juices from the plums settle and release into the cake, infusing even more flavor. I had no intention of waiting but that night we served up a solid dinner of butter chicken and basmati rice, and we found ourselves too full for dessert. With a big mug of coffee in the morning, a slice of the plum torte was wonderful for breakfast. Our friend ate two slices that morning.

“It’s like it had jam inside. It was so good,” Danny said. And that’s a big reason why I love this cake. I adore the intense flavors of roasted stone fruits, plums in particular, and this is a recipe that shows them off. Danny said he’ll take a slice of the plum torte over any frosted layer cake. Me too.

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