5.12.2016

Leekchi

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I am a sucker for Kitchen Vignettes on PBS. It's so beautifully done, it makes me want to move to the countryside, find a husband who can hold a video camera and make pretty food videos all day long. 

We are big fans of kimchi, so I was excited when I saw a video for this recipe. It looked easy and fun to make. And it was both, I knocked this out in no time. I love leeks and I knew I would enjoy this, but one thing I didn't expect was for the husband to really NOT enjoy it. After one try, he refused to eat my leekchi, and so I've slowly been making my way through the jar all by my lonesome.

I find this great over rice and on morning potatoes, but you can eat it on anything, and it keeps in the fridge for months. If you're into leeks and kimchi, this might be the thing for you. Or not. 

Leekchi
via www.pbs.org/food/kitchen-vignettes/leekchi/

6 cups thinly sliced leeks (about 1 1/2 pound or 3 large leeks)
2 tsp sea salt (pickling or kosher salt is ok but do not use iodized table salt)
2 large cloves of garlic (about 1 Tbsp, minced)
1 Tbsp finely grated ginger
2 tsp hot red pepper powder (ideally Korean kimchi pepper, but a mix of cayenne, paprika, or dried chili flakes is fine - for a really hot leekchi, increase the amount accordingly)

1) First, rinse the leeks very well. Also, wash your hands well before starting this recipe because you’ll be using them to mix everything together.
2) Place the thinly sliced leeks (including some of the green tops) into a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt on top. Use your hands to massage the leeks and salt together until the juices begin to release (about 5 minutes). Cover the sliced leeks and allow them to rest for about 45 minutes so the juices continue to release.
3) Add all of your flavoring ingredients: minced garlic, grated ginger, and hot pepper. Mix well until fully incorporated.
4) Press the leek mixture into a clean 2-quart mason jar or crock, or a 1-quart jar if using a clamp-down Fido or Le Parfait jar. In order to ferment vegetables properly, you must keep them submerged under liquid. You’ll want to compress the leeks down to remove all air pockets and to encourage their juices to rise to the top, really packing them down. If you don't have a wooden tamper, you can use the back of your hand or the end of a wooden spoon or rolling pin to press down. If you've pressed the leeks down but there is still not enough liquid to cover them, you can add a bit of homemade brine. Stir 1 tsp salt into 1 cup water until the salt has dissolved. Pour just enough of this brine on top of your leek mixture to cover it.
5) The fermentation process will push the leeks up out of the brine so you may need to weigh them down, depending on the vessel you’re using. If using a mason jar or a crock, top your leeks with a follower and weight combination or use a simple weight made out of a quart-sized ziplock bag. Press the plastic down onto the top of the ferment, then fill it with water and seal. For a jar, screw the lid loosely on top. Do not seal so that gases can escape during the fermenting process. Clamp-on jars such as Fido and LeParfait do not need a weight to keep the vegetables submerged because they can remain closed until the ferment is ready to eat. However, if using this technique, be aware of the small risk that a jar can shatter, as explained in my write-up above.
6) Leave your leekchi at room temperature, away from direct sunlight for about 1 week. The contents may bubble and seep out so you may want to keep your jars on some newspaper. Unless you are using the clamp-down jar option, you should check your ferment daily to ensure the vegetables are still submerged under brine. Scoop out any scum that develops on the top. Your leekchi is ready when it has turned yellowish, the leeks have softened and developed a nice sour aroma.

After about 7 days, the active part of the fermentation should be complete and you can move your jar or crock to the fridge where they will keep for about 6 months.

3.30.2016

Easter: Starring Lemon Lavender Cake

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Dear Readers,
When I was growing up in Turkmenistan, there were no churches. Being a communist nation, mostly made up of Muslims, and part of the USSR, religion was a private affair, which my very religious grandmother took seriously. But for us kids, religion never really left the house, and as we grew older, and came to America, where religious freedom was a thing (in theory), it was easy to spot the circus show that is organized religion. And that really turned me off. But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy my holidays, like Easter. Mostly because I get to eat delicious meals with loved ones and remember traditions like dyeing eggs with my grandma.

Another thing about growing up in the Soviet Union was that you didn't really have access to things, like egg dye. So being resourceful and doing things naturally wasn't just for hipsters, it was how you lived. I recall my grandma and mom boiling onion skins and beets so we could color our eggs, because that was the only option available. 

So last year, the husband and I started our own egg dyeing tradition, with natural dyes, and plants from our garden. It was our first Easter with the little guy, and even though he won't remember it, it was a great one for our family. And this year, we were at it again, dyeing a few eggs to be pickled, having an impromptu egg hunt on our way to Easter dinner and making a delicious spring cake. 

I doubted this cake. The husband's track record with cakes is terrible, but in the end, his matured baked skills and love of all things lavender, helped to make this a cake (and Easter) to remember. He writes about it below.

Enjoy,
KK
I never thought it could happen, but I think my cake curse is lifting. Last weekend my entire cake was eaten up and actually enjoyed. On top of this, I heard that people on the wife’s “social media” liked it and even wanted the recipe. 

This Easter, I wanted to make something light and lovely. I wanted a white cake without it being too vanilla. I wanted people to take a first bite and think “this tastes like a spring day.” I had visions of lavender paired with lemons growing in our yard and brought all together with blueberries (the blueberries were actually part of the wife’s vision, but when you’re married, visions are stolen and shared).

Fortunately, as I was searching for white cake recipes, I chanced upon Maurine Dashney’s cake blog. A wealth of flavor pairings for cakes and icings, I found just the right recipe that spiked white cake with lemon zest and a subtle lavender touch. I also discovered cake instructions that might be responsible for dispelling the cake curse that’s plagued me for years.

She describes her cake making techniques in a simple fashion, easy to follow and replicate. What caught my attention was how she divided the cake ingredients into wet, dry, and butter/egg components and how she treated them. The butter and eggs should be mixed at high speed to incorporate air, but when the flour was added, mixing should nearly cease. As a bread baker, a chief concern is to develop gluten. It's why we knead until our hands are sore. But, as a cake baker, one must do everything to inhibit that. I can’t say I understood that concept concretely before it was explained so straightforward by this blog.

Once I beat the egg whites and butter on the highest speed, I shut off the mixer. For the first time in my cake making history, I took out a mixing spoon and alternately poured the sifted flour into the mixture and then the milk, gently stirring it all together. I poured the aromatic batter in the pans, made sure to lick the spoon clean, and threw the pans in the oven for 30 minutes.

Once the cake cooled, the wife and I made a simple butter cream. We set to work decorating the cake, spreading blueberry jam between the cake layers and then iced it. Fresh lavender was placed on top and blueberries circled the edge. Once the wife put her icing knife down, I could only hope that the cake inside tasted as good as it looked.

After Easter dinner we anxiously sliced into it. The jam set perfectly between the layers, and a wonderful lemon and lavender aroma wafted over the dessert table with the first slice. I took a bite and was confounded by the taste of success. It was light, fluffy, and flavorfully moist! Before I could get a second helping, the cake had all but vanished. The only thing that was left were the cake compliments I received from the dinner guests, which was nearly as sweet as the cake.

With this curse behind me, on to rose and earl grey cakes.           
Viggo received all kinds of Easter baskets, but was obsessed with a pack of ducks. We spent hours taking turns and hiding ducks for him to find around the yard, which he did tirelessly and happily. 

And then, at the end of the evening, the poor little guy fell, and hit his head, and we spent the last few hours of our day at Urgent Care. Luckily, he was in good spirits, as you can see below, despite having a staple gun come at his head. Poor dude turned 18 months yesterday, and is already a regular at Urgent Care. But, in other news, he LOVED this cake. 
Lemon Lavender Cake
via http://www.maurinedashney.com

Makes 12 cupcakes or enough batter for one 9" round cake pan, so if you plan to make a two layer cake, double the recipe. (Note that a typical cake involves doubling the recipe and baking two pans' worth of batter.)

1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
2 egg whites, slightly beaten
3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
zest from 2 lemons
2 tsp culinary lavender

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a larger bowl, beat the butter at a high speed, and gradually beat in the sugar. Then, slowly beat in the egg whites.

Now you will gradually be adding the dry mixture and the milk to the butter-sugar-egg mixture. To do this, alternate mixing in some of the dry mixture, followed by some milk, followed by some dry mixture... You get the picture. Do that until you've incorporated the dry mixture and the milk completely. Just don't over-mix here.

Finish by incorporating the vanilla, lemon zest, and lavender. (Bonus points if you grind up the lavender a bit in a mortar and pestle first.)

If you're making cupcakes, pour the batter into 12 greased or lined cupcake wells and bake for 16 to 22 minutes. If you're baking a cake, pour the batter into a greased 9" round cake pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Rely on the toothpick test here for a perfect cooking time—a toothpick inserted into the middle should come out with some crumbs on it.

Basic Buttercream Frosting 
Makes enough for 12 cupcakes or for half of a standard double-layer 9" round cake.

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temp
2 1/2–3 cups powdered sugar
2–4 TB milk or cream
1 tsp vanilla
a pinch of salt (optional)

Cream the butter for a good few minutes. Gradually beat in some of the powdered sugar. Incorporate the milk or cream and vanilla.

Finish by incorporating the rest of the powdered sugar. The more you add, the stiffer your frosting will be. (Just be sure to test along the way, since your frosting can quickly become too sweet!)
Apply frosting to completely cooled cupcakes or cake.

Note: A cake with this frosting can sit out for a few days, actually. Woohoo!

Another note: You may have some frosting left over. Freeze it in a plastic baggy, and the next time you need to frost something you can just let it thaw, snip off the corner of the bag, and frost to your heart's content.

3.24.2016

Shrimp Etouffée

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I made this shrimp etouffée back in November for a Southern themed brunch at a friend's house and I still think about it (AND, its only taken me 4 months to post, that's all). I have shrimp in my freezer, so it might be time to revisit this simple, but comforting dish.

Once you have everything chopped, the recipe comes together quickly, especially if you purchase your shrimp stock.
I can't believe how little Viggo looks in the photo below from November! Also, I am still trying to play catch up with the blog posting. It's getting harder and harder to turn on my computer after getting home from work. But, I want to make an effort to document our kitchen adventures, especially now that little guy is making things more exciting for us in the kitchen with his enthusiastic outbursts, animal magnets thrown about the floor for easy tripping, and sneaky little fingers trying to get into every nook and cranny he's not supposed to.
Shrimp Etouffée
Serves 4 to 6 via www.thekitchn.com
(I made this recipe as is, increasing only a few of the spices)

1 1/2 pounds head-on medium shrimp, or 1 pound medium shrimp, unshelled
1 1/2 cups shrimp stock, chicken stock, or water
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Rice, for serving

Remove the shrimp shells, tails and heads if you have them, and place them in a medium saucepan. Cover and refrigerate the shrimp. Pour the stock over the shrimp shells and place the saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring it to a rolling boil, and then lower the heat to maintain a lively simmer. Cook for 20 minutes and then remove from the heat.

While the stock is simmering, stir the thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne, and paprika together in a small bowl, using a fork to combine them. When the stock is ready, pour it through a wire-mesh strainer into a measuring cup. Add a little water if needed to make 1 1/2 cups.

Place a large heavy skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the butter. Swirl to coat the pan as the butter melts. When a pinch of flour blooms on the surface when added to the butter, scatter in the flour and stir quickly and thoroughly, combining the butter and flour evenly into a thick, smooth roux. Continue cooking, stirring often, as the roux turns from white to golden-brown, about 2 minutes.

Add the spice mixture, onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic and stir quickly, mixing the vegetables into the roux. Cook until everything is fragrant and softened, 1 to 2 minutes more.
Slowly add the stock, stirring and scraping to mix it in evenly. When the sauce is bubbling and boiling gently, lower the heat and cook, stirring now and then, until the sauce is thickened and smooth, about 15 minutes.

Scatter in the shrimp and let them cook undisturbed until the sides are turning visibly orange or pink, about 1 minute. Toss well and continue cooking, stirring often, until the shrimp are pink, firm, and cooked through and nicely flavored by the sauce. Add the green onions 


2.21.2016

Birthday Ravioli

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Dear Readers,
Another guest blog from the husband. He made his BFF fancy ravioli for his birthday. I ended up making cheesecake, lumpy cheesecake, because I ran out of cream cheese and thought it would be a great idea to substitute ricotta. Lesson learned. 

Enjoy.

Even though our friend worked in an Italian restaurant for years, he had never seen ravioli made from scratch. We figured the time had come.

Homemade ravioli is a festive way to celebrate 34 year of life, particularly if you had a near-death experience three weeks prior. Don’t worry readers, no one actually died. Our friend just got hit by a car going approximately 40 miles an hour. Somehow, defying death-by-car statistics, and being punted (by automobile) like a football yards and yards away from the impact site, physically our friend only suffered a broken bone in, of all places, his foot. I figured after his waltz with Death, his food experiences would be heighted, and decided to make my favorite – noodles, the food of 2016!

I scoured the magazines and trusted websites, finding inspiration in a pea and prosciutto ravioli from Saveur. Since I couldn’t locate a major feature of the recipe, pea shoots, the blog lady and I decided to keep the pea and cheese ratio but embark on our own take after that. We made the filling first, pulsing everything together in the food processor into a beautiful light green emulsion.

Next, I mixed the dough and let it sit for two hours to achieve a strong, stretchy gluten network. I had pictured my friend and I bonding as we filled the dough and cut the ravioli squares, but his food    handling was so terrible I lost my temper and banned him from the kitchen. The dutiful wife filled in, and did an admirable job keeping the dough shape consistent while watching the baby.

If you’ve never made ravioli before, two worries creep into the novice:
1. Was the dough rolled out thin enough?
2. Will the fillings stay inside during the 2-5 minute boil?

To the first worry, I recommend going as thin as possible while maintaining control. If you go so thin your abilities won’t allow a successfully filled ravioli, go one degree thicker. We all agreed to a toothsome ravioli, which is why I used second-to-thinnest setting on my machine. As for the second worry, like with most things in life, you just gotta believe. As it turned out, only one of ours exploded that night; and the world did not end.

Proving her sauce mettle again, the wife used some of the reserved filling to build a pesto-like sauce. She added a little of the pasta water, whole peas, fried prosciutto, parmesan cheese and butter. The finished dish was a beautiful layering of pea pillows surrounded by crispy ham bits and fresh mint, and coated with light green sauce. The dish was impressive and delicious. A proper way to celebrate getting older and hopefully wiser (like don’t run at night on winding streets!).
The beginning of the end. This working relationship only lasted a few minutes.
The birthday boy and his lumpy birthday cheesecake. Despite it's lumpiness, this was a good cheesecake. The four of us almost finished it in one sitting. 
And here's trouble. 


Spring Pea Ravioli With Prosciutto & Pea Shoots
via saveur.com
serves 4-6
Below is the original recipe. We really didn't keep careful track of the alterations we made.

For the Ravioli
2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
1⁄2 cup grated parmesan
1⁄2 cup ricotta
2 tsp. lemon zest
2 tbsp. minced mint
1 clove garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. olive oil

Pasta Dough (the husband made his own recipe, you can use whatever one you like)

For Serving
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 slices prosciutto
1⁄2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
3⁄4 cup pea shoots
1 tsp. lemon, zested and juiced
2 tbsp. minced mint
Grated parmesan, for serving

1) Make the filling: Pulse peas, parmesan, ricotta, zest, mint, garlic, salt, and pepper in a food processor; with the motor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until smooth. Refrigerate filling until ready to use.
2) On a lightly floured surface, divide Pasta Dough into 4 balls. On a lightly floured surface and working with 1 disk of dough at a time, roll dough into an 8"-long oval; dust on both sides with flour. Using a pasta machine, pass dough through machine twice, using the widest setting. Using the next narrower setting, pass dough through machine twice more. Continue to roll dough, setting the rollers to the next narrower setting, until dough is 1⁄16" thick. With a long side facing you, place 2 tsp. mounds of filling along middle of dough, spacing the mounds about 1" apart. Brush dough with water. Take another sheet of pasta and lay it over the other sheet of pasta and mounds of filling; press dough to seal, squeezing out air pockets around filling. Using a pastry cutter or knife, cut out ravioli; transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Leave ravioli at room temperature for 1 hour to dry.
3) Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook ravioli until al dente, 4-5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt butter in a 12" skillet over medium-high. Add prosciutto and cook until crisp, 3 minutes. Add peas and pea shoots 1-2 minutes more. Using a slotted spoon, transfer ravioli to skillet, along with1⁄2 cup cooking water, zest, juice, salt, and pepper; toss to combine. Transfer ravioli to a serving platter; garnish with mint and parmesan.

2.10.2016

Tortilla Soup in the Crock

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Soup season is short in Southern California. By early February, we are already flaunting crazy 80 degree weather. Personally, I feel cheated out of our chilly 70 degree winter and am outraged to see people in shorts all around. Can we keep the shorts in the closet until March, please?!
In protest, I am still making and eating soup weekly. I've been determined to use my crockpot more this year. To save time and my sanity, and spend more time with the kid and less time yelling at said kid to stop destroying my kitchen. I like crocking overnight, so the husband can wake up to delicious smells early in the morning.

This soup is a combination of recipes pieced together from Pintrest. And because I'm not a fan of chunk (unless it's my own!), I used my immersion blender to create a smooth base, and then added some whole corn and beans for texture. Also, I think the key here is using fire roasted tomatoes and chiles.
 And because I didn't take any other soup photos, here are pictures of Viggo being not a baby, sigh.
It rained for a day in LA, and this kid couldn't be happier. 

Chicken Tortilla Soup

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
4 cups good-quality chicken stock
2 (14-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, with juice
1 (15-ounce) can whole-kernel corn, drained
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 dried pasilla (negro) chile peppers
1 white onion, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon of Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon of chipotle powder
1 teaspoon salt, or more/less to taste
handful of fresh oregano and thyme
bay leaf
fresh lime wedges
optional garnishes: chopped fresh cilantro, diced avocado, diced red onion, shredded cheese, sour cream, tortilla strips/chips

1) Add all ingredients (except for lime and reserved corn and beans) to a slow cooker, and stir to combine. Cook for 3-4 hours on high heat or 6-8 hours on low heat, until the chicken is cooked through and shreds easily. Use two forks to shred the chicken.  Remove the pasilla chiles and herbs, and discard.
2) Puree using an immersion blender. Add reserved corn and beans and cook 30 more minutes.
3) Serve warm with a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and topped with optional garnishes if desired.


2.02.2016

2016: Year of Asian Noodles

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Dear Readers,
Somehow it is February. And I've been "thinking" about several posts, but have made zero progress getting the words down, so instead here's one from the husband. Enjoy! 

Back in 2012, the wife and I declared a combined new year’s resolution: learn to make Korean food. Although we dug deep into various recipes in books and online (you still inspire me, Maangi), we never quite cracked the culinary code in a truly authentic way. We came close, and to this day our bulgogi, banchan, and kim chi stew are better for it. 

Here in 2016, my sights are set on homemade noodles. I’ve made simple egg noodles sporadically for several years, the process easily worth the extra effort in texture and flavor. I’ve even taught a community course on the subject! But one day recently, hungry and having opened the fridge one too many times thinking I’d find something new to eat, I grasped the container of plain leftover egg noodles I had made for an Italian dinner a few nights back. Too lazy to make a quick red sauce, my pasta thoughts began a trek from Italy, through Marco Polo (who just might share my Croatian ancestry) back to the source of the noodle: China.

4000 years ago, says my cursory research, the Chinese changed food history by mixing flour and water together and boiling it in stretched out ribbons. That great culinary moment in history came alive and crashed down on me as I made a quick sesame and oyster sauce, poured it on the noodles, and topped it with green onions from the garden. This wasn’t exactly traditional Chinese cooking, but I felt like a whole noodle world was opening up to me with each bite. From this very meal, I wanted to start refining my noodle-making abilities and establish legitimate Chinese sauces in my cooking repertoire.

My “cooking repertoire” is a loose term that is only half-defined by me in the kitchen. The other half, and most of the real cooking skills, is usually handled by the blog lady. It’s a common culinary theme between us that I engage in making the unglamorous things—bread, sausage, pasta—from the raw materials of the pantry. The wife then takes these ingredients, elevating them to the level of a satisfying meal. In this case, I mixed the water, flour, and eggs and got the noodles ready. The wife, craving something akin to Dan Dan noodles, got a pan out to create a peanut sesame sauce. My noodles still have more of an Italian pasta feel than an Asian one, but once topped with the Dan Dan sauce, it worked. Spicy, but cooled by matchstick cut cucumbers, earthy, and deeply satisfying, the dish was a success. On to the next noodle challenge.   
Recently, we spent a few hours at Descanso Gardens, trying to tire out the little guy. Instead, he tired us out, running wild, saying "HI!" to all the old ladies, and screaming after ducks. It was a blast, and below is one of my favorite shots from the day. 
Dan-Dan Noodles
loosely based on a recipe from FOOD52

5.3 ounces ground pork
chili oil (apparently you can make your own, but I had some on hand)
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
4 cloves of garlic
1 piece of ginger, approximately 1 tablespoon
2 -3 tbsp douban chili paste, depending on saltiness (I didn’t have this or know what it is, so I used Koread pepper paste instead)
3 1/2tablespoons unsweetened peanut butter
1/2 tsp ground red sichuan peppercorn (omitted)
2 tbsp rice wine
2 1/4  cups unsalted chicken stock
1 bunch of Asian noodles
Chopped scallions or cilantro, for garnish (I used both, and added cucumbers as well)

1) Mix the pork evenly with soy sauce and sesame oil. Set aside. Purée garlic, ginger, douban paste, and peanut butter in a food processor until smooth. You don’t have to do this if you don’t mind the sometimes chunky texture of douban paste (I didn’t do this!) -- just mince the garlic and ginger, then combine it with douban paste and peanut butter. In a medium heavy-bottom pot, nicely brown the pork in 1 tbsp of oil. 

2) Add the ground red sichuan peppercorn, puréed paste and sauté until fragrant, with some brown bits forming at the bottom of the pot, approximately 2 minutes.

3) Add the rice wine and deglaze the pot, then add the chicken stock and simmer for 5 or so minutes, until the sauce thickens.

4) Meanwhile, bring another big pot of water to boil and cook the noodles according to package instructions. I would suggest NOT using fresh noodles as they absorb the sauce too quickly once combined (WOOPS, WE USED FRESH NOODLES!). Drain the noodles once cooked, toss with sauce, and divide them into 2 bowls. Divide the sauce into the same bowls, drizzle with chili oil, add cilantro, scallions and cucumbers. 

1.07.2016

2015 Holiday Season: Starring Cheesecake

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Somehow, everything post our Oregon trip just flew right by and now it's 2016. From November to December, we managed to host at least four get-togethers with family and friends. AND we succeeded in keeping Viggo from destroying the Christmas tree. Although he really, really wanted to. 

Below are a few highlights from the last few months I actually took photos of, and a recipe for Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake, the best dessert I've ever made. 
 Thanksgiving table decor. I served champagne and cranberry liquor cocktails. 
 Trouble-maker in action.
 THE cheesecake. Recipe below!
 For the husband's birthday, we roasted a pig and had a massive potluck. Unfortunately, I didn't snap any photos of the impressive spread, but take my word for it, it was impressive. 
 Another caroling concert took place with year. Viggo had a blast eating meatballs and trying to sneak sips of everyone's wine. 
Our favorite day, Friends Xmas Eve Eve featured time-tested recipes like Scandinavian chowder and home cured gravlax.
 Our tradition of taking ridiculous group photos by the Xmas tree lives on. Although this year, due to Viggo's lack of patience , we only took six instead of 26, and let me tell, there was a lot of blurry going on. But here's a couple of my faves. 
 Christmas Eve dinner was two full courses - homemade linguine and clams and pan fried quail. Then, we made Viggo take MORE photos by the tree. 
 Cookies for breakfast on Christmas morning. Along with a delicious ham and cheese strata.
Viggo received a recycling truck from his daycare. Are they sending him a message?
After Christmas, we headed to Yosemite to enjoy the snow and ring in the New Year. Which I did from my bed. We went with a small group of friends and my brother (above).

Our family didn't have babies until Viggo, so it's been fun to watch my brothers interact with this crazy kid. I guess I wasn't really sure what kind of uncles they'd be. But their enthusiasm to see him and spend time with him is so sweet, I can't help but smile when they FaceTime or drop by for a quick visit. And it doesn't hurt that my one brother usually brings over a box of diapers so Viggo can "poop all he wants". The kid likes to poop.
Viggo wasn't the biggest fan of the snow. Mostly, because he could barely move. But, he sure liked to touch it, and was really into the melting icicles. He loves water, especially if it's falling from the sky.

Hope your holiday season was just as fun. We're looking forward to not being so tired in 2016. Although a 9 pm bedtime is pretty cool.

In the meantime, here's the cheesecake recipe. There's no reason to only make this in the fall. It's soooooo good.


Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake
via Smitten Kitchen
Serves 12 to 14

For crust
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (from five 4 3/4- by 2 1/4-inch crackers)
1/2 cup pecans (1 3/4 ounce), finely chopped
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For filling
1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

For topping
2 cups sour cream (20 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon
Garnish: pecan halves

Make crust: Invert bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (to create flat bottom, which will make it easier to remove cake from pan), then lock on side and butter pan.

Stir together crumbs, pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined well. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan, then chill crust, 1 hour.

Make filling and bake cheesecake: Put oven rack in middle position and Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and bourbon in a bowl until combined.

Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in large bowl.

Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.

Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks). Bake until center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

Make topping: Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake 5 additional minutes.

Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.

Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.

Baked cheesecake can be chilled, covered, up to 2 days.