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I called this a cheesecake, but it’s not exactly true, because there’s no baking in this recipe. This turns out to be brilliant: it comes together quickly, can be made ahead, and is the kind of thing you can imagine making in the non-oven months, like July.

sarah_ginger_cake
(Thanks to my friend Tim Pierce for this photo.)

I’ve made this cake as pictured, and also in paper-lined muffin tins for individual servings, and both worked well. The filling is ultra-creamy and not too sweet, and the tang of the marscapone does a nice job of setting off the heat from the ginger.

gingersnaps.jpg

Ginger marscapone cheesecake
Adapted from Dozen Flours

1 box crunchy gingersnaps (12-16 oz)
4 T. unsalted butter
1 c. cream cheese (or one 8-oz. package)
1/2 c. plain yogurt
2/3 c. sugar plus extra for the pan (I liked this with turbinado sugar; white granulated sugar also works)
1/2 t. vanilla
1 c. crystallized ginger
2 c. marscapone cheese
1/3 c. heavy cream

Grease a springform pan, and then dust it with sugar the same way you’d normally dust with flour. Tap out any excess.

Crush the gingersnap cookies. It’s easiest to do this by whizzing them in a blender or food processor, but I’ve also done it by putting them in a bag, closing it carefully, and then smashing the heck out of them. Ideally, you’ll get uniform, fine crumbs, but it doesn’t matter too much.

Melt the butter in the microwave or on the stove top, and then add it to the gingersnaps. If you used a really big box, you might need a bit more butter to evenly mix with the crumbs without dry spots. Press a third of the mix into the bottom of the springform.

Put the cream cheese in a bowl. You’ll probably want to do this with a mixer — I’ve used both stand and hand mixers successfully — but you could also do it with strong biceps! If you choose the latter option, make sure your ingredients are softened before use.

Whip the cream cheese until smooth, and then add the yogurt, sugar, and vanilla. Add the marscapone and mix, then the cream.

Chop the crystallized ginger as finely as you reasonably can, and stir it in to the filling mixture.

Carefully spread half of the filling over the bottom crust. Be careful not to make holes in your crust when you do this; using your fingers or a silicone spatula is probably easiest. Sprinkle half of the remaining cookie mix over it, as evenly as you can, then top with the remaining filling and finally the last of the cookies.

Refrigerate this, covered with plastic wrap, for at least a few hours; overnight or even 24 hours is fine. After this, you should be able to remove the outside of the springform and carefully slice.

Serves about 16.

We’re moving! WordPress.com has provided a lovely nest for launching this blog, but it’s time to fly, and so I’ve made a new home on my very own domain: www.aseasontotaste.com. As of the end of this week, posts will appear over there exclusively.

Please take a minute to update your bookmarks and RSS feed. If you read via our LiveJournal feed, the syndication information should be updated by support in the next day or two. I look forward to seeing you at our new home!

I love potatoes in pretty much any form. When I was a kid, my dad made “Susan fries,” which were pan-fried slices sprinkled with paprika. (Susan’s other big culinary contribution to my life: butterscotch chips in brownies. Seriously, try it.) Homefries made in a skillet were one of my first truly excellent dishes, and when I finally decided mashed potatoes weren’t against my religion, I fell hard and fast for them. But sometimes even I want something other than starch at breakfast or brunch, which is how we got to these Southwestern homefries.

southwest homefries

The addition of beans and cheese makes these a little more balanced and substantial. They were inspired by a dish I love at Sylvester’s in Northampton. Their version features onions and peppers, too; mine is simpler and requires you to chop only the potatoes.

Southwestern Homefries

4 medium-to-large potatoes (about 2 lbs)
Olive oil
Salt
2 c. cooked black beans (or one 15-oz. can)
2 c. salsa (one 16-oz jar)
About 2 c. grated cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Wash the potatoes and then dice them, aiming for about a one-inch dice. Spread them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or in pans. Add olive oil and toss to coat; I usually use 2-3 T. Sprinkle with salt, then put in the oven.

Let them roast for 20 minutes without stirring, and then use a spatula to turn them. Add more olive oil if the tray is getting dry, and roast for 20 more minutes. Then check to see if they’re cooked all the way through by sticking a toothpick in one piece. If it goes through easily, they’re done. If not, continue roasting until they are. Depend on how small you cut them, they could take up to 20 more minutes.

(To make something that comes together quickly in the morning, you can do the above steps ahead of time and keep the roasted potatoes in the fridge. You’ll want to reheat them in a foil-covered pan at 350 until hot, about 10 minutes, before proceeding.)

Transfer the roasted potatoes to a square baking dish. Drain and rinse the beans, and then top the potatoes with them and the salsa, and finally the cheese. You can adjust the amounts of any of these to taste. Turn on your broiler and stick the pan in under it. Stay nearby and check frequently; it should take about five minutes for the cheese to get melted and bubbly.

Serves four.

I didn’t go into this salad with a good attitude. The first batch of beans I tried cooking for it had their own attitude problems, and they pretty much all burst during cooking, which wasn’t good for this salad or my plans to do something other than scrub a pot that evening. But, as you’ve probably already divined from the fact that it’s appearing here, I ultimately triumphed and it was totally worth it.

white bean and carrot salad

I am pretty sure that this salad would be fabulous even with canned beans, which is why I’ve tagged it for a weeknight supper; I just had a bee up my bonnet after that first batch rebelled on me. The combination of the brown sugar and the tang of the lemon juice gives a surprising depth of flavor, and the caramelized carrots come out wonderfully sweet. I liked this best warm, but it could be served at room temperature or even cold.

White Bean and Carrot Salad
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Olive oil
4 medium carrots
2 shallots
4 c. cooked white beans (or two 15-oz. cans; I used navy beans, but you could use cannellini or their oddly-named smaller cousins, Great Northern beans)
1 T. dried dill or 3 T. fresh dill
3 T. lemon juice
pinch salt
2 T. brown sugar

Wash or peel the carrots, and then slice them as evenly as you can, aiming for slices about a quarter-inch thick. You can do this quickly by trimming the carrots, lining them up side by side, and chopping across all four at once.

Heat a big skillet or chef’s pan over medium heat with a splash of olive oil in it. (Start with 2 T. if you’re the measuring type.) Add the carrots in a single layer. If your skillet isn’t huge or if you’re doubling the recipe, you may need to do this step in batches. Eventually, the carrots will let off a bit of water, and then start to brown. Stir them every few minutes and cook until most of them are nicely caramelized on at least one side, which will be ten or fifteen minutes.

While they’re cooking, peel the shallots and mince them finely. Combine them with 1/4 c. olive oil, the lemon juice, and the salt. Mix with a fork or whisk to combine.

Add the beans and dill to the skillet with another small splash (about a tablespoon) of olive oil. Cook until the mixture is thoroughly heated, about five minutes, then remove from the heat and pour into your serving bowl.

Sprinkle with the brown sugar and add about half of the dressing and stir to mix. Let it sit for five minutes or so, and then taste. You’ll probably want to add most of the rest of the dressing, possibly along with more salt.

Serves six as a main dish and ten as a side; I liked it reheated in the microwave for lunches. If someone in your family is dubious about beans, you could also serve this over couscous or bulgur for a more mixed texture.

This is one of those ideas so good that I wish I’d had it myself: risotto with brie. It is lusciously creamy in a way that the hard cheese we usually use for risotto just can’t match. To stand up to that creaminess, this recipe uses bulgur wheat instead of rice, along with tender roasted asparagus and snappy sun-dried tomatoes.

asparagus bulgur risotto

Give this a try even if you don’t especially like the flavor of brie: it’s a relatively small amount and lends more creaminess than flavor. It comes together in about 40 minutes and reheats well in the microwave.

Asparagus Bulgur “Risotto”
Adapted from Serious Eats

4 to 6 c. broth or stock
1 bunch of asparagus (about 1 lb)
1 T. butter
3 T. olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
1 onion
1 1/2 c. bulgur wheat
1/4 c. sun-dried tomatoes*
3-4 oz. brie
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Snap the bottom of the stems off of the asparagus. Doing this by hand means that it will break where it becomes tender, which is perfect. Throw out or compost the bottoms and chop the tops into roughly two-inch segments.

Put the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet or in a 9×13 pan, making sure it’s spread in a single layer. Melt the butter and add 1 T. of olive oil. Drizzle over the asparagus and toss to coat, then sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt. Roast for about 15 minutes, stirring once, until the asparagus is tender and starting to brown.

While the asparagus is roasting, mince the onion. Chop the sun-dried tomatoes into tiny pieces — try using kitchen shears if you have them — and set aside. Then remove the rind from the brie and cut it into cubes, and set that aside too.

Heat the rest of the olive oil in a saute or saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about five minutes. It’s a little prettier in the end if you don’t let it brown, but it tastes fine either way.

Then add the bulgur and stir to coat the grains with the oil. Cook for a couple of minutes to slightly toast it. Add one cup of the stock or broth. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it is mostly absorbed. Continue adding stock, half to one cup at a time, for about 15 minutes, or until you’ve used four cups of stock.

Then you need to start tasting. When cooked, the bulgur is more tender than al dente pasta; the texture is almost like brown rice. It could take up to half an hour and six cups of stock for it to get there — among other things, bulgur can be ground coarsely or finely, which changes the cooking time. Trust your tounge!

When the bulgur is done, add the asparagus, the sun-dried tomatoes, and the brie. Stir until the brie is largely melted, then remove from the heat. Season with black pepper, then taste and add more salt as desired.

Serves six.

*If you’re not using oil-packed tomatoes here, rehydrate them in boiling water until soft.

My springform pan went on walkabout when I moved last fall. I was in denial about this for a long time, but I finally surrendered and bought a new springform, and therefore, the season of cheesecake has begun! Chocolate cheesecake, to be specific. Actually, chocolate caramel cheesecake. I know.

chocolate cheesecake

Once you’ve gotten through the caramel-making step (of which it turns out to be utterly impossible to take a picture, because of the need to give not-burning-the-caramel your full attention), this recipe is dead simple. There’s not even a water bath, just chocolate caramel goodness.

chocolate for cheesecake

By the way, a word about springform pans: they come in two types. Both have a groove where the bottom and the part with the latch connect. In one type, this groove runs around the bottom of the latch part. It’s easier to remove the outside with this type, but trickier to assemble, and, if you’re me, more likely to leak. In the other type, the groove is in the bottom, like so:

good springform

I find these easier to manage, despite the fact that you have to remove the outside by lifting it. For this recipe, a nine- or ten-inch springform should work.

Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 c. (~10 oz.) chocolate wafers
10 T. butter
1 2/3 c. sugar
pinch salt
3/4 c. heavy cream
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I often use Ghiradelli chips to avoid chopping; if you do too, it’s about 1 1/3 c.)
1/2 c. sour cream
3 c. cream cheese (that’s 3 8-oz. packages)
4 eggs
1 t. vanilla

Crush the cookies. You can do this by whirring them in the food processor, or you can put them in a big plastic bag and beat them up with a rolling pin. Get the crumbs as uniform in size as you can.

Melt the butter in a large, microwave-proof bowl and then add the cookie crumbs, 2/3 c. sugar, and the pinch of salt. Mix to combine.

Assemble your springform and grease it. Then press the cookie crust into the bottom. You can do this by dumping the mixture in the middle and patting it down, then pressing starting in the center out towards the edges until it climbs up them. Aim for a crust as thin as you can manage on the bottom (but without holes!) and sides at least three inches tall. (If you’re thinking “it doesn’t look three inches tall in the photo,” you’re right. That’s because I am a smarty pants and forgot to double the crust recipe and could only use half the filling. We shall not discuss what I did with the other half.) You can leave the crust on the counter or put it in the fridge while you make the filling.

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Put the remaining cup of sugar into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Make sure it’s completely dry when you start! Turn a burner to medium-low and cook the sugar, stirring gently with a silicone spatula, until it melts. Then stop stirring — that part is important — and keep cooking, swirling the pan to mix, until it caramelizes, turning a deep golden brown.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the cream, watching out for the steam and bubbling. The caramel will harden. Then return to the heat and cook until the caramel dissolves to liquid again. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate with a fork or whisk, mixing until smooth. Then add the sour cream.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese (which you should soften first, either by leaving it out or using the microwave) with an electric or stand mixer until it’s fluffy. Turn the mixer to low and beat in the chocolate/caramel/sour cream mixture. Add the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla. Make sure to scrape down the bowl!

If you’re the kind of person who is prone to getting cheesecake all over your oven (read: me), you want to do one of two things at this stage: either put the springform with the crust on a baking sheet or tightly wrap the bottom of the pan, where the two pieces join, in aluminium foil. Then pour the filling in and bake for about 55 minutes. It should be set about halfway from the edges to the center, leaving the center slightly wiggly when you tap the edge of the pan.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan on the counter, then chill in the fridge for at least a couple of hours — and ideally all day or overnight — before removing the outside of the pan (run a butter knife around the outside of the crust to help) and slicing. Serve chilled or at room temperature as you prefer. Keeps about a week, covered and chilled.

Bran muffins

I have breakfast issues. I’m allergic to bread and the texture of eggs makes my tongue want to cry. And then it’s winter a lot here, which makes it hard to think about lovely summer breakfasts like melon or smoothies or yogurt.

bran muffins

Thank goodness for muffins! The genius thing about muffins is that you can freeze them. So that means you can make an enormous batch and then defrost them as you want them. You can do this by thinking ahead and laying them out on the counter overnight, or you can pop them into the microwave. Or, if you are as toaster-oven-happy as I am, you can just split them before freezing and then pop them into the toaster oven straight from the freezer, which makes them even warmer!

These are not very sweet — you could add some granulated sugar if you preferred them sweeter — but are a flexible base that’s open to a lot of additions. I’ve listed some of my favorites at the bottom, but I also love them plain, split and toasted and buttered.

Bran muffins
Adapted from Farmgirl Fare

2 eggs
2/3 c. milk (I use whatever’s in my fridge; low-fat and whole both work fine)
2/3 c. plain yogurt or sour cream (again, low-fat works fine)
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1/3 c. molasses*
1/3 c. honey*
1 t. vanilla
2 c. wheat bran**
1 c. oat bran
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
generous pinch of salt
Additions as desired (see below!)

Preheat your oven to 375 F. Grease or line your muffin tins.

In a large bowl, mix the eggs, milk, yogurt or sour cream, oil, molasses, honey, and vanilla until they are combined. Add the dry ingredients — wheat bran, oat bran, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt — all at once. Mix just until combined. If you’re adding any extras, stir them in after the dry ingredients.

Fill muffin cups three-quarters full and bake for 22-25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. I usually bake two pans at a time; if you do this, rotate them halfway.

When they come out, allow them to cool slightly before removing from the pan. They’ll keep for a few days on the countertop or for months in the freezer.

Additions I like:
*half a cup of shredded coconut
*1 cup of chocolate chips
*half a cup of chopped crystallized ginger

I hear the kind of people who like fruit in their muffins especially like blueberries in these.

*It’s actually possible to use a wide variety of sweeteners here, including cane syrup, agave, or all honey. All molasses is a bit strong for my tastes, but works. I haven’t yet tried maple syrup; if you do, tell me how it goes!
**I found Quaker-brand wheat bran in my regular grocery store, labeled as “unprocessed bran” on the front but clearly identified as wheat bran in the ingredients. If you have access to a store with bulk bins, you’ll almost certainly save some money by buying the bran that way.

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