Do you need some comfort food? Something that invites your soul to snuggle up against some memories of simpler times, of peaceful days when the world made sense? Something that fills your belly with a perfect medley of carbs, fat, protein, and flavor?
This fall has been crazy. In mid-August I dove headfirst into some projects at work that required every ounce of creativity, planning, and time that I possessed. I took on a leadership role in my choir. I volunteered for an election that, well, let’s just say it didn’t go the way I’d hoped, and since then have still had trouble finding my bearings in this strange, post-election world. Sharing new recipes with you just hasn’t been at the top of the list.
But now it is! As the flood recedes, I’m finally finding myself looking through cookbooks again, browsing the wild and wonderful internet for tasty new things to cook. Which is how I found this one.
I have this issue with cheesecake. The issue is that if it is in my fridge, or available for purchase on a dessert menu, or available for purchase within walking distance, or even capable of being created with ingredients in my apartment, I have exactly 0% ability to resist it. As a result I make a point of not buying cream cheese very often. If I don’t have that one essential component, I can pretend that I’m happy living a life where I don’t eat cheesecake every single day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, right? Right??
I live for good cheesecake. But I am kind of picky about what makes one good. There are few things more disappointing than cheesecake that looks delicious and is, well, meh. If it’s too lemony or too dry or too rich or too dense or has too much topping or not enough or has too many mix-ins or just a gross combo of them or the crust is too thick or some crazy person put CINNAMON in it I get really cranky.
Most of the time, when it’s time to make cheesecake again, I fall back on two, trusty recipes I’ve used for a long time. The first is a classic, baked cheesecake that, actually, I’ve only shared here in a version dressed up for Thanksgiving. The other I fashion exclusively in miniature form, a holiday tradition in my family as essential as the tree and the Home Alone soundtrack.
But this summer, I’ve been reveling in the availability of locally-grown sweet cherries (difficult to obtain in both Columbus and Durham), and a cherry cheesecake seemed like just the ticket. And while we are “enjoying” the high-nineties here in Denver, I’m pleased to report that the oven was only on for a few minutes, and even that is not totally required if you don’t want to.
Do you like Italian food? Do you like food that is kind of like lasagne but not exactly like lasagne?
Do you like making a multi-step meal that involves scratch-made sauce and hand-filled pasta?
Do you like leftovers that last for days and only get better with time? Do you like perfectly delightful combinations of pasta, cheese, spinach, and meat sauce? Do you like noodle tubes filled with magic and topped with awesome?
If you answered yes to any of the above, then this is a recipe for you!
I started making manicotti a couple years ago when I was home for Christmas. My mom, a long-time lasagne maker, decided to mix it up and buy manicotti shells instead for a family dinner. I volunteered to help, and though it was a lengthy process, I genuinely enjoyed stuffing a cheesy, spinach-y goo into the shells. Since then I’ve tinkered with different recipes, and I finally landed on the right balance. Like, a year ago. But it takes a long time to make already, so I hadn’t yet talked myself into taking the time to photograph the process. Not to mention, I keep making it in the winter when I have little evening light for shooting photos, soooooo.
Sorry for the delay!
A warning: if you’re looking for a quick week-night dinner, this is not the right choice. It could be if you decide to use frozen spinach instead of fresh or pre-made pasta sauce. But where’s the fun in that?
For the better part of middle and high school, I was usually up in time to make breakfast for my mom and sister while they continued bustling about, getting ready for school. Most days, this breakfast consisted of “tortillas with cheese”, which is just exactly what it sounds like: three flour tortillas, each with a layer of rough slices of cheddar or colby cheese, heated in the microwave for 30 seconds or so before being rolled up in paper towels for a to-go breakfast of champions.
At some point later, upon partaking the joys of quesadillas that popped up on restaurant menus all over the place, I made the connection that I’d been making quesadillas all along (freakishly simple though they were). As with most of my cooking projects, though, I’ve stepped up my game and now make quesadillas not for hurried breakfasts on the go, but for sit-down dinners at home.
And you should too.
I will say one thing though, and don’t freak out: these quesadillas don’t have much cheese.
I know. I know. What sort of monster cuts the cheese so significantly in a dish that is literally NAMED after cheese? But I tell you, it’s possible to have a delightful quesadilla that doesn’t have puddles of gooey cheese oozing out the sides and sizzling on your frying pan. Trust me on this.
I wish I could say that I’ve been harboring this recipe for years, that I’m embarrassed to be posting it only now after summers and summers of enjoyment. I wish I could say that I’ve been adding it to my menu every week of every tomato season for as long as I can remember. I wish that the glut of tomatoes that I harvested this year, the glut that caused me to try this experiment, had happened years ago.
Well. I can say none of those things. The truth is I’ve never been a big fan of fresh tomatoes, and as such, I’ve spent my life picking them off of salads, sandwiches, and pastas. But I’ve vigilantly planted at least a couple of varieties each of the last few years in an effort to force myself into using them, and this year, the strategy paid off handsomely. It seemed wrong to take such ripe, beautiful fruits at their peak and cook them down into sauce, and the internet seemed to agree that bruschetta is a great way to feature them raw.
I’m just gonna come right out and say it. When discussing cheese and pasta, sometimes one must be blunt.
I like stove-top macaroni and cheese more than baked macaroni and cheese.
This is the truth, straight from me to you.
I mean, that’s not to say I won’t consume a mound of baked mac rapidly if it’s served at a potluck, a cookout, or a picnic. And I won’t say no to a fancy mac, like this one I made last year. But the macaroni of my dreams is prepared on the stove-top: al denté, piping hot, and swimming in thin, just-a-little-bit-spicy, orange cheddar cheese sauce.
Is this a product of being raised on the blue box? Perhaps. Is this a product of wanting my pasta so firm that it nearly crunches between the teeth, a state that is nearly impossible to achieve when baking pasta? That’s probably reading too deeply into the whole thing. Maybe I don’t like the breadcrumbs that typically accompany a baked mac? Maybe I don’t like the waiting?
One significant downside of loving so much a mysteriously created product of food science is that it can be incredibly difficult to replicate at home. What the hell is that orange powder anyway? I theorize it must be fairy dust, for I have searched for years for a mac and cheese recipe that, if not identical, could at least be a satisfactory homemade replacement to the mac and cheese of my childhood.
The internet is full of food blogs, and though I’ve been a bit busy for leisurely reading lately, I read quite a few of them. I love to see what other bloggers are cooking, writing, and photographing; each one is hugely inspiring. One of my favorites — I adapt quite a few recipes from her posts — is Smitten Kitchen, crafted by the clever, snarky, and talented Deb Perelman. Her site is gorgeous, her archives well-organized, and if you’ve never taken a look, I highly recommend it. In fact, Smitten Kitchen was the first food blog I ever read, and was a major source of inspiration for me to start a food blog of my own.
Today is a special day here at 30 Pounds of Apples… it’s my two-year blogoversary! And to celebrate, I have a copy of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook — signed by Deb Perelman herself — to give away to one of you!
Last fall, Deb’s work jumped out of the internet and onto my bookshelf when she released a cookbook. After receiving a copy as a Christmas gift from my fabulous sister, I spent quite a bit of time and many post-its paging through her book marking up recipes I wanted to try. And this one, for these luscious, savory breakfast buns, was at the top of the list.
There are some foods that have always been magic to me. Tortillas, croissants, tortellini, cream puffs… those dreamy little bites that all seem borderline impossible for a person in a home kitchen to make. Incidentally, jam also mystified me. Perhaps it was really the canning part that seemed so out of reach, for until a couple years ago, I never canned my own.
I’ve learned, however, that jam is actually quite simple to make, and it doesn’t necessarily require large batches and canning. It seems you can boil together almost any fruit and have jam in a matter of minutes, ready to serve warm or to store in the fridge for many days.
This treat is a celebration of quick jam, a blend of two early harbingers of spring: strawberry and rhubarb.
While bundled stalks of rhubarb have graced the tables of the farmers market since early February, strawberries have only recently returned to the scene. Last week, a few pints of these precious red fruits have appeared between towers of broccoli and leafy greens, and just like every year, I could hardly wait to get my hands on some.
Brad and I sometimes grapple a bit when it comes to ordering pizza. Brad likes lots of toppings: meats, mushrooms, onions, veggies, goat cheese, herbs… and I actually like those, too. But if I ever have a choice, if I’m ever ordering pizza just for me, I get cheese. Beautiful, glorious, unadulterated cheese pizza.
But the shocking truth is that until last week, I’ve never made a cheese pizza at home. I know. I know. I can’t explain myself. I’ve been making pizza regularly now for a couple of years, but I’ve always dressed it up. It was high time I build my own perfect cheese pizza from scratch.
This pizza started with my go-to pizza crust recipe. I have another crust that I really love, but I only make it when I have excess whey from a batch of homemade mozzarella. This recipe, on the other hand, is super-easy to whip up when you need dinner in less than an hour. It’s a no-fuss crust that requires little resting time and rolls out easily.
I have a really bad habit of planning my weekends too much. I always make a list full of more than I can possibly do, gradually shifting things to later in the week as the impossibility of my plans becomes clear.
But every once in a while, one of the items on those lists turns into a relaxing, inspiring, reflective endeavor with delicious results. As with this frittata.
My initial impulse to make this crowd-worthy breakfast came from a delightful alliance of ingredients currently in season. “Egg season” (yes, there is one) has begun here in the Carolinas, and every week I see more and more vendors with teetering piles of egg crates on the corners of their tables.