I’m bad at making coffee.

You guys, I have a confession: I can’t brew a pot of coffee to save my life. Or rather, I can’t brew a DRINKABLE pot. Whenever I try to brew coffee using your basic drip machine, it either comes out way too dark/thick, flavorless and watery, burnt tasting, or full of grounds. I’ve tried using exactly the amount of grounds suggested (our machine even came with a fool-proof scoop with EXACT directions depending on the amount of coffee you’re brewing), more (which is what most people recommend doing), or less (after a pot that came out particularly tar-like). I’ve tried the ‘classic brew’ setting; I’ve tried the ‘rich brew’ setting. There’s no adjusting the water level – it’s not the type of machine where you pour the water in depending on how much you want to make; it’s pre-measured in a reservoir.

This is probably why I like the Nespresso so much: it’s literally idiot-proof. You CAN’T screw it up. I also talk a lot about how much I love our Ninja Coffee Bar, but if I’m being completely honest, I miss our Keurig…I’m just embarrassed to admit it (I mean, the coffee wasn’t great…but it was fine, and you can’t screw it up! Plus, all the waste…ugh.) But it’s not the Coffee Bar’s fault! It’s mine!! I’m completely incompetent when it comes to freaking brewing a pot of coffee!! I KNOW it’s my fault, because Jeff’s brewed coffee in the same machine with flawless results.

I’ve thought about potentially investing in a fancier, more manual coffee situation (pour-over? French press?) to see if it produces better results, but I’m skeptical…if I can’t freaking brew DRIP coffee, what’s the likelihood that I’ll be successful doing something much more complicated? I need help. Are there classes you can take on how to brew drip coffee? PLEASE share your tips for brewing a delicious pot of coffee…I’m serious, ANY tips you have, drop them in the comments! I’ll be hiding in the corner over there…

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My Trader Joe’s Snack Picks

It’s my weekend to work (I work from home when I work the weekend, so it’s no biggie), it’s a S-L-O-W day, the weather is gloomy, and I’m sipping a latte and enjoying a Trader Joe’s pumpkin vanilla candle. Speaking of TJ’s, I figured what better time to share some of my favorite products – that’s something that’s never been done by anyone on the Internet before, right? (Ha!) It’s actually become somewhat of a game between me and my co-workers – whenever we’re bored, we just start listing our most recent TJ’s picks. This list could go on for 10 pages, so today I’ll focus on the fun stuff: snacks/junkfood. Here goes:

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Popcorn in a pickle: My one true love. I could eat three bags of this stuff in one sitting.

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Cornbread Crisps: I was skeptical of these until a co-worker all but shoved one in my mouth (I’m not huge on cornbread), and HOLY MOLY are they good. So crispy and the perfect sweet/salty combo…they’re good alone, but PERFECT dipped in chili.

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Chunky Artichoke & Jalapeno Dip: SO good, especially with…

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Pita Bite Crackers: Addictive as all get out, and they go with literally anything.

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Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds: Everyone loves a good salted dark chocolate almond, but that turbinado sugar gives these that perfect addictive crunch.

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Unexpected Cheddar: So yummy and salty, with a little parmesan bite.

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Jalapeno and Honey Chevre: Creamy, with a surprising amount of kick.

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Brownie Crisp Coffee Ice Cream Sandwiches: These things are my new obsession – you guys, they are FREAKING DELICIOUS. The brownie is perfectly chewy, the ice cream is rich and creamy with the perfect coffee kick, and they’re the perfect little size…to eat the whole box. These are dangerous little suckers.

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Triple Ginger Snaps: Heavenly dipped in coffee…or milk…or nothing. The crystallized ginger is key in these. Once you try these guys, you’ll never buy regular ginger snaps again.

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Almond Croissants: These require a little forethought as they need to rise overnight, but it’s WELL worth it. You’ll think you fell asleep and woke up in a quaint patisserie in Paris.

Of course, there’s plenty more that could go on this list…but these are more or less the items I’ve grabbed time and time again. I’ll do a more extensive “essentials” list another time!

 

All photos courtesy of  Trader Joe’s

I am obsessed with this salted caramel sauce

Make it, it’s easy.

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This is about the caramel, not the bars…but those are damn tasty, too. Get the recipe here.

Ingredients:

2 Cups granulated sugar

12 TBS unsalted butter

1 Cup heavy cream

1 TBS sea salt (flaky finish salt such as fleur de sel is best)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Get everything ready, this baby moves fast! Heat the sugar in a heavy pot over medium heat – when it begins to melt, start stirring (it’s easier if the pot is larger/has a wider bottom, otherwise it’ll take forever to melt). Stir, stir, stir. Once the sugar is melted, let it sit until it turns a copper color. DON’T LET IT BURN!!!!! But also don’t be scared and take it off while it’s too light, because that will make your caramel bland. Watch that sucker, because the line between tasty AF and burnt is itty-bitty. Once your sugar is at a delicious caramel color,  stir in the butter – keep stirring until it’s combined (it’ll look greasy around the edges at first; keep stirring). Once your butter’s incorporated, take it off the heat and stir in the cream – slowly, it’s gonna bubble up (this is also where a nice, large pot comes in handy). Once smooth, stir in salt and vanilla. Let it cool and keep it in the fridge (it gets pretty stiff when it’s cold, but I like it that way – once it warms up, it’ll get saucy again). Eat on EVERYTHING. I particularly like to dip apples in it when it’s cold and the consistency is more dip-like than sauce-like…it’s about 50 trillion times better than that stuff they sell near the apples at the store (though I’ll eat the crap outta that too, let’s be honest).

 

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

I recently received a Nespresso CitiZ with Milk machine as a gift from work (hellooooo perks!!), so of course one of the first things I did was concoct a homemade pumpkin spice latte. It IS October, after all!

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I’ve tried store-bought pumpkin spice syrups before, but none of them ever quite cut it. I think the key to a real-tasting PSL is, well, real pumpkin. I’ve made pumpkin spice syrup before, both at home and for the cafe I used to work for, but it’s been a few years and it was time to give it another go. It came out pretty darn delicious, if I do say so myself – after some experimentation, I figured out that it’s key to use two shots of espresso (this is true for most latte-type drinks using an Nespresso machine, at least for me…I had been using one shot brewed on the larger “Lungo” setting, but I found that the drinks ended up a bit milky for my taste. Two shots on the smaller “Espresso” setting seems to hit the sweet spot.), and my secret weapon is to add a dash of vanilla extract to the milk before frothing.

Pumpkin Spice Syrup

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 TBSP pumpkin puree

5 cinnamon sticks

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp cloves

generous dash black pepper

Heat water and sugar over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Add remaining ingredients and simmer over medium heat for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently – don’t allow the mixture to boil. Strain into cheese cloth set over fine mesh strainer; store in tightly sealed container in refrigerator for up to a month.

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Pumpkin Spice Latte

1 TBSP pumpkin spice syrup (or to taste, depending on preferred level of sweetness)

2 shots espresso

8 oz milk

1 tsp vanilla

Pumpkin pie spice

Combine espresso and pumpkin spice syrup in mug. Add vanilla to milk; froth (if you don’t have a steam wand or aeroccino, you can froth milk using a small french press – just nuke the milk for 30 seconds or so and pump in the press until it reaches your desired level of frothy-ness). Top espresso with frothed milk and a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice. Enjoy!!

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Gyro Bowls

In my attempt for us to eat healthier, I decided to whip up a spin on one of my favorite foods – the gyro. But instead of pita filled with (delicious) greasy lamb, I decided to go the bowl route, and sub out the lamb for turkey meatballs (I have a bit of a love affair with turkey meatballs).

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If I do say so myself, it turned out pretty darn tasty…I almost actually prefer the meatballs to lamb, and I barely missed the bread at all! And you guys – I LOVE me some bread, especially pita or naan! I riffed off of this recipe, with the following tweaks:

-Instead of beef, I used turkey (duh)…I also cranked up the broiler for the last couple minutes in the oven to add some color

-Instead of couscous, I used red quinoa…after the quinoa was cooked, I stirred in the juice of one lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, a handful of sliced kalamata olives, and plenty of salt and black pepper.

-I swapped out the parsley in the tomato cucumber relish for cilantro. Not quite as authentic perhaps (let’s be real, any “authenticity” in this dish is pretty much out the window), but I’m a cilantro freak. I also added a bit of lemon juice.

That’s about it! Super easy, healthy and yummy…I can’t wait to polish the leftovers off for lunch! I’m going to try to post more recipes here…mostly because I always forget which recipes we really enjoy, so I’ll be able to use this as somewhat of a reference. Stay tuned!

 

My Grocery Essentials

I may be in the minority here, but I LOVE grocery shopping. I seriously look forward to my weekly shopping trip. It’s my little Friday afternoon ritual: after work, I head up 202 to Brandywine Town Center to complete my weekly errands. About 50% of the time, this includes a trip to Trader Joes, but it always includes a trip to Target (where I do most of my basic grocery shopping). Sometimes I’ll also supplement with a trip to Acme (if I need more in-depth ingredients), Branmar Liquors (just keeping it real), or Petsmart. I save the occasional Wegman’s or Whole Foods trips for weekends typically, since they’re a little further away and I tend to wander. After I do my grocery shopping, I pick up a pizza from Nino’s on Naaman’s road (where I won a year’s supply of free pizza…yup!) and head home for pizza night.

Although I fall victim to impulse buys every single week, I’m more or less a creature of habit and fall back on a list of essentials that I purchase week after week. These are my go-tos that I almost always have on hand (not including everyday essentials such as eggs, spices, and half-and-half, which I also keep on hand):

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  1. Trader Joe’s Smooth Salted Almond Butter
  2. Trader Joe’s Creamy Valencia Peanut Butter; Salted
  3. Trader Joe’s Whole Milk Vanilla Greek Yogurt OR Fage 2% Plain Greek Yogurt OR Siggis Vanilla Skyr (I switch back and forth – I’m a bit of a yogurt addict, and also often buy novelty yogurts like those Chobani Flips and various flavors of Noosa, which I’m obsessed with)
  4. Trader Joe’s Dried Tart Montmorency Cherries
  5. RX Bars (assorted flavors; I also like the kids’ version because they’re smaller and better as a snack size)
  6. Starbuck’s Medium Roast Iced Coffee (I’ve tried fancier, “better” brands as well as cold brewing my own, and I just love the flavor of Starbuck’s for some reason.)
  7. Trader Joe’s Multigrain Slims OR Arnold’s Mutigrain Sandwich Thins (I use these as buns for turkey burgers or veggie burgers)
  8. Trader Joe’s Turkey Burgers (so good and inexpensive!)
  9. Trader Joe’s Cowboy Quinoa Burgers
  10. Frozen, salted edamame in pods (one of my favorite snacks!)
  11. Pre-sliced apples (I know, SO lazy…but I’m honestly so much more likely to eat them this way. I buy the real deal during honeycrisp season, though!)
  12. Sargento Pepperjack Thin Slices (again, for turkey/veggie burgers)
  13. Trader Joe’s Teeny Tiny Avocados (The perfect size…I’ll often use half an avocado and let the rest rot in the fridge, and these prevent me from wasting)
  14. Canned Black Beans
  15. Trader Joe’s Frozen Roasted Corn (the version with the cotija cheese and zesty sauce is AMAZING as a treat)
  16. Feta cheese crumbles
  17. Parmesan Cheese (I usually like to keep a whole wedge and grate as needed, but I’ll occasionally buy pre-grated)
  18. Halo Top/Enlightened (various flavors, but my favorites are the Enlightened Cold Brew Coffee or Butter Pecan, or Halo Top Cookie Dough or Peanut Butter Cup)
  19. Some type of fizzy La Croix style water (I love the OG La Croix – Lime and Cherry Lime are our favorites, but so many flavors from different brands are popping up, and I change it up pretty frequently)
  20. Dark Chocolate Squares (I like to keep these on hand to kick the random chocolate craving…my favorite is Ghiardelli Sea Salt Soiree)
  21. Lundberg Salted Brown Rice Cakes (this is the only brand of rice cake I’ve ever actually liked…a co-worker got me hooked on these, spread with almond butter)
  22. Larabar Bites; Chocolate Macaroon
  23. Rao’s Arrabiata Sauce
  24. Pre-rinsed Quinoa
  25. Instant Brown Rice (I know, I know…LAZY again. But it takes 5 minutes and comes out perfectly every time! Can’t beat that.)
  26. Ground Turkey (I’m not picky, but I try not to get the extra lean – it’s less flavorful and dries out too easily.)
  27. Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  28. Cholula Hot Sauce
  29. A-1 Sauce (Our trashy addiction – Jeff and I will eat A-1 on pretty much anything. We especially love it on Turkey Meatloaf Muffins…I’ll post the recipe someday soon)
  30. Cilantro (I’m a cilantro ADDICT…I’ll often replace parsley in recipes with cilantro)
  31. Lemons and limes
  32. Broccoli (I often buy it pre-cut…again, LAZY! But the mess it makes when you chop it makes me twitchy)
  33. Baby Spinach
  34. Van’s Fire-Roasted Veggie Crackers (addictive!)
  35. Bananas (to freeze and make banana ice cream or the occasional smoothie with – this is the only way I eat them)
  36. Red Onions
  37. Garlic (though I usually don’t need to buy this – Blue Apron sends an entire BULB for EVERY RECIPE that includes garlic, so I’m usually swimming in it)
  38. Whole-fat Coconut Milk
  39. Edy’s Outshine Lime Fruit Bars (specific to summer)

There you have it! Whatever else I buy depends on what dinners I have planned for the week, or which impulse buys catch my eye. As you can probably tell, I’m very “snacky,” and tend to be drawn towards Mexican or Mediterranean flavors (I also do a decent amount of middle-eastern/Indian cooking – Jeff’s very into anything curry/coconut based, and loves things served in a bowl). What are your weekly essentials?

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

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This year is a little less lighthearted than normal, with everything that’s going on in the world. That said, I’m doing my best to proceed as normal and to enjoy my fortunate life with the people I love. That’s all we really can do. Life must go on.

Speaking of life – it’s been crazy around here in the weeks leading up to the holiday. My dad and brother are spending Thanksgiving with us, so we finally made some progress on our guest room so that they’d each have their own designated space to stay. We finally got the room painted and the bed set up with new linens, and put a nightstand and a lamp in there. We were going to get the room carpeted (we had an appointment and everything), but ended up cancelling last minute due to the company we were using not really following through and us not being able to reschedule at the last second. So, we decided to re-finish the hardwood floors ourselves instead. Jeff wanted to do it last weekend, but I was nervous that something would go wrong and leave the room totally out of commission for the holiday, so we held off. I did order a rug for the room and it arrived earlier this week, so we just laid it over the huge, gross rug that’s already in there for the time being. The room isn’t perfect yet, but it’s livable, and I really like the way it’s coming together. I’ll put up pictures once the floors have been refinished. Between trying to get the guest room finished, visiting guests at work for Jeff, and wedding planning (I finally bought my dress (!!), and we had our cake tasting Monday evening), life has been non-stop.

This is my third year hosting Thanksgiving, and I’ve developed a nice little rhythm and schedule. I try to take most of Thanksgiving week off, so that I can get everything done at a relaxed pace. I made my pies and finished grocery shopping yesterday, and I’ll prep most of my food today. My dad and brother will arrive at some point this evening, and I have the house mostly good to go for their arrival. Jeff and I have established a tradition of ordering hoagies from a local shop on Thanksgiving eve, since I’m always cooking and don’t have time to worry about dinner, and it’s become one of the things I most look forward to. I’ll set the table tonight, so all I’ll really have to do tomorrow is roast the turkey, cook a couple veggies and the rolls, and heat everything up.

I’ve made some little tweaks to the menu each year, and while I can’t say I’ve settled on the perfect menu just yet, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got. Here’s this year’s finalized menu, if you’re curious:

Simple Roast Turkey – New York Times (This is seriously such an easy recipe, and it’s far and away the best turkey I’ve ever had. Highly recommended, especially if you’re intimidated about making a turkey for the first time.)

Green Bean Casserole – Smitten Kitchen

Whipped Sweet Potatoes – Tyler Florence

Parmesan Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Mashed Potatoes (I literally make 10 pounds of potatoes. For 5 people.)

Turkey Gravy – Sam Sifton

Fresh Cranberry Sauce

Martha’s Macaroni and Cheese – Martha Stewart, by way of Smitten Kitchen

Parker House Rolls

Broccoli, Cheddar and Wild Rice Casserole – Smitten Kitchen (do you notice a theme here?)

Roasted Cauliflower

Cornbread Stuffing – Michael Symon (I don’t really like stuffing – I KNOW, I know. So I try a new recipe every year, and this will by my first attempt at cornbread stuffing. This recipe looks really tasty!)

Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie – Smitten Kitchen

Pecan Pie  – Smitten Kitchen

French Silk Pie – Cup of Jo

Do you guys think that’s enough food for FIVE FREAKING PEOPLE? I’m a real sicko. I also grabbed a couple little things to set out as appetizers – dinner was usually kind of rushed previously, but it should be more laid back this year. I’m happily going to push the meal back a couple of hours, make some festive cocktails (sparkling wine with cranberry juice? Yes, please!), and set out some hummus & crackers and let everyone munch away.

I hope everyone has a happy, relaxing, delicious holiday weekend. I also took off Black Friday for the first time in years, so I’m excited about that as well (although I’m DEFINITELY not going to go out shopping – I’m just excited to relax at home with my family and probably do some online shopping). Cheers!

Pumpkin Spice: Some Thoughts

I’ve spoken a lot about fall, and the phenomenon of the “basic bitch,” and the uprising of the autumn season and the love of everything pumpkin and spiced. But today, I’d like to specifically discuss my own personal feelings about pumpkin spice as a flavor.

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Okay, so like, I like pumpkin just fine. I like pumpkin pie. I like it a lot if it’s good pumpkin pie, and if it’s buried under a pile of whipped cream. I’ll even take Cool Whip, and I think Cool Whip is gross. I like pumpkin baked goods. They’re tasty. And pumpkin is healthy. So that’s good.

But, ya know…pumpkin spice isn’t my favorite flavor. Of anything, really. I’d say it falls solidly in the mid-range of things that I enjoy. Pumpkin spice to me is more about the feeling of pumpkin spice. It really emulates that warm, cozy, homey fall feeling. But the flavor, for me? Honestly, I find most pumpkin-spiced flavored things to be “meh.” I honestly really like Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte. I think it’s very tasty. But most other places pumpkin-flavored coffee type beverages are way too syrupy and sometimes too aggressively spiced, and I think they’re kind of gross. I’m pretty sensitive to sugar overload as it is, and with pumpkin spice, sugar overload tends to be quite prevalent. And honestly, I just tried a Toasted Graham Latte from Starbucks, and I have to say, I found it to be even tastier than the elusive PSL.

So, anyway…why do I feel compelled to try every single pumpkin spice flavored thing? I can’t stop! I just bought pumpkin spice flavored fudge stripe cookies. They’re okay. I don’t know why I needed to buy them, though. I’d never normally buy novelty cookies. Why the pumpkin spice ones? I was just thinking about my next Naturebox order, and you better believe I put the limited edition pumpkin spice Nom Noms in my pantry…but when I think about them, I bet they’re not going to be very good. That’s not stopping me, though. I always buy all the pumpkin spice flavored candy (like M&Ms and Hershey Kisses and stuff), and they’re always VILE. But every time something new comes out, I NEED to try it.

Do you guys actually like pumpkin spice? Or are you like me, and just get caught up in all the hype?

#VOTEREUBEN

Ooh! I almost forgot!

My dear friend Jeff (not to be confused with my fiancee Jeff) is one of the top 4 finalists in the Lay’s Do Us a Flavor contest. HOW EFFING COOL IS THAT?! The flavor that he came up with is New York Reuben, and not that I’m biased or anything, but they’re definitely the best flavor. They legitimately taste like a Reuben sandwich straight from a Jewish deli, right down to the pickle.

Voting lasts until October 18th, and you can vote for Jeff by visiting here, texting VoteReuben to 24477 (make sure not to mix up the ‘e’ and the ‘u’ in Reuben…I do that all the time :-/), or post any picture on Instagram with #votereuben (your profile needs to be set to public for the Instagram voting to work).

Every vote helps, and is GREATLY appreciated…let’s make Jeff a winner!

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Big on wow, small on ow.

I used to be a professional baker, but my presentation could definitely use some work. Most of the things I make are delicious, but they’re…well, we’ll call them “rustic” in appearance. Most people are surprised to learn I can’t decorate a cake to save my life. Not really even in a quaint, “that looks homemade” sort of way. I’ll typically make cupcakes (anyone can pipe icing from a bag!), or slap together a sheet cake if I’m just craving cake myself and will just be serving it at home.

I had a casual little dinner for my bridesmaids recently, and while I’m very comfortable with all of them and know that I don’t need to impress them, I wanted to serve something nice. Plus, I always feel a little bit of (self-imposed) pressure whenever I serve any kind of baked good. I actually saw this recipe for an apple galette with sour cherries, almonds, and goat cheese on one of Giada DeLaurentiis’ cooking shows, and it looked amazing, so I decided I’d serve it for dessert at my get together.

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As it happened, I ended up running out of time and plopping down some Oreo Thins instead, because I’m me and that’s what happens when you’re me. By the way, those Oreo Thins are kind of the bomb. You can eat like 100 of them and not worry because they’re Oreo THINS (duh), and the filling is perfectly proportionate to the cookie! Way to go, Oreo. Way to go.

Anyway…I ended up making the galette for dessert for just Jeff and me the other night, and it was FREAKING DELICIOUS. But my original point was, it uses frozen puff pastry so it’s super simple to make, and it’s beautiful and looks (and sounds! and tastes!!) super fancy so you can make your friends think you’re Julia Child instead of Elaine Benes. Except why wouldn’t you want people to think you’re Elaine Benes? What’s wrong with you?

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Apple Galette with Goat Cheese, Sour Cherry, and Almond Topping

(Just barely) adapted from foodnetwork.com

  • 2 TBS unsalted butter
  • 3 large apples, peeled, halved, cored, and cut into 6.5 inch wedges
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • The juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 8 oz sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • All-purpose flour, for sprinkling
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 4 oz package goat cheese (I used pre-crumbled)
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1/3 cup tart dried cherries (I found mine at Trader Joe’s)

Pre-heat oven to 375. Melt your butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apples and sprinkle with the salt; sauté until almost tender (about 10 minutes). Remove the skillet from the heat. Whisk together the sugar, spices and cornstarch; sprinkle over the warm apples and toss to combine. Squeeze lemon juice over the mixture and give it another toss. Set aside.

On a large sheet of parchment paper, sprinkle a little flour and unfold the puff pastry. Roll the puff pastry to a 12-inch square, lifting and turning to get an even thickness. Once rolled, cut off the corners with a rounded cut, so that you have a 12-inch circle. Brush the circle all over with the beaten egg, and dump the apple mixture into the center, leaving about a 2 inch border. Fold the border up and partially over the apple filling, pleating the pasty every here and there. You can be as precise or as rustic as to want here, but I think the easier you make it, the better it looks. Brush the folded-up border with the egg wash.

Slide the galette onto a heavy baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes. While the galette is baking, mix together the goat cheese, cherries and almonds. Keep refrigerated while the galette finishes baking.

Remove the galette from the oven and sprinkle the topping evenly over the exposed part of the filling. Pop it back in the oven for about 5 minutes, just to soften the cheese and the cherries. Cool until just cooled enough so that you don’t singe the roof of your mouth (or don’t, you wild animal). I was going to serve this with a dollop of creme fraiche with a little honey mixed in at my get-together, but since it was just me and Jeff I just served it with some vanilla ice cream. I regret nothing (although creme fraiche is delicious on literally anything).

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