For Grandma’s Birthday: White Chocolate Blueberry Cheesecake

Reasons I love my Grandma:

* I never get tired of looking through her wedding album. Check out this cheeky shot of her and my grandpa as they left for their honeymoon:

* She has an impressive knowledge of stocks and sports.

* We have the same taste in movies: we prefer action thrillers to chick flicks, but can handle a romantic comedy once in a while if it’s really good or if Audrey Hepburn is involved.

* When we come to visit, whether it’s for an hour or a whole day, she always has crackers and cookies on the table (and if it’s a birthday, an emergency cake in the freezer).

* She keeps up with all my creative projects, both on and off the internet.

* One time, apropos of nothing, she stepped outside the house one unseasonably beautiful morning, stood on the doorstep, and said, “Good morning, world!”

* She is kind to animals, from her many former cats and dogs to the squirrels who eat at her bird feeder.

* She asks her hairdresser for copies of Teen Vogue, ELLE, and Seventeen, which she then passes on to me.

* She keeps me informed of recent princely scandals.

* She (and my grandpa) spent six years housing my brother and I when we decided to go to a private high school that was far from home. During that time, she drove us to school and picked us up through icy mornings, late afternoons, play rehearsals, cross country meets, and more. She always had dinner and breakfast ready, let me try on her makeup during my more “experimental” phases, made an effort to keep up with the many entanglements of our academic pursuits and social lives, and even started a weekly ritual of watching Supernatural with me on Thursdays.

* She is a kind, loving, and nurturing person with a heaping helping of braininess and spunk.

For her birthday, I made one of her favorite desserts — cheesecake — and incorporated fresh, seasonal fruit and white chocolate (which toned down some of the cheesecake’s typical sourness). I don’t know where I originally found the recipe, because it came from a hand-written recipe book I’ve been keeping for ages, but it is not my own.

Remember to start making this recipe the night before you plan on serving it, because the cheesecake needs to chill overnight in order to set!

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Recipes From the Back of the Box: Farro and Cannelloni Bean Risotto

Usually I try to post recipes chronologically, but last night I made one of the best meals I think I’ve ever cooked, and wanted to share it immediately. And it was literally just the recipe on the back of an as-yet-unopened package of farro. It was my first time preparing farro and I had no idea what to make, and when I realized we had most of the ingredients, I shrugged and figured, why not?

The farro is prepared in a kind of risotto-like way, though it requires a lot less work because you don’t have to add the broth in increments. And it tastes incredible. What I love most about this recipe, and with risotto in general, is the combination of savory flavors. Usually I add flavor to my cooking with spices and other seasonings, but the wine, broth, tomato sauce, and parmesan in this dish come together like magic to create a rich, salty, lip-smacking mixture. I made it my own (and worked with the ingredients I had on hand) by preparing my own tomato sauce, switching beef for cannelloni beans, adding garlic to the sofrito, and throwing in some capers I happened to find in the fridge.

Because all of the sauce gets absorbed into the farro and the vegetables, this dish sits like a stone in your stomach. Be forewarned: you need a lot less than you think you do. Though the recipe didn’t look like it yielded much, it was enough to satisfy four hungry people and still have some food left over.

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Sometimes I Cook Real Food: Cilantro Lime Chickpea Salad

 

Yeah, sometimes I eat things that aren’t cookies or cheesecake. Can’t say that I enjoy it as much, but you gotta get your fruits and veggies in somehow. Actually, to be honest I pack lunch every day, and usually try to make some sort of salad. I like this one because it’s easy to make, it’s got protein built in, and it’s got some of my favorite ingredients: chickpeas, cilantro, lime juice, and garlic. Mmm stinky.

(Actually, thanks to citrus elves science, the lime juice actually cuts the stink out of the raw garlic and onions.)

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Sometimes other people in my family cook stuff

 

It’s true! And no matter how much I like to talk about the ill-fated experiments my family is known for (chopped apples in hamburgers, anyone? Substituting peppermint extract for fresh mint?) a lot of the time they get it right. Above, please witness my mom’s take on a sweet, curry-flavored chicken, and summer vegetables Provençal-style.

Best of all, my parents’ cooking tends to be a lot simpler than my own. The following recipes don’t really have measurements or even set ingredients, so you can feel free to modify them as you please! I would particularly recommend replacing the chicken in the first recipe with sautéed tofu for a delicious vegetarian dish.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Puddle Cookies

You may have noticed that I do a lot of baking for my brother.

Here’s the thing. One of the unfortunate signs that you may be becoming an adult is that almost everyone you know is on a diet. When I was in elementary school, we had a tradition that the birthday boy or girl would bring in treats for the class, and could then spend part of lunch running around the school with one lucky friend, offering the Zebra Cakes or Hostess Yodels or Entemans donuts (you know, the yellow cake ones covered in a coat of flakey, chocolatey icing) to all of their previous teachers. And when May 11th rolled around and it was my turn to procure store-bought treats, without fail, the teachers would always wish me a happy birthday…and then refuse my offering. This made absolutely no sense. I remember thinking that if I were a teacher, I would not only accept the donut or whatever, I’d take two, because being a grown-up means no one is around to monitor your sugar intake. When I was introduced to the concept of dieting, I remember thinking it was still ridiculous, because I didn’t think of any of my teachers as “fat.”

Ah, the innocence of youth.

In any case, though most of my friends and family are watching what they eat — whether for health reasons, weight loss, or because they just don’t have the same appetite for sugar that they did when they were seven — I have a brother with the metabolism of a hummingbird who’s happy acting as a garbage disposal. Thus, when I get the urge to bake, I can send some baked goods off in a care package with the knowledge that they will be consumed and appreciated.

A few notes: I didn’t have any parchment paper on hand, so the cookies kind of fell apart a little when I took them off the cookie sheet. They still tasted great, though. Alex doesn’t like nuts combined with chocolate, so I replaced the walnuts in this recipe with peanut butter chips. The result was a chocolatey cookie with meringue-like lightness combined with an ooey-goeey center from all the melted chips. And as an added bonus, these babies are gluten-free!

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