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Late last week, I realized that I had never posted about my improvements to the recipe for Goat Cheese Pops with Herbs, Pecans and Bacon after I began experimenting with it last fall.

The worst part of this realization? The knowledge that the only record I had of said improvements was a marked-up piece of paper residing in either the kitchen (on a very busy cookbook shelf) or in my home office (a treasure trove of unsorted grad school stuff).

Luckily, the printout was right where I had sort of hoped that I left it, on the left corner of my filing cabinet in a short stack of unrelated papers.

Whew. Because these cheese balls drew rave reviews at a party this weekend.

I totally amped up the goat cheese from what the original recipe called for, resulting in a much bolder flavor. Although I also increased the measurements of the coating ingredients to account for more cheese balls (this recipe makes about 50 percent more than the original), I still find myself running short on coating when I have anywhere from five to 10 cheese balls left uncovered.

There are worse things than having five to 10 uncovered goat cheese balls awaiting you in the fridge, however.

Simply Irresistible Goat Cheese Balls
Makes 30-45

  • 9 slices bacon
  • 8 oz. goat cheese
  • 4 oz. cream cheese (not whipped)
  • 3 tbsp. chopped basil (divided)
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup pecans

Cook bacon until crispy. Place cooked bacon on a plate lined with paper towel and pat to remove excess grease.

Place the goat cheese, cream cheese, 1.5 tbsp. basil and a few twists of cracked black pepper in the food processor. Process until creamy and well-mixed.

Form the cheese mixture into small balls, about the size of the tip of your thumb. (Use food-safe gloves and avoid cleaning cheese out from under your fingernails later.) Place the cheese balls in the freezer for 10-15 minutes; you want them to firm up, but you don’t want to freeze them all the way.

Clean out the food processor (or use your second, smaller food processor). Crumble in the cooled bacon and add the remaining basil and the pecans. Process until the mixture is very fine and crumbly. Roll the cheese balls in the bacon mixture, pressing to lightly embed the coating into each cheese ball. (Again, break out the gloves unless you enjoy bacon shrapnel under your nails.)

Refrigerate until ready to serve. (I’ve always made these the day before serving due to time constraints — they’re fine, if not a little better, the day after.) Serve alongside toothpicks or stick the toothpicks in before placing the cheese balls on a serving platter.

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The Internet seems to be bursting at the seams with Nutella recipes. Folks are mixing the hazelnut spread into everything from ice cream to hot chocolate.

As a friend pointed out, the only thing needed for a good Nutella dish is a spoon. It is a product that may be best unencumbered by other ingredients (although you should really try encumbering it with sliced bananas — heavenly).

I’ve never been one for unencumbering things, however. I’ve been scoping out Nutella recipes on Pinterest for a few weeks, and finally chose Four Ingredient Nutella Cookies from A Busy Nest to test. (Note that I also purchased the super-deluxe family size pack of Nutella at Costco. If you’re going to use Nutella as an ingredient instead of a light spread, you’re going to need this, too.)

The recipe made the driest cookie dough I’ve ever worked with. You’ll see in the recipe’s comment section that this freaks some people out, since the dough will easily fall apart during handling.

The solution: Put on a pair of food-safe gloves and gently roll the dough into 1-inch balls, pressing it together as you go. Instead of using a floured glass to mash the cookies into circles, I simply pressed the balls flat between my palms.

The result: Delicious, melt-in-your-mouth cookies with strong Nutella overtones and just a hint of caramelization. The centers were delightfully underdone and chewy.

The drawback, however, is that the cookies only stayed chewy for a few hours. The next day, they were crunchy all the way through. Good if you want to dunk them in a glass of milk, I suppose, but not what you’re looking for if chewy is your thing. And chewy is, most definitely, my thing.

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This version of the sugar-free frozen banana ice cream that I’ve been toying with all summer (see Experiments 1, 2 and 3) is the best yet. Seriously, it will change your life. Or at least the mid-afternoon snack portion of your life.

I found the recipe while browsing Pinterest, a “virtual pinboard” that lets you post photos of awesome stuff you find on the web. Better yet, Pinterest lets you see things that other folks have found, leading you into a scavenger hunt of awesomeness that is reminiscent of the Internet circa 1996.

Anyway, I traced the original recipe back to here, although it seems to have originated from a Tumbler blog that’s no longer in existence. Sorry, rouxeats.

Cut up a ripe banana, freeze the slices, dump them in a food processor with 2 tbsp. cocoa powder and you have a delicious, if weird, rendition of chocolate-banana ice cream. Those beige pieces you see in the photograph above are bits of peanuts; because I famously cannot leave well enough alone, I threw in probably 3 tbsp. of peanuts. DO THIS.

It was so delicious that the husband ate the two bites I offered him and noted that, perhaps, his earlier derision of the mixture as “frozen banana mush” was a bit shortsighted. He wants back in on the banana ice cream experiment.

Next up: Nutella banana ice cream.

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The husband and I stumbled on a culinary treasure in Birmingham last week, a restaurant that made the trip to drop off his mother at the Amtrak station more than worthwhile.

I spotted the Culinard Cafe between the interstate and the station and looked up the menu on the iPhone. It was a nice distraction as I hunkered down to wait for the 12:05 to arrive while trying to avoid the headache-inducing flicker of the overhead light. The restaurant is associated with the Culinary Institute of Virginia College in Birmingham and provides a working and learning environment for students.

The husband’s only concern was whether the menu held a ham sandwich. It did.

The lunch menu boasted a wide variety of sandwiches and salads, including some pretty fancy combinations (salmon & brie salad, anyone?).

My first choice was the Southwestern chicken wrap (it had me at “chili spiked mayonnaise”), but when I turned the menu over I spotted the flat-iron steak sandwich. Its menu description was pure culinary seduction: “Sweet chili roasted flat iron steak with grilled onions, Alabama Belle Chevre Goat Cheese, lettuce, tomato, and whole grain mustard and spicy aioli on Ciabatta.”

Goat cheese, whole grain mustard AND spicy aioli? You have GOT to be kidding me.

I chose the black bean salad for my side so I could compare it to my recipe. (Their version was more complicated, but I like mine better.)

The sandwich was simply divine. I actually put it down after the first bite and said, “I need to contemplate this sandwich for a minute.” The steak was cooked to tender perfection, and the goat cheese and whole-grain mustard added an unexpectedly creamy and tangy element (admittedly, the aioli seems to have gotten lost among the rest of the flavors).

Walkout price for this thing of delicious beauty? $7.95 before tax.

Oh, and the husband enjoyed his ham & Swiss sandwich with fries.

We are SO going back to this restaurant for lunch if we find ourselves in Birmingham on a weekday. You should, too.

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So I’m in the kitchen section of the MoMA Store in SoHo when I see flip & tumble’s 24-7 reusable shopping bags on display. I turn to my husband and tell him that I really wish I could find reusable produce bags without having to order them online. I turn to another display, and what do I see but a set of five reusable produce bags for $11. Shopping magic.

I’ve learned that when I spot something awesome and affordable while out of town, I should go ahead and buy it so I don’t have to order it later. These were a little more expensive than similar bags that I had seen online, but there was no shipping fee for me to pop them into my carry-on and tote them back to Alabama.

So far, I’ve taken them to Publix twice and Earth Fare once. The only problem I’ve found is that if the produce is extremely wet, the mesh allows the moisture to escape onto surrounding items on the way home. Not a huge tradeoff, overall, for leaving the grocery store with no flimsy plastic bags in tow.

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Yes, I DID go all the way to Le Pain Quotidien, a fabulous bakery in New York City, and ordered organic steel-cut oatmeal with fresh berries. I had pretty much threatened to do this a few weeks ago.

It was entirely worth skipping croissants and danishes to eat this masterpiece instead. Creamy and nutty, it made me realize that I need to figure out how to utilize milk in my version of steel-cut oats instead of simply water and/or orange juice.

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So I’m told by people who know such things that I’m actually getting the most difficult part of pecan pie right. Apparently it can be quite a feat to get the filling to set up correctly.

Who knew?

I got my recipe for the filling from Baking Illustrated, a book published by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated. I don’t know what part of the recipe holds the mojo, but it’s been foolproof so far.

Here’s the recipe, complete with my notes. I would have posted it last night, but my 14-year-old, somewhat standoffish cat decided to dole out some affection, and you just don’t turn that kind of thing down.

Toast the pecans while you’re waiting for the oven to reach the baking temperature to partially bake the pie crust. This should take about seven to 10 minutes; watch the pecans carefully and stir a couple of times to prevent burning. Wait until they cool off before you chop them up or they’ll crumble. (Toasting nuts is nerve-wracking; I’ve found it’s best to undertoast rather than risk overtoasting.

You’ll want to have the pie filling mixture ready to go the minute the partially baked shell comes out of the oven. (This bit of timing might be the secret to the recipe.)

Pecan Pie

1 unbaked pie shell
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped into small pieces

Follow the directions for partially baking the pie crust until it’s light golden brown.

In the meantime, melt the butter in a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the sugar and salt with a wooden spoon. Beat in the eggs, then the corn syrup and vanilla. Return the bowl to the heat. Stir and cook until the mixture is shiny and registers about 130 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from heat and stir in the pecans.

Remove the prebaked pie shell from the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 275 degrees. Pour the pie mixture into the hot pie shell.

Bake on the middle rack for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the pie looks set but still soft, like gelatin, when gently pressed with the back of a spoon. Place the pie on a rack and let it cool completely, for about four hours.

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