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book review, recipe

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk + Oreo Cheesecake

When my Book of the Month email came a few weeks ago with the January selections, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk immediately caught my eye because the description said it was “the perfect book to start a new year of reading and of living.” When I read further and saw that the novel was about the highest paid woman in advertising, my choice was clear. (For those of you who don’t know me personally, I work in advertising too.) I made my selection and anxiously awaited my BOTM delivery.

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Kathleen Rooney takes us back to New Year’s Eve in 1984. Her novel centers around the formidable yet friendly 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish (based on the real-life copywriter Margaret Fishback who became the highest paid female in advertising in the 1930s) as she takes a walk around New York City before ringing in the new year.

An avid walker, Lillian had planned to celebrate the holiday the “same as always,” with a visit to her neighborhood Italian restaurant for veal rollatini and green noodles and then “early to bed with a book.” Her plans are spoiled, however, by her uncharacteristic and absent-minded consumption of half a package of Oreo cookies.

After only a glass of Chianti at Grimaldi’s, Lillian decides to take a walk to the legendary Delmonico’s steakhouse downtown to not only work up an appetite but to correct a mistake from many years ago. On her walk, she reminisces about her career in writing – both advertisements and poetry, her relationships and her decades of experiences in Manhattan. She has to confront some of the grittier aspects of the city but remains undeterred throughout her ambling journey.

In honor of the city Lillian so wholeheartedly loves and the package of Oreos she detests, I decided to pair this charming novel with an Oreo cheesecake. This recipe from Southern Bite claims to be the Easiest Oreo Cheesecake, which I think would suit Lillian just fine, and I have to say, it was quite less complicated than other cheesecakes I’ve made in the past.

First, I made sure my cream cheese was softened by leaving it at room temperature for a while. I find it goes a little faster if unpackaged, so I put all four blocks into my bowl and left on the countertop to soften.

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I preheated my oven to 350 degrees F, greased my springform pan, and began crushing Oreos to make my crust.

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I combined the now-softened cream cheese, vanilla and sugar with my mixer, before adding the eggs. Then I added some slightly less crushed Oreos (about a dozen) to the batter, folding them in with a rubber spatula. I poured the mixture into my pan, tapped it lightly and topped with the remaining chunks of Oreos (about six). Here is what it looked like before baking:

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And after 50 minutes and plenty of cooling time, it looked like this:

This cheesecake is meant to be easy, not perfect, as Stacey explains. Yes, it’s a little brown on the edges and, yes, you may find a few cracks on top, but it was far less fussy than other cheesecakes, and honestly, it tasted just as delicious. No need to stress, just enjoy! And if you feel like you need to work it off afterwards, just take a walk like Lillian. 🙂

Easiest Oreo Cheesecake

  • Servings: 8-12 slices
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 (14.3-ounce) package Oreos, divided
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1¼ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • whipped cream and chocolate sauce for topping, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Place half of the Oreos (about 18) in a gallon size zip-top bag. Crush the cookies using a rolling pin. Pour the crushed Oreos into a small bowl and mix with the melted butter. Pour the mixture evenly into the bottom of the springform pan and press firmly to create a crust.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a bowl using a hand mixer), combine the softened cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until well-combined. Add the eggs and mix well. Roughly break up the remaining cookies and add them to the mixture, reserving some to sprinkle on top. Gently fold the cookies in and pour the batter onto the crust. Lightly tap the pan on the counter to get out any air bubbles. Sprinkle with the remaining Oreos.
  4. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the center in almost completely set. Cool and then refrigerate overnight to allow the cheesecake to firm up before serving (or at least 3 hours for those impatient folks). Drizzle with chocolate suace and add a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.
book review, recipe

Today Will Be Different + Breakfast Casserole

Based on the title alone, Maria Semple’s Today Will Be Different seemed like a novel with an uplifting outlook. At the same time, I was also reading The Happiness Project, a nonfiction book with a similar self-improvement theme that one of my book clubs had chosen for January to kick off the New Year. Goodbye, 2016! Hello, 2017! Let’s start fresh.

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I had loved Maria Semple’s last novel Where’d You Go Bernadette? It was laugh-out-loud funny with a surprising format, and I still recommend it to people constantly. Naturally, I was looking forward to her follow-up. As the title suggests, Today Will Be Different takes a peek at a day in the life of our main character Eleanor. She wakes up with the intention to be a better person than yesterday.

On a day that’s anything but ordinary, Eleanor certainly does her best to follow through with her resolutions. As the day unfolds, she is greeted with several surprises, including an adventure down memory lane. It definitely had some chuckle-worthy moments and relatable insights, but even for a novel about just one day, it felt rushed, incomplete, and in the end, a bit too contrived.

Still, it wasn’t a bad read – certainly enjoyable, and I took it as a bit of an inspiration to do a little better every day than the day before.

Best to start with breakfast, I think. I found an easy recipe for a breakfast casserole that’s greatest appeal was that most of the work could be done the night before. It ended up being a perfect dish to make between Christmas and New Year’s, when everything feels a little lazier and there are heaps of leftovers – especially, in our case, of spiral sliced ham. All I really had to buy was the frozen hash browns.

My parents came over for brunch late one morning, so the night before I did all of the prep, knowing tomorrow would be better. Easy satisfying breakfast is always a great way to start the day!

I chopped up what we had left of the Christmas ham, which ended up being just shy of 2 cups, but was still plenty for the recipe.

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I poured the shredded frozen hash browns into the bottom of a greased 9×13 casserole dish and whipped up a dozen eggs.

Next, I added the cheese (a little more cheddar and a little less pepper jack, since my mom isn’t a huge fan of spiciness), the chopped ham, seasoning salt and whole milk (which I used instead of half-and-half because we had it on hand). I stirred it all together and then poured it on top of the potatoes. My prep was complete, so I covered the dish in foil and set it in the fridge, ready to relax for the rest of the night.

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The next morning, about an hour and half before my parents arrived, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees and then placed the foil-covered casserole into the hot oven. Towards the last 20 minutes, it started bubbling over, so I placed a cookie sheet underneath the dish – I suggest doing this as a precaution when you first put it in the oven.

After the first 90 minutes, I removed the foil and baked it for an additional 5 minutes uncovered. The casserole looked finished, but the top was a little wet because the moisture had nowhere to go underneath the foil. This last 5 minutes helped the cheese become a little more golden and got rid of all the excess moisture, without overcooking the casserole. It was still fluffy and delightful for brunch.

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I made my parents and Scott wait while I took some photographs (sorry, guys!), but luckily this recipe had a 10-minute anticipation time built right in.

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Everyone loved it, and I look forward to making this for special occasions and everyday weekends alike in the coming year.

The Best Breakfast Casserole

  • Servings: 8-12
  • Print


From: Alyssa, The Recipe Critic

Ingredients

  • 24 oz frozen shredded potatoes
  • 12 eggs
  • 2 cup half and half [or whole milk]
  • 1 tsp seasoning salt
  • 1½ cups cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1½ cups pepper jack cheese, grated
  • 2 cups chopped ham (or your preferred meat, sausage would also be great)

Directions

  1. Grease a 9×13 inch pan. Add the frozen and shredded potatoes to the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together. Then add half and half, seasoning salt, cheeses and chopped ham or meat.
  3. Pour over the top of the frozen potatoes. Cover with foil and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
  4. Bake covered in foil at 350 degrees for 90 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

book review, of interest, recipe

Talking As Fast As I Can + Luke’s Cheeseburgers

Two months ago, I pre-ordered Lauren Graham’s collection of personal essays. Last week, it arrived! I couldn’t wait to dive in and, once I started reading, I tackled it within a few hours. She covered everything from her time on Parenthood (another enjoyable TV favorite) to her experience writing her novel Someday, Someday, Maybe and, of course, what it was like to be a part of Gilmore Girls the first time around and how lucky she felt to get to do it all again in the recent revival.

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Reading Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between is what I imagine talking with Lauren Graham to be like – funny, genuine and a little all over the place. As such, she didn’t spend too much time on any one thing and, in a few cases, I was left wanting more.

I thought it was interesting to learn that, as an actor who doesn’t particularly like watching her work, she hadn’t actually seen much of the original Gilmore Girls series. One of my favorite parts of the book was her chapter on the show as she watched it on Netflix. Another natural favorite was her chapter on the revival – don’t worry, she gives fair warning about the spoilers. After devouring the new episodes and being left with mixed feelings about it (more on that in my next post), it was above all nice to see the heart that went into making it, on Lauren’s part as well as everyone else involved.

Deanna and I chose to pair Lauren’s book with a Gilmore Girls classic, a dish that Lorelai herself ate many many times on the show – the Luke’s Cheeseburger. If you’re visiting Stars Hollow (I wish!), a stop at Luke’s for breakfast or lunch is an absolute must and, based on the quantity these ladies ate, I’d say they’re highly recommended.

If you have a man friend who can help you out by throwing on a flannel shirt, a backwards hat, and a bit of a sarcastic no-nonsense attitude, you can try to get there. Even without the Luke imitation, these burgers were quite delicious.

To start, Deanna seasoned the beef and formed the patties, while I prepped our chosen toppings of lettuce, tomato and red onion.

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If you like your buns toasty, as I do, start by heating a griddle or large skillet and lightly buttering both sides of the sesame buns. Once the griddle is hot, place them butter side down and rotate them as needed to get a nice even golden brown on them.

While the buns are toasting (they can sometimes take longer than the burgers), get another skillet going over medium-high heat. Place the burgers in the preheated pan and, making sure to leave space between them, let cook through for about 3 minutes. Flip the burgers and cook for an additional 2-4 minutes. (Be sure to cook it to your desired doneness, which can be done with a meat thermometer.) If you’re adding cheese, do so now and cover loosely to help it melt.

Place the sesame buns on the plate and arrange the garnish as desired, before adding the burger to the bottom of the bun. Top with condiments if you like. Lorelai would request that you serve with french fries.

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If you’re feeling fancy, you can eat them with pinkies up, like I made Deanna do.

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We hope you enjoy! And, remember, no cell phones.

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Luke’s Cheeseburgers

  • Servings: Makes 2 half-pound burgers, or 4 quarter-pound burgers
  • Print

Ingredients

  • Sesame seed buns
  • Butter
  • 1 lb lean beef, ground
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • Cheddar cheese slices
  • Red onion, sliced thinly
  • Tomato, sliced
  • Lettuce leaves
  • Pickle chips

Directions

  1. Prepare garnishes as desired. Recommend 1 lettuce leaf in halves, 2 thin tomato slices, 3-4 rings of red onion, and 3 pickle chips per burger.
  2. To make the hamburger patties, divide the ground beef as desired into 2 or 4 portions. Roll each into a ball then flatten between palms. Season each flattened patty with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a large griddle or skillet over medium heat. Lightly butter each half of each bun and place butter-side down on the griddle. Cook until each bun is lightly browned. Place on plates and arrange with garnish.
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Place the hamburger patties onto the skillet, leaving space between them. After 3 minutes, flip the patties. Cook for an additional 2 minutes (or longer, depending on your desired doneness.) If desired, add cheese to each patty. Cover if able to help the cheese melt for approximately 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Place each patty on a bun and serve.


Additional optional garnishes, as recommended in the original recipe, are grilled onions or sauteed mushrooms.