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Mom’s weeknight pizza dough

An overhead view of a hand removing a slice of pizza from the larger pie. Another slice has been moved slightly away - you can see the cheese pulls still connecting it to the pizza.

I think everyone should have a good set of default recipes – the sort of thing that you can keep in your back pocket to make on those days when you get home from work and need to make dinner on autopilot. This easy, weeknight pizza dough fits the bill. 

This is the dough recipe I grew up with – my mom has been making it for years, and it has made appearances at everything from frisbee sidelines to mock trial state championships. If I didn’t have such a hard time remembering numbers, I could make it in my sleep. 

All of the ingredients for weeknight pizza dough: a tupperware box of bread flour with a blue lid, a tupperware box of dark brown sugar with a pink lid, a squeeze bottle of olive oil, a jar of yeast, salt, and a Pyrex measuring cup with about a cup of water.
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Pear and granola muffins

A whole muffin and one split muffin on a plate. One half of the split muffin has been buttered, and you can see the used knife and crumb-covered fork sitting on the rim of the plate. There is a crumpled napkin sitting next to everything, and you can see a mug of coffee or tea in the upper left corner of the image.

It’s no secret that the only meal I’m really good about remembering to feed myself is dinner. Lunch is about a 50/50 shot, depending on how absorbed in work I happen to be that day (and whether or not Jackson’s working from home), but I can be pretty good about breakfast – if I set myself up correctly. Normally that means making a batch of something that I can grab from to eat all week, since I am not, despite my best efforts, a cereal or eggs person. 

Enter pear and granola muffins. 

They’re exactly what I’m looking for from a grab-and-go breakfast perspective – sweet, but not so sweet that you feel like you’re eating dessert, with enough texture to keep things interesting, and enough substance that two muffins (and maybe a piece of fruit) will keep me full and happy through lunchtime. 

Ingredients for pear and granola muffins laid out in glass and wooden bowls on a white countertop.

Admittedly, they were also an excuse to play with the idea of baking from ratios – a concept I picked up from Michael Rhulman’s blog (and also his excellent book, Ratio*, which I placed on hold at the library the second I discovered it and am now devouring). 

*Not an affiliate link, I just think you should read this.

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Cornmeal ricotta pancakes

A stack of five pancakes topped with strawberries and strawberry jam with a wedge-shaped slice taken out of the stack. The pieces that have been cut out are stuck on the tines of a fork that rests on the edge of the plate. A blue coffee cup is visible in the background

I made Mariana Velasquez Villegas’s arepas de choclo probably six months ago, right at the peak of sweet corn season, and was immediately seized with the desire to bastardize them into an American breakfast food. 

And now that it comes time to write about how I did it, the ratios I followed and the tweaks I made, I’m conflicted about the right way to go about it. 

After all, arepas are one of the few pre-colonization traditions that are still widely popular in modern Venezuela and Columbia. For context, Venezuelans eat about 750 arepas per person, per year – that averages out to about two a day! 

I’m a white girl from Georgia who made arepas all of once before deciding I wanted to turn them into something that more closely resembles the pancakes I grew up with. 

All the ingredients for cornmeal ricotta pancakes (except eggs!) sit out on the counter. From left to right, the image includes all purpose flour, salt, baking powder, butter, masarepa, granulated sugar, frozen sweet corn, milk, and ricotta cheese

How do I write about that, and do it in a way that neither appropriates nor commodifies an integral part of Columbian and Venezuelan culture? 

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Sheet pan breakfast hash

A close-up shot of a plate of hash, topped with a sunny side up egg and sliced scallions. The plate is sitting on a grey striped napkin with a silver fork, and you can see a mug and another plate of hash out of focus in the background.

Hash is one of my favorite things in the world – crispy, golden, perfectly pan-fried potatoes, tossed with lightly charred veggies and topped with melty cheese and a runny egg. It’s heaven on a plate – which is unfortunate, since getting there is so often hell, at least for me. 

The crispy parts of the potatoes glue themselves irrevocably to the bottom of the pan, the veggies sog out whatever crisp the potato has managed to retain, and the whole thing takes forever to cook. 

So instead of tying myself to a pan in the morning, I turned to the oven – and sheet pan breakfast hash was born. 

Jessi's hands slice red onion. The slices are about 1/8 of an inch thick and run parallel to the root end. You can see a whole bell pepper and a few whole potatoes surrounding the cutting board.

Oven-roasted potatoes are good, excellent even, but they’re not what I want from a hash. They’re too often pallid, with tough, dried-out exteriors and interiors that lean more creamy than fluffy. And while an oven potato is never going to quite equal the french-fry-like platonic ideal of something shallow fried, we can certainly get a lot closer than that. 

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Spatchcocked chicken with tomatoes and white beans

The pan of chicken and vegetables sits on a cutting board at an angle, with a wooden spoon resting in the pan. You can see that a leg quarter has been removed from the chicken and now sits on a plate with some of the vegetables and a fork.

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been holding onto this spatchcocked chicken recipe for like three months, which is ridiculous since it’s basically the only way I’ve cooked chicken since I came up with the recipe. 

It’s everything I want in a weeknight dinner – quick to prepare, quick to cook, quick to clean up – with lots of easily remixable leftovers. That said, like most fast, easy meals, it relies pretty heavily on technique to come out well. 

Let’s talk spatchcock

Jessi uses a pair of red-handled kitchen shears to cut down one side of the spine of a raw chicken. The chicken is sitting on a grey plastic cutting board, and Jessi is wearing a pair of blue disposable gloves.

I learned about spatchcocking (also known as butterflying – but really, who’s going to call it that when spatchcock is an option) right around the time I turned 13. We’d just moved into the new house, and Dad was gearing up to cook the Thanksgiving turkey for the first time in the new oven.

He discovered pretty quickly that the original 1950-sized oven would not accept a 2005-sized turkey. 

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Homemade chicken breakfast sausage

A view of a breakfast table from above. A plate with a breakfast sandwich sits in the lower left corner, while a plate of browned breakfast sausage peeks in from the right

When I was in culinary school, sausage day was the day I discovered I had zero desire to go into charcuterie. It was messy, fiddly work that smelled of iron and cold, sticky meat, and I spent the whole day terrified I was going to kill one of my classmates with some pork-based foodborne illness. And yet here I am, trying to convince you to try homemade chicken breakfast sausage. 

Feels a little hypocritical, doesn’t it?

A stainless steel bowl filled with chicken and seasonings. You can see the ingredient jars, bottles, and bags on the counter around the bowl.

And yet, making sausage at home feels a little like a magic trick, and one I love doing. 

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Buttered bourbon florentines with diplomat cream

Three tube-shaped florentines stacked together like firewood on a white plate

These buttered bourbon florentines were the result of a series of questionable decisions on my part. 

Should I maybe have tried hot buttered bourbon before making cookies based on that flavor profile? Probably yes. Might I have thought about the consequences of putting a cream filling in a shatteringly crisp cookie? Probably yes. Should I maybe have considered that this “cookie” might be straddling the very thin line between cookie and actual dessert? Also probably yes. Did I do any of those things? 

No. 

Jessi uses a piping bag to fill a tube-shaped buttered rum florentine with diplomat cream

Fortunately, these cookies came out extremely well – despite my best efforts. 

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Apple cider cookies

Five stacked apple cider cookies on a white plate. There are two more cookies in front of the stack. One is lying flat on the plate, the other, which has a bite out of it, is leaning on top of it.

I wish I could say that these apple cider cookies were inspired by childhood trips to orchards and memories of parents or grandparents simmering a pot on the back of the stove at holidays – but the truth is a lot less glamorous. 

My family goes to a tree farm every year to pick and cut our tree, and once we’ve dragged it back to the car and dad has strapped it into the bed of the pickup, we huddle up around the tailgate, sipping hot cider and eating boiled peanuts from the farmstand out of styrofoam cups until we can’t feel our fingers anymore.

Jessi spoons apple butter onto the bottom half of an apple cider cookie. You can see the container of apple butter in the background, alongside a small sheet pan with unfilled cookie tops and bottoms

The cider, by the way, is almost certainly powdered, but we’re usually so cold by that point that it doesn’t really matter. 

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Eggnog thumbprint cookies

Three eggnog cookies sprinkled with nutmeg on a white plate. Holiday lights and poinsettia are visible in the background

There was no way I was going to make it through a holiday-drinks-inspired Cookie Week without at least trying to tackle eggnog – and I think these eggnog thumbprint cookies knocked it out of the park. 

For as long as I can remember, every year at Christmas Mr. Chestnut would give my grandmother and grandfather a quart jar (or two) of his infamous eggnog – and they always brought it out for the family Christmas Eve celebration. It’s heady, powerful stuff – creamy, rich, and the kind of boozy that you don’t taste until you’ve swallowed and your whole chest warms – and I look forward to that jar coming out every single year. Not necessarily for the eggnog itself (though it is undeniably excellent) but for the memories that are tied so closely to it. 

So I just knew it needed to be a cookie. The problem is that I had no idea what cookie it needed to be. 

Jessi pipes eggnog filling into empty thumbprint cookies. All the cookies sitting on the wire rack are filled but one. There is a poinsettia and some greenery visible in the background.

I played with this idea off and on in my head for nearly a month, choosing and discarding ideas over and over again. I knew that it had to have a filling – no cookie on its own could ever capture the eggy creaminess this one needed – but I didn’t know what that would look like. A pastry cream in a sandwich cookie? A rolled tuile with buttercream? A spice cookie with a custard center? 

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Ginger molasses cookies with rum glaze

A stack of cookies on top of a piece of crinkled brown paper. One of the cookies has been broken in half and is leaning on the stack. The whole scene is surrounded by greenery.

These ginger molasses cookies are delicious – I had one for breakfast this morning, and for snack yesterday, and for dessert the night before…I think you’re getting the picture here. 

But I have to admit these cookies aren’t quite what I intended. 

Rum glaze drizzles from a whisk onto a cookie which is sitting on a glazing rack - the whole rack is full of unglazed cookies. The glaze has splashed onto the cookie next door

They were supposed to be Dark and Stormy cookies – sparkling heat from candied ginger and rich sweetness from molasses and spice, balanced by the tingly brightness of lime zest and punch of rum in the glaze. 

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Jessi Spell

A culinary degree and two years of professional experience has not stopped Jessi from making stupid mistakes – she just makes them more efficiently. She habitually reads cookbooks before bed, loses track of time on Wikipedia, and yells at cooking shows like dads watching football. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Jackson, five plants, and more cookbooks than a 600 square foot studio should hold.


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