Aug 3, 2014

There's a First Time for Everything- Lamb Burgers

A few weeks ago, an old friend contacted me about appearing on his podcast. I hadn't seen him in a long time and his show is like the living room version of a late night talk show, so I agreed! But, he had a caveat...He'd received a NuWave Skillet as a wedding gift and he wanted to use it during our segment. 

Hmmmmm....

Well, that means that my usual baked treat is out since he needs to real live cooking going on. And, I need needed to come up with something that could be cooked in 12 minutes or less...

See, I've never cooked on a NuWave before. It's basically like cooking with magnets. Supposedly, you're able to heat the cooktop to a specific temperature in no time at all and it's supposed to be cool to the touch, except where it touches the magnetized cookware. That sounds like some science BS to me. And, I wouldn't have a chance to cook with it before we were live on the air. 

So, I just threw caution to the wind and decided to cook something that I've never cooked before. Who needs comfort, right?!?

So what did I decided on? Lamb Burgers. 

YES.

I based my recipe off of one that I found on Saveur, 'cause if it's good enough for Chef Michael Psilakis, then it's good enough for me! But, I made a few edits to make it my own too. 

So, first things first, I decided go ahead and make the spread, cause what's a good burger without some cheese?

Feta and Yogurt Spread

1 6oz. container of low fat Greek yogurt

3 tbs. feta cheese

3 sundried tomatoes (rough chop)

2 tsp. lemon juice

2 tsp. red wine vinegar

zest of 1 lemon

2 tsp. dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

Now's when you pull out your handy-dandy food processor. Throw all of the ingredients and pulse a few times to combine and smooth it out just a bit.  Easy as that. 

Just pop the spread into the fridge and get ready for burgers! Woo!

Lamb Burgers

1 lbs. ground lamb 

1/2 lbs. ground pork

1/4 small yellow onion (minced)

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. parsley

1 tsp. mint

1 tsp. dill

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 scallion (finely chopped)

1/2 tsp. coriander

1/2 tsp. cumin

3 cloves garlic (minced)

salt and pepper to taste

So many things! I know, but it's gonna come together to form some serious yumminess. 

First things first, you gotta cook down those onions in a little olive oil until they're golden brown, which should take about 6-8 minutes. Then, you'll want to put those in the fridge to cool while you prep the rest of the ingredients. It's important that you let them cool so that they don't start cooking the burgers with their heat before you get them to the grill or pan. While the onions are cooling, you can chop away at those herbs, scallion, and garlic. Then, wash your hands cause we're about to get in there!

I have always maintained that the best mixers we have are our hands, so I would recommend really getting in there while mixing these ingredients together. Don't be scared! Mix away! Get a big bowl, throw everything in there, and mix until it's all equally incorporated. Then, you can make 4 burger patties. Don't forget to put a dimple in them to make sure they don't shrink when you're cooking them!

It's almost time eat! T -15 minutes until burger time! 

Go ahead and preheat a skillet or grill pan to medium-high heat with a little bit of oil (1 tsp.). Then, get your burgers on there to sizzle away! For medium rare, they'll need 5 minutes per side for just 10 minutes total time cooking. Once they're cooked, I would recommend letting them sit for 5 minutes until you cut into them. Allowing the burgers time to rest will make sure that the burger stay juicy once you do cut them in half. I dressed my burgers on a pretzel bun with feta-yogurt spread, arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, and a few slices of red onion. 

Burger town! Population- who cares cause that burger is so good! 

If you're interested in checking out my live cooking demo and hearing about my experience on the TV-show-that-shall-not-be-named, you can find more on The Othy Schwering Show website. 

Jul 26, 2014

Recipe Box- Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

In a recent interview, the host asked me, "So, what's the deal with all the pie?"

Fair question, Chef. 

But, honestly, I was a little gobsmacked when he asked me. Yeah, what is the deal with all the pie? 

Well, here's the thing. Pie is delicious. Also, pie takes patience, which makes it seem even more well-earned. AND, in my opinion, it's one of the most satisfying desserts you can make. In closing, pie is my jam. Embrace the pie!

So, when my good friend Elizabeth told me she was coming into town and invited me to a home-cooked meal, I jumped at the chance to make dessert for the group. While we'd spent weeks filming a certain TV show together, we'd never actually gotten a chance to sample each other's culinary creations, so needless to say, I was stoked. And, I figured with all the pie talk, I should definitely try to live up to the title of "Pie Girl." 

Seeing that it's summer and all, I decided to bake a classic summer pie with a little twist...

Strawberry Rhubarb (with Taragon) Pie

Sour Cream Pie Dough

2 1/2 cups flour

2 sticks cold unsalted butter (cubed)

1 tsp. salt

1/3 c. sour cream

1/3 c. cold water

2 tsp. lemon juice

Filling

1 1/2 pints of strawberries

3 stalks of rhubarb (reddest ones you can find)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

zest of 1 lemon

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tbs. tarragon

First things first, make your pastry dough! Mix together your flour and salt, then cut in the cold butter cubes with a pastry blender. It's ready when it's the texture of wet sand. In separate bowl, mix together then sour cream, water, and lemon juice. Make a well in the flour and pour in half of the sour cream mixture. Gently mix together, and then add the rest of the liquid. Once incorporated, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour. 

Meanwhile, make the strawberry filling. First, you'll need to hull and half the strawberries. I use the handy-dandy straw trick to hull my berries, but you do you, girl! Then, chop up your rhubarb into bite-size pieces, zest the lemon, thinly chop the tarragon, and combine it all together with the sugars and spice. I know you're probably thinking, "Wait, hold up, Elise. Why in the H-E-double hockey sticks are you putting tarragon in this pie?" Valid question, reader. I just happen to think that herbs in fruit pies take them to the next level. It's the difference between "Oh, this pie is good," and "Oh, this is really interesting! I need to eat more to figure out why it's so good!"

Next, it's time to roll out that pastry dough. Cut your pastry dough in half, since you'll be using part of it for the bottom layer and the other half for the lattice top. Keep one half out for now and put the other half back in the fridge for the time being. Roll out the dough into a smooth circle big enough to cover your pie tin with a little bit hanging over. Next, you'll want to transfer the dough from your counter-top to the tin. I usually roll it up on my rolling pin and then un-roll over the tin, but you can also fold it into quarters, and un-fold over the tin. Up to you! I also recommend using a little egg wash on the edge of your tin so that your crust won't be tempted to slink into the bottom of the tin while baking. Once you've gotten the dough into the pie tin, trim and crimp the edges, and fill up that bad boy!

Now, you can go get that lonely half of pie dough out of the fridge and roll it out so it can be with its other pie friends. Also, go ahead and pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. I decided to do a lattice top on this particular pie, but if you'd rather have a solid crust, go for it. Just be sure to cut a few vents in the top. 

Next things next, you'll want to brush egg wash all over the top of the pie and sprinkle it with turbinado sugar. That baby's ready for the oven! Woot! 

Now, if you have a pie pan, I would definitely use that for this pie because the filling is pretty juicy, and I did have some overflow while baking this one. If you don't have a pie pan, then I would line the bottom of your oven with foil before you pre-heat to catch any of the excess filling. 

Place the pie on the bottom shelf of the oven and bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Then, reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 30-35 minutes. You may need to tent the crust with aluminum foil to keep it from getting too brown, so just keep an eye on it. I needed to tent mine with about 20 minutes left to go. 

Once it's all golden brown and bubbly, take it out of the oven and set your patience clock to 3 hours later. It's super important that you give this pie time to cool before you eat it, because otherwise the filling won't have time to set and you'll have pie filling everywhere except between that flaky pastry crust you worked so hard to make. 

BOOM! EMBRACE THE PIE!

Jul 20, 2014

Recipe Box- Watermelon Salad

Oh, summer. The season of potlucks and BBQs. How I adore thee!

With my foodie and theater friends in near constant party mode, it's been a struggle to keep up with dishes that are both crowd-pleasers and that travel well, but I've found a dish that is both of these things.

Watermelon Salad.

Seriously, this is my favorite summer salad. Possibly favorite summer dish, period. I mean, watermelon is great on it's own, but paired with some other veggies, herbs (mint FTW), and a savory dressing, it goes to a whole new level of YUM. 

Last summer, I made traditional watermelon salad with red onion, feta cheese, mint, and a red wine viniagrette. But, this year, I found a recipe on Buzzfeed that is a delicious twist on the version I'd been making. This recipe takes it into an Asian flavor profile and it's seriously scrumptious. 

So, how do you make this watermelon salad? Easy peasy.

Vietnamese Watermelon Salad

1 baby seedless watermelon

1 English cucumber (seedless)

2 tbs. chopped mint

2 tbs. chopped cilantro

1/3 cup chopped peanuts (lightly salted)

1/4 cup mozzarella pearls

3 tbs. hoisin sauce

1 lime (juiced)

Cut watermelon into bite size pieces and the cucumber into thin slices. Combine in a bowl and cover. Let sit for at least 15 minutes or up to 4 hours. This is so you can drain out some of the excess water before adding the dressing. In the meantime, mix the hoisin sauce and lime juice together and finely chop the mint and cilantro. Pour the dressing over the watermelon and cucumber, and toss together with the herbs, peanuts, and mozzarella. DONE. Seriously. That's it.

Long live summer!

Jul 6, 2014

There's a First Time for Everything- Blueberry Cornbread

My goodness, it's been a busy week for this gal!

After getting stuck in Birmingham for an extra day after a wonderful trip to New Orleans, I finally made it back to The Windy City in just enough time to make it to the office. I think it took me a few days to recover from the red-eye flight to office trek, and so before I knew it, it was Independence Day. Holiday weekend! Holla! 

But, wait. Wait a minute! What the heck am I going to bring to the BBQ?! On principle, I can't just show up with some sad hamburger buns and a bottle of French's. I just can't do it. But, never fear, dear readers. The internet had the answer.

In a mad-dash internet scan, I came across one of Buzzfeed's handy-dandy lists called 27 Delicious Recipes For a Summer Potluck. Hallelujah! There it was on the list. The perfect thing for me to bring. Drum roll please....

Blueberry Cornbread with Honey Butter

Jackpot!

Let me tell you about this cornbread. This cornbread is awesome! It's that wonderful combo of sweet and savory with great texture from both the cornmeal and the whole blueberries. And, the honey butter. That is some next level cornbread, y'all. I really think this recipe is going to become one of my go-to potluck recipes because not only is it delicious, but it can also sit outside in the heat with no worries. Go, blueberry cornbread, go! 

Happy Independence Day, y'all! I hope you had an awesome day celebrating our great country! 

Jun 30, 2014

Recipe Box- Tramp Eggs

Well, I'm blogging live from my parents' house in Birmingham, AL for this post, so I guess this should be "Adventures in a MUCH Bigger and More Well-Stocked Kitchen" today. We've just come back from an amazing trip to New Orleans to visit my godparents. Isn't New Orleans just the best?! It just may be my favorite city. Shhhhhh, don't tell Chicago. She might get jealous.

Since we decided to come back to Birmingham for a day before I have to go back to the real world, ie ye olde cubicle, I was able to make an appearance on Good Day Alabama on the local FOX affliate, WBRC, this morning! It was so fun meeting Janice Rogers, who I remember watching on the news as a kid. She's just great and I think we had a really fun interview

Since I was making an appearance on a morning show, I figured it would be the appropriate place to try out a new take on a classic breakfast dish. Bacon and eggs! But, let's get specific with these eggs. What kind of eggs, you ask? Tramp eggs. Yes, you read that correctly. Tramp. Eggs. 

About a month ago, my Momma sent me my great, great grandmother Mattie's cookbook, called Treasured Alabama Recipes, and she mentioned some of the dishes she remembered eating. 

One of the dishes she remembers eating is Tramp Eggs, which are really just eggs baked in half-n-half and covered in cheese. I know, my mouth is watering too. But, you may be wondering why in the world they're called Tramp Eggs. Well, it turns out this recipe was what the author's mother used to make on Sundays when the hobos or tramps would come by for a hot meal, hence the name. 

So, I decided to do a modern take on Tramp Eggs by serving them on grilled sourdough bread with pancetta and salsa verde. The dish got two thumbs up from Dad, and by that I mean, we'd already eaten dinner when I was testing it out and he still ate most of the plate. 

Tramp Eggs

4 large eggs

2 tbs. butter

1/4 c. half-n-half

2 tbs. Italian blend cheese or Parmesan

salt and pepper (to taste)

Pre-heat oven to 325 and grease a small, shallow baking dish with butter. Then, one at a time, crack the eggs into each corner of the dish. Next, slowly pour in the half-n-half until the whites of the eggs are just covered and the yellow yolk are still sunny. Sprinkle with cheese and salt and pepper and bake for 24 minutes. The egg whites should be set on the outside and a little wiggly closer to the center. The eggs should also still be a little runny but should give a little when you touch them. You can also bake each egg in an individual ramekin, and they would only need about 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, you can make the salsa verde. Actually, I don't know if I can really call it that because it's more like a cross between salsa verde and a chimichurri, so we'll go with chimi-verde...

Chimi-verde Sauce

1/2 bunch of Italian parsley

2 cloves of garlic

2 scallions

3 tbs. fresh oregano

3 tomatillos

1 jalapeno pepper

2 tbs. red wine vinegar

3 tbs. olive oil

1/8 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. sugar

salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to broil and when it's come to temperature, roast your tomatillos and jalapeno for about 4-5 minute on each side until blistered.  Once done, toss the tomatillos in a blender along with any juice that may be on the tray too. The next step depends on how hot you want the sauce to be. If you're a heat fan, just go ahead and throw in the whole jalapeno, but, if that's not your jam, you can gently roll the pepper between some paper towels to loosen the seeds. Then, split the pepper and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and any of the white flesh, since that's the source of the heat. Next, rough chop the rest of the herbs and veggies, and throw them in the blender with the red wine vinegar, cumin, and sugar and blend until smooth. Then, while the blender is still going, slowly add in the olive oil. 

Now, that you're eggs and chimi-verde are done, you just have to finish up the pancetta and grill the bread. Pancetta is Italian bacon, and it's delicious. It usually comes in little rounds and they fry up very fast in the pan. Thank goodness. Cause no one likes waiting for bacon. 

I also used a cast iron grill pan to grill my sourdough toast, cause fancy is as fancy does. Also, the char adds to the depth of flavor in the dish.

And, here's the final product!

Go on and eat, you scamp! 

Jun 22, 2014

Recipe Box- AAG Sandwich

It is a widely known fact that my favorite food is the sandwich. 

What kind of sandwich? Doesn't really matter. As long as there is a filling between bread, I will probably love it. 

I first acknowledged my never-ending sandwich love in college when my best friend Brittany and I discovered the formula for the perfect day. Are you ready for this early twenty-something logic bomb?

Taking a mid-day nap + Smooching someone you're sweet on + Eating a really good sandwich = Best Day

I know. I know. We're brilliant. 

In the last few weeks, I've found a new combo that has raised the sandwich bar, and it's so good that I just can't keep it to myself. Now, I can't take full credit for this sandwich because I first encountered it at Pastoral, which as I've talked about before in Adventures in a Tiny Kitchen, but now that I know the combination, I can't stop making it myself. Also, no cooking required, because, it's summer in Chicago and I don't have central AC. 

Ok, so enough small talk. Let's get to the sandwich. What's the magic combination I'm talking about? Brace yourself, friends. 

Almond Butter + Avocado + Goat Cheese= AAG Sandwich

I know what you're thinking. "That sounds totally weird, Elise." And, you're right. It does. I was skeptical at first too, but I'm telling you this sandwich is the bees knees. 

Let's get to the assembly.

AAG Sandwich

1 bolillo roll or whatever sandwich bread you prefer

1/2 celery stalk (thinly sliced)

2 thin slices of red onion

1/2 avocado

3 tbs. crumbled goat cheese

1 tbs. unsalted almond butter

salt and pepper to taste

Here's the easiest recipe I've ever written. Thinly slice or shave the celery stalk, slice red onion, half the avocado, and cut the roll in half with a bread knife. 

Next, spread half of the roll with some almond butter and then top with the crumbled goat cheese.

Then, add your veggies and season the avocado with salt and pepper.

Put those halves together and go to town! 

So good, right?! You get the nuttiness from the almond butter, with the tang from the goat cheese, the spice from the red onion, crunch from the celery, and creamy deliciousness from the avocado. Sandwich win! 

Jun 15, 2014

There's a First Time for Everything- Duck

A few days ago, I pulled out my planner (yes, I have a paper calendar, nerds), flipped to this week, looked down and realized, much to my shock, that there was a date with NOTHING written in it. Not a thing. A whole free evening?! This is unheard of! 

So, what's a girl to do with a whole evening to herself? 

Cook a fancy dinner. That's what. And, I decided it was time to push my culinary comfort level a little, and cook something I've only ever eaten one or two times before and never cooked.  Duck. AND, I also decided to try to tackle the most dreaded of rice dishes. Risotto. Now, I've made risotto before, but the last time...well, let's just say it didn't go so well. 

To help guide me through the process, I picked up my copy of James Beard Award winning chef Chris Hastings' cookbook from his fantastic Birmingham, AL restaurant, the Hot and Hot Fish Club. If you're interested in contemporary Southern cuisine, this is the cookbook for you! Anyway, back to the kitchen...

First things first, I knew I needed to get my mise en place right. So, I chopped, diced, and picked my herbs, so that everything would be at the ready when I needed it. Now, I have to admit, sometimes I get to cooking before I've done all of my prep (shame, shame, I know!), but I knew that wouldn't be a smart move with risotto since it needs to be constantly stirred, so there'd be no time to go chop garlic once the rice hit the pan. 

The other key thing to prep was my duck. I knew they not only needed to rest at room temp for at least 20 minutes so they would cook evenly, but I also knew the key to cooking duck breast is to score the skin, so you don't bite into a thick layer of fat. Gross. My first one had a bit of a wonky diamond pattern, but I got the handle of it by the second and third piece. 

Ooooo, pictures of raw meat! Not the most appetizing, but you know, I'm trying to show progress!

Now that my prep work was done, I took a deep breath and turned to face that arborio rice. It's you and me, Rice, and we are not going to be gummy today! We are going to be delicious, creamy risotto! My hot chicken broth and prepped veggies were at the ready, and it was time to cook. I sautéed off some onion and leeks, being careful not to let them brown, then toasted the rice slightly and added the wine, and we were off to the races. 

The next few steps of risotto are just adding a half a cup of chicken stock at a time and stirring as often as possible. It's a dish of vigilance. You move away for too long and, suddenly, you've got a gummy, dried-out, card-board tasting mess. Once I only had about a cup and a half of broth left, I start a small pot with my extra veggies: green parts of the leeks, garlic, scallion, shallot, and thyme in butter.

I kept adding my chicken broth to the rice and once the other veggies were cooked until tender, I added those to the pan with some ham. Then, I tasted and season, and tasted again... At this point, I turned off the heat, added the final herbs, and tried not to put my face in the pan. Risotto win! 

In the meantime, around the same time I'd started sautéing my extra veggies, I also put a skillet on the stove and started searing the duck breasts. Unlike most meats, duck should actually start in a cold pan, so that the fat can melt away. Reserve that shiz! You can cook other things in it!

Once they were seared with some brown and crispy skin, I flipped them over and transferred them to the oven for just 4 minutes. That's all it takes! I was a little skeptical too, but when Chris Hastings' tells you it should only take 3 to 4 minutes, you follow his direction. 

While the duck was resting and the risotto was hanging out on the stove, I whipped up a really quick orange vinaigrette with some fresh OJ, red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, honey, and olive oil, and tossed that together with some pea shoots. See?! Fancy.

Then, it was time for plating, which is always the hardest part of the dish for me, but I think this one turned out pretty well. 

Quack, quack, y'all. Quack, quack.

Jun 8, 2014

Recipe Box-Cosmo Cupcakes (or Cupcakes for Drag Queens)

Earlier this week, my good friend Allison casually asked me what I was doing on Wednesday night. After I replied "Oh, nothing. Probably eating Cheerios and watching Netflix as per usual," she asked if I'd heard that the ladies from RuPaul's Drag Race were making an appearance at a very popular bar in the Boy's Town neighborhood. Gasp! This is wonderful news! They are so fancy, and glamourous, and sassy, and talented! Yaaassss! Then, just before my brain exploded into glitter, she told me she had a wonderful idea that I should bake for them and that she'd already contacted the event planner and he was on-board. Glitter explosion! Cupcakes for drag queens! 

But, what does one bake for these fancy ladies? What kind of cupcakes would best suit a pride of fabulous queens? This is the question that I mulled over for several days, until it hit me...

Cosmo Cupcakes! 

So, I whipped up a lime and vodka cake and a cranberry buttercream, and viola! The classic drink in cupcake form. Boozy baking is the best!

And, just in case you need to bake cupcakes for drag queens, here is the recipe:

Lime and Vodka Vanilla Cake (makes 24 cupcakes or 2 8 in. cake pans)

3 cups flour

1 tbs. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

 1/2 c. sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter (room temp)

4 eggs (room temp)

1 tsp. lime juice (juice from 1 lime)

1 tsp. vanilla

2 tsp. vodka

1/2 c. heavy cream

zest from 2 limes

Pre-heat oven to 350 and line two cupcake tins with cupcake liners. I recommend giving the cupcake liners a light spray of non-stick cooking spray to make sure the paper doesn't stick to the cake. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy in a standing mixer. Then, add the eggs, lime juice, vodka, vanilla, and lime zest. Slowly alternate adding the flour and heavy cream until the batter has just come together. Use a small ice cream scoop or your measuring spoons to fill the cupcake liners 3/4 way full. (I used my tablespoon and put 3 tbs. in each cup.) Bake the cupcakes at 350 for 20 minutes or until lightly golden-brown and a cake-tester comes out clean. 

I know! I know! Look at those cupcake liners! Aren't they just perfect for the occasion!

Let your cupcakes cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then let them completely cool on a cooling rack. 

Meanwhile, make your buttercream frosting...

Cranberry Buttercream

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (room temp)

5-6 c. powdered sugar

1/3 c. cranberry cocktail 

1/2 tsp. vanilla

juice of 1/2 a lime

few drops of red food coloring.

In a standing mixer, whip the butter until light and then slowly add 3 c. of powdered sugar. Then, add the cranberry juice, vanilla, and lime juice, and the rest of the powdered sugar. You'll see that the cranberry juice will tint your frosting, but if the color because muted with the other ingredients, feel free to add a few drops of red food coloring one at a time to get it back to a perfect pink. 

Then, frost away! I used a medium star-tip for these particular cupcakes and I found some edible pink glitter and little star sprinkles too. So cute! I think candied limes would also make a great garnish for these little beauties...

The lime cake is bright with just a tiny hint of the bitterness from the vodka and the tartness from the cranberry juice helps balance the sweetness of the frosting. And, together, the cake and frosting totally taste like one of my favorite cocktails. Holla! 

'

My friend Allison and I set them up in the girls' dressing room, and then got to enjoy the INCREDIBLE show. I was lucky enough to meet Ben DeLaCreme outside before her performance and she was a real delight. A few months ago, when I had just returned from filming a particular television show, I found out that Allison had written an email to Ben asking if he had any advice from one reality tv contestant to another or if he had any words of wisdom on how to be the best friend to someone who's just finished filming. He responded with some of the best advice I've received, so it was a delight to get to thank him in person. Seriously, what a lovely person! 

Now, sissy that cupcake, girl! 

May 30, 2014

Recipe Box- Chocolate Cake with Mascarpone Whip and Hazelnut Crunch Filling with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Nothing says "celebration" like cake. It's at almost every major event in our lives. I bet there's at least one photo of you from your first birthday covered in bright frosting with a look of surprised delight on your face, and then there are the countless photos at your birthday parties, anniversaries, and weddings, ect... The one sure-fire way to get everyone out of their cubicles at work is the "There's cake in the kitchen" email. 

So, when I heard it was my boss' birthday, I knew I needed to come up with a great cake for a great boss, especially since he's not too keen on celebrating. I wanted to make him something rich and decadent, and maybe so impressive that he'd spontaneously decide that I totally need a raise...

It also just so happened to be the day of my first Groupon interview and I lucked out because when the interviewer and photographer came over and smelled cake, they decided it might be fun to feature the cake in the shoot, so they stuck around for me to finish the whole thing! And, it was just my luck that the photographer, Andrew Nawrocki, specializes in food photography, so I've got some fancy-schmancy photos for this post. But, don't get spoiled, dear readers. We'll be back to the old iPhone soon enough. 

So, what's a girl to bake for an office birthday party? Why, chocolate cake filled with mascarpone whip with hazelnut crunch and frosted withchocolate buttercream and garnished with orange chocolate chips and more hazelnut cruch, of course!

So, I've already posted my go to vanilla cake recipe, so here's my chocolate one:

Chocolate Cake- 2 9 in. cake pans or 1 sheet cake

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I prefer Hershey's Special Dark

2 1/2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

3 eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup sour cream

2 tsp. vanilla

Grease and line your cake tins with parchment paper and pre-heat the oven to 350. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl. In a standing mixer, crack the eggs and whip until light yellow in color, then add your vanilla. Slowly add in about a 1/3 of the flour mixture, and then some of the vegetable oil and sour cream, and continue to alternate flour and oil/sour cream until it is incorporated.

Sidenote: This batter will be thick! Like brownie batter thick. In fact, this cake is kind of a brownie cake. It's denser than the vanilla cake recipe, but I just prefer denser chocolate cakes. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out batter-free. Let cool in the pan for ten minutes, then turn out, and let cool completely. 

Now, I must say that the filling for the cake was inspired by a Giada De Laurentiis recipe, but I did a little modifying to make this cake my own. Also, you've seen the mascarpone whip in a previous recipe as well, but what can I say, it's my favorite cake filling! When it's good, it's good, ya know? So, since there are two elements to the filling, let's start with the hazelnut crunch since it will need time to cool while you're whipping up the whip.

Hazelnut Crunch

1 cup hazelnuts

 2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

Toast those hazelnuts! Seriously, do it. It will make such a difference in the flavor. I prefer to toast mine in a skillet so that I can keep an eye on the color, because just like the sugar we're able to caramelize, the nuts can go from raw to burnt in no time. So, once your hazelnuts are roasty-toasty, put them in a single layer on a small sheet pan lined with parchment paper, and get started on the crunch part of the recipe. Combine your sugar and water in a sauce pan and bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Once it's boiling, do not stir it, but keep an eye on it until it turns a light amber shade. Then, pour it over your hazelnuts, and working quickly with a buttered spatula, spread the sugar over the nuts in a single layer. Then, cool your brittle in the freezer or fridge until it's hard and then break it into small bite-size pieces.

See?! I told you these photos were fancy

So, once the crunch part is done for your filling, you can whip up the mascarpone and whipped cream. 

Mascarpone Whip

1 8on. container of mascarpone at room temp.

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla 

Whip heavy cream until it begins to thicken, then, add your mascarpone and vanilla. Once incorporated, add the powdered sugar and continue whipping until stiff. Once you've got the consistency that you want, you can fold in half of the hazelnut crunch and get ready to rumble!!!!! And, by that I mean, assemble your cake. 

Now, you may have noticed when your cakes came out of the oven that they don't rise much, so you may not have much leveling to do, but go ahead and make sure the layers are as flat as possible. Then, slather on your mascarpone whip with the hazelnut crunch on the bottom layer and then place the second layer on top. 

Now, I suggest, if you have the time, that you chill the filled cake for 20 minutes before you go any further in the process. Cold cake is easier to frost, plus your filling will be much less likely to try to escape its delicious cake floor and ceiling. But, regardless of whether your chill your cake or you take a gamble (you rebel you!) and march on, the next step is applying a crumb coating of the chocolate buttercream frosting.

Chocolate Buttercream

1 stick unsalted room temp butter

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

5-6 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup milk

In a standing mixer, whip butter until it is light and smooth, then, beat in the cocoa powder and slowly add a cup of powdered sugar. Then, add the milk and vanilla, and slowly add the rest of the powdered sugar. If your frosting seems to be spreadable with 5 cups of powdered sugar, then feel free to stop, but if you've really got a sweet-tooth, go ahead and add that sixth cup. 

Now, apply a thin layer of icing all over the cake, making sure not to put any cake crumbs back into your big bowl of frosting. You might want a little bowl to wipe your spatula off for just this purpose. 

Then, chill your cake for another 20 minutes, before applying the final layer. Now, for this particular cake, I didn't frost it as meticulously as I have with other cakes. I left the frosting a little more on the "rustic"-side, which just means, it looks like a homemade cake, but that's what garnishes are for! For finesse! 

Orange Chocolate Chips

1/4 cup of frozen semisweet chocolate chips 

zest of one orange

Get out the old food processor and dump your chocolate chips into the bowl with the orange zest. Wait you might be asking yourself, why the chocolate chips are frozen? Well. the action from the food processor could heat the chocolate up a little bit and cause it to start melting, which wouldn't make it easy to work with, so the frozen chips will keep that from happening. Pulse a few times to break the chips into smaller pieces and combine them with the orange zest. Sprinkle on top of your cake and finish with the rest of the hazelnut crunch.

Voila! You've made a delicious cake! A cake fit for a king...urm...I mean, your boss! And, worthy of a photo shoot! Go you!

Many thanks to Groupon and Andrew Nawrocki for the lovely photos! 

May 26, 2014

Recipe Box- Salted Caramel Apple Handpies with Cinnamon Whipped Cream and Peanut Brittle

Well, friends, family, and readers from all corners of the internet, I'm so excited to tell you that MasterChef: Season 5 is premiering tonight on FOX at 7CT/8ET, and you can catch me competing with 29 of the best home cooks in America for one of the coveted white aprons.

It's been an amazing journey so far. Little did I know that when I showed up to the open call in September, I'd eventually end up in the MasterChef kitchen in L.A. The months of auditioning, and then the intense process of filming the show, and the consequent wait time between wrapping and now, has all lead up to tonight's premiere. I'm so excited and nervous about this next step in the process, but I'm happy to share my experience with y'all. 

Well, enough with the heartfelt mumbo-jumbo (is it misty in here?), and on to the recipe! In preparation for the premiere, FOX asked myself and fellow contestant Ricki Perez to do a live cooking demo on the local FOX affliate's morning show. How fun?! They suggested that I prepare my signature dish that you'll get to see on tonight's premiere, but I wanted to do a little bit of an Americana twist seeing that it's Memorial Day and all. So, for today's TV appearance I made Salted Caramel Apple Handpies with Cinnamon Whipped Cream and Peanut Brittle. I know! Two handpie recipes in a row! You lucky thing, you! And, since there are lots of elements to this dish, so there will actually be 4 recipes in one post. Get out of town! 

The pastry dough for the handpies is the same as the Blueberry, Goat Cheese, and Basil Handpies that I previously posted, so I'll save some blog space on that particular part of the recipe. However, I will give you low-down on the filling, cause it is "slap yo momma" good. Seriously, that's a quote from my actual Momma after tasting a pie. So, first things first, you need to make the salted caramel sauce...

Salted Caramel Sauce (makes a 1 1/2 cups)

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1/4 tsp. lemon juice

3 1/2 tbs. unsalted butter

3/4 cup cream

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. maldon salt or sea salt

To get started, go ahead and combine your sugar, water, and lemon juice in a medium size heavy-bottomed (hey-oh!) saucepan. Now, why do I add a little bit of lemon juice? Great question. Well, one of the perils of making caramel is crystallization, which is when your melted sugar starts to seize up and re-form crystals. This is no bueno for smooth caramel sauce, so the lemon juice is a little bit of added security from that trouble. It's like caramel's sour body guard. And, don't worry. You won't be able to taste it in the final product. So, go ahead and heat your pot over medium-high heat until the sugar has come to a rolling boil. Prior to the boiling point, you can stir the sugar with a wooden spoon to make sure it's all dissolved, but once it has reached a boiling point, do not stir it anymore. If you must, you can gently swirl the pan around, but be sure to have a pastry brush and a little water around to wipe any of the sugar crystals off the side of the pot. You'll also want to keep a close eye on the boiling sugar because it can go from underdone to burnt in no time. Trust me on this one. I've burnt caramel more than once, and nothing quite smells like burning sugar. You'll want to turn off the heat as soon as the sugar has reached a light amber color.

Once you've removed the pan from the heat, add your butter and cream. The mixture will bubbly violently, so stand back! It's super hot!

When the bubbles have subsided, you can return your pot to low heat and add your tsp. of vanilla and stir until all of the butter has melted and the mixture is smooth. Then, pour your caramel sauce into a mixing bowl and add the final touch: salt. Stir it in and try to resist eating the whole bowl with a spoon. I dare you. 

While your salted caramel sauce is cooling (let it sit at room temp for at least 20 minutes before covering and chilling), you can make the peanut brittle element to the dish. The first part of this recipe is going to sound really familiar because you've just done it for the salted caramel sauce. The difference is that without the cream and butter, the sugar will harden into a translucent sheet. 

Peanut Brittle

3/4 cup roasted and lightly salted peanuts

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup of water

1/2 tsp. lemon juice

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

spray of non-stick cooking spray

The first thing you'll want to do is line a small baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat and break your peanuts up on the sheet. Maybe I'm just nit-picky, but I made sure that the peanut were all in half before moving on with the recipe. Then, you'll want to lightly spray the peanuts with a little non-stick cooking spray, sprinkle with cinnamon, and toss to coat. In the meanwhile, combine your sugar, water, and lemon juice in a heavy bottomed pot (hey-oh again!), and bring it to a rolling boil. Once its reached a light amber color, remove it from the heat and pour it over the peanuts. You will need to work quickly because the temperature of the sugar will drop very quickly and it will start to harden. With wooden spoon, smooth out the sugar over the peanuts until it's in a single layer, and then let the brittle cool and harden. Once it's hardened, you can break it into bite size pieces. 

Okay! Now, it's onto the main attraction: the apple handpies. If you've been following along with my previously posted recipe, at this point, you should already have your little dough circles cut out and chilling in the fridge, and it's time to make the delicious filling.

Salted Caramel Apple Handpie Filling (makes 12 handpies)

2 apples (mixed- I used 1 Granny Smith and 1 Honeycrisp)

1 tbs. lemon juice

3 tbs. sugar

sprinkle cinnamon, cardamom, mace, allspice, nutmeg

2 tbs. unsalted butter

1 tbs. flour

1/4 cup salted caramel sauce

You know the drill. You gotta peel, core, and slice those apples first. You'll want to thinly dice the apples and cut them into bite size pieces for this recipe, since big pieces of apple won't fit in the handpies. Once sliced, toss them in a bowl with the lemon juice and sugar. Then, melt the two tbs. of butter in a skillet and add your apple slices. Cover and cook the apples on medium heat for about 8 minutes or until they have released most of their juices and are tender-crisp. Once, they're cooked through, drain the apples and place them back in the same mixing bowl you initially used to tossed them with the lemon and sugar. You can now add your spices and the tbs. of flour to the apples and then the crowning glory of the salted caramel sauce. Once it's all combined in that amazing caramely-applely way, you'll want to make sure that you cool the filling to at least room temperature before you begin to fill your pies.

To fill the pies, spoon a heaping teaspoon into each circle, crimp closed with egg wash and a fork, and chill once again for thirty minutes. After that half-hour has elapsed, brush the tops with egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar and a little sea salt too. Then, bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Doesn't your kitchen smell amazing?! Of course, it does! Cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes before digging in.

One more recipe to go! Can she do it?

And, for the finale...

Cinnamon Whipped Cream (makes 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 cup cold heavy whipping cream

2 tbs. powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Thirty minutes before you plan to make your whipped cream, so right after your pies come out of the oven, place your metal mixing bowl in the fridge. I know this might seem unnecessary, but I promise that you'll notice a difference in the way the cream whips up. Pour the cream into the mixing bowl with the sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. With increasing speed, whip the cream with a hand-mixer until stiff. Lick the beater, because homemade whipped cream is the best. 

Now's your chance to great creative with plating. I have to say that I struggle with plating and presentation but I'm making progress. Sometimes I have to draw out plate designs or practice several different ways before settling on one. But, here's the plate design I decided on for this morning's TV appearance.

If you're interested in seeing the interview, check out the video on My Fox Chicago! I'm happy to report that the handpies and brittle were a hit with the crew and the anchors. 

Happy baking and Happy Memorial Day and Happy MasterChef Day! 

May 19, 2014

Recipe Box- Blueberry, Goat Cheese, and Basil Handpies

Last summer, during a family trip to the Sedona, AZ, I decided to test out a new recipe. I didn't know how they'd turn out, but I figured I'd at least get some kind smiles from my Grandmother Liz Honey and I'd know if it was a keeper from the leftovers tucked away in napkins or smushed onto plates. Little did I know that this would become one of my most favorite things to make and a sure-fire crowd pleaser. 

You know what I'm shoutin' about! Handpies. 

Why do I think they're such a hit? Well, first of all, it's the perfect crust to filling ratio. Secondly, hand held pie. Thirdly, effing pie. 

The key to all pie is a delicious and flaky crust, and, if you're a baker, you'll know there are lots of recipes for pie dough. Some are pro-butter, some are all about the lard, some are a combination of shortening and butter. Personally, I think some combinations are better suited to certain fillings, but I'm going to let you in on the secret to my pie dough, and the key to this recipe. Are you ready? Of course, you are! 

It's sour cream.

Yep. Sour cream is what makes this crust awesome. It allows the dough to be more pliable than tradition pate brisee, but maintain the flakiness everyone loves. Now, I must confess, I didn't create this recipe. I found it on the admirable Smitten Kitchen blog, and it's totally changed the way I go about pastry dough. I pretty much always use sour cream in any pie dough I make now. 

Sour Cream Pie Dough (will make 12 handpies)

1 1/4 c. flour

1 stick (1/4 c.) cold unsalted butter

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 c. sour cream

1/4 c. cold water

2 tsp. lemon juice

Sift together flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Then, cut cold butter into small chunks and then cut it into the flour with a pastry blender. (You can use your hands when cutting in the butter, but I've found that using a pastry blender makes the crust even flakier because the butter doesn't soften from the heat of your hands.) Once the butter and flour mixture resembles wet sand, make a well in the center. In a separate small bowl, combine the sour cream, water, and lemon juice. Then, pour half of the sour cream mixture into the well in the flour, and gently combine. Once the dough has just started to take form, make another well and pour in the rest of the sour cream, and continue to stir. When the dough has come together, form a ball and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.  After an hour has elapsed, roll out your dough.

You'll want it to be pretty thin, so be sure to roll out from the middle each time so that you have a consistently thin sheet. Once your dough is rolled out, it's time to cut out your circles. Now, I go really high-tech and use the top to a sour cream or cottage cheese container, but I guess you could use a biscuit or pastry cutter, if you want...

Once you're dough circles are cut out, place them on parchment paper on a baking sheet, and it's back into the fridge with them for another thirty minutes. While they're chilling, make the filling! 

Now, I've tested out several fillings at this point. Cherry and chocolate, pecan, corn and crab, beef in red wine sauce, peach and bourbon, ect., but nothing beats this blueberry, goat cheese, and basil combination. This particular combination was orginally created for a full-grown pie, but I thought it would work well in the mini-version, and my goodness, did it ever. 

Blueberry, Goat Cheese, and Basil Pie Filling

6 oz. container of blueberries

2 oz. of goat cheese at room temp

1/4 c. brown sugar

1 egg

2 tbs. heavy cream

1 tbs. fresh finely diced basil

Combine goat cheese, egg, and cream until smooth, and then stir in the brown sugar. Once combined, add blueberries and basil and toss to coat. Be gentle so that the berries don't break open. 

Now, once your dough has chilled the second time around and your blueberries are ready for action, it's time to fill the pies! Huzzah! To fill, place about 1 tbs. of the filling in the middle of each pie dough circle. Then, fold in half and crimp the edges together with a fork. If your pie dough is being particularly stubborn and won't stick together, you can use some egg wash to help the process. 

Now, once your pies are filled and crimped, it's back in the fridge with them. I know, I know. This is the third time! Geez! But, I assure you, it's worth the wait. Putting them back in the fridge allows the butter in the crust to chill again and that's your key to a flaky crust. 

Look at you! Thirty minutes have passed and you've probably done so much! Just watched some Netflix. That's cool, brah.

Okay, so time to get baking! Preheat your oven to 375, and while it's heating up, brush the tops of your pies with some egg wash (one egg and a splash of water) and then sprinkle them with some turbinado sugar. Then, put those bad boys in the oven and let them bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. 

Let them cool for at least 20 minutes before digging in. I mean, you could wait less than that, but then you're going to have to do that awkward thing where you try to cool food off that's already in your mouth. Weirdo. But, no judgment if you double-fist these little beauties. A pie to each hand is totally reasonable. Handpies for all! 

May 12, 2014

Recipe Box- Vanilla Cake with Stawberries and Cream Filling and Champagne Buttercream Frosting

My goodness! It's been a week! But, I'm happy to report that 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche opened to rave reviews and giggles and gasps from the happy audience members. 

My resident theater company The Ruckus has a lovely tradition of celebrating plays' birthdays. So, every new play that is developed by the company gets its own birthday cake and champagne toast. How fun, right?! So, I wanted to bring this whimsical practice to the wonderful people at New Colony so that we could celebrate Quiche's 4th birthday. And, I needed a cake worthy of the prim and proper ladies of The Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein. Something traditional, something delicious, and something with champagne.

Vanilla Cake with Strawberries and Mascarpone Whipped Cream Filling and Champagne Buttercream! 

BINGO! Cake win!

I have a couple of go-to cake recipes, but this vanilla cake is the real cornerstone of my cake baking. Here it is:

Vanilla Cake

makes two 8 in. round cakes or 1 sheet cake

2 sticks unsalted butter (room temp)

3 cups flour

1 tbs. baking powder

1 1/2 cups. sugar

4 eggs (room temp)

1 tbs. vanilla extract

3/4 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 and grease your baking pans. In a standing mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Meanwhile, combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl. Then, add eggs to butter and sugar mixture one at a time until incorporated and add vanilla. Then, alternate adding flour and cream until the batter just comes together. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. Once your cakes are done, remove them from the oven and cool them in their pans for 10 minutes. After 10 mintues, remove them from the pans to cool completely on wire racks. (You can speed up this process by putting them in the fridge or freezer.)

Once your cakes, are completely cooled, you'll want to level them with a serrated knife. The goal is to make them as flat as possible, so trust your knife and your eye and go as slowly as you'd like to cut the tops off of the cakes. No! Don't throw that away! That is cake gold! Save that in a baggie for yourself, cause goodness knows you probably won't even get a bite of your finished cake by the time everyone figures out how good it is!

Now that you're cakes are leveled, it's time to make your filling...

Strawberries and Cream Filling

1/2 container of strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced

1 tbs. sugar

1 pint heavy whipping cream

1/2 c. mascarpone (room temp)

2 tbs. powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Wash and slice your berries and let them macerate for at least 30 minutes in a bowl with the sugar. Then, whip your heavy cream until it begins to form soft peaks. At this point, you'll want to add your vanilla, mascarpone, and powdered sugar and continue whipping until you see thick and heavy peaks. Layer your cake with the strawberries

and then add the whipped cream on top. Be generous! It's delicious! Then, add your top cake and smooth out any of the filling that may be trying to escape. Chill for 30 minutes before frosting. 

Now, for the fun part. Frosting! Nothing beats homemade buttercream... except for maybe champagne buttercream. Here's the how-to...

Champagne Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup of unsalted butter

4 cup of powdered sugar

4 tbs. champagne

4 tbs. milk (more if too thick)

In standing mixer, mix butter until fluffy. Then, slowly add 2 cups of powdered sugar. Add champagne and milk, then the rest of the powdered sugar until it is a spreadable consistency. 

Next, you'll want to put a crumb coat on your cake. This is a really important step! Otherwise, you'll end up with crumbs in your beautiful frosting work. And, come on, you don't want that! So, while you're frosting, I suggest having a cup around to clean your spatula, so that you don't put crumbs into the main bowl of frosting. Then, you'll want to chill it again for another 30 minutes.

Now, for this cake, I decided to go with something trendy vs. traditional and tried my hand at ombre frosting. I highly recommend using gel food coloring because you can control the amount more easily than with traditional food coloring. 

So, I started with the darkest shade at the bottom of the cake and then worked my way up with the lighter shades, using the lightest for the top of the cake. Now, I have to confess, I forgot to take a photo...I know! I know! What kind of blogger am I? A newbie opening a show...that's my only excuse. But, I will say that the cake was a hit with my cast mates and our opening night guest. I think this is one I'll be making again! Cake for all! 

May 2, 2014

Out and About- Dak

For over a year now, my dear friend Brenna and I have had a reoccuring dinner date and it's for one dish and one dish only...

Chicken Wings

Sure, occasionally, we'll throw in an order of fries or snack on the sad carrots and celery on the side, but the wings are always the main attraction. At this point, we've eaten wings at over a dozen restaurants in Chicago, so we've got...opinions on wings. So, when she told me about a place that we just HAD to go to, I knew she must have found a real gem. And, boy, did she ever.

Hands down, Dak has the best chicken wings I've ever eaten. 

Dak specializes in Korean cuisine with a small menu featuring dishes such as rice bowls and Korean BBQ, but the wings are the real star at this small establishment. 

(P.S. In general, I get pretty excited when I see a small menu at a restaurant. It usually means they know their menu very well, taking the time to think through the details of each dish, and you're almost always guaranteed a very good meal. Quality over quantity!)

So, since we're ladies, we decided to throw in a veggie rice bowl with our order of 5 wings with Dak sauce. And, just ten minutes later, I was in wing heaven. I mean, just look at that meal...

Fried egg on top of that rice bowl. Quit it. Giant chicken wings, you're making me blush. Now, what you can't see is that underneath that fried egg, are pickled carrots, sauteed mushrooms, and rice noodles. And, there were pickled radishes on the side. That veggie bowl was truly delicous. 

But it's nothing compared to those chicken wings. I was a little nervous when we only ordered 5 wings, cause, let's be honest, both Brenna and I can eat more than 5 chicken wings a piece. But Brenna assured me they were big, but I didn't really comprehend what she meant until our order was delivered...

Y'all. That is a chicken wing the size of my hand. 

And, so so so delicous. Perfectly cooked with crispy skin, juicy chicken, and just the right amount of tangy, smoky sauce. Our friend Karie joined us soon after and, for kicks, ordered another 5 wings with the spicy BBQ sauce. 

Sweet with a heat that hits after you've eaten the whole wing. These were equally delicious, although we all agreed that while we thought the presentation better, we prefered the Dak sauce. 

If you're a wing enthusiast or just a casual diner, I highly recommend Dak. Until next time, pass the napkins over here. I probably still have BBQ sauce on my face. 

Apr 25, 2014

There is a First Time for Everything- Kale

I know, I know...how is this the first time I've ever cooked with kale?

Well, I have a confession to make. I'm a former microwave food addict.

In my college days, like most students, I relied on frozen meals, sandwiches, and ramen to get me through the day. When I moved to Chicago, my busy schedule shuttling between work and rehearsal kept me reliant on the foods I'd grown comfortable eating. But, as you can imagine, those quick foods with no nutritional value did me no favors in the weight or general health departments. So, I signed up for a diet plan that, lo and behold, kept me tied to the microwave with pre-packaged frozen meals. The diet worked, but after I'd lost 50 pounds, I had no idea how to cook for myself. Sure, I loved throwing dinner parties and cooking elaborate meals for 8 people or catering fundraisers with oodles of sweets, but I really had no idea how to cook for myself on a daily basis. I'd reframed my idea of portion sizes and I continued to try to incorporate fresh fruits and veggies, but I found myself back at the freezer pulling out frozen meal after frozen meal...until one day, I just couldn't handle it anymore. (See this gif from The Network for further examples of frustration.) I was a cook, gosh darnit! Surely I could figure out how to cook something for myself! 

That was just a few months ago, and I'm still in the learning curve, but, since then, I've started cooking more and more for myself. I'll cook dinner, save the leftovers, and then cook a whole other meal just to save for later in the week. And, I've been cooking meals that will be even better the next day, and I recently cooked up a keeper. Kale, Barley, and Beet Salad. Yum, y'all. YUM.

Let's discuss the pros of this salad:

1) Beets are nature's candy.

2) Because kale is hardier than lettuce, it won't wilt in a vinaigrette.

3) The flavors get more complex the longer they have to marry together.

Cons:

Eventually, you'll eat all of it.

Ingredients

1 bunch of kale (dinosaur kale is super fun since it's purple, and has dinosaur in its name)

1 tbs. red wine vinegar

1 tbs. rice wine vinegar

2 tbs. brown sugar

1/4 diced red onion

1/4 c. olive oil

zest from 1 orange

2 medium beets (red or golden, your call!)

1 c. quick cook barley

1 c. reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 c. water

1/2 c. crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese

* 3 chicken sausage links- optional

Whisk together ingredients from red wine vinegar to orange zest to make a vinaigrette. Remove kale leaves from stems and chop into bite size pieces. Then, toss kale in the vinaigrette, cover, and chill for at least three hours to soften the kale. While the kale is chilling, roast the beets at 400 degrees for 1 hour in a shallow pan covered with foil. Once roasted, remove skin and slice into bite size pieces. Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth and water to a roiling boil, add the barley, and cook according to the box's instructions. Then, combine the beets and barley with the kale, toss together with an additional tbs. of rice wine vinegar and olive oil, and sprinkle with feta cheese. If you want add some additional protein, feel free to add some chicken sausage to the mix as well. Eat and feel awesome. 

Apr 20, 2014

Recipe Box- Raspberry and Lemon Bread Pudding

Last fall, my good friend Allison told me about an article she was writing about America's Baking and Sweets Show. The three day long exhibition, which describes itself as "America's first and biggest baking and sweets event," was coming up that following weekend, and while researching the event, she noticed that part of the showcase featured a home-cook recipe competion. She g-chatted me about the competition and told me that I just HAD to enter a recipe. Now, I'd never entered a recipe contest, and besides the fact that I was a newbie, the deadline to enter was 5pm that very day. I told her that unfortunately I didn't have my recipe box on me being that I was sitting in my cubicle that day, but she insisted that I at least submit something. 

So, in a frenzy that can only be brought on by Friday afternoon in an office, I decided to enter a recipe in the bread pudding category. A recipe that I had never made. Luckily, I had made bread pudding a few weeks prior and I remembered the ratio of bread to custard pretty well, so I came up with something I thought would be good, but, who knew...I'd never actually made it before. 

And, lo and behold, a few days later, an email showed up in my inbox. I'd won first prize in the bread pudding category! How exciting! My first ever prize for cooking!

Of course, the next step was to actually make the recipe I'd submitted, and luckily, I can now officially verify that it is delicious. So, in case I've peaked your interest, and, let's be honest, bread pudding is pretty interesting stuff, here's the recipe...

For the bread pudding:

6 croissants (preferably stale)

6 large eggs

1 8oz. package of softened cream cheese

2 cups half-and-half

2 lemons (zest and juice)

1 ½ cups of raspberries

2 tsp. vanilla

¾ tsp. salt

½ tsp. ground ginger

½ cup sugar

Cut up the croissants into 1 in. square pieces and place in an over-proof casserole dish.  Using a standing mixer on low speed, combine the softened cream cheese with the half-and-half, and then add eggs one at a time. Then, add the sugar, salt, ginger, vanilla, lemon zest and juice.  Once combined, fold in the raspberries with a wooden spoon and then pour the mixture over the croissant pieces. Cover the dish and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and let bake for 35-45 minutes. Let pudding stand for 10 minutes and then top with lemon raspberry sauce for serving. 

For the raspberry lemon sauce:

1 cup of raspberries

¼ cup of sugar

¼ cup of water

½ cup of seedless raspberry jam

1 ½ tbs. of lemon curd

1 tbs. of Gran Marnier

Combine raspberries, water, and sugar in a sauce pan over medium high heat.  Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium and let simmer for 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and combine with jam, marmalade, and Gran Marnier in a food processor until smooth. 

Apr 16, 2014

There is a First Time for Everything- Bagels

When I first started baking, it began with a boxed cake mix and a recipe for my grandmother's homemade chocolate frosting. And, after the frosting got rave reviews, I figured I could probably make my own cake. And, when the cake went over well...you get where I'm going with this. I'd caught the baking bug. Over the years, I've gone through lots baking trends. Cupcakes, macaroons, brownies/bars...

But, the one thing I shyed away from was yeast. It's alive! And sensitive! So scary! After one horribly failed attempt at doughnuts several years ago, I just pretended that it didn't exist. Until one day last fall, I finally decided it was time for orange rolls, because sometimes you just need an orange roll. (Or, you can't stop thinking about those ooey-gooey rolls that that one restaurant in Birmingham, AL serves and you.must.have.one.) With some patience and the proper amount of clingwrap, they came out just as I'd imagined. Now that I've got those orange rolls under my culinary belt, I decided a few days ago to try my hand at another breakfast treat.

Bagels. 

I used Ted Allen's recipe for Potato Bagels with Butter-Glazed Onions, and it's a keeper. As he mentions in the recipe, the trick to these (and really any baked good with yeast) is give them the time and space to do their thing. Don't rush the rise, man. Also, watch your water temperature before you add it to the dry ingredients. It should be about body temperature or between 95-105 degrees F. Colder than that and the yeast won't activate;warmer and it'll die a horrible hot death. 

Bagels take a few hours to make, but I had a lot of fun with these since I've never made anything quite like them. To my delight, my dough puffed up to double its size in just an hour and a half and it already smelled amazing. After punching down the dough (super fun), I got ready to cut out twelve pieces and roll them into little balls. This was more difficult that I thought it would be because the dough from the outside had more flour than the gooey dough on the inside, so it made it difficult to make the dough smooth. I'm guessing I'm missing some technique to help me finesse this step.

Once they went through another rise, I formed them into the shape we all know and love. But, because they hadn't been perfectly smooth from the second rise, they weren't performed formed with the rings in the middle. Again with the finesse...

Then, came the part I was looking forward to! Boiling the bagels. This is the first time I've ever boiled and baked something, so it was fun to see the way the dough reacted to the boiling water. They puffed up just slightly, and I could tell that they had some spring to them, which would give them the tell-tale chewiness that all great bagels have.

Once they were boiled, it was into the oven with them. Now, I have to confess, I did put the onions on top, but....they burned. I had fully carmelized my onions, and while they were delicious, I think they were just too well-done for the hot oven. Next time, I will undercook them a bit. However, even after I brushed them off the top of the bagels, they still imparted a really good flavor to the bagels. And, here's the finished product...

I kid you not when I tell you I said" Whoa" out loud to myself after the first bite. Crispy on the bottom. Soft and chewy texture. So, so, very good.They got rave reviews from the ladies in the show I'm rehearsing for right now. This is definitely a recipe that I'll try again, and I don't think my friends will mind one bit. 

(And, speaking of the show I'm rehearsing right now, it's called 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche! I've got an exlusive coupon code for the cheapest tickets you'll ever see for this production, but it's only good until April 26th! Use the code word QUICHE15 when checking out to get $15 tickets for shows May 8-18th. I'll be performing Thursdays and Saturdays, and I'd love to see you there!)

Apr 13, 2014

Out and About- Pastoral's 2014 Artisan Producer Festival

Hello friends, family, loved ones, and strangers I don't know yet but probably think are cool! Welcome to my very first blog post! I'm so happy you've made it!

I'll be using this blog to talk about everyone's favorite subject- FOOD. So, I'll be posting my tried and true recipes, as well as letting you in on my experiments (and hiccups) on ones that are brand new. I'll also be talking about my favorite places to eat and cool cuisine experiences in Chicago and elsewhere.

Which leads me to the subject of my very first post...

Pastoral's Artisan Producer Festival! 

Or as my friends and I call it, Chicago Cheese Christmas. 

Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread, and Wine is an amazing grocer located in Chicago offering some of the best treats in the city. If you're looking for a cheese plate, they'll make sure you're the belle of the dinner party. If you need to pack a picnic, they'll make sure it's so spectacular, you'll definitely get that second date. And, the sandwiches, don't get me started... 

Pastoral prides themselves as purveyors of the finest artisan goods, and they hold this festival once a year so that their vendors can showcase their goods to the public themselves. And, my goodness, it is wonderful. And free! Don't forget that!

This year, there were 75 vendors handing out free samples of the best cheese, charcuterie, bread, beer, wine, and spirts that you can find. See why we call it Chicago Cheese Christmas now...

The first cheese I tried was a real winner from Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese. The Kentucky Rose cheese was rich, creamy, slightly tangy and sliced by a handsome man with just the right amount of scruff. We were off to a very good start...

Another winner was close by at Olympic Provisions. They had three of their amazing sausages available for taste-testing: chorizo rioja, saucisson alsace, and loukanika. The loukanika sausage was to die for...garlic, cumin, and orange. Yum!

Clock Shadow Creamery introduced me to two new items that I'd never had before. Chocolate-covered cheese curds and quark. Now, the chocolate cheese curds weren't everyone's cup of tea, but I get what they were going for (salty and sweet) and I give them props for creativity. (I had also had several samples of wine and beer and whiskey by this point, so everything tasted pretty awesome.) But, despite the free booze samples, I can tell you that quark is delicious. And, I was lucky, because I got the very last sample they had. It's like a combination of cottage cheese and cream cheese. Tangy, rich, but almost the texture of ricotta. It would be perfect in a tart! 

Finally, to end on a sweet note, I had some of the best lemoncello of my life at this event from CH Distillery. They have cream based lemoncello that is so sweet and lemony and perfect that I just wanted to drink the whole bottle. I can't wait to go visit them since they are right here in Chicago. 

And, now the festival is over. SIGH. In the meantime, I'll tied myself over with blushing over the cheesemongers at Pastoral and dreaming about fancy tapenades for bruschetta. Until next year...