Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Christmas Eve Tradition

I've only been married for two years, so my husband and I have not started many of our own holiday traditions yet. At this point we spend the holidays with his family, since they are only a 90 minute drive away. My family is an 8 hour plane ride, so we tend to celebrate by phone calls at this point. Since we're away from my family, I've working on showing Joe our traditions from Christmases when I was younger. He's a good sport about it, especially with the food traditions.

Linguine with Clam Sauce was my family's Christmas Eve meal for as long as I can remember. We'd dress up in our Christmas best for Mass, then have this formal meal at home after church. This is at least the third year Joe and I have shared this Christmas Eve tradition. Two years ago, we got to celebrate Christmas Eve with my family, since they were in town for our December 29 wedding. Last year we did this meal at home just the two of us, and we really enjoyed the quality time and savory food. This year was a little different, because I had to work until 5:00 on Christmas Eve, so we ended up having it as the second Christmas Eve when we got home from his parents house on December 26th.

This pasta always surprises me, because I seem to forget quite how delicious it is. It's RICH and full of butter, so it really is a once a year treat. I find I always want to eat more than I can actually handle, because it's richness makes it much more filling than other pasta dishes. This pasta is a special treat for any celebration, but make sure you're ok with sharing garlic breath with your dining companions!

Linguine with Clam Sauce

1/4 lb. butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp oregano
3 Tbsp basil
3 cloves minced garlic
1 1/2 cups minced clams (about 3 cans)
1 cup clam juice*
1 lb. linguine
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp minced parsley

Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Add the olive oil, spices, garlic, clams and clam juice. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for 30 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, boil water and cook the linguine. Try to time it so the pasta is finished right around the 30 minute mark.

Add salt to the sauce, then toss with the pasta. Toss with Parmesan cheese and minced parsley, and serve immediately.

* You can buy a bottle of clam juice, or you can use the juice that the canned clams are packed in. As long as the clams you buy are in "clam juice", then it's the same as the bottle.

Can you just taste the butter?! I think Ina Garten and Paula Dean would be proud!

I made a salad with dried cranberries, scallions, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese, tossed with balsamic vinaigrette dressing. It was great! I wanted to share the combination, and also show you the bowl we got in Mexico on our trip in October. Isn't it cool?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cookie Baking Frenzy!

Yes, frenzy is the only way to describe my recent cookie baking. In the last week I've baked 9 batches of cookies... and six varies among those batches! I baked four types last Sunday, and after giving them to my 3 coworkers as a Christmas gifts I already determined I needed to bake more. That lead to one batch on Thursday, one on Saturday, and three more today. Does this sound like a math problem to anyone else?!

I have enjoyed this baking immensely, though, because I really don't usually bake as much as I would like. Joe and I are not frequent sweet eaters (ok, I am not... he might be!). And living in Chicago means I have to carry treats on the train with me if I'm going to try to share them with coworkers, which is a pain in the neck. Therefore, I tend to put more of my energy into cooking. But this Christmas has been an excuse to coat my kitchen in flour and really get my oven working. I'll share a few recipes today, and save some for another post.

These three recipes are all from my mom. She has a great collection of Christmas cookie recipes that make their appearance each year, so I knew she was my first source for ideas. Each of these cookies was just the crowd pleaser I remembered. Maybe because of the pounds of butter?? But what better time then -28 degree windchill (no joke) to add a little extra insulating body far? The jam thumb prints were the most popular, and the almond extract gave them that extra special flavor. My favorites are the toffee bars, and of course the snowballs are classic. If you've shared some holiday cookies on your blog, let me know. I have a feeling my crazy holiday baking is not over quite yet!

Grandma's Christmas Snowballs

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chopped nuts

Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla to blend. Mix in flour and salt. For the nuts you can use walnuts right out of the bag - you can toast the walnuts first for a nuttier flavor - or, my favorite, you can use pecans and toast them first. Chop them pretty fine then add to batter.

Form into small balls. Bake at 325 15 or so minutes. Depends on your oven. Here I have to turn them up a bit and a bit of time. You might want to start with 15 mins at 325 and see if you need more time.

Toffee Bars
(From Virginia Hospitality cookbook)

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed (light or dark)
1 egg yolk
2 cups flour
1 tsp. vanilla
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup nuts chopped

Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in egg yolk. Add flour gradually stirring to blend. Add vanilla. Spread about 1/4 inch thick into 10 x 15 jellyroll pan (I use the big pyrex baking dish and it works just fine). Bake 20-25 mins. until golden brown.

Remove from oven and sprinkle choc. chips on top. Let them melt to soft spreading consistency. Smooth chocolate over surface and sprinkle nuts over top. Pat nuts down lightly with your hand. Cut into bars while still slightly warm.

Raspberry Almond Thumbprints
(From the Land 'O Lakes butter carton years ago!)

2/3 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2 cups flour
1/2 cup raspberry jam

Heat oven to 350. Combine sugar, butter , and almond extract and beat until creamy. Add flour until well mixed. Shape into 1"balls then make thumbprint. Fill hole with jam. Bake 14-18 mins. Cool then glaze.

1 c powdered sugar
1/2 or so tsp.almond extract
2-3 tsp water.

I don't always glaze them and they are still good. If you are going to freeze them don't glaze. I've done it and they turn pink! But you can freeze them then defrost and glaze before you serve them.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Quick and Easy Mexican Chili

My mom went through many cooking phases as I was growing up, and one I distinctly remember was the Mexican phase. And I guess really, it was more than a phase, because the Mexican cooking (as well as every other phase) has stood the test of time. But there was a time when Mexican cuisine seemed to be her favorite to cook, and I've experienced numerous flavors and ingredients because of her.

Hominy is one of the Mexican ingredients my mom introduced me to. It was most likely in the form of Pasole, a Mexican stew made with pork and this variation of corn. Hominy is a type of dried corn that is treated to remove the hull from the kernel, which leaves it dense yet puffy. It isn't much on it's own, but when added to a soup or stew it takes the dish to a new level.

I haven't found many ways to use hominy besides in a soup like the Chili I made last night. I need to find other recipes, though, because each time I cook with hominy I'm reminded how much I enjoy it. This recipe for Pork and Hominy Chili is a keeper, for sure. Not only is is great tasting, but it's FAST. Seriously, I was done in less than the 30 minute Rachael Ray time limit. I am not usually the fastest in the kitchen, so I was pretty shocked at how quickly this came together. The pork stayed nice and tender, and the seasoning blended nicely. Other than adding a little oregeno I stuck to the recipe. If you're looking for an easy weeknight meal with a new ingredient mixed in, I think I've found the recipe for you!

Pork and Hominy Chili
Cooking Light, September 2007


2 teaspoons canola oil
8 ounces boneless center-cut pork chops, trimmed and cubed
1 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium)
3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 cup no-salt-added tomato paste
1 (15.5-ounce) can golden hominy, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup light sour cream


Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add pork to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in chili powder and next 4 ingredients (through red pepper). Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in tomato paste, hominy, tomatoes, and broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Serve with sour cream.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Potato-Mushroom Gratin

I have always been a sucker for creamy potato dishes, so when I read about the Potato-Mushroom Gratin in the December 2008 issue of Bon Appetit I knew I needed to try the recipe out. Variations of potato gratins are always popular at my house, and adding mushrooms was a great enhancement I wouldn't have thought of on my own. This was a pretty simple dish, and I just walked around the grocery store with the magazine guiding me when I decided to make this last night.

I tweaked it enough that it became my own creation, but the following Bon Appetit recipe was my guide. I added thinly sliced shallots to each layer, which added a nice flavor. I did 1/2 Parmesan cheese and 1/2 emmentaler cheese, but only because that's what was in the fridge. The combination was nice, but I might stick with just Parmesan if I managed to plan better next time! The only other change I did was to use 2% milk instead of heavy cream, because I had some 2% milk left over from baking that I wasn't planning to drink. I wouldn't recommend this substitution, because it turned out runnier than I would have liked. Next time I make this I think I'll use fat free half and half, because it will have a better texture while still being lighter than heavy cream. I felt like my first stab at this dish was not perfect, but the flavors were enough to make up for the slightly watery texture. I have a feeling this dish will be just about perfect with a few adjustments next time.

Potato-Mushroom Gratin, from Bon Appetit December 2008

- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 1/2 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt plus additional for mushrooms
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus additional for mushrooms
- 1 1/4 cups (or more) heavy whipping cream, divided
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces), divided
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
- 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 12 ounces fresh crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, sliced
Preheat oven to 375°F. Brush 13x9x2-inch glass or oval ceramic baking dish with 2 tablespoons oil. Arrange 1/3 of potatoes, slightly overlapping, in dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Pour 1/3 cup cream over; sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese. Repeat layering 1/3 of potatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1/3 cup cream, and 1/4 cup cheese 2 more times. Bake uncovered until potatoes are tender, adding cream by tablespoonfuls if dry, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven; maintain oven temperature.

Sprinkle thyme and garlic slices over gratin. Toss mushrooms in medium bowl with 3 tablespoons oil; sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. Arrange mushroom slices atop gratin around edge of dish. Drizzle with 1/4 cup cream; sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese. Continue to bake uncovered until mushrooms are tender and potato edges are golden brown, about 20 minutes longer. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool 1 hour in dish; cover and chill. Before serving, cut gratin into 10 pieces. Transfer to rimmed baking sheet. Cover with foil and rewarm in 350°F oven, 10 to 15 minutes.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pre-Thanksgiving Cooking

Earlier this fall my mom sent me a great Thanksgiving cookbook. She had looked through Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers at one of her friend's houses, and decided my sister and I each needed a copy to inspire us this Thanksgiving. I was very impressed with this cookbook, and couldn't wait to try it out! The recipes were approachable yet gourmet enough for my tastes, and the author had really detailed notes and explanations to go along with the recipes.

I was disappointed when I realized I wouldn't be able to use this cookbook on Thanksgiving day, since we'll be spending 8 hours in the car before sitting down to our turkey dinner. I think cookies are the only travel friendly thing I'll be able to contribute, but that doesn't mean I can't test out some Thanksgiving inspired recipes some other time. I tend to have time and inspiration on Sunday afternoons, and last Sunday that inspiration turned into this menu.

The Butternut Squash and Rice Tian was from Thanksgiving 101, and it stood out as a recipe that didn't have to be saved for Thanksgiving day. I'm also addicted to butternut squash, so I was excited to find a new way to cook it. I made a pork tenderloin stuffed with provolone cheese, prosciutto, and sage, which was primarily inspired by the fresh sage that was left over from a previous dinner. I'd never made a stuffed pork tenderloin before, but now I can see numerous variations on this idea. I rounded out the meal with some biscuits from last month's Bon Appetit, which turned out so flat and horrible that I refuse to show them here. Seriously, I thought biscuits would be an easy thing to make!?! But two thirds of this dinner turned out fantastic, so I'll share the successes with you.

Butternut Squash and Rice Tian
from Rick Rodger's Thanksgiving 101

Serves: 8 to 10 (or half it like I did, and it fits perfectly in a 9 x9 square baking dish)

3 lbs butternut squash
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese
4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage, or 2 teaspoons dried sage
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs, preferable from day-old crusty bread
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Peel the squash, core the inside, and cut into about 1/2 inch cubes. They might be irregular shapes, but try to keep the size consistent.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat and add the squash. Cook until barely tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 3 tbsp of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and red bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until the onion is golder, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Cool the vegetables until tepid, about 10 minutes.

Bring another pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the rice and cook until just tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 10 x 15 inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the rice, squash, sauteed vegetables, Gruyere, sage, salt and pepper. Spread in the prepared dish. Mix the bread crumbs and Parmesan, and sprinkle over the top. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil.

Bake until the center feels set when pressed lightly, about 45 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Sage and Prosciutto Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

1 pork tenderloin
salt and pepper
4 slices provolone cheese
6 slices prosciutto
15 sage leaves

Cut the tenderloin lengthwise from top to bottom, cutting about 1/2 inch from the bottom. Open up the tenderloin and cut each side lengthwise, so the tenderloin is able to spread out. Click here is a great example of what I mean. Cover with plastic wrap and pound flat.

Season the pork with salt and pepper. Lay the slices of cheese over the meat, cover with the slices of prosciutto, and place the sage leaves on top. Roll the pork up jelly-roll style, securing with about four pieces of cooking string along the length of the pork.

Place in a baking dish and bake uncovered for about 25 to 30 minutes at 425 degrees. Let the pork rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fall Flavored cookies

A quick post is better than none at all, right? Work has me swamped again this week, so I am only making a brief visit to the blog for tonight. These cookies are simple to make, and they are a perfect representation of fall flavors. At first I wasn't sure how I would like chocolate chips with the pumpkin flavoring, but they added a richness to the otherwise light and cake-like cookies. They puff up nicely because of the pumpkin, so these cookies always end up looking really pretty. And if you're husband is bored and hungry, he can make them on his own (the pictures are from his batch!).

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
from an unknown online source (aka scrawled down a couple years ago and stuck in my recipe book)

1 cup pumpkin
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg

In a separate bowl, combine:
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

In a small bowl, dissolve:
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp milk

Mix all parts, then add:
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups chocolate chips

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, until light brown and firm.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mustard Chicken Stew

This is an example of efficient prep ;)

Good news everyone! After a busy month of traveling and starting my new position at work, I'm finally starting to feel normal again. There have been a lot of long days at work, which has left me little energy or inspiration to cook. Joe has really picked up the slack and kept us very well fed, but I've started going into withdrawal over my lack of cooking. Thankfully, I'm starting to feel more in control of my new job, and it's making my life happier overall.

Tonight I had extra motivation to get into the kitchen... Top Chef starts up again tonight! Foodies around Chicago have really gotten into this show during the last two seasons, as chefs from our city have cooked their way to the final episode each time. I love this show! It has just enough drama to qualify as reality TV, and getting to know the different chefs as the season progresses is really inspiring. While I have no desire to be a restaurant chef, their ideas and passion are so exciting to watch. There is a chef from Chicago on again this season, so I'll be cheering for her from the beginning.
What better time than Top Chef premier night to get back into the kitchen? Joe and I decided to cook together tonight, and we choose a comforting sounding dish from a well known blogger's cookbook: Chocolate and Zucchini. It is really starting to feel like winter here, and this dish sounded like comfort food with a french twist. Plus, it wasn't too many ingredients or complicated steps, so I knew we could handle this on a weeknight.
The result was really satisfying and had great flavor. I was afraid of the number of onions it called for (I used 4 instead of 6), but the red onion flavor really mellowed out while it was cooking. The wine and mustard added a nice acidic zing, and I loved the thyme flavor. Clotilde was right when she said the leftover sauce would be great over pasta; the rich and satisfying flavor was addicting! My only complaint was that using pieces of a whole chicken meant a whole lot of skin and bones to deal with. I guess French people are better with their knife and fork, but I couldn't think of a neat and easy was to enjoy bone-in chicken as part of a stew. The flavor was great, but trying to eat the meat off the bone while enjoying the rest of the meal was a challenge. I think next time I'll compromise by using boneless chicken thighs, for that dark meat flavor without the obstacle of the bones.

Mustard Chicken Stew
From Chocolate and Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier

- 1 whole head garlic
- Olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- One 3-4 pound whole chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces (2 breasts, wings, thighs, legs)
- 6 medium red onions (about 2 pounds)
- One 28 to 32 ounce can good quality whole peeled tomatoes, drained
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- A pinch of chili powder
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 3 Tbsp old-fashioned whole seed Dijon mustard (or 1/4 cup regular Dijon mustard)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Peel away the outer layers of the garlic bulb skin, leaving the skins of the individual cloves intact. Using a knife, cut off 1/4 to a 1/2 inch of the top of cloves, exposing the individual cloves of garlic. Place garlic head on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle olive oil over the garlic, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap the garlic head with the foil and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes or until the flesh of the cloves are light brown feel very soft when pressed with the tip of a knife. Set aside to cool.

3. While the garlic is roasting, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (with lid) or Dutch oven, on medium high heat. Rinse the chicken pieces in cold water then pat dry with paper towels. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken pieces, starting them skin-side down, cooking them a few minutes on each side, working in batches so that you don't crowd the pan.

4. While the chicken is browning, peel and quarter the onions. Remove chicken from pan when nicely golden with tongs or a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate. Discard any fat and oil beyond about 1 Tbsp left in the pan. Put the onions in the pot and cook them until softened, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.

5. Add the tomatoes to the pot, the thyme, bay leaves, and ground chili powder. Put the chicken pieces on top of the tomatoes. Pour in the wine and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for 40 minutes, stirring from time to time so that the vegetables don't stick.

6. After the garlic has cooled enough to handle, squeeze out the roasted garlic from the cloves into a small bowl and crush with a fork. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to serve with the chicken stew.

7 When the chicken has cooked, add the mustard to the pot and stir to blend. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook uncovered for 10 more minutes, or until the sauce is thick enough to cling to the meat. Remove bay leaves. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve stew over rice or pasta, with the garlic paste on the side.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday Night Comfort Food

As you may have noticed, I've started my new job and have been pretty absent from the blogging world lately. I've been working pretty long days (even going into the office on Saturday), so I haven't had much time to cook. And when I have made it into the kitchen, it's been pretty uninspired and not very blog worthy. Take this morning for example... I really wanted some breakfast potatoes to go with my egg sandwich, but decided to just eat french fries for breakfast because that was a lot easier to do! Joe has been great at picking up the slack, so we've eaten well thanks to him. But tonight I was determined to get back into the kitchen for at least once decent dinner.

I checked out a couple of my cookbooks for inspiration, and saw a baked ziti dish that got me craving pasta. I decided to up the ante on my pasta, though, and make a baked ziti with sausage, artichoke hearts, and spinach. Once I had the idea of baked pasta in mind, I threw out any recipe ideas and just went with my own plan. Here's the cheesy, yet otherwise healthy, baked ziti I came up with.

Baked Ziti by Erin

1 box frozen chopped spinach
1 box frozen quartered artichoke hearts
1 box ziti or other short pasta
4 cups marinara sauce
One onion, diced
4 to 5 turkey Italian sausages
2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Defrost the artichoke hearts and spinach. Drain the artichoke hearts, and squeeze all the excess water out of the spinach. Set aside until ready to assemble.

Fill a stockpot with water and add salt. Place on the stove to start to boil, and prep the sausage while waiting for the water to boil. Take the sausages out of their casings, and brown the sausage over medium high heat, breaking into bite sized pieces. Place the cooked sausages in a bowl, and drain off any fat.

When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the pasta. Set the timer for two minutes less than instructed on the package, so the pasta will be slightly undercooked. Meanwhile, in the same pan the sausage was cooked in, add the diced onion. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the onions are soft. Add the marinara sauce and spinach to the onions. Heat through, and adjust seasoning as needed.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pot. Add the marinara sauce mixture and toss to coat the pasta. Add the sausage and artichokes, and carefully toss until completely combined. (At this point I should have added 1/2 of the cheese to the pasta mixture. I put all the cheese on top when I made it this time, but next time I'll mix some of the cheese in.) Scoop pasta mixture into a large casserole dish, and sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes, until the pasta is heated through and the sauce is bubbling on the sides.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: Pizza Dough

This is the second time in my short Daring Bakers career that I'm out of town at the end of the month, so I'm once again going to give you an abbreviated Daring Bakers post, since I'm headed to Mexico in the morning and still have way too much to do before I leave! I think I've finally masted Blogger... I've finally figured out how to post this in advance, so I can write this post today, Tuesday, and it will automatically publish next Wednesday when the Daring Bakers all reveal their posts. Wish me luck ;)

This month's challenge was not much of a challenge to me, since I'm married to a former pizza making college kid. Joe worked at our local pizza place in Columbia, Missouri when we were in school, and he's carried on his pizza making skills since we got married. Our Kitchen Aid mixer has been a great help in past pizza making pursuits, since it does the kneading for us. This challenge did involve a different dough recipe than we usually use, though, so there was some challenge in trying a recipe that was very different from our usual one.

This month's recipe was chosen by Rosa at Rosa's Yummy Yums. She had originally been planning this challenge with Sher of What Did You Eat, but Sher unexpectedly passed away after suffering from a heart attack this summer. Since Sher had suggested the idea of making some kind of authentic pizza dough, Rosa chose to go on with that idea to honor Sher. So as you look around at various Daring Baker's pizzas this month, think of Sher and all the bakers she inspired!

I tried to keep an open mind about the dough recipe we chose, even though it was soooo different from my usual recipe. This dough has yeast but stays cold and doesn't actually rise, and it ends up as a pretty wet dough. I followed the directions completely, but the dough I ended with was too soft to be tossted. I did hold it on my hands to spread it out, but it was so soft it would have torn through if I'd tried to toss it in the air. That was a bummer, because I really wanted to try tossing my pizza dough. Here's a couple previous pictures of Joe doing it with our usual pizza recipe, just to show off his skills...

First at our old apartment...

Continuing the tradition at our new condo...
There was no way I could have even attempted to throw the dough from this recipe, but I did like how easy it was to shape it into a thin circle for baking.

I also had a bone to pick with the two day process. Since it still needs two hours out of the fridge before you can prep it, this isn't a very weeknight friendly meal. We could prep dough Friday and bake pizza Saturday, or prep Saturday to bake Sunday, but with my commute home we wouldn't eat dinner until at least 8:30 if I attempted to use this dough on a weeknight.

I did really like the thin crust that resulted from this dough, and for that I would call this recipe almost worth it. I would have to say, though, with the time and energy it took to make this recipe, I would rather go to one of the many "wood oven pizza" type places all over Chicago. I love making pizza at home, but I think I'll continue making it in my less authentic way. Oh, and the smoke alarm kept going off when my oven was turned all the way up to 500 degrees, which was a hassle during cooking :( This was a good recipe to try, and I wouldn't blame people for liking it, but for me I think I'll go with the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality and just keep my usual pizza dough recipe.

I will post my usual dough recipe another time, since it's mostly just stored in Joe's head and I'll have to make him type it out! So stay tuned for another pizza recipe in the near future.

Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar - FOR GF use agave syrup
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

See you later...

I'm leaving for a much needed vacation today, so I won't be posting for a week or so. I know I've been absent the last week or two since I started my new job, but I hope within a few weeks I'll be settled and ready to start cooking and blogging like before. Than you all for your well wishes with my new job! Things are going well so far, but I'm coming home later than usual and exhausted, so there is going to be some adjustment as I settle in. Hopefully within a couple weeks I'll be mostly used to the new position, and by the end of this year it'll be old news. Thanks again for your thoughtful encouragement, you guys are great! I'll have a drink for my blogging friends while I'm laying by the pool in Mexico :)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Chicken Marsala

A special guest for the night...

So this is Joe, Erin's husband, I've decided to take over the blog for tonight. What can I say, the poor woman needs a night off every once in a while. I also should mention that this is my first attempt at blogging ever! As a financial analyst, I spend my days writing reports about numbers and ratios, so I just hope to god that this isn't as tedious as the swill that I normally churn out.

Anyways, a while back I got the urge to do some cooking, and although I'm not the gourmet that Erin is, I feel like I can make a competent attempt at following a recipe, and I feel like Giada's recipes are an easy place to start. Looking through a few cookbooks, what made chicken marsala jump out at me? Let's see...5 tablespoons of butter, 1 cup of mascarpone, a ton of can this not taste good?

Here's the recipe:


  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, each breast cut crosswise into 3 pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 cup dry Marsala wine
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves, plus whole sprigs, for garnish
  • 12 ounces dried fettuccine


Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over high heat. Add the chicken and cook just until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and cool slightly.

While the chicken cools, melt 2 tablespoons of butter to the same skillet over medium-high heat, then add the onion and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute until the mushrooms are tender and the juices evaporate, about 12 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until it is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Stir in the mascarpone and mustard. Cut the chicken breasts crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through and the sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped parsley. Season the sauce, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fettuccine and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Drain. Toss the fettuccine with 3 tablespoons of butter and season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Swirl the fettuccine onto serving plates. Spoon the chicken mixture over top. Garnish with parsley sprigs and serve.

All in all, I'd have to say that I was pleased with the way everything turned out. I may toss in just a bit more mustard next time around to really make that flavor pop out, but overall this dish was really rich and satisfying just so long as you're not counting your calories.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Roasted Green Beans with Cremini Mushrooms

I want to share this recipe for two reasons...

First, last week was really long and this was one of the only decent things I cooked. I started my new job, which is great, but the training left me devoid of energy by the time I got home each night. On Thursday I decided I needed to cook something, because even though I was exhausted I was seriously missing spending time in my kitchen. So I want to share this because it's one of the only new things I have to share.

Second, this is really a fantastic combination of fall flavors. I know it's getting a bit late to cook green beans, but as long as they look decent and are reasonably priced I will keep using them. Green beans are my favorite vegetable, so I have a hard time letting them go at the end of summer. Cremini mushrooms seem very fall like to me, and take on a great flavor when roasted. This is a simple yet elegant side dish; easy enough for a weeknight, yet nice enough to serve guests.

This is one of those recipes that doesn't have exact measurements. I'll give you guidelines, and you can make it your own. And if you don't have any, go buy some Herbes de Provence. I use it to season so many dishes, and I find that a little goes a long way. Frequently, when I want to add some seasoning to a dish but don't have a specific plan, I add a sprinkle of this herb combination and find the seasoning ends up perfect.

Roasted Green Beans with Cremini Mushrooms

1 lb fresh green beans
1 pack cremini mushrooms (approx 6 oz)
2 shallots
3 cloves garlic
olive oil
salt and pepper
herbes de provence

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Trim the ends of the green beans. Clean and trim the mushrooms, then cut into quarters. Slice the shallots into thin pieces, and mince the garlic. In a large bowl, mix the first four ingredients. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and herbes de provence, and toss to coat well.

Spread the green beans evenly on a jelly roll pan lined with a silpat (optional). Roast for about 25 minutes, turning every 10 minutes. The beans are done when they're tender and starting to lightly brown. Be careful not to overcook, and get lots of the shallots and garlic on your plate with the green beans. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It's Roasting Season!

I didn't realize what cooking technique was missing from my kitchen until the weather started feeling like fall. Yes, if you're also living in Chicago, you're probably wondering what I'm talking about! But remember a couple weeks ago when we pulled out our fall coats before the weather went back to the 70's? That's when I made this dish :)

The cooking technique I'm referring to is roasting, and in the last month or so I've been reminded of how much I enjoy roasting veggies. I bought a head of cauliflower at the store a while back, and didn't have any specific intentions of what to make with it. When I got home I remembered a combination that I had really enjoyed last fall. I think I found the recipe somewhere online, but it's really flexible depending what you have around. Just toss together the key ingredients, add extra herbs or seasoning you're craving, and roast for 20 or 30 minutes. This mix of ingredients might surprise you; cauliflower can be a lot more tasty than you might expect!

Roasted Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower
2 cloves garlic
zest and juice of one lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Optional- fresh thyme or other herbs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the cauliflower into manageable pieces. Put into a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle minced garlic, lemon zest, and salt and pepper on top; toss to coat. Roast in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, turning once or twice, until cauliflower is becoming tender and golden brown.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ready for the weekend...

I know, I know, is there ever a Thursday night when I'm not ready for the weekend? It hasn't been a bad week at work, but I'm still very ready for a couple days of staying home, sleeping in, and just the usual weekend relaxing. We're going to see Ben Folds on Friday night, a spontaneous decision we made last night which I'm very excited about! We're also going to watch the Chicago Marathon on Sunday morning, which means we'll most likely get up pretty early. The rest of the weekend is pretty open, and a weekend with not too many plans is usually my favorite type of weekend.

I'm posting this recipe tonight for a reason. I hope a few of you read this on Friday and are inspired for this weekend. I'm talking breakfast here... the kind of breakfast you could only justify on a weekend morning when there's no reason to rush out the door. As most people do, I love weekend breakfast. It could be at home, or at one of the restaurants near my house; weekend breakfast has the flavors and ingredients that are not even a possibility when I have to leave the house by 7:00 am on weekdays.

Following is the recipe for my favorite part of weekend breakfast... potatoes. I don't care if they're hash browns, diced, roasted, whatever. Potatoes are usually my #1 priority when eating out for breakfast. Last weekend when I realized we had potatoes at home, I knew it was time to make some of my own. And I happened to have fresh rosemary and thyme in the fridge, which were the perfect seasonings to go on the potatoes. I hope you have a chance to try these potatoes, or that you make up your own version. I doubt you'll find a more satisfying side dish for your weekend breakfast!

This is a loose recipe, so I'm not exact on the measurements. Go with flavors that you like; trust your own taste.

Potatoes (smaller, new yellow ones)
small onion, diced
1 tbsp rosemary (amount depends on how many potatoes)
1 tbsp thyme (amount depends on how many potatoes)
olive oil
salt and pepper

Cut the potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes, leaving skins on. Dice the onion, and chop the herbs. In a bowl, toss all ingredients together.

Heat a skillet on medium. Add potato mixture, cover, and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If they brown much, turn the temperature down; the goal is to soften the potatoes first and then brown the outside. Cook with the lid on until the potatoes are soft when pricked with a fork.

Take the lid off and turn the heat up to medium-high. Continue to cook, only turning once or twice, until potatoes reach desired level of crispiness. Serve with a tasty sun dried tomato omelet made by your awesome husband, or with any other breakfast treats :)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ile de France Goat Cheese

I recently had a chance to try a second type of french cheese from Ile de France. I had really enjoyed the Camembert I tasted a few months ago, so I was eager to taste the goat cheese to see what I thought of it. I enjoy using goat cheese in recipe for the creamy zing it adds to dishes. I wanted to taste the cheese on its own, but also decided to use the cheese in a couple different recipes.

I have determined that I like this type of goat cheese (the dryer, crumbly log type) for using in recipes, but I prefer other cheeses when I'm just eating with crackers or something simple. The Ile de France goat cheese is not a bad one-- in fact, I found it to have a nice tangy, creamy taste. I think it's a texture thing, though, that makes me prefer softer, more spreadable cheese when creating a cheese platter. For recipes, though, this simple goat cheese was a great addition to any dish needing an extra layer of flavor.

First, two dishes without pictures to illustrate. I love adding a chunk of goat cheese to mashed potatoes, especially now that it's fall and mashed potatoes seem so appropriate. Just mix the goat cheese in with some heavy cream and salt and pepper; instantly your mashed potatoes will be elevated to a new level. I also used this Ile de France goat cheese on top of a fresh place of spaghetti with marinara sauce. If you add crumbles on top of the hot sauce, it will melt in an add great flavor to the sauce.

I also wanted to use the goat cheese in a recipe, especially since Ile de France is hosting a recipe contest. In keeping with the French background of this cheese, I decided a tart would be the perfect dish. For nice fall flavors, I sauteed crimini mushrooms with shallots and garlic, then added artichoke hearts to the mix. I made a custard of eggs, cream, and goat cheese, and poured it on top of the tart. The result was rich and creamy tasting, with earthy vegetables complementing the goat cheese flavored custard. The buttery crust held it all together. I can't wait to have a dinner party sometime soon, because I know this will make an impressive started with a simple salad.

Pâte Brisée- Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt

8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2-4 tsp ice cold water

In a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and butter. Pulse about 10 seconds, until it resembles coarse meal. Add the egg and mix again for a few seconds, until the dough starts to come together into a ball. If the dough is too dry, add ice water 1 teaspoon at a time until the dough comes together. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface, shape into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 3o minutes.

Tart Filling
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 medium shallot, finely chopped
5 ounces crimini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp herbs de Provence
3 artichoke hearts, cut into eighths
salt and pepper

1/4 cup cream
2 eggs
5 ounces goat cheese, softened

First, make your Pâte Brisée. Let it chill for at least 30 minutes, then let stand at room temperature before using it.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while you work on the tart filling. While the dough is resting, heat the olive oil in a saute pan. Add the
shallot and garlic and saute for about 2 minutes, until softened. Add the crimini mushrooms and saute about three minutes more, stirring to avoid burning the onions and garlic. Gently add the pieces of artichoke hearts, stirring carefully so they don't break apart. Season with herbs de Provence and salt and pepper. Set aside.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. For mini-tart pans, trace with a knife around each tart pan, leaving about 1/2 inch border around the tart pan. Press each circle of dough into the tart pans, cutting off any extra dough. Blind bake the tart shells for about 10 minutes, until they start to turn golden.

In a blender, mix the two eggs, heavy cream, and softened goat cheese.

Take each pre-baked tart shell and carefully heap the artichoke and mushroom mixture into the shell. Pour the goat cheese mix on top, being careful not to have it overflow. Bake the tarts for about 15 minutes, until the custard is completely set and does not jiggle when you shake the pan.