Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sunday Dinner

Sounds old fashioned, but some Sunday nights end up being perfect for a big, special meal. There was no special event this past weekend; I just had the time and inspiration to make a nice meal. My meal came together around the idea of butternut squash. I have a great recipe for butternut squash soup, and I decided fish would be nice with the soup. I went to Whole Foods to get the fish, and found an amazing loaf of bread to go with the meal. I think it was called "Seeduction Bread"-- obviously, it was really full of grains and seeds. At $5 for a small loaf it wasn't cheap, but it was worth it! A nice side salad rounded out the meal. There aren't many pictures for this entry... we were too focused on eating our delicious meal!

Salmon Baked in Foil from Giada's Everyday Italian

- 1/2 to 3/4 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 2 tbsp plus 2 tsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
- 1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh oregano, or 3/4 tsp dried
- 1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme, or 3/4 tsp dried
- 1 tsp salt

- 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 4 salmon fillets (about 5 oz each)

These can me made in advance, and refrigerated for up to 6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, stir tomatoes, shallots, 2 tbsp oil, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. In the center of each of four large sheets of aluminum foil, spoon 1/2 tsp of oil. Place a piece of salmon on each piece of foil, and turn to coat with oil. Sprinkle each fillet with remaining salt and pepper. Spoon the tomato mixture over the salmon, and fold the foil up into a sealed packet. Place packets on a baking sheet. At this point you can refrigerate until ready to bake.

Bake until salmon is just cooked through, about 25 minutes. Use a spatula or large spoon to remove and plate each pack of salmon.

Butternut Squash Soup
by Joanne Harris

- 1 butternut squash (approx 3 lbs)
- 4 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp curry powder
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- 1 1/2 quarts (6 cups) veggie or chicken stock
- flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Skin and cut squash into chunks. Heat butter and oil in a large saucepan; add onions and garlic and saute until soft.

Add butternut squash. Stir in curry powder, salt and pepper. Pour in stock, stir well, and bring to a boil. Turn to medium-low and simmer for about 35 mins, until squash is soft.

Blend soup in a blender or processor. Or, like me, make a huge mess with your immersion blender right in the pot. That thing splatters so much! :) Serve soup topped with parsley and a drizzle of oil.

Curry in a Hurry

This is a cheater recipe, but it's awesome on a weeknight! I buy the thai curry sauce from Trader Joe's, and just add the ingredients I have on hand. Last night I was home while my husband had class, so I cooked the chicken in advance. As a result, it took less than 20 mins to throw together. And it tastes great!

- Cook Jasmine rice on the stove top.

- Slice small red potatoes into quarters, place in a pot and boil until they are soft but still hold their shape. Drain and set aside.

- Saute sliced onion (I make the slices large) until soft, then add the cooked, shredded chicken. Add veggies (I used peapods), sauce, and potatoes. Stir carefully, and cook on low until heated through. Serve over rice. Yum!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fancy a Scone?

I managed to get up kind of early this Sunday, so I decided to make something homemade for breakfast. The frozen blueberries in the freezer were calling out to me, which meant scones were a great option. This is a Cooking Light recipe, so it doesn't have as much butter as some scones. I have found that they are best when they're fresh, because they tend to get soft when they're stored. A tasty breakfast treat either way, compared to the usual cereal or toast.

Can you tell I get good use out of this pizza stone?!

Blueberry-Lemon Scones
From Cooking Light

  • 1/2 cup 2 percent milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp chilled butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted (I omitted these, because I didn't have any)
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Combine first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender, until it resembles coarse meal. Gently fold in blueberries and pecans. Add milk mixture, stirring until just moist (dough will be sticky).

Turn dough out onto a floured surface; pat dough into an 8 inch circle. Cut dough into 8 wedges, and place the dough wedges on a baking sheet or cooking stone. Brush egg white over the wedges, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for 18 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Kale?! What am I supposed to do with that?!

As I mentioned in a couple previous posts, we've starting receiving a weekly produce box full of local, organic fruits and veggies. Last week, we had some kale in the box, which was very intimidating at first. It is a leafy vegetable, and looks and feels almost like it's fake plastic. I went to the internet to look for ideas, because I really had no clue! It turns out it is frequently used in soups. I found this recipe that sounded tasty, and added some of my own flavors to it to make sure it would be tasty. I've had some less than great recipe results lately, so I was really relieved when this turned out to be really tasty!

White Bean Soup with Kale

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cups raw kale, chopped (not the stems)
  • 4 cups chicken broth, divided
  • 1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans
  • 1 (15 oz) can navy beans
  • 1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 or 2 tbsp sherry cooking wine
  • 1 package flavored, cooked chicken sauages (I used garlic and artichoke), sliced

Heat the olive oil in a stockpot or dutch oven. Add garlic and onion, and saute until onion is soft. Wash the kale, leaving small droplets of water. Add to pot and saute until deep emerald green, about 15 minutes.

Add 3 cups of the broth, 2 1/2 cups of beans, all the tomatoes, herbs. Simmer 5 mins.

In a blender mix the reserved beans and broth until smooth. Stir into the soup to thicken it. Add the sherry, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 15 more minutes, then add the sausage and cook until sausage is warmed through. Serve with Parmesan cheese on top, and crusty bread on the side.

Must-Have Mexican Side Dish

A few months ago I was hosting a Mexican fiesta for about 10 friends. That night I made a ton of enchiladas, and I didn't want to just serve rice out of a box. I asked for suggestions on a cooking message board that I frequent, and someone suggested this recipe. They had found it on It tastes just like Mexican rice you would find at a restaurant, and I find myself using it frequently as a side for any Mexican food I make. The original recipe is huge, so on an normal night I just make half, which is still 4 to 6 servings. This picture also shows Chile Relleno stuffed Chicken, which was a lot of work without great results. It wasn't terrible, but it was not good enough to be worth the effort it took to make. And I know, green beans are a weird veggie with Mexican food, but we had them in the fridge and needed to use them up. I just steamed them and then put some of the rosemary garlic salt on top... yum!

Mexican Rice

  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 cups rice
  • 2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup tomato sauce (or a little less for dryer rice)
  • 4 cups chicken broth
Heat the oil in saucepan, add rice. Stir until puffed and golden. Sprinkle w/ garlic salt and cumin.

Stir in onion, and cook until tender. Add tomato sauce and chicken broth.

Boil, then reduce to low and cover. Cook for 20-25 mins.

So easy, huh? Enjoy!

Monday, January 21, 2008

As I mentioned in my last post, we had some beets to cook with last week, so my husband decided to find a recipe to use. This one is from, and it was great! And the best part was that Joe made them!

Roasted Beets with Feta
  • 4 beets, trimmed, leaving 1 inch of stems attached
  • 1/4 cup minced shallot
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Wrap each beet individually in aluminum foil, and place onto a baking sheet.
  2. Bake beets in preheated oven until easily pierced with a fork, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Once done, remove from oven, and allow to cool until you can handle them. Peel beets, and cut into 1/4 inch slices.
  3. While the beets are roasting, whisk together shallot, parsley, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and red wine vinegar in a bowl until blended; season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.
  4. To assemble the dish, place the warm, sliced beets onto a serving dish, pour vinaigrette over the beets, and sprinkle with feta cheese before serving.
The beets are on the top of this picture... with Chicken Parmesan, pasta, and salad. Yum!

A Great Resource for Fresh Produce

Recently I read about the concept of CSAs, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, it's when local stores provide methods of getting local, organic, and seasonal produce to people in the area. I read about it on the Nest "What's Cooking" message board, and had to check out the recommended website This website is awesome, and I really recommend you check it out! It lists a ton of information about local eating and food shopping. You can search by zip code, and find out about sustainable restaurants, markets, and shops.

The Local Harvest website is where I found the website for New Leaf Grocery, a small organic grocer in Roger's Park. My husband and I have done the fruit and veggie box for two weeks now, and are really having fun with it. It challenges my cooking, because I never know what will come in the weekly box. And it's a great deal, at $15 per week. So far, some of our challenges have included beets, kale, and eggplant. It's not the best right now, since it's freezing here in Chicago, but I can see how this will be a lot of fun. And we don't have to do it every week, so if we're really busy or going out of town, it's no big deal. The picture at the top of this post is our goods for this past week. What a great way for us to eat healthy, local, sustainable produce.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Best Lower Fat Cookies!

I decided to call these "lower" fat, because with the extra chocolate chips I add you can't just call them low fat. They are great, though, and I don't feel as guilty eating them as I would with other cookies. I don't know where my mom got this recipe, but I would be devastated if I ever lost the note card that it's written on! One time I had some extra peanut butter chips leftover from another recipe, and I found out they are amazing in these cookies!

Chocolate Chip Yogurt Cookies
from my mom!
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup crisco (I use the butter flavor)
  • 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (that's what the recipe says... I do more like 1 1/2 cups , sometimes mixing choco and peanut butter chips.)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. In a large bowl, combine sugars, butter, crisco. Beat until light and fluffy. Add yogurt and vanilla, and blend well.
  3. Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix well. Stir in chocolate chips.
  4. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-12 minutes (the are done before they are brown, especially in my horrible oven!) If you're using 2 cookie sheets, switch them halfway through baking.

I had to include the cute cookie jar that I got
on my most recent trip to the Netherlands.

The Perfect Breakfast Bread

I stumbled across this recipe a few years ago, and it is an easy and tasty recipe for when I want to have homemade bread for breakfast. It's a yeast bread, so you do have to be a little careful, but it is pretty easy since it doesn't require any kneading. It makes 2 loaves, too, so I tend to save one in the freezer, since I'm only cooking for two. I make this bread in my kitchen aid mixer, but since it doesn't require kneading, it would be easy to make in a regular mixing bowl. With butter and jam it makes a quick but filling weekday breakfast.

English Muffin Bread
from "The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook"

  • Cornmeal for dusting the pans
  • 6 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
1. Grease 2 loaf pans, and sprinkle with enough cornmeal to coat bottom and sides. Set pans aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine 3 cups of the flour, the yeast, and baking soda; set aside. In a medium saucepan heat and stir the milk, water, sugar, and salt until just warm (120-130 degrees). Using a wooden spoon, stir milk mixture into flour mixture. Stir in remaining flour.

3. Divide dough in half. (it will be very sticky). Place in prepared pans, and sprinkle the top with cornmeal. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 45 minutes). Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

4. Bake in a 400 degree oven about 25 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove bread from pans, and cool on wire racks.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chicken Piccata

What an easy weeknight dinner! I have been craving this for a while, and even went so far as to buy the capers a few weeks ago when I saw them at Trader Joe's. It is almost all basic ingredients, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to actually make it! This is a Giada recipe, from Everyday Italian. I served it over orzo, and there was plenty of sauce from the chicken that was great over the pasta, too. I made sauteed spinach on the side (olive oil, garlic, a few red pepper flakes, then saute the spinach in it for just a couple minutes.). This all came together so quickly, so it is great for a busy weeknight.

Chicken Piccata
from Every Day Italian, by Giada DeLaurentiis

2 large skinless and boneless chicken breasts, butterflied and then cut in half
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour, for dredging
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped (we managed to chop this, then forgot to use it)

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When chicken is browned, flip and cook other side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to plate. Melt 2 more tablespoons butter and add another 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add the other 2 pieces of chicken and brown both sides in same manner. Remove pan from heat and add chicken to the plate.

Into the pan add the lemon juice, stock and capers. Return to stove and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor. Check for seasoning. Return all the chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove chicken to platter. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and whisk vigorously. Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What did I cook with before this?

Sorry for the blurry picture, but this is the amazing salt.

When I was visiting my parents last fall, my mom gave me the recipe for this amazing salt. It's from the French Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Herman Loomis. I don't have the cookbook, but my mom really enjoys using it. So I got the salt recipe for her, and made it before Christmas Day so that I could use it when I roasted a chicken for Christmas dinner. It is so amazing, and now I find myself using it at least once a day. I sprinkle some on my meat, put it with steamed veggies, and mix it with any savory dish that calls for salt. I wish I could have you smell it on the blog, because then you would understand how great it is! Last night I roasted a chicken with the salt, as the French Farmhouse Cookbook recommends, and it was delicious! So here is the salt recipe that everyone should use...

Lemon-Rosemary Salt

Makes 1 cup

3 cloves garlic, 2 cut in half, green stem removed (divided use)

1 cup coarse sea salt or kosher salt

zest of 2 lemons, minced

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, minced

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mince 2 of the garlic cloves and reserve the remaining one.

Place everything but the reserved garlic clove in a food processor and pulse a few times until the salt is slightly ground and the ingredients combined. Pour the salt mixture into a jar, push the remaining garlic clove into the salt and cover. This salt will keep at least 3 months if kept airtight.

The chicken dinner, complete with garlic and cheese mashed potatoes, stuffing, and salad.

Since my parents live in Europe, they can get some high quality cooking supplies for much cheaper than in the US. For a "stocking stuff" this Christmas my mom gave me this salt... approximately 3 lbs worth! I don't think I'll run out anytime soon...

And in case you want to roast a chicken with the salt, here's that recipe, too.

Roast Chicken with Rosemary Salt
(from French Farmhouse Cookbook, with notes from my mom)

This recipe calls for a 3.5 to 4 lb chicken. I would stick with 3 - 3.5 pounds and do two smaller ones rather than going too big. I find the taste is better that way than if you get one that's too big.

1 chicken (3.5 to 4 lbs) with giblets ( I don't get giblets here and it comes out just fine.
3/5 teaspoons lemon roseamry salt
1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 450. Remove giblets from cavity. Rinse chicken and pat dry (remove any excess fat so it doesn't smoke too much). Season the cavity with 2 teaspoons of lemon salt, squeeze the juice of the lemon half inside, and place the squeezed lemon rind inside the cavity with the giblets (if using them). Truss the chicken.

Rub chicken all over with olive oil. Place in roasting pan and roast until chicken is golden and juices runs golden from thigh joint when pierced with a fork (this is the hard part - to get it cooked but not over cooked.) She says about an hour. I cook mine at 400 so it doens't get too smoky in the kitchen and leave it in for 1 hour and 20 mins.

Remove chicken from oven and sprinkle bresat side with 1 tsp. remaining salt. Turn chicken onto breast with feet end slightly higer than head end ( this alwasys confuses me!) sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 tsp. slat. Let chicken rest for 20-40 mins. (that part is important - it will continue to cook a little and the juices will go back into the meat.)

She says to take the chicken out of the pan and then heat the juices over med. high heat scraping up brown bits. If there's not much juice she says you can add 1/2 cup water to the juices. I never do this but it's a good idea. I don't have a roasting pan that can go on the stove top. If you do, try it maybe but it's ok without it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fun with a blow torch...

I got a creme brulee set for Christmas, and it was time to put it to use. I also got a giftcard to Williams-Sanoma, where I managed to find a creme brulee cookbook for $5! I decided to try a basic recipe, with a few minor changes. In case you were wondering, vanilla beans are really freaking expensive, so I used some vanilla extract instead. And I decided a little Kahlua would give it a great flavor. It was a decent first attempt, and I think the creme brulee set will be a lot of fun to play around with!

It's kind of fun to play with fire :)

The finished product

I'll add the recipe later, once I master the technique. For now, I'll be playing around w/ various recipes.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Homemade Ravioli

Recently, my husband wanted to cook dinner for us. He was looking through a Giada cookbook, and found this recipe. It sounded like fun, so we decided to make the ravioli together. We weren't sure they would stick together when they cooked, so we ended up filling them less than they could be. The egg makes the two pieces of eggroll wrapper stick together when it's boiled, so the water didn't leak in to the filling. The end product tasted great. I plan to do this again; it was easy and will be fun to experiment with different fillings.

Spinach and Mushroom Ravioli- from Every Day Italian by Giada De Laurentiis

I have the cookbook, and highly recommend it. However, to save time with typing, I am just going to link to the recipe online. Enjoy!,1977,FOOD_9936_22313,00.html

Putting the filling onto the wonton wrappers.

Cutting the individual pieces.

A blurry version of the final product (pre-sauce).

Cinnamon Rolls-- so much better homemade!

When my husband went out of town for business, I decided to make these for the first morning he was back in town. It is an overnight recipe, so you do most of the work the night before. It is an Alton Brown recipe from Food Network, so it's a little complicated and technical. It's fun, though, and the end result is great!

Here's the link to the recipe. I am not sure how to make it a simple link, but I'll be working on my HTML skills, I promise! For now, just cut and paste if it doesn't link.,1977,FOOD_9936_33873,00.html

The rolls before baking.

The rolls after baking.

Finished product. I always fail to be patient enough to let the cream
cheese get to room temperature, so the icing is a bit too lumpy.
Still tasted good, though.

I have some catching up to do!

Even though I just started this blog, I feel like I'm already behind! As I've played around in the kitchen for the last 6 months or so, I've taken pictures of various experiments. I have a lot of photos and recipes I want to post, and I want to try to get them up before I do much new stuff. I'll show you sushi first, since it doesn't have much of a recipe, but there are fun pictures!

First, you need a good recipe for sushi rice. I don't have one yet :( I have now officially wrecked a pot making it from a previous recipe, so I'll be trying a new recipe next time. We buy special sushi rice, and you need sushi vinegar, too.

A fun thing about sushi is that you get to make it exactly how you want. The fillings can be whatever you like. We like salmon and tuna, bought raw from a high quality store (Whole Foods is a safe bet). Avocado, asparagus, and cucumber are some of our favorite veggies, and we love buying seafood or seaweed salad for inside the rolls, too. It is so fun to experiment with combinations, so we plan on doing this many more times.

Here's all the supplies we bought. We live right near a
really fun Asian neighborhood, and exploring their
neighborhood grocery stores was half the fun of sushi making.

I'm holding nori (the seaweed the rolls are
wrapped in) and sushi vinegar.

The veggies and fish are all ready to go.

My first attempt at a roll.

Joe tried one with the rice on the outside (a much trickier technique!)
Are you getting hungry yet? I know I was!

This is some of the final product. It was so tasty!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

New Le Creuset... time for stew!

I have been wanting a Le Creuset dutch oven for a while, and found one today at TJ Maxx. It was a great price, so I couldn't pass it up! I was already planning to make a seafood stew for dinner tonight, so this was a perfect chance to test it out. Results: great stew, great cookware, and a very full stomach :)

My beautiful new dutch oven!

The final product.

Mediterranean Seafood Stew (adapted from Taste of Home Cookbook)

1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 28 oz can tomatoes (I got whole and chopped them myself, but you could buy diced, too)
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup clam juice
1/3 cup white wine, or extra clam juice
1 small can tomato paste
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
pepper to taste
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 lb shrimp
1/2 lb bay scallops
(called for 1 lb orange roughy or red snapper-- I couldn't find it at Whole foods, so I did extra shrimp)
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
(I added some French pistu, from a previous Barefoot Contessa recipe. It's like a pesto w/ tomato paste, and I added about 1 1/2 tbsp.)

1.) In a dutch oven or large saucepan, heat oil. Add onion and garlic, saute until tender. Add tomatoes, lemon zest, and pepper flakes; cook and stir for 2 minutes.

2.) Add clam juice, wine/other clam juice, tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, basil, and oregano. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

3.) Add the seafood and parsley. Cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Eat and enjoy!

** I thought the shrimp was kind of tough-- not sure if it was the cooking time, or the type I bought. I will play around with the seafood element next time, to try to improve it.

A first try...

I'm brand new to blogging, and don't know much about the technical aspects. I figured the best way to figure it out would be to just jump right in. I have enjoyed cooking and eating good food since I was a kid (thanks mom!), but have really gotten into cooking in the last year or so. Moving to Chicago really fueled this love of good food, and I've been reading cookbooks and magazines, testing out recipes, and exploring all the food stores around the city. I can't seem to get enough, but at least this blog will give me a place to share my food adventures! Enjoy :)

Christmas Dinner 2007 (With help from my good friend Jess!)