Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuscan Tuna & White Bean Sandwiches

There are many things I crave around dinner time, but sandwiches are not one of those things. Don't get me wrong, I like a good sandwich, I just tend to classify them in the lunch category. But I saw this recipe on the Love and Olive Oil blog, and I just had to try them out. I adore cannellini beans in any form, and had recently bought some tuna packed in oil (from Trader Joe's, in case you want some too!). These sandwiches were perfect on a hot night when you don't want to heat up your house. I did Grilled Potato Salad, too, which only had one step of stove top cooking. This was a quick, satisfying, cool meal for a hot summer night.

Tuscan Tuna and Bean Sandwiches
Recipe from epicurious

For beans
1 (14- to 15-oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For tuna salad
2 (6-oz) cans Italian tuna in oil, drained
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

For sandwiches
8 (1/3-inch-thick) slices rustic Italian bread (from a round crusty loaf) or 4 (4-inch-long) oval panini rolls
1 cup loosely packed trimmed watercress sprigs

Coarsely mash beans with a fork in a bowl, then stir in garlic, lemon juice, oil, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Flake tuna in a bowl with a fork, then stir in basil, olives, celery, onion, oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper until combined.

Spoon one fourth of bean mixture on 1 slice of bread, then top with one fourth of tuna salad, some watercress, and a slice of bread. Make 3 more sandwiches in same manner.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Milan Cookies

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gail Gand of the Food Network.

Last month I completely spaced out and missed the Daring Bakers challenge. I didn't mean to skip it, and I actually thought the recipe for a traditional English tart/pudding sounded pretty tasty. But the deadline came and went before I even thought about making the recipe, and I decided to just skip it completely and do the July challenge instead. Then, today, July 27th, I realized I'd once again blown off the challenge! But this time it wasn't too late... the reveal date is today, and I had absolutely nothing planned to do all day. So I headed to the grocery store, and got to work on the Milano cookie recipe from Gail Gand. I would have loved to try the marshmallow cookies as well, but with the tight deadline I figured I'd just do one of the two recipes.

The ingredients were easy to come by, and the procedure was pretty straightforward. I had a basic piping tip from when I made eclairs, so piping them onto the silpat was no problem. I don't see why a ziplock bag with the corner snipped wouldn't work either. The recipe seemed to make a decent yield, so I did a half recipe. There were still plenty of cute cookies to go around. Overall, I enjoyed these cookies. I liked how crisp they were, and the orange and lemon flavors were really elegant. I would have liked if the cookies were just a bit thicker, but then they might not have been quite as crisp. Thanks, Nicole, for this fun and very manageable cookie recipe!

Milan Cookies
from Gail Gand on

12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups (312.5 grams/ 11.02 oz) powdered sugar
7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon extract
1 1/2 cups (187.5grams/ 6.61 oz) all purpose flour
Cookie filling, recipe follows

Cookie filling:
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 orange, zested

1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
6. While waiting for the cookies to cool, in a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream.
7. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl, whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well.
8. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools).
9. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
10. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.
Makes about 3 dozen sandwich cookies

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Now that's what I call BBQ!

It's been a busy couple weeks, but I'm finally back here to tell you what I've been up to. I've been working kind of a lot, and have been traveling during the weekends in between. I have had a new job for about a month and a half now, at a kitchen store and cooking school called The Chopping Block. If you live in Chicago, check out the locations at The Merchandise Mart and in Lincoln Square. I'm mostly working as a class assistant, helping teach the cooking classes. This is the second time I've worked at a store like this, and I have to say I couldn't ask for a better job! The classes are a lot of fun, and I learn while I'm working. Plus, I love being in an atmosphere where everyone appreciates and enjoys cooking and eating good food. If you're ever in the area, check our the website and stop in!

One of our recent weekend trips was to Kansas City, where Joe and I lived before moving to Chicago. We have family and friends that live around the area, so we try to get back to visit every once in a while. The 4th of July was a great opportunity to visit, with the built in 3-day weekend. We had a fantastic time catching up with all our old friends! It was a great holiday weekend, and we were so glad we had the chance to visit. One of the highlights was a visit to a BBQ establishment, which is a necessary part of any visit to Kansas City.

In the past my favorite had been Arthur Bryant's, where I tried to go whenever possible. It's the real deal for awesome Kansas City BBQ. But recently it came to my attention that Anthony Bourdain had listed another BBQ joint, Oklahoma Joe's, as one of the top 13 places to eat before you die. In his article for Men's Health, Bourdain listed Okie Joe's along with some heavy hitters like French Laundry and el Bulli (and also Hot Dougs, here in Chicago, which has the most insanely long lines EVER). Joe used to go there for lunch sometimes when he worked nearby, but I'd never had a chance. So I requested some BBQ for dinner one night, and everyone jumped on board quickly!

Considering the recent publicity, the line was pretty reasonable. I guess it did stretch out the door, but they moved along at a good pace. The smell inside was enough to make your stomach growl, and watching people walk by with full trays almost made me want to swipe it and run. There were plenty of tables, so we didn't have to stress about where to sit. All good signs...

The food was all I had hoped for. I am a pulled pork connoisseur (some might say addict), and I was really happy with my sandwich. I'm not really a purist, so I like to slather it with sauce before digging in. The pork was tender and full of flavor, and I liked the sauce a lot.

I had to have baked beans, too, and thought they were pretty good. Not mind-blowing, but tasty and satisfying. Our group also had burnt ends, ribs, sausage, cole slaw, and fries... needless to say, no one left hungry.

Want some for yourself? Check out their website for locations and for a store where you can order your own sauce. Sorry, that pork doesn't ship very well!

Those are some
satisfied smiles,
wouldn't you say?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Soba + Shrimp + Peanut Sauce = Love

I cook two ways around my house. There are times when I'm cooking to impress... trying something new and exciting, that I hope to blog about, share with friends, or just feel accomplished after making. Daring Bakers/Cooks, exotic dishes, multi-element Sunday dinners, you know that type of menu. But I can't cook like that every night, so there are plenty of nights when my goal is to make a tasty, fresh, low-fuss meal.

This was just a regular every night dinner. I was making some of the leftover frozen potstickers from last month's Daring Cooks, and I wanted an interesting side dish to serve with the potstickers. I was flipping through some old recipes from Cooking Light, and I came across this recipe for Soba and Slaw Salad with Peanut Dressing. I really like trying different slaw recipes, and I knew I had some leftover soba noodles in my pantry, so I decided to give this a try. WOW! It was simple to prepare, and tasted amazing! The peanut sauce was just the right amout of hot and salty, the cabbage had a nice crunch, and the soba noodles really soaked up the sauce. Every ingredient contributed to the final flavor, and it was pretty darn healthy, too. Not to mention I only had to turn on the stove top for a few minutes to cook the noodles, which means this is a good option for dinner on a hot summer night. This would have been a good stand-alone dish, and the red cabbage stayed crunchy long enough for a couple leftover lunches. Keep an eye out for good prices on shrimp, and use that as your excuse to try this delisious weeknight meal.

Soba and Slaw Salad with Peanut Dressing
from Cooking Light, June 2005

6 ounces uncooked soba (buckwheat) noodles, broken in half
6 cups shredded red cabbage
2 cups grated carrot
3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions, divided
1/2 pound coarsely chopped cooked shrimp
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 1/2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons Thai chile paste with garlic
2 tablespoons chopped dry-roasted peanuts


Cook noodles according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain; rinse with cold water.

Combine noodles, shredded cabbage, carrot, 1/2 cup green onions, and shrimp in a large bowl.

Combine soy sauce and next 4 ingredients (through chile paste) in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until blended. Add soy sauce mixture to noodle mixture, tossing gently to coat. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup green onions and peanuts.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Classic Cookout with Palm Leaf Plates

Have you seen the Marx Foods website before? It's an amazing collection of exotic and hard to find meats and gourmet foods. They even have a blog, which I enjoy reading for culinary inspiration! A few weeks ago I saw an offer on their website that I had to respond to-- they were looking for bloggers to test out their eco-friendly palm leaf plates. I said I would love to review them, and a few days later the plates arrived.

Dig in!

I consider myself a pretty green person, and I try to avoid disposable plates, silverware, and napkins whenever possible. Having a smaller city condo helps, because we rarely have more dinner guests than we have plates! We use cloth napkins instead of paper, and I only use paper towels on extra-dirty messes. The palm leaf plates are a dream-- they are made from palm leafs that naturally fall off the trees, and it's a renewable process. The plates are biodegradable, so you can feel totally guilt-free when you pull out a stack for your next get together! I also thought they had a kind of eco-chic look, and I could picture them as part of a stylish outdoor spread. They are more expensive than typical paper plates, but if they fit in your budget I would totally recommend these plates. You can find them at this link: And check out the whole Marx Foods site while you're at it-- there is a lot of cool stuff to buy and send to me :)

I wanted to test the plates with some heavy-duty food, so I figured American Cookout food would fit the bill. I made BBQ sauce from this recipe on Pithy and Clever, and used it for BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches. The sauce was a good first attempt, but I would like to try other recipes. I also made fantastic baked beans, which are one of my favorite foods of all time. I was ashamed to say I had never made baked beans from scratch before this night, but I think this recipe was darn close to perfect. It didn't take much time, and the flavor was spot on. I recommended them to my mom for the 4th of July, and she reported back with rave reviews. I also made a German Potato salad from Emeril on Food Network, and my friends liked it so much that I made the same recipe three days later for a 4th of July cookout. This whole menu was one I will gladly repeat again and again.

German Potato Salad
From Emeril Lagasse on

2 lbs baking potatoes, peeled and medium diced
6 oz raw bacon, chopped
1 cup chopped onions
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ to 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup whole grain mustard
4 hard boiled eggs, sliced
¼ cup chopped green onions

In a saucepan, over medium heat, cook the potatoes in salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove and drain well. Keep warm. In a saute pan, over medium heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Add the onions. Season with black pepper. Saute for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked potatoes, crispy bacon/onions with fat, vinegar, to taste, mustard, eggs, and green onions. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Using the back of a spoon, mash the mixture together. The salad should be well blended but with some lumps.

Baked Beans
From Dave Lieberman on

8 slices bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup ketchup
3/4 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 twenty-eight ounce cans red beans, drained and rinsed

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Put a heavy-bottomed pot (with a lid) over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring often, until the fat renders and bacon begins to crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes more. Stir in the ketchup, tomato puree, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and cayenne and mix well.

Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the beans until well coated, cover, and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Remove the lid and continue baking until sauce thickens and the beans begin to brown, about 15 minutes more. Remove from the oven and allow to cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Serve warm or at room temperature.