Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Spanakopita

Before I tell you about a couple of the Christmas appetizers I made, let me just tell you I am officially going to take a break from this blog. I've been cooking a ton lately, but most of it is either recipes at work, or stuff you've already seen on here. There has still been some inspiration to try new recipes (like this spanakopita), but even when they're great recipes I'm not really feeling the urge to blog about them. So, I feel a break is in order... which is probably not a huge surprise since my last post was almost a month ago!

Brie en Croute (with homemade ginger peach jam!) and Sausage stuffed mushrooms on Christmas Eve

This blog started out as a bit of a recipe journal, and as a result I'll keep it live as long as blogger will let me. Even if I'm not adding new content, I'll go back to old favorites like this Chicken and Mushroom Ragu and the best Brussels Sprouts EVER. Also, I might put some links to successful recipes I find online, so I know where to find them. Joe and I got a total of 8 food or beer related books for Christmas, so I'm going to try to test some cookbook recipes in upcoming months, too. I might be back to posting really soon... or maybe never... I don't want to put any pressure on myself, so I'll just say to enjoy this spanakopita before the New Year's Resolutions kick in, and to keep in touch!

adapted from, originally from Gourmet magazine

1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 lb baby spinach
1 large clove of garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 lemon, juiced
3 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1/2 lb feta, crumbled (scant 2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg
10 (17- by 12-inch) phyllo sheets, thawed if frozen

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, then cook spinach, stirring, until wilted and tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and cool, about 10 minutes. Squeeze handfuls of spinach in a clean towel to remove as much liquid as possible, then coarsely chop. Transfer to a bowl.
Saute garlic and red pepper flakes in the same saute pan until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add to the spinach. Stir in pine nuts, lemon juice, feta, nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Check for seasoning, then add the egg and mix well.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Melt remaining 1 stick butter in a small saucepan, then cool.

Cover phyllo stack with 2 overlapping sheets of plastic wrap and then a dampened kitchen towel.

Take 1 phyllo sheet from stack and arrange on a work surface with a long side nearest you (keeping remaining sheets covered) and brush with some butter. Top with another phyllo sheet and brush with more butter. Cut buttered phyllo stack crosswise into 6 (roughly 12- by 2 3/4-inch) strips.

Put a heaping teaspoon of filling near 1 corner of a strip on end nearest you, then fold corner of phyllo over to enclose filling and form a triangle. Continue folding strip (like a flag), maintaining triangle shape. Put triangle, seam side down, on a large baking sheet and brush top with butter. Make more triangles in same manner, using all of phyllo.

Bake triangles in middle of oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool slightly.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Green and White Bean Gratin

This green and white bean bake was a perfect vegetarian main course for a cold winter night. We paired it with a salad, some bread, and a movie. Exactly what you want to eat when it's cold and rainy outside, and you're snuggled up under a blanket. The pureed beans made the gratin seem so smooth and creamy, and even with cutting back on the cheese it was nice and cheesy. I liked that the cheese was balanced out with a lack of cream, to keep the dish from being too rich.

This makes a great vegetarian main dish, and would also be great served with roast chicken or pork tenderloin. The lunch leftovers were terrific as well. I'd also like to experiment with using broccoli or sauteed kale for the vegetable portion of the gratin.

Green and White Bean Gratin

From Moosewood Restaurant Farm Fresh Meals

2 cups fresh green beans, cut into 2 inch lengths and blanched (or frozen green beans-- don't bother defrosting)
2 cans white beans
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons of dried thyme, finely chopped rosemary or sage
Pinch of salt and black pepper
1 cup grated Gruyere or cheddar cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9 inch square baking dish, and spread the green beans in the bottom of the dish.

In a food processor, combine one can of white beans (undrained) with the garlic, herb(s), salt and pepper until smooth. Pour over the green beans in the baking dish, and sprinkle with the Gruyere or cheddar cheese. Drain and rinse the second can of white beans, and spread the whole beans on top.

In a small bowl, mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan and melted butter. Sprinkle lightly over the top of the gratin. Bake, covered, for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake about 10 minutes more, until golden brown and bubbling.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Herb Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

As soon as temperatures drop, I switch my cooking style from frequent grilling to roasting. I love roasting pretty much any kind of vegetables, and a nice whole chicken is such an easy and elegant main course. I saw a recipe like this at work, and loved the idea of roasting the chicken and veggies all in one pan.

I rubbed an herb butter all over the raw chicken, making sure to get some butter under the skin. I chopped a couple carrots, parsnips, and potatoes into bite sized chunks, and tossed them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. I spread the vegetables in the bottom of my cast iron casserole pan, and placed the chicken right on top of the veggies. When the chicken was done, I let it rest on the cutting board, and placed the pan back in the oven so the vegetables could finish cooking. Served with a salad, this was a simple and comforting Sunday night dinner.

I could never write a cookbook, because I'm way too lazy when it comes to writing down recipes. This was made up on the fly, but I'll do the best I can to tell you what to do :) This is a recipe you could easily play around with, depending what you have around the kitchen.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the following ingredients to make an herb compound butter:

6-8 Tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
1 tsp fresh lemon zest
1 clove of garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and chop your root vegetables, trying to cut the pieces into a consistent size. I used 2 large carrots, 2 large parsnips, and 4 or 5 new potatoes (skin on). Toss the vegetables into your roasting pan or cast iron pot, and toss with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Rinse a whole chicken and pat dry. Season the inside of the cavity with salt and pepper, and put slices of lemon inside. Rub the herb butter all over the chicken, pushing lots of the butter under the skin. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables, and place into the preheated oven.

Cook the chicken until a thermometer reads 165 degrees. If the vegetables are not soft and getting crispy, remove the chicken and put the vegetables back in the oven until they get to the level of doneness you desire. Serve the roasted vegetables alongside slices of the roast chicken.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lamb Stew with Mashed Potato Topping

I have recently been working on expanding my horizons when it comes to tasting and cooking different kinds of meat. Up until last spring, I was a member of the "No Red Meat" Club, and had been for for almost 15 years. I was picky about meat as a kid, and chose to cut red meat out of my diet. Eventually I realized I had no idea what red meat even tasted like, and I felt like I couldn't be a very good foodie if I was so picky about what types of meat I would eat.

I started slow, with a couple hamburgers and tastes of more exotic cuts of meat that Joe would order. Being around plenty of meat at The Chopping Block has given me the chance to taste many different kinds of meat, and I've liked what I have tasted. I think meat is very trendy in Chicago right now, and most restaurants are offering exotic choices and tons of charcuterie options. I've now enjoyed things like duck liver pate, bone marrow, and good old fashioned steak. I'm not a crazy meat eater, though, and still eat vegetarian multiple days a week, to balance things out.

Joe brought home some Turkish leftovers recently, and I gobbled up the lamb dish that he left in the fridge. It was so flavorful, and immediately inspired me to try to cook some lamb. I am still pretty intimidated by large pieces of meat, so some kind of roast lamb was out. I got hooked on the idea of a lamb stew, with nice tender pieces of meat cooked up with lots of wintery vegetables. I'd seen a recipe in Jamie's Food Revolution, and kept thinking back to his suggestion to top the finished stew with mashed potatoes, like a Shepard's pie.

Jamie's stew recipe is very basic, with lots of room for interpretation. I like how flexible his recipes are, and how approachable he makes cooking. This recipe is actually four different recipes, depending which type of meat and booze you put into your stew. I did the lamb and red wine combination, and plan to experiment with others during the cold Chicago winter. The recipe was so straight forward, but you did have to plan for the long cooking time. It was mostly hands-off, though, and I loved having almost all the dishes taken care of before dinner was ready. I made this on a Sunday, so we had plenty of time to let the meat get tender. It was rich and satisfying, and the mashed potato topping was fantastic. It was a little crispy on top, and the softer potatoes closer to the stew soaked up some of the red wine stewing liquid. This was the best cold weather dinner I have made in a long time!

Basic Stew Recipe

Main Stew Ingredients:

2 stalks celery
2 medium onions
2 carrots
Olive oil
1 heaped tablespoon all-purpose flour
One 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Then choose one of the following:

Beef and Ale (3 hours)
3 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 pound diced beef stewing meat
2 cups brown ale, Guinness or stout

Pork and Cider (2 1/2 hours)
3 sprigs fresh sage
1 pound diced stewing pork, preferably free-range or organic
2 cups medium-dry hard cider
Chicken and White Wine (1 1/2 hours)
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 cups white wine

Lamb and Red Wine (2 1/2 hours)
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 pound diced stewing lamb
2 cups red wine

1. If using the oven to cook your stew, preheat to 350°F.

2. Trim the ends off your celery and roughly chop the stalks. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Peel the carrots, slice lengthwise, and roughly chop.

3. Put a Dutch oven on a medium heat. Put all of the vegetables and your chosen herb into the pan with 2 lugs of olive oil and fry for 10 minutes. Add your meat and flour. Pour in the booze and canned tomatoes. Give it a good stir, then season with a teaspoon of sea salt (less if using table salt) and a few grinds of pepper.

4. Bring to a boil, put the lid on, and either simmer slowly on your cooktop or cook in the oven for the times shown above. Remove the lid for the final half hour of simmering or cooking and add a splash of water if it looks a bit dry.

5. When done, your meat should be tender and delicious. Remove any bay leaves or herb stalks before serving, and taste it to see if it needs a bit more salt and pepper.

Jamie offers multiple suggestions of toppings for the stew recipe. While the lamb stew would have been wonderful as is, I couldn't resist his suggestion to make it like a Cottage Pie, with a mashed potato topping. He also has suggestions for dumplings or puff pastry topping.

Mashed Potato Topping

2 1/4 lbs potatoes, peeled (I used two russets and some smaller new potatoes)
splash of milk
tablespoon of butter
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
olive oil or melted butter
sprig of rosemary (I omitted because my rosemary plant is looking pitifully small these days)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Fill a large baking dish with the fully cooked stew (or keep it in your cute new orange Le Cruset buffet casserole that you cooked the stew in). Boil the potatoes in salted water, and drain when they are tender all the way through. Mash by hand or in your stand mixer, adding in the milk, butter, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mash until creamy, adding a splash of extra milk if needed. Roughly top the stew with the potatoes, not worrying about making the topping smooth and even. Top the potatoes with rosemary leaves, and brush the top with olive oil or melted butter. Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the potato topping is golden brown and the stew is bubbling on the sides.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Last weekend I made those fantastic pumpkin cupcakes, and at the end of the day I was left with every bakers worst dilemma... extra icing! I hate to just waste it, especially when the icing is of the cream cheese variety. So I started brainstorming about other good uses for this creamy, rich icing. It didn't take me long to decided cinnamon rolls would be a great way to use this icing, and going along with the change of season, the cinnamon rolls needed to be pumpkin flavor. I checked one of my favorite online baking resources, King Arthur Flour's website, and found a recipe that they had blogged about last fall.

What can I say? These were great! Rich, sweet, and intensely bad for you... a perfect fall treat. I'm actually a pretty healthy eater overall, so I almost feel guilty eating these for breakfast! But I do think these would be wonderful on a special occastion, like a holiday brunch or breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. You can make the dough the night before, and let the rolls rise in the fridge overnight. Then, let them come back to room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes the next morning before you bake them.

If you want advice on this recipe, or for other great baking inspiration, check out the King Arthur Flour blog. They give great step by step instructions, and always respond to peoples questions in the comments section. You can see the original recipe there, too. Now I'm headed to the gym, to work off a few of the calories I packed on from eating these things :)

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

1 cup canned pumpkin or squash
2 large eggs
1/4 cup (plus 2-4 Tbsp) lukewarm milk
1/4 cup soft butter
2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 3/4 cups King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, optional
3 tablespoons brown sugar, light or dark
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
*Adjust the amount of milk by the time of year or your climate. For summer, or in a humid enivronment, use the lesser amount of water. In winter, or in a dry climate, use the greater amount. It's always best to start with the lesser amount; you can always add more liquid a lot easier than taking it away.

3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
water to brush on dough
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1) Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients together — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — until you've made a soft, fairly smooth dough.

This is a really easy dough, with all the ingredients going into one bowl. Less mess, yeah! I think a stand mixer makes a big difference for this dough, because it's a wetter dough that would be hard to knead by hand.

2) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise for 1 1/2 hours, until it's almost doubled in bulk.

3) Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased surface. Roll it into a 14" x 22" rectangle; the dough will be thin.

4) Mix the cinnamon and sugar. Brush a thin layer of water over the dough, then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture, leaving one short edge free of filling.

5) Sprinkle with dried cranberries.

The recipe also recommended sprinkling with crystalized ginger, which sounded great but for me meant another trip to the store. I might try that if I plan better next time. I also think chopped nuts would be nice tucked into the rolls.

6) Starting with the short end that's covered with filling, roll the dough into a log.

7) Cut the log into nine 1½"-thick rolls.

8) Place the rolls into a lightly greased 9" x 9" pan that's at least 2" deep. Set aside, covered, to rise for 1 hour, or until the rolls look puffy.

9) Bake the rolls in a preheated 375°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until they're lightly browned and feel set. Remove them from the oven, and set them on a rack. Turn them out of the pan, and allow them to cool for about 15 minutes. Towards the end of the cooling time, spread cream cheese icing over the rolls.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fresh Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

This Saturday was a wonderfully relaxing day at home, and as we watched football and cleaned up the house I was hit with a major baking urge. The pie pumpkin that had been sitting on my kitchen counter was my main inspiration, and I wanted to roast and puree the pumpkin, then bake it into something tasty. I searched tons of recipes online, and ended up choosing a classic pumpkin spice cake. While I'm not a huge cupcake fan, it seemed like a much easier way to share treats at the party we were going to that night. I wanted to pipe the icing, which lead me to pick a simpler, more sturdy looking icing recipe. The pumpkin cupcakes were moist and dense, and the combination of spices added more flavor to the cake. The icing was rich and just sweet enough. While these weren't the most creative cupcakes you'll find on cooking blogs, they are a great simple recipe that captures the flavors of fall. The cupcakes received rave reviews at Saturday's Halloween party, and leftovers were quickly taken care of when I brought them to work on Sunday!

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners. Whisk first 9 ingredients (through cardamom) in large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat pumpkin, sugar, and oil in another large bowl. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to incorporate between additions. Mix in orange peel. Add flour mixture; beat on low speed just to blend. Fill liners about 2/3 full with batter.

Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Move cupcakes to wire rack, and cool completely before frosting.

Makes 25-30 cupcakes

Cream Cheese Frosting

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.

Want to try to make your own pumpkin puree? It's really easy, as long as you have a little time and the right equipment. I used some tips from The Pioneer Woman, and added a little of my own insight. Basically, quarter and seed the pumpkins, then roast at 350 until they are tender when pierced with a fork. Don't rush this part-- if the pumpkin is not tender enough, it will not puree well. When it's nice and tender, scrape the cooked pumpkin into a food processor, and process until the pumpkin is completely pureed. If it seems dry, or isn't getting very smooth, add a little water. When the pumpkin is a nice puree, drain it in a mesh strainer lined with cheese cloth, to let some of the extra water out. If you're not using all the pumpkin, freeze in 1 cup portions for later use.

I hope everyone had a great Halloween! Next up is every foodies favorite holiday... Thanksgiving! I've already started thinking about what I can contribute to this year's feast. Have you?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Vegetarian White Chili

I can't believe it's been a month since I last posted. Life sure got crazy for a while there! It's good to be back, though, to cooking in my kitchen and to sharing some of the results with you. I have cooked much less over the last month, thanks to long hours at work and more stress than I wanted to deal with. But eating is a necessary part of life, and I pushed really hard to not fall back into the habits of prepared, over processed food. This meant lots of weekend cooking, and planning for simple weeknight meals. I fell back on some favorites during this time, and it was a great chance to revisit some of my blog favorites from the past. Below are links to some previous recipes that I recently made again.

While it's nice to revisit some favorites, I have been eager to get back to exploring new recipes. This past weekend offered me an opportunity, when Joe and I were finally taking a day to lounge around. It was cool weather, and football was on the brain as we waited eagerly for the Mizzou game to begin. Chili sounded perfect for this type of day, but I'd recently made a wonderful Chicken Chili. Not to mention we'd been eating a lot of meat for the last few days, so I was in the mood for a vegetarian dinner.

Somehow I came up with the idea of doing a white chili, using cannellini beans and corn. I didn't find any recipes online that fit what I was looking for, so I found a White Chicken Chili to use as a model. The end result was a flavorful, hearty alternative to traditional chili. It was also a great dinner to eat before a crazy night watching the Missouri Tigers beat Oklahoma!! Go Tigers!! Now I just need to figure out another creative chili to eat before we show Nebraska what's up this weekend ;)
Vegetarian White Chili

•1 large onion, chopped
•1/2 stick (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter
•1/4 cup all-purpose flour
•2 cups vegetable stock
•2 cups 1% milk
•1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
•1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
•1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
•1/2 teaspoon white pepper, or to taste
•two 4-ounce cans whole mild green chilies, drained and chopped
•2 cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
•2 cups of frozen corn kernels, thawed
•¼ cup cilantro leaves, rough chopped

•Garnish: chopped avocado, 1 1/2 cups grated white cheddar cheese

In a skillet cook onion in 1 tablespoon butter over moderate heat until softened.

In a 6- to 8-quart heavy kettle melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter over moderately low heat and whisk in flour. Cook roux, whisking constantly, 3 minutes. Stir in onion and gradually add vegetable stock and half-and-half, whisking constantly. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes, or until thickened. Stir in chili powder, cumin, salt, and white pepper. Add beans, chilies, corn, and cilantro, and cook mixture over moderately low heat, stirring, 20 minutes.

Garnish chili with grated cheese and chopped avocado.
Original Recipe: White Chicken Chili from

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Chicken Chili

One of my closest friends from high school is about to have her first baby, and I couldn't be more excited for her! As Cathy and her husband await the arrival of their little girl (only 10 or so days to go!), I started thinking about what I could do for them once the baby is here. Cathy is a great cook, but I know she's going to be tired and stretched thin as she adjusts to motherhood, so I wanted to help make a couple nights after baby's arrival that much easier.

As I searched for great freezer-friendly recipes, I came across this Chicken Chili on Annie's Eats. It sounded like a nice twist on a classic, and I figured it was a recipe that would suit their tastes well. The weather was decidedly fall-like today, which made it a perfect day to open the kitchen door and put a pot of chili on the stove. I managed to put most of this into Tupperware containers that went straight into the freezer, but not before I tasted a bowl for myself. I had to make sure it was tasty before I gave it away! I think this chili was perfect for freezing, and will make a healthy and comforting meal for the new parents. And the overflow will be great for my lunch tomorrow, too :)

Chicken Chili
From Annie's Eats, originally from Barefoot Contessa Parties by Ina Garten

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
4 cups chopped yellow onion (2-3 onions)
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 bell peppers (I used 1 red, 1 green and 1 yellow)
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. dried oregano
1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, finely diced
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 (28 oz.) cans whole peeled tomatoes in puree, not drained
2 (15 oz.) cans beans, drained and rinsed (I used 1 can black and 1 can pinto beans)


Preheat the oven to 375˚ F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Place the chicken breasts on the foil, and season with salt and pepper. Fold the foil over the chicken breasts to make a “packet”. Roast 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Allow to cool enough to handle, then shred or chop into bite-sized pieces.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions 10-15 minutes, or until tender and translucent. Add the garlic to the pot and sauté just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Mix in the chopped bell peppers, chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, cayenne, oregano, chipotle, and kosher salt. Cook 5 more minutes.

Place the canned tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse briefly so the tomatoes are cut to large chunks. Add the tomatoes with the puree to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the shredded chicken and the beans, and allow to simmer for another 20 minutes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Oatmeal Pancakes with Apple Topping

I almost made pumpkin pancakes last weekend, now that it's feeling a little more like fall. But before I defrosted the pumpkin that I roasted a few weeks ago, I remembered another pancake recipe that sounded just as good. My mom and sister were recently raving about oatmeal pancakes, and they sounded like a healthy and filling way to start our lazy Saturday. I didn't have a specific recipe to use, so I searched online and found one with great reviews from Epicurious.

Heading into the kitchen, a quick survey showed that I had all the ingredients (except buttermilk, but it's soooo easy to make you own. Who really keeps a lot of buttermilk around their house?). I got these put together really easily, and sautéed a diced apple to use as topping. The combination of oatmeal pancakes with cinnamon apples and maple syrup was a fancy version of what we would usually make for breakfast, but it was still really easy to pull together. I think mixing apples into the batter would also be great, and I'm thinking about experimenting with a pumpkin-oatmeal version as the weather continues to change. These are a wonderful weekend breakfast, perfect when paired with coffee and a movie to start a lazy Saturday.

Oatmeal Pancakes

3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons well-shaken buttermilk, divided
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

Soak oats in 3/4 cup buttermilk 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl.

Stir egg, butter, brown sugar, remaining 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, and oat mixture into dry ingredients until just combined.

Heat a griddle over medium heat until hot and lightly brush with oil. Working in batches, pour 1/4 cup batter per pancake onto griddle and cook until bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden-brown, about 1 minute. Flip with a spatula and cook other side, about 1 minute more. (Lightly oil griddle between batches.)

**Note: I did find the batter to be thinner than I like, so I added about 1/4 cup of extra flour to get the consistency I wanted. I also might add just a little more brown sugar next time, for some extra sweetness**

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mediterranean Lentil Salad

This is a great meal for this time of year, as we savor the last tastes of summer. The air is getting cooler (except in my condo, which is very good at retaining heat!), and I'm starting to crave fall flavors. These lentils are really satisfying, and are good either warm or at room temperature. I got the recipe from Elly's blog, and I only made two slight changes. I used fresh tomatoes, since I'm trying to enjoy them before fall really hits us. I also decided to serve it on a bed of spinach, to make it more of a main dish. I served it with some roasted beets, pita chips, and a glass of wine, for a perfect late summer dinner.

Mediterranean Lentil Salad
from Elly Says Opa!

1.5 cups lentils
1 bay leaf
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 shallot, minced
1 Tbsp fresh thyme
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. good quality extra virgin olive oil
3 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Baby spinach- tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (or make extra dressing, and toss with the spinach, too)

Bring a pot of water and the bay leaf to a boil. Rinse and pick over the lentils, and then add them to the boiling water. Cook until soft, about 20-25 minutes.

Drain the lentils and set aside to cool slightly. Toss with the sundried tomatoes, olives, carrots, and parsley.

Whisk together the shallot, red wine vinegar and dijon. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking constantly until the dressing emulsifies. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the slightly warm lentils and mix to combine. Top with goat cheese crumbles. Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tomato & Corn Pie

I'm still here... barely! I'm back to a 40 hour work week, and while that really isn't too big a deal (everyone else does it!), I find it's taking me some time to adjust. And right when I get used to my current job, I'll be switching jobs again! But it's a good switch, because starting in October I'll be teaching high school math. That's what I spent the last crazy year working towards, and the long term sub job I'll be doing is a great first step towards getting back into my own classroom. I can't wait to get started, although that means my blog posts will probably continue to be sporatic for a while longer. I'm still cooking, because eating is a necessary part of the day and I can't just force myself to eat pre-made junk. But finding time to cook creating new things, and then finding time to blog about them is a little more that I can handle most days. Weekends are an exception, though, which is why I had the time to make this lovely corn and tomato tart last night.

I'm lucky to be part of a wonderful book club, full of interesting, intelligent 20-something women here in Chicago. We meet once a month to catch up, using a book as the excuse to get together, and I really look forward to those meetings. Now that I'm not working evenings any more, I'm going to be a much more regular participant in these gatherings. Last night we got together for purely social reasons, inviting significant others and friends to join in an end of summer cookout. It was a wonderful night of catching up with friends and enjoying the cooler weather of September... I would be happy to live in this type of weather for most of the year!

When I was choosing a dish to share at the cookout, I first thought of a couple of my usual standbys. My potato salad always gets rave reviews, and this broccoli salad was a major hit last time I made it. But I had the whole day to prepare a dish, and I have piles of cookbooks and cooking magazines thave have been sorely neglected recently. I remembered this Tomato & Corn Pie from a recent issue of Eating Well magazine, and thought this was the perfect chance to test it out. The olive oil crust was simple to make, and I was able to use fresh corn and tomatoes given the time of year. This dish was an absolute hit at the party, for the meat eaters and the vegetarians in the crowd. It was a perfect showcase for this end of summer produce, and was so pretty to look at, too!

Tomato & Corn Pie
from Eating Well magazine, July/August 2010

3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (see Note)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons cold water

3 large eggs
1 cup low-fat milk
1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 1 large ear; see Tip) or frozen
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

To prepare crust: Combine whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, add oil and water and gradually stir them in to form a soft dough. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Roll the dough into a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer to a 9-inch pie pan, preferably deep-dish, and press into the bottom and up the sides. Trim any overhanging crust. Line the dough with a piece of foil or parchment paper large enough to lift out easily; fill evenly with pie weights or dry beans. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil or paper and weights. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour.

To prepare filling: Whisk eggs and milk in a medium bowl. Sprinkle half the cheese over the crust, then layer half the tomatoes evenly over the cheese. Sprinkle with corn, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and the remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Layer the remaining tomatoes on top and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pour the egg mixture over the top.

Bake the pie until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving.

Ingredient note: Look for whole-wheat pastry flour in large supermarkets and natural-foods stores. Store it in the freezer.

To remove corn kernels from the cob, stand an ear of corn on one end and slice the kernels off with a sharp knife.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Back to Basics: Preserving Local Food

In the world of cooking, there has been a continual push back towards eating like previous generations. I am all for this trend, and am working on limiting the processed food in our house. I am also trying to make more food from scratch, and to pay attention to local and seasonal food. My favorite part of this new way of thinking is canning food, which is a wonderful way to preserve local fruits and vegetables to last through the upcoming colder months. Last summer I tested the water by making a batch of fresh peach jam, and I have now developed a full-blown obsession with canning food.

I've gotten lucky the past two summers, and have gotten to 'work' the canning and preserving class at The Chopping Block. Last summer it inspired the peach jam experiment, which was a delicious success. The season ended to quickly, though, and I didn't get the chance to try any other preserving. This year I was a bit more on top of my game, though, and bought a wonderful canning and preserving book as the summer farmers markets started up around Chicago. The book, Put 'em Up, is an excellent resource. I would highly recommend it not only for canning, but for advice on freezing, drying, and other methods of preserving.

These are the recipes I've made so far. The carrots were picked up at Green City Market, and were pickled with dill, onions, and garlic. I also made dill cucumber pickles with that dill and some small CSA cucumbers. I did some simple beets that were a perfect balance of sweet and tart. And the Italian zucchini spears had fantastic herb flavor that I can't resist! Plus I have some dilly beans that were from this year's Chopping Block class. I've also been carefully freezing some veggies that will be wonderful in soups and stews this fall.

I'm not going to post any canning recipes, but would be happy to share if anyone is interested. Just let me know! Mostly, I don't feel like typing them out if no one is going to use them, since it's Sunday evening and I'm feeling lazy :) I do recommend you try canning-- it's really not hard! And the reward is cans of local produce, preserved and ready to feast on in the colder months. People worry that it can be dangerous to can your own food, but as long as you use fresh produce and follow recipes and directions, you'll be fine. You can't play with these recipes as much as with regular cooking, because you need a proper ph level in order to keep the food safe. Every book on canning starts with some sort of primer on how to do it safely, and as long as you heed their advice there shouldn't be a problem. I already can't wait to try more preserving! It's going to be such a treat as the weather turns cooler here in Chicago... something I'm starting to look forward to.

Check out this pantry!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Black Bean and Quinoa Burgers

When I was about 13 I decided I no longer wanted to eat red meat. This was after years of being far too pickey about the meat I would eat, and it just felt easier to avoid this whole category of protein. This decision was followed by an introduction to veggie burgers, a food group I have been studying closely ever since that time. As I've become a better cook I have experimented with different veggie burger recipes, but too often the mushy product was flavorful but hard to eat.

These Bulgur Burgers were the first breakthrough we've had with homemade veggie burgers, and Joe and I have made them a couple times in the last year. But I was still searching for the perfect recipe, one that I could double and freeze. I've been wanting to end our relationship with grocery store frozen veggie burgers, which are filled with too many questionable things to be considered good for you. The recipe below is one I discovered at a grilling class at The Chopping Block, and I think it has won the coveted spot of best homemade veggie burger. The recipe made 8 burgers, and after grilling them all we froze the leftovers. They were perfect to pull out on a busy night, as a more natural alternative to the boxes of frozen patties that we'd gotten so used to. I loved serving it on a bed of lemony arugula, and we also enjoyed these on a traditional bun. Even our meat-loving guest we served these to said she loved them!
Take a minute to check out The Chopping Blog, where I also shared my experiences with this recipe and other creative grilling ideas!

Quinoa and Black Bean Burgers with Chipotle Mayonnaise
From The Chopping Block Vegetarian Grill class

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, medium dice
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1 cup cooked or canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
3/4 cup walnuts
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup packed cilantro sprigs
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
1/2 to 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Chipotle Mayonnaise (recipe below)
2 cups arugula
Lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Sauté the onion until caramelized, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the quinoa and toast for 1 minute.
2. Add the water, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the water is absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and rest, covered, for 10 minutes.
3. Place the cooked quinoa in a food processor and add the black beans, soy sauce, walnuts, garlic, cilantro, cumin and cayenne in a food processor until finely chopped. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a mixing bowl and fold in the flour, 1/2 cup panko and eggs. If the mixture is very loose, stir in the rest of the panko.
4. Form rounded 1/2 cups of mixture into four (3 1/2-inch-diameter) patties. Chill until firm, at least 20 minutes. (Patties may be frozen at this point.)
5. Preheat a grill to medium-high heat. Set up a grill grate with narrow slats to support the burgers.
6. Place the burgers on the grill and cook until browned and crisp on the outside and warm all the way through, about 5 minutes per side.
7. Place the burgers on a platter and top each with a dollop of Chipotle Mayonnaise.
8. Toss the arugula with the lemon juice and olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Top each burger with the dressed greens and serve.

Chipotle Mayonnaise

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 chipotle pepper, minced
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 tablespoons cilantro, rough chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix together the mayonnaise, chipotle pepper, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bran Muffins Two Ways

A month or two ago I had a sudden urge to find a recipe for healthy bran muffins. I am not sure what gave me this idea, but I am so glad I took the time to test out these two recipes. They are the PERFECT portable breakfast! I am amazed at how moist and flavorful these two muffins are, and they are seriously low in fat and calories without compromising flavor at all. Between the blueberry and banana muffins, I have probably made at least 6 dozen of these in the last month or two. I keep a few fresh ones, and put the rest in the freezer. They hold up really well, and can be pulled out and microwaved one or two at a time. Muffins are such a great portable breakfast, and these ones give you that convenience without giving in to a sugary, fatty alternative.

Banana Bran Muffins

1/4 cup unsweetend applesauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 bananas, mashed
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup wheat flour
3/4 cup wheat bran
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts


1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a muffin pan or line with paper muffin liners.

2.In a large mixing bowl, mix applesauce and brown sugar together until fluffy. Add bananas, milk, vanilla and egg; mix well. Stir in both flours, bran, baking powder, soda and salt; blend just until moistened. Stir in walnuts. Pour batter into prepared muffin cups.

3.Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top of the muffin springs back when lightly tapped. Cool in the cups for 5 minutes, then remove muffins and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Blueberry Bran Muffins

1 1/2 cups wheat bran
1 cup nonfat milk
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries


1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or use paper muffin liners. Mix together wheat bran and milk, and let stand for 10 minutes.

2.In a large bowl, mix together applesauce, egg, brown sugar, and vanilla. Beat in bran mixture. Sift together all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir into bran mixture until just blended. Fold in blueberries. Scoop into muffin cups.

3.Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tops spring back when lightly tapped.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Focusing on our food

Lately I haven't been posting very often, for a variety of reasons. First, I'm working as a nanny for two families, plus working at the Chopping Block. I don't get to cook dinner more than a few nights a week, and dinners tend to be what I blog about most often. But there is another reason, too. I have been cooking much more based on the season, as I am inspired by the ingredients I find at farmer's markets and in our bi-weekly CSA box. I admire the people who are able to create their own accurate recipes, to instruct you on how they make up their own dishes. I, however, am not one of those people. I start with a basic recipe in mind, and then add a little of this and a splash of that until it's right. Sometimes I model my cooking off a published recipe; other times I get a vision and just go with it! Here are a couple examples of what I've cooked lately:

Grilled polenta squares with chard and onions, topped with zucchini, cannellini bean, and tomato sauce.

Clean the fridge pesto-- the usual basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan, etc... plus some random cheese, fresh baby spinach, and whatever else I could find! I just kept adding and tasting until it was perfect.

I found 8-ball (or round) zucchini at the farmers market, and knew they would be great if I stuffed them. I grilled them, then hollowed them out. I filled them with an herbed ricotta mixture, then sauteed mushrooms, and topped them with a yellow pepper and tomato mix. They were a little more soggy than I would have liked, but the flavor was great!

Paying attention to what is local and in season has been so much fun! I am challenging myself to be a creative cook, and Joe and I have been eating some delicious meals. Additionally, we've been paying more attention to limiting our processed food intake, and I think we both feel better overall about the food we're eating. It does take some commitment to eat this way, but I feel so much better about the food that is going into my body. Eating this way is better for me, the planet, and the local economy!

**stepping off my soapbox**

Sorry if that got preachy! I just wanted to let you all know that I'm still cooking and eating quite well here in the windy city... just in a way that doesn't involve much sharing of recipes :) I hope you are enjoying fresh summer produce where you live! And if you have some time and grocery money to spare, I will encourage you to look into local, organic meat, eggs, and milk. It takes more legwork, but in my opinion is worth it!

(when did I become such a hippie?!)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tuna Potato Salad with Green Beans

When I'm pressed to choose a favorite food, potatoes are always towards the top of my list. I love them as a part of every meal, from crispy hash browns to creamy mashed potatoes. Potatoes are great on their own, and also work very well as part of a dish. I love potato salad, and I think this recipe finally gives me an excuse to purely eat potato salad for dinner!

I must also point out that the dressing for this salad is amazing. It is a classic French dressing with shallots, white wine vinegar, and grainy mustard. We had a little extra left over, and I used it to dress a salad we made later in the week. It was a perfect complement for this salad, comprised of butter leaf lettuce, colorful tomatoes, wax beans, and feta cheese.

But, back to the point, this potato and tuna salad is amazing. It's a complete meal on it's own, and would also be beautiful as part of a larger spread. It is fresh and bursting with flavor, especially when you use the farm-fresh produce that is so abundant this time of year! My salad included farmer's market potatoes and tomatoes, and basil from my own back porch. Make sure to buy chunk light tuna, especially if you can find it packed in olive oil instead of water. It gives it the European flair that this salad deserves. Sit on your porch with a little chilled french wine, and you'll almost be able to taste the French countryside!

Warm Tuna and Potato Salad
from My French Kitchen by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde

For the Dressing:

2 shallots, finely diced
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp grainy mustard
sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the Salad:

1 lb small red or white skinned potatoes
6 oz hericots verts (or thin green beans)
olive oil, for the pan
8 oz cherry tomatoes
6 oz tuna, in olive oil, drained
4 salt packed anchovies, filleted and cut lengthwise into thin strips
1 large bunch of basil

For the dressing, put the shallots, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper into a jar and shake, or combine with a whisk in a medium bowl. Then, add oil and shake again, or slowly whisk the oil into the bowl.

Gently cook the potatoes in their skins, in a saucepan of lightly salted, simmering water for 20 minutes. Drain potatoes, cut them in half, and place in a salad bowl. Pour the dressing over, and toss to coat the warm potatoes.

Plunge the green beans lightly into salted boiling water and cook for two minutes. Drain well and add the warm beans to the potatoes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly brush a baking sheet with olive oil, toss the cherry tomatoes in oil, and roast for 10 minutes. Add the hot tomatoes to the potatoes and green beans.

Flake and add the tuna, along with the anchovy strips, and gently mix. Tear up the basil, scatter over the salad, and serve at once.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Barley 'Risotto'

The weather in Chicago has been kind of crazy this summer. This week it's been oppressively hot (at least in my opinion), but a couple weeks ago it was raining daily and not feeling very summery at all. I made this dish during that time, and I will be the first to admit I would only serve it in this heat if it were a chilled version. But if you're having cooler weather in your part of the country, give this a try soon. And if you're in an area with crazy humidity and too many hot days in a row, then file this away for later. Trust me, you want to try this recipe.

Barley risotto is not something I made up, and if you look at food blogs very often then you've probably seen it numerous times already. But it sometimes takes me a while to catch on to these things, which is why I'm posting a 'risotto' in July! This recipe came from my desire to use some ingredients I already had in my kitchen-- specifically, spinach, artichokes, and barley. I guess the artichokes were in a can, so I could have left them for a while, but I can't resist the combination of spinach and artichokes.

I modeled my recipe off of one I found on Smitten Kitchen, but it's a pretty flexible recipe. The absorption cooking method is the same as with a rice-based version, and there is no end to the add-ins you could use. Add whatever veggies look good at the store, or brown some sausage and mix it in towards the end. Play around with the type of wine, or try a different type of stock. This recipe is a keeper either way!

Barley Risotto with Spinach and Artichoke Hearts
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted generously from Food and Wine

5 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1 cup pearled barley (7 ounces)
3 cups chopped baby spinach
1 can quartered artichoke hearts, drained

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable stock to a simmer over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and thyme and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Add the barley and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine if using and cook, stirring until absorbed, about one minute. Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook, stirring, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the stock 1/2 cup at a time in six additions — you’ll have a cup of stock left in the pot — stirring until it is nearly absorbed between additions. Most barley risottos are done when the barley is al dente and suspended in a thick, creamy sauce, about 35 minutes. Stir it in until the risotto is on the loose side, then add the spinach and let it wilt and then cook for an additional minute. Add the artichokes and cook until they are warmed through, adding more stock if the risotto becomes too thick. Stir in the 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano and the butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve at once, passing more cheese at the table.