Friday, May 28, 2010

Turn off the Oven! Cool Summer Tomato & White Bean Salad

I don't know about where you live, but here in Chicago it's been hot! I'm usually kind of crazy, and keep using my oven and stovetop all summer, but this week I decided to actually try to keep our kitchen cool. This white bean and tomato salad was part of an easy weeknight dinner, and I didn't turn on a single burner as I prepared our meal. I served this with grilled veggies that I had put on skewers, and with a chilled avocado soup (which I didn't love). This salad was a gem! I felt like it was a good source of protein, with lots of vitamins from the tomatoes, and enough olive oil to keep it from tasting healthy! I can't wait until local tomatoes show up at farmers markets in our area, because I know fresh tomatoes would take this salad over the top!

The original recipe called for dill, which I think screams summer. But I happened to have a ton of extra rosemary in my fridge, so that's what I used! Rosemary is a natural pairing with the dressing that this salad marinates in, so it blended really well. This was great for lunch, too, and extra frozen (then thawed) or grilled veggies could be mixed in for a complete 1-dish meal.

I couldn't resist these colorful "Mixed Medley" cherry tomatoes from Trader Joe's!

Tomato and White Bean Salad
Modified from Bon Appetit, June 2o10

•2 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed, drained
•2 1/2 cups halved grape tomatoes (about 12 ounces) or cherry tomatoes
•2/3 cup diced red onion
•2 sprigs rosemary, minced
•1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
•3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
•1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
•2 garlic cloves, pressed

Toss all ingredients in large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Let marinate at room temperature 1 hour.

DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring salad to room temperature before serving.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Graduation Celebration!

I've been traveling for the last 10 days, and head out again this afternoon for a long weekend visit to D.C. Most of the last bit of traveling was in St Louis, where I was able to help my mom adjust to (temporary) life in a wheelchair. She's home now, and doing really well! She'll be stuck in the chair for about 12 weeks total, and then will have to do lots of physical therapy once she can put weight on her hip again. It was wonderful to be able to help my family out for a while, to ease some of the burden on my dad, and to cook them some good food! I stuck to simple classics that were easy to transport to the hospital, such as my favorite couscous salad.

I also got to take the lead on planning my sister Colleen's graduation party. She's worked so hard in high school, and my family was thrilled to come together to celebrate her success! She's the baby in the family, and I'm still having a hard time believing she's headed towards college in the fall. Colleen and I decided to have a classic cook out, with burgers and BBQ chicken, plus all the necessary side dishes. I've blogged all these recipes before, but they're so great for summer that I had to share them again!
The potato salad and baked beans recipes both came from the Food Network website, and they are the best versions of two of my favorite foods! Plenty of bacon, good balance of acid and sweet, and just so satisfying. Next time you're planning to fire up the grill, try one of these recipes. Trust me, you won't go back to your old recipes.

We also made the Brewmaster Burgers from the Brooklyn Brewery website. They were so well received at the beer pairing dinner we went to in April, and I was excited to introduce the recipe to my family. Can life get any better than butter in your burgers? This is a perfect example of eating amazing food in moderation. Most days, I'll reach for a veggie or turkey burger, but this burger deserves a place at any celebratory cookout. Everyone thought Joe and I were crazy as we made the burgers, but the silence as people started eating spoke for itself!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Cooking with Common Threads

As I've shared previously, this year I've had the exciting opportunity to work as a chef instructor for the non-profit organization Common Threads. You might have heard of this wonderful charity when Art Smith competed on Top Chef Masters, or maybe you saw an article in People magazine a couple years ago. The organization works to bring kids together to connect over a good meal, and to learn about cooking, nutrition, and different cultures. The kids are just amazing, and I've had a lot of fun connecting with them over our shared interest in cooking great food. It's impressive how these 8-12 year old kids can cook!

The last three weeks I co-taught field trip classes, where two groups of kids from opposite parts of the city came together for a special class. We learned about food and culture from Papua New Guinea, an island near Australia where many different tribes live together. The third class, last Friday, was the last class of the semester, which meant there were a lot of extra people in the kitchen.

Common Threads is working on a documentary to share with our leaders in Washington, D.C., to encourage more support and legislation for keeping kids healthy. Our local NBC station was filming for a segment about what we're teaching kids, too. This meant two cameras on me as I instructed the kids... talk about nerve wracking! That was only the beginning, though. We also had Bill Kim, the chef I love from Urban Belly, instructing the kids on some of the recipes. Additionally, three professional athletes from the Chicago Bears and Fire (soccer) came to cook with the kids. The extra 5,000,000 adults in the room made things a little crazy, but I was able to just relax and have fun with it! This is saying a lot for my type-A, control freak personality :) It was such a fun day, and I know the kids won't forget it for a long time!

If you want to learn more about Common Threads, check out their web site, or ask me for details. What a worthy cause to support!

The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium!

Last week, my good friend Cathy and I decided it was time to conquer a major Chicago foodie right of passage. I've heard about Hot Doug's since we rolled into town three years ago, but the long lines on the weekends had scared me off more than once. People have sworn to me it's worth it, but I just haven't been able to bring myself to wait in line for an hour or two just for the duck fat fries and gourmet sausages. Call me crazy, but with Urban Belly right down the street, I still leave the area well fed and quite satisfied.

Last Tuesday, Cathy and I were trying to decide what to do on our day off, and I suggested Hot Doug's. She had also never been, and we agreed there was no better time than the present. There was one down side to a Tuesday visit to the "Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium"... they only serve their infamous duck fat french fries on Fridays and Saturdays. While I would still love to try these fries, I have no complaints about their regular french fries, and even fewer complaints about the practically non-existent line!

The hot dogs we had were seriously fantastic! Cathy had the "game of the week" buffalo sausage, and I had a Portugese linguisa. The have a standard menu that doesn't change, but also tons of special combos that they rotate. Check out the current specials here. There were so many dogs that I wanted to try, and I'm pretty sure I'll come back on other weekdays when I know the line will be shorter. I am still dying to try the duck fat fries, though, so maybe one of these weekends I'll suck it up and brave the line. Anyone want to visit this summer, so I have an excuse to go back?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

A common problem with home cooks like myself is a love of cookbooks. In this day and age, I get more of my recipes online, yet I can't help but be addicted to cookbooks. It's the feeling of holding the book in your hands, skimming through pictures and recipes, and displaying it on your specially reserved cookbook section of the bookshelf. Not to mention I get 40% off cookbooks at my job, which makes it that much harder to resist adding to my collection. I know that it is easy to have an excessive collection of unused cookbooks, though, so I try my best to exercise restraint.

One way I curb my cookbook addiction is my checking out cookbooks from the library. I can't go into the library without heading for that section, just to see what's on the shelves. There is usually something that catches my eye, and I'll take a couple books home at a time to explore in depth. This recipe came from Barefoot Contessa at Home, which I have really enjoyed looking through. I've tried out a couple of the recipes, and as usual, Ina Garten has pulled together a collection of reliable, approachable, and delicious recipes. I thought these bars were perfectly buttery, without being overly rich. The flavor really did remind me of a sweet version of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. These came together so easily, and I think they would make a great snack for kids and grown ups alike!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

From Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten


* 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 1 1/2 cups sugar
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
* 2 cups (18 ounces) creamy peanut butter (recommended: Skippy)
* 3 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
* 1 1/2 cups (18 ounces) raspberry jam or other jam
* 2/3 cups salted peanuts, coarsely chopped


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch cake pan. Line it with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light yellow, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, eggs, and peanut butter and mix until all ingredients are combined.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture. Mix just until combined.

Spread 2/3 of the dough into the prepared cake pan and spread over the bottom with a knife or offset spatula. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the jam. Don't worry if all the jam isn't covered; it will spread in the oven. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and cut into squares.