Friday, July 29, 2011

Vegetable Tian

I love zucchini, and so naturally, I was thrilled to receive them in our CSA. Even better, I had some leftover Yukon Gold potatoes and fresh thyme from previous recipes. This created the perfect opportunity to make Barefoot Contessa's vegetable tian. I love Ina Garten. Her recipes are wholesome, natural, and never disappoint. 

The beauty of this recipe is its flexibility. I didn't weigh out any of my vegetables and used a 9" round pie plate. I ended up using the bulbs from one bunch of spring onions, 1 zucchini, 1 yellow summer squash, 2 small Yukon gold potatoes, and 1 tomato on the vine. I used pecorino instead of gruyere, and it created a wonderfully crisp topping. The fresh thyme is beautifully fragrant and pairs well with the mix of summer squash, tomatoes, and potatoes. I highly recommend this recipe as a side for your summer barbeque.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Weekly Recap

To my handful of faithful readers, I apologize for the lack of posts around here. The Midwest was hit by a criminal heatwave last week. I had little appetite, energy or desire to cook and/or eat. I also started seeing a new dentist for my  my semi-annual cleaning, and was devastated to learn that a couple of fillings had to be replaced, and new cavities were starting to form. Darn genetics! Enough with the excuses though, so I will recap my week into this one post as opposed to writing multiple posts. 

Our twelfth CSA consisted of: 

Sweet Corn (Nichols Farm, Illinois) 
Summer Squash (Nichols)
Baby Lettuce (Genesis Growers, IL)
Sweet Basil (Genesis Growers)
TART Cherries (Seedling Farms, Michigan)
Blueberries (Seedling)

Even in the middle of last week's heatwave, I still managed to bake. I was probably the only one crazy enough to turn on in the oven in all of Chicagoland, except for the restaurants and bakeries, of course. With all the blueberries from our last three CSA's, I decided to bake blueberry crumb bars. I halved the recipe since I only had 2 cups of blueberries and baked it in an 8x8 square pan. This recipe comes together so easily and so quickly. The bottom layer is  crispy and buttery almost like a shortbread. The blueberries burst during their time in the oven producing an almost jam-like filling. Finally, the same dough used for the base is crumbled on top. The crumbly topping is wonderfully crunchy, buttery, and full of that toffee flavor from the brown sugar. These innocent looking bars are surprisingly rich, so be sure to make your slices small or have a glass of milk on hand!

The other reason that called for baking was a belated birthday dinner with my sister-in-law. Knowing her love for caramel, I made dulce de leche in the oven for cupcakes. I had high expectations for these cupcakes, but was a little disappointed. I found the cake to be a little dryer than I would've liked, which may have been my fault for baking them at 20 minutes instead of 18 minutes. I didn't find the dulce de leche to be as pronounced in the frosting since the cream cheese dominated the flavor profile. To finish the cupcake, I drizzled some warmed dulce de leche that required some additional heavy cream to make it the right consistency. Finally, I topped it with fleur de sel. I think this frosting would be better paired with carrot cake or zucchini cake. A was a huge fan of these cupcakes, especially the frosting. Still waiting to hear the verdict from the birthday girl herself as we were too full to enjoy our cupcakes after dinner. 

We took the birthday girl to dinner at Sabri Nihari on Devon, where the portions were large, and the room was HOT. This was our first visit to this restaurant as we usually go to Khan BBQ. We started with the vegetable samosa, and went on to order chicken charga, dal palak, mattar paneer along with some basmati rice and naan. The chicken charga should be ordered as soon as one sits down as it may take up to 45 minutes to prepare. An entire chicken is marinated with a secret blend of spices and yields a wonderfully brown, crispy skin. Since this blog is relatively new, I'm still shy about whipping out the camera when dining with others. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures to share with you. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pleasant House Bakery

There's a new restaurant in town that has all of LTHForum spinning poetry, and no, it's not Next, although, I would love to score reservations for our first wedding anniversary in September! The restaurant that we visited tonight is Pleasant House Bakery in Bridgeport. They use high quality organic ingredients and much of their produce is grown in their very own garden! This sweet, family owned restaurant churns out amazing savory pies. I'm not a big fan of pies for dessert, but I will not turn down a beautiful pie with a savory filling. 

On the eve of an expected heat wave, I enjoyed their homemade ginger ale while waiting for our order. It was a refreshing treat that was not too sweet and had just the right amount of bite. 

We opted for the steak and ale and chicken balti pies with a side of the deluxe gravy chips. We were lucky to arrive just before the temporary shortage on steak and ale pies that required a 30 minute wait for the next batch. The steak was tender, but also quite rich. I later learned of a "secret" option to have a rounded scoop of mashed potatoes served on top and finished with a ladle of gravy. It was a beautiful sight to see at other tables. I think this combination would've balanced the richness of the filling. 

The chicken balti pie was coated in an aromatic curry sauce. Between the two pies, we both preferred the chicken balti.Their crust was flaky and delicate, yet sturdy, buttery without being overly rich. These pies don't look like much in size, but I assure you that they are very filling! 

For a side, we opted for the deluxe gravy chips, slightly reminiscent of poutine from our recent trip to Montreal. We look forward to returning for their Friday night fish fry and trying their mushroom and kale pie.
There is very limited seating, but you are welcome to enjoy your food next door at Maria's Liquor. You can also have your order prepared for carry out. I am anticipating lines out the door in the near future!

964 W. 31st St
Chicago, IL 60608
773-523-PIES (7437)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies

There is only one recipe source I use for chocolate chip cookies: NY Times. The recipe is different from the recipe printed on the back of a Tollhouse chocolate chip bag. It calls for both bread and cake flours, a recommended refrigeration time of 24-36 hours, and a sprinkle of sea salt before baking. The resulting cookie is the best chocolate chip cookie - it rivals those from Specialty's, which is the only chocolate chip cookie I will purchase! (I became addicted to their cookies when I started working in their building five years ago, especially since they have a warm cookie radar on their website alerting customers of what cookies recently came out of the oven! They quickly became a bad afternoon habit for my waistline!)

These cookies are so reliable that I baked four batches to hand out as favors for our wedding guests. So what makes these cookies so great? The extra refrigeration time allows all the flavors to marry and deepen, especially the brown sugar, resulting in a caramel like flavor. The dough also becomes drier with time so you don't have to worry about spreading, which commonly happens with other recipes. The recipe calls for chocolate feves, which were always out of stock at Whole Foods! However, Trader Joe's recently started carrying them in 8oz bags. I usually use 60% bittersweet Ghiradelli chocolate chips because they are more easily assessible and larger than other chocolate chips. For sea salt, I like to use the Spice House's Portuguese variety. The sprinkling of salt to the cookie just before baking really enhances the butter, brown sugar, and chocolate and balances the sweetness. The cookies always bake up to a gorgeous height. From my experience, I usually make each dough ball similar in size to a golf ball, or about 2.5 oz per cookie.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Eleventh CSA

A good variety for this week's CSA! 

Peas (Nichols Farm, Illinois)
Carrots (Nichols)
Golden Beets (Genesis Growers, IL)
Cucumbers (Genesis Growers)
Cherries (Seedling Farms, Michigan)
Blueberries (Seedling)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cake season

Come summertime each year, it seems a little like the holidays: Mother's Day, Father's Day, Liam's birthday, Bella's birthday, A's birthday, and my two SIL's birthdays. Instead of cookies during the holiday season, the summer becomes my season of cakes. My preference is to make more rustic, homemade looking cakes, like the one I made for A's birthday. However, when my niece is turning 7, and nephew is turning 6, I end up making cakes decorated with their favorite character at the moment. Last year, it was Chococat and black Spiderman. This year, it was a carrot cake decorated with the pink cat from Littlest Pet Shop and chocolate chip cookie cake with Raphael from TMNT. I made a whipped cream cheese frosting for the carrot cake and a Swiss meringue buttercream for the cookie cake. I wasn't really thrilled with the way the cat came out, but I did the best I could free handed. I felt like it looked like a cupie doll. :(

Special thanks to my dear friend, Susan, for coming over this morning to help me decorate.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Leftover Buffalo Mozzarella and Logan Square Farmers Market

I had 1/2 a ball left of the imported buffalo mozzarella from our pasta. It was well worth the extra dollars when we paired it with an heirloom tomato from Montalbano Farms and a mini French baguette from Cook Au Vin purchased at the Logan Square Farmers Market. The heirloom tomato had been growing in a greenhouse, which allowed it to be available to us earlier than expected. The baguette reminded me of those from Montreal and probably one of my favorites in Chicago. I topped them with fresh basil from the balcony and drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil. A delicious summery treat.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tenth CSA

We experienced a wetter than usual spring this year, which resulted in a pretty weak strawberry crop. They were soft, fragile, soggy, and susceptible to mold. Since our ninth CSA had a double portion of strawberries, which quickly molded, Green Grocer kindly and generously offered us extra cherries this week as a make-up. 

Since I already made Izard's kohlrabi salad, I decided to turn down the fennel. A was supposed to grab a double share of one of the other vegetables, but he only came home with 1 extra zucchini instead of 2. :(
Chard (Nichols Farm, Illinois)
Fennel (Nichols)
Kale (Genesis Growers, IL)
Zucchini (Genesis Growers)
Cherries (Seedling Farms, Michigan)
Blueberries (Seedling)


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Farfalle with Cabbage, Pancetta and Mozzarella

We received a huge cabbage in our CSA, and knowing that I did not want to make coleslaw, I set out to find an easy recipe to cook it down. I stumbled upon a recipe from Jamie Oliver that paired the cabbage with pasta, pancetta, and fresh mozzarella. I sent A to J.P. Graziano's in search of buffalo mozzarella, and his timing was perfect since they receive their delivery for it on Thursdays. Unfortunately, they were out of pancetta that day, so we had to make a separate trip to the market. This dish was simple, light and comfort food to me. It reminded me of a simple elbow macaroni that my parents used to make us when we were under the weather. They used napa cabbage, shitake mushrooms, peas, and ham.

Farfalle with Cabbage, Pancetta and Mozzarella

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 pound diced pancetta
3 tablespoons pine nuts (optional)
2 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves
1 garlic clove, minced
1 head of Savoy cabbage (about 1 3/4 pounds)—quartered, cored and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch ribbons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
1 pound farfalle
7 ounces fresh mozzarella, preferably buffalo, cut into 1/2-inch dice

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, deep nonstick skillet. Add the pancetta and cook over moderate heat, turning once, until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon leaving behind the fat and transfer pancetta to paper towel over a plate.

If using, add the pine nuts to the skillet and stirr, until golden, about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, transfer the nuts to a plate. Add the thyme and garlic to the skillet and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add the cabbage in batches based on your pan size and coat with fat. Cover and cook over moderately low heat until wilted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the water, cover and cook until the cabbage is tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the farfalle in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta and shake dry, then return it to the pot. Add the cabbage, mozzarella, pancetta, pine nuts, Pecorino, and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and toss until the cheese is slightly melted. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and serve.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Kohlrabi, fennel and blueberry salad

If you subscribe to a CSA, you will undoubtedly receive a bunch of kohlrabi at some point. Having never tried these, I was a little worried given my inexperience with it. Thankfully, our weekly CSA email convinced me to try Top Chef Stephanie Izard's recipe for a kohlrabi, fennel and blueberry salad. I would describe kohlrabi as being similar to the stalk of broccoli, but milder and crunchier. I love the sweet juiciness that the blueberries provided in contrast to the creaminess of the dressing. The almonds and kohlrabi provided a lovely crunch. The fennel and mint added the perfect aromatics. I served this flavorful and healthy salad as a side for our grilled sirloin. As you may have already noticed, we very rarely prepare red meat at home, for environmental and health purposes. A did a wonderful job keeping it simple by seasoning it with salt and pepper and grilling it.

Kohlrabi, Fennel and Blueberry Salad

1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 pounds kohlrabi, peeled and very thinly sliced on a mandoline
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced on a mandoline
2 ounces semifirm goat cheese
1 cup blueberries or pitted, halved sweet cherries
2 tablespoons torn mint leaves

1. In a pan over low heat, toast the almonds until golden brown and fragrant.

2. In a mini food processor, combine the ginger, shallot, vinegar, mayonnaise, mustard, soy sauce and maple syrup and pulse. Add the grapeseed oil and blend until creamy. Season with salt and pepper.

3. In your serving bowl, toss the kohlrabi with the fennel, cheese, toasted almonds and dressing. Season with salt and pepper. Add the blueberries and mint and toss gently. Serve right away.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

Are you cooking over the 4th of July weekend? What did you make? 

We invited my family over for dinner. We made Barefoot Contessa's new potato salad, hamburger & hot dog brioche buns, pretzel rolls for sliders, pretzel dogs, raspberry rhubarb crostada and home vanilla ice cream. My husband made salsa, and grilled Chiavetta's chicken, burgers, and Polish sausage. The pretzel dogs were so cute and so good. The salty hot dog wrapped in pretzel dough!? Heck yes! Reminds me of those found in the Chinese or Japanese bakeries sometimes, but better!

Hope you enjoyed the long weekend!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Chicago Style Pan Pizza

Our favorite source for Chicago style pan pizza is Pequod's, although, I'm sure that Burt's Pizza would be in our top 5 too since he is the mastermind behind Pequod's pizza back in the day. At Pequod's the cheese reaches the outer edge of the crust resulting in a caramelized, crunchy cheese around the exterior of the crust. It may look burnt if you didn't know any better, but don't be mistaken, it's delicious. The crust is thick, but soft and airy. We usually get pepperoni, and since it is on top of the cheese, the outer edges of each pepperoni slice gets nice and crispy, similar to bacon.

To continue celebrating A's birthday, I made Chicago Style Pizza at home. I LOVE this recipe. The crust is so easy to work with - it's buttery and quite forgiving. Just like the pizzas you would get at one of the local joints, the outer crust is flaky from laminating the dough. This is fancy terminology for spreading butter in between the layers of dough.

I have made this a few times now, and the toppings always change. For this batch, I made one with pepperoni, roasted red peppers and banana peppers. The other pizza would be vegetarian filled with spinach and roasted red peppers. Using the fresh spinach from our CSA, I blanched it, spun it, and SQUEEEEEZZZED out all the water. It's amazing how a huge bunch of spinach leaves will shrink down to the size of a baseball. You can also use thawed frozen spinach.

Chicago Style Pizza
adapted from Cooks Illustrated
3 ¼ c unbleached all-purpose flour
½ c yellow cornmeal
1 ½ tsp table salt
2 tsp sugar
2 ¾ tsp active dry yeast
1 ¼ c water (10 oz), 110ºF
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted, plus 4 tbsp, softened
1 tsp plus 4 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ c grated onion, using the large holes of a box grater
¼ tsp dried oregano
Table salt
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, diced 
¼ tsp sugar
2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper

12-16 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3-4 cups)
½ oz grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup)

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add sugar and yeast into warm water for a few minutes until bubbly. Add the flour, cornmeal, salt, and mix on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Add melted butter and mix on low speed until fully incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes, scrape sides and bottom of bowl, as needed. Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is glossy and smooth. The dough will pull away from sides of bowl while the mixer is on, 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Coat a large bowl with 1 teaspoon olive oil or olive oil spray. Using an oiled spatula, transfer dough to bowl, turning once to oil the entire dough ball; cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled, about 45 to 60 minutes.

3. Turn the dough out onto dry work surface and roll into 15- by 12-inch rectangle. Using offset spatula, spread softened butter over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border along edges. Starting at short end, roll dough into tight cylinder. With seam side down, flatten into an 18- by 4-inch rectangle. Cut rectangle in half crosswise. Working with one half, fold into thirds like business letter; pinch seams together underneath to form ball. Repeat with remaining half. Return balls to oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in refrigerator until nearly doubled, 40 to 50 minutes.

4. While dough rises, heat butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add onion, oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in tomatoes and sugar, increase heat to high, and bring to simmer. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to 2 1/2 cups, 25 to 30 minutes. Off heat, stir in basil and oil, season with salt and pepper.

5. Adjust oven rack to lower position and heat oven to 425 degrees.

6. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with 2 tablespoons olive oil each. Transfer 1 dough ball to dry work surface and roll out into 13-inch circle, about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer dough to prepared cake pan. Lightly press dough into pan, 1 inch up sides. If dough resists stretching, let relax 5 minutes before trying again. Repeat with remaining dough ball.

7. For each pizza, sprinkle 1 ½ to 2 cups mozzarella evenly over surface of dough. Place topping of your choice over cheese (pepperoni, cooked Italian sausage, peppers, spinach). Note: for cooked spinach, be sure to squeeze excess water before adding it to the pizza. Divide the sauce evenly between the two pizzas, sprinkle 2 tablespoons Pecorino/Parmesan over sauce. Bake until crust is golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove pizza from oven and allow pizzas to rest 10 minutes before slicing and serving.