Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Living in Chicago, St. Patrick's Day is a pretty big deal around here: the City has two parades; the river gets dyed into a bright green; there's an 8K run; several bars begin festivities around 8am. 

Corned beef and cabbage with carrots and red potatoes are mandatory in this household. Last year, I made Smitten Kitchen's "Irish Car bomb cupcakes," and I might still make them later in the week. However, for March 17, I opted for Irish Soda Bread, but a slightly Americanized version by King Arthur. The batter comes together quickly, which is always a plus. There is sugar in the batter, but just enough to make the crumb tender and slightly moist. The exterior bakes up into a nice crunch. This bread was great on its own or with a smear of Irish butter.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Often times, when you set out to buy mascarpone cheese, the store usually only carries BelGioioso. I was pretty excited to see mascarpone from Vermont Creamery at the Standard Market. I knew right then and there that tiramisu would be in the near future. I had picked up some soft lady fingers from Trader Joe's during the holidays based on someone's recommendation for being great in tiramisu. I haven't made tiramisu at home in several years so I don't have a very accurate basis for comparison to hard lady fingers. I did find these to be exceptionally delicate in that I couldn't soak them in the espresso for much more than 2 seconds per side.

After patiently waiting the recommended six hours for the components to marry, it was a wonderful conclusion to our baked ziti dinner. Even though I only soaked the lady fingers for half of the recommended time, the Kahlua and espresso flavor still permeated the lady fingers turning the formerly crisp cookies into soft, pillowy cake layers. The mascarpone and heavy cream layer was incredibly light and fluffy. If I had remembered how much I enjoyed homemade tiramisu, I wouldn't have waited this long to recreate it at home.

Link to tiramisu recipe.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Baked ziti

I can't believe it's taken me so long to blog about one of our favorite meals: baked ziti. It works especially well for a crowd that might include vegetarians or children. As with many recipes from Cooks' Illustrated, it requires quite a bit of prep work and several dirty dishes. However, the ingredient list is rather short, and the final dish is wonderful. I'm always a little surprised whenever we eat it because it surpasses my expectations and memory from the last time we made it. This baked ziti is cheesey and milky. The sauce has a pronounced tomato flavor enhanced with garlic and fresh basil. I'm so glad Annie's Eats typed the recipe up on her blog to save me the trouble!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Asian chicken lettuce wraps

Here is a healthy and flavorful weeknight meal you can enjoy without the guilt.
Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Serves 2-3
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp sherry
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp grapeseed oil or other neutral cooking oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
5 shiitake mushrooms, diced (if using dried, soak in hot water for 10 minutes before dicing)
1/4 c red onions, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
1/4 c cashews, toasted and chopped
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 head bibb lettuce
1 cup rice, cooked (optional)

1. Place the chicken breasts into a food processor and process until finely chopped.
2. Mix the soy sauce, sherry, cornstarch and sesame oil together. Marinate the ground chicken in this mixture for 10 minutes while you gather and prep the remaining ingredients.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add the garlic and ginger, cooking until fragrant. Add the red onions and chicken, cooking until browned 4-6 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and red peppers, rice vinegar and hoisin. Simmer for about 2 minutes.
4. To assemble, place a little rice, if using, into the lettuce cup and add the chicken mixture. Top with cashews. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Apple coffee cake

Most baked goods are enjoyed warm and fresh from the oven, except for coffee cakes. They actually improve over time. Flavors become more intense, and the cake retains its moistness. A pastry with baked apples is usually my last choice, but this cake was a lovely treat with a cup of coffee. 

Apple coffee cake with crumble topping
adapted from Emeril Lagasse

1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c packed, light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 c all purpose flour
1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp apple pie spice or cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c plain yogurt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c apple, peeled and chopped

Crumble topping:
1/4 c packed, light brown sugar
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tbsp white whole wheat flour
2 tbsp butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 x 8 square baking dish/pan. 
2. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the egg and vanilla. Beat until incorporated.
4. Sift the flours, spice, and salt into a bowl. Add to the wet ingredients, alternating with the yogurt. 
5. Fold in the apples. Pour into prepared pan, spreading the batter to the edges. 
6. Mix the crumble topping together until clumps form. Sprinkle over the cake and bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. 
7. Allow to cool before slicing. Top with powdered sugar or caramel sauce, if desired.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Scallion potato pancakes & horseradish cream

The bacon and egg pizza had me yearning for California. It reminded me of another Californian restaurant from our most recent visit last summer: ad hoc. I decided to flip through my copy of ad hoc at home since so much time had passed since I last cooked from it

Knowing that I had scallions leftover from last weekend and several russet potatoes in the pantry, I decided to make scallion potato pancakes. This is probably one of the easiest recipes in the whole cookbook. I especially loved learning a new tip: rinsing and spinning the shredded potatoes in a salad spinner before sprinkling them with cornstarch prevent them from discoloring! I was so amazed by this revelation. Not only does the cornstarch keep them from discoloring, but it also acts as a binder without using an egg and keeps the potatoes crisp. In the past, I would use my hands to squeeze out the excess liquid from the potatoes, but they would still discolor! As an added bonus, using the salad spinner really helped minimize the mess.

Oddly, as much as Aaron and I love breakfast potatoes of any kind, potato pancakes aren't a favorite. Neither of us can quite articulate why, but traditional Polish pancakes or Jewish latkes never excited us. The sour cream and/or apple sauce condiment didn't do much for us either. In fact, my Asian tendencies had me using ketchup. That all changed with this recipe, especially with the horseradish cream. Given that this recipe only called for potatoes and cornstarch, there were no distracting flavors or textures. I didn't layer them as written in the recipe though, and this allowed some of the stray potato shreds to crisp up. I am looking forward to using the leftover horseradish cream with corned beef!

Scallion potato pancakes
adapted from ad hoc at home
makes 6 pancakes

3 lb russet potatoes, peeled
1/2 c cornstarch
3 scallions
grapeseed oil

1. Using your food processor, shred the potatoes. Rinse the shredded potatoes in a bowl. Using a salad spinner, drain the shredded potatoes and spin them to release the excess liquid
2. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the potatoes and gently toss to distribute evenly
3. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees
4. Heat 1 tsp of grapeseed oil in a small nonstick pan over medium heat. When a droplet of water sizzles, spread a layer of shredded potatoes in the pan (about 1/2 cup). Season with salt and pepper. Add 1 tsp of thinly sliced scallions. Do not press down on the potatoes to keep them light and airy. Allow the potatoes to cook for about 5-8 minutes until the desired golden brown hue is reached. Carefully flip and continue to cook for another 5-8 minutes
5. Place the cooked potato pancakes onto a baking sheet in the warmed oven until ready to serve
6. Serve with horseradish cream (below) and thinly sliced scallions

Horseradish cream
adapted from ad hoc at home
makes 1/2 cup

1/4 c heavy cream
1 tbsp sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 tbsp drained prepared horseradish (squeeze in paper towel)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1. In a medium bowl, whisk the heavy cream and vinegar until the cream holds a soft shape
2. Whisk in the horseradish, salt and pepper. Refrigerate in a covered container up to 1 week. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Macaroni salad

We finally put one of wedding gifts to use this weekend when Aaron smoked a chicken for dinner. Being early March, we scratched our heads a bit for a suitable side. Since we were using a marinade recipe from Gary Wiviott's Low and Slow, we decided to give his macaroni salad a try.

We were a little skeptical given the short and simple ingredient list. I was foolish to have doubted the pitmaster. The macaroni salad was surprisingly addicting. This is a great dish to bring for a potluck anytime of the year using common ingredients. The addition of halved grape tomatoes would make a nice twist.

 Creamy Macaroni Salad
adapted from Low and Slow

12 oz box of vegetable macaroni pasta, cooked al dente
1/4 c red onion, minced
2 celery ribs, minced
3 tbsp minced, flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Louisiana style hot sauce
3/4 c mayonnaise

1. Place the cooked pasta in a large mixing bowl. Stir in all the ingredients and gently fold in the mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Refrigerate, covered, for 1 hour before serving. Store in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Whenever I made it over to Green City Market, I always treated myself to a baked good from Floriole. I loved that they put so much care into their delicious products. After much deserved success, they opened a brick and mortar bakery. Today, I finally found the opportunity to visit when planning a lunch date with Susan. I clearly waited too long, because I have been missing out. I have fallen in love with this bakery. If I were to design my dream bakery - this would be very close to it. 

The space is quite large with lots of windows and natural light. When you first enter, there is a large coffee station before you see their gorgeous glass pastry case. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I saw all sorts of amazing goods in the case: tarts - fruit or chocolate, croissants - plain or chocolate filled, fruit galettes, fruit studded tea cakes, blueberry scones, fresh yogurt, brown bread clearly baked in cans, canelés, oh my! I was so delighted when I didn't see a single cupcake or cake pop! I loved that there were so many unique pastry items that you can't and don't normally see. Best of all? It's all made from scratch and doesn't look mass produced, which makes it even more special. 

There were a couple of other special touches that I really loved. In the back of the bakery is a window into the kitchen itself! On the second floor is additional seating that can be used for private parties. The bakery closes by 5:30PM on weeknights, but they host monthly dinners where you can reserve a table.

So, onto the important question: what did I get?! Since it was after 12:30PM, we ordered from the lunch menu. The B.A.D. caught my attention...bacon, arugula, and date almond spread along with goat cheese sandwiched in between yeasted corn bread. This sandwich exceeded my expectations. The bacon was smoky, crisp and best of all, thick cut. The contrast between the date almond spread and the goat cheese was magical. I loved how the yeasted corn bread was light in texture, and best yet, they grilled it. My iPhone picture does not do this sandwich justice.
Since this was a girls' lunch date and a bakery, I had to bring home something to share with my sweet, A, at home. Once I saw the canelés on top of the pastry case, it was a no brainer: crisp and slightly sweet on the outside with a vanilla custard like center. 

Another thing to love about Floriole is their pastry of the month. They posted some teaser pictures on twitter, which ended up being Kouign Amann. It's a flakey, yeasted dough with layers of salted butter and sugar in between. On the outside is caramelized sugary goodness. It sounds like a humble pastry, but it's so much more than that. I can't wait to return this month with A so we can get another Kouign Amann before the month's end!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bacon and eggs pizza

As I had previously mentioned, one of my favorite cities in the U.S. is San Francisco. It wasn't until my third drive along the Pacific Coast Highway in 2009, that I finally made it down to the Big Sur. 

We intially planned on having dinner at Deetjen's, but I think it was closed or deserted looking, so we back tracked and stumbled upon the Big Sur Bakery and Cafe. This was one of those pleasant surprises that we encountered without planning ahead. I loved the rustic wood cabin feel of the restaurant that made you feel like you stumbled upon someone's home for a meal. 

To my delight, Big Sur Bakery and Cafe released a cookbook just a couple of weeks after our visit. It's a beautiful cookbook organized by the season. One of the recipes that I quickly bookmarked was their breakfast pizza. It had all of the ingredients that we love: pizza? Check. Runny egg yolk? Check. Bacon? Check. 

I finally found the perfect opportunity to make this after buying Nueske's peppered bacon from the Standard Market on sale! The bacon has a smoky, rich, and obviously very peppery taste. It's lean, but still crisps up very well. The egg yolk was runny enough to create a sauce like consistency. We were also able to appreciate the cheeses used in this recipe since there were so few ingredients. I think this breakfast themed pizza is great for any meal of the day!