Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sugar Cookies

I hesitate to call these Christmas cookies even though the recipe is from a very old Martha Stewart Christmas book, and they're decorated with red and green icing and red and green sprinkles, and we did make and eat them on Christmas...because they're really just sugar cookies. Don't limit them to winter holidays - egg shaped cookies with pastel colored icing for Easter, shamrocks with green sprinkles for St. Patrick's Day, Mother's Day, President's Day, the third Tuesday of every get the point. A good cookie is a good cookie and should be enjoyed all year round.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar (recipe calls for granulated, but I used what I believe was non-granulated cane sugar and it was fine)
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream the butter and sugar. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add to the butter mixture and beat well. Add the egg, brandy, and vanilla and beat again until well mixed. Shape dough into two flattened rounds, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. and line baking sheets with parchment. On a well floured board, roll out dough until 1/8 inch thick. Cut into shapes and set 1 to 2 inches apart on sheets. Leftover dough can be rolled out and cut once more. Bake for about 10 minutes; do not allow cookies to brown.

Royal Icing

1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 large egg white
food coloring

Mix the sugar and egg white; divide among small bowls and tint each a different color. Spread onto cooled cookies.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Oh heyyyy! Yes, I'm still alive. It's been a month of Christmas, Paris, family...and unfortunately stomach flu and working two jobs. Ok, I know having two jobs is a good thing, but it doesn't leave me much time to do fun things like cooking and eating and writing about it. At any rate - I'm back, and I've got a lot to tell you about!

So let's start with the most recent, shall we? Christmas. It was a Chicago Christmas this year, which I am very thankful for, because if I have to travel again within the next two months it will be too soon. Remember that snow storm that destroyed travel across Europe a couple weeks ago? Let's just say we were some of the lucky ones.

This was actually my second time hosting Christmas (first time being in New York a few years ago), although my mom really pulled most of the weight in the kitchen. However, I did make Christmas breakfast which was very easy and if I do say so myself, very delicious.

A slice of toast from a big loaf of semolina bread, a couple pieces of San Daniele prosciutto, and a poached egg. Simple and really good.

My family's traditional Christmas dinner has become beef tenderloin with horseradish sauce, roasted potatoes, and a few other sides. This year we did asparagus and haricots verts. The tenderloin was really out of this world. We bought the meat from Fox & Obel, and it was fantastic. The recipe my mom uses is basically an herb marinade that can sit for a few hours up to overnight.

Herb Roasted Beef Tenderloin

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, or to taste
4-4 1/2 lb. trimmed beef tenderloin, patted dry and tied
2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt, to taste

In a small bowl combine the olive oil, vinegar, herbs, garlic, and pepper. Rub the tenderloin with the mixture, wrap in plastic and chill for 2 hours, or overnight.

Arrange the tenderloin on a rack in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt to taste and roast in the oven at 500 degrees for 35-40 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 130 to 135 degrees for medium rare. Transfer the meat to a cutting board and let it cool, loosely covered, for 15 minutes.

Remove the strings, cut the meat into thin slices. 8-10 servings.

We used a 3 1/2 lb. tenderloin which was plenty for 5 people and a little bit of leftovers.

Horseradish Sauce

2 cups sour cream or 1 cup each low-fat plain yogurt and sour cream
1/2 cup peeled grated fresh horseradish or drained bottled horseradish
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon sugar
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients, transfer to a serving bowl, cover and chill until ready to serve. May be made one day ahead.

(The original recipe says to drain the sour cream in a piece of cheesecloth for 15 minutes, but....ehhh, we didn't do that.)

More Christmas recipes to come, and several reports on Paris to come as well!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Roasted Chicken 2.0

A whole roasted chicken is such a comforting meal, especially when it's as frigid as it has been here in Chicago the last couple days. (Is it REALLY 9 degrees outside right now? I can't go to work today. I just can't do it.) The movie "It's Complicated" has been on HBO lately, we've caught bits and pieces of it over the last week (I did see the entire thing in the theater) and I think the meal that Meryl Streep makes for Alec Baldwin, when he doesn't show up, has been subconsciously working its way into Peter's brain because yesterday he bought a chicken and potatoes for me to make for dinner. But no green beans, or chocolate cake ingredients. By the way, can I please have the kitchen in that movie? Pleeeeease?

I did things a little differently than my usual way, just out of curiosity. I roasted the potatoes (and carrots and onions) along with the chicken, instead of separately. This recipe is adapted from one of Ina Garten's.

1 3-lb. chicken, rinsed and patted dry inside and out
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, any kind you like (but I think the smaller, the better)
3-5 carrots, depending on size
1/2 white onion
1 head of garlic
1/2 lemon
thyme (fresh or dried)
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cut the potatoes into equal size pieces. I used fingerlings so I didn't have to cut much, but if you have bigger potatoes cut into about 1-inch pieces. Peel and cut the carrots into pieces, not too small. Chop the onion into large pieces.

Slice the head of garlic in half across the middle, not lengthwise. Save one half to go inside the chicken. Pop the rest the garlic cloves out of the other half, peel, and add to the vegetables. Toss with some olive oil, salt, pepper,and thyme and spread along the bottom of the dish.

Season the inside of the chicken with salt, pepper, and thyme. Stuff half of the head of garlic, and the 1/2 lemon inside the chicken. Truss the chicken - take a piece of kitchen twine a couple feet long. Flip the wing tips up so they are closer to the top of the breast. Put the center point of the twine at the top of the breast and holding the wings in place, bring it down across the back and make an X, and bring it back up by the legs and tie the legs together. It will kind of be a "figure 8".

Place the chicken, breast side up, on top of the vegetables. Season the top of the chicken with salt, pepper, and thyme. Cook for about an hour and 15 minutes, and let rest for 10 minutes when done.

The consensus? Delicious. How could a roasted chicken with vegetables not be delicious? However...I think I like the old way better. You end up eating a lot of more of the fatty chicken drippings this way, and I don't feel like they added that much flavor to the vegetables that it was worth it. Definitely not as the original recipe from Ina said to spread some butter over the top of the chicken before cooking. Obviously I skipped that part. I did like adding carrots and big pieces of garlic to the potatoes though, and I did like stuffing the chicken with lemon and garlic. So I'll probably continue to do that part of the recipe in the future. Don't forget to save your chicken carcass in the freezer to make chicken stock!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sufganiyot (jelly donuts)

I was looking around online for a Hanukkah cookie recipe, and I kept running into recipes for sufganiyot. Which are pretty much jelly donuts. And who doesn't like a good jelly donut? Although, my absolute favorite are maple donuts...which my parents used to bribe my sister and I with when we were little to get us to stop pinching each other in church. It worked.

Some methods are to make a sort of dough sandwich with jelly in the middle and fry it, and others are to fry a dough ball and then inject jelly. I went with the first method. This recipe is slightly adapted from the Children's Jewish Holiday Kitchen, by way of

1 scant tablespoon (1 package) dry yeast
4 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for dusting.
3/4 cup lukewarm milk or warm water*
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter or pareve margarine, softened*
Raspberry (or strawberry, or apricot) preserves
Canola oil for deep-frying
*Use butter and milk if serving at a milk meal, and water and pareve margarine for a meat meal

Mix together the yeast, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and the milk. Let sit to make sure it bubbles - it should look like it has a thick foam on top.

Mix flour, remaining sugar, salt, cinnamon, and egg yolks. Add to the yeast mixture. Knead the dough until it forms a ball. Add the butter or margarine. Knead some more, until the butter is well absorbed.

Cover with a towel and let rise on the countertop for 2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator. The dough will double in size.

Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut out the dough into rounds with a juice glass, or any object about 2 inches in diameter. Take 1/2 teaspoon of preserves and place in center of each half of the rounds.

Top with the other rounds. Press down at edges, sealing with egg whites. Crimping with the thumb and second finger is best. Roll out the dough scraps and repeat. Let rise for about 30 minutes.

Heat 2 inches of oil to between 350° and 375°. Drop the donuts into the hot oil, about 3 at a time. Turn to brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Roll in, or dust with sugar.

That's it! This recipe makes about 12 donuts. They cook very quickly in the hot oil, barely a couple minutes. And they're definitely best eaten right away...ok on the second day, but not nearly as good. They're kind of a cross between donuts and beignets. Other good fillings would be different flavors of jelly, or chocolate or vanilla cream, nutella, or dulce de leche. Mmm. Happy Hanukkah!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving - Vegetables

First of all, I must say that I'm using the term "vegetables" very, very loosely. After adding butter and sugar and marshmallows, at a certain point I think these vegetables ceased to be vegetables.

Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows

3 large sweet potatoes or yams (About 2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark or light is fine)
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
1 cup mini marshmallows

In a covered saucepan, cook potatoes in enough boiling water to cover for 12 to 15 minutes or until just tender; drain and mash. Add brown sugar, cream, butter, cinnamon, allspice, and the scraped out insides of the vanilla bean - use a sharp, pointy knife to get all the grains out. Stir gently to combine. Transfer to a casserole dish. (this part can be done a day in advance)

Bake, covered in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until heated through, Remove from oven and top with marshmallows. Return to oven and bake 10 more minutes or until the marshmallows are golden.

The original recipe I was working off called for crushed anise seeds, black pepper, and more vanilla. However...I think sweet potatoes taste pretty good on their own so they really don't need a lot of additional flavor.

Here's the brussels sprouts hash recipe again, because it's just so good. I didn't get a picture of it though. You could easily cut down on some of the butter in this recipe...but why would you want to do that?

6 Tbl. (3/4 stick) butter
1/2 pound shallots, thinly sliced
kosher salt
2 Tbl. apple cider vinegar
4 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 lbs. brussels sprouts, trimmed
3 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil
1 cup water

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and pepper. Saute until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar and sugar. Stir until brown and glazed, about 3 minutes.

Halve brussels sprouts lengthwise. Cut lengthwise into thin (1/8 inch) slices. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sprouts; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until brown at edges, about 6 minutes. Add 1 cup water and 3 tablespoons butter. Saute until most of the water evaporates and sprouts are tender but still bright green, 3 minutes. Add shallots, season with salt and pepper.

Funny I'm rereading this right now I realized I used brown sugar instead of regular. So you can go either way.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my Thanksgiving feast. Delicious. Now I can move on to Christmasy chocolately pepperminty treats.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving - A Tale of Two Stuffings

Stuffing seems to be everybody's favorite part of Thanksgiving, right? Stuffing and the pies. I made two stuffings because I cannot have a Thanksgiving without my Nana's meat dressing, but I wanted to do a more traditional bread stuffing as well.

I really like these stuffing guidelines on There are countless ways to make stuffing, and this lets you make it your own.

1 one-pound loaf of bread set out overnight (or 1 1/2 pounds cornbread)
4 cups (2 pounds) chopped vegetables
1 cup fresh herbs, predominantly parsley, sage, and thyme
2 cups or less liquid (or 3 eggs)
1 pound meat
Butter and/or olive oil
4 cups or less fruit, vegetables, and nuts
3 tablespoons seasoning

Basically you cook the meat, remove it from the pan and cook the vegetables in the same pan. Mix everything together in a bowl and bake in a glass dish for about 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

Here's the breakdown of what ingredients/amounts I actually used.

1 one-pound loaf French bread, cut into cubes and set out overnight
1 1/2 cups white onion, diced
1 1/2 cups celery, diced
1 1/2 cups leeks, diced
1/3 cup fresh sage, chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 fresh thyme
somewhere between 1 and 2 cups chicken stock, add as needed
1 pound bulk sweet Italian pork sausage
2 large apples, diced
1 cup pecans, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

And now, for Nana's meat dressing. The key ingredient here is Bell's Seasoning. I had my mom bring some to me the last time she visited Chicago because I can't find it at my regular grocery stores here. I don't think it's too hard to find, she bought it at Kroger, but you can order it online too. This is the full recipe but I cut it in half.

4 lbs. ground pork
1 lbs. ground beef
2 onions, chopped
1/2 bud garlic, chopped
1/2 cup water
salt, pepper, celery salt to taste
Bell's seasoning to taste
chicken broth as needed
1/2 package of bread stuffing (herbed)

Cook everything except chicken broth and bread stuffing together on medium high for 4 hours. Add stuffing near the end, and add chicken broth as needed to keep moist.

Ok now, I didn't want to mess with the recipe too much, but I changed a couple little things. I used one whole clove of garlic for the half recipe I made. I also used plain French bread that I cubed and left out overnight to get stale. It was probably 1 1/2 cups worth. My mom usually makes this for Thanksgiving about a week ahead, freezes it, and lets it sit in the a slow cooker all day on Thanksgiving. She waits to add the bread and chicken stock until it has thawed out in the slow cooker. I made it the day before, refrigerated it, and also gave it the slow cooker treatment the day of. 4 hours seems like a long time for the meat to cook on the stove, but you want it to get a really nice dark brown color.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving - Desserts (Maple Pecan Bars, Apple Cake, and Pumpkin Pie)

Ohhhh hey, remember me? You might not. It's been awhile. I almost forgot how to use this website thingy. Well, I'm back from the Great New Jersey Thanksgiving Adventure, and I'm back in one piece. The meal was a success. At least, I'm pretty sure it was. I didn't burn the house down, make anyone sick, injure myself, or wreak any other havoc. And I think I managed to make some pretty tasty dishes.

So, why not start with dessert? Going into the week, I was definitely planning on making a pumpkin pie. I was on the fence about whether I should do an apple cake or pecan bars. And in the end I decided to do both. It was kind of a gametime decision, I had enough time on Wednesday night to crank out one more thing, so maple pecan bars it was. It's kind of lame to write posts about Thanksgiving food the week after Thanksgiving, because what good does that do anybody? But a lot of these dishes are good for any holiday or occasion. Pumpkin pie, maybe not so much, but apple cake and maple pecan bars are good anytime. So let's start with the pecans.

Ever since I had that maple spice cupcake...oh no! I just realized I never posted a picture. Anyway, I had a delicious cupcake from Sprinkles that was a spice cake with maple icing, and I just couldn't stop thinking about that wonderful maple flavor. I figured - why not do a pecan dessert with maple instead of corn syrup? I found this recipe on Epicurious, courtesy of Bon Appetit.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

For crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9x9x2-inch metal cake pan. Using electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, and egg yolk in bowl to blend. Add flour and salt; beat until moist clumps form. Gather dough together. Press dough over bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of pan. Bake crust until golden, about 20 minutes. Cool.

For filling:
Combine first 4 ingredients in medium saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until butter melts and mixture is smooth. Boil filling 30 seconds. Remove from heat; mix in vanilla, then nuts.
Pour hot filling into crust. Bake bars until filling is bubbling in center, about 15 minutes. Cool bars completely in pan on rack (filling will become firm). Chill at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.) Cut into 30 bars.

I didn't change anything except that I used salted butter. And I would like to note that it says to cut into 30 bars. 30?! From a 9" x 9" pan? Yeah right. That's got to be a mistake. Or I just like large servings of dessert. But really, I got 9 nice sized squares out of the pan.

Next up, apple cake. I had one pie dish to work with that was already taken up by a pumpkin pie, and honestly I was worried about making an apple pie because I've had some (not my Aunt Linda's) that were soupy and watery on the inside. And I wanted to try this new recipe from Dorie Greenspan's newest cookbook that my mom bought for me.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.

Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it’s evenish.

Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it’s fully opened, make sure there aren’t any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.

I didn't change anything there either, except I didn't line the baking sheet with silicone or parchment. I don't really see the point since the cake is cooking in a springform pan. I also dusted the top with a little powdered sugar.

And last, the pumpkin pie. I wanted to make a really, really good pumpkin pie. When I saw the recipe on Smitten Kitchen for "silky smooth pumpkin pie", I'm not going to lie (ooo, a rhyme!) but I was a little intimidated. It's more work than your average pumpkin pie, especially since I wanted to make the crust from scratch, too. But I decided to take on the challenge. Straining the pumpkin mixture through a fine mesh sieve was a pain. But it was all worth it.

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk (I used 2 cups of half and half instead of one cup each of cream and milk)
3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams from 15-ounce can (regular canned yams can be substituted)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon table salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Roll out dough on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to make 12-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang all around pie plate.

Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute edge of dough. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about 15 minutes.

Remove pan from refrigerator, line crust with foil and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate. Bake 5 to 10 more minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove plate and baking sheet from oven.

Make the filling: While pie shell is baking, whisk cream, milk, eggs, yolks and vanilla together in medium bowl. Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in large heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring to sputtering simmer over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Continue to simmer pumpkin mixture, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove pan from heat. Whisk in cream mixture slowly, until fully incorporated. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl, using back of ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer. Re-whisk mixture and transfer to warm pre-baked pie shell. Return pie plate with baking sheet to oven and bake pie for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees. Continue baking until edges are set (instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 175 degrees), 20 to 35 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. (The pie finishes cooking with resident heat; to ensure the filling sets, cool it at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.)

As you can see, the pie is adorned with dinosaurs, a dolphin, and a whale - courtesy of my nieces. Here's the pie crust recipe I used, it's better to read the original post with all her tips.

So there you have it. Thanksgiving desserts. More Thanksgiving recipes and photos to come throughout the week.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

A few days early, I know...but this will be my last post until after the holiday. I'm off to cook a Thanksgiving feast (or part of one) for my in-laws. I kind of hate that word, I feel like sit-coms have given it a bad name. So I'm cooking for my husband's family. I'm attempting a pie, with crust from scratch, and probably the very fact that I'm announcing that ahead of time will jinx it...but hopefully not. I'm cooking some other dishes too, and I've got my little bag of things I'll need, ready to go:

Hopefully there will be no kitchen fires, injuries, foodborne illnesses, or other disasters. And most of all I food is good. Good luck to me. And good luck to you with whatever you're cooking! Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Kale and Chourico Soup

I've professed my love of chouriço before, and I bought some again last time I was home in Columbus. This time I wanted to do a little more with it than make sandwiches, and upon researching Portuguese recipes I found kale soup. This recipe is from Emeril (he's from Fall River, so I trust that it's pretty authentic), with a few of my changes.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound chouriço sausage, sliced in 1/2-inch slices
1 cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
6 cups chicken stock
3 cups kale, rinsed, stemmed, and cut into 1-inch strips
1 bay leaf
Pinch of crushed red pepper
salt and pepper

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the chouriço and onions. Saute the mixture for about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and potatoes and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock and kale and bring the liquid up to a boil.

Stir in the bay leaf and crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and ladle the soup into shallow bowls. Serve with crusty bread.

The soup really doesn't need a lot of flavoring besides the chouriço. I saw another recipe that included kidney beans and cabbage in addition to the kale, but I liked keeping it simple. Crusty bread on the side is a must.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Veal Ricotta Meatballs (not really)

I'm Sad. With a capital S. I hate when things don't work. I really wanted to make veal ricotta meatballs for dinner last night, because I had them at Riccardo last weekend (as well as the first and only other time I've been there), and can't stop thinking about them. I decided to make some and it was a total flop. It really puts me into a funk when I cook something that's a complete failure. Ok, it wasn't a total loss, but not what I had in mind. And I hadn't even been plotting to make these very far in advance. God help me if the bûche de noël doesn't work on Christmas, I'll be crying in bed for days.

There you see the "meatballs" right after I put them in the pan. I use the word "meatball" loosely because, well... you'll see. I used this recipe and there were no comments complaining that there were mistakes in measurements or cooking times, which is often the case on the Food Network website. So I thought it was pretty safe.

Or not. There was just too much ricotta. I don't see how 1/2 pound of ground veal, an egg, and over a cup of ricotta could hold together. Apparently it worked for some people, but I'm at a loss here. So I'll spare you all the step-by-step photos I took, and typing out the recipe, because this is not a success story. It did make a tasty ragu, but I was really in the mood for meatballs. Sigh.

Maybe I should bake something to cheer myself up.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chicago's Michelin Stars

Oh man, I'm a day late on the Michelin news again. This time it wasn't me, the news was scheduled to come out this morning but someone got ahold of the results and leaked them early, forcing Michelin to move up its announcement by a day. The nerve. Anyway, the results are in.

3 stars:

2 stars:
Charlie Trotter's

1 star:
Crofton on Wells
Graham Elliot
Longman & Eagle*

Yay Chicago! I'm very lucky to have eaten at some of those amazing restaurants (starred). I was surprised that some places I thought were deserving didn't make it on there, but I guess that's the whole point...not everyone gets a star. It will be interesting to see who keeps their stars, gains, or loses next year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Matzo Ball Soup

I decided to make matzo ball soup for two reasons. Well, three if you count "it's delicious" as a reason. First reason is I've been eating it for lunch from Goddess at least once a week for the past month, and the second is because I wanted something nice and light for dinner after a wonderful weekend of friends visiting (*cough* cupcake binge *cough*).

I had never bought or cooked with matzo meal before. Matzo meal is ground up matza. And matza is made of flour and water. So there you have it.

This recipe is brought to you by Smitten Kitchen, with a couple very minor changes by me.

Matzo Balls
1/2 cup matzo meal
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons seltzer

2 quarts prepared chicken stock
1 carrot, thinly sliced

Mix all matzo ball ingredients in a bowl. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Bring 1 1/2 quarts of well-salted water to a brisk boil in a medium sized pot.

Reduce the flame. Run your hands under water so they are thoroughly wet. Form matzo balls by dropping spoonfuls of matzo ball batter approximately 1-inch in diameter into the palm of your wet hands and rolling them loosely into balls.

Drop them into the simmering salt water one at a time. Cover the pot and cook them for 30 to 40 minutes.

About ten minutes before the matzo balls are ready, bring prepared chicken stock to a simmer with the sliced carrot in it. Ladle some soup and a couple matzo balls into each bowl and serve.

My minor changes were: canola oil instead of vegetable oil or reserved chicken fat. The original recipe called for the option of chicken stock or seltzer in the matzo mixture, but I really liked the seltzer. The original also calls for fresh dill as a garnish. The whole thing took a little over an hour to make, but most of that time was spent waiting - for the matzo mixture to chill, and then for it to cook. So it's really not labor intensive. Also, I used half homemade chicken stock and half store-bought. Good stock is important since it's a very simple soup.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Cupcake Chronicles

Yet another seasonal flavor from Sprinkles - salty caramel. Sadly it's already gone, it was only around for about a week. You can actually see the fleur de sel on top of the icing. Mmmm.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chicago's Bib Gourmands

I know, I know. I'm a day late and a dollar short here. I do what I can. Michelin inspectors have been working their way through the Chicago culinary scene for quite some time now and will release the city's first guide next week. So we won't find out which restaurants received the prestigious "étoiles" for another few days, but they did release the Bib Gourmands yesterday. A Bib Gourmand designation means that the restaurant is Michelin's pick for good food at moderate prices. Here's their explanation:

"A Bib Gourmand rating means the restaurant is an inspector's favorite for good value. For $40 or less, you can enjoy two courses and a glass of wine or dessert (not including tax and gratuity)."

Maybe the best the middle of the night before the Bibs are announced, Michelin chalks an outline of the Michelin man (named Bibendum) on the sidewalk in front of the restaurants selected.

Here's the list. Restaurants I've been to are marked with a *.

Ann Sather
Belly Shack
Bistro 110
The Bristol
Ceres’ Table
De Cero*
Frances’ Deli
Frontera Grill*
Gilt Bar*
Girl & The Goat*
Green Zebra
Han 202
Kith & Kin*
La Creperie
La Petite Folie
Los Nopales
Lula Café
M. Henry
Mixteco Grill
Opart Thai House
Paramount Room
The Publican*
The Purple Pig*
Raj Darbar
Riccardo Trattoria*
Spacca Napoli
Taste of Peru
Thai Village
Twin Anchors
West Town Tavern

Monday, November 8, 2010

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

Brussels sprouts make me think of a mom in a 1950's black and white sitcom, wearing an apron and trying to get her kids to eat them and the kids are pursing their lips and shaking their heads. And I was definitely one of those kids...but now, I love these tiny cabbages. I think brussels sprouts are experiencing a resurgence in popularity among vegetables. Serving them with bacon certainly doesn't hurt.

Serves 4-6
1 pound brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
3-4 tablespoons diced pancetta
2 garlic cloves, minced
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Cook the brussels sprouts in salted, boiling water for 4-5 minutes, and drain. Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the pancetta. Cook for about 5 minutes, and using a slotted spoon transfer to a plate with paper towel.

Add garlic to the pan and cook for a minute or two until starting to brown. Add brussels sprouts and pancetta to pan and turn heat up to medium-high. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until brussels sprouts begin to brown. Salt and pepper to taste.

These are delicious. I promise. Some members of the household liked them so much they snatched one off the table when no one was looking and dragged it down to the floor to gnaw on it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pasta e Fagioli

Even though it's not too cold out, I figured the first night of non-daylight savings called for a good, comforting hibernation type of meal. Don't get me wrong, I don't really enjoy the sun setting pretty much in the middle of the afternoon, but there's something about it getting dark so early that makes me just a little happy. Probably knowing the holidays are around the corner, and that soon the trees on Michigan Avenue and on my street will be covered in little white lights that I can enjoy on my walk home from work, and not feeling at all guilty about having no desire to go anywhere besides the couch on a weekend night. Get back to me mid-February and I'm sure I'll be singing a different tune. But on a Sunday when the sun set at 4:37pm, the Jets and the Giants both won, and there were steaming bowls of pasta e fagioli on the dinner table, what's there to complain about?

Serves 2-3
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 link hot Italian sausage (pork, turkey, or chicken - not already cooked)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 white onion, diced
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 pound pasta - some sort of small tube shape
1 14-oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish
fresh basil for garnish

In a medium saucepan heat half the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the sausage link until browned on both sides and cooked through. Remove from pan and cut into slices, then cut the slices in half.

In the same pan add the rest of the olive oil, garlic, and onion and cook for about 3 minutes or until onion is softened. Add the sausage back to the pan. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and oregano and stir to combine. Make sure the tomato paste is incorporated into the stock. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a rapid boil.

Add the pasta and cook according to directions. When pasta is done remove from heat and stir in the cheese and beans. Serve with more cheese and basil.

I didn't take a lot of photos because the recipe is very quick, and because it's all pretty standard - chopped onions, heating up broth, grating cheese, etc. There are so many variations you can do - pancetta instead of sausage, sweet Italian sausage, no meat at all, no tomato paste, chopped Italian tomatoes instead of paste, red kidney beans instead of cannellini, purée half the beans in a food processor to make the broth thicker, use a sachet of herbs including a bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme...the list goes on. This version is a stew - somewhere between a soup, and pasta with sauce. The broth is thickened by the tomato paste, the starch from the pasta, and the cheese. Any way you make it, it's a "one pot" meal, can easily be doubled, and makes great leftovers for lunch the next day.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Spicy Fish Tacos with Avocado Crema

As I was making these fish tacos last night, a memory popped into my head. Visiting my friend Lauren who lives in southern California, walking around Manhattan Beach, seeing Wahoo's - famous for their fish tacos, and thinking...eww. This was about 8 years ago. I can't believe what a picky eater I used to be. The thing is, if I had been forced to eat a fish taco I would have liked it! I guess it has to come naturally. This fish taco recipe comes from Bobby Flay. Well, part of it does - the green marinade part.

1 pound tilapia
1/4 cup canola oil
1 jalapeno, minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
juice of 1 lime
big pinch salt

Combine chile, cilantro, lime juice, oil, and salt in a bowl.

Spread over the fish and let marinate in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

Broil fish for about 4-5 minutes on each side, and break apart with a fork.

1 avocado, pitted and peeled
3/4 cup sour cream
juice of 1/2 lime
pinch salt

Puree all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth.

I used crunchy taco shells. Garnish tacos with fresh salsa (I used mango) and crema.

The fish could be grilled instead of broiled, but you'll lose a lot of the jalapeno so I would recommend cooking it in foil. I liked the broiler so I could salvage the pieces of jalapeno from the bottom of the pan. I might use a serrano chile next time for a little more heat - it wasn't too spicy and I wouldn't have minded a little more heat.