Watch Out Bobby, it’s Time to Grill it

Emily and her corn


There aren’t too many things, in my mind, that are better than the weeks before summer. Well, summer itself, of course. But the weeks before, the days when the sun finally comes out from winter hibernation and the coats stay home, are the best. They’re the best because it’s those days that get you amped-up and ready for all things to come.


Things like grilling, the beach, and visiting friends and family. If you’re lucky, having them visit you too. For the second year, we spent Memorial Day weekend in Hilton Head and were happily able to accomplish all three of the above. It’s a nice treat for me since moving to Chicago, as the “beaches” here just aren’t the same as those where I grew up and spent practically every weekend. Vacations get cut short when you’ve gotta get back to the city to get your cook on, but nonethless we managed to kick back and relax, soak up some rays, log-in some family time, and of course – eat like it didn’t matter.


Atlantic sky


Red Fish is our favorite restaurant on the island (not that we’ve been to many, but why bother?), and we definitely voted for a re-visit this year. Their specialty, as if their name didn’t give it away, is fish. Most dishes have a Caribbean-type influence. To top it off, they have an excellent wine selection and mini wine shop in-house. I was really jealous of the sea bass dish last year (not that mine was bad by any stretch, though now I don’t recall what that dish was), and so this year I had to have it. Stay tuned for the post when I learn to perfect the recipe. But don’t hold your breath.


avocado relish


While the dinner at Red Fish and the brunch at Signe’s were both delectable, I didn’t pass up the offer to cook while on vacation. We usually celebrate my mother in law’s birthday over this trip, so I was asked to make dinner for that night. And this year, this was a big one for her, so I was more than happy to cook and let her enjoy the grandkids. Since we’d already eaten seafood, I opted for another fresh, summery idea and made a marinated flank steak with avocado relish, allowing us to take advantage of fresh cool ingredients and the poolside grill. Plus, the guys felt as if they contributed since they got to do the grilling, which Chris claims is “his territory”. I say, “no fair” ’cause I like grilling too.

grilled corn and peppers


Dinner was a hit, with the grown-ups and (as you can see) the kids. While packed with flavor, this dish is super simple to put together – which is great if you’re in a new (and less-stocked with things like your favorite chef’s knife, microplane zester, and bamboo butcher block – thank you rubber stopper) kitchen. The avocado relish was a perfect counterpart to the flank steak, which was juicy, tender, and had the faintest taste of lime and avocado from the rub/marinade. The relish is great for leftovers, and can stand in for salsa any day. That being said, it isn’t a bad idea to make extra. What about the peppers, you say? They were just dandy. Roasted over the stovetop (for ease – they’d be just as great roasted in the oven or on the grill), peeled, cut, and sauteed in cilantro butter. Corn? Painted w/ lime juice, avocado oil and grilled and served with more melted cilantro butter.


And vacation? Not bad either! As all of them, just a wee bit too short. But given my inability to correctly apply sunscreen, I think another day at the beach would not have been wise for me anyway… Take home message – don’t forget your neck, unless you want to be a poser red-neck. tee hee hee.


grilled flank steak


Grilled Flank Steak w/ Avocado Relish
Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2009; serves 4




ingredients
lime rind from 2-3 limes, divided
4 t avocado oil
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 minced garlic cloves
1 1lb flank steak
2 avocados, peeled & medium-diced
2-3 plum tomatoes, juiced & medium-diced
1/4 cup medium-diced red onion
1 small-diced jalepeno, seeded if you don’t like the heat
juice of one lime
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
lime wedges, for garnish


instructions
1. Combine 2/3 of lime rind through garlic in small bowl. Score a diamond-shaped pattern on both sides of steak and rub mixture onto both sides. Place in large zip-lock bag or bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.



2. Preheat grill to med-hi. Grill on each side for about 5 minutes (for medium-rare). Let sit about 5 minutes and cut in small slices, across the grain.


3. Meanwhile, combine avocados through cilantro as well as remaining 1/3 of rind. Season to taste. Serve with grilled steak and lime wedges.

My Pad (Finally) has Good Thai

pad thai with tofu
If you can’t tell from the previous posts about red and green curry dishes, I am quite a fan of Thai cuisine. And if you like peanut sauce, you should most definitely check this out. But what I have yet to discuss, after almost 3 months of blogging, is one of my favorites, possibly everyone’s favorite Thai dish, Pad Thai.

I am no stranger to the neighborhood Thai joints that frequent the streets of Chicago. In graduate school, a friend of mine discovered this great little noodle shop just off the Diversey brown line called Satay. If my memory isn’t pullin’ my leg, I’d have to say this is the first place I ever tried Pad Thai. Despite trying this stir-fried dish at multiple eateries since, Satay’s version has sustained a hold of the top spot for Pad Thai for more reasons than taste alone: their tofu cooking method, price – 8 bucks, BYOB policy of the restaurant (and to boot – no charge), quantity of food being enough to feed a medium-sized country, proximity to public transportation, and the weird chatty waiter who serves it, David. And even with a lovely Thai eatery right near our house, I can’t bring myself to order their Pad Thai again. Because of Satay’s? Maybe. Because there are a thousand other good dishes there? Another maybe. But either way, Satay has undoubtedly left a mark and provided a meal that no other establishment could provide.

pad thai recipe
Until recently. After multiple iterations, I think I have finally concocted a satisfyingly awesome bowl of Pad Thai. Finally. Every time I changed something, there was something else to change. Ah, the fun of recipe tweaking. And unfortunately for you, the fact that I eyeball mostly everything these days (except when baking) suggests that even the recipe I’ve provided might not be perfect. Hence, that one bowl may be the best I’ll ever have at my place. But boy was it somethin’.

ingredients



Pad Thai facts: Key ingredients are rice noodles, eggs, fish sauce, tamarind, and chili pepper. It’s generally garnished with a lime slice, crushed peanuts and cilantro, with various forms of protein added. It’s a national dish of Thailand. There’s a couple of versions of Pad Thai: the traditional (as in the version below) is dry and light (non-greasy), and the “restaurant type” is heavier and tends to be covered in oil.

pad thai with tofu


Pad Thai w/ Tofu
Serves 4-6; depending on hunger & ability to stop eating


printable recipe

I think the key is the method of cooking the tofu. You really have to dry it out good, otherwise it gets all soggy. The sprinkling of cornstarch also helps to give it a little crunch without frying it.

ingredients
1 package (12.3oz) extra firm tofu
1 T cornstarch
8 oz flat uncooked rice noodles
2 T tamarind concentrate (or strained tamarind paste)**
2 T rice wine vinegar
3 T sugar
4 T reduced sodium soy sauce*
2 T fish sauce*
1-2 T Sriracha (or less, if you’re a wuss)
1 1/2 t fresh grated ginger
2 T peanut oil, divided (unrefined if you have it)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 cup fresh bean sprouts, optional
1/2 cup carrots, matchstick, optional
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 T chopped cilantro
2 T unsalted, dry roasted, peanuts, chopped
4 lime wedges


instructions
1. Drain tofu. I start this the night before by taking it out of the tray and sitting it on top of a dish towel in a round cake pan. I cover the tofu with another dish towel and put another cake pan upside down, and then i put something really heavy on top and put it in the fridge. If the towels are soaked, I do another round before cooking. You could easily do this for 30 min to 1 hour before cooking, but if it’s not drained it will lead to that soggy texture. After it’s drained, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and toss in bowl with cornstarch. Set aside.


2. Prepare noodles according to package directions, without salt. Drain and set aside. (If you make these first, I’d rinse them with cold water after cooking stop the cooking once you take them out of the boiling water – otherwise they will overcook while sitting in the strainer – you re-warm them in the skillet anyway)

3. Combine tamarind through ginger in small bowl. Heat 1 T oil in non-stick skillet over med-hi. Add tofu and saute for about 7 minutes, until golden. Remove from pan and set aside.

4. Heat 1 t oil in pan. Add eggs and egg white; cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Removed and add to bowl w/ tofu.

5. Heat remaining 2 t oil. Add noodles and cook for ~3 minutes. Stir in liquid mixture; cook ~30 seconds. Add egg and tofu back in along with bean threads and cook for about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat. Stir in onions and cilantro.

6. Divide among 4 plates, top with lemon wedge and crushed peanuts.

*If you need a gluten-free version, buy Thai Kitchen brand. The Tamari brand at Whole Foods also advertises a gluten-free soy sauce that can also be purchased low-sodium.

**Tamarind is hard to find. Sorry. I buy tamarind concentrate from The Chopping Block in Chicago or the Spice House. Even Amazon.com. You can instead buy a block of tamarind paste at asian markets. Put a chunk in boiling water and let it soak for a while, then drain and you’ll have concentrate.

One Pie is Never Enough

lemon tart

I’m not sure what led me to make a tart for Battle Strawberry. It was clearly poor planning on my part. Although I should insert here, that I used to be a really good, I mean really really good, planner. I just plan a lot less now than I used to. Ask Chris, and he might tell you that it’s utterly frustrating. But that’s because he pretends to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants-kinda-guy and in the past has gotten away with that by hiding behind my organization. Well now, now he whines because we don’t plan, or at least we don’t plan as good as “we” used to.

Don’t let that confuse you – I will glady admit that one of my best traits is (well, are) multi-tasking, organizing, and planning. That may be one of the many reasons why I love cooking so darn much – if you make anything crazier than pasta you have to think a little about what you’re doing. And menu planning? Good times. Nothing’s more exciting than a trip to the g-store (which by the way I am just dying to hit up the new Whole Foods). Is that lame? Well, whatever. I’ve been lame before, but only a couple of times.


But when I was deciding what to make for the Iron Chef party, I forgot that this week in school was “tart & pie week”. I also forgot that I’d be eating a (frozen) goat cheese & asparagus quiche I made a couple weeks ago for lunch all week. You may be wondering what the real problem is here. tsk tsk. There isn’t one, really. It’s just that almost every meal this week (and snack) is in “pie-form”. I suppose it’s just plain weird is what it is. And it’s a lot of butter… especially before a beach weekend. Yikes!

asparagus quiche


It all started with the strawberry tart on Saturday. [Did I mention this was a second place winner next to the first place pizza I made?!] And Monday, that was really the beginning of the end. We made little key lime mini-pies, and we made our dough for the cherry pie and lemon meringue tarts that we finished on Tuesday. I’ve had the quiche for lunch for the last 4 days, and snacked on the tart for lunch one day (okay, you got me – two days). Fortunately, Chris’ coworkers love my baking class, and they gladly ate the pie and mini-pies.


mini key lime pies


If that wasn’t enough, I made another pie last night. But not to worry – I wasn’t craving pie or anything. My coworker’s boyfriend was in surgery earlier this week, and I got word that key lime pie is his favorite. Well, I’d already sent the minis from class with Chris. I had no choice but to whip one up at home. No choice at all.


Luckily, I do love pie. And they really are easy to throw together. If you’re scurred, you can buy the pre-made shells, but they aren’t gonna be as flaky or as tasty as what you can make at home. You could always go for a graham cracker shell (or any other cookie crumb), which is just the crumb, a little sugar, and melted butter. Easy peezy. But seriously, if you’re making a regular pie crust, just make sure you don’t overmix, hence melt, the fat (butter or shortening) and when you roll out, make sure your rolling pin and surface are well-floured. Other than those minor challenges, you are practically dumping fruit into a pan and baking. The end result: a delightfully flaky, buttery crust underneath a myriad of possibilities – sweet or savory – warm or cold – streusel topping, naked, or pie shell.


Really – what is better than pie?


Strawberry Mascarpone Tart w/ Balsamic-Thyme Glaze

serves 6-8

printable recipe

ingredients
Pâte Brisée shell
1 1/4 cups AP flour (+ flour for rolling)
8 T butter, very cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t sugar
2-4 t ice water, very cold


filling & glaze
2 lbs strawberries, stemmed and quartered
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 T orange zest, divided
8 oz mascarpone cheese
4 oz ricotta cheese (or 12 oz mascarpone & no ricotta)
1 t lemon juice
1/2 t vanilla
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2-3 T balsamic vinegar


instructions
1. cut butter into cubes and put in freezer until ready to use

2. In food processor (or by hand), mix flour, salt, sugar together. Cut in butter until pea-sized – pulsing. Add in water, by pulsing, until mixture starts to clump together.

3. Remove dough from processor and place on clean surface. Roll into mound and place in fridge covered with plastic wrap for ~30 minutes. You should still see specks of butter in the dough.

4. Combine strawberries, 1/2 of orange zest, sugar. Macerate in fridge for ~30 minutes.

5. Mix cheese, confectioners sugar, other 1/2 of zest, lemon juice, vanilla. Refrigerate until needed.

6. Preheat oven to 375. Take dough out of fridge and let sit ~5 minutes. Flour surface and roll dough into 12 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Gently fold in half and onto the roller. Place atop pie plate/tin and unfold onto other half.

7. Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork multiple times. Cover with parchment paper or tin foil and place pie weights, dry beans, (or spare change, which is what I use) atop and bake about 15 minutes. Remove weights and paper. Bake bare for another ~20.

8. Drain macerated strawberries, and put juice in small saucepan. Add balsamic vinegar and thyme and bring to boil over med-hi, reduce to syrupy consistency and let cool.

9. Once tart is cooled, spread mascarpone mixture over bottom. Top with strawberries. With brush, spread balsamic glaze atop strawberries.


Classic Key Lime Pie
Adapted from Professional Baking, 5th Edition; serves 6-8



ingredients
shell
4 oz graham cracker crumbs
2 oz sugar
2 oz melted butter


filling
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
5 oz key lime juice or lime juice (freshly squeezed, but bottled works too)
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
whipped cream, optional


instructions


Preheat to 350. Mix sugar and crumbs in bowl. Add butter and mix with hands until all is wet. Press into sprayed pie plate/tin, and press up the sides. Use another shell to place on top to even out the mixture. Bake alone for 4 minutes.


Mix milk with lightly beaten eggs. Add in juice. If you want color, add food color too. Pour into baked shell and bake for 20-25 minutes, until “jiggly but firm”. Let cool. Add whipped cream, if using.

Battle Strawberry: Life is Delicious

Strawberry Shortcake


What comes to mind when you hear the word childhood? Thanks be to that wee ol’ hippocampus (or maybe photography), a number of distinct memories comes to my mind. A favorite: riding shotgun with my daddy to the beach, top down in the Triumph, blonde hair blowing carelessly in the salty wind. Let’s not forget organizing the treehouse-building club (which now, knowing a treehouse was never built, I realize this was my parents’ way of “keeping us busy and outta their hair”), or making a music video with my bro using our first family camcorder (in the dinosaur 80’s when they weighed 50 lbs) that was an adaptation of “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” with a pair of boots moving, step by endless step, across the green shaggy carpet of our living room.


Last night was the third installment of the Iron Chef pot-luck party, and the reigning IC, Terri, had chosen ‘strawberries’ as the theme ingredient. Having quite an affinity to the juicy red ‘berry’, I considered it an excellent choice. And while thinking of things to make, a number of other childhood memories came into mind. In addition to my Strawberry Shortcake sheet set, complete with Custard, I also remembered those damned strawberry fields my parents made us visit every summer, and countless times. You see, strawberry pickin’ was a family event – the five of us would head over to the Cottle Farms location on Airport Road for a sweat-inducing, dirt-in-all-crevices-producing, hour of loading up those wooden gallon-sized baskets with tasty juicy, fresh-off-the-vine strawberries. They made their way into our fridge, our freezer, and of course, our bellies. And boy were they good. My favorite version of strawberries is simple – macerated in sugar, eaten plain or perhaps on top of vanilla ice cream or on those cake things you buy in packs of 6, topped with strawberries & whipped cream. We always had sugar-soaked strawberries in our fridge – and if we didn’t, gramma did. And hers were great on gramma’s pound cake.


Battle Strawberry Competitors

While I toyed with the idea of bringing a bowl of macerated strawberries to the Battle (I would have classed it up a bit with some Meyer lemon juice), I knew it wouldn’t win back the title of Reigning Iron Chef. Knowing that creativity was part of the scoring, I went for something out of the box completely and then went for another, more basic dish.


baked brie with strawberry preserves


This time we had a more intimate gathering, with 7 competitors and 14 dishes in the running. Just as before, each dish was awesome, and we had a balanced selection of savories vs sweets. My favorite this time was Lindsay’s baked brie w/ homemade strawberry preserves. mmmmmmm….. And my favorite for the theme was Terri’s strawberry soup. I tell ya, for a group of girls who (some) claimed intimidation in cooking with a chef-in-training, you’d never know it by the look and taste of everyones’ creations. I feel lucky to get to hang out with such a lovely group of girls, and the fact that they are all great cooks is just the icing on the cake!

mini strawberry shortcakes


Without further adieu, I’m proud to say I was able to win back my title as the Reigning Iron Chef, but Terri said the numbers were close! Everyone continues to bring their A-game, so the competition is definitely fierce! I already can’t wait for the next get-together – although having now been on both sides, I must say I enjoy the anticipation of finding out the theme ingredient more than doing the choosing. and so, the Countdown begins! (More photos)


strawberry mascarpone tart


The Top Three:
1st Place: Heather’s Strawberry Pizza w/ Goat Cheese, Watercress, & Pistachios
2nd Place: Heather’s Strawberry-Mascarpone Tart w/ Balsamic-Thyme Glaze
3rd Place: Rachel’s Mini Strawberry Shortcakes


strawberry pizza


The Winning Recipe:

Strawberry Pizza w/ Goat Cheese, Watercress, & Pistachios
adapted from Cooking Light magazine – measurements are definitely estimated, and although the original recipe called for store-bought pizza crust, I made my own and will include those instructions as well.


printable recipe

ingredients
One batch pizza dough (recipe below; can also used store-bought 12oz crust)
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup trimmed watercress
1/2 t EVOO
1 t lemon juice (I used Meyer, can use regular)
salt & pepper
1/4 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 T shelled, toasted pistachios, chopped


Basic pizza dough:
3/4 c warm water
1 envelope dry yeast
2 cups (or more) AP flour
1 t sugar
3/4 t salt
3 T olive oil


instructions
Basic pizza dough
Combine water & yeast; let sit for about 5 minutes.


By hand or w/ stand mixer (paddle attachment), combine flour, sugar, salt. Add yeast mixture and oil. Mix until sticky ball forms. Transfer to floured counter and knead until smooth (will probably add more flour as you go because the counter gets sticky and the dough is sticky; add by tablespoons). Total kneading time is 1-2 minutes. Put in large bowl that is oiled or sprayed and turn down over to cover with oil/spray. Cover w/ plastic and let rise in warm place (I preheat oven to lowest possible temp, like 100, and then open door to let heat out before putting in; best is about 80 degrees) for an hour, or until about doubled in size. Take dough out, back on floured surface and deflate dough. Roll out to desired shape.


pizza
Preheat oven to 425 F


Place crust on baking sheet or stone. Bake for ~8-12 minutes. Remove and sprinkle goat cheese on crust.


Mix strawberries through s&p in bowl and arrange over pizza. Top with nuts and shaved cheese. Top with additional fresh grated pepper if desired.


Notes: you can store dough after deflated in an airtight container to use later. You could even make extra and freeze it. Also, pizza dough is super glutenous and might be hard to work with at times. If so, let it sit and “rest” before rolling out.

Totally Smitten w/ Pumpernickel

pumpernickel ingredients
If you haven’t heard, I’ve been making a lot of bread products lately. In class, we’ve learned how to make all sorts of baked delicacies – muffins, biscuits, 4-grain, foccacia and challah breads. We even learned how to make eclairs – those were a hit and a half with the folks at the office. Despite my excitement regarding the outcome of that gorgeous, perfectly braided (well, perfect enough) challah loaf, not to mention my tender hand muscles from kneading for two nights straight, the pages of my baking book kept somehow turning themselves to the recipe for pumpernickel. And then, as if the Oklahoma blogger were reading my mind, she invited another blogger to her ranch where they made the prettiest darn bread I’ve ever seen. You might imagine, this sealed my fate, and prolonged the hankerin’ for a warm, dark, intensely flavored slice of pumpernickel.

more ingredients



I imagined it a number of different ways – warm (smoking, even) with butter melting into it, or perhaps toasted with cream cheese and smoked salmon inside, and the best – just plain, as my afternoon snack at work. Oh, and in the freezer – so I could pull it out whenever I wanted it!


My teachings in school had led me to believe that baking bread would be a day-long (or two day-long) process. This is not necessarily true. It is time consuming, and tedious. And this bread, this bread has a lot of ingredients (17 by my count without the optionals) – each just as important as the other. I was surprised to find that I already had 15 of those ingredients, just waiting to be brought together for the first time. I only needed the rye flour and bran and I was set. If you don’t have all of the ingredients, they are all fairly easy to locate minus the rye flour. Whole Foods carries it, but most regular grocery stores probably don’t. If you aren’t near a WF or other specialty store, like Trader Joes or Fresh Market, you can buy it online.


the yeast works!


Pumpernickel is definitely my favorite samich bread. It’s not the same as rye bread, which I don’t love so much. I’m not certain that I’ve actually eaten true German pumpkernickel bread, and this version is definitely not true German pumpernickel, but rather the Americanized version. Traditional pumpernickel has a looooong baking time (meaning a whole day in a steamed oven – by no means a “green” practice) and use of a Sourdough starter, which is also used in rye breads. The long baking time brings out that coffee/dark chocolate flavor, while the starter contributes to rising.


dough rising


We Americans cheat a little in the making of pumpernickel by baking it less and instead, adding the flavors lost by such faux pas. Hence the addition of molasses (as if adding molasses to anything deems explanation), espresso, cocoa powder. Hell – none of those require explanation, but I had a feeling if I didn’t tell you, you’d unnecessarily burn kilocalories by furrowing your brow, frowning, and quite possibly, turning your nose up at the thought of adding such ingredients to bread. Save yourself the trouble – please – they are necessary! And in absence of the starter, as preferred by die Deutsch, we add wheat flour and yeast to facilitate gluten formation and the rise.


rounded and ready to bake


You’ll also notice the choice of using a loaf pan or rounding your dough. It doesn’t take a professional baker to realize the difference here, people. [Think: if you put your dough in a pan, how does that affect the baking? And conversely, how about letting it bake openly in the comfort of a parchment-lined baking pan?]. Er… the answer is… you get a loaf that is very dense or a round that is a bit ‘airier’. All about your preference – I like the less dense version, personally. But suit yourself.


I bet by now you are doing one of two things: cursing yourself for reading a blog entry about something you could care less about or performing a mental checklist of your pantry to see what you’re gonna have to buy to make the best bread on earth. I hope it’s the latter, but if not – your loss. I have another round in my freezer so I won’t be missing out any time soon.


cut wonkily


Russian Black Bread
from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible
Makes 2 large, in charge, rounds or loaves


printable recipe

ingredients
2 packages of active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups water
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4 T unsalted butter
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups rye flour
3 cups bread flour
1 cup oat bran
2 T caraway seeds
1/2 t fennel seeds
1 T salt
1 T instant espresso powder
1 T minced shallots
1/4 cup cornmeal (optional)
1 T all purpose flour (optional)
1 t caraway seeds (optional)


Special stuff: stand mixer (can do all by hand if you’ve got muscles and energy!), spice grinder (optional), instant-read thermometer (optional)


instructions
1. In a small bowl, combine yeast & sugar with warm water. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. This ensures your yeast is alive :)


2. Heat 2 cups water, molasses, vinegar, butter & chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside, and let cool to warm so it doesn’t kill the yeast.


3. Combine whole-wheat, rye, and bread flours in a large bowl. Set aside.


4. In a bowl of a heavy mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 2 cups mixed flours, bran, seeds (can grind prior to adding if desired), salt, espresso, and shallots. At low speed, add yeast and chocolate mixtures. (I added salt after adding yeast because I am paranoid and my baking teacher always said to add salt last).


5. At low speed, add half cup of remaining mixed flours at a time, until dough clears sides of bowl and begins to work its way up paddle. It will be sticky but firm, and you’ll probably have leftover flour.


6. Scrape dough off paddle, flour counter well, and knead to make a springy yet dense dough (until it looks sexy, as my teacher says). You may still have flour left over, but maybe not.


7. Form into a ball and place in a bowl sprayed with Pam. Turn over to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2-2hours (I preheat oven to 100 and then turn off, leaving door open to let temp drop some before putting dough in). Meanwhile, combine cornmeal, flour, and remaining seeds if you’re topping the bread before baking, and set aside.


8. Deflate dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Divide into 2 equal portion and form into two rounds or loaves. If making loaves, place in a sprayed loaf pan. If rounds (like mine) place seam down on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet (one round per sheet). Sprinkle w/ mixture if using. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise again, until doubled, about 45 min to 1 hour. Slash an X into the top of a round before baking (none needed for loaves); you can see from my pictures that you don’t want to slash too deep or it affects the prettiness. Just a small slash.


9. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes or until internal temperature of 200-210. I baked mine for about 40-45 minutes. (1/2 way through baking, I switched the positions of each sheet too). Remove from sheet and cool completely on a rack.


10. Let it cool (if you can resist the urge), and then slop whatever your little heart desires on it.


p.s. – I’m aware that, if this is your first foray into the wonderul world of bread-baking that this recipe might be a bit intimidating. I’ve found that making bread definitely takes practice. You can probably tell I need some practice prettying up my bread – rounding and scoring are not my good points – not yet! So, if you’re scurred (Southern for scared), drop me a line in the comment box, and I’ll find you something more basic to start with. Promise :)

Building Mussels without Breakin’ a Sweat

thai green curry ingredients


We took our cats in for their annual vet visit a couple of weeks ago. And although my cat has always been on the larger side, she’s never been officially classified as fat. Well, not until this visit. We’d tried portioning out their food for the past year to avoid the inevitable weight gain, but we began to notice that my cat would eat not only her portion, but also the portion of her smaller, more timid sister. Two things wrong with that picture: my cat continues to eat too much, and the other cat doesn’t eat at all. Both will lead to poor outcomes…



So anyway, after pondering various ideas, we came to a solution that will avoid both of the former scenarios. We’d feed the “non-fat” cat on the counter, since she can jump up with ease and the “fat” cat can’t, and we’d switch my cat to canned food to easily portion it out and guarantee that the other cat won’t eat it, since she refuses canned food. In trying out various brands of canned food, I’ve realized a thing or two. Some of them are true delicacies, especially for a cat! One kind I bought her was called “Savory salmon w/ lentils & ginger”. I mean, c’mon. It’s no wonder she didn’t like it. And after trying 5 different brands, I’ve come to the conclusion that she, like me, has turned into a Whole Foods snob! Their brand was the only one she ate every flavor of, and the only one she ate with pure excitement. Some, despite her normal tendency to eat all things in sight, were left untouched – overnight. Who would have thought a cat would be able to pick out organic cat food. Fortunately, their foods, unlike human food, are not too much more expensive than the brands at Petsmart.

tange & sasha

And so, in my attempt to find tasty, nutritious, balanced food for my cat, I also went on a mission to find ingredients for my weekend meals. Once I got over the fact that my cat and I now shop at the same store, I was then faced with the frustration of the WF move. The WF I normally buy groceries from is expanding and jumping a block south next month, so finding all ingredients I need at one store was like finding pizza in Chinatown. But no worries, because Dirk’s Seafood was just around the corner, and I knew they’d have the final ingredient on my list, mussels. Oh, I do love mussels.

And, I love curry, and Thai food in general, so a Thai version of clam chowder with mussels instead of clams was right on par with something I’d cook.


mussels in curry broth



The last dish I made with curry is one of my very favorites. Plus, I’d been on a break from coconut since early April, and I was ready to bring it back into my life.

I did make some changes to the original recipe. I’d gone to an Asian grocery a while back and stocked up on some hard-to-find ingredients, so I had Kaffir lime leaves and thai chiles in the freezer. I still added more lime flavor. I’m sure if you can’t find Kaffir lime leaves you could leave them out, but they do add a lot of Thai-ness to the dish. Actual kaffir limes look a lot like regular limes but are sort of bumpy, and they’re smaller. The leaves look like two leaves stuck together. And thai chilies can be bought in little bags with tons in one bag. They both freeze well and last a long time. The ones I had in the freezer are over a year old and are just as fragrant as when I bought them. Also, the recipe called for scallops, and that didn’t seem as good as more shrimp to me. So I doubled the shrimp and took out the scallops. And last, the recipe had no ginger! So I added some.


seafood with thai green curry


I tell you, straight up, this is one of the easiest dishes I’ve made in a long time. It’s full of veggies, seafood, and exotic, complex flavors. It’s actually healthy, although it looks too creamy to be low-fat. But it is. People get real excited about mussels, and the fact of the matter is that they really are a piece of cake to prepare. You literally dump them in a pot and close the lid. Voila. That being said, this recipe would be a true crowd-pleaser and a sure thing for company. And for those with dietary issues – gluten & dairy-free. Need I say more?

green curry broth

Thai Green Curry w/ Seafood
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2009; Serves 4


printable recipe

ingredients
2 T unrefined peanut oil (could use standard refined but will not be as robust)
5 green onions, chopped, dark green parts separated from white and pale green parts
3 T minced fresh cilantro, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 T Thai green curry paste
1 1/4 cups water
1 can coconut milk (light works just fine)
2 red Thai chilies (or 1 red jalepeno chile)
2 kaffir lime leaves (or 2 T lime juice + 1 t zest)
zest of 1/2 lime
juice of 1/2 lime
1 t fresh grated ginger
1 T fish sauce (Thai kitchen brand is gluten free)
1 large carrot, peeled, thinly cut diagonally
4 cups thinly sliced bok choy
1 lb uncooked medium shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 lb green or black mussels, scrubbed, debearded
2 T chopped fresh basil
2 cups cooked white arborio rice

instructions

1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add white & pale green onion parts, 1 T cilantro, and garlic; saute until tender, about 2 minutes.


2. Add curry paste; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add water, coconut milk, chiles, lime leaves, lime zest, lime juice, ginger, and fish sauce. Bring to simmer. Add carrot; cover and cook until carrot is just tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Layer bok choy, shrimp & mussels in pan. Cover & simmer until mussels open and shrimp & bok choy are cooked, about 5 minutes.

4. Stir in dark green parts of onions, 2 T remaining cilantro, and basil.

5. Divide rice among 4 bowls. Ladle curry mixture over rice & serve.

Combating the Jean-Tightening Genes w/ Alfredo

Lite Pasta Alfredo


I remember back in the day when I was young I’m not a kid anymore, but some days I sit and wish I was a kid again (Ahmad, circa 1994). But really – I remember back in the day when eating anything you wanted didn’t cause a cottage cheese-like effect on your thighs and booty. And mushy arms. And maybe the worst part – growing out of your favorite Martin & Osa jeans or trying on your favorite tank top from last summer, the one you looked oh so cute in, and realizing that your “flat tire” has miraculously been replaced by a spare.


I’m not sayin’ I was ever petite – with my Hall knees and cornbread-induced voluptuous backside. You were lucky to see me in shorts even as a kid; I prefer clamdiggers any day. My dad surely gave me some IQ points, love for NC State, & blue eyes, but he also gave me big knees, a head of cowlicks, and horrible [practically legally blind] vision. My mom – she gave me boobs, good teeth, and the confidence to speak my mind even when I shouldn’t, but she also gave me my love for sweets and slow metabolism. That damn metabolism!


The days of eating Big Macs, chimichangas, ranch dressing (loaded over some cheesy gooey french fries with bacon), and definitely alfredo sauce are long gone, or at least few and far between. Everything in moderation, right people?!

Wrong answer! One of the reasons I started cooking so much in the first place was the ability to be more in control of what I ate. Yes, me, wanting more control. Who woulda thought?! It’s too easy to live in Chicago (or any other city with great food) and pack on the poundage. There are way too many Thai restaurants with wonderfully fried tofu pad thai and curries, Italian restaurants with “family style” servings of chicken alfredo & parmesan (not to mention a thousand types of bruschetta), and definitely too many neighborhood bakeries with the cutest little cupcakes that of course, have the creamiest icing on top. I agree with the everything in moderation motto, but for me, I can’t really moderate what I eat if it’s already in front of me :). So along with keeping portion control in check, I’ve tried to find and make recipes that are delectable but don’t (always) leave me wondering how many hours of exercise I owe myself.


[Of course, none of this counts while in culinary school. Have I said that before?]


Cajun-spiced chicken strips


The first foodie magazine I ever subscribed to was Cuisine at Home (thanks to my mom-in-law), and believe-you-me, they have some lovely food in there. The down side? Almost every recipe uses heavy cream, which translates to the previously mentioned cottage cheese effect and snug jeans, not to mention a frown on my face. I almost stopped subscribing this year, but they must have sensed it and started a healthy eating section. If you can believe it, I’ve found a recipe for a light version of alfredo sauce. I tried it out recently, and I think Chris said how good it was in between each & every mouthful. Which looking back, may not have been that many times since he literally scarfed it down. I liked it too, but tried to savor each bite a little more than he.


mushrooms and peppers


One of the great things about this recipe is that it’s loaded with veggies, unlike your typical alfredo dish with just fettucine, chicken, and gopping thick sauce. It’s colorful too, so very easy on the eyes. Oh, and instead of just chicken, there is also kielbasa, and the chicken has cajun seasoning to spice it up a bit. I think next time I’ll add even more. The sauce is creamy and yummy, but made with evaporated milk instead of cream & one egg yolk instead of butter. I am willing to bet that the use of the bowtie pasta wasn’t a random idea, as the folds and crinks encase some of the sauce, and that way it seems to last longer even if there is less of it.


Now, don’t go into making this thinking it’s just like the classic fettucine alfredo. The sauce won’t coat your lips, and there won’t be a puddle at the bottom of your plate after you finish eating. But a great stand-in and healthy alternative to the low-cost artery clogger? Totally.


So, if you’re like me and have chosen red sauces over the whites for as long as you can remember, consider a brief switcheroo. Pretty pretty please? Just this once. You won’t regret it. And if you don’t like it, just head on over to Bucktown and drop that dish off at my pad. I love leftovers :)


lite pasta alfredo


Lite Pasta Alfredo w/ Cajun Chicken & KielbasaAdapted from Cuisine at Home; serves 4

printable recipe

ingredients
4 oz uncooked farfalle (bowtie) pasta
1/2 cup evaporated 2% milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk
salt & pepper
1/8 t nutmeg, freshly grated
8 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
1 T Cajun seasoning (preferably no-salt version)
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cups button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz kielbasa, cut into half moon slices
1 cup peas, frozen
1 green onion, sliced thin, for garnish

instructions
Cook farfalle accoring to package directions. Drain and reserve 1/4 cup of pasta liquid. Set pasta aside.

Meanwhile, combine milk, cheese, & yolk. Add in salt, pepper, nutmeg. Set aside.

Sprinkle Cajun seasoning on chicken and toss to coat. Spray large skillet with cooking spray and heat over med-hi. Saute chicken ~4 mins on each side until fully cooked. Remove and set aside. Add onions, pepper, mushrooms, garlic, kielbasa to skillet and cook ~4 mins until kielbasa begins to brown. Add 1/4 cup of pasta water to deglaze; scrape up browned bits and let simmer until water has almost evaporated.

Add in chicken, pasta, & peas. Stir to heat all ingredients and to break up frozen peas. Pour in alfredo sauce and simmer until thickened. Divide among 4 plates (or if you’re like me, 2 plates and two tupperwares) and garnish with green onion and a little cheese.

*Side note: I made a quick salad to go with – baby arugula with cherry tomatoes & English cucumbers. Made a quick tomato vinaigrette (1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, 2 T red wine vinegar, 2 t EVOO, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt, pepper mixed in processor). The salad was a great addition and went well with the pasta.