Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Home for the Holidays

No kitchen to cook in! What am I going to do with myself? No doubt I'll be up to no good.

The Beanpole and I are migrating south for the winter...Or at least the next couple of weeks. We'll be staying with his parents and soaking up as much of the warmth as we possibly can; catching up with old friends; meeting some new friends; and relaxing.

I've heard a rumor that now that I'm officially Mrs. Beanpole I'll have access to some of my mother-in-law's tried and true recipes. I can't promise to post them all. After all, some recipes (like my bloody mary recipe, which would knock any of your socks off and have you begging) are just better kept secret!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Roasted Eggplant Parmesan

I've always loved the color of eggplant (aubergine if you're feeling sassy) but have found it more difficult to enjoy the vegetable itself. The health and environmental benefits of eating vegetarian meals are well-documented and I'm trying to incorporate more of these into our diet. To help with the transition I'm using a lot of eggplant and mushrooms to help our meals have that "meaty" feel without actual meat. Don't be surprised to see a lot more of both around these parts! This recipe, while good, needs some modifications to be more authentic. First, I wouldn't call it "eggplant parmesan" as it ended up more like a lasagna and totally lacked in breadcrumbs - the best part! Roasting the eggplant first did add a nice layer of flavor and I'll try that technique with some other recipes.

Roasted Eggplant Parmesan (adapted from Good Housekeeping)
2 small eggplants, ends trimmed, cut into 1/2" thick slices
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 28oz can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped (I used fresh as they were on hand)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley (I omitted)
4 oz shredded mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place eggplant slices on cookie sheets and brush oil on both sides. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt. Roast 15 minutes; turn slices and roast until browned and tender, about 20 more minutes.

Meanwhile, in large skillet, combine tomatoes, remaining salt and pepper; heat to boiling over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have thickened, about 20 minutes.

Turn oven to 400 degrees. In shallow casserole dish, layer half of eggplant and top with half tomato sauce. Sprinkle with half mozzarella. Repeat layers; top with grated Parmesan.

Cover loosely with foil. Bake until bubbling, about 10 minutes. Remove dish from oven and let stand about 10 minutes prior to serving.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Spicy Shredded Pork

I have a confession to make. I love folded foods in any form, except pizza. It actually angers me to watch silly people fold a slice of pizza in half and nonchalantly munch away. That may or may not have something to do with my Chicago pizza devotion. But I digress. Like everyone I'm subject to food ruts and when they strike almost inevitably find myself indulging in some fashioning of a taco. I find it fascinating that nearly every culture has spun its own version of folded food. So when I ran across this recipe for spicy pulled pork I knew I'd have to make it. Turns out it's insanely delicious and as you can see below both TheBeanpole and I kept sneaking little pieces and were hardly even hungry by dinner time. It's that good. Trust me.

Spicy Shredded Pork (Annie's Eats, adapted from The Pioneer Woman)
4-7 lb. pork shoulder
1 onion, quartered
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
¼ cup brown sugar
3-4 garlic cloves
1-2 tbsp. salt
1-2 tbsp. olive oil
2-3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 cups water

Rinse and pat dry the pork shoulder.

Combine the onion, spices, brown sugar, garlic, salt and pepper to taste in the bowl of a food processor. Add the olive oil and white wine vinegar. Blend mixture until totally combined. Pour over the pork shoulder. Rub over the whole surface of the pork, being sure to cover any folds or crevices.

Place the pork in a Dutch oven or roasting pan and add water to the pan. Cover tightly and roast at 300° for several hours, turning once every hour. When it is fork tender ( about 6-7 hours) turn the heat up to 425°, remove the lid, and roast skin-side up for 15-20 more minutes until crispy. Let rest 15 minutes.

Shred the pork shoulder using two forks. Pour some of the juice from cooking over the shredded meat to keep it moist. Serve with warm tortillas, lime wedges, sour cream and pico de gallo.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Challenge Three, Round One - Wild Mushroom Strudel

It's the last challenge of 2008! I was somehow duped by Beans (not to be confused with The Beanpole, of course) over at Mmmm...Tastes Good into making something with mushrooms. It was sneaky of her but given my recent infatuation with variations of these fun-guys I'll let it slide. In fact, just this week we'd eaten Pork Chops Marsala and Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms Caprese. The Beanpole and I were headed to an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party so the recipe needed to be cab-friendly and easy to eat. Nothing from my ever-growing collection of cookbooks and magazine stash appealed and I started to lose hope until I found this recipe for mushroom strudel. Most of the recipes I use are designed to taste great and be relatively simple to recreate and I'm using these challenges to break out of my comfort zone a little bit and learn about a new technique or flavor combination. I hadn't worked with puff pastry before and decided to take this opportunity to test myself. It's not the easiest ingredient to manipulate but with a little bit of patience and SK's easy-as-pie wrapping method they turned out beautifully! Check out Smitten Kitchen for her gorgeous photo how-to on the phyllo. You'll thank me later!

Mushroom Strudel (Smitten Kitchen)
12 to 18 sheets phyllo pastry (12 to make four large strudel, 18 to make smaller triangles)
1/2 cup butter

1 pound mixed, fresh, wild and cultivated mushrooms (we used only creminis, and ended up with plenty of flavor. If you omit the stems, start with 1.5 pounds)
1 medium onion, minced
3 tablespoons butter
Freshly grated nutmeg (optional, we skipped it)
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Leaves from 1 sprig marjoram or thyme
4 to 6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling, if you wish (the latter amount for the minis)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Clear a large work surface for this, big enough for two full sheets of phllyo, your egg wash, parmesan and filling–trust me, you’ll need it.

Make the filling: Make sure the mushrooms are dust- and sand-free, wash if necessary, and trim if need be. Cook the onion in the butter and, when soft, add the mushrooms with the nutmeg. Saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until liquid has been released and has partially evaporated. Add the sherry and evaporate the alcohol by cooking over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the flour, herbs, and some salt and pepper, and let cool. The mixture will be moist.

To make small, triangular strudel: Take one sheet of phyllo at a time from their package; cover the remaining sheets with plastic and then a damp towel, ensuring they are completely covered. Brush one half of the sheet lengthwise with butter. Fold the unbuttered side over the buttered side, carefully, smoothing out any wrinkles and bubbles but not worrying if you can’t get them all. Again, brush one half of this lengthwise (a few inch-wide column) with butter, and fold the unbuttered side over it again. You’ll end up with one long column.

Dollop a spoonful of the mushroom filling near the end and sprinkle a teaspoon of parmesan over it. Begin folding one bottom corner of the phyllo strip over the filling until it meets the opposite edge, forming a triangle, as if you were folding a flag. Place the triangle seam side down on the baking sheet, brush lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with parmesan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Waste Not, Want More Pasta

The Beanpole is working from home this week and it's taking some adjustments to making "man-sized" meals again. I started to prepare the Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms Caprese, took one look, and realized that the poor guy would just not be satisfied with one little mushroom cap. We're heading to the in-laws' for Christmas early next week and kept the grocery shopping to a minimum and instead planned on making a couple bigger, heartier dishes that would yield plenty of leftovers and no waste so choices were limited. I threw on a pot of pasta, grabbed acouple items that would pair well with the mushrooms and was rather surprised at how tasty the dish turned out. True, it's difficult to ruin pasta but this surprisingly flavorful dish is perfect for rushed evenings!

Waste Not, Want More Pasta
1/2 lb penne pasta
1 14oz can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano, drained
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup milk
fresh parmesan for grating
1-2 slices proscuitto, chopped

Cook pasta according to package directions. Stir in tomatoes and spinach, let warm. Add cheese, stirring to combine. Pour in milk, stir, and cook 2-3 minutes. Serve warm with topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and proscuitto.

Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms Caprese

Oh, how I love summer and the abundance of fresh tomatoes and basil. I make some variation of the Caprese salad at least every week and sometimes even every day during those warm, long days. But alas, winter has finally officially hit the city and there will be no more denying it. So what's a girl to do? Slap it all on a portabella mushroom cap, pop it in the oven, and enjoy all the delicious flavor while watching the snow fall outside.

Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms Caprese

Portabella mushroom caps, 1 per person

Olive oil
Fresh basil


Balsamic vinegar

Mozzarella cheese (I used shredded since it was on hand, but sliced would be fine)
1-2 tbsps plain bread crumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Gently wipe mushroom caps with damp towel and remove stems. Brush tops lightly with olive oil and bake 3-4 minutes. Remove from oven and layer basil, tomato, dash of balsamic, salt and pepper, and cheese. Top with breadcrumbs. Bake about 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and starts to bubble. Place under broiler 2-3 minutes until cheese is golden brown.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Challenge Two, Round Three - Prosciutto Wrapped Pears

A couple years ago a friend hosted a fun little jewelry party and served up what quickly became my favorite appetizer. Ever. Except for all the others I love so much. These have been a hit every time I've served them and tend to disappear before I've even set the plate out. They're extremely easy and take almost seconds to assemble!

Proscuitto Wrapped Pears
2-3 ripe Bartlett pears
Light Garlic and Herb Boursin Cheese
1/2 lb thinly sliced prosciutto (best from deli counter, but packaged will work)
1/2 can lemon-lime soda, in bowl

Slice pears and soak 1-2 minutes in lemon-lime soda to prevent discoloring. Pat dry and spread with Boursin cheese. Top with an arugula leaf, and wrap with one slice prosciutto.

No, really, that's it!

Challenge Two, Round Two - Poached Pears in Marsala

Ohhh, drunken pears! The last time I had fruit this alcohol-saturated was a better forgotten incident with the infamous Purple Jesus. It goes by several names but is almost certainly ladled out of a dirty cooler in a backyard. Unfortunately much of the fault for this failure lies in my hands. Not only did I make some poor substitutions, I blatantly ignored several of the instructions and thus we ended up with a sickeningly sweet, boozy dessert. Do not do any of the following: use vanilla extract in place of the bean; Sweet Marsala in place of Dry; forget to add the water; or become so engrossed in your current glass of wine that you forget the sauce is reducing filling your friends' apartment with smoke. I haven't gotten the nerve to try again with the leftover Marsala yet, but maybe someday.

Poached Pears in Marsala
2 cups dry Marsala
2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
2 long strips orange peel
6 7-ounce Bosc pears, peeled, stems left intact
8 ounces mascarpone cheese (optional)

Combine 2 cups dry Marsala, 2 cups water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, split vanilla beans, and orange peel strips in heavy large pot. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add peeled Bosc pears. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover pot and simmer until pears are tender, turning pears occasionally, about 40 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer pears to platter. Boil liquid in pot until reduced to 1 1/4 cups, about 12 minutes. Pour syrup over poached pears. Chill until cold, turning pears occasionally, at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.

Divide poached pears among 6 shallow bowls. Strain syrup; discard solids. Drizzle syrup over pears. Top each with dollop of mascarpone, if desired, and serve.

Challenge Two, Round One - Pear and Cranberry Empanadas

These were the winner! I made a berry version of these empanadas last summer and was instructed by some friends to bring them to every gathering going forward. We discussed several variations to suit each holiday and cooking methods to improve the already delicious treat. I first fell in love with this fun little folded treat after trying one last winter at tiny empanada shop in the neighborhood, and then again in Buenos Aires when The Beanpole and I visited on our honeymoon. They're incredibly versatile and hold up to just about any filling one can imagine, sweet and savory. I read through several pie recipes prior to baking the filling and played around with the ingredients to taste, so while it's not the most exacting of recipes but is a great jumping-off point for anyone who dares to try their own! The tartness of the cranberries perfectly contrasted with the sweet pears and was the perfect finishing touch to a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner.

Pear and Cranberry Empanadas
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup chicken stock
1 egg

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder and mix well. Add shortening and break it up by hand until it resembles cornmeal. Add chicken stock and knead until all is incorporated. Let it rest, covered, for at least 30 minutes in cooler.

3 large ripe pears, diced
1/2 cup fresh cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
dash of nutmeg
dash of orange zest
squirt of lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place all ingredients into pie dish and stir to combine. Bake about 15 minutes or until pears are tender and cranberries are slightly mushy. They will also cook slightly when frying empanadas and when reheating if needed so be careful not to overcook. Let cool slightly.

When dough has cooled, turn out onto slightly floured surface and roll to 1/4" thick. Cut circles from dough with 4" pastry cutter. (I had a 3" cutter on hand and used that, then rolled dough to about 1/8" thick as I like a less doughy empanada but either will work.) Spoon filling onto middle of each circle. Brush sides lightly with egg wash, fold into half-moon, and press sides together with fingers or tines of a fork.

Heat a pan filled with oil (I used Smart Balance) to 350 degrees. Fry empanadas until golden brown turning occasionally , about 4-6 minutes, and remove. To reheat, cover with foil and warm in 350 degree oven about 5-10 minutes. Dust lightly with confectioner's sugar if desired.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cranberries and Cinnamon

I first tasted homemade cranberry sauce only a few years ago and have been changed forever. I'd only known the schlooooopy, sloshy mess oozing out of a can with rings intact so it's easy to see why this magic escaped me. But oh, fresh cranberry sauce is now a favorite and I long for it every year. Our Thanksgiving hostess this year used a canned sauce. GASP! But, the first cinnamon-flavored bite of the Harry and David (can they do wrong?) sauce begged me to recreate it with the leftover cranberries. Most recipes call for at least a cup of sugar but I decided to sweeten it another way and chose frozen blueberries. This is going to be delicious on top of some Greek yogurt tonight, and a nice morning bowl of oatmeal tomorrow!

Cranberry-Cinnamon Relish
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
8oz fresh cranberries
4oz frozen blueberries
cinnamon to taste (
I like a lot!)

Bring water to a boil over medium head. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add cranberries and blueberries, return to boil. Reduce heat and let simmer about 10 more minutes or until cranberries burst. Add cinnamon, stir, remove from heat and let cool. Transfer sauce to refrigerator and let cool completely. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

Thanksgiving Feast

The Beanpole and I spent a lovely Thanksgiving holiday here in the city. We'd been planning to for months and were looking quite forward to a relaxing day of football, food, and friends. And oh, was there food. I can't take credit for the majority of the dishes, but will be posting some recipes soon in the next ingredient challenge post. It's never just a party with this crowd and as expected there was plenty of food to feed the six of us and even enough to make leftover care packages!

Hors d'Ouevres
Cherry Tomatoes on Crackers with goat cheese
Stuffed Olives
Bread with herbed olive oil for dipping
Prosciutto wrapped pears with boursin and arugula
Barbecue Ribs (regular and baby-back)
Deep-fried turkey
Sweet Potato Bake
Apple Stuffing
Green Bean Casserole with plain fried onions
Green Bean Casserole with cheddar fried onions
Butternut Squash Cranberry Bake with Almonds
Cranberry Relish
Apple Cookies
Roasted pears in Marsala
Apple Pie Empanadas
Pear and Cranberry Empanadas
Copious amounts of wine, including several reds, a sparkling white, and a pumpkin wine that shall never be spoken of again.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mussels, but no Brussels

The Beanpole has had several opportunities to travel internationally for business and his most recent trip overseas found him in Brussels, Belgium. He attended several dinners and raved about the cuisine but has always had a special place in his heart for mussels. Finally, Saturday night we hopped on the bus and headed up to Hopleaf, a Belgian bar in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago, for an evening of mussels and frites for two, and of course Belgian beer! (photo courtesy of

The kitchen offers two styles of mussels. The first is prepared with a Belgian white ale with shallots, celery, thyme and bay leaf. We opted for the second, more traditional white wine preparation with garlic, fennel, and rapini. Both are served with a paper cone of frites and a bit of garlic aoili. The Beanpole spooned a heaping pile of shells onto each of our plates and we dove in. Each and every bite was delicious. At one point I remember eating as quickly as possible to keep up with The Beanpole and make sure he didn't devour the entire pot and we sat back in our seats with beer in hand and satiated grins on our faces.

The mussels were fantastic, but the real star at Hopleaf is the beer selection. The downstairs bar offers several Belgian and local microbrews on tap along with a sixteen-page menu of bottled beers and the upstairs cash-only bar offers a smaller but still impressive selection. Each brew is carefully poured into the appropriate glass to enhance the experience. The most distinct (and a personal favorite) is Kwak, an amber-colored malty brew with just a hint of fruit, which is served in a round-bottomed glass complete with wooden stand. I suggest ordering this treat early in the evening as returning the glass to the stand after a couple rounds can be a little difficult! (photo courtesy of

Hopleaf is almost always on my list of recommendations for visitors to Chicago, so if you're in the area please check it out!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Another Fabulous Resource

Naturally I'm always on the lookout for a fun new spot to find a recipe I haven't tried and this is sure to quickly become a new favorite. launched today! The home page offers a choice of Recipe of the Day or Author of the Day, and once a selection has been made a plethora of search options open up. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Challenge One, Round Two - Butternut Squash

I had plenty of leftover squash from the Butternut Squash Challenge and decided to find some recipes to use the rest of it. The poor thing sat languishing in the refrigerator for a couple days so I roasted it with a bit of butter and brown sugar to eke out a few more days. And it sat for a couple more days before I got the motivation to play with it a little bit. I'm so glad I did! This risotto was fantastic! I added the cubed butternut squash right at the end only to warm them as I did not want them to get mushy, but it would be equally delicious with the addition of pureed squash.

Butternut Squash Risotto
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 tbs butter (I used Smart Balance)
3/4 Arborio rice (any short-grain rice will do)
1/4 cup dry white wine
3-4 cups chicken stock, heated
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 cups roasted butternut squash, cubed

Melt butter on low to medium heat in heavy bottom skillet. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened but not browned. Add rice and toss to coat. Cook 2-3 minutes to toast rice. Add wine and cook until liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly.

When wine is absorbed, add 1/3 chicken stock and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Add another third stock and keep stirring until liquid is absorbed. Begin tasting about 15 minutes after starting to cook rice. The ideal texture should be soft with a bit of resistance when biting into it. The amount of liquid will vary, so don't be surprised if not all is used.

Add parmesan and stir vigorously until absorbed. Add butternut squash cubes and stir to warm.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cranberry Chocolatey Oatmealy Cookies

I'm not a fan of today. You know how somedays you wake up and it feels as though you're repeatedly walking into a brick wall? That was today. As I've learned recently the best way to combat that feeling is a nice glass of red wine and doing something - anything - in the kitchen. The Beanpole and I had plans to go out for a cocktail so it had to be fast, tasty, and preferably with chocolate. After all, what goes better with wine, right? I quickly found a recipe for White Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies and decided to whip up a batch. I substituted regular semi-sweet chips for the white chocolate (as if it would matter) and they turned out perfectly. Chocolate with fruit is a perfect combination, and oatmeal makes them healthy. Right? Riiiiiight.

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies (Fresh From Cate's Kitchen)
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats (not instant)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
6 ounces white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with silpats
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter with the sugars until fluffy.
Add egg and vanilla and mix well.
Stir in oats, flour mixture, white chocolate, and cranberries and mix until combined.
Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake for about 10 minutes, until just beginning to get a little color.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Check Out Mamarazzi

I had her lovely little button on my page, but it just wouldn't line up properly with the rest and my neurotic tendencies have finally, finally reached their limits with it. But, lest she feel neglected, here is a special post in her honor, complete with button. If anyone with more bloggy know-how can help line her up properly please let me know and I will happily put it right back where it belongs....

Beanpole's Favorite Apple Cookies

They're finally almost gone and mostly because I've been making half batches of these cookies a couple times a week. I found a recipe on and made a couple changes. I use 2 medium to large apples per half batch instead of frozen (frozen? really?), throw a dash of cinnamon into the batter, and sprinkle the tops with cinnamon and sugar before baking. The Beanpole can't keep his hands off them!

Apple Cookies(
1 package (12 oz.) Classic Dishes Harvest Apples, defrosted according to package directions
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
2/3 cup butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts

-Preheat oven to 375°F.
-Mix granulated sugar, brown sugar, shortening, butter, eggs, and vanilla extract in large bowl.
-Stir in flour, escalloped apples, salt and nuts.
-Drop dough by rounded teaspoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
-Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool for 1 minute. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Angel Biscuits

These little delights were the perfect accompaniment to the beefy stew and I have a feeling they'll be making several more appearances. Nothing beats a tried and true recipe that's been handed down through generations. Thanks to Mmmm...Tastes Good's Nana for these treats! They don't need rising time so they're a quick option to go with any meal. I made a half batch with a 3" pastry cutter and it made 6 large biscuits. Next time I'll probably roll the dough a little thinner to increase the yield. It's impossible to eat just one!

Angel Biscuits
5 C sifted flour
1/4 C sugar
3 Tsp baking powder
1 Tsp baking soda
1 Tsp salt
3/4 C shortening (plain)
1 Pkg yeast
2 Tbs warm water
2 C buttermilk (you can also add the juice of one lemon to regular milk and let set for 5-10 minutes for same effect)

-Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix in in shortening with hands until a course meal is formed. Dissolve yeast in the warm water, add yeast/water mixture to the buttermilk. Add to flour mixture, mix well with hands until dough is formed. Turn out on lightly floured surface and knead if necessary. Add additional flour to make soft dough.
-In 9x13 inch pan melt 3 Tbs butter. Once melted remove pan from oven. Slightly elevate one end of pan on counter so all the butter is at one end. Roll out dough till it is 1/2 inch thick. Cut with round 2-3 inch biscuit cutter. Dip 1/2 of one biscuit in butter, fold in half and place at the end of the pan without butter. Continue until you have made the number of desired biscuits.
-Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Serve warm.

Meaty, Manly Meal

They say the fastest way to a man's heart is through his stomach. This man's already been won (go me!) but a home-cooked reminder never hurts! I figured a hot beefy stew, some fresh biscuits, and his favorite apple cookies were in order. Earlier this week I found myself in a rather, er, compromising position and he did everything he could to make me more comfortable and put his man-sized foot down with some uncooperative lab assistants. He even ventured out in the freezing rain to bring back some miso soup without complaint when I didn't feel like cooking. Thanks Beanpole!

I made a couple last-minute adjustments but the stew tasted much better than the canned variety. I forgot bay leaves at the market, but we didn't miss them. I also neglected to notice the two hour simmer and at 9pm threw the chopped carrots and potatoes in a bowl, added a bit of tiny bit of beef stock, loosely covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and microwaved for about 5 minutes to steam everything. I added them to the stew and let them fully soften, probably another 5-10 minutes at most. No problem!

Beef Stew (Annie's Eats)

3 lbs. beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1 ½ -inch cubes

salt and pepper

3 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided

¼ tsp. salt

2 cups chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup dry red wine

2 cups low-sodium beef broth

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. dried thyme

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

4 large carrots, peeled and cut into ¼ -inch slices

1 cup frozen peas

-Dry beef thoroughly and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 of the meat so pieces are spread in one even layer and cook, not moving, until brown (about 2-3 minutes). Use tongs and rotate until all sides are browned (about 5 additional minutes). Transfer beef to a medium bowl and add another 1 tablespoon oil to the pan, repeating previous steps with remaining half of beef.
-Reduce heat to medium and add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to now empty pan, and swirl to coat bottom. Add onions and ¼ tsp. salt and cook, scraping bottom of pan for browned bits until softened (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and continue to cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the flour and cook until lightly colored (1-2 minutes). Add wine, scraping the bottom and stirring until thick and flour is dissolved.
-Gradually add beef broth, stirring constantly, scraping up the remaining browned bits on bottom of pan. Add bay leaves and thyme, return to simmer. Add beef, return to simmer, reduce heat to low, and cover. Simmer for 1 hour.
-Add potatoes and carrots, leave uncovered, increase heat to medium and cook for an additional hour. Add peas, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Discard bay leaves, adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Culinary Confessions

The lazy chef is back and making a pizza tonight. It was that or go out for the third night in a row. The Beanpole and I indulged in Indian Monday night, and begrudgingly settled on Chinese takeout last night. After all the cooking of late my poor body was screaming for something fresh and homemade. Eating vegetables raw isn't an option for me anymore and cooking anything even a little elaborate was out of the question AND we couldn't agree on any dining out options so pizza was the only logical choice. Never mind that we could both eat it every day. Instead of ordering a big greasy pie though I quickly started proofing some dough and we ran to the local market to load up on the good stuff. Tonight's toppings include portabella mushroom caps, broccoli, yellow pepper strips, onion, tomato slices, carrot slices, and sweet Italian chicken sausage. Even with the ice cream treat The Beanpole begged for at the store we saved some money and managed to eat much healthier than we would have had we simply ordered in. Not too shabby for two lethargic loons like us.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Challenge One, Round One - Butternut Squash

Butternut squash is not for those who question the virtue of patience. It's not complicated but the nature of the squash does make working with it time consuming. In other words, it's a vegetable you could still respect the morning after. Those wiser often turn to considerably faster recipes and simply halve, seed, and roast the darn thing. I'm not known normally for being patient but in the kitchen a better self emerges. Here I rarely use words acceptable on Saturday nights but never on Sunday mornings, but always up for a test, I chose a more involved recipe.

Having a craving for both curry and butternut squash soup choosing a recipe that involved both was a no-brainer. The first I stumbled upon was from The Food Network's own Ellie Krieger, host of Healthy Appetite. Two butternut squash remained at the local market - gargantuan, and even larger. Ellie's Curried Butternut Squash Soup recipe called for one small butternut squash so I set about the task of splitting this guy in half verrrrry carefully. He's HUGE!

Several minutes later the giant gourd finally yielded and the seeds came out effortlessly. I've read that when simmered or roasted the skin becomes as tender as the squash itself and is reminiscient of a potato skin but I wasn't feeling particularly faithful last night and decided to remove it. Finally The Hulk was ready to be chopped into small cubes. Butternut squash is tough to cut through but does have some give and eventually the prep work was done. I would suggest starting the prep work about thirty minutes before needing to cook.

Once the dish had simmered I set about pureeing it in my favorite new plaything (aka the food processor). I had no interest in letting the dish cool off prior to pureeing but somehow avoided any major damage to person, machine, or more importantly recipe. Once pureed I served up a dish to The Beanpole with a dash of non-fat Greek yogurt and waited for the official verdict. The yogurt was too tangy for him so I ended up with the final say. I think this dish could have been a little better in a couple of ways. The soup ended up being more like a mush due to the gigantic squash. Even half exceeded a small squash. I'd also pay closer attention to the amount of curry used and NOT use my hand to measure this out. The apartment now smells and tastes like curry! It's worth another try though and with some tweaking could be a delicious accompaniment to other dishes but doesn't stand up well as the main course.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Who needs Colicchio?

We've got our own top chef challenge now! I am part of a daily email chain that has at various points been the brightest part of my day. The the friendly little piiiing resonating from my computer alerting me to a new email set off a frenzied rush to finish reading the latest resume I was reviewing to be the first with a dashing and witty reply. More than that on some days it's been the most real contact I've had with the outside world. Here's the funny part - I've only met three of the five girls on the chain. As we've gotten to know each other and formed the unique sorts of friendships that cyberspace lends itself to a couple of us have discovered a shared love of all things cooking and baking. A recent conversation about butternut squash led to the development of a fun new challenge for us. We'll be choosing a new ingredient twice a month and each selecting a different recipe to blog about. Stay tuned for delicious new dishes!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post-Election Presidential Pizza

My original Election 2008 plans included staying in solo, making a pizza, enjoying a glass or several of wine and camping out with Brokaw, Maddow, et al. Fortunately a friend and I decided that if history were happening in Chicago we should be part of it so I abandoned my wild evening with the cat to celebrate with around 250,000 other fired-up fellow citizens. So, in honor of the new President of the United States I made the pizza tonight instead, elitist leafy greens and all! I found the recipe for the dough on another cooking blog. The wine wasn't noticeable but the texture was perfect and the edges crisped up quite nicely. I made the full recipe and cut the dough in half to throw in the freezer for a future pizza night. Depending on your desired thickness one half should be perfect for two servings, especially with a salad or dessert.

Drunken Pizza Dough (Lynsey Lou)
1 1.4oz package fast-acting yeast
1/3 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
1/3 cup white wine (I used a sauvignon blanc as I had it on hand, but any will do)
1/2 tsp maple syrup (I omitted, but would add with salty toppings for a sweet kick)
2 tbsp oil (I used olive)
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Any desired toppings (I used low-fat mozzarella, goat cheese, grated parmesan, 1 chopped portabella mushroom cap, black olives, freshly chopped garlic, and arugula)

In large bowl, combine water and yeast. Let set about 10 minutes until foamy on top. Stir in remaining ingredients until mixture forms a soft dough. Knead 5-8 minutes until smooth and elastic and form into a ball. Add to an oiled bowl and turn to coat, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled in size. Turn onto lightly floured surface and roll to desired thickness. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add sauce and toppings to liking, place on pizza stone or back of a baking sheet and bake 12-15 minutes until cheese is nice and bubbly. If a crisper crust is desired, transfer directly to rack after 10 minutes to finish baking.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Apple-y Delicious!

I'm not a baker. Or so I thought. It's true, I've been converted. The Beanpole and I had both had lousy weeks with both being sick and not sleeping well and one of the best ways to combat that is good ol' comfort food. What's more comforting on a chilly fall day than hot apple pie and a cup of steaming cider? Exactly. I don't know either. Determined to make my own crust and the best apple pie possible I turned to none other than The Joy of Baking. And joyful it was! When The Beanpole went back for his second slice after inhaling the first and told me that we couldn't speak because it was "pie time" it was all worth it. The original instructions were a bit disorganized so I modified them below to clarify for us "non-bakers". Don't let the length of the instructions dissuade you! The recipe is really quite simple, just very descriptive...

Joy of Baking Apple Pie
Pate Brisee (Short Crust Pastry)
2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp white granulated sugar
1 cup butter
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup ice water
Apple Filling
2 1/2 lbs apples (about 6 large), peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/4" thick slices (I used 9 small-med apples)
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 light brown sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp cornstarch

To really bring out the flavor of the apples macerate them (to bring out their juices) prior to baking. Combine apples through salt in a large bowl, stir, and let sit at room temperature for about 2 hours. While the apples are sitting, start on the pastry crust.

In a food processor, combine flour, salt, sugar, and butter, and pulse for 10-15 seconds until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Once combined, stream in water slowly until dough just holds together when pinched. Turn dough out onto a flat surface and gather into a little ball. Divide ball in half and flatten each half into a disk. Cover each with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least an hour.

Once apples have macerated for two hours, turn them into a strainer and place over a large bowl to capture juices. Let them drain for 15-30 minutes or until you have about 1/2 cup of juice in the bowl. While juices are draining, place your first disk of dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to 12", working from the center and picking dough up and turning 1/4 with each roll to prevent sticking. Fold dough in half and gently place into pie pan, trimming any excess dough from around the edges. Cover with plastic wrap, return to refrigerator and remove second disk to take the chill off and return apples to bowl, saving juices. Meanwhile, spray a microwave-safe measuring cup with cooking oil. Pour in juices from apple mixture and add butter, microwaving for about 6-7 minutes until the mixture has reduced but about 1/3 and has thickened. Pour over apples, adding cornstarch, stir to combine, and pour into pie plate. Roll out second dough on a lightly floured surface and gently place on top of pie dish. If your pie dish has a ledge on which bottom crust is setting (mine didn't) brush lightly with water prior to adding top crust. Push dough together with fingers (to form the pretty ruffly edges) or crimp with a fork. Cut 5 small slices in top crust to allow steam to escape (this is what makes the pretty star on top!)

Place oven rack on lowest bars and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pie pan on a baking stone or a sheet pan to prevent the bottom from burning, and bake 40-50 minutes. Check the pie about 30 minutes in and cover the edges with foil to prevent burning. Once the pie is done baking, transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool 3-4 hours. Serve pie warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped topping.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Teriyaki Chicken and Pineapple Rice

A noticeable chill has taken over, fall (and almost winter!) has definitely arrived, and I thought it high time we take a mini dinner vacation back to summer. One of the challenges of living in a city apartment is craving grilled food but not being able to cook out as we're accustomed. I'm finding little tricks and flavors that help trick the tastebuds and this was one of those meals. It's not perfect and could definitely use another boost but by the time I'd eaten one of the chicken breasts I had several ideas on how to improve, so look for variations to come throughout the winter! The recipe was created on the fly and therefore no true measurements exist so feel free to play around a little bit and adjust to your personal taste.

Teriyaki Chicken
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
dash of garlic powder
dash of ginger
splash of rice wine vinegar
a couple drops of honey

Mix all ingredients together and let chicken breasts or tenders marinate in shallow baking dish overnight, or at least 6 hours. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until cooked. Once cooked, place under broiler on high for 2-3 minutes to get that nice grilled flavor. If you prefer a thicker sauce you can simmer on the stovetop for a couple minutes to reduce sauce or add a dash of cornstarch.

Pineapple Rice
Rice (I used brown, because I always have it on hand, but white would be fine)
1 can pineapple tidbits (whatever size you want, depending on how much pineapple you want)

Cook rice according to package directions. Since rice is cooked in a 2:1 liquid to rice formula, use 1 cup chicken broth, 2/3 cup water, and 1/3 pineapple juice from can per cup of rice. Again, feel free to play around a bit with this to taste. When rice is almost cooked, add pineapple tidbits and stir in rice to allow flavor to concentrate.

See, it's almost like summer!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Butternut Squash Ravioli and Apple Not-so-Crisp

Last night The Beanpole and I got home just in time to scramble cleaning the apartment and start dinner for some friends. They were running a bit late so we had plenty of time to wash and dry the dishes and maintain the pretense of organization. Anxious to use a portion of the 2 pecks of apples we'd picked up at the orchard I started on the first apple crisp recipe I found so it would be ready when we finished dinner. I used a butternut squash ravioli recipe found on accompanied by roasted asparagus (which I could eat every single day, by the way) and more Sam Adams Oktoberfest. I love the Oktoberfest beers - not too dark and heavy but a perfect transition from the lighter tastes of summer. The apple crisp turned out to be mush, probably because I went rogue with the recipe. Then again, when topped with vanilla ice cream, it all worked out!

Butternut Squash Ravioli
1/2-3/4 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped (I halved, and roasted at 450 for 45 min)
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup finely grated gruyere or ricotta (
I used low-fat ricotta)
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour, pre-sifted (
Use fork to fluff flour, and lightly spoon into measuring cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
Steam (or roast) squash until easily pierced with a fork.
Mash squash, and add spices, cheese and salt and pepper.
Cool, and prepare dough.
For dough: Mix flour and salt together.
In a separate bowl, mix the cilantro, eggs, and 1/4 cup water.
In a food processor, pulse cilantro mixture until the cilantro is fine.
Add flour mixture gradually until well mixed.
Add water if necessary to obtain a stiff dough.
Knead dough by hand, and leave rest in a covered bowl for 20 minutes.
Knead again, and roll dough into a thin sheet, approximately 1/8 inch. (
even thinner would be best)
Cut out an even number of circles in the dough.
Drop a spoonful of filling in the center of each circle, moisten edges with water, and cover with a separate circle.
Pinch edges together, and leave ravioli dry for about 2 hours, and refrigerate until needed.
Cook ravioli in salted boiling water for 15 minutes, drain, rinse, and serve with preferred sauce. (
I used a brown butter and sage sauce)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pork Chops Marsala

I found the Marsala recipe below in the Meals in Minutes issue put out by Cooking Light Magazine and just had to try it. It was everything it was cracked up to be and I struggled to refrain from devouring the sauce directly from the pan! The Beanpole and I joked that if we weren't already married this meal (minus the brussel sprouts for him!) would have inspired a proposal. Even if you think you don't like them, you must try the recipe here. It's so easy and even more delicious.

Pork Chops Marsala (serves 4)
6 tbsp all-purpose flour, divided (1/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp)
4 (4oz) boneless center-cut loin pork chops (about 1/2 inch thick)
Cooking spray
1/3 cup minced shallots (about 2)
1 (8oz) package presliced mushrooms (I used portabella, but any will do)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup Marsala wine or dry sherry (I used sherry)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

-Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place 1/4 cup of flour in a shallow dish and dredge pork in flour. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add pork to pan, cook 3-4 minutes on each side until browned. Remove pork from pan.
-Add shallots, mushrooms, and garlic to pan; saute 3 minutes or until moisture evaporates. Add remaining flour and thyme to pan; cook 1 minute, stirring well. Combine chicken broth and Marsala, stirring until smooth. Gradually add broth mixture to pan, stirring constantly with a whisk, bring to boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 2 minutes or until sauce thickens.
-Return pork to pan; cook 2 minutes or until desired degree of doneness, turning to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Golden Brown Brussels Sprouts

"Not until you eat your brussels sprouts!!"

It's the classic motherly refrain, isn't it? Well, it wasn't when I was growing up. I'd never tried them in fact until about 5 years ago but couldn't remember ever hearing of anyone who enjoyed them! That first introduction left me lukewarm. They were steamed and not particularly flavorful but I couldn't find anything inherently disgusting about them. Fast forward five years to the discovery of this recipe. I could eat them prepared this way every night if need be. Then again, parmesan cheese makes everything better!

Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts (101 Cookbooks)
24 small brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for rubbing
fine-grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated cheese of your choice

Wash brussels sprouts well. Trim stems, remove any raggy outer leaves. Cut in half from stem to top, gently rub each half with olive oil, keeping it intact.

Heat 1 tbps olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Don’t overheat skillet, or the outsides of the brussels sprouts will cook too quickly. Place brussels sprouts in the pan flat side down (single-layer), sprinkle with a couple pinches of salt, cover, and cook for roughly 5 minutes; the bottoms of the sprouts should only show a hint of browning. Cut into or taste one of the sprouts to gauge whether they’re tender throughout. If not, cover and cook for a few more minutes.

Once just tender, uncover, turn up the heat, and cook until the flat sides are deep brown and caramelized. Use a metal spatula to toss them once or twice to get some browning on the rounded side. Season with more salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a dusting of grated cheese. While you might be able to get away with keeping a platter of these warm in the oven for a few minutes, they are exponentially tastier if popped in your mouth immediately.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oh, Sweet Cinnamon Gloss

I've spent the morning contemplating my kitchen, as usual, and decided to bite the bullet and bring out the KitchenAid stand mixer that's been in it's box for the past year. I got a great deal on it shortly before moving last year and after agonizing over the colors decided on Cinnamon Gloss. Once we got here decided it was easiest to keep it in the box for the sake of creating extra space. It's out of the box now, finally, and taunting me. What to make first?? Not surprisingly, I'm leaning towards a bread of some sort. Something rustic to go with all the soups of late would be perfect!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Girls' Night In

Several weeks ago some girlfriends and I decided to have scheduled girls' nights in to relax and catch up. I leaped at the chance to be the first hostess and set about planning a nice fall feast. Finally, I found the perfect recipe on a blog I'd stumbled upon. Admittedly, I took the inspirational photo a bit literally, but it worked with items already on hand and after two last-minute trips to the market simple presentation sounded fantastic! Risotto has a reputation for being difficult to prepare so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's quite easy, and almost meditative. Even better, I got to use my fun pumpkin pot!

We finished dinner with a couple slices each of this scrumptious (and lowfat!) Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread found on another blog. One friend rated it better than Starbucks'! I haven't tried theirs, but agree that this particular recipe is sticking around for a long long time.

Drinks were a little more challenging. I landed on an apple wine and Sam Adams Oktoberfest. The apple wine was unexpected and a bit confounding. We decided that it tasted a bit like a flat sauvignon blanc, or a pear, or that a couple splashes of seltzer could help it make sense.All in all it was a really nice evening, and it reminded me (yet again) of how calming cooking and serving a meal is.

Pumpkin Risotto (A Year In the Kitchen)
1 tbsp. butter
1 small yellow onion, minced
salt and ground black pepper
1 c. arborio rice
1/4 c. dry white wine
2 c. warmed chicken stock
3/4 c. canned pumpkin puree
2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar reduction

In a large nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper. Toss to begin cooking. Add rice, toast for 2 minutes. Add white wine and cook until the liquid is evaporated. Add 1/3 c. chicken stock, stirring in between additions, about every 3 minutes. After all of the stock is absorbed, add the canned pumpkin. Turn heat to low and let the rice cook and pumpkin absorb into the rice. Add parmesan cheese, stir, and plate with balsamic reduction.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread (Erin's Eats)
2 cups sugar (I only used 1.5 cups)
2 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup fat-free vanilla pudding (I used fat-free vanilla yogurt)
4 large egg whites
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Combine flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, stirring just until moist. Stir in chocolate chips.
Spoon batter into 2 (8 x 4-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack, and remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Problem or Opportunity?

When you picture your dream kitchen, what do you see? Is it 60 square feet with no dishwasher but the only perfect spot in your home for the litterbox? I didn't think so. Mine either. So what to do when it's all you have? First, you look at all the kitchen items in their neatly packed moving boxes and sigh. Next, you invoke the gods of organization and start tackling the placement of said items. This means that beans go with beans, rice with rice, and randomly shaped and sized casserole dishes find nooks within each other and in the kitchen most likely previously unexplored. Once this is complete, you stop, think about all the lovely and new kitchen items you've added to your wedding registry and panic only to start anew to clear space. Wash, rinse, repeat. And when all the shiny glassware and basting sets are nestled in their homes you start to cook and find it's not so bad. After all, almost every item is within reach or no more than three steps away and I merely have to turn around to move from prep station to stove. It's not perfect, but if there's one room in this apartment that is unequivocally mine, it's the kitchen.