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.