Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Don't tell the Girl Scouts

Now that I have finally emerged out of my cookie coma, I can finally finish posting about all the Christmas goodies I made this year. This holiday season was a whirlwind of foodie extravaganzas. There were so many amazing meals, and delicious desserts, but most importantly I was able to get home to Minnesota and spend time (mostly cooking and eating) with my friends and family. I think they were just happy because I brought lots of cookies home with me.

Ask any of my roommates from college how much I love Samoas Girl Scout Cookies (or caramel de-lites) and they will probably roll their eyes. I have been known to hide the purple boxes in my room so that no one will steal them. It's just that there aren't that many in the box, they trick you and use one of those vacuum formed plastic thingies (yes that is the technical term, and yes as an industrial designer I should know the actual term) to space them out, and plus, they only come around once a year.

Not anymore. A great blog, Once Upon a Plate, posted a homemade version of these coveted cookies. I have had it bookmarked for a while now, and didn't think I was going to get to it this year, but after I screwed up a batch of caramels, (completely stuck to the pan after I neglected to line it with parchment paper) I figured it was a good excuse to make the 'samoas'. With a pan of homemade caramel and my hand mixer, I embarked on probably the most tedious kitchen endeavor I have ever taken on, and this is coming from the girl who has made homemade bagels and teeny tiny stuffed pastas in recent history.

But oh man...are they good. They don't taste exactly like the real thing, and I will definitely be purchasing copious amounts of the originals when spring comes around and 'Girl Scout Cookie Season' kicks off. I think these are actually a different animal altogether with the dark chocolate and the homemade salted caramel. They are rich, VERY rich. This is a good thing for a person like me (a person with portion control issues) as it limits me to one cookie per sitting. Although, I have recently discovered that they are best straight out of the freezer, and that whole 'one per sitting' rule no longer applies.

Homemade Samoas
(or Carmel De-Lites, depending on where in the country you live)
adapted from Once Upon a Plate
Makes about 4 dozen cookies

There are three main steps to this cookie, and you will see very quickly why this is a tedious process. First you make the buttery cookies that are buried beneath the caramel coconut goodness. I made mine with holes in the center this time, but if I make these again, I will skip that step. I ended up filling the holes with the coconut mixture, and was too lazy to re-poke the centers out. As I see it, if there is no hole, that just means there is more cookie. :-) Second step is to spread the coconuts caramel mixture on each one of these teeny cookies. Then comes the chocolate dipping/drizzling. The last part is probably the most difficult: waiting until they set before you pop them into your mouth.

Cookie Base

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
up to 2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl using a hand mixer (or a stand mixer), cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in a few additions, beating on a low speed. Add the vanilla, and just enough milk to get the dough to come together, without being sticky (I only needed 1 tablespoon). Gather the dough together in a ball and divide into three equal parts.

In between two sheets of parchment paper, roll one of the pieces of dough out with a rolling pin until it is 1/4 inch thick. Using a 1.5" round cookie cutter, cut out circles and place them on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet.

If you want you can punch a hole out of the center of each round using the end of a large straw, or you can just skip this all together. Like I said above, if I make these again, I will not go through the trouble since it just got filled in with topping anyway.

Repeat this process until you have used all the dough, and feel free to re-roll scraps once or twice. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes until the cookies are just lightly brown around the edges. Let cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to allow to cool completely.


3 cups shredded coconut (I would recommend unsweetened, but like me, if all you can find is sweetened that works just fine!)
12 ounces good quality caramels (I used a homemade batch of salted caramels)
1/4 teaspoon salt (if you are using salted caramels, you can reduce this to 1/8 teaspoon, or skip it altogether)
3 tablespoons milk
8 ounces dark chocolate, roughly chopped or broken into small pieces (if you do not like dark chocolate, feel free to use milk or bittersweet, I think the dark helped balance out the intense sweetness of this cookie, if even just a little)

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Spread coconut evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast for about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Keep an eye on this in the last few minutes of toasting as the sugar in the coconut can scorch very quickly once it starts turning brown. Let cool on baking sheet.

Unwrap the caramels and place in a microwave safe bowl. Add the milk and the salt, and microwave for 3-4 minutes, stopping a few times to stir the caramel.

When it is completely melted and smooth stir in the coconut in a few additions. Use your judgement here, I did not end up adding 100% of the coconut because it started to feel like it was getting a little stiff. The right ratio of coconut to caramel is key to actually being able to spread the mixture onto the cookies, if there is too much coconut, it will be nearly impossible, if there is too little coconut, the mixture won't hold up as well and will ooze off the cookie before it sets. Test the mixture out as you go, add about 3/4 of the coconut at first, test a cookie, if it is spreadable and stays on the cookie for the most part continue on with the rest of the cookies, if it starts to ooze, add a little more coconut and test again. (This is clearly a very scientific process here)

Once you get the caramel mixture to your desired consistency, spread about 2-3 teaspoons of the mixture on each cookie with a small spatula or offset spatula (I actually found my butter knife to work quite well) and place on a clean piece of parchment paper or silicone baking sheet. While you are doing this, if the mixture starts to firm up, pop the bowl in the microwave for a few seconds to re-melt the caramel. If you are getting fancy (or not being lazy) take a wide straw and re-poke the holes in the center of the cookies, again I skipped this step. More caramel = GOOD. Let cool and set up for about 10-15 minutes.

Once the caramel topping has set a bit, place the chocolate in a small bowl and heat in the microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly in between each interval until smooth. Be careful not to scorch the chocolate. You can also use the double-boiler method (which I did) by placing a small metal or glass bowl containing the chocolate over a small sauce pan with about an inch of simmering water, and stirring continuously until melted.

This is where it becomes important that you let the caramel topping set and cool, it will help you keep a grip on the cookie while dipping. Take each cookie and dip the bottom 1/4 inch into the chocolate, and place back on the parchment paper or silicone sheet.

After all the cookies have been dipped, pour the remaining chocolate into a small Ziploc bag (or pastry bag with a small tip) and cut off a very tiny portion of the corner of the bag. Pipe the chocolate over the top of each cookie, melting more chocolate if you run out.

Now here is the tricky part: don't touch them until the chocolate has set...which takes forever when you are staring at about 48 Samoa cookies laying on your kitchen counter. Mine didn't turn out quite as pretty as the originals, but they were tasty.

Hope your holidays were spectacular!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chai-Spiced Cookies

Let the baking extravaganza continue!

The second batch of cookies that I attempted this Christmas season worked a little better than the first, (I chilled them for a little while before popping them in the oven, which prevented spreading like the thumbprints) but when it came time to dredge them in powdered sugar, my lack of patience got the better of me. I threw them in when they were a little too hot and ended up with sort of damp, almost glazed cookies instead of the light and fluffy confectioner sugar coating that I was hoping for.

Hell, they still tasted good. Judging by the fact that I had to put them in the freezer so that I would quit eating them, I'd say they turned out just fine.

These cookies are a great alternative to your standard spice cookie, they are complex and buttery, with a dash (well more than a dash) of sweetness from the sugar coating. I highly recommend adding these to your cookie repertoire.

Chai Spiced Cookies
From Whole Foods via
makes about 40 cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup powered sugar (confectioner's sugar)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream butter and sugar together in large bowl with hand mixer (or in your stand mixer, whatever floats your boat). In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, and salt. Beat the flour mixture and the vanilla into the butter mixture just until combined.

Pinch off teaspoon-sized balls of dough and roll them into spheres, placing them 1 inch apart on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet. If your dough is really soft and warm like mine was, pop the pans in the refrigerator for a few minutes to firm them up. This will prevent the cookies from spreading at least a little bit. Bake until light golden brown, about 15-18 minutes.

Let the cookies cool for about 5-10 minutes on the cookie sheet (this is about the point at which I ended up with sticky gooey balls so BE PATIENT). When they have cooled, but are still slightly warm, toss each cookie in the powdered sugar to coat and place on wire rack to cool completely.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks, or in my case as long as it takes to gobble them all up.

Try to save at least a few to share for the holidays.

Cookie (Semi) Fail...

It's that time of year again. Christmas cookie time. The baking has commenced and I wish I could say that it is going swimmingly. It's not. I have had to call the mommy christmas cookie helpline twice already...and it's only the 18th. Sigh.

The past two years I have made a jam thumbprint cookie form a Emeril recipe. The cookie itself is flavored with lemon zest and juice, and the filling is homemade raspberry jam. They are amazing, and probably in my top three favorite christmas cookies ever. They were super easy to make, and turned out quite pretty looking. You would think by now I could make these with my eyes closed, but this year they just didn't go well. Instead of cute little perfectly round cookies, with a dot of jam in the center, they spread into large flat discs with jam oozing out over the sides.

Luckily they still tasted fantastic.

There is a reason I usually stick to savory foods, I kind of suck at baking. Although I suppose there could be worse things to have to practice eh?

Besides the slight mishap (maybe I need to turn down the heat in my kitchen, who knows) these cookies are absolutely delicious. They aren't super sweet, which is probably why I enjoy them so much. Now the trick is just not eating them all before Christmas gets here...

Lemon Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies
Recipe from Emeril Lagasse on

1/2 cup raspberry jam (preferably homemade, but if you aren't lucky enough to have a mom that sends you multiple jars each summer, store bought is fine)
1 tablespoon chambord or kirsch (I didn't use any this time, but I have used triple sec and creme de cassis before, any berry or citrus liqueur that you have on hand will work, I recommend NOT skipping this ingredient, it adds some nice oomph to the cookie)
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix the jam and whatever liqueur you are using. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar together with hand mixer (or if you have a stand mixer do it in there. Also, if you have a stand mixer, I am jealous of you) until light and creamy. Add the egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla and beat to combine.

In two additions, add the dry ingredient mixture and beat just until wet clumps form.

Then using your hands, gather the dough together in a ball.

Divide the dough into 4 equal parts and form 12 1-inch balls out of each of those parts. Place balls on parchment paper or silicone mat lined baking sheets, leaving 1 inch space in between each cookie.

Using a 1 teaspoon measuring spoon (a melon baller works if you have weird square shaped measuring spoons like me) make a small indent into the top of each cookie.

Fill each indent with about 1/2 teaspoon of the jam mixture.

Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets for just a few minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.

More cookie shenanigans to come, don't worry.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Soup Arsenal

It is good to have a soup arsenal. A list of soups that you can make without consulting the recipe, soups that you are itching to make at the first hint of cold weather, and soups that consistently make you feel warm and full and satisfied. Soups that you like so much that you don't mind eating them for the next three weeks because you made such a huge pot.

This soup is going into my arsenal. I have survived almost three weeks of eating this soup, and as of this afternoon, I am still not sick of it. I fact, I kind of want it for dinner too...

I especially love roasted soups. Put a bunch of stuff onto a sheet pan, throw it in the oven for an hour, buzz it through the food processor and viola: creamy, healthy, thick, complex, soup. Its like magic.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Pear, and Shallot Soup
Adapted from

2 pounds peeled, seeded, and cubed butternut squash
2 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and cubed
5-6 shallots, peels and quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
4 carrots peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups chicken stock
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
crumbled goat cheese for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine pears, squash, garlic, shallots, carrots, olive oil, salt and pepper, together on a large rimmed baking sheet and toss to coat evenly with the oil. Roast, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to caramelize, about 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Working in batches, adding vegetables to food processor with enough chicken stock to aid blending. Blend until smooth and pour into large soup pot. Add any remaining stock, stir to combine, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in bowls with crumbled goat cheese on top.

Get cozy, its going to be a long, cold winter :-)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Don't forget the bread!

The only other part of my Thanksgiving feast that I managed to get picture of (only because I made them 4 days in advance when I wasn't going crazy yet) were the dinner rolls. I am slowly starting to get my sea legs in the world of bread baking, and now that I have a bread machine to do the dirty work for me, it is becoming much more approachable.

I use my bread machine just for the dough preparation, and then let it rise, proof, and bake outside of the machine. I just don't like the shape and consistency of the bread that comes out of there, and I feel like I have much more control outside of the machine. That said, it consistently puts out a perfectly kneaded ball of dough, and that I am thankful for.

I found these rolls on the blog 'A Bread A Day'. I am a big fan of this site, is it a great resource for basic and unique breads alike. This roll is a really standard butter and milk dinner roll, made fancy by plopping three little balls of dough into muffin tins. Easy as that! They are light and fluffy, and pull apart to make lots of surface area for whatever you are slathering on there (more butter).

Cloverleaf Rolls
adapted from A Bread A Day

2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/8 cups lukewarm water
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for brushing on top of baked rolls
1/4 cup non-fat dry milk (if you can't find dry milk like me, just substitute one cup of water in the recipe for one cup of milk)
1/2 cup instant potato flakes (yeah I thought that was weird too, but turns out, its very common and helps make a light and fluffy bread)

Dissolve the yeast in 2 tablespoons lukewarm water and a pinch of sugar. Let sit for about 15 minutes until it is bubbly and has expanded.

Combine the yeast with the remainder of the ingredients (only use 1 cup of water - or milk if you are not using dry milk- since you used 1/8 cup water to dissolve the yeast in) in the bowl of your bread machine or stand mixer. Put it on the dough setting and as soon as it forms a smooth ball stop the machine.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Turn the dough around so that the oil coats all sides of the dough and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot and let it rise for about an hour, until it has doubled in size. My grandma swears by letting the dough rise twice in the bowl, and she makes AMAZING buns, so that is what I did. Punch the dough down gently to deflate, turn it upside down, cover, and let it double in size again about another 1 - 1.5 hours.

Lightly grease 1 12-cup muffin tin or 2 6-cup tins. Gently deflate your dough and turn it out onto a lightly greased surface. Divide the dough in 12 equal pieces. Take one piece and divide it into thirds. Shape each third into a ball and place the three balls into a muffin cup. Repeat for the remaining 11 pieces.

Cover the pans with a lightly greased piece of plastic wrap and let proof for about an hour, until they are quite puffy. When they are ready, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake the rolls until they are light golden brown, about 25 minutes. When they are just about done, melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter in the microwave. Remove the rolls from the oven and brush with the melted butter. Let the rolls cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

I made these a few days ahead of time, wrapped in tinfoil and put in a freezer bag, and froze until the day I was serving them. When dinner rolled around, I popped them back into their muffin tins and reheated them in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. It was almost like I had baked them that day (shush don't tell anyone that I didn't).

Tasty Turkey

Yum. This year's Thanksgiving(s) involved some great turkey. My parents upped the ante this year and made two grilled rotisserie turkeys that were just fabulous. Smokey, moist, and tender, it was everything a great piece of poultry should be.

I made my first ever roast turkey, and as nervous as I was about over-cooking it, or under-cooking it, it turned out magnificent. I can only assume all the butter I stuffed under the skin had something to do with that. Oh yeah, and the bacon. More on that later though.

My friends here in Chicago decided we should have a Chicago Thanksgiving the weekend before the real thing. Steve and I hosted, and everyone brought a dish to share. There was WAY too much food, and way too much wine, oh but it sure was fun.

So back to the bird. When I found out I was going to be hosting Thanksgiving, and therefore making the turkey, I pulled out all my back issues of Food & Wine and Bon Appetit, and scoured them for the perfect turkey recipe. Well I think I may have found it. It wasn't too hard as long as you prepare a few days in advance, and it made for a pretty fool-proof way to get a golden brown, juicy, tender turkey with a boat load of flavor. Butter + Herbs + Bacon + Turkey = YUM. The gravy was equally delicious, and was pretty easy since I made the base a few days ahead of time. There were also mashed potatoes with the gravy, cranberry-pomegranate sauce, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, green bean casserole, corn pudding, and of course dressing. And about four desserts. I don't even remember dessert because I was in food delirium from the main meal, I just remember it was good.

I learned a lot about putting on a big meal. I learned that one oven is not enough, and hosting a thanksgiving for 8 in an apartment with no dinner table is challenging. Nevertheless, everything came together, and came out hot, and we all made due snuggled around the coffee table. Getting all the dishes out at the same time and carving a turkey unfortunately meant that I did a horrible job taking pictures of all the side dishes. I pretty much only got pictures of the turkey and the rolls. Oh well, better luck next year huh?

Roast Turkey with Bacon Dijon Herb Butter and Cider Gravy
From Bon Appetit November 2008

Bacon Dijon Herb Butter

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 ounces apple wood smoked bacon (or if your grocery store sucks like mine does, just get the highest quality Oscar Meyer bacon you can find)
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon lemon zest

This is the goodness that will go under the skin of the turkey the day prior to roasting. You can make this up to three days in advance, but you want to make it at least a few hours before putting it in the turkey to give it time to firm up in the fridge.

Put all ingredients into food processor and pulse until bacon is finely chopped.

Transfer butter mixture to a long sheet of plastic wrap. Using the plastic as an aid, roll the butter into a 2 inch diameter log, and seal the plastic wrap to enclose, twisting the ends shut. Place in fridge for at least a few hours and up to three days.

Cider Gravy Base

Neck reserved from turkey (I used a 15 pound turkey, but the recipe is for an 18 pounder)
1/4 cup fat from cavity of turkey
1 whole turkey leg, thigh and drumstick (purchase this separately when you buy your turkey, my butcher only had drumsticks, so I used two)
2 1/2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onion
6 large thyme sprigs
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 cup apple cider
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
8 cups chicken stock (make sure to use the good stuff here, I used homemade chicken stock, but if you don't have it, spring an extra dollar for the Kitchen Basics boxed chicken stock, its much better than broth)
4 whole sage leaves

This base can be made up to two days in advance. As soon as you pick up your turkey, clean it out and get the neck and the reserved fat out to make the gravy base. It will save you tons of time and a headache on thanksgiving day.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place turkey neck, leg (or legs), and reserved fat into roasting pan and roast until deep golden brown, about an hour and a half, turning once. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup fat for gravy, and returning 1 tablespoon fat back to the pan. Along with the turkey parts, add the celery, onions, thyme, and peppercorns, and roast for 10 minutes. Add the cider and the vinegar, and roast for another 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and sage and cook uncovered for an hour and a half. Strain through a fine sieve and discard solids. You should end up with about 4-5 cups gravy base. Put in a air tight container and chill until ready to use.


1 15-16 pound turkey (again the recipe calls for an 18 pounder, so whatever you end up with will work just fine here, your cooking times may vary depending on the weight)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper, divided
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped fresh fennel bulbs
2 cups chopped peeled carrots
2 cups chopped unpeeled apples (I used granny smith)
1/2 cup olive oil
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup all purpose flour

The preparation for the turkey needs to be done at least one day ahead, and can be done up to two days ahead of time.

Cut the bacon butter log into 1/4 inch slices.

Rinse the turkey inside and out, and pat completely dry with paper towels. Place on rimmed baking sheet. Starting at the neck end, use fingers to gently separate the skin from the meat of the bird. Slide the butter slices under the skin to cover the leg thigh and breast meat. There will be A LOT of butter, this is a good thing, just keep shoving it in being careful not to tear the skin.

Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of pepper on outside of bird, and the remaining salt and pepper inside the cavity. Cover the turkey with plastic wrap and chill for at least 24 hours.

Go time! When you are ready to cook the turkey, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large roasting pan, combine the celery, onions, fennel, carrots, apples, oil, and bay leaves. Season generously with salt and pepper. Place the turkey on top of the vegetable mixture, tuck wings underneath the body, and tie the legs together to hold its shape. Roast turkey until cooked through, about 3.5 hours, or until a thermometer reads 170 degrees when placed in the thickest part of the thigh. Baste every 30 minutes with pan drippings, and if the turkey is browning too much, tent with tin foil.

When the turkey is done, take out of oven and move to a platter, tenting with foil to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.

Oh the carnage!

Strain what is remaining in the roasting pan through a fine sieve and set aside solids (or serve them as a side dish, my friends were picking at the veggies while we were getting the meal together, also they didn't let me toss them when we were finished, so I threw them into the pot when I made stock the next day. I am glad I didn't throw them away). Separate the fat from the pan drippings (this is when I wish I had a fat separator). Discard fat, and reserve de-greased pan drippings for gravy.

Now its time to get out your gravy base and reserved fat from a few days ago. Re-warm gravy base in microwave. Melt reserved fat in large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until incorporated, about 3 minutes. Gradually add cider gravy base and reserved pan drippings. Simmer until smooth, thick, and reduced to about 5 cups. Season with salt and pepper. Pour all over everything. Yes it is THAT good.

Now dig in!! Who says turkey is only for thanksgiving? Make this for Christmas or any other special dinner event. I am usually not a huge turkey person, but this year has made me reconsider. A thanksgiving turkey CAN be moist, well-seasoned, and deservedly the center of attention at the dinner table. Hope your turkey was as fantastic as ours was! Gobble Gobble!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I wish I had some right now...

Well, Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone leaving me with great memories, a slight hangover, lots of leftovers, and the H1N1 virus. Yes, I have the plague. Okay, maybe not the plague, but it sure feels like it.

I am going to make this short and sweet since I need to get myself back to the couch. I have been wanting to make homemade macaroni and cheese for quite a while now, and the only thing stopping me was not wanting to know the exact quantities of butter and cheese it contained. After I saw Ina Garten's recipe though, I said 'screw it, I'm makin mac and cheese'.

I made a few edits as usual, eliminating the tomatoes (who needs vegetables right?) and added grilled chicken and mushrooms. It was so decadent and delicious, and I could really go for some right now. This made two pans of mac and cheese, and it actually froze quite well.

If you have been thinking about making homemade macaroni and cheese, do it, do it now. You will not regret it, at least not until you get the scale out. Half a pan of macaroni and cheese in one sitting is considered moderation right?

Macaroni and Cheese with Grilled Chicken and Mushrooms
adapted from Ina Garten's Macaroni and Cheese

2 Chicken breast halves
1 lb mushrooms, diced
Olive oil
1 lb cavatappi pasta
1 quart milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all purpose flour
12 ounces grated gruyere cheese
8 ounces grated cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and grill over medium heat until cooked through. Let the chicken cool, dice small, and set aside.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat and add mushrooms. Saute until cooked through, and slightly crisped, about 12-15 minutes. Set aside to let cool.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, add the pasta and cook according to directions on package, 6-8 minutes. Drain completely.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan being careful not to boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a large pot over low heat. Add the flour and whisk continuously for about two minutes.
Add the milk slowly, whisking until smooth and thickened. Remove from heat and add the cheese, 1 tablespoon salt, the pepper, and the nutmeg.

Look at all that cheese....mmmm.

Add drained pasta, chicken, and mushrooms and stir to coat.

Pour mixture into one large (3 quart) baking dish or two smaller ones (1-2 quarts). Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter and combine with the breadcrumbs and parmesean cheese. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the macaroni and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is brown and bubbly.

There is nothing better than homemade mac and cheese. This has to be in my top five favorite foods EVER, please give it a try. Here's hoping none of you get the flu this winter, but if you do, just make some mac and cheese and settle in on the couch.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Its the great pumpkin seed Charlie Brown!

Last year Halloween left me disappointed. Real disappointed. There were no pumpkins to be carved, and no halloween parties to attend, and therefore no costume to wear. I love Halloween and knew this year must be different. I decided that there WILL be pumpkins carved, there will be costumes worn, and there will be halloween goodies baked.

I almost made good on all my demands. Steve and I had really good intentions of carving pumpkins one Sunday night. We had some yummy soup for dinner, and a scary movie in the queue, but once we had finished hollowing and cleaning out our pumpkins, we were both feeling very uninspired as to what to carve into them (maybe we should have had more wine). So we decided to skip on ahead to the pumpkin seed-making and the scary movie, and save the actual carving for the next night.

Well needless to say our poor faceless pumpkins are still sitting out on the deck, waiting to shrivel and rot. It's sad really.

Its a good thing I have oodles of roasted pumpkin seeds to help with the grief, I managed to wear not one but two costumes this year, and I watched my favorite Halloween movie 'It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!'. So all in all, I will consider this year a winner.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

This isn't really so much a recipe as it is a set of guidelines. Every pumpkin is a different size and yields a different amount of seeds. Use your best judgement on how much of each spice to use, and keep an eye on them in the oven so they don't burn. Pumpkins seeds are pretty much a blank canvass on which to sprinkle anything you like. Here is what I used:

Seeds from two medium sized pumpkins, washed, drained, and patted dry
2-3 tablespoons olive oil (enough to coat the seeds)
a few generous sprinkles of the following:
-chili powder
-onion powder
-garlic powder
-cayenne pepper
-freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet (as always, I used my silicone liner, but parchment paper would be useful as well) and roast until golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. Be sure to stir the seeds a few times throughout the baking process.

I froze half of mine, so we will see how they fare. A girl can only eat so many pumpkin seeds in a week. Hope your Halloween was as fun as mine.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


There has been a hole in my life since moving out of Lincoln Park. I lived close to the lake for two years, on the north side of Chicago. I was steps from Wrigley Field, near the Belmont harbor where mini sailboats bounced about during their Saturday morning lessons, and just a block away from the lakefront path where I used to ride my bike.

All of these conveniences and attractions were great, but I don't feel I took advantage of them enough while I was there, leaving me not missing them all that much. They are still there when I want to visit. One of the things I do miss however is being in the small delivery area of Thai Classic Restaurant.

Yeah, I know this sounds a little extreme. But you do not want to get between this woman and her curry. I am sure there are better Thai places in Chicago, and there may even be some in my new hood, but I just loved the solid, dependable, consistent panang curry entree from the Classic.

For years I have been making 'curry' at home. I use the quotes because it never tasted anywhere close to what I have been enjoying at Thai and Indian eateries. It started with a recipe on the label on the back of a Thai Kitchen curry paste jar, and pretty much went downhill from there. Don't get me wrong, a little curry paste and coconut milk mixed with some veggies and rice were okay for a while, but I think I hit my limit of half-assed curry. I needed a real curry, and I needed to be able to make it myself.

Well I FINALLY found it. This recipe for chicken curry with cashews was recommended on a forum on Serious Eats, which is a food website that I am a daily visitor to. It may be a little more demanding, but this recipe hits all the right notes. The layers of flavor, the different textures, the heat, it all adds up to a dish that will cure me of my longing for Thai Classic any day.

Of course I toyed with it quite a bit, but that is the best part about this recipe, it just begs to be messed with. The base for the sauce is the key here, but the additions are up to you. As for me, I went light on the meat, and heavy on the veggies. This abundance of vegetables, combined with the yogurt addition, led me to believe that this is a healthy meal, we will just ignore the 1/2 stick of butter and the giant mound of jasmine rice shall we?

Chicken Curry with Cashews and Yogurt
adapted from Gourmet Magazine

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 medium onions, halved and sliced thinly (2 cups)
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
3 tablespoons curry powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
4 boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 large tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped - if tomatoes are not ripe/in season you can omit the chicken stock and use 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes and their juices.
2 cups chicken stock
1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 can bamboo shoots, drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3/4 cup cashews (1/4 pound)
3/4 cup plain yogurt

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat, until it starts to bubble. Add the onions, bell peppers, garlic and ginger and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the curry powder, salt, cumin, and cayenne and stir to combine. Add the chicken thighs and cook just until browned on all sides, about 6-8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, chickpeas, bamboo shoots, and cilantro and simmer over medium-low heat until the chicken and all the vegetables have cooked through and sauce is reduced, about 30-40 minutes.

Feel free to add more chicken broth if the sauce reduces too quickly, I believe that the long slow simmer is where you get a lot of your flavor from here, so give it some time.

While curry is cooking, pulse the cashews in a food processor or spice mill until finely ground, almost to a powder, but careful not to go to far otherwise you will end up with cashew butter. Just before serving, stir the yogurt and most of the ground cashews into the curry to thicken the sauce.

Garnish with come chopped cilantro and reserved cashew powder, and serve over jasmine or brown rice.

Who needs you anyway Thai Classic. It may not be traditional panang, or even Thai, but it sure is delicious and feeds that little guy that lives in my tummy that screams 'feed me curry!!' every now and then.

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