Monday, December 21, 2009

Old-Fashioned Molasses Cookies

Here's an easy and very tasty cookie if you're looking to do some Christmas baking. Thanks to the molasses, this is a soft, slightly chewy cookie, which softens more in the day or two after baking. Although I've seen the same basic recipe referred to as "ginger cookies," they are not crisp and ultra-spicy like gingersnaps.

Seasoned with ginger, cinnamon and cloves, they have a mellow spiced flavor, but the soft texture and sugared surface is what sets them apart for me. This is a fairly old recipe. My mom's cousin in Pennsylvania made them, and I tried them at her home when I was a kid. I went crazy for these cookies. Hoping to find the same recipe she would have used, I did a bit of research.

First of all, you absolutely should not use blackstrap molasses in these (or any other dessert), unless its harsh, bitter flavor is what you're looking for. The recipe has been around since at least the 1960s (and I imagine much earlier)--it appeared in Gourmet magazine in 1965. Back then, blackstrap molasses (originally, and still, marketed as a health food product) was probably not available in every natural food store and most supermarkets.

Today, regular old unsulphured molasses isn't so easy to come by. Grandma's brand is the most ubiquitous. It's usually kept near the maple syrup, and my grocery store seems to only stock it for the holidays. Unlike blackstrap, it has a sweet, rich molasses flavor without that icky bitterness. Perfect for baking.

When I finally got my hands on that yellow jar of Grandma's molasses (trademarked slogan: Get your Grandma out more often!), I saw that the company had conveniently printed the classic molasses cookie recipe right there on the jar. I felt sure it's what my cousin would have used, and it's identical the Gourmet recipe.

Grandma's calls for shortening (Crisco), and that's what I used. I LOVE butter, and I know that many bakers today turn their noses up at shortening. I think this is ridiculous. It makes important contributions to texture in certain recipes, like pie crust, and it's perfectly safe since there's no trans fat. There may not be any difference in texture if you substitute an equal amount of unsalted butter here, but frankly, I didn't care enough to try. I just wanted to bite into the same cookies I loved as a kid!

Old-Fashioned Molasses Cookies
Adapted from Grandma's Molasses

These cookies should be soft, so watch them carefully when baking. They will look very moist and underdone, but I promise you they're fine and will set up completely while cooling. I found one recipe in my research that called for sliding the parchment paper onto the counter top to cool the cookies rather than transferring them to a cooling rack. Supposedly, this would keep them optimally soft. I'm not sure if I buy this, but I'm happy to do it. For cookie baking, I prefer insulated cookie sheets to prevent undersides from over browning.

Makes 3 1/2 to 4 dozen

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. (generous) salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves
3/4 cup shortening, at room temperature
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
1/4 cup granulated sugar

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the shortening, brown sugar, egg and molasses on medium high speed until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat on lowest speed to moisten. Increase speed to medium and beat until combined, scraping down bowl as needed. Chill dough in freezer for about an hour or in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Place 1/4 cup sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop dough by rounded tablespoons and roll between your palms into 1 1/4 to 1 1/2-inch balls. Roll in sugar and place on baking sheet about 2 1/2 inches apart.

Fill a glass with cold water. Dip your fingertips in the water and sprinkle each ball of dough with a few drops (this makes the crinkles). Bake one sheet at a time in the center of the oven for 8 to 9 minutes, or until cookies have spread, but still appear quite moist (they will not look "set" or done, but they are). Slide parchment onto counter top and cool completely.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Flourless Chocolate-Hazelnut Cake

If you're furiously clicking on recipe links in search of the perfect elegant party cake, you can stop right here. I was in your shoes last week, and I know how it is. You want something that will look fancy (and so tempting that not a single guest will refuse a slice) and taste as fantastic as it looks.

If you're of the opinion that a surefire way to delight everyone is by lavishing them with chocolate, this is the dessert you want. I love a traditional layer cake with all the bells and whistles, but as a dinner party dessert it seems a little too much. Not that this is healthy or restrained--it just feels right.

While I toyed with the idea of a homey pear crisp or an overtly seasonal cranberry upside down cake for my party, I finally came to the should-have-been-obvious conclusion that a non-chocolate dessert runs the risk of being just a wee bit disappointing.

You're probably expecting me to launch into the "this cake is so rich you only need a few bites" spiel, but I'm not. After having light appetizers, boeuf bourgignon, mashed potatoes and golden beet salad, I polished off my whole (admittedly not huge) slice. It's simply that good, but I also think it's because this particular cake isn't just a slab of chocolate. A cup of hazelnuts, roasted and finely ground, add texture, complexity and a bit of contrast to the semisweet chocolate. Love, love, love.

Oh, by the way, there's also 1/4 cup of Frangelico (the hazelnut liqueur that looks like Friar Tuck), and the topping is fresh whipped cream flavored with nothing more than another hit of the liqueur. I advise not skipping the cream--it offsets the rich chocolate just perfectly.


Flourless Chocolate-Hazelnut Cake
Adapted from this recipe at epicurious.com.

This recipe (from Bon Appetit, January '08) worked beautifully as written. However, I have a couple notes to offer: Please roast, peel and cool the hazelnuts before grinding them for the cake! Cook on a baking sheet at 350 for about 10 minutes (shaking once) or until lightly browned and fragrant. Immediately wrap in a dish towel and let steam for 5 minutes. Then rub them around in the towel to remove as much of the skins as you can. You may have to fiddle around and pick through many of them, and you can't expect to get every bit of skin (here's an even better little guide). You'll want to do this because the skin can be bitter. If you can't find chocolate labeled 60% cocoa, combine different percentages--I used about 2/3 54% and 1/3 70%. Use high quality chocolate. One of the best things about this cake is that you can make it up to 3 days ahead. It needs several hours to chill, and some say the chocolate flavor magically improves overnight.

Serves 12

12 ounces 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup Frangelico or other hazelnut liqueur, divided
1 cup finely ground roasted (see headnote) hazelnuts (ground in processor; about 5 ounces)
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
Chopped toasted hazelnuts for garnish

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper round. Wrap outside of pan tightly with 3 layers of heavy-duty foil. Combine chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 45 seconds and stir. Repeat. Microwave for 20 second intervals, stirring after each one, until smooth. Watch carefully to avoid burning (or reduce the microwave's power if it's particularly aggressive). Set aside and cool slightly.

Whisk eggs, golden brown sugar, and 1/4 cup Frangelico in large bowl to blend. Add chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth. Stir in ground hazelnuts and 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Place springform pan in large roasting pan and place in the preheated oven. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of springform pan. Tent springform pan loosely with foil. Bake until cake is set in center and top is not quite dry to the touch, about 1 1/2 hours (top of cake will remain shiny and sides will have pulled away from the springform pan; a cake tester won't come out clean--it will have moist crumbs). Remove cake from roasting pan; remove foil from top and and place on a rack. When cool enough to handle, remove foil from outside of pan and cool completely. Cover with foil and refrigerate cake at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. You can make the cake up to 3 days ahead.

Using electric mixer, beat whipping cream and remaining 1/4 cup Frangelico in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Release pan sides. Keep the cake on the pan base and transfer to a larger platter if you want to bring the whole cake to the table. Cut cake into wedges. Transfer to plates. Top with whipped cream; sprinkle with chopped toasted hazelnuts. Serve cake chilled, directly from refrigerator.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Radicchio Risotto

This beautiful, earthy risotto is from Tessa Kiros' new cookbook, Venezia: Food & Dreams. Yes, it's beautiful despite the appearance in the photo, which does little to show off its charms!

The risotto is meat free and a great side dish or first course. I served it with steak in red wine-anchovy sauce with a dab of balsamic vinegar, resulting in much deliciousness, but not a lot of color contrast on the plate. All that being said, this risotto is a keeper!

I love the crisp bitterness of radicchio (the one that looks like a mini purple cabbage), and it gets just slightly mellowed and toothsome when cooked slowly along with the creamy Arborio rice. This is a red wine risotto (like this red wine risotto with sausage, arugula and caramelized onions), which deepens the color--and, I think, the flavor--even more.

According to Kiros, Venetians prefer a wet, soupy version of risotto made with vialone nano rice, rather than Arborio or arnaroli, which Kiros suggests. I loved reading about Venetian food and culture, and the book took me back to my trip to Venice, just about 10 years ago! It is one of the most unique and mind-boggling places on earth. Kiros seems to have written two books about this city she clearly adores--it's at once a well-done cookbook and artsy travelogue, with many photos bathed in Mediterranean sea-light. If you like Kiros' style, this book will have you drooling and trolling expedia all at once.

Right now is prime risotto-making weather. Does this recipe make you want to cook up a pot? Here are more risotto ideas I've posted: Roasted beet risotto; Roasted butternut squash risotto with mushrooms and spinach; and Fresh fava bean risotto with pancetta. That last post includes helpful (in my humble opinion!) step-by-step photos to hone your risotto making technique. And here's what I had to say about Tessa Kiros' last book, Falling Cloudberries.

Radicchio Risotto
Adapted from Venezia by Tessa Kiros.

Look for an imported brand of Arborio rice from Italy. In my experience, they provide the thick, creamy texture I've found lacking in domestic Arborio. Most supermarkets tend to have it in stock.

Serves 4 as a side or first course.

4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 Tbs. butter
1 large shallot, chopped
1 lb radicchio, thick stems removed and roughly chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
3/4 cup red wine
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving
Fresh sage, parsley or basil, chopped, for garnish

Put broth in a small saucepan, cover and warm over medium-high heat. When broth barely starts to simmer, reduce heat to low (do not boil).

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook 1 to 2 minutes to soften. Add the radicchio, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Cook, stirring often until slightly wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and rice. Stir continuously until rice is glossy and opaque, about 3 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a simmer and cook until absorbed.

Add about 1 1/2 ladlefuls (about 1 1/2 cups) of the warm broth. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook, stirring continuously, until absorbed into the rice. Add 1/2 cup of broth and cook, stirring very often, until absorbed. Continue repeating these steps until risotto is tender, yet slightly firm to the bite. You may not use all the liquid, but if you run out, use hot water. This process (beginning with the first addition of broth) will take 20 to 24 minutes.

Taste for seasoning. Serve risotto immediately, garnished with cheese and fresh herbs.

Review copy of Venezia was generously provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Let's talk menus!

This is how I'll make my favorite cranberry sauce tomorrow!


This year I'm home for Thanksgiving and doing all the cooking (with some help from Mike, of course). I spent tons of time going through magazines and cookbooks before finalizing my menu. I wanted to do this blog post this morning, but I had to get some work done, and then I spent 2 hours cooking! I'm proud to say I've made turkey stock for the gravy and stuffing and put together the dough for my pecan tart.

So if anyone else is taking a break from prepping for tomorrow, let's dish! What's on your menu? Have you gotten a jump on things, or will you rise early and cook up a storm? Are you trying some new recipes or sticking to old favorites...share!

Here is my menu, along with some links to recipes where available:

Brined Roast Turkey with Giblet Gravy


Oyster Stuffing with Turkey Stock


Cranberry Sauce with Pears, Ginger & Garam Masala


Caramelized Brussels Sprouts


Pecan Tart

Monday, November 09, 2009

Chickpea Soup with Sweet Potatoes & Roasted Poblanos

This is a hearty vegetarian soup I came up with when we were in the mood for something healthy and invigorating. After I've eaten a few rich or heavy meals, I find myself craving heat and spice. Somehow it wakes up my body and makes a virtuous dish taste perfectly satisfying.

Roasting some poblano peppers is an easy extra step that gives this soup a little something special. It seems to be more of a stew than a soup despite coming together in less than a half hour, not counting a few minutes spent roasting the peppers. I patterned it after a delicious smoky turkey chile I love to make. Try it when you need a pick-me-up meal. I'll also note that, like any meat-based stew, the leftovers take on a very appealing, steeped-in-flavor effect the next day.

Chickpea Soup with Sweet Potatoes & Roasted Poblanos

Roast the poblanos ahead of time directly on the burners of a gas range, under a broiler or on a grill. When skin of peppers is black, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool enough to handle. Slip off the skin with your fingers, then remove the stem and seeds. See detailed instructions here.

Serves 4

1 1/2 Tbs canola oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic chopped
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground coriander
Red pepper flakes to taste
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 to 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite-size chunks
3 cups cooked chickpeas (about 2 14-oz. cans, rinsed and drained)
1 (14-oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
3 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips
Chopped fresh cilantro and sour cream for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the ginger, garlic, curry powder, coriander and red pepper flakes. Continue cooking for 2 minutes, or until garlic is tender and spices are fragrant.

Add the broth, cover and raise heat to high. As soon as liquid comes to a simmer, add sweet potatoes and return to simmering once again. Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add chickpeas, tomatoes and poblanos. Simmer just until heated through. Taste to check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary or beef up the spices (you might want more curry flavor, or some ground cumin to supplement the whole cumin seeds, etc.). Serve with fresh cilantro and sour cream.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Classic (but better) Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies: deceptively simple, utterly ubiquitous--yet loaded with mystery. I love reading recipes for these cookie jar favorites, but I rarely come across a version that's truly new or different. With these treats, its the little things that count. You may have been making the same chocolate chip cookies for years with good results, but then you use a different technique, try out one new tip or somehow alter an ingredient and suddenly your cookies go from good (let's face it, even mediocre chocolate chip cookies--especially hot from the oven--are still pretty good) to WOW.

These cookies are descended from the classic Tollhouse style--not too big, not too cakey, and not too crisp. As intriguing as other gussied-up recipes might be, I didn't want to stray too far from this basic DNA. What I did want were cookies that did not spread out flat, stayed very soft in the center (to achieve this, don't overbake; and actually, underbake) and had superior flavor.

Last year, the New York Times published a long and intricate exploration of chocolate chip cookies in which the author, David Leite, determined that resting the dough in the refrigerator for 36 hours creates complex, toffee-like flavors and nice-looking, even browning. Another key point in the article was that a smidge of sea salt sprinkled onto the scoops of dough right before baking was a very good idea. I had no doubts about the salt, but I was dubious about the waiting period.

I did not make the exact NYT cookie, mostly because it's for an enormous, commercial-style cookie rather than the modest homey type. I also disagree with their preference for shards of chopped chocolate versus chips (I love biting into a melting pocket of chocolate--I don't want it marbled throughout the dough). After making my dough as written below, I baked a sheet of cookies immediately, after 24 hours and after 36+ hours.

This is a good cookie anytime, but we did indeed notice a difference. Compared to the cookies baked immediately, the 36 hour batch had better browning and deeper "cookie dough" flavor, whereas that initial cookie was pale and slightly one-note. The 24 hour batch was only a little better than the initial batch, so I'd advise waiting the full 36. For the science lovers in the room, to paraphrase Shirley O. Corriher in the article, this long resting period allows the dry ingredients to fully soak up the wet ingredients, resulting in a firmer dough and better consistency when baked. It also seems that 36 hours of "stewing time," as I like to think of it, brings out maximum flavor from the simple ingredients.

Does this matter? I don't know, but it's a fun experiment to try. Bake a dozen for instant gratification, then wait and see what happens after a day or two. Here's the other thing about chilling your dough: you should do it all the time (speed it up with the freezer if you must). I think it prevents the cookies from spreading, so do it even if you want to bake a batch without a long resting period.

There is no perfect chocolate chip cookie because everyone has his or her unique ideal. I like nuts, but only if they're chopped very small. As I said, I dislike crisp or flat cookies, and I don't want mine to turn into hard little hockey pucks once cool. So, if my current favorite appeals to you, give it a try! If not, tell me about your ideal chocolate chip cookie in the comments. I wonder how many of us are CCC soulmates...?

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet

The original recipe has one quirk that (for me) led to good results: it calls for 1/2 stick of butter less than most Tollhouse-style recipes. Perhaps this helps prevent the cookies from spreading. It also calls for a mix of dark and milk chocolate. In most cases, I consider milk chocolate to be a waste of time (yeah, I said it), so I used all dark, specifically a bag of Ghirardelli 60% cocao bittersweet chips, which aren't particularly bitter at 60%, so they're nice for cookies. Cutting up a good chocolate bar works too (you'll need about 2 cups). I know you hear this a lot, but the quality of the chocolate really makes a difference. Ghirardelli is affordable and easy to find, but it's leagues better than supermarket staples, Nestle and Hershey's. The chocolate aficionado's out there will have their own favorites, I'm sure:)

Makes about 40 cookies

1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (6 oz) firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups (11 1/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
12 oz dark chocolate chips, such as Ghirardelli bittersweet (see headnote)
3/4 cup (3 1/4 oz) chopped, toasted walnuts
Sea salt, for sprinkling

Equipment Note: To prevent the bottoms of cookies from over-browning, I LOVE insulated cookie sheets. If you like a soft center and cookies that don't harden as they cool, they're a must. Check them out here and here.

1) In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

2) Beat the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until smooth and blended, about 2 minutes (longer for handheld mixers). Add one of the eggs and beat just until blended; add the other egg and vanilla and beat until blended.

3) Turn mixer on lowest speed and add the flour mixture. Beat until no patches of flour remain, scraping down the bowl as needed.

4) With mixer off, add the chocolate chips and nuts. Turn the mixer to lowest speed and beat until just combined.

5) Chill the dough for 1 to 2 hours minimum (30 minutes in the freezer), and up to 36 hours.

6) When you're ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop out rounded tablespoon-sized balls of dough and place on parchment about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle a few grains of sea salt (or to taste) over each ball of dough. Bake one sheet at a time (to promote more precise, even baking) in the center of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Quickly open the oven and rotate baking sheet halfway through. Cookies are done when just lightly browned at the edges and still a bit soft in the center; the bottoms should be light golden brown. Let cookies rest on the baking sheet for 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool. Parchment paper may be reused for several batches. If reusing baking sheet, allow to cool to room temperature before scooping dough.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bloggers Celebrate Gourmet Magazine


Here it is--your round up of blog posts celebrating Gourmet magazine (more about the event here)! Thank you to everyone who wrote about a recipe from the magazine and sent me your links and photos. It's cool to see the wide range of recipe choices--from a healthy bean dish to a comforting stew to (several!) decadent cheesecakes. It was a total pleasure putting this together. Gourmet may be gone (I can't bring myself to open the final issue yet; have you?), but I for one plan to cook the magazine's excellent recipes for years to come.



Cheryl of 5 Second Rule made this very pretty White Beans Puttanesca.




Lisa of Visual Traveler made luscious Pumpkin Cheesecake Supreme--a recipe that's been one of her mainstays since 1983!




Slashfood showed us how to make spooky Halloween treats with Gourmet's Chocolate Brownie recipe.




Another perfectly seasonal selection comes from Emily of The Culinary Couple: Spiced Apple Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting.





Adrienne of Hungry Bruno used an assortment of fresh 'shrooms for this Wild Mushroom Pasta.




Meg of Delicious Dishings has a long line up of recipes she's cooked from Gourmet. Click over to her blog to read about such tasties as Chocolate Cinnamon Cream Pie (!) and Fried Mozzarella Balls.


When Amy of Playing House makes Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, she means really slow--6 to 8 hours! I can attest that this technique is worth it!




Ginny of Just Get Floury baked a loaf of Pumpkin-Raisin Bread.








And don't forget Tom's Pear Butterscotch Pie (which he kindly let me post on this blog) and my own contribution to the event: Carrot Cake Cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

Kristin of Picky Cook tempts us with Minted Berry Cheesecake. She also treats us to her own round up of recipes she's cooked and blogged about from Gourmet (including scones and thumbprint cookies--my kind of girl!).





Maggie of The Freckled Citizen shares a weeknight favorite, Garlicky Black Pepper Shrimp & Black Eyed Peas.





Snow of Little Miss Sunshine made a lovely, healthy dinner for one that I'd eat any night of the week: Miso Glazed Sea Bass with Asparagus.





Katie of Lil Veggie Patch did her 'lil bit healthier version of Caramelized Banana Splits with Chocolate Sauce.






That gorgeous Chocolate Cream Pie at the top of the post is from Stephanie of Desserts for Breakfast. She also made Green Beans with Poached Egg and Parmesan from the magazine.


Cheryl of Backseat Gourmet couldn't decide on a Gourmet favorite. So, she posted her thoughts about the magazine and links to some of her top contenders, like Coconut Cake with Lime Curd and Chicken Cashew Chili.


Feast your eyes (and your stomach) on Flavorista's fall showstopper, Roast Pumpkin with Cheese Fondue. Hello, Gruyere!






Beth of Miss Mango Hands offers another take on pumpkin cheesecake: a pie version with gingersnap crust and crystallized ginger topping.






Breadchick Mary from The Sour Dough made the Gourmet version of two of her favorite foods: Meatballs and Rice Pudding.





Eric of Culinary Agoge whipped up this Brown Butter Pound Cake with a beautifully burnished crust.






Kate of Savour Fare sends us these artistically plated Crab Cakes with Spicy Avocado Sauce.





It's a fungi fest (ha!) on Chocolate & Croissants with this Wild Mushroom Soup.







Johanna of Pretty Girls Use Knives cooked up Chicken in Riesling. I'm thinking cozy dinner party dish.





Alyssa (also of Pretty Girls Use Knives) fell for creamy (but cream-free!) Cheddar Potato Soup with Bacon.


Last, but far from least: Veggie Girl adapted this Applesauce Pecan Cake to suit her dietary needs. You sure can't tell the difference by looking, so you'll love her smart recipe fixes!



If anyone out there missed participating in this event, please share your thoughts in the comments! Do you have a favorite recipe from Gourmet that you make all the time? Or maybe there's a memorable dish you cooked for a special occasion years ago. I want to hear about it! And links are always welcome, so I can try out your recommendations. Gourmet is gone, but I'm more resolved than ever to learn from--and enjoy--their nearly 70 years worth of culinary knowledge.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pear Butterscotch Pie from Gourmet, Sept. 2009


Thank you everyone who took part in the celebrate Gourmet blog event! It has been so cool to receive all your photos and read your posts. I'm working on getting the links up here for the official round up, which should be done tomorrow. In the meantime, here's a tribute from Tom, a reader in the Washington, D.C. area who doesn't have a blog, but still wanted to participate.

He made this very appealing pear butterscotch pie, which I think is perfect for any fall weekend, or a holiday meal. Thanks for all your pie-making tips, Tom. Enjoy, everyone!

Pear Butterscotch Farewell

I actually became a Gourmet subscriber by accident over a year ago… The subscription was a free gift from another website when I ordered a housewarming gift for a friend. I started receiving the magazine, and after two months called Gourmet to investigate and make sure I hadn’t paid for something that I hadn’t known about. Obviously, there was no harm done and I’ve been hooked every since… So of course, I was VERY disappointed to hear that the magazine is being canceled… I couldn’t help but join in this blog event as a tribute.

I picked the Pear Butterscotch Pie on page 61 of the September 2009 issue. I hadn’t done the particular recipe before, but I’ve been working on my pie technique pretty much all year and thought this would make a good addition. Pies are also great to bring into the office to share with co-workers and spread the calories around so I’m not stuck with a whole pie to eat by myself!

For the pie crust, the recipe referred to an all-butter pie crust on page 35 of the same issue – I couldn’t agree more with Gourmet’s assertion that the all-butter crust is the way to go! The butter just gives an amazing flavor that folks rave about. I actually use a little more salt and add a touch of sugar to my pie crust, most inspired by another website. Another key to pie crusts is the proper handling of butter. Never let it get too warm… The whole art of the pie is the crust. Generally the filling doesn’t take long at all and doesn’t require too many cooking tricks, but the pie will live or die depending on your handling of the crust! So this has been the focus of my ‘pie studies’ the past year.

I chop the butter into smaller pieces then refreeze while I sift together the flour, salt and sugar. Once it’s ice cold, I cut the butter together with the dry ingredients by hand using a pastry blender. I suppose I could buy a food processor to do this, but I never feel like spending the money and using my hands just feels so much more natural. Once it’s mixed together you splash cold water onto the mixture one tablespoon at a time. Lately I’ve noticed that it has taken more water than I’ve expected to hold the crust together – as many as 7 tablespoons! Once it all starts sticking, I divide the dough in half and form into disks, wrapping in saran wrap, and putting back in the fridge for at least another 20 minutes.

I use the time the dough is chilling to make the filling. Whisking together the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and brown sugar and chopping the pears – good knives are SO important to good preparation no matter what the task. Not only that, good knives make it more fun because the cutting goes so smoothly and everything looks smooth and professional when you’re done. Following the directions for the filling, here, I also freshly juiced half a lemon – the bottled stuff just never has the same zest as freshly squeezed. (I did, however, use pre-ground nutmeg, rather than grating my own; but it’s from Penzey’s and pretty fresh so I didn’t mind.)

Once the filling is ready, I take out the pie dough for rolling. I warm the crust in my hands while starting to press it out thinner on the rolling mat. This way I can also make any adjustments with extra flour or water to help with early cracks in the dough. Once the dough is properly flattened, I put it between two pieces of parchment paper and roll it out. The parchment paper makes sticking much less of a problem (still flouring the surface) and makes putting the crust into the pie pan SO much easier.

The cute part of this recipe is the bit about using the excess dough to make leaves. Admittedly, I don’t have leaf cookie cutters so I tried my hand at doing them with a knife. They turned out OK, but in general, making the pie crust truly pretty with clean edging and decorations is still something I have to work on. I think Gourmet’s tip about pressing the two crusts together and “folding under” maybe kept this pie from boiling out more than others past. (Still, cooking with a sheet underneath is critical to avoiding HUGE oven messes.)

Anyway, out of the oven the pie smells and looks amazing! The cinnamon and nutmeg really come through. Can’t wait to bring it into work.

Thank you Gourmet magazine! You will be missed.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Carrot Cake Cupcakes from Gourmet, Dec. 2007

This post is my contribution to the food blogging event I came up with to celebrate Gourmet magazine. If you haven't heard about it yet, you have plenty of time to participate! Just read my announcement post and get cooking! You've got until Friday, October 16 (yes, I extended the deadline by a day!) to send in your link and jpeg. If you're planning to participate, have you already made your dish? Did you choose new or oldie? I can't wait to read about it!

When I moved from Florida to Chicago in June, I cleared out a lot of stuff. That's the beauty of moving right? Well, among the many material possessions I shed were quite a few issues of Gourmet. I saved a select few, which I imagined I simply couldn't give up. As for the rest, I thought, the website will always be there. And even more so, that there would always be new, wonderful recipes, ideas and inspiration arriving in my mailbox every month. I sure hope Ruth Reichl doesn't leave for at least a few more years, I thought.

Little did I know. I'm still surprised and sad that this harbinger of American culinary creativity and critic of food politics and policies is no more. After hearing this news, I quickly determined there's nothing left to do but appreciate Gourmet for what it was: my favorite food magazine. I loved to cook from it (and did so many times on this blog--see below). I also loved to linger over the glossy photos and then go back through and read the articles and recipes that caught my eye. It was good bedtime reading...sweet dreams, for sure.

I felt the need to make a new-to-me recipe for the event, rather than an old favorite. I went through the few remaining issue I do have and couldn't make up my mind. In the end, simplicity was the answer. Mike and I LOVE carrot cake and were long over due to make it. Searching gourmet.com, I found these cupcakes from December '07. Made with vegetable oil and 3 eggs, they deliver the moist texture you love in good carrot cake.

There are very few recipes I follow to the letter, and this one is no exception. That's just my style--I don't think the Gourmet recipe developers would mind. I added raisins, coconut and ground cloves, as well as a bit more cinnamon and ginger than the original calls for. I also replaced the orange glaze suggested in the magazine for classic cream cheese frosting. They are delicious. Thank you, Gourmet, for making me a better cook, a more creative thinker and a smarter consumer.


Carrot Cake Cupcakes
Adapted from Gourmet, December 2007
You can grate the carrots in a flash in a food processor, or use the large holes of a box grater. Don't buy pre-shredded from the supermarket--they'll lack flavor. I always wished gourmet would give weight measurements, especially for baked goods. Since they do not, I'll advise you to measure the flour by lightly spooning it into the measuring cups (do not shake the cup!) and leveling with the dull edge of a knife. If you love nuts, I think 1/3 to 1/2 cup of toasted chopped walnuts or pecans would be great here.

Makes 12 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups shredded carrots (3 to 4 carrots)
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup shredded sweetened coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 and line a muffin pan with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the first 8 ingredients (through cloves). In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the oil, brown sugar and vanilla and whisk to combine. Stir in the carrots, raisins and coconut if using. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined.

Pour batter into muffin cups and bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 24 minutes (mine took exactly 22), rotating pan halfway through to ensure even cooking. Cupcakes are done when a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then place cupcakes on a wire rack to cool completely.

Classic Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes enough for 12 cupcakes with a bit leftover.

4 ounces cream cheese (lowfat or regular)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

Cut the cream cheese and butter into 1-inch chunks and bring to room temperature (should be very soft). With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the powdered sugar in 3 additions, beating on medium speed, until sugar is incorporated and frosting is lightly and fluffy. Immediately frost cupcakes, or refrigerate for up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature to make spreading easier.

More recipes from Gourmet magazine on A Mingling of Tastes:

Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing Make it for Thanksgiving--you won't be sorry!

Pear-Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake Easy, yummy and not too sweet.

Cardamom Waffles Great if you love cardamom, and if you're not sure, try it!

Toasted Pasta with Duck Luck Guazzetto This Lydia Bastianich dish is DIVINE.

Ribeye Steak with Pomegranate Glaze An easy sauce to dress up steak.

Roasted Beet Risotto Easy, beautiful, so good.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Blog Event: Let's Celebrate Gourmet!


If you haven't heard the sad news yet, Gourmet magazine has been shut down by its parent company due to these difficult economic times. Since you can read plenty about it on countless blogs and news sites, I won't rehash the details. It's too sad.

So, in the interest of staying positive, I'm hosting a blogging event. To celebrate the nation's oldest food magazine (published since 1940!), let's cook, photograph and post about our favorite recipe from Gourmet's pages. If you tend to clear out most of your back issues, just go to gourmet.com where you'll find recipes categorized by decades (the website is a wonderful place to explore the magzine's history, which is really American food history!), themes and holidays; or just search for anything you want.

Maybe you remember a perfect cake you made years ago, or a simple chicken dish you threw together last week. Whatever it is, find it and write about it. And if you want to pick a new favorite, that's great too. I'm betting it's going to be tough to choose just one incredible Gourmet recipe.

To participate in this event, here's what to do:

1) Cook a favorite recipe from Gourmet magazine and publish a blog post* about it anytime from now till October 16. Include a link to THIS POST in your blog post so readers will be able to find out more!

*No blog? I still want you to participate! Just email me your story/recipe or photo, and I will post it here on aminglingoftastes.com. Include first name and where you're from. Don't be shy!

2) Email a link to your post, the name of your blog and, if you want, an image of the dish in jpeg form to aminglingoftastes AT gmail DOT com by October 16. No late entries please!

3) Publicize this event! Tell your followers on Twitter, tip off your facebook friends and mention it on your blog. Let's get as many recipes and stories gathered together as we can!

4) Check back here around October 19-20 for a round-up of all the posts.

Easy, right! I know I'm not giving you much time, but I think it's important to get some positive energy going. The more I think about life without Gourmet, the more bummed out I feel. Since yesterday, I've read some great tributes and opinions about this sad situation, and I want to include some links here:

Goodbye Gourmet, I'll Miss You, by Steph of Wasabimon.

Goodbye, Gourmet, by Kelly of Nommynom.

RIP Gourmet by Paige of Hey, Little Sister.

Say Goodbye to Gourmet by Jeff of Wine Curmudgeon.

What Ruth Reichl is doing next by Kim Severson of the New York Times' Diner's Journal blog.

Gourmet Was For the Young and Scrappy, Too by Alex Van Buren of Salon.

Late Stage Empire: How Condé Nast could’ve saved Gourmet magazine, and why it chose not to
by Paul Smalera on True/Slant.

How Condé Nast Is Like General Motors by Jack Shafer on Slate.

My own take on the news here at Magazine Know-It-All.

The news story as reported by the New York Times.

And finally, a new Twitter feed has sprung up called Save Gourmet.

Now talk to me! Are you as shocked and saddened as I am? Are you going to participate in this blog event (please say yes!). Do you know exactly what you'll cook, or is it going to be a hard decision? Sound off in the comments!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Sheperd's Pie

Happy October! My favorite month is here, and I've got the perfect seasonal dish packed with satisfying textures and a hint of warm spice for a chilly night. Shepherd's pie is a classic-- a perfect example of homey, hearty food that imbues basic, often leftover, ingredients with more flavor than anyone expects.

It's also the perfect dish to play around with. As long as you have the key components--spiced meat and veggies topped with mashed potatoes baked to browned, crusty perfection--you can put your personal stamp on it, and make use of ingredients you have on hand or that suit your personal taste.

I'm not sure that anyone's agreed on one traditional version of Shepherd's pie, but leftover minced lamb is often considered the classic choice of protein. I haven't cooked a massive leg of lamb to give me the necessary leftovers in years, so I take the liberty of using fresh ground beef. To recreate the rich gravy, I use all the tricks in chefs' flavor-building books:

- Browning vegetables, like onions, carrots and mushrooms
- Packing on the aromatic spices, like cinnamon (absolutely vital to this dish!), cloves and chile powder
- Adding a dollop of tomato paste for a hit of umami
- Pouring in a glug of red wine and reducing it for an extra layer of complexity

It may have been invented to use up bits of food on hand, but I think Shepherd's pie is worth making for its own merits. This recipe also makes it simple enough to do whenever you have the craving!

Shepherd's Pie
Loosely based on this recipe by Michael Chiarello for Food Network
Some improvisations for this recipe: switch up the veggies-- a can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes would be good, as would frozen peas or even less obvious choices, like diced zucchini and parsnips. Use ground lamb or turkey. Gussy up the mashed potatoes any way you want--garlic, butter, sour cream, Gruyere or Manchego cheese.

Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 lb. ground beef
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 small onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups choppted carrots
Cooking spray
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
3/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 cup low-sodium beef broth
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. chile powder
fat pinch of ground cloves
pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 lb. white or yukon gold potatoes
Buttermilk or regular milk
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a large skillet to medium-high, add beef and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until no longer pink. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, cover with more paper towel and press gently to soak up fat.

Return skillet to heat and add onion and carrots. Season and cook until lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl. Return skillet to heat and coat lightly with cooking spray or oil. Add mushrooms, season and cook until liquid is released. Turn heat to medium-high and cook until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are lightly browned. Turn heat down to medium-low and add the thyme, rosemary and flour. Stir quickly to coat mushrooms with flour. Add tomato paste and beef broth. Bring to a simmer. Add wine and bring to a simmer. Return onion and carrot to skillet and simmer until liquid thickens and reduces, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in beef and remove from heat. Mixture should be moist but not watery.

Meanwhile, chop the potatoes (you can leave the skins on if you like) and boil in a large pot of water until fork tender. Remove pot from heat, drain in a colander and return potatoes to the pot. Add 2 tablespoons buttermilk or milk and mash. Add more liquid as needed to make soft, yet slightly chunky mashed potatoes. Add scallions and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer beef mixture to a 1 1/2 to 2 quart baking dish. Top with mashed potatoes and sprinkle cheese on top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Switch on broiler and continue cooking just until top of pie turns golden and slightly crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Rest pie for 10 minutes and serve.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Things I learned at the Chicago Gourmet fest

Two wild n' crazy boxes o'wine.

This Saturday, I was lucky enough to be able to volunteer at the Chicago Gourmet festival (representing the wonderful Green City Market). This was a rather high-end (read "pricey") event with lots of top-notch Chicago restaurants dishing out fabulous bites. And of course, every alcohol distributor under the sun was represented, so attendees could sample wine, liquor, cocktails, sake, Champagne and beer in one lap around Millenium Park. There were also culinary demos and seminars with some well-known chefs, so there was a lot of action to take in.

In the middle of Chicago Gourmet this weekend at Millenium Park.

Here's what I learned:

1) Millenium Park gets more beautiful every time I go.

2) Roast suckling pig is not overrated (and neither is the restaurant that served it, Mercat a la Planxa, one of my faves!).

3) Trekking to Urban Belly for their fresh, flavorful wonton soup would be totally worth it.

4) Chicago should really get on the sake train.

5) To make a mint-infused martini, put a few sprigs in the shaker along with ice and other ingredients (try gin, simple syrup and lemon juice); shake with a gentle, rolling motion; strain and serve.

5) Eden Valley, Australia is the place for bone-dry Riesling.

6) Duck confit grilled cheese on baguette—try it, you’ll like it.

7) There is always waaaaay more alcohol than food at these types of events, so pace yourself!







Sake: A whole new world of booze to explore.

Any Chicagoans reading this who attended the event? What did you think? Do you have anything to add to my pearls of wisdom above? More importantly, would you go again next year?


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Grilled Whole Trout

Grilling whole fish is so easy. In fact, I think it's even easier than grilling fillets, because getting great results takes so little effort. With protective skin on both sides for sealing in flavor and a handy center pocket for holding in herbs and seasonings, whole fillets make your job really simple.

The ones in the pictures, both raw and in fully grilled glory, are trout. If you buy them already cleaned (meaning guts and most of the bones removed) like we did, all you have to do is open each fish like a book and sprinkle the flesh with salt and pepper. We also stuffed them with lemons and parsley for a bit more flavor...and because it looks awfully fancy and delicious.

That's our new favorite fish recipe in a nutshell. You'll want to lightly rub the outside of the fish with oil so it doesn't stick to your grill. Then cook them for about 4 to 5 minutes per side over hot coals. This would definitely be pretty enough to serve to friends, AND you can have the fish prepped and seasoned in advance.

Do you ever grill whole fish? I liked the thin, quick-cooking trout, but what other types are good whole on the grill? Tell me what your favorite is and how you season it in the comments.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

All About Grilled Pizza

I've thought about doing it for years when we didn't have a grill, and I talked about it just recently when me made this fantastic pie. Now, I'm happy to report that I've finally tried grilled pizza!

No doubt, I was apprehensive. It's not difficult, but I knew it had to be one of those things you just need to get the hang of, like folding an omelet or parallel parking. Fortunately, this is probably easier than either of those two examples. All you have to do is be prepared and pay attention to what you're doing. With that in mind, I also put together a few tips that will hopefully help, should you want to try grilled pizza for the first time too!

1) First up, the dough: Any dough is great! Buy it at a supermarket or make your own. I've relied on this whole wheat style for years now, and this time around, I wanted a more traditional white dough, so I used Cindy Mushet's recipe in The Art & Soul of Baking. However. Regardless of the dough you choose, results on the grill may be different than what you get with a pizza stone in the oven. The grill creates a flatbread-style result, rather than big, bubbly blisters from a very hot oven. Both delish, just slightly different.

2) Now we have visual aids! As seen in the image above, it is crucial to prep all your toppings ahead of time and have them ready to toss on the pizza. You should also cook anything in advance that needs cooking because it won't get direct heat from the grill. I caramelized the onions on the stove and broiled the figs. You'd want to cook things like sausage in advance, as well as firm veggies, like eggplant or zucchini.

3) You'll also want to prep the grill so you have a hot and cool side. Instead of piling the coals in the center, scoot them to one side. You'll see why in tip #7.

4) In the kitchen, roll out your dough on an oiled piece of parchment paper. Then brush the rolled out dough with oil too. When you take it outside, flip the parchment so the dough hits the grill, then peel off the paper. Heat proof mitts are essential here, as well as for the rest of the process.

5) Don't make huge pies. Ya know, it's possible, but smaller ones are easier to handle. For a recipe that makes enough dough for 2 thin, 12-inch pies, you should get 4 pies for the grill. In the image above, the dough has started to cook since you can see bubbles forming. As soon as the edges begin to set, started lifting the dough to check the bottom for browning and rotating it for even cooking. That way, you can prevent...

6) a burnt crust! Pizza will blacken FAST when it's over direct flame. Just check it obsessively, and you'll be fine.

7) When the first side is done, flip it and move the pizza to the cool side of the grill. That way nothing gets scorched while you arrange your toppings. When you're done, scoot it back over to the hot side and cover the grill. This is where experience comes in, as well as a sense of how hot and fast your grill is. Leave it covered for as long as you think you can, then start checking obsessively again. If the bottom is browned and you want to continue heating the toppings (perhaps to melt your cheese more), just move it back to cool side and cover the grill till you're satisfied.

And that's it! Easy, right? I was thrilled that we only flubbed that first crust by leaving it over the hot coals a bit too long. One casualty on our maiden voyage isn't too bad at all! The pizza we made, by the way is one of my absolute favorites: fresh figs, caramelized onions, prosciutto, Feta and basil. Read more here.

So, what do you think of these tips? Anything new that you've never tried before? Do you think I'm doing this completely wrong? Air your opinions in the comments!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Summer Tomato Couscous

It's common knowledge that the two things most often associated with rock n' roll are, 1) sex, and 2) drugs. Well, for a concert Mike and I went to last night, it was more like 10 P.M. curfews and true respect for punctuality.

We saw Modest Mouse at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. We really like this band, and they were good. Really good, even. Nice set list and the show lasted nearly 90 minutes. Still, we just couldn't get over the fact that we were attending the earliest concert in the history of rock shows: doors open at 5:30, opening act at 6:30; headliner at 8:00 on the dot. Outta there by 9:30. We had no intention of going for the opener, and we still missed half of Modest Mouse's first song. I'm not necessarily blaming the band--I have no clue who's responsible. I'm just betting the Wiggles don't even go onstage till at least 8:30.

Anyway, we wanted to go out and unwind over a casual dinner before the show, but since we actually have jobs, there was no time. We ended up chowing down a couple of bánh mì sandwiches from a great little takeout place near the theater, which is right next to a concentration of Vietnamese restaurants and shops.

This particular deli, Ba Le, supposedly bakes the crusty baguette-style rolls that a lot of other restaurants purchase, so it was nice to go to the source. Bánh mì are all about the contrast between meaty ingredients like pate, ham, pork sausage, even head cheese, and fresh toppers like pickled veggies, fresh jalepenos and cilantro. These yummy sandwiches are definitely the new hotness, so try tracking them down in your neck of the woods.

We ended up having a really fun night, of course, with the sandwiches being a highlight. We probably should have just eaten quickly at home, but I cooked my little heart out the night before, so a break was warranted. I made my easy, easy fig jam and this summery couscous with the cutest mixed mini tomatoes ever. If you have produce like this around, it's an easy side dish for a weeknight meal.

Summer Tomato Couscous
A mix of little red, yellow, grape, pear, or cherry tomatoes gives you the contrast of flavors and textures that makes cooking with summer produce so nice: the cherry tomatoes are really sweet and wilt considerably, while the pale yellow pear tomatoes have a milder flavor and stay firm. You can do this with any baby tomatoes.

Serves 4

1 cup whole wheat couscous
Salt and pepper
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 to 1 1/2 pints baby tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Fresh herbs (like basil, mint or chives) for garnish, optional

Prepare couscous according to package directions and season to taste with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and cooked 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally until some begin to wilt. Add garlic and continue cooking 1 minute. Season to taste and remove from heat.

When couscous is done, fluff with a fork and transfer to a serving bowl. Gently stir in tomato mixture and fresh herbs if using. Serve right away.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The New Kitchen

I wanted to give you guys a little peek at my new kitchen. The pros: it is wide open onto the dining/living area, has loads of counter space, and has a view of the Sears Tower from that window over the sink. Cons: there is less cupboard space than one might guess at first glance.

I guess we have only one con, so that's not too bad! My last kitchen, although often tight for two people to cook in at once, had a huge pantry cupboard. It was the perfect catch-all for dry goods, spices, small appliances, linen, snacks and baking supplies. This kitchen features a lazy Susan in the corner, but it is surprisingly less spacious than I hoped.

That's my critical analysis of the kitchen situation. The important thing is that I love our new condo---especially the fab location! The kitchen was actually the first room we unpacked and got up and running. The rest of the place is still full of boxes. I'm in California visiting family now (and before that, we participated a seriously rugged camping adventure), so once I actually spend some time in Chicago, I think I'll finally get it all together!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Our first meal: Arugula-Sausage Pizza!

I'm back! We moved into our new condo on Friday, and I'm loving it! The kitchen is a little bigger than our old one in Florida (I'm not even going to compare it to the one in our temporary apartment) with a lot more counter space. I'll have to post some pictures of it soon.

Although summer in Chicago makes you want to do nothing but get outside and go to restaurants with patios, we were so happy to do some cooking this weekend! This is the first meal we made in our new place. We were both drooling over pictures in New York magazine of thin crust pizzas from some of New York's top pizza places, and not surprisingly, Mike suggested we make our own pie.

There wasn't much time (or inclination) to make the dough like I usually do, so we went to our favorite store and bought it fresh from them. Since they didn't have the whole wheat version we'd normally get (although the pizza guy said they'd start stocking it soon), we ended up with the classic white flour dough.

I don't know if this stuff is the standard Whole Foods dough or something unique to the Chicago location, but it was ridiculously good! We went with one of our favorite toppings--arugula and some tasty chicken sausage. Sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and ground pepper finished it off.

I sprinkled the dough with sea salt and cornmeal, but I don't think the deliciousness was due to anything we did. It was so perfectly chewy with crunchy blistered spots and lots of air bubbles. I want to eat it again right now. A tip if you're using arugula or other leafy topping on pizza: wait till the pie is 30 seconds to a minute from being done (so basically, the pizza's done) to pile on the greens. Close the oven for that remaining time, then pull it out. The arugula may not look quite cooked enough, but the leaves will continue to wilt slightly as it cools, and you won't have any charred or frizzled bits, which just taste burnt.

Our next task might have to be cooking pizza on the grill. You may remember that I have been sans grill for a few years now, and I can't wait to get one set up in our new place!

Do you cook pizza on the grill? If so, do you have any tips for a newbie? And has anyone else had as incredible an experience with purchased pizza dough (from Whole Foods or elsewhere) as we had? Share!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cajun Cod with Veggies and Grits

As noted in the last post, Mike and I cooked one meal from scratch in our temporary apartment with virtually no equipment: shrimp n' grits. I knew I'd want to use the grits for future meals, and last night I did the slightest variation on that yummy dish.

You'll be happy to hear that I only made two trips to Whole Foods this week! And the second was mostly to pick up wine, rather than my next meal. After spending $8 on a 4.5-oz. Sockeye salmon fillet at WF on Monday (at least it was tasty--and wild salmon ain't cheap!), I knew I had to stop being lazy and roast my own darn fish. As Cheryl suggested in her comment, I could easily pull off the salmon with chipotle-honey glaze posted right on this here blog.

However, in my quest to do as little as possible with the fewest number of ingredients, I came up with an even simpler solution thanks to my local Dominick's supermarket. Whenever you pick up fresh fish or meat, the lovely staff will either provide a single-use container of marinade or coat your purchase in the seasoning blend of your choice. I went with the Cajun dry rub, and all that remained to be done was pop my fish in the oven (the oven is outfitted with a two-part broiler pan--score!).

I didn't do cheesy grits this time. Although I think shrimp works fine with some cheeses, I tend to shy away from the seafood-dairy combo. I topped it all with sauteed cherry tomatoes, zucchini and garlic. I have to admit, it was better than WF takeout.

So for the next two weeks, I'll try to mix up my grab n' go tendency with some simple home cooking. And I'll try to think of other things to make so I don't have to keep showing you pictures of quick grits (remember, nothing looks all that fabulous photographed on glass plates).

I'm also determined to get to one Chicago's amazing farmer's markets this weekend, but I'm a little worried: seeing things I love that I won't be able to cook the way I'd want to is going to drive me nuts. Yes, I know you don't have to do a lot when you have wonderful fresh ingredients, but don't try to tell me that squash blossoms are just as delectable sauteed in olive oil (make that Pam; I don't have olive oil) as they are stuffed with ricotta and fried. I'm thinking the farmer's market will be a test of my mettle...thank god I can gorge myself on fresh fruit as consolation.