Monday, November 18, 2013

Maple Pumpkin Pie

Maple Pumpkin Pie

This weekend, we continued our annual Friendsgiving tradition.  Our first Friendsgiving was my senior year of college, when my (still) roommate and I hosted everyone at our apartment.  It was a great way to kick off the holiday season.  When we moved to Chicago, our friends started organizing a Friendsgiving at their apartment.  The tradition has grown - we had over 30 people this year!

Friendsgiving for us is potluck-style.  We have a sign up and everyone brings one of their favorite dishes.  We had so much food this year: 2 turkeys, tons of mashed potatoes, salads, sweet potatoes, challah, cranberry sauce, stuffing, yams, brussels sprouts, and traditional polish sausage.... followed by cookies, cake, ice cream and at least 5 pies for dessert!  The best part was that my friends are some of the best cooks I know.  Everything was unbelievably delicious!

Maple Pumpkin Pie

I brought challah, pecan pie, and this maple pumpkin pie.  I love this recipe because... well obviously I'm obsessed with anything maple.  But seriously, it's a great twist on a classic.  It isn't a huge deviation - it still has that traditional pumpkin pie flavor - but with a little hint of maple.  I have to confess, I used store-bought crust this year... but I feel so guilty about it and disliked the taste so I don't think it's ever going to happen again!  Still, it made assembly super easy.  I promise anyone can pull this off for Thanksgiving!

Maple Pumpkin Pie

Maple Pumpkin Pie
from Real Simple

1 piecrust (store-bought or homemade)
2 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin puree
1 c heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 c pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup)
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp ground cloves

1. Set the oven rack to the lowest position. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Place a pie tin on a baking sheet and place the pie crust in the tin. Crimp the edges, if desired.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, cream, maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, salt and cloves. (I added a little bit of pumpkin pie spice too because I had it on hand.)
4. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the pie crust. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the center is set and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving (I like pumpkin pie chilled so I keep in the fridge until I'm ready to serve it) and serve with whipped cream.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Harvest Roasted Chicken with Grapes, Olives, and Rosemary

Harvest chicken with grapes olives and rosemary

Fall is here.  Well, it's officially here, but we've had plenty of days that still feel like summer.  I'm not complaining.  Summer was so short this year in Chicago that I welcome the gorgeous days where I can spend my weekend basking in the sun.  I know it's going to hide behind the gray clouds of winter soon enough, so I want to enjoy every last minute before that happens.

Harvest chicken with grapes olives and rosemary

But that doesn't mean I'm not ready for fall foods.  The summer produce is dwindling.  Last week was the glorious bit of time where the peaches were OK enough to make peach applesauce - the Monkey Scientist's favorite - with the first of the fall apples.  I think by this week that short overlap of seasons will be over.  I'm just waiting on pumpkin as long as I can so I don't get sick of it too quickly.  And so the season of roasting begins.

Harvest chicken with grapes olives and rosemary

My first autumn meal was this roasted  chicken.  I love the sweet grapes with the savory rosemary, contrasted by the brine-y olives.  I picked up the world's largest shallot at the Farmer's market (which sadly has only 3 weeks left) as well as some small pink potatoes to serve on the side.  It was a perfect and hardy warm dinner that the Monkey Scientist even loved, despite his hatred of olives (he picked around them).  And when Deb says your guests will slurp this up with a spoon, she's spot on.  I totally found the Monkey Scientist with a spoon in the serving dish as we were cleaning up.

Harvest chicken with grapes olives and rosemary

Harvest Roasted Chicken with Grapes, Olives, and Rosemary
from Smitten Kitchen via Serious Eats

2-3 lbchicken parts (thighs, drumsticks, and/or breasts), with skin and bones
Table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 c seedless grapes
1 c pitted Kalamata olives
2 small or 1 very large shallot, thinly sliced
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 c dry white wine
1/2 c chicken broth

1. Put the oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450.
2. Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Pat the chicken dry then season well with salt and pepper. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken skin side down and cook until the skin is seared and golden brown (3-5 min). Then flip over and sear on the other side, 2-3 minutes.
3. Turn the heat off and add the shallots, then olives and grapes to the pan in all of the gaps around the chicken pieces. Sprinkle half of the rosemary over the chicken.  Carefully move the skillet to the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the meat is no longer pink. (I like to poke the chicken with my finger to tell when its done using the finger test it should feel at least "medium").
4.  Remove from the oven and transfer the chicken, grapes and olives to a serving platter.  Return the skillet to the stove over medium to medium-high heat.  Add the wine and scrape the pan as it's boiling off to get all of the remaining chicken bits.  Add the chicken broth and allow to simmer until the liquid thickens and reduces by at least half.
5.  Pour the sauce over the chicken.  Garnish with the remaining rosemary and serve immediately.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Homemade Bagels


The Jewish Holidays are one of my favorite times of year to be in the kitchen.  Whether it's making my favorite brisket, making a kugel, or just spending time with my mom, I love it.  I spent Rosh Hashanah this year at home with my family, which I haven't had the chance to do in far too many years.  My mom makes one of the best Rosh Hashanah meals and this year was no different.  I'd pick that meal over Thanksgiving any day!


I was back in Chicago for Yom Kippur, so we got to break the fast with the Monkey Scientist's family.  We hosted at our place this year and I decided I wanted to make as many things from scratch as possible.  I made a challah (with raisins this time, per request from his dad), my mom's kugel (with a little almond extract, which was a fun little twist on a favorite), a kale quiche with my favorite homemade oatmeal crust and even cured my own lox.  I bought the cream cheese homemade from Southport Grocery and picked up a whole smoked herring from Dirk's.


But the pièce de résistance had to be the bagels.  They're the key to any break fast. And if I was going to fast all day, I had to have better bagels than the ones available in our neighborhood (which are, to say the least, sub par).  I had seen recipes to make bagels for a long time, but they looked like a pain.  A multi-day process and weird ingredients like barley malt... I hadn't been quite ambitious enough to accomplish it before now.  But this seemed like the right excuse to take the plunge, and I am so glad I did.  Finding the strange ingredients turned out to be easier than I expected and to be honest, so was making the bagels!  I think making frosting is much more difficult!


The whole meal was a great success.  The family was still talking about everything the next day - a sign that means I did something right!  And the bagels were definitely the star of the meal.  The Monkey Scientist's brother said they were the best bagels he'd ever had.  I didn't think they were far off, and definitely the best I've had in Chicago.  They were perfectly chewy and the malt gives them that "bagel" flavor. They were absolutely worth the extra effort!


Homemade Bagels
from Smitten Kitchen
Note: this recipe takes at least 2 days, so think ahead!

1 tsp instant yeast
4 c unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (I used bread flour)
2 1/2 c water, room temperature
1/2 tsp instant yeast
3 3/4 c unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp malt powder or 1 tbsp dark or light malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar (you can find the malt syrup at Whole Foods, this is the brand I used)
To Finish
1 tbsp baking soda
2 tbsp malt syrup
Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting
Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, rehydrated dried minced garlic or onions, or crushed sea salt for topping

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine 1 tsp of yeast, 4 c high-gluten or bread flour, and water.  Stir until you have a thin, smooth and very sticky batter.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for two hours.  It will double in size and be very foamy.  It should collapse when tapped, but mine didn't really and was still ok.
2. Stir the additional 1/2 tsp yeast into the dough. With the dough hook attachment on the mixer at low speed, add 3 c of the flour and the salt and malt powder or syrup until the dough forms into a ball.  Stir in the last 3/4 c of flour to stiffen the dough.
3. At this point, you will knead the dough.  You can do it in the stand mixer, but if you have a standard Kitchen Aid, this is a very tough dough and it might not be able to handle it.  It really needs 6 minutes of kneading in the mixer, but after about 3-4 minutes mine started making bad noises and then smoking.  I finished kneading it by hand.   You can also just knead it by hand for about 10 minutes, which I think is what I'll do next time.  Once kneaded, the dough should be pliable and smooth and very stiff/firm.  All of the flour should be incorporated.  If the dough is dry and rips, add a few drops of water (I had to do this a couple of times) and continue kneading.  If it's tacky or sticky, add more flour - the dough shouldn't feel satiny not sticky.
4. Divide the dough into 12-14 bagels (if you have a kitchen scale, you can measure them to 4.5 oz.  I made 13 bagels).  If you like smaller bagels, you can make them smaller.  Form the pieces into round rolls.
5. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow to rest for about 20 minutes.
6. Line 2 baking sheets with Silpat mats or parchment and spray with cooking spray.  Poke your thumb through the middle of each roll to create a hole.  Widen the hole to about 2 inches by evenly stretching the dough.  Be careful to keep the dough equal all the way around so that it cooks evenly.
7. Place each bagel on the lined baking sheets about 2 inches apart.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit for 20 minutes.
8. Test one bagel to see if it's ready to retard overnight in the fridge.  Fill a bowl with room temperature water and put a bagel in it.  If it floats within 10 seconds (mine floated instantly), they're ready.  Dry it off and put it back on the pan.  If not, dry it off and let them sit at room temperature for another 10-20 minutes, then test again. 
9.  Once they're ready to retard, put the pans, loosely covered with plastic wrap, into the fridge at least overnight and up to 2 days. (Note: after 2 days, the sides of my bagels were a little dried out.  That's ok, they'll be fine once you boil them.)
10.  When you're ready to cook the bagels, bring the oven to 500 degrees F.  Put both of the oven racks in the middle.  Bring a wide pot to a boil.
11.  Add the baking soda and malt to the water.  Note it will boil up like a science fair volcano when you add the baking soda.  You may need to turn the heat down a little bit so that it doesn't boil over, just make sure it continues to boil.
12. Add a few bagels to the pot, making sure they have plenty of room.  I could fit 3 at a time.  Boil 1-2 minutes, then flip over and boil for an additional 1-2 minutes. (Apparently, the longer you boil the chewier they'll be. I couldn't tell the difference between the bagels that I boiled longer.)  Meanwhile, coat the Silpats lightly in corn meal.
13.  Remove the bagels with a spider or other strainer. If you're going to top them with seeds, put them immediately onto a plate filled with the topping.  I had 1 of poppy, 1 of sesame, 1 of salt, and one with a mix of sesame, poppy and dehydrated onion to use as "everything".  Then put the bagels seed-side up on the baking sheet on top of the corn meal.  If you want a plain bagel, move it immediately to the corn-meal coated lined baking sheet.
14.  Once you've boiled all the bagels, put the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 5 minutes.  Rotate the baking sheets 180 degrees and move the top to the bottom and visa versa.  Bake for an additional 5-10 minutes until the bagels are a nice dark brown.
15. Cool on a baking sheet for 15 minutes.

Note: If you live in Chicago, I recommend serving them with the homemade cream cheese from Southport Grocery (call ahead to order) and lox or smoked whitefish from Dirk's.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dutch Baby with Lavender Sugar

Lavender Dutch Baby

Sunday mornings for me deserve a special breakfast.  Often this means french toast, but when the only bread in the house is multi-grain (and let's be serious, a good french toast should be made with challah or French bread) sometimes you need to up the ante a little bit.  I have been seeing recipes for dutch babies for months and I've been dreaming about them but they look... intimidating.  All that puffed dough in a cast iron skillet? Sounds complicated.

Lavender Dutch Baby

Wrong.  SO EASY.  Healthy? Not so much. But definitely easy!  And delicious?  Of course.  It reminds me of the fried dough we used to get at Clowntown, my hometown's annual carnival, every year.  But it's breakfast food and on Sundays, I don't even feel guilty about it!  The lavender on top takes it from a cheesy carnival treat to something just a little bit more gourmet.  I loved this so much as is, I didn't even pour maple syrup on it.  Now that's saying something.

Lavender Dutch Baby

Dutch Baby with Lavender Sugar
from A Cozy Kitchen

3 large eggs at room temperature 30 minutes
2/3 cup whole milk at room temperature (I used skim and it worked fine)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon of dried lavender

1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Put a 10" cast iron skillet on the middle rack of the oven and let it heat up for about 3 minutes (if it gets too hot the butter will burn).
2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the eggs on high with the whisk attachment until pale and frothy. Add the milk, flour, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg and beat just until smooth. You'll have a very thin batter.
3. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven and add the butter, swirling to coat the bottom evenly. It may brown a little bit - that's OK.  As soon as the butter is melted, add the batter and immediately return to the oven.  Bake until puffed and golden brown, 18-25 minutes (mine was done in 18, so be sure to watch it).
4. While the pancake bakes, mix together the sugar and lavender in a small bowl.  Press the lavender into the sugar, breaking it up and making it fragrant.
5.  When the pancake is finished, remove from the oven and top with the lavender sugar.  You may not need all the sugar - I only used about half and saved the rest for another day.  Serve immediately.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Egg-free French Toast

Eggless French toast

On Sunday morning I was craving French Toast.  Of course, the roommate is the only one who ever buys eggs in our house and, since he'd been gone for a week, we had none.  I told myself I wasn't going out until I had done a deep-clean of the house, so there was no going to the store or our usual brunch spot.  It was time to get creative.

I figured if anyone knew how to make French Toast sans eggs it would be a vegan, so I did a quick search and found a vegan French Toast recipe.  We all know I am not a vegan chef so I of course un-veganized it - adding back in milk and butter.  It's a great way to make French Toast if you're allergic to eggs or, like me, a lazy grocery shopper.  It's crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  It would be awesome topped with fresh fruit or berries.  Basically, it's just batter-fried bread, and who can complain about that?  Certainly not me!

Eggless French toast

Egg-free French Toast
adapted from chef chloe

1/4 c skim milk
1/4 c flour
1 tbsp maple syrup (plus more for serving)
1 tbsp ground flax seed
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
6 slices, 3/4" thick, french bread
1 tbsp butter

1. Whisk together the milk and flour with a fork in a small bowl until smooth.
2. Add the maple syrup, ground flax seed, salt, cinnamon, brown sugar and vanilla and whisk to combine.
3. Dip the bread in the batter until both sides are well coated.
4. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Once melted, add the bread, making sure not to crowd the pan.  If you need to do it in two batches, that's better than squishing the bread.
5. Allow the bread to brown on one side, then flip and allow to brown on the other side.  I like to press the bread while the second side is browning.
6. Serve with additional maple syrup, warmed.

serves 2

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree

Eggplant rigatoni

We're back!  Our vacation was amazing.  We explored all over the Pacific Northwest then hung out at the beach in California for a few days.  We were out in the mountains and forests without cell service and it was the perfect excuse to check out from every day life for a little while.  There are lots of pictures up on my tumblr, strangeplaceforyoga, so go check them out!

Eggplant rigatoni

Cooking on our trip was well... minimal.  We picked up food from a few farmer's markets and cooked it over an open fire in the woods.  Usually this resulted in charred burgers and more baked potatoes than we'd ever eat at home, but we found a few treats as well.  Corn over the open fire was charred and absolutely delicious! I didn't even miss the butter.  Still, I was happy to get back home and start cooking again.

Eggplant rigatoni

The Monkey Scientist stayed out in California for a fellowship for a week after I left.  I have to admit - before he got back I was lazy.  But when he flew in the other night I put this meal together while his brother picked up him up at the airport.  It had just the amount of cutting necessary to relax me and remind me why I love cooking so much.  Plus, pasta = comfort food.  And pine nuts are my favorite.  I made a few pan-seared chicken breasts to throw on top because I knew he'd want some meat and they were an easy addition.  The dish is warm, cozy and comforting.  Despite the reliance on summer veggies, I'll definitely be bringing it back out this winter!

Eggplant rigatoni

Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree
from smitten kitchen

1 small eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (I used the golden variety)
3 cloves garlic, whole
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 pound rigatoni pasta
1/4 cup torn fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 oz balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a large baking sheet with foil.
2. Combine the cubed eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes in a large bowl and toss to coat. Spread the mixture evenly on the foil-lined baking sheet.  Bake for 35 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the eggplant is golden and beginning to brown on the edges.
3. Meanwhile, in a very small frying pan (I use one designed for 1 egg) add just the pine nuts.  Toast over medium heat, stirring nearly constantly, until they begin to brown.  Remove to a small plate or jar and set aside.
4. At the same time, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook according to package instructions then drain, reserving at least 2 cups of the pasta water.
5. Combine 3 tbsp olive oil and the mint leaves in the bowl of your food processor.  Add the roasted vegetables, then puree.
6. Pour the pureed vegetables, Parmesan, balsamic vinegar, and lemon juice over the pasta.  The sauce will be thick, so add the reserved pasta water 1/2 cup at a time until it reaches your desired consistency.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Boozy Watermelon Granitas

image (6)

I'm smack dab in the middle of some serious summer vacationing.  Last week, we spent 4 days up in New Hampshire with my family.  We hung out by the lake, lounged in the water, waterskiied, did some paddleboard yoga, and ate more delicious food than anyone actually needs to eat in a 4 day period.  Needless to say, it was awesome.  But of course the best part was the family time with my parents, grandparents, aunt and cousins.  I wish we all lived closer!

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This past weekend, we took a trip up to Wisconsin to camp and catch a Brewers game.  It was meant to be a test-run for our camping gear, since we just got a whole bunch of new stuff to take on our big trip out West.  It was also a chance to check another baseball park off of our lists.  I've been to 3 new parks so far this summer and will be at one more (I hope) by the end of the week!  Despite the fact that traffic in both directions was pretty horrific, limiting our ability to actually do any hiking, we had a great time.  I'm excited for us to do the real thing next week.

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Before we left, I had sent this recipe to the Monkey Scientist's mom.  I didn't really read it, or think about how much work went into making granitas.  I just thought it looked good.  I should have known better - by the time we got back she'd stressed over making it all day and bought these cute little serving bowls for it.  I was so excited!  She's the sweetest.

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I tried to help out by making the coconut whipped cream, but it didn't work out great. The taste was spot on, but it never really stiffened up.  Not quite sure what I did wrong; maybe I overwhipped it in the electric mixer?  It didn't really matter though because these were so delicious that we all slurped them down pretty quickly.  When they started melting it almost turned into a soft coconut-watermelon ice cream.  What a refreshing and tasty summertime treat!

Next, we're off to the West Coast for our big summer trip. I'll be sure to tell you all about it when we get back!

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Boozy Watermelon Granitas
from How Sweet It Is

4 cups fresh cubed watermelon
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup coconut rum
1 (14-ounce) can of full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight

1. In the blender or food processor, completely puree the watermelon. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve over a measuring cup and use a spoon to press every last bit of liquid out of the watermelon pulp.
2. Add the watermelon juice and sugar to a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves and once the liquid comes to a boil, turn off the heat.
3. Pour the juice into a 9x13-inch baking dish and whisk in the rum. Freeze for 4 hours.
4.  Use a fork and scrape the mixture into small icy bites. Freeze again and repeat the scraping one or two more times within the next two hours or so.
5.  When ready to serve, open the can of cold coconut milk (don't shake it first!) and remove all of the liquid. Scoop the cream into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on high speed with a whisk attachment until peaks form, about 2 minutes. If desired, you can sweeten your coconut whipped cream with a little sugar.
6. Serve the granitas by layering a spoonful of the whipped cream, the granitas and more whipped cream. You can garnish with a sprig of mint if you have any on hand.