Monthly Archives: August 2011

Urban Fresh!

We are lucky enough to have a pretty spacious patio at our new apartment which allowed us to plant some veggies and herbs for the first time ever! Even more exciting, they are all starting to grow and we were able to pick quite a few tomatoes and a whole lot of basil! I wanted to make something fresh, easy and delicious with our homegrown goodies so I settled on a caprese pasta…I just had to run to the store to buy some fresh mozzarella! This recipe is as easy as can be and was very light and fresh…sadly my husband and I ate an entire pound of pasta so the ‘lightness’ aspect went right out the window, but I guess it meant that it tasted pretty darn good!!

While my heavily salted water was coming to a boil, I started sautéing a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil with some garlic until the garlic became aromatic and then added the cherry tomatoes from our garden, along with some salt and pepper. Once the tomatoes softened a bit, I mashed them with a spatula, creating somewhat of a sauce. Once the campanelle (the pasta I chose to use, but others such as angel hair, ziti or fusilli would work just as well with trapping the lighter, chunkier sauce) was al dente, I used a slotted spoon to remove it and add it to the pan with the tomatoes so it could finish cooking while also adding a bit of pasta water with each addition. I turned off the heat and added the fresh basil, a lot of fresh basil, and some diced up mozzarella so it would start to get a little melty! I then added a few more sprinkles of salt and pepper, and of course some parmesan cheese! One small issue I would definitely avoid for next time is letting the mozzarella sit too long in the heat. It ended up melting a little too much, causing clumps of cheese in the pan which prevented it from distributing evenly. I would recommend pouring the tomato pasta mixture over the diced mozzarella in your serving bowl and just let the heat from the pasta and sauce melt it down! All in all, with some fresh, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside Italian bread, this was a simple and delicious weeknight meal!

Ours looked very similar, minus the olives!

And of course, as you already assumed, no meal is complete without dessert! As I mentioned in my last blog, we were fortunate enough to be given two enormous zucchinis, which I am still trying to use up before they go bad…so I decided to make some chocolate chip zucchini muffins….a little different than the zucchini bread I made last time! These turned out to be amazing, even better than I anticipated which made breakfast this morning a hell of a lot more exciting! Here’s the recipe I used:

3/4 cups white flour

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

3/4 cups oat flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

2 3/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ginger

3 eggs

1 cup oil (can use 1/2 oil, 1/2 applesauce for a healthier version)

6 ounces vanilla greek yogurt

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

3/4 cup honey

2 tsp vanilla

2 cups zucchini, shredded

Milk chocolate chips

Bake at 350 degrees for 23-25 minutes. I used a jumbo muffin pan (because bigger is always better right?!) and it made 9 very large muffins! With the combination of whole wheat flour, oat flour (which you can grind up regular old oatmeal if you don’t have oat flour), greek yogurt and zucchini, these muffins are pretty healthy, filled with fiber and protein, especially if you replace half the oil with applesauce…ok and omit the chocolate chips! These were better than the zucchini bread I made the other day in case you are thinking of trying one of the recipes out yourself!!

The finished product!!

Holy Zucchini!

The other weekend while visiting my family, my mom sent me back with a giant zucchini, like massive! It was so big that I was brainstorming recipes that utilize zucchini the entire drive home! Every  meal last week consisted of zucchini in some way, shape or form! One night it was battered and fried, another it was roasted, the next it was made into a fritter and lastly baked into a quick bread! Finally, I ran out of zucchini, only to come into work yesterday to a generous patient that happened to bring me one of her own that she grew! So starts the zucchini train all over again! Of course, I will always make muffins or another bread, but what else can I do with zucchini?! So I am turning to you guys for ideas….please send me your favorite zucchini recipes, I’d love to try something new and different!

IMAG0123-1.jpg

I wasn't kidding!!

I am going to share my zucchini bread recipe with you guys here since it turned out so delicious:

  • 3 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-3 cups zucchini, shredded
You can doctor it up by adding chocolate chips, shredded carrot, nuts, lemon, etc!
On another note, we hit up a tapas restaurant last night to help a friend say good-bye to the city of Chicago. I have to say, this was my third tapas experience and I’m just not a big fan! The thing about me and tapas is that it’s just not enough food, that is unless you order majority of the menu and spend $100! All three experiences turned out the same, spent over $50 and walked out still hungry! Our group ended up heading to Heaven on Seven with the intention of getting dessert and ended up ordering appetizers along with the cake, so it must not have been just me that walked out hungry! The food itself was delicious, everything we ate last night was very good, and if you are a small portions type person, Cafe Iberico is a great choice! But for those with an appetite, I’d recommend just heading straight to Heaven on Seven for some fried jalapeno cornbread blasters and some jambalaya or brisket! And then follow that up with the chocolate peanut butter pie or deep chocolate pecan pie! Just sayin!
Back Side of M Pie

Deep Dish Throwdown!

While watching Food Network Sunday  (as I tend to do at least once a day), I caught a new Throwdown with Bobby Flay…where he challenged Mark Malnati (son of the famous Lou Malnati) to the ultimate deep-dish pizza challenge! I am not a super huge pizza fan, unless it’s deep dish! Regular thin or thick crust pizza does nothing for me! From the show, I learned a few important tips to making the best deep dish pie which I tried out for myself Sunday night. Apparently the secret is all in the dough, deep dish pizza dough has more fat in it (be it butter or oil) to make the dough extra soft and flaky. This is not the type of dough you toss up and twirl into the air, it is fragile and would probably rip, which was exactly what happened to Bobby on his first try. Secondly, the layering of ingredients completely surprised me…the order goes: dough, cheese (Malnati’s uses slices, not shredded mozzarella), toppings, then sauce. The slices melt so much better than shredded cheese, giving it that signature ooey, gooey, melty goodness that makes deep dish pizza so damn irresistible! Instead of picking up the phone and calling in a delivery, I opted to give making my own a try!

Lou's pizza!

I will admit that I cheated on the dough and used store bought Trader Joe’s dough. I didn’t think it was the right consistency but I figured I’d give it a shot anyways! I did however make my own sauce with fresh basil, oregano and parsley, garlic, red pepper flakes, Parmesan and olive oil. There’s a pizza place in Battle Creek, Michigan that my husband is in love with, called Sir Pizza that makes one of the only thin crust pizzas I truly enjoy and he always orders hamburger, ham and mushroom. This was my inspiration for my filling! I fried up some diced pancetta (also courtesy of Trader Joe’s), set it aside and sauteed portobello mushrooms in the grease from the pancetta. Meanwhile, I browned some ground sirloin in olive oil, drained it and set it aside. To make the pizza, Josh rolled out the dough enough to fit into the deep dish pizza stone (if you don’t have one, a cast iron skillet or even a pie pan would work just as well), worked it up and over the sides of the pan. I then added two full layers of mozzarella cheese slices, the more cheese the better in my opinion! After that, I spread out the ground beef, pancetta and mushrooms. Finally topping that with the homemade sauce and a large sprinkling of Parmesan,and rolling the edges down to form a nice crust to hold in all of the luscious ingredients! I melted some butter and painted the edges of the crust and sprinkled them with Parmesan for a little extra dose of deliciousness! We baked it at 450 degrees for about 25 minutes and it came out perfectly! Tonight, I am going to make this again, however this time, I am going to make my own dough!

Our pizza...and sadly this was all that was left!

Considering we almost ate the entire thing, I would say it was yet another success! Hopefully it will get even better with homemade dough tonight!!

Big Willy Style!

Unfortunately I have nothing new on my quest to make the best flourless chocolate cake ever! There has yet to be any attempt at all actually, mostly due to a super fun, busy weekend…one of the best I’ve had while living in Chicago! It ended perfectly Sunday night where we ate at a place called Fat Willy’s Rib Shack, a barbecue restaurant in Bucktown! I love barbecue so this was right up my alley. The place was crowded enough for us to have to wait 20 minutes at 8:00 on a Sunday night…impressive yes, annoying, absolutely! On every table they had two different kinds of barbecue sauces (one regular and one spicy), a barbecue vinegar sauce and a roll of paper towels, key for any barbecue joint! We started with an order of their fried jalapeno corn fritters, I was not impressed….the fritters themselves were dry (even though they were dripping in oil) and flavorless…I wouldn’t have even eaten them if it weren’t for the delicious sauce accompanying them. The waitress was kind enough to leave the left over sauce at our table so I could dip my fries in it, definitely earning her some brownie points! I ended up finally deciding on the pulled chicken sandwich and Josh went with the ribs. He was able to order the cornbread as a side, which I have slight obsession with so was delighted…that was until it arrived! Again, like the fritters, it was dry, flaky and severely lacking in flavor….not very appetizing at all if it weren’t for the honey butter it was served with…another point for the sauces! I slathered my pulled chicken in the spicy barbecue sauce and it was absolutely delicious…moist, smokey, and slightly spicy with a twang! Overall, I would recommend this restaurant, just be sure to stick to the barbecue, it’s what they do best!

And since I can’t tell you about something I baked, I will tell you about the delicious dinner Josh and I cooked last night! I had just bought some fresh chicken breasts from the butcher and wanted to use them right away so we decided to stuff them! I grabbed a log of goat cheese, a bag of spinach and sautéed some diced up onions and garlic in olive oil. I added the spinach at the end and removed everything from the heat as soon as the spinach began to wilt. In the meantime, Josh pounded down the chicken breasts into nice, flat, even pieces, spread them with a nice helping of goat cheese and sprinkled that with some fresh basil and parsley. We topped this with the spinach mixture and he rolled them up, and sealed the edges with toothpicks so wouldn’t lose any of the goodness during cooking (what teamwork). We seasoned the chicken itself with garlic salt and pepper, seared them in an oiled/heated cast iron skillet on one side, flipped them and threw them in the oven to finish baking (350 degrees for about 30 minutes). Josh pointed out that a sauce would really tie the dish together (we watch a lot of chopped and iron chef where this is constantly etched into our heads)! A lemon white wine sauce came to mind, thinking the acidity from the lemon and the sweetness from the wine would pair perfectly with the goat cheese and fresh herbs. So again, I started by sauteing some chopped onions and garlic in olive oil until softened. I then added about half a cup of white wine, deglazed the pan and added about a cup of chicken broth. I let it come to a boil before simmering and adding some grated lemon zest, fresh rosemary and parsley. After it simmered for a few minutes, I added a few tablespoons of butter and let it thicken up until the chicken was ready. Paired with pan-fried squash and brussels sprouts, this was one amazing home-made dinner, one that will definitely be repeated! Dessert was, albeit tasty, sadly nothing too special…a few warmed Ghiradelli dark chocolate brownies covered in store-bought chocolate peanut butter (me) and coffee (Josh) ice cream! Dinner ended a bit too late to begin the flourless chocolate cake journey, so maybe next time, hopefully!

Soup du jour!

After dinner last night, it is now my mission to learn how to make an amazingly delicious flourless chocolate cake! We ate at a little French place called Cafe Bernard in Lincoln Park. Aside from being the only people dining at the time (we had very early reservations so we could make it on time to a 7:00 play), the atmosphere was very nice; small, dimly lit, and romantic. Being the most indecisive person I’ve ever known, I always do my research ahead of time and check out a restaurant’s menu before arriving. This saves me hours of grueling decision making at the restaurant, which ultimately postpones eating! I had settled upon the french onion soup (a definite for me whenever present on any menu) and jumbo sea  scallops with a balsamic reduction…that was until they presented us with an amazing $20 three-course prix fixe menu!

Unfortunately the prix fixe menu did not have the scallops as an option for an entree so I decided to go with the crepes. They sounded super delicious after all, chicken, shiitake mushrooms, and carrots with a parmesan-swiss garlic cream sauce. To my surprise, these were not quite as delicious as they sounded, which left me somewhat disappointed! The crepe itself had little to no flavor at all, and felt more like a tortilla than a crepe. And the sauce, as delectable as it sounds tasted more like cream than cheese, which for me was a let down since I’m such a cheesehead! The soup however was absolutely wonderful, a little salty, but I am not one to complain about salt! The Gruyère was perfectly melted with a little crispness around the edges of the bowl (my favorite part)! Now, on to the best part of every meal, dessert!

I am a chocoholic and only really eat chocolate desserts (sad I know) so when I saw the flourless chocolate cake, I needn’t look any further! I’ve had quite a few flourless chocolate cakes in my days and this one was one of the best! It was incredibly rich and velvety, pairing perfectly the bottle of Graves Bordeaux we had ordered. As aforementioned, I love me some chocolate, so another perk to this was its size. Usually flourless chocolate cakes are miniscule servings surrounded by some type of caramel or sauce spread elegantly all around the plate. This piece (and I wish I had taken a picture of the actual piece I ate, but this picture is pretty darn close, caramel included), was the size of a slice of pie! It was to die for!

Stay tuned as I begin the challenge of baking an even more delicious flourless chocolate cake!

Peanut Butter Jelly Time!!

Ok no jelly, but first things first, I promised I would let you know how the experimental peanut butter banana bread turned out…no surprise it was tasty, however, it could definitely use a few modifications! It is a great base recipe that I can now expand on and adapt to better suit my tastes!  The peanut butter flavor did not come across quite as strong as I was hoping it would. The cinnamon and banana flavors overpowered the peanut buttery goodness. Everything else turned out beautifully, the bread was moist and fluffy with a slightly crunchy outer crust, and the spice from the cinnamon melded perfectly with the ripened banana creating a lot of  flavor.

Here’s how I made it:

  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 8 ounce container of vanilla or plain greek yogurt (I used full fat yogurt for texture/creaminess)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (you can use chunky if you like nuts and save yourself from adding them separately, that is if you even want to add them at all)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (could do 1/2 white 1/2 brown here but I prefer the caramelly taste of brown sugar myself, you could even use 1 cup of one kind of sugar)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (could also add in all-spice, cloves, or any other spices you like)
I baked it at 350 degrees for 50 minutes and it came out perfectly!
I ate it warm, right out of the oven covered in Nutella, absolutely delicious! However, next time I will put in at least 3/4 cup of peanut butter, maybe even 1 full cup! You can even play around and use Nutella or any other nut butter instead! I also decided last minute to omit the chocolate chips to get a feel for the true taste of the bread so I know how to modify it next time, then I will add in the chocolate chips for an extra dose of deliciousness! Another delicious way to enjoy this bread is to toast it and eat it with butter, Nutella, peanut butter, jelly or really anything that can be spread on top of it! Toasting it gives it a delicious crunchy exterior with a soft and moist middle, almost better than right out of the oven! Hope you enjoy! And as usual, if you change up this recipe and like it,  please share your ideas with me!!

Sweet Deal!

Another whirlwind of a weekend has come to a close and I am finally able to gather my thoughts! Lots of good times were had…rang in a friend’s 30th birthday and celebrated a beautiful wedding! A few important things I learned this weekend….oreos are much more delicious when covered in chocolate, a chocolate malt from Oberweis has around 7 scoops of ice cream in it and one person can eat an entire container of hummus and bag of pretzel thins in one sitting! Just a word of advice to be careful for any or all of these!

Spur of the moment decision Sunday morning, my brother and Josh decided to have a family gathering at my grandparents house. We swam, barbecued and played with my little niece/Godchild Ari (short for Arianna)! It ended up being the perfect ending to such a great weekend! Lucky for me, my mom had a few bananas that were getting quite ripe so I volunteered to take them of her hands for her, which leads me to my next project….baking a new banana bread, one I’ve never made before! This may sound like an easy task, but I have tried hundreds of banana bread recipes only to find a few that I really like!

The other day while making my famous ‘fried peanut butter and banana sandwich’ I realized that I love the combination of peanut butter with bananas. Actually, this is the only way I will ever even eat a banana; well that or if it is covered in chocolate and frozen! This is the easiest, most delicious sandwich you will ever eat! To make:  saute a cut up banana in butter, cinnamon and sugar until caramelized. Butter one side of two slices of bread, and slather peanut butter on the non-buttered side. In the same skillet that you sauteed the bananas, add one of the slices of bread, butter side down, add the sauteed bananas and cover with the other slice of bread, peanut butter side down (like you would make a grilled cheese). Grill until browned to your liking!

Getting back to the task at hand though, tonight I decided that I am going to try making a peanut butter, chocolate chip banana bread! Seeing as how I am completely obsessed with peanut butter, I cannot wait to get home and try this! Just a funny side note,  I once tried to give up peanut butter for Lent and didn’t even make it past the second day! Woops…never made that mistake again! I will let you all know how it turns out!