Busy Busy!

I have a slight obsession with soup, any time of year, any time of day, all day, every day I can and would eat soup! Just ask my husband, whenever he asks what I want or where I want to go to eat, he always has to say ‘besides soup!’ I frequently make my own so I have them for dinner a few nights a week while Josh is away at hockey…with a big hunk of crusty bread, it’s the perfect meal! So the other night I decided to make some cheesy broccoli cheddar soup with my cheesy beer bread to accompany it! And since I had quite a few bananas that were going bad, I decided to follow that up with some coconut rum banana bread! (Side note, I have noticed that the past few things I have baked recently have all contained booze in some form or another…not quite sure why, but they’ve all turned out deliciously)?!

Broccoli Cheddar Soup:

  • 5 T butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups whole milk or cream
  • 2 cups chicken broth, room temperature (just not cold)!
  • 2 heads broccoli, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, shredded
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bag sharp cheddar cheese

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. In separate saucepan, heat milk over medium-low heat, keep warm. Add onion, saute until soft. Whisk in flour, cook for one minute. Slowly add in warm milk. Slowly add in chicken broth, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, then simmer, whisking occasionally until thickened (about 20 minutes). Once thickened a little, add broccoli, carrots, salt and pepper to taste. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 20-25 more minutes. If desired, transfer 3/4 of the mixture to blender or food processor (or do as I did and use an immersion blender) to puree mixture. Pour back into saucepan and add cheese.

Cheesy Beer Bread:

  • 2 cups flour

    Moist, buttery, cheesy!!

  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt, divided
  • 10 ounces or 1 1/4 cups beer (guess you’ll just have to drink those last two ounces)!
  • 1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 t garlic powder, plus more for top
  • 1 t onion powder, plus more for top
  • 1 t mustard powder, plus more for top
  • 2 T butter, melted

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and mustard powder. Slowly mix in beer with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until just combined. Do not over-mix. Add in cheese, until just combined. Pour (I use this word lightly as the batter is very thick and will not ‘pour’) into a 9X5 loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm area for 30 minutes. The dough will puff lightly and grow a little in the pan. Brush the top with the melted butter and sprinkle more seasonings over top. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

View from the top of the buttery, salty, crust!

Coconut Rum Banana Bread:

  • 2 cups flour

    Look at all that coconutty goodness!

  • 1 t baking soda
  • dash of salt
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temp
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla
  • 4 T Captain Morgan (or other rum you like/have on hand)!
  • 3 mashed bananas
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease 9X5 loaf pan. Combine flour, soda, salt and cinnamon in bowl, whisk together and set aside. Cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add in eggs one at a time, blending after each addition. Add in vanilla, then rum. Fold in bananas and coconut then gently fold in flour mixture until just incorporated. Pour batter into loaf pan, top with cinnamon sugar mixture (or crumb topping, etc). Bake about 45 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

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The Greek in me!

Ok so I don’t actually have any Greek in me since I am all Italian but I am a big fan of most things Greek, especially their cuisine! Pastitsio is one of my favorite things to eat, especially if it is from the Greek Islands Restaurant! (others have been known to overwhelm me with nutmeg and/or cinnamon….spices I feel are better left for dessert)! For those that are unfamiliar, pastitsio is a Greek lasagna, with layers of hearty meat, a rich tomatoey sauce and luscious, creamy, cheesy bechamel (my favorite part). My mom’s good friend Diane, one of the Real Housewives of Glen Ellyn as the ladies are commonly referred to by us kids, gave me a recipe a while back which I have been dying to try out! Diane is Greek and gave me her mother’s pastitsio recipe months ago and I finally got the opportunity to try it out last Sunday when I was home for more than an hour on a weekend day (how nice that was by the way….so rare it’s sad)! Good thing I had all the time in the world to make it too because it was definitely time-consuming…not so much that I won’t make it again, but enough to know to really plan ahead! The tricky part is that you are essentially preparing three separate items that get combined together; the chunky tomatoey meat sauce, the pasta portion and saving the best for last, the rich, velvety bechamel part. Another heads up, this makes a very large portion, we have been eating it for dinner since Monday and lunch yesterday and today, and I brought a few good size portions home for my mom and grandma to try last night…and I still have nearly a third of the pan left! So be aware, up to your ears in pastitsio with this recipe!

View from above!

Pastitsio:

Meat Sauce:

  • 1.5 pounds ground lamb (can use ground beef but I was trying to be ‘traditional’)
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 small-medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 can filled with water
  • 1 t rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pasta:

  • 1 pound penne
  • 2 T olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil that I had made myself just to add a little more flavor)
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup Kefalotyri (can use Parmesan but again, I was attempting to be ‘traditional’)

Bechamel:

  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 glasses milk, warmed
  • 3/4 cup Kefalotyri
  • 3 egg yolks
  • salt and pepper to taste

For meat sauce: Brown ground lamb in a butter with onion until onion is soft and meat is browned. Add in garlic. Let cook a minute more. Deglaze pan with white wine. Add in rosemary, bay leaves and tomato paste diluted with water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cook about 15 or so minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed. Discard bay leaves.

For the pasta: Cook pasta until al dente (undercook by at least a few minutes). Once done, strain and return to pot. Toss with olive oil and let cool a few minutes. Once relatively cool, add in Kefalotyri cheese and egg whites, toss to coat.

For the Bechamel: While the pasta is cooking, melt butter in a large saucepan. Whisk in flour, and let cook a minute or two, do not let brown. Whisk in milk, slowly, whisking the entire time, so no clumps remain. Once no lumps remain, remove the pan from the heat and add in the cheese, salt, pepper and egg yolks, in that order while continuing to stir the entire time. Set aside when smooth and fully mixed.

Assembly: I mixed half of the meat sauce with the pasta and poured half of the pasta mixture on the bottom of a greased, large casserole pan. Then the other half of the meat mixture, then the other half of the pasta. Lastly, pour the bechamel over top and cover with more Kefalotyri. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, depending on how brown you like it. We did not eat ours Sunday night but let it sit in the fridge overnight then reheated pieces for dinner Monday which I was told really escalates the flavor. Josh ate a small piece Sunday night and said that it was a slightly stronger taste the following evening but not terribly noticeable or obvious! Also, next time I would try to find smaller pasta noodles, even the true Greek number 2 ‘traditional’ noodles if possible and use a little more tomato sauce or make extra tomato sauce to drizzle over top like they do in the restaurants! And there will be a next time, that’s for sure!

Good view of the layers!

Layers and Layers of Flavor!

As is usual, I was seriously craving chocolate and peanut butter pretty much all last week! So I waited until I knew we were having guests over for dinner on Friday to make a brownie cake with peanut butter frosting layers then smothered in a creamy, thick chocolate frosting and topped with dark chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups! Ah-mazing and totally satisfied my craving…this is one rich cake!

Photo: Cake I made today for dessert! Brownie cake with peanut butter frosting layers and topped with chocolate butter cream!

Brownie Layers:

  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 11 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 5 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides and bottom of three 8″ round baking pans.

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

3. Put the chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be room temperature.

4. Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

5. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Set on wire rack to cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely.

Peanut Butter Frosting:

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

Place the confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high-speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

Chocolate Frosting:

  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (I let it cool about 1 hour, stirring occasionally)
  • 4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar (no need to sift)
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 T Frangelico

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate. Process until the frosting is smooth.

To assemble cake, cut brownie layers so they have nice flat tops. Place one layer on your cake pan and top with half of the peanut butter frosting. Place another brownie layer on top of that and frost with remaining half of peanut butter frosting. Top with last brownie layer then frost entire cake with chocolate frosting! Top with crumbled Reese’s and eat away!!

Nutella, ella, ella

After this past weekend, even though it was filled with delicious food and all the pastries in the world, I was craving something super chocolatey and rich! I was settled on basic brownies with my favorite peanut butter frosting when I realized how much peanut butter and overall nuts I had eaten recently so decided to switch to something with Nutella. It seemed perfect; still satisfy that nut butter craving while also accomplishing the chocolatey goodness I desperately wanted! Also, I knew last night was going to be a super late one at work so I wanted to utilize the crock pot so we’d have dinner ready as soon as we got home! I saw a recipe on (my new fav) Pinterest for a Balsamic Pot Roast type thing….and since I loooove balsamic so much, I figured I’d give it a try! Not gonna lie, the brownies turned out to be amazingly delicious however the roast, not so much! It was just so greasy and lacking something. I did use a beef brisket which I know is a fattier cut of meat, but the grease was almost inedible (although sadly didn’t stop either of us, but definitely gave us stomach aches all night)!

Nutella Cream Cheese Brownies:

Brownies:

  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
    1 t salt
    2 T cocoa powder (I used dark to enhance the chocolate flavor)
    11 oz dark chocolate, chopped
    1 cup butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
    1 t instant espresso powder (optional but really brings out the chocolate flavor)
    1½ cups sugar
    ½ cup brown sugar
    5 eggs, room temp
    2 t vanilla extract

Nutella Cream Cheese Layer:

  • 1 cup Nutella
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 T butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9×13 pan. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together. Put the chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be room temperature. Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

For the Nutella Cream Cheese layer: Beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Beat in Nutella, until smooth and incorporated. Slowly beat in powdered sugar until no lumps and all is smooth. Pour over brownie batter. Bake in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it.

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Balsamic Roast with Onions:

  • 2-3 pound beef brisket or eye of the round roast
  • seasoning salt
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • pepper
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 large onions, sliced thickly

Season beef with salt, garlic, onion and pepper. Heat cast iron skillet with olive oil until hot. Sear meat on both sides. You want a really nice brown crust, so give it time to brown, at least a few minutes each side. Meanwhile, cut onions into thick slices and place in the bottom of the crock pot. Also, heat beef broth in saucepan, boiling until reduced from 1 cup to 1/2 cup liquid. Once reduced, remove from heat and add in balsamic vinegar and tomato sauce. When meat is done, transfer to crock pot, on top of sliced onions. Deglaze pan the meat was seared in with 1/4 cup water, scraping all the flavor crystals from the bottom of the pan. Add pan drippings to balsamic mixture. Pour over beef and onions in the crock pot. Cook on low 7-8 hours. Serve over mashed potatoes if you like!

As I mentioned, this was not my favorite recipe. If I ever make it again, I would definitely use a leaner meat and add in more veggies to soak up some of the juices.  The mashed potatoes helped, but not all that much! I plan on using the leftovers for a sandwich, melting some cheese on the top and using some of the caramelized onions….I am hoping that this might be the way to eat this, rather than over potatoes! We shall see!

Times of Sorrow…

Being from an Italian family, everything somehow involves or relates to food in some way. Food is a to celebrate, to mourn, to bring people together. This means that during times of wakes and funerals, food is in abundance…and maybe it’s just the way I was raised, but it always does make me feel at least a little better! Unfortunately, my best friend lost her grandfather last week and services were held over the weekend. I was unable to attend the funeral Saturday morning so decided to bake up a few things to bring them Sunday morning, just to say I love you and was thinking about you. Her dad is not a big sweets guy, so I baked up another loaf of the same beer bread I made a few weeks ago. Also, her sister Amy lives in Oregon and last time she was in, I had baked a banana bread but was already in bed when they called me to see if they can come and have some so for her, I made a banana bread with crumb topping and lastly, just for the extra sweet tooth in all of us, my own version of a homemade Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. I hope they enjoyed the goodies, but most importantly, I hope they know I was thinking about them and am very sorry for their loss.

Banana Bread with Crumb Topping:

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • dash of salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large bananas, mashed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 t vanilla
  • For crumb topping:
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 – 3/4 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350, grease a 9X13 loaf pan. Sift or whisk together flour, soda, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, beat oil and sugar together until sugar dissolves. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla, then mashed bananas. Alternate adding dry ingredients and buttermilk to wet ingredients, ending with dry. For crumb topping: mix flour, oats, cinnamon and brown sugar together until incorporated well. Using a pastry blender, fork or two knives, cut in butter until moist crumbs form. Pour into greased loaf pan and top with crumb topping. Bake 45-50 minutes.

Homemade Reese’s

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter, room temp/softened
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 3 T peanut butter

Grease an 8X8 baking pan or line with foil and spray foil. Combine butter, peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs and powdered sugar. Mix well. Press into bottom of pan. Melt chocolate and peanut butter together in a double boiler or in microwave. Once melted and smooth, pour over graham cracker crust. Let cool to room temperature, then put in fridge for at least an hour before cutting to allow bars to set.

Beer Bread with Cheddar and Garlic:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt, divided
  • 10 ounces or 1 1/4 cups beer (guess you’ll just have to drink those last two ounces)!
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  • 1 t garlic powder, plus more for top
  • 1 t onion powder, plus more for top
  • 1 t mustard powder, plus more for top
  • 1 T butter, melted

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and mustard powder. Slowly mix in beer with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until just combined. Do not over-mix. Add in cheese, until just combined. Pour (I use this word lightly as the batter is very thick and will not ‘pour’) into a 9X5 loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm area for 30 minutes. The dough will puff lightly and grow a little in the pan. Brush the top with the melted butter and sprinkle seasonings over top. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

A Little Too Excited for Fall!

I am over summer already, which is a very sad thing to say! But I am ready for fall and everything about it, including cool, perfect weather, the beginning of hockey season, hoodies and most importantly PUMPKIN!! I managed to injure myself somehow over the weekend and am unable to sit down for extended periods of time…not such a problem for a busy-body like myself! I can easily find projects in the kitchen to keep me entertained and standing! I knew I wanted to make some sort of pastry for breakfast for the week and did not have bananas or apples or any other fruit for that matter, but I did have a can of pumpkin! So pumpkin bread it was! I decided to get really daring and try out an entirely  new recipe too, one that included a cream cheese swirl in the middle. Here is what I came up with:

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Bread:

  • 1 can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin butter (or you can use oil, butter or applesauce depending on what you have)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2/3 cup oat flour (ground up oats or any other flour you have, even 1 2/3 white flour works just fine)!
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t nutmeg
  • Cream filling:
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • 2 t flour
  • 1 egg white
  • Cinnamon sugar mix for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray a loaf pan. Sift together flours, soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. In separate bowl, beat together pumpkin puree and pumpkin butter until combined. Add in brown sugar, mixing until smooth. Then add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add in dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated. In a separate bowl, beat cream cheese until soft and fluffy. Beat in sugar until incorporated and smooth. Beat in egg white and vanilla, then flour, mixing until incorporated and smooth. Layer half the batter in the loaf pan, top with the cream filling, then rest of batter. Top with cinnamon sugar, and bake for 40 minutes. Enjoy plain or toasted with butter, apple butter or even peanut butter!

Bars, Bars, and more Bars!

So I’ve been on a bar kick lately! I was on a brownie kick there for a while and now have baked at least 10 different bar type recipes in the past two weeks! This is definitely not a bad thing, just an odd turn of events for someone who as of a few weeks ago hadn’t even really ever dabbled in baking bar recipes before! Some have turned out great, while others have seriously flopped…last night was a definite success though! The bars are a combination of marshmallow, butterscotch and of course chocolate…and they turned out sooo incredibly soft and gooey, so gooey they were almost hard to get out of the pan…and to me, that’s a good thing! I got the recipe idea from pinterest, my new favorite time passer and go-to for new ideas!

Look at all of that soft, gooey chewiness!

Chocolate Butterscotch Blondies:

adapted from Baked Perfection’s Blog

1 cup butterscotch chips
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 t baking powder
dash of salt
1 1/2 t vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 bag of marshmallows
1 bag milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9X9 baking dish. Melt butterscotch and butter in small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly to avoid clumping. Once melted, pour into bowl. While cooling, sift or whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking powder and vanilla. Once the butterscotch mixture is cooled, add eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated each time. Add in vanilla. Then add in dry ingredients slowly, 1/3 or so at a time until just incorporated. Fold in marshmallows and chocolate chips. Batter will be pretty thick, I had to smooth mine into the baking pan, as it did not pour! Bake for 20-25 minutes. Center will be somewhat liquidy/soft but will setup after cooling for an hour or so. I was a little nervous at just how liquidy my center was when taking them out but the top was already so browned, I did not want to risk over-cooking them, especially with my crappy oven that constantly over-cooks everything!! So I took them out and figured I’d let them sit and cool completely and see what happened and they ended up solidifying just enough to leave a perfect soft, creamy, buttery center! I think most of the extreme softness when removing from the oven was because of the melted marshmallows which hardened up a bit after cooling down. Absolutely delicious!

Beer, Broccoli and Cheese!

Long overdue, a few of us girls finally got together last night to catch up and eat some grub! One of my friends, Nicole, is doing the triathlon this coming Sunday in Chicago (amazing I know) and since I was in charge of cooking dinner, I wanted to come up with a balanced, healthier meal that would help keep her fueled…one chock full of healthy fats, protein, carbs and loaded with vitamins and nutrients. I saw a recipe on Pinterest for a broccoli cheese casserole sans any ‘cream of anything soup’ which intrigued me, so I decided to go that route, but adding in some chicken for more protein! I also made a beer bread to go along with it for fun! Add in some baked polenta appetizers and an amazing salted caramel pie baked by my friend Em and we had one complete dinner!

Chicken, Broccoli, Cheese Casserole:

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or sliced thing
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 3/4 cups skim milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • few squirts of lemon, to taste
  • dash of mustard powder
  • 1 t spicy mustard (I used a Habanero mustard, but Dijon or any similar would work as well)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese, plus another cup for topping
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
  • 3 cups cooked broccoli
  • 3 cups cooked rice (I used black rice, more antioxidants than blueberries and more fiber than brown rice, a little healthier alternative)!
  • 3 chicken breasts, cooked and diced

Cook rice, broccoli and chicken and set aside. I steamed the broccoli, threw the rice in a rice maker and grilled chicken breasts with garlic salt and lemon pepper. Meanwhile, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and heat oil and butter in saucepan until butter is melted.  Saute onions until soft, 5-7 minutes, add garlic, cook another minute or two. Whisk in flour, cooking only for a minute, not browning it. Slowly add in milk, broth, lemon juice and mustard whisking constantly until smooth. Once smooth, let cook and thicken for 5 or so minutes, whisking only occasionally. Once thickened, add in the cheeses and remove from heat. Once cheese is melted, add in cooked broccoli, rice and chicken. Stir to coat everything, pour into a casserole dish or 9X13 pan. Top with cheddar and more parmesan, bake for 45 minutes.

Beer Bread with Cheddar and Garlic:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt, divided
  • 10 ounces or 1 1/4 cups beer (guess you’ll just have to drink those last two ounces)!
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  • 1 t garlic powder, plus more for top
  • 1 t onion powder, plus more for top
  • 1 t mustard powder, plus more for top
  • 1 T butter, melted

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and mustard powder. Slowly mix in beer with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until just combined. Do not over-mix. Add in cheese, until just combined. Pour (I use this word lightly as the batter is very thick and will not ‘pour’) into a 9X5 loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm area for 30 minutes. The dough will puff lightly and grow a little in the pan. Brush the top with the melted butter and sprinkle seasonings over top. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Polenta Appetizers:

  • 1-2 T olive oil
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, diced
  • 1/2 large leek, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or sliced thin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh mozzarella
  • parmesan cheese
  • seasonings of choice (I used rosemary and thyme)
  • more olive oil for drizzling (this has to be really good olive oil, I used a garlic olive oil I infused myself with excellent quality oil from Italy)
  • log of polenta (I got mine from Trader Joe’s but I have seen them at Jewel, etc)

In a small saucepan, heat olive oil. Add in mushrooms and leeks, saute until softened 5-7 minutes. Add in garlic and cook a few minutes more. In the meantime, slice the polenta into slices. Cover with mozzarella cheese then mushroom leek mixture, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese, seasonings and drizzle with a smidge of olive oil. Transfer to greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes, until cheese is melted and polenta is browned a little on the bottom.

Em’s Salted Caramel Pie:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 6 T butter, melted
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • salt

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Mix graham cracker crumbs and melted butter, press into a 9-inch pie plate. Top with sweetened condensed milk, sprinkle with salt. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, covered with foil! This is very important, as I burned the crap out of mine when I baked it uncovered!

Best. Cake. Ever.

Ok, well it is the best cake I’ve made at least, maybe not the best I’ve ever had! In honor of Julia Child’s would-be 100th birthday, I finally buckled down and made her Reine de Saba chocolate cake I have been dying to make forever now! Reine de Saba simply means chocolate almond cake….and what better combination than nuts and chocolate!? (Hence my peanut butter obsession)! I saw this recipe ages ago and have been wanting to make it ever since, the pictures look so delicious…a creamy, chocolatey piece of heaven! I followed her recipe exactly, only difference is that I used dark chocolate instead of semi-sweet and used coffee instead of rum since I do not have any dark rum (I’m a Bacardi silver light rum girl)! Also, since the chocolate is the main flavor of the cake, I recommend using a good quality chocolate, not just any old brand!

Reine de Saba Cake:

Original Julia Child recipe

  • 4 oz. or squares semi-sweet chocolate melted with 2 Tbsp. rum or coffee (I used dark chocolate…good quality Godiva to be exact)!
  • 1 stick softened butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup pulverized almonds
  • ½ tsp. almond extract
  • ½ cup cake flour

Glacage au Chocolat (Chocolate Butter Glaze):

  • 2 oz  semi-sweet baking chocolate (I also used the same Godiva dark chocolate here as well)!
  • 2 Tbsp. rum or coffee
  • 5 to 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8X8 cake pan.

Set the chocolate and rum or coffee in a small pan, cover, and place (off heat) in a larger pan of almost simmering water; let melt while you proceed with the recipe. Measure out the rest of the ingredients.

Cream the butter and sugar together for several minutes until they form a pale yellow, fluffy mixture. Beat in the egg yolks until well blended.

Beat the egg whites and salt in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.

With a rubber spatula, blend the melted chocolate into the butter and sugar mixture, then stir in the almonds, and almond extract. Immediately stir in one-fourth of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter. Delicately fold in a third of the remaining whites and when partially blended, sift on one-third of the flour and continue folding. Alternate rapidly with more egg whites and more flour until all egg whites and flour are incorporated.

Turn the batter into the cake pan, pushing the batter up to its rim with a rubber spatula. Bake in middle level of preheated oven for 25 minutes. Cake is done when it has puffed, and 2 1/2 to 3 inches around the circumference are set so that a needle plunged into that area comes out clean; the centre should move slightly if the pan is shaken, and a needle comes out oily.

Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and reverse cake on the rack. Allow it to cool for an hour or two; it must be thoroughly cold if it is to be iced.

For the glaze:

Combine chocolate and rum in small metal bowl. Set bowl over small saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water. Using wooden spoon, beat in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until icing is smooth. Place bowl over medium bowl filled with ice water. Continue to beat until icing is cool and thickened to spreading consistency.

Place cake on platter. Scrape icing onto top center. Using small offset spatula, spread icing evenly and thinly over top and sides of cake. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and store at room temperature.

                               

 

As mentioned, this is one of the best cakes I have ever made…even though it has a little bit of flour in it, it has the consistency of a fudgy, dense flourless chocolate cake! It is almost a combination of a gooey brownie and moist, dense cake! It is delightful! And the glaze is ever so delicious, adding that much more flavor! Such a rich cake and the almond taste really comes through…absolutely divine! I cannot believe I waited this long to make it!

Orzotto with Fresh Mozzarella and Tomatoes!

A while back I posted about a risotto I made with orzo pasta instead of Arborio rice. This is something I do frequently,  so I figured I needed a name for it, hence orzotto! You  make orzotto the same way you  make risotto; it takes about the same amount of time and is just as versatile as risotto, meaning you can add pretty much anything you want in there! This time, I made it with orzo, zucchini, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. It was very light and fresh, and oh so cheesy! To me though, it tasted as if it was lacking something…and it took me until this morning to pin point what…this was the first time I have ever had any form of risotto without spinach or arugula or some type of green! This one was still delicious and I love the cheesiness of it, but I think I would add in some spinach next time!

Orzotto with Fresh Mozz and tomatoes:

  • 3 T olive oil
  • 2 T butter
  • package of pancetta from Trader Joe’s (obviously this is optional or you can use whatever kind you want/have/like)!
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, sliced and quartered
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped or sliced thinly
  • 1 package orzo pasta (can use Arborio rice in place as well)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups chicken broth (simmering on low heat on the stove)
  • 1/2 cup pecorino-romano or parm
  • fresh mozzarella, cubed into small pieces
  • tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes and halved them but use whatever kind and as many as you like)!
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat up the chicken broth in a small saucepan and let simmer. Meanwhile, heat oil and butter over medium high heat until butter melts. Add pancetta, onions and zucchini, saute until veggies are soft and pancetta is crisp, about 5-7 minutes, salting and peppering to taste. Add in garlic and orzo pasta, toasting orzo until lightly browned. Deglaze pan with white wine, cooking until reduced by at least half. Add in broth a cup at a time, letting the pasta absorb it after each addition and stirring frequently to avoid burning the bottom or having it stick too much to the pan. After orzo is cooked to your liking ( it took me exactly the 6 cups of broth but you may or may not use it all), shut off heat but leave pan on hot burner, and add in cheeses, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Let cook until cheese melts and tomatoes are heated through. Serve with more romano or parm and some warm bread!

Since I already have a post going, I would like to mention a restaurant that we ate at Friday night as well. Josh took me there a few years ago for my birthday and we ended up going back to see if it was as good as we remember…to our delight, it certainly was! The place is called Chilipan, it is a very small, BYOB restaurant located in Logan Square on Armitage. It is incredibly good and the prices are very reasonable! I ordered a chicken that was stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and cheese and smothered in a mole poblano cream sauce and served with cilantro potatoes and garlic spinach and Josh ordered a skirt steak that was rolled with spinach and cheese served on top of sauteed mushrooms and garlic pureed potatoes with a tomato salsa type sauce! The couple we were with also enjoyed the restaurant and ordered the same dish as Josh and enchiladas which they reported to be tasty as well! We were going to a movie afterwards so did not order dessert so we can enjoy some candy during the show, but the chocolate tamale is not to be missed if you go!