Archive | January, 2014

Baked Eggs with Bacon, Squash, and Kale Hash

26 Jan

I eat almost the exact same thing for breakfast every day of the work week. In the colder months, it’s oatmeal with whatever dried fruit i have in the pantry and a sprinkling of toasted nuts. When the weather warms, I change over to yogurt and granola with fresh fruit, with the occassional change-over from yogurt to kefir, which is…drinkable yogurt. Pretty boring, right? But when I need to get out the door quickly )because I’ve overslept  again, and then idled too long in the shower’s warmth, and forgotten that I needed to pack my bag for yoga after work), these breakfast standards are easy and reliable, and I actually really never get sick of eating them.

Baked Eggs with Bacon, Squash, and Kale Hash

But on the weekends…I’m a sucker for a good breakfast. In my mind, going out for brunch is the ultimate urban luxury, and I do it as often as possible, but I can’t justify spending $20 for a couple of eggs and a plate of fried potatoes every single Sunday. Even if the eggs are fresh out of the happiest, most organic, free range chicken that ever lived, with yolks the color of sunshine and laughter. It’s just not in my best financial interest to indulge  my brunch habit weekly.

So today, I made my own brunch and there wasn’t a fried potato in sight. It cost way less than $20, and I got to eat it sitting on the couch with my favorite guy while watching cartoons for grown ups. It was luxurious in its own way.

Tomorrow, I’m back on oatmeal.

Baked Eggs with Bacon, Squash, and Kale Hash 

2 strips bacon, finely diced
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 large onion, diced
2 cups torn kale leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons fresh minced sage
salt and pepper
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan cheese plus additional for serving

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until it is crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Reserve 1 tablespoon of bacon grease and discard the rest.

Toss the squash, onion, and kale with the garlic, olive oil, 1 tablespoon of bacon grease, thyme, sage, and a generous amount of salt and pepper until everything is well coated. Divide onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets and roast, rotating the pans and stirring the vegetables after 15 minutes. Continue roasting until the squash is fork-tender, 10 to 15 minutes longer.

Spray an 7 x 11 baking pan with cooking spray. Transfer the vegetables into the pan and stir in the cooked bacon bits. Press down on the vegetables so they form an even layer. Crack each egg into a small ramekin and pour slowly it over the vegetables so that the yolk doesn’t break. Repeat with the rest of the eggs, cracking and pouring each egg over the hash, one at a time. Sprinkle the eggs with additional salt and pepper and parmesan cheese. Return to the oven and bake until the whites of the eggs are set, but the yolks are still loose, between 12-15 minutes. Sprinkle with additional cheese.

Makes 3-4 servings, depending on how hung over you are from Saturday night.

The Chemistry of Cookies

20 Jan

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Baking is the tastiest form of science.

Check out this great Ted-Ed video for a fun and informative rundown of the chemical changes that happen as cookie dough changes to cookies. Pretty sweet! (pun intended)

Almost-Homemade Biscuits

19 Jan

I’ve had a bag of Hidden Acre Farm’s Southern Snow Biscuit Mix in my pantry for a few months. It was a gift from a test kitchen freelancer whom I’ve worked with a lot. (Whom? Who? Who cares…there are biscuits on the table.) The possibility of a productive Sunday fizzled hours ago, and I’ve wanted to eat nothing but breakfast foods all day long, making it a perfect opportunity to test this stuff.

I don’t purchase many baking mixes. I make most of my baked goods from scratch. It helps me justify the $40K I spent on pastry school, you know? But this one came to me from a food pro whose family owns a pecan farm in South Carolina, where Hidden Acre Farm is located.  Plus, I give this woman a paycheck once in a while. She wasn’t going to give me bad biscuit mix.

There are only four ingredients listed on the packaging: winter wheat flour, calcium phosphate (an acid that is a part of baking powder), baking soda, and salt. Winter wheat flour is soft and has a lower protein content than regular all-purpose flour, making it ideal for tender, light biscuits.

Lots of southerners swear by White Lily Cake Flour for making biscuits. It is also made from winter wheat flour, like the Hidden Acre Farm mix. Southerners hoard White Lily though. It’s not sold nationwide, so we Yanks just don’t get it. I’d love to do some test kitchen experiments, using it to make biscuits  alongside this Hidden Acre Farms mix to see which flour reigns supreme.

Hidden Acre Farm Biscuits with Butter and Raspberry Jam

It’s pretty hard to believe that White Lily, or any other flour or recipe, could top this Hidden Acre Farms mix. They came together in mere seconds, with just the addition of heavy cream. I brushed mine with a splash of melted butter before baking because I’m a sucker for a crunchy top that gives way to a soft, delicate inside. These are everything a homemade biscuit should be – tall, golden and irregular outside, and downy inside. They’re perfect in their simplicity.

My Google research isn’t finding Hidden Acre Farms mixes for purchase online, but maybe if we all like their Facebook page, and ask really nicely, that will change.  If you’re near Rock Hills, South Carolina, consider yourself lucky.  You can get your hands on this mix at Moments In Time and The Peach Stand. Stock up.  Send me a few. If you really want to make my day, throw in a bag of White Lily. Biscuits, for all my friends!

Spaghetti Squash – Accepting It For What It Is

16 Jan

It seems impossible, but somehow I’ve survived 34 years and 2 stints in Weight Watchers without ever cooking spaghetti squash. Starving and delusional, many people following the program gush, “It’s just like eating pasta! You can’t even  tell the difference!”

They’re wrong. It’s funny how we can totally lie to ourselves when we want to drop a dress size.

Spaghetti squash with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, and chicken sausage.

It’s stringy.  Other than that, it’s not like eating noodles, but no matter. Spaghetti squash has it’s own merit. It can be roasted in the oven, caramelizing the sugars and ramping up its inherent squashiness. Or, it can be nuked in the microwave in about 1/3 of the time, leaving it a blank canvas for whatever flavors you  toss it with.

I’ve never made spaghetti squash before, but I’ve eaten plenty of it. Like lots of vegetables, it’s bland when it’s not seasoned properly. That why I chose to toss mine with a whole bunch of bold flavors. I’m not giving a full recipe for this one. I raided my fridge and pantry, using what I had on hand, and eyeballed the amounts of the ingredients. This is my absolute favorite way to cook.  Taste and adjust as you go. You should try it! It’s liberating!

Here’s what I did:

  1. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Scooped out the seeds and guts and discarded. Sprinkled generously with salt and pepper. Placed cut side down in a glass 9 in. x 13 in. Nuked on full power for 15 minutes, checked to see if I could fork the flesh into it’s characteristic thin strands easily, couldn’t, and then nuked for another 5 minutes. That did the trick. Timing will vary depending on the size of your squash and the pep of your microwave. Everything else happened in the time the squash was cooking.
  2. Caramelized an onion with a few roughly chopped anchovy filets (left over from my kale salad) in olive oil, salt, pepper, and about 1 tablespoon of dry. Onions were cut into half moons so they’d be fork-twirlable like the squash.
  3. Cut a roasted red pepper into very thin strips (also twirlable).
  4. Seared off a couple of chicken sausages (Mild Italian flavor) and sliced on the bias.
  5. Deglazed the pan with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc (it was open). Added a small pat of butter and another pinch of Italian seasoning
  6. Grated some parmesan.
  7. Rough chopped a handful of parsley
  8. Pulled the cooked sqush apart with a fork. Drizzled with a bit of olive oil and sprinkled generously with salt and pepper. Tossed it all together and ate a huge amount. Saved half for an awesome lunch tomorrow.

Is spaghetti squash in your regular cooking rotation? How do you prepare it?

How To Trick People Into Eating Anchovies – Roughed Up Kale Salad

12 Jan

Roughed Up Kale Salad

 

I had a lovely afternoon yesterday. My sister and her daughter took me out on the town as a belated birthday present. We had matinée tickets to The Little Prince at Lookingglass Theater, and beforehand we dined at Bar Toma, a restaurant just steps off of Michigan Avenue. We were “ladies who lunch,” if just for the day.

The menu at Bar Toma includes antipasti, salads, a few sandwiches, and several pizzas baked quickly in a wood-burning oven. My sister briefly glanced at the menu, and suggested that I pick out a couple of things to share and order for the both of us.

This was a bold move on her part. She’s not picky, but she tends to stick to the standards on a menu. I, on the other hand, am a little more…adventurous when it comes to eating. I’ve willingly eaten crickets and worms. I’m in to offal. And I’m not afraid to order food from the seediest looking street vendor in a foreign country. I just want an authentic experience!

I asked her if she was sure, and then placed our order with our server. One Kale Salad, coming up! Maura and Kaia had never had kale before, which we discussed briefly before I ordered. I knew that the kale wouldn’t be an issue because they’re both salad-loving people. The salad arrived to the table looking fresh and delicious, the kale left in large pieces and fading from dark green at the edges to vibrant purple in the center. There was a soft-boiled egg quartered and laid over the top, and garlicky, crunchy breadcrumbs generously spooned over. We dug in and all three of us loved it.

Several bites into the salad I revealed that the dressing was an anchovy vinaigrette. The world stood still for a split second, before my niece’s chewing mouth fell into a frown. She was pretty disgusted, and I was pretty amused. If either one of them had seen that description on the menu, that salad wouldn’t have ended up in our bellies, much less on our table.

Anchovies get a bad wrap. Sure, as whole fillets they look totally prehistoric and disgusting. I get that. Even I’m weirded out by whole anchovies! But when finely chopped, they melt into whatever you’re combining them with, adding flavor through salt and their natural oil. If you’ve eaten a real, from scratch Caesar Salad, then you’ve eaten anchovies, because they’re a big component in Caesar dressing, too. See? No biggie! Anchovies are delicious!

So, we had a lovely meal, and both Kaia and Maura came away anchovy lovers, even if they’re not ready to admit it. I’m thinking of printing them up t-shirts that say “ANCHOVY LOVER”, with a huge whole fillet right underneath, but I suspect that they would never get worn. That’s okay. Down the road, if either of them considers eating something that contains anchovies, then my work here is done.

If you would like to ease into the flavor of anchovies, give this salad a shot. It’s a riff off of what we ate for lunch, and it’s darn good as a main course, or along side grilled chicken or shrimp.

Roughed Up Kale Salad

10 ounces red new potatoes, washed and quartered
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1 shallot, finely minced
4 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
3.5 ounces fresh kale (about 1/2 a bunch), cut roughly into 2 in. pieces, washed and dried
4 dried apricots, cut into strips
2 radishes, sliced paper-thin
1/4 cup roasted pistachios

Place the potatoes in a saucepan and fill with enough cold water to cover the potatoes by at least an inch. Season the water with salt. Cook over high heat until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain the potatoes and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

In a saute pan, cook the breadcrumbs and butter over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Season with a bit of salt while they’re still warm, and remove from pan.

In the same saute pan, heat the olive oil. Add the minced garlic, minced shallot, and chopped anchovy fillets and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the shallot is translucent and the garlic is very fragrant. Transfer to a small food processor or to a pestle and mortar. Add the lemon juice and dijon mustard and process until it is emulsified, but still a bit chunky from the shallot and garlic.

Pour the warm dressing over the kale and use your hands to squeeze and coat it in the dressing. This is often called “massaging” the kale, but what you really need to do is rough it up a little so that it softens to a more appealing texture. After it’s been crunched together for a minute, and the leaves are all well coated, leave the salad to rest for 10 to 15 minutes, and the leaves will continue to tenderize.

Add the cooked potatoes, sliced apricots and radishes, and pistachios and toss to coat. Give it a taste and add additional salt, pepper, lemon juice, or olive oil as needed. The flavors tend to get lost in the kale, so you will likely use more salt and pepper than you would think necessary. Just before serving, top with the toasted breadcrumbs.

Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a side dish.

Snow Day In Chicago

5 Jan

Digging out his parking space in the back of the gingerbread condo.

This is what Chicago looks like, but with more sludge and yellow snow.

I’ve shoveled twice today, but other than that, I’ve been hunkered down in the house for over 24 hours, giving me ample time to clean both bathrooms, watch too many episodes of Dexter on Netflix, and mess with the tiny gingerbread houses that went untouched on Christmas day. No candy. No decoration. Just snow, and lots of it.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be digging out my car to get to the test kitchen, just like the poor guy in the photos. The holidays are officially over, and it’s back to work we go!

And speaking of holidays, and work, and gingerbread, I played with some Gingerbread Houses on ABC7 in Chicago just before Christmas. They were much prettier than this one, so you should check it out! Stay warm and dry!

Making A Gingerbread House.

2014 Food Resolutions

1 Jan

Happy New Year! It’s that magical time of year when the slate gets wiped clean, when motivations are sky-high, when it seems possible that we can become the best versions of ourselves. Pretty exciting, right?

Maybe this feeling lasts for a couple of days, or a couple of weeks, or until your town gets pummeled by 2 feet of snow, leaving  you housebound for  days with nothing but a Costco-sized box of Cap’n Crunch, a jug of half-and-half, and unlimited streaming of New Girl episodes via Netflix. Hey – I’m not judging you. I’ve put half-and-half on my cereal once or twice, and that shit was delicious.  Just don’t make a habit of it.

This year, I’m not  making a whole bunch of promises to myself that end in disappointment shortly thereafter. Instead, I’m making a list of things that I enjoy or that I  do well, and I’m going to focus on doing more of those things throughout the days, weeks, and months that will make up 2014. Here’s a few of my food-related focus points for the new year, laid out in a way that makes them fun and interesting to me rather than the typical resolution drudgery.

Do This! Continue eating a ton of fresh fruit. I love it, and I eat an abnormal amount of it. The only time I don’t eat fresh fruit is when I don’t make time to go grocery shopping. So, go to the grocery store! Because pineapples and grapefruits and bananas me happy, and they don’t make me fat! And sign up for a CSA in the springtime so that I can be surprised by the local fruits that are sent each week. Surprise fruits – hell yeah!

Not That! Eat better, more nutritious food. Lose weight. (This kind of goal never works for me. Does it actually work for anyone? It’s boring, and it lacks focus. No, thank you.)

___________________________________________________________________________

Do This! Once a month, try a new food/ ingredient/recipe that I’ve never cooked or eaten before. Because I want to know what a quince tastes like. And I’d love to finally master a great homemade bread recipe made with my own mother. And I’m not talking about my mother, Noreen. Bless her heart, but she’s not much of a bread baker.  I’m talking about a yeast starter that you grow and feed and that ends up being completely indigenous to your kitchen. One-of-a-kind bread! How cool is that?

Not That! Eat at home more. Stop eating out so much. It’s cheaper and healthier to eat at home. (Sounds like a death sentence to me. Why do I pay Chicago taxes if I can’t get out to the restos? Sure, I can cut down, and making some cool new stuff at home will help me do that, but I’m not nutty enough or broke enough to give it up altogether.)

___________________________________________________________________________

Do This! Exercise! I’m happier, more energetic, and less neurotic when I’m sweating on the regular. Nearly every aspect of life looks better after 30 hard minutes of cardio, and amazingly, I never shame myself for eating something unhealthy if I’ve put in my time at the gym. Everything in moderation! It’s not just an overused cliche – it’s a way of life.

Not That! Go to the gym at least 5 times a week. Or else I’m a fatty. And I have to wear a bathing suit in a month. Just call me Fatty McFatterson. Since I only went to the gym 4 times this week instead of the promised 5, it’s all gone to shit and I might as well  demolish an entire box of Triscuits smeared heavily with Merkts Port Wine Cheddar Spread. While re-watching some of those New Girl episodes.

___________________________________________________________________________

Do This! Grow my own herbs again this spring! It saves a ton of cash, can be done in the teeniest of spaces, and provides an instant flavor spike to whatever you’re making. Plus, I didn’t kill any of the herbs off before their time in 2013. First time for everything!

Not That! Man, I miss my old apartment with the organic garden in the back. It was really amazing to just saunter outside and pick fresh carrots or beets or green beans or cabbage or whatever else happened to pop up back there. (Did you know that you can’t help but saunter when you’re going to pluck summer squash blossoms from your urban backyard garden? It’s impossible to walk normally. That place was really crazy and special. But now I own a little space of my own, and I can plant my herbs! And there’s a ton of farmers’ markets in the area, and I have the CSA to look forward to! Onward!)

___________________________________________________________________________

Do This! Write in this blog more frequently. I like to write, and I feel a sense of accomplishment when I hit the publish button. Plus, it helps me connect with other people in the industry and keeps my creative juices flowing in a different way than my day job. All good stuff.

Not That! Quit using your unbelievably sub-par photography skills as an excuse to not post something. Yes, food photography is extremely important to a food blog. After all, we eat first with our eyes. But first and foremost, I like to bake and I like to cook, and I usually have something to say about it, with or without pretty pictures. So, get to writing and forget about the photos sometimes. Some posts don’t need them.

___________________________________________________________________________

But since I desperately want you to believe me when I say that I eat a whole lot of fruit, here’s a picture of my current fruit bowl. I live alone. This will all be gone in 4 or 5 days. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2014! What are your goals and resolutions for the new year?

My Current Fruit Bowl. From Left to Right: Haas Avocado, Limes, Pineapple, Bananas, Honeycrisp Apples, Pink Texas Grapefruit, Comice Pear. Not Pictured: Grapes.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: