October 10, 2018

Eggplant Parmesan Soup

Eggplant parmesan is such a cozy dish, with all the hot, bubbly sauce and gooey cheese and the tender eggplant that acts as the perfect vessel to eat all that cheese and sauce. I've made it healthier with some quinoa and rolled the flavors into another tasty dish with some prosciutto, and now it's time for soup. This is the sort of recipe you can make on a chilly fall Sunday and eat for dinners for the week or bring in for lunch to be the center of attention at your office. It's warm and velvety and full of veggies, and crunchy garlic bread croutons and plenty of cheese take it over the top.

It starts by roasting the eggplant, which cooks down on cooking time later by getting it nice and soft and roasty ahead of time. You don't even have to cut it up, just prick it with a fork so it doesn't explode in the oven. I give it a rough dice when it comes out of the oven so it's in bite-sized pieces when it goes into the soup. Some of it continues to break down while it simmers but this is your once chance to decide on the texture so make sure it's small enough to eat but big enough to maintain some texture.

The eggplant goes into a big pot with some onions and garlic, a can of crushed tomatoes (a great tomato-y base for the soup), a can of petite diced tomatoes (or fresh, depending on the season), veggie broth, and herbs. There are a few key things that really make this soup great, so don't skip them. The first is deglazing the garlic and onions with white wine so you can scrape up all the tasty browned bits. When it comes to Italian cooking, white wine tends to give an extra punch of flavor that you can't really place but you know makes it so much better. I use petite diced tomatoes as well as crushed tomatoes for the perfect balance of texture since the crushed tomatoes are mostly liquid while the petite diced tomatoes are about the same size as the eggplant and offer additional texture. You could use regular diced tomatoes, but I find that they can be a bit large and awkward to eat. I use vegetable broth to make this vegetarian, but chicken broth would work equally well. Lastly, fresh herbs make everything better, so if you have them then throw them in.

The soup only has to simmer for about an hour, which isn't that long for soup but still leaves plenty of time for the garnishes. My favorite is the garlic bread croutons, which are really just cubed up bread tossed with garlic and olive oil and baked until golden and toasty. You could sprinkle these on a bowl of water from the Chicago River and I'd still eat it. Yes, they are really that good. And of course no eggplant parm is complete without all the gooey cheese. I stir a handful of grated parmesan into the soup at the very end along with a glug of balsamic vinegar since the saltiness and acidity round out all the flavors. I also sprinkle mozzarella on top because everything is better with a cheese pull, one of the many lessons I've learned so far in Chicago.

2-2.5 lbs Eggplant
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Cup White Wine
1 28oz Can Crushed Tomatoes
1 14.5oz Can Petite Diced Tomatoes
4 Cups Vegetable Broth
1/2 tsp Oregano
1/2 tsp Basil
1 Cup Grated Parmesan
1 T Balsamic Vinegar
3 Cups Cubed Bread
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella

Heat oven to 425F and line a baking sheet with foil.

Prick the eggplant with a fork all over. Transfer to the baking sheet and roast for 35-40 minutes or until soft. When cool enough to handle, split the skin, scoop out the pulp, and dice roughly.

Heat some oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes or until tender. Add 3 cloves garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper. Deglaze the pot with the wine, stirring to scrape up any browned bits, and simmer for 2 minutes or until reduced slightly. Add the eggplant, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, vegetable broth, oregano, basil, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the olive oil, remaining 2 cloves garlic, and salt and pepper together. Toss the bread cubes in the oil, spread onto a baking sheet, and toast at 425F for 8-10 minutes or until golden and crunchy.

Stir the parmesan and balsamic vinegar into the soup. Season with salt and pepper as desired, then serve with the croutons and mozzarella.

Serves 6-8

September 30, 2018

Parker House Rolls

One of my goals after graduation is to learn how to bake my own bread. It's such an art, I'd actually have an excuse to eat it myself (it's easier to justify eating bread for sandwiches than a whole batch of cookies), and it takes enough time that it could be considered a hobby all on its own. There's endless options for where to start, since there are so many different shapes, sizes, flours, and other ingredients to play with. I've already found recipes for go-tos like focaccia and fun options like cheesy pull apart bread, plus plenty of quick breads like muffins and biscuits. But those still aren't true breads to me, ones that I get to smear with fancy salted European butter (a splurge for my first kitchen) and eat hot out of the oven and as a vessel for other applications. These Parker House rolls aren't quite on the level of fancy breads from a local bakery that I can use for sandwiches or otherwise, but they're a great place to start. They're soft and pillowy and buttery with just a touch of sea salt on top, perfect to eat with dinner or to stick in my purse as a snack on the train.

Like almost all breads, these rolls start by activating the yeast, which typically involves letting the yeast sit in some warm water for a few minutes until foamy. I throw in a spoonful of sugar here so the yeast have something to feed on, speeding up the process and making sure they're definitely alive and ready to help you with this bread. Meanwhile, I melt the butter in some milk, which you would normally see for breads like brioche and not in a basic bread recipe. I find that this keeps the rolls soft and tender, plus you can't beat the flavor from the butter. That milk and butter get mixed with the yeast, a bit more sugar, some salt, and all the flour. It's all pretty simple; just make sure that you don't pour the salt directly onto the yeast or you'll kill them after all that time to make sure they're alive.

The dough only needs to be kneaded for about 5 minutes. You'll know it's ready when its springy and elastic, so keep going until that happens, adding a bit more flour as necessary. I stick to all-purpose flour here since these rolls are more delicate than the hardy breads that use high-protein bread flour. Once smooth, I roll it up and let it rise for about 90 minutes in a warm place. I get that winter is fast approaching and your heating company may not have gotten the memo, so a good trick is to turn your oven on for a minute or two until slightly warm, turn it off (don't forget!!), then let the dough rise in the warm oven. This dough does get a second rise after you shape it into rolls, so just shape them as you like and repeat the rising process.

Before baking, the rolls get brushed with a bit of extra butter. This boosts the flavor and also lets you stick some flaky sea salt on top. Yes, there's already some salt in the rolls themselves but this just gives it a little nudge towards perfection. The rolls bake until golden brown, when you can then pull them apart and load them on your plate. These are my go-to rolls for salads, meat-heavy dinners, and Thanksgiving, to the point that my family gets angry when we don't have these to put leftover turkey on. Like any bread, they're easily best when they're hot out of the oven, so you can ensure that continual happiness by refrigerating the dough after shaping and baking them when you're ready to eat. Other breads don't always have that advantage, but I'll be sure to post more carby recipes as I test them out!

1 Envelope Yeast
1 Cup Milk
1 Stick Butter, Softened
3 T Butter, Melted
3 T + 1/2 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Salt
1 Egg
4 Cups Flour
Flaky Sea Salt

Whisk the yeast, 1/2 tsp sugar, and 1/4 cup warm water together. Let sit for 5 minutes or until foamy.

In a small pot, heat the milk and softened butter until the butter melts and the milk is just warm. Pour into a large bowl and add the yeast mixture, remaining sugar, and salt. Whisk in the egg. Gradually add the flour and knead for 5 minutes or until a smooth, elastic dough forms, adding more flour if necessary.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 90 minutes or until doubled in size. Split the dough into 2" diameter pieces and roll until smooth. Place in a greased 9x13" pan so they are close but not touching, cover, and let rise for another hour.

Heat oven to 350F.

Brush the rolls with the melted butter and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 20
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit

September 16, 2018

Brownie Cookies

Now that I'm settling into my new kitchen in my new apartment, I've taken to baking treats for my office. Without any roommates or self-control, I needed a new audience. The one downside to working for a candy company is the fact that everyone already eats so much sugar so whatever I make has to be really, really good. It also helps if it's small, portable, and not too sweet, and these brownie cookies fit the bill. They're packed with chocolate flavor and are so incredibly fudgy and delicious. The three types of chocolate make for a rich, complex cookie that's just sweet enough for a midday pick-me-up.

The first chocolate is unsweetened chocolate. Since you melt it down and mix it with the butter, you could use a semisweet or bittersweet chocolate instead, but then you have to adjust the sugar, which then changes the texture. I like unsweetened chocolate here for its pure flavor, plus you can usually only find high-quality unsweetened chocolate so you know it's good. Once it cools slightly, it's a fairly normal process for making cookie dough. I stir in the sugar and brown sugar then the eggs and vanilla. The second chocolate, cocoa powder, is stirred into the dry ingredients, which are sifted into the dough to make sure it's all mixed in and there aren't any lumps.

The last chocolate is a big handful of chocolate chips. I've used regular ones, mini ones, jumbo ones, and even chopped up bars of chocolate. Whatever you have on hand will work just fine; it all depends on if you want itty bitty pockets of chocolate or molten nuggets. I fold them in gently to avoid overmixing then scoop the dough into balls and let them rest overnight. This distributes the moisture, allows the flour to hydrate, and solidifies the fat, which controls the spread during baking. Fortunately it only takes about an hour in the refrigerator to get some pretty tasty cookies, but if you can wait until the next day they'll be even better. I scoop the dough into balls first since it's much easier when the dough is soft and room temperature, plus it keeps me from dipping a spoon (or my finger) into the dough whenever I open the fridge.

The cookies will still be pretty soft when you pull them from the oven. I've always been a soft cookie person, and in my opinion you can't have a crunchy brownie cookie. As they cool, they'll set into soft, fudgy bites best served warm with an ice cold glass of milk. I realize my coworkers won't get to experience them at their peak like this, but they're still addicting on their own out of the cookie tin.

1 Stick Butter
4 oz Unsweetened Chocolate
2/3 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Light Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
1 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup Cocoa Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
3/4 Cup Chocolate Chips

Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate together. Set aside to cool slightly.

Transfer the butter and chocolate mixture to a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar and brown sugar. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together, then add to the bowl. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the dough into balls and chill for at least an hour or until firm.

Heat oven to 350F and line a cookie tray with parchment. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes or until just set.

Makes 24
Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen