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March 18, 2019

Asparagus & Fontina Quiche

Birds are chirping, it's light out when I get home from work, and my face doesn't hurt when I walk outside. It must be spring! I'm ready for all the farmers markets and fresh eating and doing it all without bundling up in 12 layers. Asparagus is one of the greatest finds at the early spring markets and the best way to upgrade it is with plenty of cheese. It's like when your parents would smother your veggies with cheese to trick you into eating them except it's fancy melty fontina cheese and you're eating the asparagus on purpose. It's even better in a buttery, flaky pie crust as a quiche you can eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Oh, and some crispy pancetta doesn't hurt either.


As always, the pork comes first. Here, it's pancetta instead of bacon just to elevate the dish a bit, but bacon would work just as well. You just have to cook it off until it's crispy. I use the pork fat to cook off a bit of garlic, too. The asparagus is a little more tricky; you need to blanch it and shave it so you get those gorgeous ribbons running through the quiche. Blanching sounds more challenging than it really is but it's definitely worth the effort. You just boil the asparagus for a minute or two in salted water then transfer it to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. After that, snap off the tough ends and shave with a vegetable peeler or mandolin. I've tried slicing it with a knife but it's way easier to get thin, even strips with a peeler.


The quiche base consists of a few eggs and some half and half. Compared to most quiche recipes loaded with cream, this one really isn't that bad for you. Well, until you stir in all the pancetta and cheese. You can stir in the asparagus here and it will mostly float to the top or you can toss in as much as you want once it's transferred to the pie crust. The crust can be a classic homemade butter crust, you can throw some cheese into the crust for some extra flavor, or you can make things faster by just using a store-bought one, even though it won't be nearly as good.


The great thing about quiche is that you can eat it whenever you want. It's eggs, so it works for breakfast, or you can serve it with a salad to bulk it up for lunch or dinner. You can also grab a slice cold from the fridge if you need a midnight snack. If asparagus isn't your thing (or this just gets you in a quiche-y mood), you can also try out some with mushrooms and caramelized onions or a classic quiche Lorraine.


1 Recipe Savory Pie Crust (See Below)
4 oz Pancetta, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
4 oz Asparagus
5 Eggs
1 Cup Half & Half
3/4 Cup Shredded Fontina

Press the pie dough into a greased 9" pie plate and chill until firm.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the pancetta until crispy. Add 2 cloves garlic and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the asparagus for 90 seconds then transfer to an ice bath. When cool, trim the ends and shave with a vegetable peeler or mandolin.

Heat oven to 400F.

Whisk the eggs and half and half together. Add the fontina, pancetta, and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into the crust and bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden and set, covering the crust as necessary to prevent over-browning.

Pie Crust:
Pulse 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 1/2 tsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt in the bowl of a food processor to combine. Add 1 stick of chilled and cubed butter (and 1/2 cup shredded hard cheese, if desired) and pulse until small lumps remain, then drizzle in cold water until it clumps together.
Pie Crust Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

March 4, 2019

Bananas Foster Banana Bread

Chicago in March is all about St. Patrick's Day, but Mardi Gras is worthy of some attention too. It's another excuse for lots of parties and good food, so I don't understand why it's not more of a big deal. I'm determined to make it into a big deal by luring people in with delicious recipes like this one, which does double duty as an indulgent breakfast or a healthy-ish dessert (it has fruit in it, ok?). Banana bread is already a fan favorite, but I upgraded it by combining it with another popular banana treat: bananas foster. I added a splash of rum and a pinch of cinnamon to the batter, whipped up a luscious rum caramel sauce, and swapped in pecans for walnuts for some added southern flair.


This banana bread starts by mashing bananas up until mostly smooth. You want to use very ripe bananas with plenty of brown spots so they're sweet and soft. If they're ripe enough, you should be able to mash them with just a fork, or you can use a mixer with a paddle attachment on low speed to get things started. I then add brown sugar (for some extra caramel flavor), eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and rum. Bananas already keep things pretty moist, but this loaf bakes for about an hour so a little extra help from the sour cream doesn't hurt. I don't usually add rum to my banana bread but it is bananas foster banana bread so it's totally acceptable here.


The dry ingredients include flour, baking soda, salt, and some cinnamon. I'm normally not a big fan of cinnamon in banana bread, but again it's bananas foster banana bread and I'm trying to stay authentic here. That all gets folded into the wet ingredients along with some pecans and mixed just until combined. I always toast my nuts before adding them since it really enhances the flavor and adds a bit more crunch. You can toast up an extra handful for snacking and/or sprinkling on top of the finished loaf.


While the banana bread bakes, I start on the caramel sauce. It's pretty standard, starting with sugar, corn syrup, water, and lemon juice boiling until, well, caramel-colored. The sugar acts as the base, the corn syrup keeps it from crystallizing and getting grainy, the water helps dissolve the sugar, and the lemon juice also helps prevent crystallization. Just keep cooking it on medium-high until it's a nice dark amber color, and avoid stirring it at all costs. If you stir the caramel while it cooks, it will start to crystallize, and you want a nice smooth sauce. You can start to stir it when you add in the cream, then also add in some butter, rum, vanilla, and salt. Most people flambe their bananas foster, but I skip that for this sauce since most of the alcohol cooks off just by stirring it into the hot caramel.


Once the banana bread is baked and cool, you can spoon on that caramel sauce and let it soak in and drip everywhere. If it's time for dessert (or just an indulgent snack), you can heat it up and top it with vanilla ice cream and more of that boozy sauce, or if it's breakfast (or you're in my office tomorrow morning and want a sample) you can just eat it as-is.

For the Banana Bread:
3 Ripe Bananas
1 Stick Butter, Melted
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1/3 Cup Sour Cream
1 tsp Vanilla
2 T Rum
2 Cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
3/4 Cup Chopped Pecans, Toasted

For the Caramel Sauce:
1 Cup Sugar
1 T Corn Syrup
1/4 tsp Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Cream
3 T Butter
1 1/2 T Rum
1 tsp Vanilla
Pinch Salt

Heat oven to 350F. Line a 9x5" loaf pan with foil and grease.

For the banana bread, mash the bananas until mostly smooth with a fork. Add the melted butter, then stir in the brown sugar, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and rum, whisking between each addition. Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together, then fold into the batter. Stir in the pecans.

Spoon the batter in to the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour or until cooked through.

For the caramel, combine the sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, and 3T water in a medium pot. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Continue boiling over medium-high heat until it turns a deep amber color without stirring. Remove from heat, then whisk in the cream. Add the butter, rum, vanilla, and salt. Pour on the banana bread when cool.

Makes 1 Loaf

February 23, 2019

Crumb Cake

I've been spending a lot of time with my family in New York recently, and one of the perks has been all the great food. There's been bagels, deli meats, steak dinners, and plenty of dessert, but everybody always goes for the crumb cake. Unfortunately, before I could snag a piece, Jackson the family dog ate literally the entire pan. Yes, I was beat to a delicious breakfast by a golden retriever. Fortunately, I have my own crumb cake recipe, and I can make it at home in Chicago where there's no large sneaky dogs (or hungry relatives) to compete with. I can attest that this is the best crumb cake recipe you'll ever make because--in addition to satisfying plenty of my family on Long Island--I had an entire exam in Food Functionality on the chemical processes that happen when you bake a crumb cake. I got an A, by the way.


The trick to a great crumb cake is balancing the moist, delicate cake with a big pile of cinnamon-spiced crumbly topping. Real New Yorkers exclusively eat crumb cakes with a 50/50 ratio of crumb to cake, and this definitely comes close. I always start with the crumb so it's ready to go when I finish the batter; its an easy blend of sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, flour, and lots of melted butter. It should be just wet enough to break into crumbly bits. I usually add the flour last and stir it in gradually so I don't over-do it since it's easier to not add flour than it is to add more liquids. It can sit out while you make the cake batter, but I find that keeping it cold in the fridge makes it easier to crumble.


Even though this can be considered a breakfast cake, you mix it up like any other cake recipe. The butter and sugar are creamed together, then you add an egg and an egg yolk plus a splash of vanilla. To avoid a lumpy batter, alternate the dry and wet ingredients. Here, those are cake flour (for an extra tender cake), baking soda, and salt plus buttermilk since buttermilk makes everything better. If you don't have buttermilk on hand, you can acidify milk with a splash of white vinegar or lemon juice, though I highly recommend just buying some buttermilk and using it in other cakes, muffins, pancakes, or even mashed potatoes.


Once the batter and the crumble are ready, they go into a 9" cake pan and into the oven. They're baked until a toothpick comes out clean, and you can even eat the slice warm since the beauty of crumb cake is you don't need to frost it so you don't have to wait until it's cool. To spice it up, you can add some fruit between the cake batter and the crumb, like some berries, peaches, or cherries. Those would help justify eating this for breakfast, or you can just pull a Jackson and have absolutely no shame.

1/3 Cup + 1/2 Cup Sugar
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
3/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
3/8 tsp Salt
1 Stick Butter, Melted but Warm
6 T Butter, Cubed, Softened but Cool
2 1/2 Cups Cake Flour
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1 Egg
1 Egg Yolk
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 Cup Buttermilk

Whisk together 1/3 cup sugar, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, 1/8 tsp salt, and melted butter. Stir in 1 1/4 cups cake flour. Chill until cold.

Heat oven to 325°F. Line an 8-9" square pan with parchment and grease.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cubed butter and remaining sugar together until fluffy. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Combine the cake flour, baking soda, and remaining salt together. Add the flour addition in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 additions.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and top with the streusel. Bake until golden and cooked through, 30-40 minutes.

Recipe Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Serves 8