June 27, 2014

Berry Buckle

There's nothing more patriotic than dessert for breakfast for dessert. If you aren't familiar with buckles, that's essentially what they are: a dessert version of coffee cake (which is a breakfast form of cake). As if the nutritional content wasn't American enough for you, the red, white, and blue of raspberries, cake, and blueberries will have you saying 'Murica after the first bite.

Although buckles generally only have enough cake to hold the berries together, I'm a cake girl, and I'm not going to let some silly generations-old definition hold me back. If I'm going to put all the effort into making a cake, I'm going to be able to taste it. However, if you want a traditional buckle, simply increase the amount of berries.

The cake is a basic all-American vanilla cake; it's sweet and buttery and fluffy and perfect. My secret ingredient is some good old-fashioned buttermilk, which adds some extra moisture and offsets the sweetness a little.

This isn't one of those recipes where you have to spend forever whipping egg whites to make the cake fluffy or buy expensive imported vanilla beans (though those would certainly be delicious here if you want to use them). Sometimes the best recipes are the simple ones, which is one of the many reasons why I love this cake.

Now for the berries. It is a berry buckle, after all. I recommend using any combination of blueberries, raspberries, and/or blackberries. For the 4th of July, I went patriotic and used raspberries and blueberries, but you can use whatever you happen to have or whatever your favorites are, as long as they are fresh (I highly recommend not using frozen berries unless you froze them yourself). I suppose strawberries would work as well, but one of the best parts of this buckle is biting into plump, juicy berries. You just don't get that with strawberries, though the flavors would still be delicious.

And what could make such a moist, fluffy cake even better? If you guessed streusel, you are most definitely correct. I know plenty of people who would order coffee cake just for the streusel, and if you're one of those people you might want to double the crumble recipe and just slather it on. I find that the amount I added is enough for some extra sweetness and crunch, but if you're a streusel addict you can definitely add more.

If you really want to give into your sweet tooth, you can mix some chocolate chips into the streusel, too. Dark/semisweet chocolate would go well with raspberries and/or strawberries, and white chocolate would go well with raspberries, strawberries, or blackberries.

To make the cake truly showstopping, top it with some chocolate-covered berries or a chocolate drizzle. This cake can be dressed up or down, but I know I'll be inhaling some in my pajamas while watching fireworks in just a few days!

2 1/2 Cups Cake Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
4 T Butter, Chilled & Cubed
4 T Butter, Softened
1 1/4 Cups Sugar
1 Egg
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
Pinch Nutmeg
3 Cups Fresh Berries

Combine 1/2 cup cake flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and the nutmeg. Add the chilled butter and rub in with your fingertips until combined. Chill.

Heat oven to 375F. Line a 10" springform pan with parchment and grease.

Whisk the remaining flour, baking powder, and salt together. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the softened butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla. Add a third of the flour mixture and stir until incorporated, then add half the buttermilk. Add another third of the flour, then the buttermilk, then the remaining flour. Gently fold in the berries with a silicon spatula.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Top with the streusel and bake for 30 minutes or until golden.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from Alton Brown

June 23, 2014

Blueberry Almond Tart

Usually I have a freezer full of berries by now. My local berry picking place typically has one weekend where you can pick blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries all at the same time, which means I can make any berry recipe I want. However, I was traveling during that wonderful weekend, so I currently have to rely on Costco to stock my kitchen with plump, ripe, juicy berries. Costco is great and all (have you seen the massive tubs of cookie dough???), but nothing compares to picking your own berries. If you can, I highly recommend using freshly picked berries, but supermarket berries--fresh, not frozen--will suffice if necessary.

This recipe is similar to my raspberry walnut tart but with a few fairly obvious differences: it's blueberry and almond instead of raspberry and walnut. You can use raspberries or blackberries instead, but the blueberries speckle the tart with a beautiful purple-y hue that pairs nicely with the almond. Of course, you can use another type of nut instead; for example, you could switch to hazelnuts and raspberries and drizzle the whole thing in chocolate. Still, I like the elegant simplicity of the blueberry and almond combination.

It starts with a basic pie crust. You could do a nut crust, like the one I used in the raspberry walnut tart, but I find that a basic sweet crust is much faster and easier and doesn't detract much in terms of flavor. If you want to spend some extra time making a nut crust to boost the almond flavor, go ahead. On the other end of the time spectrum, you can use a pre-made crust. I, however, am addicted to my basic pie crust recipe.

The filling for this tart is a little hard to explain. It's not really a custard, but it should be somewhat creamy on the inside with a very thin, crisp top when it's finished baking. It has a slightly sweet, buttery almond flavor that is the perfect canvas for fresh berries.

The first step in making the filling is beating softened butter until it's fluffy. You then add ground almonds (a.k.a. almond flour), some sugar, and just a little bit of flour. I would normally be concerned about stirring the flour too much and overdeveloping the gluten, but there's such a small amount that it doesn't really matter. Once all of those ingredients are combined, I beat in some egg, vanilla, and a splash of rum (or any other alcohol of your choice). You have to make sure you whip it until it's light and fluffy or you'll end up with only a tiny bit of filling, and it will be too dense to enjoy. Once it's done, just spread the mixture onto your (cooled) tart shell, sprinkle it with the berries, and bake it until it's golden brown. It's a delectable summer treat, especially when you have a fridge full of berries to use.

1 Recipe Sweet Pie Crust (See Below)
5 T Butter, Softened
½ Cup Ground Almonds
⅓ Cup Sugar
1 T Flour
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Rum
2 Cups Blueberries

Heat oven to 400ºF.

Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy. Add the almonds, sugar, and flour and beat until smooth. Add the egg, vanilla, and rum and beat on high until fluffy, 1-2 minutes.

Spread the almond mixture onto the crust and sprinkle with the blueberries, pressing lightly to adhere. Bake for 30 minutes or until just set, covering with foil to prevent browning if necessary.

For the Pie Crust:
1 ¼ Cups Flour
¼ Cup Sugar
¼ tsp Salt
1 Stick Butter, Chilled
1 Egg Yolk

Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined. Add the butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine the egg yolk with a tablespoon of cold water and add in. Pulse until it begins to form a ball, adding more water as necessary. Chill for 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9-11" tart pan. Roll the dough out to fit the pan and press to adhere. Grease a sheet of foil, then press onto the dough. Fill with pie weights and bake until firm, 25 minutes.

Makes 1 Tart
Recipe Adapted from Kosher Scoop and Bon Appetit

June 17, 2014

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

I'm back at home, and all I want after over two weeks of eating ungodly amounts of food at restaurants for every meal is a nice homemade dinner. This recipe might not be the healthiest, but it is certainly better than going out. It's hearty and delicious, which makes up for the extra bit of effort required.

Hopefully you aren't in shock from the name of the dish. 40 cloves of garlic does sound like a lot. Honestly, you probably don't want to make this for a first date (even though your special someone will definitely be impressed with your cooking skills). However, the garlic is roasted, which significantly reduces its pungency. The garlic basically caramelizes, making it sweeter and much less sharp. I throw in some shallots, too, for a bit of oniony flavor. Once they are tender and fragrant, I press them through a strainer or food mill to puree them, which gives the sauce a smooth, velvety texture.

As I said earlier, this dish isn't one of my easier ones. You probably won't want to make it after a long day at work or on a busy weeknight. You have to roast the garlic, brine the chicken (whatever parts you want; I strongly recommend anything bone-in and skin-on, especially thighs), sear the chicken, make the sauce, and bake everything together. It takes at least 90 minutes to make, but it's definitely worth it. It's not all active time; brining chicken and roasting garlic doesn't require much hands-on work, but you will also be busy searing the chicken and making the sauce  at the same time.

Personally, I think the sauce is the star of the dish. It makes what would otherwise be plain roasted chicken extremely special, and also I love dunking bread in it or drizzling it over mashed potatoes, my favorite side to serve with the chicken (though roasted potatoes and vegetables would be amazing as well).

It's a pan sauce, so it starts by deglazing the pot you seared the chicken in. That sounds pretty complicated, but really you just add a liquid to the pot to loosen the caramelized brown bits. I use chicken broth, butter, and white wine. Once, I only had red wine and had to use that instead, and it tasted fine but resulted in an oddly purple sauce. If you're into that, go ahead and use whatever wine you have and it will still taste delicious. However, if you want to retain the classic look of the dish, use a good white wine. Sorry to go all Ina Garten on you, but you really should only cook with wine you would drink. If you're going to put all this time and effort into a dish, you want it to taste good, and bad wine won't help. Anyway, after you add the liquids, stir in some fresh herbs and the mashed/pureed garlic-shallot mixture. I've done the dish with dried herbs instead of fresh; it still tastes delicious, but it's worth getting fresh herbs if you can.

Once the sauce is done, stick the chicken back in and roast it all together in the oven. Finishing the chicken in the sauce in the oven keeps it moist and cooks it through without burning the outside. And when it's finally done roasting, the aroma is simply spectacular. The chicken is incredibly moist and juicy, and the sauce is divine. It's full of flavor and is sure to impress anyone you have over for dinner. This is my go-to dish for fancier occasions, and I hope you enjoy it just as much as I do!

3.5-4 lbs Bone-In Chicken Pieces
¼ Cup Salt
½ Cup Flour
3 Heads Garlic
2 Shallots
1 T Olive Oil
2 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
1 Sprig Fresh Rosemary
1 Bay Leaf
¾ Cup Dry White Wine
¾ Cup Low-Sodium Chicken Broth
2 T Butter

Heat oven to 400F.

Separate the cloves of garlic, leaving the skin on. Peel and quarter the shallots. Toss the garlic and shallots with 2 tsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and spread around a pie plate. Cover with foil and roast until soft and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes, shaking occasionally. Uncover, stir, and roast until browned and tender, another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and increase to 450F.

Dissolve the salt in 2 quarts cold water. Add the chicken and chill for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry. Dredge in the flour and season with salt and pepper.

Press the garlic and shallots through a strainer.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat. Brown the chicken until deep golden, about 5 minutes. Flip, repeat, and remove the chicken from the pan.

Pour the wine, chicken broth, butter, and herbs into the skillet. Set over medium heat and add the garlic-shallot mixture. Return the chicken to the pan and roast in the oven until cooked through, about 30 minutes.

Serves 6
Recipe Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

June 11, 2014


It's finally somewhat quiet for the first time in days. I've spent the last week in a beachside villa, which sounds relaxing if not for the seven other people bustling around. It's been a little crazy here, but it's finally peaceful because everyone is busy stuffing themselves with homemade s'mores.

How do you make homemade s'mores exactly? It's not like you can make your own chocolate, and homemade marshmallows are too tedious for rental home kitchens. Honestly, I'd rather spend a few extra hours at the beach than in the kitchen dealing with marshmallows. What makes these s'mores special is the graham crackers, which I made last week, froze for travel purposes, and defrosted tonight for the feast.

Graham crackers generally aren't that special. The packaged ones are kind of foamy and bland. They're still good, but s'mores taste so much better when you spend some time making your own graham crackers. The crackers really aren't that hard to make, and they have a sweet, buttery flavor with just a hint of cinnamon. There's a shocking amount of sugar and butter (mostly butter; I think the deliciously rich lowcountry cooking is getting to me) for something generally considered healthy, but that's what makes them so good.

One of the ingredients that makes graham crackers graham crackers is graham flour. If you can find it, use it. If not (like me), plain whole wheat flour will suffice. However, it's a pretty crucial ingredient, so don't substitute anything else like regular flour (beyond what else is called for in the recipe), cake flour, or bread flour. I also make a point of using dark brown sugar for a hint of molasses as well as honey for an extra kick of sweetness. I plan on experimenting with molasses vs honey, and if I find anything noteworthy I'll update the recipe.

Although I normally just scoop and bake or slice and bake cookies, these need to be rolled out and cut or else they won't be square and graham cracker shaped. I find that about an eighth of an inch is a good thickness for baking and for s'mores making. Two inches by two inches works for the length and width.

I use either a knife and ruler or a tool I like to call my spinny wheels of death, a.k.a. one of these. It's basically a bunch of pizza cutters attached to an accordion-like frame; you can expand or contract the frame and cut a bunch of strips of the same width. Prices can range from $15 to upwards of $100, but I highly recommend investing in one for times like these. They are also great for cutting strips of pie crust for lattices or marking any sort of bar that you want to cut. Aside from thin doughs, they aren't great for actually cutting things, so I generally just use it to mark where I want to cut with a knife.

But that's enough about the graham crackers. It's time for the marshmallows. As I said, you can make your own; I'm currently perfecting my recipe, and I'm sure there are plenty of recipes and tips available online. However, they generally take a few hours to prepare, and those hours would probably be better spent elsewhere. As long as you can find regular or jumbo marshmallows, you'll be ok.

Cooking the marshmallows is harder than getting them. Sure, you can eat them straight out of the bag at room temperature, but then you miss out on gooey marshmallows and melty chocolate. You could also build a bonfire--or just a small fire--and roast them traditionally. But the weather can disagree and you might not find sticks and the fire might just not cooperate. I'm not an outdoorswoman or girl scout or anything, but fires are hard.

That's why I spent years developing the ideal marshmallow cooking method for indoorsy people like me. It's highly scientific and methodical and should only be used if you are truly a s'mores enthusiast. It's called a broiler, and all it takes is a watchful eye--no fire building skills necessary. Simply line a cookie tray with foil or parchment, plop on a few marshmallows, and stick them under a broiler (I like to use my toaster oven) for a few seconds until toasty and brown. It happens pretty quickly, so you absolutely have to watch the marshmallows until they are done.

Once your graham crackers are baked and your marshmallows are toasted, all you have to do is assemble. I'm sure you know how, but you can always make your s'mores a bit more gourmet. Try drizzling (or dousing) them with caramel sauce or sticking a few slices of strawberries or some raspberries under the chocolate. Or both. Once you perfect the art of indoor (and homemade) s'mores, the possibilities are endless.

1 ½ Cups Flour
1 ⅓ Cups Whole Wheat Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
¼ tsp Salt
Pinch Cinnamon
2 Sticks Butter, Softened
⅔ Cup Dark Brown Sugar
3 T Honey

Sift the flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together. Beat the butter, brown sugar, and honey together until fluffy. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.

Wrap the dough in plastic and chill until firm, about 1 hour.

Dust a cutting board with flour and roll some of the dough out to ⅛" thick. Cut into 2" squares. Repeat with the remaining dough. Chill the squares until firm, about 20 minutes.

Heat oven to 350ºF and line cookie trays with parchment. Place the squares on the prepared trays and prick with a fork. Bake for 8 minutes or until just starting to brown on the edges.

Makes 50-55 Cookies
Recipe Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

For S'mores:
Line a cookie tray with parchment or foil. Place marshmallows on the prepared tray and broil until golden brown. Sandwich a marshmallow or two with a piece of chocolate between to graham crackers.

June 4, 2014

Peach Pecan Muffins

After spending the weekend in Chicago for the national academic team tournament, I'm back in the south. The lowcountry, to be exact. Hilton Head has been an annual vacation for as long as I can remember, and the contrast between Chicago and the beach has made me appreciate the south. Not that Chicago wasn't nice; I absolutely loved it and I had some amazing food (I'll be updating the travel guide soon), but there's nothing like the slow peacefulness of Hilton Head. Minus the hyperactive screaming children, of course. So to celebrate, I decided to cram everything southern into one dish, and what resulted were these muffins.

Muffins typically have some combination of butter and a moistening agent, like sour cream. These, however, could use a southern kick, so I used a combination of oil and buttermilk instead. Theoretically, you could use regular milk instead (anything but skim, but preferably whole milk), but the buttermilk keeps it just a bit more moist. Furthermore, the buttermilk's natural acidity improves the texture. Although muffins generally aren't extremely sweet, I use a decent amount of sugar. We are celebrating the south, after all, and southern cooking is notoriously heavy on sinful ingredients like sugar, fat, etc. Anyway, I use a 50-50 mixture of regular sugar and brown sugar. The brown sugar adds a hint of caramel flavor, which goes perfectly with the peaches.

The rest of the muffin base is pretty typical. You need your eggs, flour, leavening, a pinch of salt, and some vanilla. I also add a sprinkle of cinnamon for a little extra flavor, since it seems like no breakfast would be complete without it. As for the mix ins, I use chopped peaches and chopped pecans. The peaches can be fresh or frozen, but it is peach season, so I highly recommend using fresh peaches while you can. For the pecans, it is imperative that you toast them. Simply baking them at 375F for about 5 minutes or until fragrant makes them crunchy and flavorful and prevents them from being soggy bits that serve absolutely no purpose.

I may not be able to cook much in Hilton Head since the condo kitchens suck and there's so many good restaurants to eat at instead, but I can still appreciate some good southern cooking. So why drive all the way down to Savannah to wait in line at Paula Deen's restaurant if I can make myself some of these muffins instead? Even if you don't live here, you can still get a taste of the south. Just serve them up with some fried catfish and maple pecan sweet potatoes and it's like you've crossed the Mason-Dixon line already.

3 Cups Flour
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
3 Eggs
1 Cup Oil
⅔ Cup Buttermilk
1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Brown Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla
2 Cups Chopped Peaches
1 Cup Chopped Pecans, Toasted

Heat oven to 400ºF and line a muffin tin with paper cups.

Whisk the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt together. Whisk the eggs, oil, buttermilk, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla together. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Fold in the peaches and pecans.

Scoop the dough into the prepared cups and bake for 16-18 minutes or until cooked through.

Makes 24
Recipe Adapted from