December 30, 2015

Top Posts of 2015

I'm on a bit of a cooking binge right now since I'm back from Wisconsin but I'm leaving for Italy in two weeks. It's the perfect time to try as many recipes as possible since there's so many reasons to cook with the holidays, New Years' resolutions, and just for the fun of making interesting dishes. To help you decide what to make, I compiled lists of the top recipes from 2015, the top recipes from The Nerdy Chef's history, and the recipes I think deserve some more attention. Enjoy and comment/tweet how they turn out!

Top 10 Recipes of 2015:

10. Rosemary Lamb Chops with Grits and Roasted Garlic - Juicy lamb chops with a pan sauce, creamy grits, and sweet roasted garlic

9. Linzer Cookies - Tart jam sandwiched between buttery shortbread cookies

8. Raspberry Key Lime Pie - My perfect key lime pie recipe with a gorgeous raspberry swirl

7. Chili Dogs - Savory chili piled onto hot dogs in pillowy buns

6. Cajun Shrimp Skillet - Tender shrimp nestled in spicy rice and vegetables

5. French Onion Tart - A creamy filling of caramelized onions, gruyere, and bacon piled into a flaky pie crust

4. Pretzel Nuggets with Beer Cheese Dip - Salty poppable pretzel bites surrounding a gooey cheese dip infused with beer

3. Cranberry Apple Muffins - Tender muffins studded with tart apples and cranberries

2. Yeast Bread - A slightly sweet and very soft bread perfect for snacking

1. Spicy Beer Chili - Classic Texas beef chili spiked with beer and a pop of heat

Top 10 Most Under-Loved Posts

10. Biscuits - Unbelievably buttery and flaky taditional southern buttermilk biscuits

9. Pasta All'Amatriciana - My all-time favorite pasta dish with San Marzano tomatoes, onions, bacon, and fresh mozzarella

8. S'mores Pie - Rich and creamy chocolate filling in a graham cracker crust topped with sweet and fluffy homemade marshmallow

7. Berry Buckle - Sweet vanilla cake loaded with fresh berries

6. Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins - Addicting pumpkin muffins stuffed with vanilla cheesecake filling and topped with cinnamon streusel

5. Zucchini Tomato Crostada - Flaky pie crust wrapped around fresh zucchini and cherry tomatoes with a creamy ricotta filling

4. Cranberry Eggnog Cheesecake - Buttery pie crust filled with a sweet eggnog cheesecake and topped with fresh cranberry jam and white chocolate

3. Apple Pie Shortcakes - Lightly sweet biscuits stuffed with caramelized apples and baked to perfection

2. Salmon with Corn & Vidalia Relish - Salmon seasoned with garlic and fresh herbs served with sweet corn, caramelized onions, and cherry tomatoes

1. CinnaBabka Streusel Muffins - A pound of butter mixed into vanilla brioche and cinnamon streusel all rolled up with chunks of chocolate (a cross between cinnamon buns, chocolate babka, and coffee cake)

Top 10 Posts of All Time

10. Cucumber Salad - Crisp cucumbers in an Asian marinade

9. Quiche - Tomato, cheddar, and spinach quiche easily customized with anything else you want to add or swap

8. Waffles - Fluffy buttermilk waffles almost as good as Waffle House's

7. Chili - Classic beef, bean, and sausage chili with a kick

6. Apple Muffins - Accidentally vegan apple muffins with a sweet maple glaze

5. Brownies - Dense brownies packed with chocolate that balance cakeyness and fudginess

4. Meatballs - Surprisingly light meatballs that will beat your grandma's recipe, especially when served drowned in homemade marinara over pasta

3. Guacamole - Creamy guacamole with some avocado chunks perfect for any occasion

2. Spicy Beer Chili - In case you get tired of the original

1. White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies - Always the favorite recipe; buttery shortbread with sweet white chocolate and tart cranberries

That's it! See you next year with some yummy recipes to keep up with your resolutions!

December 26, 2015

Double Chocolate Shortbread (Korova Cookies)

It doesn't really feel much like Christmas when it's 20+ degrees warmer than it should be and I've spent 12 of the last 36 hours in airports and on planes. However, as evidenced by the enormous crowds at my local Chinese takeout place last night as well as the flood of Bubbes at the flea market down here in Boca Raton, it's Christmas.

Well, maybe not anymore. I wrote this a day or two ago but thanks to the subpar internet availability in Boca I just couldn't get this out in time. Anyway, It just seems appropriate to publish this recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan, who dubbed them her World Peace Cookies. With all the terrible things going on in the world right now, I think everyone could use a good dose of chocolate, especially if there's tons of butter involved.

One of my favorite things about this recipe is that there's no eggs, so I can eat all the dough I want. It all starts with creaming tons of butter with sugar and brown sugar. Shortbread is supposed to be fairly dense, but you do want some air whipped in here for textural purposes. After that, throw in some salt and vanilla for flavor. Sometimes I'll sprinkle some sea salt on top of the cookies for more contrast, too, since salt enhances the sweetness and the chocolate flavor.

As for the dry ingredients, I use flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda. I hate to pull an Ina Garten on you, but you really should use the "good" cocoa here since it's the prominent flavor. That also applies to the chocolate. You can use chocolate chips or chunks or mini chips, but the only way these cookies will be truly outstanding is if you get a bar of semisweet or bittersweet baking chocolate and chop it up. You get some big chunks, some slivers, and some shards that give the cookies random pockets of molten chocolate. Baking bars are often better quality than chocolate chips as well, just make sure you're not using the unsweetened ones.

To get perfectly round and uniform cookies, I roll mine into logs in saran wrap and chill them for a few hours. The cold solidifies the fat, which then doesn't melt as quickly and help the cookies keep their shape. Other things related to moisture happen as well, but all you need to know is that you need to chill the dough. You don't even have to bake the dough immediately; the logs can be kept chilled for a few days or frozen for a few weeks. Just slice and bake however many you need (or feel like eating) and you'll have a delicious treat within 10 minutes.

1 1/4 Cups Flour
1/3 Cup Cocoa
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1 Stick + 3 T Butter, Softened
2/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/3 tsp Salt
1 tsp Vanilla
4 oz Chocolate, Chopped

Whisk the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together.

Beat the butter, sugar, and brown sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy. Add the salt and vanilla and beat until combined. Stir in the flour mixture, then add the chocolate.

Split the dough in half, wrap each in plastic wrap, and roll into two logs. Chill until firm, at least 4 hours.

Heat oven to 325F and line cookie trays with parchment. Slice the dough into ½" thick coins and bake until set, 10-12 minutes.

Makes 30
Recipe Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

December 20, 2015

Australian Meat Pie

Whenever I go home, even if it's just for a few days over Thanksgiving, I never want to eat cafeteria food when I come back to Wisconsin. Remembering that there is food that actually tastes good makes me never want to eat an overcooked burger smothered in cheap american cheese ever again, even if it is better than most of the other food available. To help cope, I bring back tons of food from home. No, the fact that home is a few hundred miles away and I therefore have to cram everything into a suitcase does not stop me. One of my favorite things to do is stop at the Australian Bakery and bring back a few frozen Australian meat pies. However, I can only fit so many in my suitcase, leaving me pie-less for the rest of the year. Luckily, I figured out how to make a pretty good copycat, which freezes equally well and gives me access to pie whenever I want.

If you've never heard of an Australian meat pie, don't be alarmed, just very, very sad that you've wasted years of your life without them. It's basically a handheld pocket of flaky pie crust filled with savory beef and a gravy-like sauce. The Australian Bakery also has varieties with onions, cheese, bacon, different types of meat, and vegetables. My favorite is the original with just the beef and gravy. I haven't quite figured what gives the Australian Bakery's pies that deliciously savory flavor, but I'm not quite sure if I'm willing to buy a jar of Marmite to see if that's it.

Pretty much any dough would be delicious here. Puff pastry's beautiful buttery layers would make this dish even richer, and pizza dough would make it sturdy and hardy. I however, want the best of both, so I use a savory pie dough. It's buttery and flaky but can still stand up to the filling. If you make these into hand pies (the traditional size), you'll definitely want a dough that will hold together while you pick it up and eat it. A full size pie won't be as delicate, but regular pie dough is still my go-to choice.

As much as I love the dough (I am a crust lover... no shame), the filling for this pie is absolutely fantastic. It starts by browning ground beef, which must have around 85% fat (give or take 5% to balance substance and juiciness). I dice up an onion and throw it in, too. Once the beef is almost cooked and the onions are tender and fragrant, I add some tomato paste. I give that a few minutes to cook together because if you let tomato paste brown it adds this wonderfully rich, complex flavor to the dish that isn't easily replaced. Next, I stir in some flour to begin to thicken the mixture. You're going to want a thick gravy, not a liquidy mess that oozes out of your pie as soon as you cut/bite into it. Lastly, I add beef broth and herbs and let it all cook together for a few minutes so the flavor can combine.

One of the keys to a perfect pie is making sure everything is cold. Cold dough bakes up nice and flaky, and the filling has to be cold when you pour it into the crust so that it doesn't mess that up. I like to roll out half my dough, press it into the pan, and chill it for 15 minutes before I spoon in the cold filling and top it with another round of dough. That all gets chilled for a while until everything is cold before I pop it into the oven. After about an hour (for a whole pie), the whole thing will be hot and steamy and golden brown, though you may have to cover the sides with foil to avoid overbrowning.

Like most meats and poultry, you'll want to let this set for a bit before you cut it. Everything needs to settle into place or you risk the meat and the sauce falling out of the crust and making a huge, unappealing mess. It will retain heat for a while, but it also reheats wonderfully if you happen to forget about it (which I doubt will happen). It's a great stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal, which is perfect for winter and perfect for when I want actual food.

1 Recipe Double Crust Savory Pie Dough (see below or use pre-made dough)
1 1/2 lbs Ground Beef
1 Onion, Diced
2 T Tomato Paste
1/3 Cup Flour
1 Cup Beef Broth
2 T Worcestershire
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1/4 tsp Oregano
1 Egg
2 T Milk

Grease a 9" pie plate.

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Add the beef and onions and cook until browned and almost cooked through, 6-8 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for another 2 minutes or until thickened slightly. Add the beef broth, worcestershire, garlic powder, onion powder, and oregano. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 4 minutes and set aside to cool.

Split the pie dough in half and roll each into a 10-12" circle, big enough to fit the pie plate with some hanging over the edge. Press one round into the pie crust and set the other aside.

Spread the cooled filling into the crust. Top with the other round of dough and pinch the sides together to seal. Cut a vent in the top of the crust and chill until cold.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 350F.

Whisk the egg and milk together and brush onto the crust. Bake the pie until golden and cooked through, about 1 hour, covering the crust to prevent burning as necessary.

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 pulse until small lumps remain, then drizzle in cold water until it clumps together.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Serves 6
Recipe Adapted from

December 11, 2015

Chicken Cacciatore

A lot of things are going on in my life right now. Finals are looming in the all-too-near future, I'll be in Italy in a month, and I have to figure out how to somehow cram all of my stuff into too few boxes to store until August. Also, it's incredibly warm for December in Wisconsin, but I still want tons of steaming hot comfort food. The solution? Wrapping myself in a giant fuzzy blanket, ignoring all my problems and responsibilities, and curling up with a big bowl of chicken cacciatore, cooked all day in a crockpot until the chicken is unbelievably tender and flavorful.

I'm basically an expert on Italy by now. The anticipation for my semester abroad combined with a teeny bit of procrastination in my pre-finals haze has resulted in way too much time spent browsing European destinations where I can eat the most food possible and learning random facts about Italy.

Turns out chicken cacciatore actually originated in Italy (unlike many other "Italian" favorites here in America coughcough chicken parmesan coughcough), but it didn't have tomatoes. It was a hunter's meal of dark meat with mushrooms and herbs in a savory gravy that could easily be prepared in the outdoors. I decided to embrace my stubborn need for tomatoes in 90% of savory Italian dishes and add them in not one but two ways: fresh tomatoes and tomato sauce. It may not be the true classic cacciatore but it is definitely delicious.

Even though this is made in a crock pot, I still take the time to start cooking the chicken and vegetables properly. As usual, I use bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs for the moisture and flavor. I'm a firm believer that chicken should always be crispy in at least one step of the cooking process, so I start by searing it until golden brown. The skins get nice and crispy, but they'll most likely end up soggy at the end of the cooking process. I don't mind, though, because this releases all the schmaltz to cook the vegetables in, and I'm willing to sacrifice my beloved crispy skin for incredibly tender insides.

Once there is plenty of schmaltz left in the pan, I throw in some mushrooms, bell peppers, and onions. After a few minutes, I add plenty of garlic and cook all the vegetables until aromatic. They're going to cook for a long time in the slow cooker so you don't have to worry about cooking them all the way through.

The sauteed vegetables are combined with fresh diced tomatoes (you can use whole if they aren't in season), red wine, chicken broth, and marinara sauce. You can do this right in the slow cooker to reduce your cleanup time. These all cook into a beautiful sauce that you'll want to eat on just about everything. The marinara sauce is going to be a pretty prominent flavor, so I like to make it myself, but I'm the first to recognize that sometimes there just isn't time for that (like when you have 3 finals in 36 hours), so jarred sauce is a perfectly acceptable substitute. Just make sure you taste the cacciatore sauce about halfway through to make sure it's seasoned properly whether you used homemade marinara or not.

After 5 or 6 hours you should end up with a hot, bubbly tomato sauce filled with vegetables and fall-off-the-bone chicken. Since I'm addicted to carbs, I serve it over pasta, but it's hearty enough to eat on its own. You could also serve over orzo or polenta if you want to be a little more creative. Based on my mom's requests for this dish whenever I'm back in town, it's just as good frozen and reheated as it is on the first day, so make as much as your crock pot can hold and then eat as much as you can hold (I know I will).

6 Bone-In, Skin-On Chicken Thighs
1/4 Cup Flour
8 oz Baby Bella Mushrooms, Sliced
2 Bell Peppers, Diced
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Large Tomatoes, Cubed with Juice Reserved
1 Cup Red Wine
1 Cup Chicken Broth
1 1/2 Cups Marinara Sauce

Heat some oil in a large pot. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour. Sear until deep golden brown, then set aside.

Cook the mushrooms, bell peppers, and onion in the chicken drippings until tender, about 8 minutes, stirring in the garlic after 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Combine the sautéed vegetables, tomatoes and juice, wine, chicken broth, and marinara in a slow cooker. Add the chicken and stir to cover with the vegetables and liquid. Cook on low for 5-6 hours.

Serves 6
Recipe Adapted from Chick-O-Bowl

November 30, 2015

Brown Butter Biscotti

I'm pretty sure most of you are sick of cooking after this weekend, but The Great Fall Baking Marathon of 2015 must continue. I was going to publish this recipe earlier so you can have a steady stream of snacks for your Thanksgiving guests, but I know my kitchen is still recovering. There won't be any space for any more food for at least two more days, which of course means that I have to make a batch of biscotti because I'm only home for a few days and that warrants more food. Luckily, these biscotti are crowd pleasers that people can munch on with coffee, for snacks, and for dessert, and they require minimal effort.

Most biscotti are relatively healthy for a dessert; they have minimal (if any) fat and usually contain some sort of dried fruit or nuts. The moisture in the dough generally comes from eggs, and the dough isn't typically very sweet. These biscotti, however, are brown butter biscotti with no fruit or nuts for bulk. In other words, the main flavor is the brown butter, which means they have plenty of it. Basically, they are my kind of biscotti. I drizzle them with some dark chocolate for flavor, texture, and aesthetic, but honestly the delicate nuttiness from the brown butter is delicious all on its own. 

The most difficult part of this recipe is browning the butter properly. You want to heat the butter in a pan with a large surface area (like a skillet, not a pot) until fragrant. There should be brown bits, but be careful not to burn them. If you do, don't try to salvage the butter by straining the burned bits out because the flavor has already infused throughout all the butter. If you burn it, just throw it out and start over. Eventually, you'll master the skill of browning butter and will be able to use it in everything from chocolate chip cookies to frosting.

Once the butter is browned and cooled, it gets mixed with some sugar until somewhat fluffy. Since the butter is cooled but not solidified, you won't get the same volume as you would if you had creamed softened butter, but biscotti aren't supposed to be fluffy anyway.

The eggs are added one by one (this is very important) to the butter and sugar, along with some vanilla for added flavor. The mixture is pretty wet by now, which is why you'll need to add a fairly substantial amount of flour. I also throw in some baking powder and salt because the biscotti need to rise and salt enhances all the other flavors and cuts the sweetness.

The whole point of biscotti is baking it twice. The first bake involves shaping the dough into loaves and baking them whole. Once the loaves are cooked through and cooled, they are sliced and baked again. The second bake should be long enough to make them crispy (fully crispy, not that weird half-stale texture) but not burnt.  Make sure your slices are uniform and somewhat thin so they cook evenly and are crispy throughout without any soft spots inside.

The final touch is a drizzle of chocolate. You can use dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, that fake chocolate candy coating stuff, or no chocolate. Assuming you have chocolate, time, and lack an aversion to a little extra messiness, I highly recommend it. I prefer dark chocolate because the slight bitterness offsets the sweetness from the biscotti, and the color contrasts nicely with that of the biscotti. These biscotti make great gifts since they last a while and freeze wonderfully, and taking an extra few minutes to make them look even prettier will earn you even more compliments.

12 T Butter

3 1/4 Cups Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Cup Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla
3 Eggs

12 oz Chocolate, Optional

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Whisking frequently, cook until the milk solids brown. Quickly pour into the bowl of a stand mixer to avoid burning. Set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 350F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Beat the browned butter and sugar together until combined. Stir in the vanilla and add the eggs one by one. Gradually add the flour mixture.

Shape the dough into two logs and bake until cooked through, about 24 minutes. Set aside to cool, keeping the oven on.

Cut the cooled loaves into 1/2" thick slices. Arrange in a single layer on the cookie trays and bake until crisp, about 20 minutes more, flipping halfway through.

If desired, melt the chocolate in a double boiler and drizzle over the cooled biscotti.

Makes 36

Recipe Adapted from Savory Simple