April 29, 2015

Scallops with Purple Cauliflower and Sage Brown Butter

I'm going to start with something slightly off-topic today. I apologize to my subscribers if you are getting this twice as an email, but I'm trying out a new program and this will hopefully be resolved before the next recipe. For those of you who don't remember subscribing, you probably signed up a few months or even years ago and never verified your email address since it went to your spam folder. This program doesn't require you to validate your email, so hopefully you'll be able to receive recipes now! Along with this new email program is a new way to share these recipes with your friends and fellow cooks. If you go to my actual blog, you'll notice a new bar on the left side of the page that allows you to share the recipes on Facebook, Twitter, email, Yummly, and Pinterest. If you have other means of sharing recipes, please let me know in the comments and I'll try to add a shortcut somewhere on the site.

Ok, back to recipes. Mothers' Day is quickly approaching, and over Spring Break I made this delicious dish for my mom, who happens to love scallops, vegetables, and the color purple. It's elegant, luxurious, secretly not too unhealthy, and packed with flavor. Scallops are naturally rich and buttery, but topping them with sage brown butter makes them infinitely better. Serve them over a cauliflower puree and some roasted cauliflower florets and you've got one classy meal.

Scallops come in a pretty big range of sizes. I suppose you can make this dish with the tiny bay ones, but that doesn't feel like much of a meal to me. I prefer to splurge on the big sea scallops, which aren't as easy to overcook and look gorgeous with a proper sear. For reference, diver scallops don't necessarily indicate size, just the harvesting method. Anyway, the trick to getting that sear is starting with dry scallops. I let mine sit on paper towels for a few minutes before one good final blot.

One of the best things about this recipe is that the sauce is made as you cook the scallops. The sage brown butter sauce is just that: sage brown butter. To cook the scallops, heat some butter in a big skillet until hot and foamy, add some sage and the scallops, and cook without disturbing the scallops until they are a deep golden brown. You can nudge the skillet a few times to stir the butter around and prevent it from burning, but you want the butter to become brown and nutty and the scallops to get brown and crispy. To cook the other side, flip the scallops, add more butter, and cook until browned. The sage should release even more flavor as it cooks, so go easy on it until you figure out the proper amount since it is a very strong herb.

If you plan on making the cauliflower too, I would start it well before the scallops because you do have to baby the scallops to an extent. I like purple cauliflower for the color contrast (and my mom absolutely loves purple), so if you can find it I highly recommend using it. Regular cauliflower is definitely an ok substitute but your plate will look fairly beige.

Initially, I wanted to serve these scallops over a pool of velvety cauliflower puree, but I realized that the deep purple color and crunch of the roasted cauliflower added another dimension to the dish without any extra work, so I served both. To start, cut the cauliflower into small florets and wash. Blanch and shock them in a pot of boiling salted water and an ice bath to preserve the color (it will look like a lot of the color has drained out but roasting brings it back). The florets are then tossed with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper and roasted until tender. I reserve some of the roasted florets to serve whole and then puree the rest in a food processor with lots of butter and some of the water from the blanching process. If all goes well, you should end up with a healthier, more colorful version of mashed potatoes.

To serve this gorgeous dish, I spooned some of the cauliflower puree on a plate, topped it with the scallops and roasted cauliflower, and drizzled the sage brown butter over all of it. My family agreed that it tasted even better when you had everything in one bite, and this presentation facilitates that. I don't think anything can top this for a fancy homemade Mother's Day dinner, but stay tuned for an appetizer that can definitely compete.

2 lbs Large Scallops
2 Heads Purple Cauliflower
1 1/2 Sticks Butter
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
6 Cloves Garlic
1 Bunch Sage

Heat oven to 375F. Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath.

Wash the cauliflower and cut into florets. Boil in the water for 30-45 seconds and immediately transfer to the ice bath to blanch and shock, working in batches as necessary. Reserve some of the cooking water.

Toss the florets in the olive oil and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Spread onto a cookie tray and roast until tender, about 30-45 minutes.

Transfer 3/4 of the cooked florets and all of the garlic to a food processor. Add 1/2 stick of butter, season with salt and pepper, and pulse until smooth, gradually adding the cooking water as necessary.

Pat the scallops completely dry on paper towels and season both sides with salt and pepper. Heat 2 T butter in each of two large skillets until hot and foamy. Add a few sage leaves and divide the scallops between the pans. Sear until deep golden brown, add the remaining butter, flip, and sear the other side until deep golden brown and cooked through.

Serve the scallops over the cauliflower puree along with the remaining roasted cauliflower and a drizzle of the sage butter.

Serves 6

April 22, 2015

Gnocchi with Kale Pesto and Mushrooms

Despite the freezing cold and flurries (and the fact that the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands banned the term climate change and projects related to it), the calendar does say it's April 22, which means it's still technically spring but, more importantly, it's Earth Day. As usual, I'm posting an (almost) vegan dish that will satisfy just about anyone. However, if this isn't quite your thing, I also have recipes for ratatouille pastaapple muffinssweet potato chili, and roasted tomato soup. I personally now love gnocchi, and it's so rewarding to make it from scratch. It's great with just about any sauce, so here I decided to make a kale pesto and saute some mushrooms.

The only animal products in this dish are the single egg in the gnocchi and the garlic butter I saute the mushrooms in. I've heard rumors about making eggless gnocchi with just potatoes and flour, but I didn't want to risk it, so I stuck with a traditional recipe. If you want to avoid eggs, you can attempt to make it without it or simply use pasta, which is often eggless. As for the mushrooms, you can always saute them with olive oil and garlic instead of garlic butter.

By now, you may have seen those plastic packages of gnocchi sitting unrefrigerated by the pasta section. I'm not a huge fan, and the homemade ones taste so much better (good enough to justify the extra time, in other words). They only have four ingredients: potatoes, flour, salt, and an egg. You have to cook the potatoes first; I bake them until tender instead of boiling them because the goal is to introduce as little water as possible. Extra water will make the gnocchi gummy and not particularly appetizing, and baking is such an easy alternative.

Once the whole baked potatoes are fork tender, I remove them from the oven and peel and rice them as quickly as possible. This releases the most steam, which again reduces the water content. To do so, I grab a potato with a towel and, wearing gloves as additional heat protection, use a butter knife to gently but quickly peel the skins off in large pieces. I break the potatoes into manageable chunks and press them through a ricer, which makes them into tiny rice-like granules. After all the potatoes are riced, I gently spread them in a thin layer on a cookie tray to cool and release all the steam. I try to do this very carefully to avoid packing the potatoes down; you want these to be fluffy from start to finish.

After they cool to room temperature, I combine the potatoes and the egg before gradually adding the flour. I find that a stand mixer does this quickly and evenly, especially when using such large amounts of potato. I then gradually add the salt and flour until a thick dough forms; you may use more or less than the suggested amount depending on the moisture of your potatoes. To shape the gnocchi, I break off large pieces of dough, roll them into ropes about 3/4" in diameter, and cut them into nuggets. You can cook the gnocchi as nuggets or take it a step further and roll them with a fork. This gives them that pretty, ridged shape that catches even more sauce. All you have to do is press a fork onto the top of each nugget and roll it towards you; it should become a spiral with ridges running throughout. Those are all boiled in a big pot of salted water until they are cooked through and floating, about 5 minutes.

Gnocchi are certainly delicious, but they desperately need a sauce. Kale pesto is healthy, vegan, and has a gorgeous green color, all of which are perfect for Earth Day. Again, there are only a few ingredients: kale, nuts, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. I start by blanching and shocking the kale, which brightens and preserves the green color (as you can see clearly in the pictures). The leaves are then blended with nuts, garlic, and lemon juice until smooth. I prefer walnuts since they are much cheaper than the traditional pine nuts, have a fairly neutral flavor, and still act as a thickening agent. My family likes a lot of garlic in pesto, but feel free to add as many cloves as you see fit. Finally, olive oil is slowly poured in as the food processor continues running until the whole batch is nice and smooth.

Finally, I top the whole dish with some garlicky mushrooms. My grocery store had a fancy blend of oyster, shiitake, and baby portobellos, but you can use whatever mushrooms you like (or none at all). They are also pretty simple to make; I just heat some butter (or olive oil for you vegans) and minced garlic in a skillet, add the mushrooms, and cook until tender. Any remaining garlic butter is delicious drizzled on top of the dish.

2 lbs Potatoes
1 Egg
1 tsp Salt
2 Cups Flour

Heat oven to 400F.

Wash and scrub the potatoes. Prick with a fork and bake for 1 hour or until tender.

Quickly remove the potatoes from the oven, peel off the skin, and press through a ricer. Gently spread into a thin layer without compacting and allow to cool fully.

Transfer the riced potatoes into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the egg and salt and mix until just combined. Gradually add the flour until a thick dough forms; you may use more or less than the 2 cups.

Heat a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, roll the dough into ropes about 3/4" in diameter. Cut into nuggets and roll with a fork to make indentations. Drop into the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes or until they float and are cooked through.

Kale Pesto:
2 Cups Chopped Kale
1/3 Cup Walnuts, Toasted
4-5 Cloves Garlic, Crushed
2 T Lemon Juice
1/3 Cup Olive Oil

Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath. Boil the kale for 30-45 seconds and immediately transfer to the ice bath to blanch and shock it, doing so in batches as necessary. Pulse the walnuts, garlic, and lemon juice together until finely ground. Add the kale and pulse until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil.

1 1/2 Cups Mushrooms, Rinsed
4 T Butter
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced

Heat the butter and garlic in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender, about 6 minutes.

Serves 4-6
Recipes Adapted from Lidia Bastianich and Fifty Shades of Kale

April 18, 2015

Churro Cake

Yes, I know I just posted a cake recipe, but I have decided to post another. I just reached 50,000 views, it's gorgeous outside, the farmers' market just opened, and it's almost Cinco de Mayo. This calls for churro cake, a delicious snack cake with all the flavors of a churro without the deep-fried greasiness. Is there a better way to celebrate an over-commercialized excuse for drinking than with copious amounts of cinnamon cake slathered in chocolate? If you know of one, please tell me in the comments.

This cake starts with a simple batter with a hint of cinnamon. As with many cakes, butter and sugar are beat together until light and fluffy. Here, I also throw in some brown sugar for that lovely molasses flavor. The egg and vanilla are added next (I refuse to skip the vanilla even though cinnamon is the main flavor). Finally, the dry ingredients are gradually added in three additions with two additions of liquid in between. I use buttermilk because I still think it's far superior to regular milk in this sort of application. The dry ingredients are just flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.

It's not necessary to use cake flour here because I'm aiming for a fairly dense cake. I want a cake with structure, where I feel like I'm eating a big slice of happiness and not just air. It also has to stand up to a thick layer of cinnamon sugar and chocolate sauce, but I'll get to that later. Anyway, this cake should be dense but not heavy. There is definitely a difference; you want a cake, not a brick.

Now onto the cinnamon sugar. Traditionally, churros are long pieces of fried dough rolled in cinnamon sugar, so I pulled some inspiration from coffee cake and just piled the cinnamon sugar on top. I used brown sugar for the extra molasses flavor and combined it with more cinnamon. That mixture was just sprinkled all over the cake so it was completely covered before it went into the oven. After baking, it formed a crunchy shell that protected the deliciously moist cake underneath.

For the final touch, I decided to make a chocolate ganache that would just ooze everywhere to create an irresistible mess. In fancier churro establishments, many people order a cup of thick, rich European hot chocolate with their churros for dipping and sipping purposes. As much as I would love to drink a cup of this chocolate ganache, I'll settle for covering the cake with it. It mimics the taste and texture of the hot chocolate with the simplicity of only two ingredients.

Chocolate ganache is prepared by gently heating cream to a simmer, pouring it over good quality chocolate, and whisking it until smooth. If you can, try to avoid chocolate chips since they generally don't melt as well. Those special baking bars are probably your best option since they'll make a velvety smooth sauce. Once it cools, it gets poured over the top of the cake. I personally like when it drips over the edges of the cake. It gives it a nice rustic look that makes it look like you tried when really you didn't, though I'm sure by the end of the night on Cinco de Mayo no one will really care how pretty the cake is as long as it's there.

1 Stick + 2 T Butter, Softened
2/3 Cup Sugar
2/3 + 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla
2 Cups Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1 T + 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/8 tsp Salt
2/3 Cup Buttermilk
1/2 Cup Chocolate
1/4 Cup Cream

Heat oven to 350F. Line a 9" round cake pan with parchment and grease.

Whisk 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1 T cinnamon together. Whisk the flour, baking powder, remaining cinnamon, and salt together.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and remaining brown sugar together until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Stir in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk in two additions.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar, and bake for 24 minutes or until cooked through.

Meanwhile, heat the cream to a simmer in a small pot. Pour over the chocolate, let sit for 3 minutes, and whisk until smooth. Pour over the cooled cake.

Makes 1 Cake
Recipe Adapted from Cafe Delites

April 12, 2015


I've actually managed to do some baking in my dorm recently, namely a few dozen chocolate chip cookies and some shortbread, and it's really made me miss some of my baking staples. Get ready for a treat, y'all, because I'm sharing one of my favorite recipes of all time: poundcake. Mine is buttery, moist, and dense but not heavy, just as a poundcake should be.

Poundcake supposedly got its name from the original list of ingredients: a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, a pound of butter, and a pound of eggs. My recipe is a little different, but I can assure you I'm not skimping on the butter.

I'll start with the wet ingredients. As I said, there's plenty of butter. However, there is another secret ingredient. I'm a firm believer in that all cakes, muffins, and other baked goods with liquid batters (not doughs) should have buttermilk, cream cheese, and/or sour cream. They keep everything moist and promote a tender crumb, which is everything I want in a dessert. Here, I use cream cheese. I'm not really sure why I went with that over the other options, but I tried it and I was hooked.

To make the batter, you have to beat the softened butter and softened cream cheese together until pale and fluffy. Poundcake is supposed to be pretty dense, but you don't want a brick for a cake and this also makes sure everything is fully incorporated. Next, you add a fairly frightening amount of sugar. Don't worry; this does make two very large loaves and I think once you decide to make a poundcake you have already given up on sticking to a diet.

Once the sugar is incorporated, it's time for the eggs, five to be exact. Copious amounts of vanilla are added as well, followed by cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cake flour also keeps the cake from getting too heavy and dense, but if you don't have it, use 1/8 cornstarch and 7/8 all purpose flour. You can still use 100% all purpose flour as a last resort, but avoid it if you can.

The method of baking the cake is pretty important too, namely what you bake it in. I've tried this in those cheap disposable aluminum pans as well as metal loaf pans, but the cake never comes out as well unless I use a ceramic or glass loaf pan. They act as insulators and cook the cake more slowly and with less direct heat to the batter. This results in a perfectly browned crust with a perfectly cooked inside as opposed to simultaneously burnt and raw. The cake also rises better, so I highly recommend investing in the right pan if you plan on making this a lot (which you will after you try it).

I understand that poundcake is considered pretty vanilla in terms of dessert creativity. I still love it; it's a staple dessert, and sometimes simplicity is best. However, if you want to dress it up, there's plenty of ways to do so. This would be wonderful with some ice cream and caramel or chocolate sauce. You could make some sort of s'mores concoction with toasted marshmallows and chocolate sauce, too. If you want to change the actual cake, try switching it up with different extracts, like almond or coconut. A way to alter the whole cake is to make a cherry almond poundcake. It's pretty easy to do; just add 1 tsp almond extract with the vanilla and fold in 1/2 cup of dried cherries soaked in 2 T hot water at the end. This recipe is really easy to adapt to any taste or occasion, and I'm counting down the days until I can bake it again.

3 Cups Cake Flour
3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
3/4 tsp Salt
2 Sticks Butter, Softened
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
2 Cups Sugar
5 Eggs
2 1/2 tsp Vanilla

Heat oven to 325F and line two loaf pans with foil.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Whisk to blend. Beat the butter and cream cheese together until creamy, then gradually add the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 40 minutes or until cooked through.

For Cherry Almond Poundcake, use 1 tsp almond extract and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla instead of all vanilla extract. Add 1/2 cup of dried cherries soaked in 2 T hot water after folding in the flour.

Makes 2 Loaves
Recipe Courtesy Tish Boyle

April 1, 2015

Rosemary Lamb Chops with Grits and Roasted Garlic

This is honestly one of my favorite recipes, so get your taste buds ready for an Easter feast (or just a fancy weeknight dinner) with a touch of Southern flair. These lamb chops are restaurant-ready and cooked to perfection, and I've picked out some amazing accompaniments. I've discovered how to make the creamiest grits ever with a fraction of the calories, and roasted garlic and a rosemary au jus complete the dish. I want to leave all my stuff at home and fill my suitcase up with just this dish when I go back to college because it is seriously that good.

My favorite cut of lamb is the loin chops. They have plenty of meat without too much fat (unlike regular lamb chops), and I've also mastered the art of cooking them to the perfect medium-rare. But first I'll start with the marinade. It's pretty simple--just some spices and brown sugar mixed in some oil and rosemary and slathered on the lamb. It only has to sit for a few hours because it's really a spice rub mixed with some oil.

After the lamb marinates for however long you have time for, it's time to sear and roast it. I heat some oil in a big skillet (preferably cast iron) and sear the lamb on all sides until it's a deep brown. From there, the chops go into a hot oven for about 10 minutes or until they are done to your liking. In my opinion, all lamb should be medium-rare, but if you prefer another temperature then I won't stop you. Just keep in mind that that gorgeous pink color in these pictures is completely real, not enhanced or photoshopped at all.

While the lamb is in the oven, you can start on the grits. If you don't know what grits are, let me begin by saying that you have been missing out on one of life's greatest pleasures. Grits are a creamy, velvety cornmeal concoction, sometimes with cheese or other ingredients. This generally involves copious amounts of butter and cream, but mine just have milk and a few pats of butter. The main thing is to make sure you don't buy quick or instant grits. Stoneground grits are great, but this recipe isn't designed for them. I whisk regular grits into simmering milk, chicken broth, and water and cook them until thick, then I whisk in some butter. They end up incredibly creamy and rich, the perfect form of carbs to sop up the lamb drippings.

I enhance the lamb flavor with a rosemary au jus. After searing the lamb chops, the skillet should have plenty of drippings left in it. I deglaze it with a bit of red wine and stir in some chicken broth and rosemary. That reduces for a few minutes while everything finishes cooking, and then I stir in some butter for a velvety mouthfeel.

The finishing touch on this dish is the roasted garlic. I like to spread some on the lamb, mash some into the grits, and generally just eat bites of it with everything. It does take some time, so I start it before I cook the rest of the meal, though you can do it as far in advance as you want. Just separate the heads of garlic into cloves, toss in some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast in the oven until tender and caramelized, about 45 minutes to an hour. You should be able to squeeze the cloves out of the papery skins and basically eat them as candy, though I highly recommend saving some for the lamb since the sweetness really adds to the dish.

Easter dinners deserve something elegant, tasty, and reminiscent of spring. Lamb is a quintessential main dish, and this is a wonderful alternative to an often too-fancy crown roast. The grits add a subtle taste of the south, and the whole dish pairs well with some spring vegetables like asparagus or peas. I also suggest some spring-y desserts for a post-dinner treat, perhaps lemon cookies or a blueberry almond tart. I guarantee this is a meal you'll want to serve over and over again, so let me know if you agree in the comments. Happy Easter y'all!

3-4 lbs Bone-In Lamb Chops
1/3 Cup Oil
3 T Brown Sugar
1 T Garlic Powder
1 T Onion Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Season Salt
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
2 Sprigs Rosemary
1/4 Cup Red Wine
1/2 Cup Chicken Broth
2 T Butter

Heat oven to 425F.

Trim any large pieces of fat from the lamb chops.

Whisk the oil, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, season salt, and sea salt together. Add pepper and/or cayenne to taste. Pour the marinade into a large plastic bag and add a sprig of rosemary (separated into leaves) and lamb chops. Let sit for at least one hour and up to six hours.

Heat a little bit of oil in a skillet. Sear the lamb chops until browned on each side, then transfer to a large baking dish. Roast in the oven for 10-14 minutes or until medium rare.

Meanwhile, deglaze the drippings in the skillet with the wine. Whisk in the chicken broth and remaining rosemary and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes to reduce. Stir in the butter and serve over the lamb, seasoning with salt and pepper as necessary.

1 Cup Chicken Broth
2 Cups Milk
1 Cup Grits
3 T Butter

Heat the chicken broth, milk, and 1 cup water to a simmer over medium-low heat. Stir in the grits and season with salt. Cover with a tilted lid and cook, stirring often, until thick, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the butter and season with additional salt if necessary.

Roasted Garlic:
Separate 2-3 heads of garlic into cloves, leaving some of the papery skins on. Toss with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast in a 325F oven for 45 minutes or until tender and caramelized. Remove the skins.