September 10, 2017

Spicy Beer Shrimp with Lemon Cucumber Couscous

Now that classes have started, I'm definitely looking for quick meals. This shrimp dinner just so happens to have a (healthy) protein, a sauce, a carb-y side, AND some veggies and can easily be made in 30 minutes or less. I'm hoping I'll be able to manage that between classes, homework, research, and a little bit of enjoying my senior year, but we'll see. The shrimp are grilled simply and tossed in a spicy sauce with a little bit of everything good: beer, tomatoes, honey, and plenty of spice. I pair it with a quick couscous tossed with fresh cucumber and a light lemon dressing.

The sauce starts with some minced peppers. I like jalapenos and habaneros for a definite kick that still allows you to taste the rest of the dish. You can easily up that with some hotter peppers or tone it down with just jalapenos depending on your level of bravery. Once those sweat a bit, I add paprika, cayenne, and chili powder; again, you can increase or decrease the amounts to your liking. Honey and tomato paste are next, which help bulk up the sauce and balance the heat. Lastly, I throw in some beer, which is easy enough to find around my apartment. Don't worry about using any sort of special craft beer; there's enough going on here that you won't be able to tell much of a difference.

While the sauce is simmering and thickening, it's time to cook the couscous. I love couscous as an alternative to pasta since you just dump everything in and let it sit for a couple minutes as opposed to boiling a big pot of water, cooking pasta for 10-15 minutes, and having to take it out and dress it at just the right time. I normally prepare couscous by heating up one cup of water per cup of couscous, adding the couscous with a bit of butter and salt, then letting rest off the heat for 5 minutes to cook through. Here, I substitute in some vegetable broth for extra flavor and toss with diced cucumber, fresh parsley, and a lemon dressing after fluffing. Seafood always pairs well with bright, acidic lemon, and the cucumber adds some much-needed texture and freshness to lighten the dish.

Once the sauce and couscous are going, it's time to make the shrimp. Any raw shrimp will do, though as much as it annoys my dad and sister (aka taste testers for this recipe), I prefer to take most of the shells off but leave the tails on for presentation. Taking the shells off the body allows it to soak up the sauce later but the tails make it prettier and easier to pick up. I like to grill mine just until cooked through then quickly transfer to the sauce to pick up all that flavor. You could cook the shrimp by letting them simmer in the sauce instead for extra flavor, but I find that it's easier to keep an eye on the doneness when grilling and it still soaks up plenty of the sauce after. Shrimp isn't the best protein to heat up as leftovers (it tends to get very rubbery), but if you want to make this dish for multiple meals you can do so by making extra sauce and couscous and just cooking the shrimp as you need it. You can also use the sauce on pretty much anything else too, and I'm guessing my roommates will start doing shots of the stuff once I make this for dinner.

2 T Butter
6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Habanero, Minced
2 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Cayenne
1 tsp Chili Powder
3 T Tomato Paste
1 T Honey
2/3 Cup Beer
1 lb Shrimp
1 Cup Couscous
1 Cup Vegetable Broth
2/3 Cup Diced Cucumber
3 T Chopped Parsley
1 T Lemon Juice
1 T Olive Oil

Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the garlic and habanero and cook for 3 minutes or until soft and fragrant. Add the paprika, cayenne, and chili powder and season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the tomato paste and honey and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the beer, bring to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes or until thickened.

Bring the vegetable broth to a simmer. Add the couscous, cover, and let steam for 5 minutes. Fluff and toss with the cucumber, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil. Chill if desired.

Meanwhile, brush the shrimp with a bit of oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until opaque and toss in the sauce. Serve over the couscous.

Serves 2-4
Recipe Adapted from The Beeroness

August 31, 2017

Strawberry Cheesecake Tart

It's a big weekend for baking! Between Labor Day barbecues, tailgating for the first football game, and all my friends that heard I'm back in town, I have a lot on my plate (literally). Luckily, I have this recipe for a gorgeous tart that just so happens to be Badger red and can easily be adapted for Labor Day red, white, and blue. The cheesecake filling is rich and creamy, and the fresh berries on top make it the perfect centerpiece for any party.

For all you cheesecake purists, yes this recipe is a bit different. I use a sweet pie crust instead of a traditional graham cracker crust and there's obviously a difference in size. I like to think of this as a benefit, though, since by baking only a thin layer of cheesecake your baking time is drastically reduced. Instead of going through all the effort of a water bath and waiting at least an hour, your tart is perfectly baked and ready to go in less than 20 minutes. You still have to chill it for a bit like any good cheesecake, but you're that much closer to cheesecake heaven.

You can easily swap out the pie crust for a graham cracker crust, but I think the buttery, flaky crust does a better job of supporting the cheesecake and all those berries. I'm a sucker for a good pie crust, so maybe I'm just biased, but I also think that it makes the tart more similar to all the gorgeous fruit pies of the summer.

The cheesecake filling is pretty simple, not much different than your typical cheesecake aside from being scaled down a bit. There's cream cheese, of course, as well as sugar, vanilla, and an egg. One egg may not sound like much, but it's enough to bind everything together in this amount of filling. I also add a few dollops of sour cream for a hint of tang and to lighten it up. You can add other flavors here as well; orange zest would pair well with berries, as would most other citruses.

The trick to a perfect cheesecake is in the baking time. As I quickly learned when making my first cheesecake a few years ago, this is not one of those times where you're waiting on a clean toothpick. The doneness is better judged by the jiggle test: when the cheesecake is just barely set and only has a slight jiggle in the middle, it's done. Cheesecake also sets up better when you chill it for a couple hours after letting it cool on the counter.

The final touch for me is a layer of sliced strawberries. We're nearing the end of berry season and everything on campus is red for welcome week and football, so I'm all about the strawberries. If you're making this for labor day, you can also throw in some blueberries for a more patriotic look. Peaches would also be delicious, and you can adapt this for year-round enjoyment with whatever fruit is in season. I've found that roasting fruit brings out its natural sweetness, so even in the dead of winter, you can have a gorgeous cheesecake tart with delicious fruit on top.

1 Recipe Sweet Crust
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/4 Cup Sour Cream
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1 Egg
1 lb Strawberries, Sliced

Heat oven to 375ºF and grease a 9-11" round tart pan.

Blind bake the crust in the prepared pan.

Lower the oven to 325F.

Beat the cream cheese and sour cream until fluffy. Add the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Beat in the egg, then pour into the crust. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until just set.

When cool, layer the sliced strawberries on top.

Serves 8

August 17, 2017

Cheesy Chicken and Orzo Casserole

It's crunch time at my internship, and I know most of you are busy going back to school or preparing to send your kids back to school. Basically, it's that time of year where you want to keep eating healthy and cooking but there's hardly any time. That's why I love recipes like this casserole, which is a full meal on its own, keeps the dishes to a minimum, and has plenty of leftovers. Here, I get to use all my favorite Italian flavors and bake them up together with plenty of cheese. It's cozy and comforting but still incredibly easy to make.

The orzo makes up the base of the dish. You can theoretically use whatever pasta you want, but orzo is quick and the texture works well for a casserole. If you've never had it before, it's essentially pasta shaped like grains of rice, so you get that texture without the finicky cooking process (you could also just use rice if you prefer). I add chicken broth to the cooking liquid for maximum flavor, and I make sure not to rinse the pasta when it's done cooking to preserve the starches on the outside. Yes, rinsing pasta with water cools it down and stops the cooking process, but I'm going to need you to stop that this instant. Rinsing off those lovely starches prevents the sauce from sticking later on, and if you're really worried about overcooking your pasta just take it out a minute earlier. I don't even cook the orzo through here anyway since it continues to cook in the oven, so rinsing it certainly won't help you.

The proteins get cooked next; I use sausage for extra flavor and heartiness, specifically a (spicy) Italian sausage. Once it's nice and brown, you're left with a good layer of seasoned fat in the pan to cook the rest of the ingredients in. This is particularly useful if you're using raw chicken, but if you'd like to use a diced rotisserie chicken to save time (totally understandable), it's just as good for cooking the vegetables in later. If you're not a sausage person, you can just increase the amount of chicken, or you can scrap my recommendations entirely and switch to ground beef or ground turkey. This recipe is extremely easy to adapt, so be creative with your proteins.

Once all the meats are cooked, I brown the garlic and onions in the residual fat. Those are mixed with tomato paste, Italian herbs, and some fresh tomatoes to bulk it up a bit. I know tomato season is sadly coming to an end, so canned petite diced tomatoes will work fine in the cooler months. That only has to cook for a few minutes before you return the meats to the pan and add the orzo, cheese, and a bit of chicken broth to allow the orzo to cook through. You can also add in some more vegetables like spinach or eggplant for a healthier dish.

Since all the meat is cooked and the orzo is most of the way there, we are really just baking this to make everything hot and gooey and bubbly. I bake mine for 15-20 minutes so the pasta doesn't get too mushy but it all has a chance to cook together. There will likely be leftovers as well, so you can either microwave them or pop them back in the oven for a few minutes until they are hot again. It's the perfect back-to-school dinner (or just a general crazy weeknight dinner) since you can get your meat, carbs, and veggies all in one bite and still have enough for lunch the next day.

2 1/2 Cups Chicken Broth
1 1/2 Cups Orzo
1/2 lb Italian Sausage
1 1/2 lbs Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast, Diced (or rotisserie chicken)
1 Small Onion, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3/4 lbs Tomatoes, Diced (or 1 can petite diced tomatoes)
2 T Tomato Paste
1/2 tsp Basil
1/2 tsp Oregano
1/2 tsp Thyme
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
2 Cups Shredded Mozzarella
1/2 Cup Shredded Parmesan
Spinach, Diced Eggplant, etc. (Optional)

Heat oven to 350ºF and grease a 7x11" glass pan.

Bring 2 cups chicken broth and 3 cups water to a boil in a small or medium pot. Add the orzo and boil for 6 minutes. Drain but do not rinse.

Heat some oil in a large pot. Brown the sausage, remove, and dice. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, sear in the drippings, and remove. Add the onions to the pot and cook for 4 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the tomato paste, parcooked orzo, and 1/2 cup chicken broth. Add the sausage, chicken, basil, oregano, thyme, garlic powder, and onion powder. Stir in 1 cup mozzarella and the parmesan. Add the vegetables, if using.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared dish and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella. Bake for 18 minutes or until brown and bubbly.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from Cooking and Beer

August 6, 2017

Buttermilk Pie

I realize I've been posting a lot of dessert recipes lately. I promise I'll post some more healthy and/or savory recipes soon, but I just made this recipe today and it was too good not to share. Y'all, this pie tastes like a sugar cookie. A giant, velvety, creamy sugar cookie. I roasted off some fruit and piled it on top so I don't feel as guilty (and support my local farmers' market), but that doesn't change the fact that this pie is essentially a 2" thick pizza-sized gooey sugar cookie. There's a hint of tang from the buttermilk and sweet, floral vanilla bean, which is complemented by the tartness of the fruit on top. Although I made it with plums this week, you could easily swap them out for peaches, berries, or other summer fruits. You can roast them or not, and I've also served this pie plain.

The crust is my standard sweet pie crust. While the buttermilk pie at the bakery that inspired this recipe uses a shortbread cookie crust, I've found that my all-butter flaky pie crust stands up to the custard and can take on pretty decorations like the pattern in these pictures. I'll spare you the details since I've covered them in quite a few other posts, but remember to keep the butter (and the finished dough) cold and handle it as little as possible to avoid overworking it. There's no need to blind-bake it here because it takes so long to bake the custard, though you may need to cover the edges to prevent them from too much browning.

The filling is pretty unique. I'm sure many of you haven't even heard of a buttermilk pie, especially if you aren't in the south and don't use buttermilk on a regular basis. It's a lot like a chess pie, which is a rich, custardy filling almost like pecan pie without the pecans. This recipe starts with melted butter, sugar, and eggs plus a bit of flour to hold it together and, of course, the buttermilk. The buttermilk bulks up the pie, gives it a lovely creamy color, and provides a subtle tartness so the sweetness isn't too overwhelming. The eggs and the flour are responsible for the texture; the pie should just jiggle when you pull it out of the oven and will set to a dense, fudgy custard after chilling for a few hours. The trick is to mix it by hand until just combined to avoid whipping air into the filling.

I also like to throw in a vanilla bean for flavor. If you don't have a vanilla bean, you can easily substitute a spoonful or two of vanilla extract. I've also seen this recipe made with a pinch of nutmeg, and you can try different flavors as well. You could stir in some citrus zest for extra tartness or fold in fresh fruit or fruit puree to bake right in instead of topping the pie (or do both).

For my fruit this week, I sliced up some plums, sprinkled them with sugar, and roasted them until tender. This draws out more of the fruit's natural sweetness and enhances the color. As I said earlier, I used plums because they happened to look particularly good at the farmers' market but really any fruit will do. You certainly don't have to roast them either. It may also be a good idea to leave the fruit off the pie until you plan to serve it; I just checked on mine from earlier today and some of the juices bled out onto the pie. It's still going to taste delicious regardless of what fruit you use or when you serve it, but I'd recommend a mix of colors just before serving for maximum appeal.

1 Recipe Sweet Pie Crust (See Below)
1 Stick Butter, Melted
1 Cup + 2 T Sugar
3 Eggs
1 Vanilla Bean
Pinch Salt
3 T Flour
1 Cup Buttermilk
1 Pint Fruit, Optional

Heat oven to 350F and grease a 9" pie plate.

Roll the dough out to 10-11" in diameter and transfer to the prepared tin. Press gently to adhere and chill until cold.

Meanwhile, whisk the butter and 1 cup sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, then whisk in the vanilla bean and salt. Fold in the flour and stir in the buttermilk.

Pour the custard into the crust and bake for 50-60 minutes or until just set, covering the edges if necessary.

Optional: Increase oven temperature to 375F and line a cookie tray with parchment. If using peaches or plums, cut into segments as desired. Spread the fruit onto the prepared tray and sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Roast for 10-15 minutes or until tender.

Makes 1 9" Pie
Recipe Adapted from Tasting Table

For the crust:
Pulse 1 1/4 C flour, 1/4 C sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt in a food processor until combined. Add 1 stick chilled and cubed butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine the an yolk with a tablespoon of cold water and add in. Pulse until it begins to form a ball, adding more water as necessary. Chill.

July 28, 2017

Blackberry Almond Coffee Cake

Every week when I go to farmers' markets I make a point of buying something new in an attempt to broaden my palette. Though I'm not always successful, I do find that the best way to try a new food is to put it in something I already like. A gateway recipe, if you will. A perfect example of that is this blackberry almond coffee cake. Yes, of course I love coffee cake with the tender, fluffy cake-for-breakfast base and piles of buttery, crunchy streusel on top. It makes sense for me to try and sneak in some fruit between the two, though the gorgeous purple jammy layer in this particular cake isn't exactly subtle. You can use whatever fruit you have on hand or find at the farmers' market, and since you're cooking it down it's ok to use ugly or overripe fruit, too. I do like the combination of blackberries and almonds (especially with some sliced almonds on top for aesthetics), but any berry would work just as well.

The first step is to cook your fruit down so it can cool while you make the rest of the cake. I combine most of my blackberries, some sugar depending on how sweet they are, some cornstarch to thicken it, some lemon juice to enhance the tartness, and some water to make it spreadable. That mixture simmers for a few minutes while I mash the berries to make a sort of quick jam. I also leave some berries whole for some extra texture, but you could easily throw everything into the jam pot and crush the berries more or less until it reaches the texture you want.

I know many people think the streusel is the best part, and this is a pretty simple recipe for it. Just combine some sugar, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt, then add in melted butter, flour, and almonds. You can omit the almonds or swap them for a different nut, but I appreciate the extra crunch. You can also double the recipe if you're a big streusel person since I agree that there can never be too much of it.

The cake itself is also pretty straightforward. Again, I like it because it's basically a vanilla cake that passes as an acceptable breakfast food. It's much easier than a typical cake as well; since you use melted butter, there's no beating the batter for a few minutes until it's fluffy, and you don't have to alternate the dry and liquid ingredients. Honestly, you don't even need a mixer. Just whisk the sugars together, add the melted butter, add the remaining liquid ingredients, then add the dry ingredients.

Once all the components are prepared, it's time to assemble and bake the cake. This is a pretty big cake, so I go with my 10" springform pan. If you want to use a regular 8-9" cake pan, you'll probably want to make two cakes to avoid a spillover. At that point, you should look into making more of the jam and certainly doubling the streusel so you have enough for both cakes. That or you could just cut the cake batter part in half. The cake batter goes on the bottom, then the jam and whole berries are spread and sprinkled on, and the streusel is piled on top. It bakes for a while since it's so big, but it's certainly worth it. As much as I love the contrast of the purple, any other seasonal fruit would work instead. Mixing fruits could be interesting as well; a blueberry peach variety is on my shopping list for the farmers' market this week.

3 Cups Blackberries
1 1/4 Cups + 3 T Sugar
1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Cornstarch
1/2 tsp Lemon Juice
3/4 tsp Salt
1 Stick + 6 T Butter, Melted
1/3 Cup Sliced Almonds
4 1/2 Cups Flour
4 tsp Baking Powder
4 Eggs
1/2 Cup Milk
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 tsp Almond Extract

Heat oven to 325F. Line a 9-10" springform pan with parchment and grease.

Combine 2 cups blackberries, 1/4 cup water, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 T cornstarch, 1/2 tsp lemon juice, and 1/8 tsp salt in a small pot. Simmer for 6 minutes, mashing until somewhat smooth, and set aside to cool.

Toss the remaining blackberries with 3 T sugar and the remaining cornstarch.

Whisk 1/4 cup sugar, the dark brown sugar, and 1/8 tsp salt together. Stir in 6 T butter and 1 1/2 cups flour. Fold in the almonds and refrigerate until cold.

Whisk the remaining 3 cups flour, baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt together. Whisk the remaining 2/3 cup sugar and light brown sugar together, then stir in the remaining 1 stick melted butter. Add the eggs, milk, vanilla, and almond extract. Fold in the flour mixture.

Spread the cake batter into the prepared pan. Spread the jam evenly on top, leaving a ½" border around the edges. Sprinkle the whole blackberries on top and sprinkle the streusel over the berries. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Serves 8-10
Recipe Inspired by The Frosted Kitchen

July 17, 2017

Pink Lemonade Bars

Lemon bars are the quintessential summer dessert. They're light, refreshing, and packed with citrus flavor with just enough buttery crust to satisfy your dessert cravings. I'm a crust girl, so this is miles better than pie since it's about 2 parts lemon filling to 1 part crust, as opposed to the filling-heavy pies I usually bake. Not that my pies are bad, but sometimes I want some extra crust. Plus these lemon bars are extra special because they're pink! The secret is a few spoonfuls of raspberry jam, which adds a different kind of tartness and of course that gorgeous color.

This crust is a cross between a pie crust and shortbread. It's not as delicate and flaky as a typical pie crust, but it's not nearly as dense and crumbly as a shortbread. I use the same process as for a pie crust: pulse the dry ingredients in a food processor to combine, add the butter, then add a bit of liquid just to pull it together. However, there are a few notable differences. I use powdered sugar for a smoother texture than regular sugar, and I use softened butter instead of chilled cubed for a more cohesive dough. A secret trick is to use vodka for a lighter dough; it evaporates faster than water for a flakier dough.

As for the bars themselves, it's a fairly typical base. I use both lemon juice and lemon zest, but I rub the zest into the sugar so it perfumes the whole mixture. The natural oils in the zest are absorbed by the sugar for more uniform flavor. That mixture is whisked together with the juice and the jam, which I heat with a bit of water so it melts the lumps and mixes in more smoothly. I then add a few eggs and some flour, which turn it into a custard and allow the mixture to set properly. If you've ever had a lemon bar, you know that texture I'm talking about. You want to take it out of the oven when it just barely jiggles in the center.

I've found that if you can stand to let this chill in the refrigerator overnight, they'll cut much more cleanly. Of course, if you cut them shortly out of the oven you'll get bits stuck to the knife that you can nibble on discretely. All imperfections are easily hidden with a good shake of powdered sugar, but make sure you do that shortly before serving or the sugar will take up moisture from the bars and lose that nice powdery finish. You can always forgo the powdered sugar entirely and allow the pink color to shine, but for me the powdered sugar is part of what makes lemon bars so special.

2 1/4 Cups Flour
2 Cups Sugar
1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar
Pinch Salt
2 Sticks Butter, Softened
1 T Vodka or Water
1 T Lemon Zest
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Raspberry Jam
4 Eggs

Heat oven to 350F.

Combine 2 cups flour, powdered sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse in the butter until small lumps remain, then add the vodka or water.

Press the dough into a greased 9x13" pan and bake for 22-24 minutes or until just golden.

Heat the raspberry jam in a small pot with 2 tsp water.

Rub the lemon zest into the sugar. Whisk in the lemon juice and raspberry jam. Whisk in the eggs. Sift in the remaining 1/4 cup flour.

Pour the filling into the cooled crust and bake for 30 minutes or until just set.

Makes 18

July 6, 2017

Mahi Mahi with Basil Shallot Butter & Roasted Tomatoes

So by now my regular readers should know I'm in Chicago for the summer. I spent a full day driving all the way across the country for what I expected to be a somewhat cool, breezy summer. After all, it is the Windy City and it is known for being extremely cold for 80% of the year. It's not. I have no idea how I drove so far north and it's just as hot and humid as Atlanta but without the Waffle House. Luckily, there's plenty of amazing seasonal produce to make it worth it. This dish tops fresh grilled fish with a rich, herby butter and juicy roasted tomatoes for a picture-perfect dish you'll be eating all summer long (regardless of the heat).

I chose mahi mahi for this dish, but any firm white fish will work; you just want it to be able to stand up to the grill without sticking or flaking. I marinate it in a simple mixture of olive oil, brown sugar, herbs, and spices so that it has some flavor but lets the other components of the dish shine. Since it's so simple, you only need to let it infuse for an hour, though a little longer won't hurt at all.

The tomatoes are also extremely easy to prepare. I take a ton of cherry tomatoes (the rainbow ones for aesthetic purposes), cut them in half, toss with olive oil, and roast under high heat for a few minutes or until tender. Roasting adds a hint of charred flavor that complements the grilled fish and brings out their natural sweetness.

What makes this dish so special is the butter. You can slather this stuff on other fish, chicken, steak, or even a shoe and it would taste delicious. It starts by sauteeing a thinly sliced shallot to reduce some of the sharpness and make it easier to blend into the butter. That gets mixed with basil in a food processor along with some seasoning, then I throw in some softened butter and it's ready to go. To kick it up a notch, you could add some more herbs, some chiles, and/or a drizzle of honey depending on what direction you want to go in. Compound butters make everything taste better; just look at my grilled ribeye with rosemary vidalia butter.

Grilled fish is one of my favorite dinners, especially in the summer. It's light, healthy, and incredibly quick and easy. However, it has the potential to be pretty bland, so adding a compound butter and some roasted vegetables takes advantage of all the seasonal produce and makes sure you have an unbeatable dinner. With this heat it seems like summer is endless, but you can easily transition to fall and other seasons by switching up the vegetables. Try some roasted carrots, root veggies, or squash depending on what you can find in the grocery store.

1 1/2 lbs Mahi Mahi
1/4 Cup + 2 T Olive Oil
1/2 Stick Butter, Softened
1 T Brown Sugar
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Sprigs Thyme
1 Shallot
3 T Chicken Broth
3/4 Cup Basil Leaves
1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, brown sugar, garlic, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Marinate the fish in the olive oil for at least an hour.

Slice the shallot thinly. Heat some oil in a skillet and cook the shallot for 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken broth and cook for 14 minutes or until tender and the liquid evaporates. Set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 400F.

In a food processor, pulse the shallots with the basil until fine. Add the butter, season with salt and pepper, and pulse until uniform.

Heat a grill or grill pan.

Toss the cherry tomatoes with the remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the tomatoes on a baking sheet and roast for 8 minutes or until tender.

Grill the fish until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side. Serve with the basil shallot butter and the roasted tomatoes.

Serves 4-6
Inspired by Bon Appetit

June 30, 2017

Brownie Pudding

It's my birthday weekend! Yes, I am stretching my birthday into multiple days of forcing my fellow interns into attending various Chicago activities and eating copious amounts of food. I'm still debating if designing a bakery crawl and baking my own birthday cake will give me instant diabetes, but for now I'm sharing one of my personal favorite dessert recipes: brownie pudding. While neither a brownie nor pudding, this gooey, chocolatey concoction is so good my sister has actually attempted to stab me with a fork for more.

If you've followed my blog for any period of time, you'll know I'm a sucker for anything chocolate. From double chocolate shortbread to extra slutty brownies to chocolate lava cake if it has chocolate you'll find me eating it. That's why I love this recipe so much; it is pure chocolate heaven. It's also an amazing balance of textures since it has a crisp, crackly crust (think that thin crunchy layer on top of brownies but extreme) covering an incredibly rich, gooey center. I don't care if you're team fudgy or team cakey brownie; this is an entirely different level.

This recipe isn't anything like your typical brownie batter. You start by whipping eggs and sugar together until they reach the ribbon stage, essentially where they turn pale yellow and fall in thick ribbons when you pull the beaters out. I add a splash of vanilla and a splash of Kahlua for flavor (it is my birthday after all), then gently sift and fold in flour, lots of cocoa powder, and salt. Lastly, a stick of butter is stirred in because you can't have a good dessert without a cow's worth of butter. You can always fold in some chocolate chips, but if you use good cocoa powder you won't need the extra chocolate.

The first time I baked this, I used an 8x8" ceramic pan (glass works too). Big mistake. It baked up perfectly and was presentable right out of the dish (you're not going to want to try and get this out until you eat it). However, my overeager sister was unwilling to share and I faced losing out on my share vs getting chased around the house with a surprisingly sharp fork. I learned my lesson and now bake this in multiple vessels. I have one ceramic baking dish that I love for presenting and photographing, and I also made a second mini one for my sister to have all to herself. As I said, this works perfectly well with an 8x8" pan (or something similar) so it stays gooey in the center and is thick enough to have textural variation. The key to getting those different textures is the water bath; the inside doesn't firm up too much since it doesn't exceed water's boiling point (212F) but the top gets nice and crispy.

Honestly, I'd be perfectly happy if my birthday consisted of some good pizza, a good movie, and my own pan of this brownie pudding. Hopefully I'll get to do some sightseeing, but as long as I get my chocolate I'll be fine. You can make this for whatever occasion calls for a tasty chocolate dish; it can easily be dressed up with some good ice cream and homemade whipped cream or just eat it in your pajamas while binge watching Netflix. I'll probably be doing a little bit of both.

2 Eggs
1 Cup Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Kahlua, Optional
1/4 Cup Flour
1/3 Cup Cocoa
Pinch Salt
1 Stick Butter, Melted

Heat oven to 325F and grease an 8x8" baking dish.

Whip the eggs and sugar together for 5-10 minutes or until pale yellow and ribbony. Fold in the vanilla and Kahlua, then sift in the flour, cocoa, and salt. Gradually stir in the butter until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and set in a larger baking pan. Pour boiling water into the larger pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the 8x8" dish. Bake for 30 minutes or until set.

Recipe Adapted from Ina Garten

June 20, 2017

Bourbon Peach Pecan Galette

I know it's peach season when I can find them all the way up north. Sure, they're not quite the same as the local Georgia peaches, but they are decent and I know anyone in the south has some tasty ones. Peach pies are always tasty (I'm still perfecting a raspberry peach pie that you may or may not see on here next summer), but I'm a crust girl and am always looking for ways to adjust the ratio in my favor. Here, I toss fresh peaches in a bit of sugar and a lot of bourbon, pile them onto a pecan crust, and sprinkle with more toasty pecans. It's everything southern in one bite, and it makes the perfect ~adult~ dessert for all your summer barbecues (make sure to put it on your July 4th cookout menu!).

You all know by now all my secrets for making the perfect pie crust. Keep everything cold, don't overwork the dough, and cover the edges if you need to so you can cook everything through without burning the crust. What makes this crust so special is that there are extra pecans INSIDE the pastry. Yes, you read that right. I toast some pecans and blend them right into the pie crust so your mouth goes *nuts* with every bite. I do like to toast the nuts to maximize the flavor, but you absolutely have to let them cool before blending them because they will warm up the rest of the ingredients and also turn into pecan butter if they're still hot.

As for the peach part, I slice around 2 pounds of peaches and toss them with some sugar so they can macerate. It's the same process that I use for the berries in my lemon berry scones. Adding a few spoonfuls of sugar makes the concentration higher outside the peach cells than inside, so water moves out of the cells to balance everything out. The whole point of this is to remove water here so the peaches don't bleed out and make a soggy mess when you bake them.

Once the peach juice has time to settle out, I toss the peaches with cornstarch, a bit of brown sugar (since most of the sugar was left in the juice; adjust this to how sweet your peaches are), a pinch of cinnamon, and all the bourbon. You can either add the remaining pecans in at this point or wait until you transfer the peaches to the crust so they are sprinkled all pretty on top.

I bake this in a big round tart pan, but you could turn it into a pie, a freeform galette, mini tartlets, or any other pans you have lying around. Like I said, I prefer the crust to filling ratio of a tart pan, so I would consider making this a double crusted pie (the regular pie crust plus the top crust, as opposed to an open pie like a pumpkin pie) if the pecan dough cooperates. If you are having a particularly large gathering, you could even double (or triple) the recipe and make a big slab pie on a rectangular pan or cookie tray. This recipe is just so perfect for summer that you could serve it at just about any shindig you're throwing in the near future.

For the Crust:
2/3 Cup Pecans, Toasted
1 1/4 Cups Flour
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt
1 Stick Butter, Chilled & Cubed
1 Egg Yolk

Pulse the cooled toasted pecans in a food processor until finely ground. Add the flour, sugar, and salt and pulse until combined. Add the butter and pulse until small lumps remain. Whisk the egg yolk with a few spoonfuls of water and pulse until just combined. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.

For the Filling:
2 lbs Peaches, Sliced
3 T Sugar
2 T Brown Sugar
1 T Cornstarch
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 Cup Bourbon
1/2 Cup Chopped Pecans

Heat oven to 375F and grease a 9 to 11" round tart pan (or other desired pan).

Toss the peaches with the sugar and let sit for 20 minutes. Drain the liquid and toss with the brown sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon. Stir in the bourbon and pecans.

Roll the pie dough out to fit the desired pan. Press gently to adhere, then add the peaches. Bake for 24-26 minutes or until the crust is brown and the peaches are tender.

Makes 1 Tart

June 10, 2017

Cheesy Sausage Buns

It's almost Father's Day, so get your shopping list ready with seasonal dad-approved recipes like blueberry coffee cakecorn and tomato salsaribeye with vidalia compound butterzucchini fritters, and peach cobbler. If none of those fit your Father's Day aesthetic, find more tasty recipes in my recipe index. Today, I'm writing about a recipe that maybe won't do so well for a big grill fest or barbecue but is definitely one of my dad's favorite recipes. I'm not really sure what to call them (cheesy sausage buns are reasonably descriptive and snappy) since we found them at one of my favorite Madison bakeries--Batch--and I recreated them at home. Batch makes a bunch of different buns, but my dad is always disappointed if they don't have the one with andouille sausage and caramelized onions. I threw in some pepper jack cheese for good measure so he can have the pseudo Batch buns year round (and avoid the frigid Madison winters).

Since Batch makes all sorts of buns, it's easy to whip up your own combination of fillings. I tend to rotate the meat (usually some sort of sausage but diced chicken or beef would work too), the vegetables (I love my caramelized onions but I've seen black beans, grilled veggies, and corn), and of course any good melting cheese. Just cook up your protein and the veggies, let it all cool down, toss the filling ingredients together, and stuff and bake the buns. It is pretty labor-intensive, so I'll usually make a double batch and get it over with so there are plenty of buns to go around.

If you read my blog diligently, you'll notice this dough is the same as what I use for the pretzel nuggets with beer cheese dip and cheesy buffalo pretzel ring but without actually making it into a pretzel. Honestly, this would be delicious as a pretzel bun, so as long as you're confident in your sealing abilities go ahead and dunk the buns in a baking soda solution before baking. That would be especially delicious for a Philly cheesesteak bun with beef, peppers and onions, and lots of cheese. What I love about this dough is that it's so stretchy and elastic, which lends itself well to being manhandled into bun shapes. The trick is to make the edges thinner than the center (but still keeping it all pretty thin) so there's no giant hunk of dough at the bottom where you gather it all up. It definitely takes some skill to get the right dough to filling ratio without anything exploding, but a little extra bread never hurt anyone.

For my typical filling, I brown and dice the sausage (or dice and brown, if the sausage is firm enough). I then cook the vegetables in the sausage fat for maximum flavor and toss both with shredded cheese and spices. That gets stuffed into buns, brushed with egg wash, covered in more cheese, and baked until molten hot. I tend to make mine into hockey puck or hamburger sizes so they could constitute a meal, but you could also make these smaller for snacks or appetizers. Everything inside is cooked before it goes in, so all you need to do is make sure the outside is brown and the dough is cooked.

I've worshipped Batch as the type of bakery I'd want to open should I fail all my classes and abandon food science altogether. Their food is simple but done extremely well, and I can never decide what to order. My dad always makes a beeline for these buns and is ecstatic that I figured out how to replicate them at home but more to his liking, so a batch of these is always on the menu.

2 1/4 tsp Yeast
1 T Sugar
4 1/2 - 5 Cups Flour
1 tsp Salt
1/2 Stick Butter, Melted
1 Egg, Beaten
14 oz Andouille Sausage
2 Sweet Onions, Sliced
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Cayenne
6 oz Pepperjack Cheese, Grated

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, sugar, and 1 ½ cups warm water. Let stand for 5 minutes or until foamy. Using the dough hook, stir in the butter, 3 cups of flour, and the salt. Knead for 5 minutes, gradually adding the remaining flour as necessary until it's not too sticky.

Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour. Line cookie trays with parchment or silpats. Roll the dough into approximately 16 balls, place on the prepared trays, cover, and let rise for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, dice the sausage. Heat some oil in a large skillet and cook until crisp and brown, about 4 minutes, stirring often. Remove with a slotted spoon. Add the onions to the skillet and cook over low heat until caramelized, about an hour. Stir in the baking soda and cayenne when they are almost done; season with salt and pepper.

Heat oven to 375F.

Stir the andouille, caramelized onions, and cheese together. Roll each ball of dough into a very thin circle and scoop a spoonful of filling onto the center. Pinch the edges of the dough together to form a bun and place bake on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling and brush with the egg. Bake for 16 minutes or until golden.

Makes 16

May 28, 2017

Deep Dish Pizza

I've been enjoying my summer vacation for the last few weeks, but after roasting in Atlanta for a while I'm ready to head back up north. Plot twist: I'm not going back to Madison, I'm going to Chicago for an internship. I've been waiting for real deep dish pizza for months ever since I first accepted the job offer, so I had to improvise and make some myself. I know most of you can't trek out to the Windy City for some deep dish of your own, so today I'm sharing the recipe that motivated me for the last few months.

A lot of people don't consider deep dish 'real' pizza. For me, I think it's pizza but in a whole different category. It's obviously not your typical thin and crispy or soft and puffy yeasty dough; it's a thick, buttery, flaky crust with a touch of cornmeal for some extra crunch. That gets layered with mozzarella cheese and then the sauce so that the sauce doesn't make the crust all soggy while it bakes. I recommend adding some toppings (my favorite is meatballs) on the cheese before the sauce so they don't dry out; the toppings break up the insane amounts of crust, cheese, and sauce so there's actually some substance (and maybe some healthy stuff) there.

If you've ever made pizza dough (or any yeasted bread before) you'll recognize a lot of the basic techniques. You have to activate the yeast in some warm water and a bit of sugar, then mix it with the dry ingredients and knead until elastic. This is pretty similar except you'll add some cornmeal for texture and some melted butter for richness. The dough has to rise for a bit and then the fun part begins. You get to slather the whole slab of dough in butter, roll it up, and let it rise again. It's kind of like making cinnamon rolls except it's just butter and you get a pizza at the end.

The sauce may also be a little bit different than what you're accustomed to. Deep dish pizzas usually have a raw, chunky tomato sauce that gets cooked while the pizza bakes for a long time (it's not one of those 90 second Neapolitan pizzas). I like to use a can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes since they have some texture without being too chunky for my taste and they have such a bright flavor with just the right amount of sweetness and acidity. Of course, just about any can of any tomatoes will work; you can take canned whole tomatoes and crush them yourself or just go with a can of tomato puree for a smooth sauce. I combine the tomatoes with some garlic, onions, spices, and a bit more sugar and lemon juice to taste. I only let it cook for a few minutes until all the flavors meld together since it will get cooked for a long time while on the pizza.

Real Chicago deep dish places often have their own special pans for baking the pizzas so they cook through and get all nice and crispy without over-browning. I've found that a regular 9" round metal cake pan yields a crispy crust and can hold all the deep dish action without overflowing. Just press in the dough and make sure it creeps all the way up the sides. I top it with thin slices of mozzarella (slices are better than shredded here, trust me), all my toppings (gotta have those meatballs), and a few ladles of sauce to cover everything. As tasty and decadent as all of this is, the best part is that it makes two whole pizzas, and they make great leftovers.

3 1/2 Cups Flour
1/2 Cup Yellow Cornmeal
1 1/4 tsp Salt
1 T Sugar
2 1/4 tsp Yeast
1 1/4 Cups Warm Water
1/2 Stick Butter, Softened
1/2 Stick Butter, Melted
1 28oz Can Crushed Tomatoes
1 Small Onion, Diced/Minced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 T Sugar
1 tsp Lemon Juice
1/4 tsp Basil
1/4 tsp Oregano
1/4 tsp Thyme
12oz Mozzarella, Sliced
1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan
Meats and Vegetables

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the warm water, yeast, and sugar. Let sit for 5-10 minutes or until the yeast has activated. Using the dough hook, stir in 2 cups of flour, cornmeal, and salt. Add the melted butter, then gradually add the remaining flour until the dough comes together. Knead on medium-low speed for 5 minutes or until it is elastic and pulls away from the bowl, adding more flour as necessary.

Roll the dough into a ball and place in a large greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm area for 1-2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Punch the dough down and turn onto a floured surface. Roll into a rectangle about 1/2" thick and spread evenly with the softened butter. Roll into a log and cut in half. Place the dough balls back into greased bowls, cover, and let rise again for an hour in a warm area.

Meanwhile, heat some oil in a medium pot. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, sugar, lemon juice, basil, oregano, and thyme. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Heat oven to 425F and grease 2 9" cake pans.

Roll each ball of dough out to fit the pans, making sure the crust goes all the way up the sides. Place the mozzarella slices on the crust, limiting gaps as much as possible. Top with any meats or vegetables, then spread the sauce on to cover. Sprinkle with the parmesan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the crust is deeply browned.

Makes 2 9" Pizzas
Recipe Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction