November 15, 2017

Mushroom Dip

I'm going to be home in exactly a week for the first time since May, and I can't wait! I get to not have roommates (unless you count my grandma), see my dog, and cook for people that eat more than just frozen pizza and chicken nuggets. Of course I already have my Thanksgiving recipes picked out, but it's also extremely important to have a noshing plan, too. You know, all the snacks you eat during the Thanksgiving parade and while you're killing time before Thanksgiving dinner when you're hungry but still want to save room. Noshing is also incredibly useful for avoiding awkward questions and conversations because talking while eating is obviously more rude than whatever offensive things your family wants to talk about this year. Pigs in a blanket and quiche are staples for my family, and you always need a dip. This one happens to be filled with all my family's favorite ingredients: mushrooms, caramelized onions, wine, and plenty of cheese.

Like most of the best dips out there, the base consists of cream cheese and mayonnaise. I suppose it's ok to eat this raw, but these melt beautifully for a warm, gooey dip. I throw in a handful of parmesan, which doesn't contribute to the melt factor but adds a sharp flavor that helps cut the richness.

The onions are probably the most labor-intensive part of this dish. Caramelized onions have to be watched over and stirred often for the hour or so it takes to brown since the whole point is to slowly caramelize them as opposed to quickly sauteeing them for color. This way, you end up with soft, sweet onions instead of still-crunchy-despite-being-basically-burnt onions. Once the onions are done, you can use the same skillet to sautee the mushrooms with garlic and herbs. I like to throw in a few sprigs of fresh thyme since I typically have some on hand during Thanksgiving anyway. I also add in a splash of white wine to brighten the dish and further soften the veggies.

You could leave the mushrooms and onions whole, but that tends to get clunky and difficult to eat without rummaging around the whole bowl with your crackers just to find one piece. Since everyone still likes the texture of the vegetables, I found a compromise. I grind about half the veggies in a food processor until fine so that they are easy to stir into the cheese mixture and are fully incorporated. I then stir in the remaining half of the veggies whole. This way, you get all the flavors of all the ingredients in every bite but still have some nuggets of whole veggies buried around the dish. That all gets baked until golden and bubbly and served with your favorite crackers or dippables, like baby carrots or just your finger. Making this dip for your family this Thanksgiving basically guarantees that they'll be too busy eating to ask you invasive questions or make drunkenly racist comments (well, it wouldn't be the holidays without them), so do yourself a favor and pregame your Turkey Day festivities with this recipe.

1 Sweet Onion, Sliced Thinly
2 T Butter
12oz Mushrooms
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
2 Sprigs Thyme
1/4 Cup White Wine
4oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan

Heat some oil in a skillet. Add the onion and cook for 1 hour or until caramelized, Season with salt and pepper and remove from the skillet.

Heat 1 T butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Remove. Add the remaining butter to the skillet with the garlic and thyme. Cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the mushrooms, onions, and white wine. Cook for 3 minutes or until some of the liquid evaporates.

Transfer half of the mushroom mixture to a food processor and pulse until ground.

Mix the cream cheese, mayonnaise, and parmesan together. Season with salt and pepper. Add the ground mushroom mixture, then fold in the whole mushrooms.

Transfer the dip to a baking dish and bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly.

November 8, 2017

Chicken, Mushroom, & Wild Rice Soup

Daylight savings hit me hard. Everyone was all excited about an extra hour to sleep or party, which I thoroughly enjoyed by the way thanks to some Benadryl and a warm, fluffy blanket. But now I'm stuck with all of 6 hours of daylight and night starting at approximately 4pm with months of this misery ahead. On top of that, it's freezing cold and I'm looking at the last Farmers' Market until spring. What do I do? I make soup. This chicken, mushroom, and wild rice soup is warm and hearty with secret bites of bacon and a rich, creamy base.

Chicken soup is probably my favorite soup of all time, especially when it has matzo balls and/or noodles. However, there are nights when I want something more filling than just a broth and want to feel healthier than eating giant balls of fluffy carbs and maybe a piece of carrot. This soup starts with bacon (for the drippings and also snacking) and searing off some chicken in the drippings. The onions and mushrooms are then cooked in that savory, flavorful fat left over. Instead of using cream to thicken my soup and give that velvety texture, I use a roux (adding flour to the leftover fat) as a thickening agent. From there, I add plenty of wine and chicken broth before stirring in the veggies, chicken, and rice. A splash of half and half rounds out the dish for that ultra-creamy texture just in case the roux didn't quite get you there.

Since this is a fancy, extra-filling version of a basic mushroom soup, it's important to pay attention to what mushrooms you're using. I wouldn't splurge on insanely expensive Morels (even if they were in season) or other high-end mushrooms since they're just going to be cooked down into the soup. I've found that your basic baby bellas/button mushrooms work just fine for the bulk of the soup, and adding a handful of dried porcinis to the rice as it cooks adds an extra punch of earthiness and mushroom flavor. Again, I don't want to cook the mushrooms to death, so I add the dried porcinis towards the end of cooking the rice. The soup has a short enough cooking time that the baby bellas should survive.

Wild rice is different than normal rice in that it's a bit chewier and earthier, which makes it perfect for mushroom soups. I like to par-cook mine before adding it to the soup to ensure that it cooks fully without overcooking. Don't cook the rice fully here since it still simmers for a bit in the soup. This also means I can steep the rice in those dried porcinis, which would have otherwise been overwhelmed by all the other ingredients in the soup. If you can't find dried porcinis, other dried mushrooms will work just as well or you can just add more fresh mushrooms to the base.

Considering most soups like to simmer for hours, this is a pretty great weeknight meal. You should be able to get it all on the plate (or in the bowl) within about an hour if you time things right, and you can make it even faster by shredding a store-bought rotisserie chicken instead of cooking your own. It basically has as many servings of vegetables in one bowl as I normally eat in a week, so that's also a bargain. You can pretty much feel the health flowing through your veins, though that might also be the wine and half-and half. Overall, it's a net-positive soup since it has your veggies and your whole grains and your lean protein all in one big, cozy bowl.

1/4 lb Bacon, Optional
1 Cup Wild Rice
1-2oz Dry Porcini Mushrooms
1 lb Chicken Breast
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
12oz Mushrooms, Sliced
2 T Flour
1/4 Cup White Wine
4 Cups Chicken Broth
1/2 Cup Half and Half

Cook the bacon in a large pot until crispy, if desired. Remove, leaving drippings in the pan.

Bring 2 cups water, the rice, and a pinch of salt to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 40 minutes. Remove from heat, add the dry porcini, fluff, cover, and steam for 10 minutes.

Whisk the garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Heat oven to 375F and line a small baking tray with foil or parchment.

Add a spoonful of oil to the bacon drippings if necessary. Heat over medium to medium-high heat. Season the chicken with the spice mixture and sear on both sides until brown. Transfer to the prepared tray and bake for 12-15 minutes or until just cooked through and still juicy. Shred when cool.

Cook the onion in the drippings for 6 minutes or until tender and fragrant. Add the garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the pan.

Add the mushrooms to the skillet and cook for 8 minutes. Drain off the liquid, saving for later. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes or until absorbed. Deglaze with the wine and cook for 1 minute or until thickened. Stir in the chicken broth, mushroom drippings, and shredded chicken. Simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the rice (with porcini) and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the half and half.

Serves 6-8
Adapted from My Modern Cookery

October 29, 2017

Cheesy Baked Pasta

I have officially declared it cheese season. It's the best thing available at the farmers' market since it's too cold to grow any produce, family visits mean obligatory cheese tastings, and really the only way to stay truly warm in this weather is to eat massive quantities of cheese to build up your very own personal insulation. It's the only way. It's science. Wisconsinites love to eat cheese curds, cheese cubes, cheese plates, pretty much everything. One of my personal favorites is smothered on pasta, especially when there's four whole kinds of cheese, perfectly al-dente pasta, a smidgen of bacon (ok, maybe more), and piles of crisp, cheesy breadcrumbs all baked in a big skillet.

You probably know by now that if there's bacon in a recipe it's the first thing I cook. Some would argue that this is for snacking purposes, but cooking the bacon first gives you the real prize: bacon fat to cook everything else in. If I had an Italian grandma she'd be rolling in her grave right now, but the one thing you can do to make a bechamel sauce better is starting it in bacon fat. Anyway, I cook some bacon or pancetta in a big pan until crispy, dice it up, and leave all that lovely fat in the pan.

From there, I add the garlic since you can't have a good pasta without any garlic. It only needs to cook for about a minute since burned garlic will ruin the entire dish. To be honest, if you burn the garlic you have to start over with more bacon (which means more bacon for snacking) so it's not the end of the world. I use this garlicky bacon fat as the base for my bechamel, which is just a white sauce made by thickening milk with a roux, a mixture of fat and flour. Here, the fat is the bacon and flour gets added to it and cooked until bubbly. You want to cook the flour a bit so the starches hydrate and are ready to take on the rest of the sauce. I find that it's better to warm the milk before whisking it in so it doesn't seize as much, but be careful not to scorch it. Just warm to the touch will suffice.

Once you have your thick, velvety bechamel, it's time to add the cheese. I like a blend of fontina for butteriness and creaminess, mozzarella for the gooey stretch factor, provolone for bulk and a hint of smoke, and parmesan for that sharp, cheesy flavor. Romano, asiago, havarti, or any of your other favorite cheeses would all be fantastic. As long as you have at least one melty cheese and a flavorful cheese your sauce will be delicious. The best part about experimenting with this recipe is that you can taste the sauce before you add the pasta, so it's easy to adjust before you commit to a whole skillet of it. The cheesy bechamel is mixed with whatever bacon you have left after noshing and plenty of pasta. I prefer a rigatoni or some other tubular shape to catch all the sauce, but it's easy to substitute whatever else you have on hand. I cook it for a few minutes less than the box recommends so that it still has some texture to it after baking.

Most pasta dishes would be ready to go in the oven at this point, but this one has one extra step. I toss some panko breadcrumbs in butter AND MORE CHEESE and slather them all over the top of the pasta. This gives you some crunch and that toasted cheese flavor that all meals should have. I made this for dinner for my roommates for our monthly family dinner, and they all agreed it was the perfect touch. My roommate just walked past my door and, upon hearing what I was writing about, made sure to tell me to tell you all that this dish "is good." If that doesn't convince you to make it I don't know what will, so buy out your grocery store's entire cheese section and help me make cheese season a thing.

3/4 lb Pasta
1/4 - 1/2 lb Bacon
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Cup Flour
3 Cups Milk, Warm
6 oz Mozzarella, Shredded
4 oz Fontina, Shredded
4 oz Provolone, Shredded
3/4 Cup Grated Parmesan
1 Cup Panko
4 T Butter, Melted

Heat oven to 375F and grease a 9x13" baking dish.

Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente according to package directions.

Heat a large pot over medium heat and cook the bacon until crispy. Remove and chop.

Cook the garlic in the bacon drippings for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Slowly whisk in the milk. Stir in the fontina, mozzarella, provolone, and 1/2 cup parmesan. Add the bacon.

Toss the panko in the melted butter. Add the remaining 1/4 cup parmesan.

Stir the pasta into the sauce. Pour into the prepared dish, top with the crumbs, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Serves 6-8
Recipe Adapted from Giada di Laurentiis

October 17, 2017

Thai Squash Soup

I'm so excited y'all. Yesterday I got to finally break out my boots and scarves and cute winter jackets because it finally felt a little chilly in the morning. Today I woke up and it was back to mid-60s and sunny so that little blip of fall was gone, but that's not stopping me from cooking all the squash and pumpkin and cranberries and cinnamon. While squash is such a versatile ingredient,  butternut squash makes some pretty awesome soups. My mom likes her classic version with just squash, some aromatics, and some chicken broth, but there's so many directions you can move forward with. I'm pretty sure butternut squash isn't a staple in Thai food, but it pairs surprisingly well with a lot of the flavors. Thai food is known for combining unexpected ingredients that ultimately balance each other perfectly, and this recipe is no exception.

I'll admit butternut squash is a pain to prepare. It's basically impossible to cut without stabbing yourself in the end, so it's often easier to just buy the plastic tubs of prepared cubed squash. I've found that if I can manage to slice the squash in half and remove the seeds, roasting it makes it tender and easy to peel and dice. It also brings out a natural sweetness and some lovely caramelized flavors.

Any good soup starts with some sauteed aromatics. Here, I use onion and garlic, which might not be the most authentic Thai base, but it tastes pretty good. I also add some ginger for that hint of spice and to start layering flavors. I deglaze the pan with some vegetable stock (or chicken stock if you prefer) and soy sauce for saltiness and complexity. Although the squash is pretty much cooked at this point, I throw it into the pot so it can absorb more liquid and become more easily blendable. I happen to have an immersion blender that makes this much easier, but a regular blender or even a food processor will work too. You can leave some chunks in there for texture but I prefer mine perfectly smooth.

It would be a pretty satisfying soup at this point, but there's so many more ways to add extra flavor. I add a can of coconut milk for creaminess, lime juice to cut the richness, peanut butter for a salty nuttiness, and chili sauce for heat. None of those ingredients should go with each other, let alone roasted squash, but thanks to the magic of Thai cooking it tastes pretty fantastic.

2 Butternut Squashes (4-5 lbs)
2 T Olive Oil
1 Onion, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 1/2 tsp Grated Ginger
4 Cups Vegetable Stock
2 T Soy Sauce
1 14oz Can Coconut Milk
1 Lime
1/4 Cup Peanut Butter
Sriracha or Chili Sauce to Taste

Heat oven to 375F.

Halve the squash, remove the seeds, and rub the surface with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet, cover with foil, and roast for about an hour or until fork-tender. Peel and dice.

Heat some oil in a large pot. Add the onion and cook for 4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the stock and soy sauce and bring to a simmer. Add the squash, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth.

Stir in the coconut milk, juice from the lime, peanut butter, chili sauce, and salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes.

Serves 8

October 10, 2017

Maple Walnut Blondies

One of the most underrated Wisconsin products is the maple syrup. Yes, we have beer and cheese (and cheese curds) and bratwurst and buckets of ice cream, but are any of those acceptable breakfast foods? Ok, I'm in college so some of those are considered breakfast BUT nothing is better than some good maple syrup on your morning pancakes or French toast or waffles or what have you. My problem is that I think of all of those tasty breakfast foods, buy a big jug of local maple syrup at the farmers' market, and end up with tons left over. 

Since the end of the farmers' market is approaching and I have a tendency to impulse-buy things this may or may not be a particularly relevant problem right now. That's why I look for recipes that use maple syrup as a main ingredient and star flavor; I get my fill of maple and get to have more than just pancakes. These blondies are packed with maple flavor plus some addictive maple-candied walnuts, making them the perfect fall twist on one of my favorite desserts.

The first step is to make the candied walnuts. Typically, you heat sugar in a big skillet until it reaches a certain temperature and add your toasted nuts and cool it quickly. However, as I've learned in my candy science class over the past few weeks, this is much harder than it looks. I much prefer this cheat method, which entails tossing the nuts in the maple syrup and roasting until fragrant. Once cool, this yields reasonably crunchy bits of candied walnuts with a hint of maple flavor. It doesn't matter if they're not perfectly crisp since they'll be baked into the bars anyway. Of course, if you want to skip the candying stage and just toss in some toasted nuts it will still taste delicious.

The blondie batter is pretty simple as well; you don't even need a mixer. I start with brown sugar instead of regular granulated for that subtle molasses flavor and extra color. That gets whisked together with some melted butter since there's no need to incorporate air by beating softened butter and sugar together. These bars are dense and proud. From there, I add the eggs, more maple syrup, and vanilla then stir in the dry ingredients. Lastly, the walnuts are crumbled and folded in. Sometimes I reserve a handful for garnish, too. Ok, I lied. They're for snacking, so make extra.

The main tip I have for these bars is using good maple syrup. In case you weren't aware, the cheap bottles are called pancake syrup (or something similar) instead of maple syrup for a reason. If it contains corn syrup and flavorings instead of the real stuff, it legally can't be called maple syrup. These are the useful facts we learn in food science classes. It's worth the splurge on actual maple syrup, especially from the great state of Wisconsin. Midwest is best, y'all.

1 Cup Chopped Walnuts
3/4 Cup Maple Syrup
1 Stick Butter, Melted
1 Cup Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
2 tsp Vanilla
2 1/4 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt

Heat oven to 375F and line a baking tray with parchment. Line a 9x13" pan with parchment.

Toss the walnuts with ¼ cup maple syrup and a pinch of salt. Spread into an even layer on the cookie tray and roast in the oven for 10 minutes or until golden and fragrant. Set aside to cool and break into small pieces.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350F.

Whisk the butter and brown sugar together. Add the eggs, remaining maple syrup, and vanilla. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and remaining salt together, then stir into the batter. Fold in the walnuts.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until cooked through.

Makes 16
Recipe Adapted from Something Swanky

September 30, 2017

Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts

Even though I'm not always the biggest fan of vegetables, I do love farmers' markets, especially since the one here in Madison is full of bread and cheese (and samples). I always make a point of visiting a local farmers' market when I travel, and one of my favorites was in Kansas City. That was the first time I saw brussels sprouts on the stem, or whatever you want to call the giant leafy trunk with little buds of brussels sprouts. I highly recommend looking up pictures of brussels sprouts growing if you've only seen them already harvested. Here in Madison, they're definitely at the farmers' market this time of year but you can usually only find them already plucked and in containers, though that doesn't impact how delicious they can be if you cook them right.

My sister refuses to be in a 5 mile radius of our house when my mom bakes these in the oven since the smell is so strong, so I've had to resort to other methods. I decided to roast them so they are fork-tender and cooked through but also get a nice caramelized brown crust. Cutting the brussels sprouts in half gives you more surface area for the tasty brown bits, so don't skip that step even if it's tedious.

The sauce starts with tons of fresh ginger and garlic. They go from brown to burnt very quickly, so keep an eye on your stove. From there, you stir in all sorts of basic Asian condiments: Sriracha for spice, soy sauce for bulk and saltiness, hoisin for earthiness, sugar for sweetness, and rice vinegar for tang. I also throw in some peppercorns or chiles for some extra heat since Kung Pao should be spicy. I think the ratio I listed balances all of these flavors well, but if you disagree just adjust it to your liking. But also reevaluate your priorities because my whole family thinks this is delicious.

The flavorful sauce ingredients alone don't make much of a glaze for the brussels sprouts, so I make a cornstarch slurry (just cornstarch and water) as a thickening agent. It's incredibly easy but must be stirred constantly once added to avoid lumpiness. Once it reaches a boil, it should form a nice, thick glaze. It's then time to add the brussels sprouts; you don't need to cook them much more since they're already tender so just leave them in long enough to soak up some of the sauce. I like to serve them with peanuts for crunch and scallions for a bit more green, but my dad tends to steal as many brussels sprouts as possible before they even hit the table. Apparently he's "just tasting" to make sure they're good enough to serve, but keep an eye on your family since this recipe tends to bring out the veggie-snatchers.

1 lb Brussels Sprouts, Halved
4 T Oil
2 tsp Grated Fresh Ginger
4 Cloves Garlic
2 T Sriracha
Dried Chiles or Sichuan Peppercorns
1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
2 T Hoisin
2 T Sugar
2 T Rice Wine Vinegar
1 T Cornstarch
1/2 Cup Chopped Peanuts
Scallions for Garnish

Heat oven to 400F and grease a baking sheet.

Toss the brussels sprouts with 2T oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread into a single layer on the baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until fork-tender and nicely browned.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute or until aromatic. Stir in the Sriracha, chiles/peppercorns, soy sauce, hoisin, sugar, vinegar, and 1/2 cup water. Whisk the cornstarch and 2T water together, then add to the sauce. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then stir in the brussels sprouts. Toss with the peanuts and serve.

Serves 2-4

September 23, 2017

Parmesan-Crusted Chicken

It's technically fall now, and as much as I'd love to be wrapped up in a big blanket while wearing an oversize sweater and fuzzy socks and drinking hot chocolate, it's somewhere between 92 degrees and hell. This is Wisconsin, people! Give me some hot cheese and cute boots and I'm ready to embrace the change in season. I suppose the one good thing about the unusually warm weather this time of year is the great selection still at the farmers' market. There is still corn, watermelon, and a gorgeous rainbow of tomatoes. Since I'm always looking for excuses to go to the farmers' market and also for quick dinner recipes, this recipe is just what I'm looking for. It's my new favorite way to make chicken breasts, and topping it with seasonal (ish) tomatoes puts it over the top.

What makes this recipe so special is the breading. Instead of using Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs or the always-crunchy panko crumbs, I toss some plain breadcrumbs with freshly grated parmesan for some extra saltiness. When you use fresh parmesan, it has some extra moisture to bind to the crumbs and get coated completely. Pre-shredded parmesan is more waxy and doesn't stick to the crumbs, so you get bits of bare cheese that melt and burn during cooking.

The chicken itself starts with the most basic of all meats: the humble boneless, skinless chicken breast. I pound it thin to tenderize it, allow it to cook faster, and provide more surface area for those tasty breadcrumbs. If you don't have a meat tenderizer, I've found that a rolling pin works just fine. The chicken gets dipped in flour to make the egg stick, egg wash to make the breadcrumbs stick, and parmesan breadcrumbs to make life just a little better. I like to pan fry mine to get a nice golden crust and finish it in the oven, but if yours is thin enough to cook fully in the pan or you want to go the healthy route and cook it all in the oven those methods work just as well.

There are lots of ways to dress the chicken cutlets up once you're done cooking them. You can make a true chicken parmesan by topping them with tomato sauce and mozzarella and baking until hot and gooey. I also make a quick tomato relish by tossing diced tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic, and fresh herbs and letting it sit for an hour or so. You can cut this up for salads or sandwiches, too. Honestly, you can use this as a base for any other way you normally eat chicken. Breaded chicken usually isn't anything special, but it's amazing what some extra cheese can do.

1 lb Tomatoes
1-2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 T Olive Oil
2 T Balsamic
1 1/2 lbs Chicken Breasts
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 Cup Flour
2 Eggs
2/3 Cup Milk
1 1/3 Cups Breadcrumbs
1 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan

Dice the tomatoes. Whisk the garlic, olive oil, and balsamic together and season with salt and pepper. Let sit for at least 1 hour.

Heat oven to 375F.

Pound the chicken until about 1/4-1/2" thick. Season the flour with salt, pepper, and half the garlic and onion powder. Whisk the eggs and milk together. Combine the breadcrumbs, parmesan, salt, pepper, and remaining garlic and onion powder.

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Dredge the chicken in the flour, then the egg wash, then the breadcrumb mixture. Fry for 2-3 minutes per side or until golden. Bake for 6-10 minutes or until cooked through. Top with the tomatoes.

Serves 4-6

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.