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

May 17, 2017

Mixed Berry Lemon Scones

We're having a heat wave down in Georgia. At least that's what I'm telling myself because this impossibly hot 90-something degree weather with 90-something percent humidity can't last the entire summer. I'm moving back up north in a few weeks, but for now, the only things getting me through this never-ending sauna are light, fresh recipes like these lemony berry scones. They're fluffy, bright, and packed with gorgeous seasonal berries. The scones aren't too sweet (like scones should be) and are complemented by the gentle acidity from the lemons and the tartness of the berries. You can switch it up with some other citrus fruit or your favorite blend of berries, but for me, you can't top the lemon paired with strawberries and blueberries. I also drizzle the scones with a blueberry glaze, but you could easily swap it for another berry, a citrus glaze, or no glaze at all, though a crunchy oat streusel would also be delicious.

This recipe starts like all my other citrusy recipes: by rubbing the zest into the sugar. This allows the oils in the zest to permeate the sugar and therefore every bite of the scones. Just use your fingertips to rub the zest and sugar together; the sugar should become damp, fragrant, and take on a pale yellow hue.

That lemon sugar gets thrown in a food processor with the other dry ingredients, specifically flour, baking powder, and salt. Like most pie crust, biscuit, and scone recipes, I then add cold cubed butter and pulse just until small bits of butter remain. By this point, my food processor is pretty much full, so I'll usually dump this mixture out into a big bowl to finish the dough. You could technically do all of it by hand, but the summer is my chance to be lazy so you better believe I'm not going to mix butter nuggets in by hand if I have equipment to do it for me.

Once all the butter is mixed in, I stir in the wet ingredients. Normally I use buttermilk, but there's enough acidity from the added lemon juice that regular milk will suffice. For extra richness, I'll substitute half the milk for half and half (say that five times fast), though you can use just milk if that's all you have on hand or substitute in a splash of cream. Although vanilla isn't a main flavor here, I always add a spoonful when baking.

Now for the berry part of the scones. Since these are mixed berry scones, you can use whatever berries you want. Think raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, lingonberries, or whatever other blueberries you can find in stores, in fields, or on the internet. Take the internet results with a grain of salt because technically tomatoes, peaches, potatoes, and watermelon are all berries and, while delicious, wouldn't really work here. Today I chose a combination of strawberries and blueberries since I happened to have them and I knew the blueberries would make a gorgeous purple glaze, but that could easily change the next time I make this recipe.

Unfortunately, you can't just throw the berries into the scones even if you're using fresh ones. You have to macerate them to remove some of the water to avoid the extra moisture leaching into the scones and making them soggy. If that sounds scary, all you have to do is toss the chopped or whole berries with a few spoonfuls of sugar and let it sit for a few minutes. Because of changes in concentration (sugars and other molecules) inside and outside the berry cells, the water will move outside the fruit so you can drain it and avoid soggy scones. This is particularly important for frozen berries since the cells were already ruptured by ice crystals during freezing, which allows more of the juice to flow out more easily (so it's really important to drain it off before mixing into the dough).

After you fold the macerated berries into the dough (avoid over-mixing if you want to avoid tough scones), it's time to shape and bake. I like chubby little triangular scones, but you can shape these however you want. You can scoop them into round drop scones, make one big round cut into long/narrow triangles, or cut them however you like, though I can't guarantee they'll keep their shape. The trick is to keep them cold until you pop them in the oven, much like all the other scones, biscuits, and pie crusts I've made in the past. This makes the butter steam when it heats up to make the scones flaky.

The last part of this recipe is the glaze. Again, it's completely optional, but everyone who has seen and tasted these scones has commented on the beautiful purple glaze. It's so simple you can make it while the first batch of scones are baking, and it adds an extra pop of flavor and color. I had an extra cup of blueberries on hand, so I heated them up for a few minutes with some lemon juice until they started to burst and release liquid. I strained that liquid, let it cool, and mixed it with enough powdered sugar to create a thick, sweet glaze. I drizzled it all over the cooled scones, and you could sprinkle it with some extra lemon zest if you really love lemon. You could also make it with any other berry, though you might have to throw it in a food processor to make a smooth glaze instead of just straining it.

I apologize for the long post; this is just the first time in weeks I've actually had time to write this much. For those of you keeping up with my crazy college escapades, I'm home for the next few weeks cooking up a storm to build up a stockpile of recipes to publish for the rest of the year. Next month, I'm moving back up north to Chicago to start my internship working on flavoring at Wrigley. I'll keep posting recipes (and lots of Instagram pictures from all the cool restaurants I plan on visiting), so not much will change other than my home base and the lack of crazy roommates (hopefully). I plan on making my new roommates for the summer a batch of something yummy like these scones, and I'm sure I'll make them for some event like a Memorial Day party or a weekend barbecue, if you can even throw barbecues in Chicago. I'll keep you posted.

2 T Lemon Zest
1/2 Cup + 2 T Sugar
3 1/2 Cups Flour
1 1/2 T Baking Powder
3/4 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Chilled & Cubed
1 1/3 Cups Milk (or 2/3 Cup Milk plus 2/3 Cup Half & Half)
1 tsp Vanilla
3 T Lemon Juice
1 1/2 Cups Berries
Berry Glaze (Optional; See Below)

Heat oven to 425F. Line a cookie tray with parchment paper.

Toss the berries with 2T sugar and let sit for 15 minutes. Drain off the juice.

Rub the lemon zest into the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Transfer to a food processor and add the flour, baking powder, and salt; pulse until combined. Add the butter and pulse until small lumps remain. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Whisk the milk, vanilla, and lemon juice together. Stir into the scone base until just combined. Gently fold in the berries.

Cut the dough into quarters. Form each quarter into a circle and cut into quarters or shape as desired. Transfer to the baking sheet and bake for 14-16 minutes or until golden brown. When cool, drizzle with glaze if desired.

For the glaze, cook 1 cup berries with 3T lemon juice in a small pot over medium-low heat for 10 minutes or until juices are released, crushing the berries as necessary. Strain; there should be about 2/3 cup of juice. Add 3-4 cups powdered sugar and whisk until smooth.

Makes 16

May 10, 2017

S'mores French Toast

Mother's Day is coming up, and for some reason that always means fancy brunch recipes. Sure, you could wait in line forever at your local trendy brunch spot, but a brunch at home is just as good and you can sit in your pajamas eating as much bacon as you want without being judged. I mean, I can do that at Waffle House and nobody would even blink, but you can't have fancy quiche, blueberry coffee cake, or this insanely delicious french toast concoction at Waffle House. You can always use this base recipe for French toast and spice it up with berries, peaches, toasted nuts, nutella, and/or chocolate, but here I'll tell you how to s'more-ify it for maximum gooeyness.

For my family, all good French toast starts with Challah bread. Challah is kind of like Jewish brioche; it's a rich, dense braided egg bread that is perfect for soaking up the French toast custard. They do sell it at my local grocery store, and we ask for it unsliced so we can cut it into big, thick slices at home instead of their thin slices. If you can't find Challah, brioche is the next best thing, and day-old plain white bread can suffice as well. Again, make sure you slice it yourself or ask for thick slices because that's the only way to get a crispy exterior while retaining a soft, custardy interior. Thin slices will end up with the texture of soggy toast, and the beauty of French toast is the creamy center.

The bread gets soaked in a lovely vanilla custard, which consists of milk, eggs, vanilla, and a hint of nutmeg. You can add vanilla bean for more flavor, and you can also add a bit of sugar depending on how sweet your toppings are. Here, we're using marshmallows and chocolate, so I don't think it needs any extra sweetness. Some people also add cream or half-and-half instead of part/all of the milk for extra decadence, but I'm already consuming enough calories at this brunch so I skipped it.

I know some people like to make this bread pudding style and soak the slices overnight, but then it basically falls apart in the pan when you try to cook it. I've found that it takes less than a minute for the bread to soak up enough custard, though if you have dry, stale bread (not a bad thing here!) it may take a bit longer. You want the custard to reach the center but not soak long enough that the bread starts to come apart.

I fry mine up in a big skillet or on a griddle with a mixture of butter and oil. The butter adds flavor while the oil prevents it from burning since butter burns/browns at much lower temperatures. They only take a few minutes per side to become perfectly golden brown and cooked through. If you're cooking for the masses, you can transfer the cooked French toast to an oven set around 200-250F to keep it warm while you finish up the rest.

While the French toast is cooking, it's time to make the s'mores topping. I use the same technique as I did for my actual s'mores to toast the marshmallows: broiling in the oven. Although I did get a kitchen torch for Hannukah this year, not everyone has one and I've found broiling in the oven on the top rack gets your marshmallows toasty brown and gooey. They go fast, though, so make sure you keep an eye on them. I transfer the toasted marshmallows to the French toast, sprinkle with mini chocolate chips (or a quick spread of Nutella), and promptly eat 8 slices (after sharing with my mom, of course). For some true s'mores action, you can also crust the French toast in graham cracker crumbs before frying (the custard will make the crumbs adhere). It's so good you won't even need maple syrup, and your mom will forgive you for however many hours of labor you put her through (sorry Mom!).

2 Cups Milk
5 Eggs
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1 Loaf Challah
Chocolate Chips

Whisk the milk, eggs, vanilla, and nutmeg together. Slice the bread into 3/4" thick slices.

Heat some butter and/or oil in a frypan or griddle over medium heat. Dip the bread in the batter and let soak for a few seconds until mostly saturated. Transfer to the pan and cook until brown, about 3-4 minutes per side.

Toast the marshmallows on a baking sheet under a broiler or using a kitchen torch. Transfer to the toast and sprinkle with chocolate. Serve immediately.

Serves 6

April 30, 2017

Brisket Tacos

I'm currently surrounded by dozens of screaming college students, and it's only 9am. I returned from a peaceful morning at the farmers market (I went at dawn to avoid the triple-wide strollers and confused geriatrics and actually see what was for sale before it sold out) to find that the campus descended into complete and utter chaos. It's Mifflin. Mifflin is a giant block party with thousands of people lining the streets--well, the lawns since open containers and all--and making bad decisions. My corner of campus is about a mile from Ground Zero, but there were still massive house parties raging all morning. I chose to focus instead on my studies and the delicious cronut I purchased earlier (check out my instagram it's pretty intense) since I prefer more food-based shenanigans, specifically Cinco de Mayo.

Cinco de Mayo has all sorts of historical significance, but it's morphed into an excuse to eat, drink, and party. I'm all for tasty food, which is why I whipped up a giant batch of these crockpot brisket tacos. I braise a big slab of brisket with beef broth, apple cider vinegar, jalapenos, and plenty of spices. If you're willing to sacrifice a beer, that would make a delicious addition as well. The whole thing cooks all day or all night (should you prefer breakfast tacos) before being loaded into warm tortillas and topped with whatever you desire. I like cheese for the goo factor, some thinly sliced radishes for sharpness and crunch, a few slices of avocado for creaminess, and a drizzle of chipotle mayo for an extra punch of heat. You could also throw on some pickled jalapenos (or raw jalapenos if you're up to it), diced onion, fresh salsa, and/or a sprinkle of cilantro.

Given that this is a brisket taco, it's a pretty safe bet that the brisket is the most important part of the taco. I usually think of brisket as slow-smoked and topped with barbecue sauce or my grandma's not-so-secret recipe for Jewish holidays, but this recipe is far easier than either of those. Just mix up your braising liquid, pop in a brisket, and let your crockpot run for a few hours. I use beef broth for bulk, apple cider vinegar for a bit of tang, jalapeno for heat, onions and garlic because no recipe is complete without them, and a special spice blend. As I said before, if you have some extra beer lying around and choose to add that to the crockpot as well I certainly won't stop you.

Once the brisket is basically falling apart, it's time to shred it. You could cut it into cubes, but I think shredded brisket lends itself better to rapid taco assembly. I remove the brisket and either use my hands or some forks to shred the meat. That goes back in the crockpot with some of the strained braising liquid and cooks for maybe another hour until it soaks up even more savory goodness. When the beef is shredded, it has far more surface area to absorb the liquid, so it keeps it tender, juicy, and even more flavorful.

Once your beef is cooked, shredded, and cooked again, it's taco time. You can use hard or soft tortillas (corn or flour) and whatever toppings you have on hand. If you're having a big Cinco de Mayo party, consider setting up a taco bar so your friends and family can make their own tacos to their specifications and save you a bunch of prep time. I like to have a variety of textures, so make sure you have something crunchy, something creamy, something spicy, and something cheesy. That's better than the four bridal requirements, y'all. Make it go viral. A mix of colors is also appreciated, so keep your tacos pretty and the drinks flowing for the perfect Cinco de Mayo.

3 lbs Brisket (or whatever fits in your crockpot; can cut down for a better fit)
3 Cups Beef Broth
3 T Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Jalapeno, Diced
1 Small Onion, Diced
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 T Cumin
1 T Chili Powder
1 T Paprika
1 1/2 tsp Cayenne
1 T Garlic Powder
1 T Onion Powder
Taco Fixin's

Stir the beef broth, vinegar, jalapeno, onion, garlic, and spices together in a crockpot. Season the brisket generously with salt and pepper and add to the crockpot. Cook for 6-8 hours on low or until very tender.

Remove the brisket from the crockpot. Strain the braising liquid and set aside. When cool enough to handle, shred or chop the brisket. Return to the crockpot with a few ladles of braising liquid as desired. Cook on low for 1-2 hours, adding more braising liquid as necessary.

Serve the brisket with the tortillas and toppings.

Serves 6

April 22, 2017

Mushroom & Caramelized Onion Quiche

Since the Dane County Farmers' Market is back in full force, my weekends have transformed from midterm studying frenzies to exploring the market, overdosing on brunch, and ignoring the fact that finals are just two weeks away. A lot of my cooking has turned to using fresh farmers market finds to feed my brunch addiction, like using local mushrooms and herbs to make a velvety quiche cradled in a flaky, buttery crust.

My family always hesitates when I say I want to make a quiche because to them a quiche is a pie crust full of cream with enough egg to bind it together. If the idea of a rich, decadent quiche is getting in the way of your summer bod goals, don't worry; this quiche isn't nearly as bad for you as you'd expect. What I tell myself is that it's mostly eggs with enough half and half to make it creamy (not straight up cream like a lot of quiche recipes), and it's loaded with any vegetable you want. You could make this thing half vegetable and it would still be delicious.

For this particular quiche, I went with mushrooms, caramelized onions, bacon, and (of course) cheese. I just picked up a bunch of ramps from the farmers' market earlier, and those would be fantastic as well. You can use this recipe as a base for all your favorite in-season vegetables (try adding some zucchini and yellow squash once they're in season in a few weeks) or adapt it to your taste and/or pantry.

I kick things off with a big skillet of bacon. Even if you just add in a handful of crumbled bacon at the end (or none at all), cooking the vegetables in the bacon fat adds an extra hit of salty and savory flavor. The mushrooms soak up all that goodness, and I throw in some garlic, fresh thyme, and any other fresh herbs I happen to have on hand. Since the quiche is going to be cooked for a while in the oven, you technically don't have to cook everything through here, but it's best to evaporate off as much moisture as possible from the mushrooms so they don't leach all their water into the quiche. You worked hard to make a velvety quiche that sets up perfectly, so don't ruin it with extra water from the vegetables.

I caramelize the onions separately; it's a pretty easy process that just takes a while so I tend to make way more than I need and use it for other recipes like burgers, focacciapizza, savory tarts, or steaks. It's the same amount of effort whether you cook one small onion or a whole farm. Well, maybe not. Anyway, all you have to do is throw some thinly-sliced onions into a big skillet with a little bit of butter and oil and let it cook for as long as you can stand it. I throw in a pinch of sugar and a pinch of baking soda at the end to add an extra smidge of sweetness and a deeper color, but it's a pretty simple process for such a tasty ingredient.

When I made this recipe, I was feeling a bit lazy and just did my regular pie crust. However, it's easy to upgrade it by throwing in some extra cheese. A gruyere crust would be fantastic here, or you can use any of your other favorite cheeses. There's also more cheese in the quiche itself, so I'd pair it carefully so you can still taste the other components. Either stick with the same cheese or do one mild melty cheese in the quiche and one flavorful one in the crust, but definitely don't do two separate pungent cheeses.

Once you have all the components prepped, it's pretty easy from there. I keep my pie crust chilled to keep it flaky, and there's no need to pre-bake it since it's in the oven long enough and I haven't had any problems with sogginess yet. I combine the eggs, half and half, and all my cheese, bacon, and vegetables before pouring into the crust so it's evenly distributed. It gets baked for about 45 minutes, so you may need a pie crust shield to prevent burning, but I found that mine was just on the upper edge of perfectly golden brown. You'll need to be a bit more careful if you add cheese to the crust, though. This quiche is rich enough to hold its own in a breakfast, brunch, lunch, or breakfast for dinner, or you can throw together a quick side salad to bulk it up a bit. This is one of my favorite recipes to use up farmers market produce; it's so versatile and so simple but can easily be dressed up to impress all your brunch guests.

1 Recipe Savory Pie Crust (See Below)
2 Sweet Onions, Sliced Thinly
1 T Butter
1/4 lb Bacon
1 lb Mushrooms
3 Sprigs Thyme
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
5 Eggs
1 Cup Half and Half
1 Cup Shredded Cheese (i.e. Mozzarella or Gruyere; something melty)

Press the pie dough into a greased 9" pie plate and chill until firm.

Heat the butter in a large skillet. Add the onions and cook on low heat for 2+ hours or until caramelized, adding sugar and/or a pinch of baking soda as desired. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 400F.

Heat another large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove, leaving the fat in the pan, and dice.

Cook the mushrooms, thyme, and garlic in the bacon fat for 8 minutes or until the mushrooms lose most of their moisture, cooking in batches if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Whisk the eggs, half and half, cheese, 1/2 cup onions (or more to taste), the mushrooms, and the bacon. Pour into the pie crust and bake for 40-50 minutes or until just set and the crust is golden, covering the crust as necessary.

Pie Crust:
Pulse 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 1/2 tsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt in the bowl of a food processor to combine. Add 1 stick of chilled and cubed butter (and 1/2 cup shredded hard cheese, if desired) and pulse until small lumps remain, then drizzle in cold water until it clumps together.
Pie Crust Adapted from Smitten Kitchen