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

April 12, 2017

Raspberry Lemonade Cupcakes

Ok I'll admit it: I like Easter better than Passover. I'm aware that this makes me a horrible Jew but I won't apologize for wanting to eat carbs. Brisket and matzo ball soup are delicious, and there are ways to dress up matzo to make it a bit more palatable for dessert (take it in bark or cookie form). However, Easter foods embrace foods of all kinds, especially since Lent ends and you can eat whatever you want again. It also lends itself much better to cute cupcakes than Passover, since there's something about the 10 plagues that just doesn't seem fit for cake decorating. I'd much rather eat cupcakes topped with piles of frosting flowers and Easter bunny ears than bugs and boils, but maybe that's just me.

What's great about these cupcakes is that you can make the base recipe all year round and decorate them how you like. The raspberry lemonade flavors remind me of Spring, but you can get raspberry jam and lemons regardless of the season for an endless stream of tasty cupcakes. These are essentially lemon cupcakes with a swirl of raspberry jam, and you can switch it up with different citrus fruits and jam flavors. The key to infusing the lemony flavor into every bite is my usual trick: rubbing the zest into the sugar so the fragrance permeates every bit of batter. Like a typical cupcake batter, the sugar and butter are beat together, the eggs and vanilla are added, then the dry ingredients are alternated with the liquid ingredients. It's a pretty standard cupcake recipe with upgrades from the lemon sugar and a splash of lemon juice.

If you've read any of my previous recipes you'll know I have a bit of an obsession with buttermilk, and I actually omitted it here in favor of regular milk. That's because all that extra citrus packs an extra punch of acid, and the reasonably acidic buttermilk would be overkill. It would also impact leavening, and these cupcakes are already perfectly light and fluffy.

Now for the raspberry part of the raspberry lemonade cupcakes. I find that a dollop of jam swirled into the center of each cupcake is sufficient. However, if you really like raspberries (and they're almost in season, so you'll be looking for ways to use them), you can add some raspberry puree to the batter or make a raspberry frosting, depending on how you plan on decorating the cupcakes. I usually use a store-bought seedless raspberry jam, but if this cupcake baking gets you channeling your inner Ina Garten, you can always step up to the challenge and make your own. I've been learning all about pectins in my food science classes this year, but homemade jam really isn't that hard, especially if you use it quickly and don't have to worry about microbial growth and spoiling.

I stuck to my basic vanilla buttercream recipe to keep things simple and make decorating easier. Like I said, you can always add some flavoring like raspberry or more lemon, but I wanted special Easter decorations that required a white base that could be dyed the necessary colors. To make my frosting, I whipped some very soft butter with powdered sugar, vanilla, and a splash of milk until soft and creamy. You want it to be soft enough to spread on the cupcakes but stiff enough to hold its shape when piped if you're making flowers, so don't be afraid to split the frosting in two and add a little extra milk or a little extra sugar for softer and stiffer versions of the frosting.

As you can see from all the pictures, I made two types of decorations. The first, the Easter bunny ears, couldn't be easier. I just swiped some of my soft buttercream on each cupcake and topped with a marshmallow. To make the marshmallows look like bunny ears, I cut them in half with food scissors diagonally and quickly dipped the exposed sticky side in pink sugar. You can position them in the frosting so they look like little ears, and it's a quick and easy cupcake topper with adorably festive results. I also like that they're not only edible but you want to eat them; too often cupcakes are loaded with fondant and other decorations that look great but aren't particularly tasty.

My other cupcakes are covered in flowers. I got a set of Russian decorating tips for Hannukah, which are giant metal tips punched so that they pipe out a variety of flowers with minimal effort on your end. I've tried to master piping roses on nails and various flowers with petal tips, and I can honestly say that these are much better. They weren't too expensive and I got a set with at least 2 dozen kinds of flowers, and all you have to do is stick them in a piping bag and squeeze for a variety of intricate blooms. I played around with two of them here and added some foliage with a leaf tip I had lying around. If you're really into cake decorating and love frosting flowers as much as I do, I highly recommend looking into these Russian tips because I was able to pipe tons of flowers in the time it would take me to make one subpar rose on a nail. Please note that I'm not getting paid to advertise these and didn't receive any free samples (but if you want to send me free samples I wouldn't complain).

The way I decorated these cupcakes is perfect for any Easter festivities you're planning for the weekend, but the base recipe and the flowers would be great for any occasion. You could probably repurpose the bunny ears for a themed party or something since they're just so adorable, too. Cupcakes just seem so much more elegant than stuffing your face with a giant slice of cake, though full-size raspberry cakes can look equally gorgeous. These cupcakes make me feel like I'm at some fancy luncheon rather than stress-eating hangrily in my pajamas between endless midterms, so I'd say that's a win.

1 Cup Sugar
1 Lemon, Zested & Juiced
1 Stick Butter, Softened
2 Eggs
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
1 1/2 Cups Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Milk
3/4 Cup Raspberry Jam
Frosting (See Below)

Heat oven to 350F and line a cupcake tin with paper cups.

Rub the sugar with the lemon zest until fragrant. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and lemon sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Whisk the milk and lemon juice together. Add the flour to the butter mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk in two additions.

Scoop the batter into the cups and swirl with the raspberry jam. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until golden and cooked through. When cool, frost with buttercream or other icing and top with marshmallow bunny ears (see description above), icing flowers, or any other decoration.

Beat 1/12 sticks softened butter in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until fluffy and light. Gradually add 3 cups powdered sugar, then beat in 1T milk and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Add more milk or powdered sugar as necessary.

Makes 12
Cupcake Recipe Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction

March 24, 2017

Black and White Cookies

One of the perks of spending time at home in Atlanta is being able to cook a ton of stuff and not have to worry about lugging groceries across campus, sharing a kitchen with four other people, or having roommates eat all the food you slaved away making. My roommates are generally very respectful regarding my culinary experiments, but they do love my baking. When I'm at home, I can make a batch of these black and white cookies without hiding them in my room afterwards, though I do have to worry about my sister stabbing me with a fork if the cookies are good enough (yes, this has happened before).

Black and white cookies are unique to New York (say that five times fast), so I don't blame you if you've never had one. Even if you do live in New York, good black and white cookies can be hard to come by; my grandma has been on a quest for the perfect cookie for years now. I'm not saying this recipe is as good as New York's best, but it's as good as it can possibly get outside the city.

Black and white cookies are more cake than cookie, so think whoopie pies and you're on the right track. They're essentially mini vanilla cakes, but the best black and white cookies have an additional flavor that's pretty hard to place. It's kind of lemony but not really, and it's definitely not just vanilla. I've figured out that the best replica is butter flavoring, which you can buy from specialty baking stores or online. It adds an extra richness that you just don't get with plain vanilla, but if you love vanilla as much as I do and don't feel like buying liquid fake butter just double up on the vanilla extract. I'm still trying to figure out ways to use up my giant bottle of butter flavoring, so if you think of any recipes besides poundcake or waffles comment below.

You get the cakey texture by making a very thick cake batter instead of a cookie dough. The main difference is alternating the dry ingredients with extra liquid ingredients instead of adding all the dry ingredients at once. Of course, it starts by beating the butter and sugar together then adding the eggs and flavoring; the flour mixture is then added with buttermilk in between. I always use buttermilk since the acid helps with the leavening and it just tastes better (my parents are sick of buying giant containers of buttermilk for small amounts like this disagree, but they don't have the little half-pints like I do in Wisconsin).

While vanilla cake cookie things are tasty, what makes black and white cookies special is the black and white glaze. It's a swipe of vanilla icing plus a swipe of chocolate icing that adds extra flavor and richness for cookies you can't stop eating. To make things easier, I make the vanilla glaze first, frost all the cookies, then add chocolate to the rest and frost the cookies again. This results in cleaner lines (chocolate on top of vanilla doesn't mingle like vanilla on top of chocolate) and much less work than making them separately.

The vanilla glaze is powdered sugar, water, and vanilla. You could use milk or cream for a more opaque icing, but then you have to refrigerate it, and lets be honest you're just after the sweet vanilla flavor anyway, not the creamy richness from milk. That's the job of the chocolate frosting. After you've used up about half your icing on the cookies, add some melted chocolate and corn syrup and voila you've got chocolate icing. You'll have to work quickly to frost the cookies before the icing firms up, but you can always microwave it for a few seconds to melt the chocolate again.

If black and white cookies aren't really your thing, you can go for an all-white or all-black cookie (no political statements here only extra frosting). You can also go naked or add other flavors to the batter, like orange zest. If you're really, really into chocolate, you can even add cocoa powder to the batter for a chocolate black and white cookie. This is brilliant work right here, people. The possibilities are endless and will surely satisfy your sweet tooth (and hopefully not those of the cookie-stealing freeloaders formerly known as your friends and family).

2/3 Cup Sugar
1 Stick Butter, Softened
2 Eggs
3/4 Cup Buttermilk
3/4 tsp Vanilla
1/4 tsp Butter Flavor
2 1/2 Cups Flour
2 T Cornstarch
1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/8 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
3 Cups Powdered Sugar
2-4 T Hot Water
1/4 Cup Chocolate Chips
1 tsp Corn Syrup

Heat oven to 375F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Whisk the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, then add 1/2 tsp vanilla and the butter flavor. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk in two additions.

Scoop the batter onto the prepared trays and bake for 14 minutes or until the edges just begin to brown.

When the cookies have cooled, whisk the powdered sugar and 2 T hot water together. Stir in the remaining vanilla and continue to add hot water until it forms a thick but spreadable glaze. Spread half the glaze onto half of each cookie.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Add the remaining vanilla glaze and corn syrup and whisk until smooth. Spread onto the other half of each cookie.

Makes 20
Recipe Adapted from The New York Times

March 8, 2017

Thai Chicken

I know adults don't get spring break, but I'm still frustrated this week since it seems like all my friends are leaving for some tropical destination this weekend and I have to wait until the end of March. Wiconsin problems. Instead of a buildup to a relaxing vacation, my week has consisted of endless midterms and lab reports and general pain over said midterms and lab reports. I've survived off of free pizza, frozen meals, and magical recipes like this Thai chicken that require minimal prep time but can be scaled up easily to last for days. This recipe can also be dressed up for the few times I'm not wolfing down dinner between stacks of flash cards; if you plate it over rice and serve it with a nice salad you've got yourself a pretty nice dinner.

The chicken itself is very simple; I sear it in a pan to get it nice and golden brown (and to get drippings to start the sauce) and finish it in the oven. You could also pop it in a slow cooker for extra tenderness and let it run all day while you're at work (or taking 30 exams). I sacrifice the crispy skin for extra flavor by pouring the sauce on top and essentially braising it in the sauce to cook it through. To me, infusing the chicken with the addictive flavors in the sauce is worth it, but you could also roast the chicken plain and serve it with the sauce when it's done to retain the crispiness (just make sure to cook down your sauce in the pot for longer so it thickens properly). As always, I tend to go with bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs for maximum tenderness, juiciness, and flavor, but any cut will do as long as you adjust the cooking time accordingly.

As with most Thai recipes, the sauce appears to include a long list of ingredients that don't really go together. I'll admit it's not really instinctual to pair chili sauce, vinegar, coconut, peanut butter, ginger, and lime, but it tastes fantastic. The sauce has sour notes from the vinegar, heat from the chili sauce, sweetness from a hint of brown sugar, creaminess from the coconut, nuttiness from the peanut butter, umami from the soy sauce, and brightness from the lime and ginger. All the ingredients serve a purpose and balance all the flavors. If you've never had sweet Thai chili sauce, you're probably shocked that I call for a full half cup of it, but it has a more mellow flavor than you'd expect from a true hot sauce. If you can't find it in your local grocery store, try exploring an international market (you'll be able to find better and cheaper versions of the other ingredients, too). The sauce ingredients are whisked together and simmered in the pot with all your chicken drippings. For a nice thick sauce, I pour it on the chicken and let it cook down, but you can always reduce it in the pot and serve it on the side. A sprinkle of peanuts and scallions add crunch and brightness at the very end, the perfect finishing touch to a quick weeknight meal.

8 Chicken Thighs (or other cuts or 2 lbs boneless chicken)
2-3 T Oil
1/2 Cup Sweet Chili Sauce
3 T Rice Vinegar
1/3 Cup Coconut Milk
3 T Brown Sugar
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 T Creamy Peanut Butter
1 1/4 tsp Grated Ginger
Juice from 1 Lime
1 T Soy Sauce
1/3 Cup Chopped Peanuts
4 Scallions, Sliced

Heat oven to 375F.

Pat the chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.

Combine the chili sauce, vinegar, coconut milk, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, peanut butter, soy sauce, and the lime juice.

Heat a large oven-safe skillet over medium high heat and add the oil. Sear the chicken for 2-3 minutes per side. Set aside and reduce heat to medium-low.

Add the chili sauce mixture to the skillet and bring to a boil. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly.

Place the chicken back in the sauce, tossing to coat. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Sprinkle the peanuts and scallions on top.

Serves 6
Recipe Adapted from How Sweet Eats

February 27, 2017

Voodoo Shrimp

It's been a weekend full of parties. Some, like those hosted by my roommate (*cough cough* clean the dishes) lasted deep into the night (complete with freshly blended smoothies at 1am) with the sole purpose of making me grumpy. Others were probably much more fun, since it's the weekend of Carnivale, or Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday (it's a pretty big global holiday). Last year, it was Carnivale since I was in Italy and France, both of which have huge parades with massive floats and colorful costumes. This year, I'm back in the U.S. and all I can think about is Cajun and Creole food. This recipe for voodoo shrimp is packed with the flavors of New Orleans; it's spicy and creamy and savory and boozy and decadent. I'm not entirely sure why it's called voodoo shrimp, though, since it could be referencing the general concept of voodoo unique to that region, a specific beer only available in New Orleans, or, if you crank up the heat, the level of spiciness in the sauce.

At first glance, this recipe looks pretty hard. There's an endless list of ingredients and a bunch of components to make, but if you break it down and spread it out over a few hours it's not nearly as intimidating. The dish essentially consists of shrimp and sausage in a tomato cream sauce infused with andouille sausage and beer. I usually start with the shrimp. I buy unpeeled shrimp so I can use the peels to make a stock to base the sauce on. It only takes a few minutes to peel and devein them, and by the end of it you'll be a pro. The newly peeled shrimp are tossed in a wet spice mixture and left to marinate for a few hours while you work on the rest of the dish.

The sauce is the next step. I brown some andouille sausage in a big pot until it's nice and crisp and there's plenty of flavorful fat to cook the rest of the ingredients in. I also throw in some garlic and onions for extra flavor because every good sauce needs those aromatics. Those come back out of the pot so you can make a shrimp stock to stir in later. If you keep the sausage and onions in, they'll add extra flavor, but you'll have to pick them out when you strain the sauce (if that doesn't make sense now it will later I promise). The shrimp shells and additional spices are added to the pot with the andouille fat and cooked for a couple minutes. Instead of adding water to make the stock, I use guinness and chicken broth with a splash of worcestershire and lemon juice. You can use any beer you like, but I prefer guinness for the dark color and complex flavors. That all gets simmered for about half an hour and the shells are strained out (see, I told you; if you had sausage and onions in there too that would make it infinitely more difficult).

The actual sauce starts with a roux, a thickening agent made from fat and flour. Just melt some butter, add some flour, and cook it until thick and shiny. The stock is stirred in along with some tomatoes and the sausage and onions. I like to let it simmer for a bit, and when I'm ready to eat I stir in the cream and shrimp and let it go just until the shrimp are cooked (when they're opaque). Once you stir in the cream, you really don't want to cook it for too long. I'll pretty much shovel it right onto some rice or grits and that's all the party I need.

1 1/2 lbs Unpeeled Shrimp
1/2 lb Andouille, Diced
1 T Paprika
2 tsp Chili Powder
2 tsp Cayenne
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1 T Garlic Powder
1 T Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Oregano
1/2 tsp Thyme
1/2 tsp Pepper
2 T Brown Sugar
3 T Oil
1 Small Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Cups Guinness
1/4 Cup Worcestershire
1 T Lemon Juice
1 Cup Chicken Broth
1 T Butter
2 T Flour
1 14.5oz Can Petite Diced Tomatoes, Drained
1/2 Cup Cream

Peel and de-vein the shrimp; save the shells.

Whisk the paprika, chili powder, cayenne, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme, and pepper together.

Whisk 3 T of the spice mixture with the oil. Add the shrimp and marinate for 2-3 hours.

Brown the andouille in a large pot with another splash of oil. Add the onions and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the pot. Add the garlic, shrimp shells, and 2T spices to the pot with the sausage fat. Cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the guinness, worcestershire, lemon juice, and chicken broth. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, then strain to remove the shells.

Heat the butter in a large pot, either new or cleaned from the sauce. Once melted, add the flour and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thick and shiny, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the strained sauce, drained tomatoes, sausage, onions, and the brown sugar. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir the cream and the shrimp into the sauce. Simmer uncovered for 6 minutes or until the shrimp are opaque. Serve over rice or grits.

Serves 6
Recipe Adapted from Home Sweet Jones