May 19, 2018

Summer Vegetable Tart

Based on my observations at the farmers' market this morning, the best way to take advantage of summer produce is to eat it all at once. I'm talking corn, tomatoes, zucchini, and more summer squash. And what's the best way to combine them? With plenty of cheese in a buttery, flaky crust. Yep, that's right: a savory tart. There's minimal cooking involved so you retain the freshness of the veggies (plus you get to eat it that much faster).

I typically make this tart with some sauteed onions, zucchini, and yellow squash. I then add tomatoes, herbs, and garlic and let a lot of the water cook off so the crust doesn't get soggy during baking. The trick is to cook it just enough so you lose some moisture but not too much that they turn to mush in the oven. Since the corn doesn't need to be cooked beyond the time in the oven, I stir it in at the very end with the olive oil and the parmesan.

The crust is my traditional buttery crust for savory recipes. I'm firmly in the all-butter camp, so no lard or shortening here. Butter just has the best flavor and a superior flakiness that can't be beat. Like with all my pie and pie-esque recipes, keep all the ingredients cold (especially the butter) and work them as little as possible. Once you roll it out to fit the tart pan, keep it chilled until you're ready to bake. I like to blind-bake my crust before adding the veggies, meaning that you bake it while covered until mostly cooked through. This prevents it from getting too soggy if the vegetables are too liquidy and ensures it is cooked through without overcooking the vegetables.

To dress the tart up a bit, you can add more of your favorite veggies, sub in colorful cherry tomatoes, or even throw in some bacon or crispy ham. You can also add some cheese to the crust, like in this mushroom galette. For extra cheese, try spreading a layer of ricotta or your favorite soft cheese on the base of the crust. If summer vegetables haven't quite hit you yet, this would be delicious with some asparagus or mushrooms as well. It's easily adaptable to your taste and to the season, so don't limit this recipe to just the summer.

1 Recipe Savory Crust, Blind Baked in an 11" Tart Shell
1 Small Zucchini, Sliced Thinly
1 Small Yellow Squash, Sliced Thinly
1 Small Onion, Diced
2 Roma Tomatoes, Diced
2 Sprigs Thyme
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Ear Corn
2 T Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Shredded Parmesan

Heat oven to 375F.

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and cook for 4 minutes or until translucent. Stir in the zucchini and squash and cook of 3 minutes. Remove from the pan.

Add the tomatoes, thyme, and garlic to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes or until some of the liquid has evaporated.

Combine all the sautéed vegetables with the kernels from the corn. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or until cool. Toss with the oil and parmesan and transfer to the crust.

Bake the tart for 12-15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the crust is golden.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

May 8, 2018

Mushroom Ravioli with Parmesan White Wine Sauce

For some reason, everyone is obsessed with brunch for Mother's Day. All the restaurants are booked, and brunch at home never works out as well as you think it will. Breakfast in bed is the worst of all: you have to get up extra extra extra early, pray your mom doesn't get out of bed before you're ready, force her to listen to you make a mess in the kitchen while she can only wait to see what she inevitably has to clean up, and you're guaranteed to have crumbs and/or maple syrup in the bed for days. Now, I do have some pretty tasty brunch recipes (quiches'mores French toastblueberry muffin bread, and plenty more in the recipe index), and I completely understand wanting to start Mom's day off right. However, I just think you can accomplish so much more when you have more time. This mushroom ravioli with a parmesan white wine sauce is definitely a time investment, but it is so luxurious and flavorful your mom won't mind the wait.

Fresh pasta is absolutely essential for ravioli. If you are lucky enough to have a pasta shop or gourmet grocery store with ready-made sheets, feel free to save yourself some time. Making pasta is an art, but you shouldn't be afraid of learning. To make pasta from scratch, put your flour in a big bowl and make a well in the center. That's where you add your eggs (usually about one egg per serving), gently stirring to bring in flour from the sides until you have a cohesive, slightly tacky, and elastic dough. You might need a bit of extra flour or a splash of olive oil to get the texture just right, and keep in mind that as it rests and hydrates it will become slightly more sticky.

The filling consists of ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, spices, an egg, and plenty of mushrooms. I use ricotta as the base because it as a nice creamy texture, mozzarella for some gooeyness, and parmesan for saltiness. The egg binds everything together and helps the filling set up a bit when cooked. The mushrooms are prepared simply with a bit of butter, salt, and pepper and cooked to draw out a lot of the moisture. This prevents the filling from getting too wet, plus the pasta only cooks for a few minutes and you still want the mushrooms to be cooked through. As with most of my mushroom recipes, my go-to is usually baby portobellos or button mushrooms but fancier ones like oyster or king mushrooms would add a bit of flair. Just make sure that they're diced pretty finely so that you don't end up with one big mushroom chunk and a little bit of cheese in your ravioli.

The pasta must be rolled extremely thin (almost see-through) to avoid gumminess after cooking. You can do this manually with a rolling pin, use a manual pasta roller, or use something like the pasta rolling attachment for your stand mixer. I typically go with my manual pasta roller, which only cost about $25 and has been well worth the investment. With any rolling equipment, you can't go from a block of dough straight to see-through pasta; I like to press my dough out to about a centimeter thick so it will go through my pasta roller on the widest setting then keep adjusting the dial so it gets thinner and thinner. Not only does this reduce the strain on your rollers but it also aligns the gluten and starches so you have a better texture when cooked.

If you don't have a ravioli former or mechanical filler (another common mixer attachment), a cookie cutter or glass would work well too. I take two similarly-sized pasta sheets and dollop the filling about 2" apart on one sheet. I brush egg wash in the gaps between, press the second sheet of pasta on top (pressing out all the air bubbles and adhering the sheets), and use the cookie cutter/glass/knife to shape the ravioli. The key here is to avoid air bubbles and leaky filling (make sure the edges are sealed well) so your ravioli don't fall apart or explode in the water. They only take a few minutes to cook in boiling, heavily-salted water, so make sure to cook in batches to avoid sticking.

My favorite part about this recipe is the sauce. It's garlicky, buttery, herby, cheesy, and salty but still somehow light enough to let the ravioli shine. The garlic and herbs cook in a shamelessly large amount of butter before being deglazed with white wine. I suppose you can add in chicken stock for an alcohol-free version, but it's just not quite the same. From there, all it needs is a touch of salt and pepper, a handful of grated parmesan, and enough starchy pasta water to make a smooth, velvety sauce.

I garnish the ravioli with some prosciutto for extra saltiness and a sprinkle more of parmesan because I've already committed to eating too much cheese anyway. You could also elevate it with some fresh peas, extra mushrooms, or even some asparagus ribbons for a springtime treat. Of course, you can't forget dessert on an occasion like Mother's Day, so I'd recommend something along the lines of some brown butter biscottibuttermilk pie with roasted fruit, or some rich chocolate mousse. Just make sure you don't leave mom with the dishes!

4 Cups Flour
7 Eggs
14 T Butter
12 oz Mushrooms, Diced
1 Cup Ricotta Cheese
1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella
3/4 Cup Grated Parmesan
1/4 tsp Basil
1/4 tsp Oregano
1/4 tsp Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp Onion Powder
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Sprig Rosemary
2/3 Cup White Wine
Prosciutto for Serving, Optional

Transfer the flour to a large bowl and make a well in the center. Beat 5 eggs together lightly, then pour into the center of the well. Gradually stir the flour into the eggs, scraping from the sides of the well to incorporate. Stir until combined, then knead until elastic and just tacky, about 4 minutes, adding additional flour or a splash of olive oil as necessary. Form into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and set aside to rest.

Heat 2 T butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 4-6 minutes or until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.

Combine the ricotta, mozzarella, 1/4 cup parmesan, spices, and 1 egg. Season with salt and pepper. Fold in the mushrooms.

Roll out the pasta dough to form thin sheets (2nd thinnest setting on a manual pasta roller). Beat 1 egg with 1 T water to form an egg wash. Using a ravioli mold if you have one, spoon the filling onto the pasta sheets, brush the edges with egg wash, top with another sheet of pasta, press to adhere, and cut into individual ravioli. Set aside on a flour-dusted tray.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the ravioli and boil for 4 minutes or until floating and al dente, working in batches as necessary.

Meanwhile, heat 12 T butter in a large skillet over medium heat until melted. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Deglaze with the wine and stir for 3 minutes or until mostly evaporated. Season with salt and pepper. Add the remaining 1/2 cup parmesan and whisk until smooth, adding starchy pasta water as necessary.

Toss the ravioli in the sauce, adding prosciutto as desired.

Serves 6

April 29, 2018

Frozen Margarita Pie

The weekend is winding down, but I'm already excited for the next one. I'll be done with classes and homework, I'll have more time to cook, and it will be Cinco de Mayo. Even though my friends are going all out at the bars, I know the real fun is with the food. There's nothing better than a party with a taco bar, and don't forget the salsa and guacamole. As for dessert? This frozen margarita pie is like the best key lime pie that made a pit stop at the bar. It has a bright, citrusy lime filling spiked with tequila cradled in a sweet and salty pretzel graham cracker crust, all topped with a torched meringue topping.

Normally I prefer a graham cracker crust for my custardy pies, especially the lime ones. I didn't stray too far off with this recipe, but I did add a secret ingredient: pretzels. They maintain the crunch and add some notable saltiness, which contrasts well with the sweetness and the tartness of the rest of the pie. Also, margaritas need salt and this is easily the tastiest way to incorporate it into the pie. I use the same method as a homemade graham crust: pulse the graham crackers (and pretzels) in a food processor until fine, add some sugar and melted butter, and quickly press into your pie plate. I pop it in the oven for a few minutes to firm up and toast a bit, then let it cool until the filling is ready.

The filling is surprisingly easy compared to other pies. I combine sweetened condensed milk, lime juice and zest (no need for key limes here unless you really want them), a splash of orange juice, some sugar, and, of course, tequila. I've made this recipe with other citruses and other (or no) alcohol, but I've found that the combination of lime and orange is unbeatable, and you really need the tequila to capture the essence of a margarita and hold on to the spirit of Cinco de Mayo. That all yields a very tasty but poorly textured filling, so I combine it with some stiff whipped cream to make a mousse-like filling. I prefer it frozen for a few hours to firm up and provide more textural contrast since you'll also have the fluffiness of the meringue.

The meringue is also very straightforward. I whip egg whites with some cream of tartar to stabilize them until soft peaks form. I then add some sugar and whip until the peaks turn stiff and glossy. There's a lot of debate about when to add the ingredients, how fast to whip the eggs, what order to do everything in, etc. but I've found that this turns out just fine. For some extra pizzazz, I broke out my new kitchen blowtorch and toasted the swirls of meringue. It adds that nice toasted marshmallow-y flavor and makes the dessert truly show-stopping. This could also be achieved by broiling it very carefully for about a minute on the top rack of your oven, though it runs the risk of melting the filling. If you've more risk-averse, this pie is still very tasty without the topping.

If this pie isn't enough, I have plenty more recipe ideas in my recipe index, so make sure to look for more dips, salsas, tacos, and other mains. I'm not sure what else could top this pie, but I'm sure I'll come up with something eventually. For now, enjoy this creamy, cold, refreshing dessert, and I'll get back to you soon.

1 Cup Pretzels (2 oz)
3/4 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs
3/4 Cup Sugar
6 T Butter, Melted
1 Cup Heavy Cream, Chilled
1 Can Sweetened Condensed Milk
4 Limes, Juiced & Zested
1/4 Cup Orange Juice
2 T Tequila
3 Egg Whites, Room Temperature
1/4 tsp Cream of Tartar

Heat oven to 350F. Grease a 9" pie plate.

Pulse the pretzels in the bowl of a food processor until only small bits remain. Add the graham crumbs and 1/4 cup sugar; pulse a few times until sandy. Add the melted butter. Quickly press into the prepared pie plate. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until set. Set aside to cool.

Whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks. Set aside.

Whisk the sweetened condensed milk, lime juice and zest (1/2 cup lime juice, 2-3 T zest), orange juice, tequila, and 1/4 cup sugar together. Gently fold in the whipped cream in 3 additions. Spread into the cooled pie crust and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours.

In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar together on medium speed until they reach soft peaks. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and whip until stiff, glossy peaks form.

Spread the meringue onto the pie and toast with a kitchen torch or under the broiler for 1 minute or until golden.

Serves 8

April 21, 2018

Mushroom Galette

It's finally spring! The forecast is above freezing for the next 10 days, the farmers market is open, and Earth Day is tomorrow so I feel obligated to eat somewhat healthy. Also, I graduate in 3 weeks so my clearing-out-the-apartment diet is in full swing. Is there really a better time to write a recipe for an easy appetizer made with fresh veggies and all the cheeses and butter and baking staples I'm trying to get rid of? I realize these are fairly unique circumstances but I think everyone could use a good appetizer idea (or side or light dinner or even breakfast, if we're being perfectly honest here). This mushroom galette has a creamy, cheesy layer topped with piles of savory mushrooms all on a buttery, flaky pie crust with a secret ingredient. Yes, the crust also has cheese in it. You're gonna love it.

I suppose I should mention that a galette might sound like a scary challenge that is easy to mess up, but it's quite the opposite. A galette is a free-form tart, so you essentially spread the filling on to a big round of crust, fold the sides up, and pop it in the oven. You can easily transfer it to a tart shell if you aren't going for that rustic look.

I adapted my regular savory pie crust recipe to fit the flavor profile of this galette. It still has all of that buttery flavor and delicate, flaky texture, and it also has the nuttiness and richness of good gruyere cheese. As with any pie crust recipe, keep everything cold and handle it as little as possible and it will turn out just fine. Keep it chilled in the refrigerator until the filling is ready so it's easy to roll out and the flour has a chance to hydrate.

The mushrooms are pretty simple to let their flavor shine through. As with many of my go-to mushroom dishes, I typically use baby portobellos or button mushrooms. However, there are plenty of other amazing varieties out there, so see what looks good at your grocery store or farmers' market, and don't be afraid to mix a few together. I cook them with some garlic and thyme until a lot of the moisture cooks off because I don't want it to puddle out and ruin the cheesy filling. There is a delicate balance since they'll be cooked again in the oven and you don't want them to disappear entirely, but I've found that 6-8 minutes does the trick.

The cheese layer gives some bulk and textural variation to the galette. I combine cream cheese, parmesan, and gruyere for the perfect creamy, melty texture and nutty, sharp, slightly tart flavor. It matches the gruyere flavor in the crust and is pretty hard to mess up: just combine softened cream cheese, parmesan, and shredded gruyere and season to taste.

To assemble the galette, I roll the pie crust out to a very thin circle. It doesn't matter if your circle is inevitably lopsided because it will be folded onto itself anyway. I aim for 1/4" thick so that it holds up to the filling without breaking but still cooks through. It's easiest to transfer the crust to your baking tray here (even if it's too big and hangs over the sides) because the assembled galette is nearly impossible to transfer while raw. I spread the cheese filling in the center up to about 1-2" away from the edges; it is important that your cheese is soft and your crust is cold to avoid any tearing or rips. The mushrooms get spread on top of the cheese (you should have a pretty full but even coverage with no gaps) and that 1-2" border gets folded over to hold everything in. I like to brush a quick egg wash over the sides to get a golden, glossy sheen. After about 40 minutes in the oven, your galette is ready to serve to graduation guests, friends, family, fellow farmers' market lovers, or just your fridge if you feel like indulging later.

1 1/4 Cups Flour
1 1/2 tsp Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Stick Butter, Chilled & Cubed
6 oz Gruyere, Grated (2 Cups)
1/2 tsp Thyme
2 Eggs
1 T Oil
1 T Butter
10 oz Mushrooms, Sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
4 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan

Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together in the bowl of a food processor until combined. Add the butter, 2 oz (2/3 cup) gruyere, and 1/4 tsp thyme and pulse until small lumps remain. Whisk 1 egg and 1 T cold water together, then add and pulse until it just clumps together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm.

Heat oven to 400F.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat with the oil and 1 T butter. Add the mushrooms and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and remaining 1/4 tsp thyme. Cook for 6-8 minutes or until softened.

Combine the cream cheese, parmesan, and remaining 4oz (1 1/3 cups) grated gruyere. Season with salt and pepper.

Roll the crust out to 1/4" thick. Transfer to a parchment-lined cookie tray. Spread the cheese mixture onto the dough, leaving a 1-2" border. Spread the mushrooms on top. Fold the edges of the crust over. Whisk 1 egg with 2 tsp water and brush onto the crust. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from How Sweet Eats

April 9, 2018

Chicken Marsala Pasta Bake

I'm feeling pretty conflicted right now, and it's surprisingly not because I have to graduate in a few weeks and enter the real world. No, it's because it's April and the outdoor farmers' market starts next week and, of course, it's supposed to snow tomorrow. I can't keep up with this crazy flip-flopping weather (sadly, no more flip flop weather since spring break ended last week), and it's confusing my diet as much as my wardrobe. It seems like one day I'm needing a cozy bowl of hot soup to warm me up and the next Spring is peeking through and I want to break out all my fresh springtime recipes.

Chicken Marsala is traditionally a lightly breaded chicken cutlet with a luscious Marsala wine and mushroom sauce. It's a great weeknight dish since it can be made fairly quickly and is just the thing to keep your warm and full. So how can you make it better? I'm always up for some pasta, and some extra bacon never hurt anyone. I crisp up some bacon, cook the chicken in the drippings, and make a mushroom and Marsala pan sauce. That velvety sauce gets tossed with the chicken, pasta, and plenty of cheese for a tasty spin on an Italian classic.

Most chicken in Chicken Marsala gets dredged in flour and pan-fried, but here I take advantage of all that flavorful bacon fat for just a quick sear. Thin boneless, skinless chicken breasts work best for quick cooking, and they can be easily cut up into bite-sized pieces for easy eating. The sauce is built on the drippings of the bacon and chicken, since those brown bits are the key to a well-rounded flavor. I start with onions then add garlic, herbs, and plenty of mushrooms. I typically go for sliced baby portobellos, but crimini, porcini, or whatever mushrooms you can find would also work. I deglaze the pan to scrape up the last of those brown bits, and of course you have to use Marsala wine here. Anything else would give you a perfectly delicious sauce, just not Chicken Marsala. Once the alcohol cooks off, butter and flour help to thicken the sauce, and I whisk in some chicken stock to achieve a silky texture that's just liquidy enough to coat the pasta.

I'm not particularly picky about which pasta to use here, but I do prefer one with lots of twists and turns and nooks and crannies to catch the sauce, the bacon, and the mushrooms. I cook the pasta until barely al dente since it will cook more in the oven and I still like it to have some texture. The cooked pasta is tossed with the sauce, chicken, bacon, and cheese and is topped with even more cheese. Since everything in the dish is already cooked, it only needs a little bit of time in the oven to melt the cheese and give the flavors a chance to meld together. It's a little more portable and rounded than a typical Chicken Marsala, so you'll want to make it for weeknight meals and leftover lunches all Spring.

8 oz Pasta
1/4 lb Bacon
1 lb Chicken Breast
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
12 oz Mushrooms, Sliced
3 Sprigs Thyme
1/3 Cup Marsala
1 T Butter
1/4 Cup Flour
1 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock
2/3 Cup Grated Parmesan
6-8 oz Mozzarella

Heat oven to 375F and grease an 11x7" baking dish.

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

Cook the bacon in a large pot until crisp. Remove and chop.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown in the bacon drippings until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the prepared dish and bake for 8 minutes or until cooked through. Shred or dice when cool.

Cook the onion in the drippings for 4 minutes or until tender and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper, then add the garlic, mushrooms, and thyme. Cook for 8 minutes until the liquid evaporates. Add the marsala and cook for 6 minutes or until reduced.

Stir in the butter. Once melted, add the flour and cook for 3 minutes or until thick. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock and cook for 6 minutes. Add the chicken, pasta, and 1/3 cup parmesan. Transfer to the prepared dish and top with the mozzarella and remaining parmesan. Bake for 18 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

March 29, 2018

Chocolate Peanut Butter Biscotti

I am currently sitting in a fluffy robe looking out onto some palm trees in the Bahamas after a long day of poolside reading. Sounds perfect, right? Yes, except for one thing. I am starving. With personal pizzas at $20+ and sodas at $6 and some inexplicable hostility towards snack-sized portions so you HAVE to buy full-sized meals, it's going to be a long weekend. And for me, the travel is just beginning. I'll be in 6 cities in the next 6 weeks or so, so I'm going to need some good snacks. One of my family's go-tos is biscotti. Any flavor will do, as long as they're sweet, crunchy, and made in dozens.

Normally biscotti are relatively healthy for a dessert. There's minimal fat since eggs are the main liquid and binder, and dried fruits and nuts are filling and healthy. This peanut butter biscotti recipe does stray a bit, but the flavors are worth it. There's peanuts, peanut butter, and mini chocolate chips, and you can up the chocolate flavor by dipping or drizzling with more chocolate or even subbing in some cocoa powder for part of the flour.

The recipe starts by combining the butter and sugar. You don't need a stand mixer or even a hand mixer to do this since the butter is melted, but, like most biscotti doughs, it will become extremely thick later so a stand mixer is still helpful. I then add the eggs and a splash of vanilla before adding plenty of peanut butter. I typically use smooth peanut butter when baking so I can control the crunch by adding the peanuts separately, though crunchy peanut butter would still work. The dry ingredients are pretty simple: just flour, baking powder, and salt. Those are mixed in until just combined, and then it's time for the chunky bits. I use chopped roasted peanuts and mini chocolate chips so that there's the peanut and chocolate flavors I promised and it's all evenly distributed so each bite is perfect.

What makes biscotti so special is that they are baked twice. The first round is when the dough is shaped as loaves that take a while to bake. The second is when the loaves are sliced into the shapes you're more familiar with eating, and their size depends on how wide your initial loaves are. This dough does spread a bit, so make it more narrow than you'd like the final product to be. Make sure it's cooked through and reasonably cool before cutting into slices. If you're going to dunk them in chocolate or add a nice chocolate drizzle, make sure your slices are cooled completely and always temper your chocolate if you don't intend to eat it immediately. It's worth the hassle for shiny, snappy chocolate.

This biscotti, like other recipes, is great for taking on the go because it's perfectly portioned and takes forever to stale. If peanut butter and chocolate aren't your favorites, I also have recipes for gingerbread biscottiorange almond biscotti, and pumpkin white chocolate biscotti. Even if you aren't traveling soon, these make for great gifts and also great snacks to have on hand for gatherings like Easter. If you're looking for some cookies to hold you over through Passover, nosh on these chocolate pecan thumbprint cookies for a few days first.

10 T Butter, Melted
2 3/4 Cups Flour
2 3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
3 Eggs
1 1/4 Cups Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla
1/2 Cup Smooth Peanut Butter
2/3 Cup Roasted Peanuts
3/4 Cup Mini Chocolate Chips

Heat oven to 350F and line three cookie trays with parchment.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.

Combine the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and peanut butter. Mix the flour in until just combined. Fold in the peanuts and chocolate.

Divide the dough in half and place each in the center of the baking sheets. Shape into logs. Bake until set and golden brown around the edges, 25-30 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325F.

Once the logs are cool, cut into 1/2" thick slices. Spread onto the trays and bake for 8 minutes; flip, then bake 8 minutes more.

Makes ~4 Dozen
Recipe Adapted from Food Network

March 12, 2018

Chocolate Fudge Pecan Pie

Underrated food holidays are the best. Yes, I love cooking for Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, Independence Day, and pretty much every other holiday (except Passover. Screw you Passover). But sometimes I just want something like a chocolate chip cookie or some mashed potatoes and just don't have an excuse to cook them. Enter random food holidays, which completely and totally justify my decision to bake brownies at approximately 10pm on December 8. For the record, that's National Brownie Day. Luckily, some of these food holidays are catching on, specifically Pi(e) Day, March 14, a.k.a. 3.14, which is the number pi for all you non-STEM people out there.

For me, the Pi(e) Day craze started back in high school because some teacher had the brilliant idea to fuel bored yet somehow incredibly hyper students with tables and tables of pie. There was apple pie. There was oreo pie. There was peanut butter pie. One of the least popular varieties? A few sad slices of pecan pie left behind among empty scattered cans of whipped cream. 'Twas a sad sight to see. This recipe for chocolate fudge pecan pie is here to save your pecan pie woes. Whether your family has grown tired of the same saccharine pecan pie served once a year just at Thanksgiving or the only way to get you to try new foods is to douse them in chocolate, this pecan pie is for you.

I almost always make my own crust, aside from that one time my friends and roommates convinced me to make Thanksgiving dinner for 10 in our tiny apartment kitchen. There's no shame in using premade dough, but I'll just throw it out there that nothing beats my buttery, flaky crust recipe. It's nothing out of the ordinary, just cold butter cut into flour, sugar, and a pinch of salt with an egg yolk and some liquid to bind it together. Keep it cold, work it as little as possible, and make the edges pretty and you'll have the perfect crust. I've found that commercial doughs are simply inherently overworked and you won't get the same flakiness. This crust is also sturdy enough to stand up to all the filling without breaking.

The filling is essentially a cross between a chocolate chess pie and a pecan pie. You get chopped pecans scattered through the filling and a gorgeous arrangement of whole pecans on top, which is enough for my taste but certainly not on the level of a regular pecan pie which is basically all pecans with just enough sugar syrup to hold it all together. However, this isn't a regular pecan pie or even a regular chocolate pecan pie; it's a chocolate fudge pecan pie, which means I want an exceptionally rich, velvety, dense filling and I want there to be lots of it. The trick to such a filling is plenty of good quality chocolate (pardon my Ina Garten moment, but if it's the key player it needs to taste good), a few eggs, lots of butter, and the right ratio of corn syrup to brown sugar. Don't fear the corn syrup; it's just another form of sugar and it is completely necessary in some recipes for the right texture. It's definitely not the healthiest recipe, but you have to live every Pi(e) day like it's your last, right?

There are just a few tricks to ensure this simple recipe turns out right every time. As I mentioned before, don't overwork the dough, and be sure to keep the ingredients and the dough cold. Building on that principle, only add the filling to the crust once it's cooled to room temperature or you'll ruin all that effort and end up with a soggy crust. I've found that it's best to save your pretty pecan halves to decorate the top and throw all the ugly and broken pecans in the filling since they're just chopped up anyway. The worst thing that could possibly happen with this pie is getting halfway through the decoration on top and realizing you're out of pretty pecans. Honestly though, that's not even that big of a crisis in the grand scheme of things because that is precisely the reason why whipped cream and ice cream exist.

1 Recipe Sweet Pie Crust Dough (See Below)
8 oz Semisweet/Dark Chocolate
1 Stick Butter, Softened
3/4 Cup Corn Syrup
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
4 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
4 oz Peans, Chopped & Toasted (1 Cup)
1/2 Cup Pecan Halves

Grease a 9" pie plate. Roll out the pie dough to fit the pan, press gently to adhere, and crimp the edges as desired. Chill until firm.

Heat oven to 325F.

In a glass bowl set over simmering water or in a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter together, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and gradually stir in the corn syrup, brown sugar, and salt. Cool slightly, then add the eggs one at a time and the vanilla.

Spread the chopped pecans over the bottom of the pie crust. Pour the chocolate mixture on top and decorate with the pecan halves. Bake the pie for 55-60 minutes or until puffy and just set, covering the edges of the crust as necessary. Cool completely before serving.

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

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from Love and Olive Oil

March 8, 2018

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

I've been posting a lot of recipes lately about quick dinners, fancy dinners, and everything in between. I've noticed, however, that it's typically not enough to write about just the main part of the meal to have, well, a complete meal. The key to elevating even the fastest, simplest dinner recipe is adding the right accompaniments to round it out. Yes, some recipes have the side built right in (I'm looking at you, chicken and mushroom skillet), but more often than not you're left searching for more recipes or just resorting to a simple starch. Although I'm always up for some good roasted potatoes, I recognize that a more flavorful veggie is often welcome. Enter these brussels sprouts.

My sister threatens to run away whenever my mom roasts off any sort of brassicas (that's brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, etc. for you non-horticulturalists out there) because the smell is so strong. However, there's something about bacon, cheese, and toasty breadcrumbs that changes one's perspective on the matter. Smothering the brussels sprouts in cheese is a parental hack that has stood the test of time, and this takes it to another level.

Bacon should always be the first step. Not only does it provide flavor-packed fat that serves as a base for the rest of the dish, but you now have something to snack on while you finish cooking. The garlic and shallots are sauteed in the bacon fat, which is then used to form a roux and ultimately the cheese sauce. The key to a smooth sauce is adding the warm milk slowly and whisking constantly; you'll form a thick paste that gradually thins out with no lumps. From there, you whisk in all the cheese. I went with gruyere for a fancy gratin feel, but this is a cheesy veggie dish at heart so any good melting cheese will do, even reliable old processed American cheese. Be warned, you'll have an entirely different flavor profile and appearance even if the texture turns out well, so I'd still recommend something along the lines of a good gruyere for a nice dinner. A pinch of nutmeg rounds out the flavor (well, maybe not for an American cheese version), and adding the bacon back to the sauce instead of later on ensures an even dispersal.

I've seen similar recipes with whole brussels sprouts, shredded brussels sprouts, and everything in between. Here, I went with quartered ones so that you still have some texture but they cook through without burning the top or the edges. Instead of topping them with regular breadcrumbs, I toss crispy panko with parmesan and butter for an extra punch of salty, cheesy flavor; adding the butter here allows for the panko to absorb the fat and brown more evenly. The gratin gets popped in the oven for about half an hour, depending on the pan size/casserole thickness, until the brussels sprouts are tender, the cheese is hot and bubbly, and the panko is nicely browned. It's sure to elevate your dinner and make sure you get all your veggies for the day in, plus it makes great leftovers.

2 lbs Brussels Sprouts
4-6 Strips Bacon
1 T Butter
2 T Butter, Melted
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Shallot, Minced
3 T Flour
1 Cup Half and Half
1/2 Cup Milk
Pinch Nutmeg
3 oz (1 Cup) Shredded Gruyere
2/3 Cup Panko
1/3 Cup Parmesan

Trim and quarter the Brussels sprouts.

Heat oven to 375F and grease a 9x13" (2 quart) baking dish.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crispy. Remove and chop, leaving 2-3T fat in the pan.

Add 1 T butter to the bacon fat. Add the garlic and shallot and cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute or until thickened. Slowly whisk in the half and half and the milk. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whisk in the gruyere and bacon.

Toss the Brussels sprouts in the sauce and spread into the prepared pan. Combine the panko, parmesan, and melted butter. Sprinkle onto the Brussels sprouts. Bake for 25 minutes or until tender, covering with foil to prevent over browning as necessary.

Serves 8

February 20, 2018

Mustard-Crusted Salmon

I am all about the quick and easy dinners right now. I recognize my college diet of frozen pizza, delivery pizza, and pasta aren't ideal, so I love when I have quick, easy, and healthy recipes on hand. I frequently make salmon, but that's usually just seasoning it and throwing it in a pan. There are so many other simple but delicious ways to make salmon that don't take much more time, and this is one of them. A dollop of roasted garlic dijonnaise (just a fancy word for mustard and mayonnaise) and a sprinkling of crispy panko elevate a regular piece of salmon into a stunning dinner without sacrificing all your calories for the day.

The only time-consuming part of this dish is roasting the garlic. Fortunately, all that entails is breaking a head of garlic into cloves, seasoning them, and popping them in the oven for a while. The sharp garlic flavor mellows into sweeter notes, and the soft roasted cloves blend seamlessly into the dijonnaise. I will eat roasted garlic on anything, so I'll typically make a bunch of it just to have on hand.

The dijonnaise consists of mustard and mayonnaise as well as a splash of Worcestershire and all that lovely roasted garlic. Yes, this recipe does call for a whole head of garlic, but roasting it cooks it down and gets rid of that astringent flavor, so it's not as much as you'd think. If you're still concerned, add a few cloves at a time until you get the right flavor.

Once your dijonnaise is to your liking, just spread some onto the fish and give it a handful of panko. Panko work so much better here than regular breadcrumbs because they're so much more crunchy. I toss them in a bit of oil to make sure they get extra crispy and golden. Depending on the thickness of your salmon, it should cook through in less than 15 minutes and the breadcrumbs won't burn. The dijonnaise infuses the fish with tons of flavor and keeps it moist and juicy while the panko's crunch adds textural contrast. This dish goes with all sorts of side dishes, making it a great addition to your weeknight dinner lineup.

1 Head Garlic
2 T Olive Oil
2 T Oil
1 tsp Worcestershire
3 T Dijon Mustard
1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
1 1/2 lbs Salmon
2/3 Cup Panko

Heat oven to 375F.

Break the garlic into cloves and spread onto a small baking dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes or until caramelized.

Press the roasted garlic out of the cloves. Whisk with the Worcestershire, mustard, mayo, and salt and pepper.

Spread the mustard mixture onto the salmon. Toss the panko with the oil and salt and pepper. Sprinkle onto the salmon and press gently to adhere.

Bake the salmon for 12-14 minutes or until golden.

Serves 6

February 12, 2018

Mini Chocolate Bundt Cakes

I have a week of chocolate planned ahead, guys. Food Science Club has our annual chocolate dipping social on Wednesday, where we get to dip approximately 20 pounds of various snack foods and fruits in chocolate under the guise of student involvement. I also have a competition for passionfruit confections on Thursday, which means making all sorts of caramels and ganaches and covering them in chocolate beforehand. However, I understand that not everyone has access to vats of molten chocolate and absolutely no self control, as fun as that would make all of your Valentine's Days. In that unfortunate case, I propose an alternative: individual chocolate cakes. You can have one like a stable adult human, share two with your Valentine, or eat the entire batch alone while watching Netflix with your cat because, hey, at least you proved to yourself and your ungrateful ex that you can, in fact, bake things without burning down the house. Whatever floats your boat, man.

Honestly, one of the reasons I love this recipe so much is because of the pan. I had a treat yoself moment with my Hannukah money over winter break and decided to buy a good NordicWare cake pan, but instead of buying a big fancy bundt cake pan like a normal person, I bought one for teeny tiny mini cakes. I soon realized the cakes weren't nearly as teeny as I thought they were; one cake is a very generous serving for one, or maybe 2 depending on how hangry you are. If you don't have a mini bundt cake pan, these would make great mini loaves, or a regular cupcake pan would do in a pinch.

Looking at the ingredients list, you might be a little surprised if you're familiar with my other baking recipes. There's no buttermilk. It's either a sin or a misprint, right? Wrong. Here, sour cream maintains the acidity and moistness just as well as buttermilk ever could. Also different from my other chocolate cake recipes? I use actual butter instead of oil, but it's melted so you don't have to go through the whole softening and creaming process that honestly takes way too long in my opinion. I just want some cake; don't make me wait all day for it.

I combine the dry ingredients first: flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. There's plenty of cocoa here, and make sure you use the good stuff because that's the main thing you'll be tasting. I'm not getting paid to say this, but I will admit I do prefer Ghiradelli or Hershey's over Nestle. Once those are combined, I whisk the butter and sugar together. This is a pleasantly dense cake, so there's no need to cream them together and whip a bunch of air in. I also add eggs and a nice splash of vanilla. As with most of my cake recipes, I alternate the wet and dry ingredients to prevent lumps and avoid overbeating the flour. The dry ingredients are the flour mixture from before, and the wet ingredients are sour cream (again, for acidity and moistness) and coffee (for a subtle flavor that really brings out the cocoa).

Once the batter is just combined, I spoon it into my pan. I never make bundt cakes because I'm always terrified the cake will stick and fall apart and implode and make everyone sad. To combat this, I got a really good pan (and treat it properly, i.e. no dishwasher) and greased it well with a baking spray. I normally give it a spritz of original nonstick spray and get on with the baking, but here I use the special baking nonstick spray. It has flour in it that does a fabulous job of making things not stick to the pan, and I haven't had any sticking issues yet. I make sure to fill the pan most of the way up, leaving some space for it to rise. The toothpick test does the job just fine to indicate when it's done; as soon as a toothpick comes out clean, you're ready to go.

As you can see from all these lovely pictures, I garnished the cakes with a dusting of powdered sugar and some fresh berries. If you go the powdered sugar route, make sure you do it just before serving so that it doesn't absorb moisture and become all pasty. A velvety chocolate ganache would also be fantastic, and you can add a splash of your favorite liquor for extra flavor. I had some strawberry sauce leftover from a cheesecake, which paired beautifully as well. As long as it goes with chocolate, it can go on this cake. I might have to bring some to my chocolate dipping social this week because nothing goes better with chocolate than more chocolate.

1 1/2 Cups Flour
3/4 Cup Cocoa Powder
3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Melted
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
2 Eggs
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
3/4 Cup Sour Cream
3/4 Cup Coffee, Cooled

Heat oven to 350F and grease 10 mini bundt cake pans.

Whisk the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Combine the sour cream and coffee.

Whisk the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the coffee mixture in 2 additions.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans (~2/3 cup per pan) and bake for 16 minutes or until cooked through.

Serves 10