November 11, 2018

Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie

I don't care that Starbucks released their Pumpkin Spice Latte in August this year. First of all, it doesn't even have any pumpkin in it. Secondly, it is fall now. We should be enjoying pumpkin spice things now and not jumping right to Christmas things. I'm loving my scarves and sweaters and boots, not my giant parka and waterproof snow boots, so I think the same timing courtesies should extend to my diet as well. There's nothing that shouts November like a pumpkin pie, especially with Thanksgiving on the horizon, but I think people can get a little sick of the same old pumpkin pie year after year. That's why I took a classic recipe and 'spiced' it up with a few dollops of cheesecake filling, since cheesecake is just as much of a crowd-pleaser and makes things interesting without stealing the spotlight.

Most of the recipes I've seen for pumpkin cheesecake pie use a pumpkin-flavored cheesecake filling, sometimes no-bake which shouldn't even qualify as a cheesecake in my opinion. This recipe keeps your classic pumpkin pie base, with pumpkin puree sweetened with sweetened condensed milk plus eggs and warm fall spices. That infamous pumpkin spice comes from a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice, or you can go ahead and buy a jar of pumpkin pie spice and it will taste pretty similar.

The cheesecake swirl is also incredibly easy: just beat some cream cheese, sugar, a bit of flour, a bit of milk, and a splash of vanilla together until smooth. It helps to have the cream cheese at room temperature so it mixes in better and is more swirl-able in the liquidy pumpkin pie filling. If it's still too thick, you can add another splash of milk to thin it out. For more of a gingerbread flavor, you can also stir in more pumpkin pie spice and a spoonful of molasses. You'll sacrifice the contrast of the white cheesecake on orange pumpkin pie, but the darker color is also striking.

Another way to incorporate that gingerbread flavor is in the crust. I normally use my basic sweet pie crust recipe with plenty of butter, but you can switch it up and add the molasses and spices there so you get white cheesecake on orange pie on a dark crust. As always, keep your fat (or all the ingredients, if you can) cold and work the dough as little as possible for a tender, flaky crust.

Starting the oven at a high temperature sets the crust and makes the butter steam for extra flakiness, and then you have to lower it so the filling cooks through. You may need to cover the edges with some foil or one of those special crust shields (I highly recommend them, especially with all this holiday baking coming up!) to prevent burning, but you'll know it's done when the pie just barely jiggles in the center. If you're trying to fit this into your busy Thanksgiving to do list, you can make the crust a couple days in advance and bake the pie off the morning or afternoon you plan on serving it. It slices best if it has time to cool and set, so don't worry about moving the pie straight from the oven to the table. If you're looking for more pie inspiration to spice up your fall or brighten up your Thanksgiving table, you can also check out my chocolate fudge pecan piechocolate peanut butter piecinnamon crack pie, or tollhouse pie recipes.

1 Recipe Sweet Pie Crust Dough (see below)
1 14oz Can Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 Eggs
1 15oz Can Pumpkin
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/4 tsp Cloves
1/4 tsp Allspice
1/2 tsp + Pinch Salt
4 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/4 Cup Sugar
1 T Flour
1 T Milk
1 tsp Vanilla

Roll the pie dough out to fit a 9" pie plate and press gently to adhere. Chill until firm.

Heat oven to 425F.

Whisk the sweetened condensed milk and eggs together. Add the pumpkin, spices, and 1/2 tsp salt.

Beat the cream cheese, sugar, flour, milk, vanilla, and a pinch of salt together.

Pour the pumpkin mixture into the crust. Swirl in the cream cheese. Bake at 425F for 15 minutes, then lower oven to 350 and bake for 30 minutes more or until just set, covering the edges as necessary.

For the pie 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.

Makes 1 9" Pie
Recipe Adapted from

October 21, 2018

Candy Corn Cookies

Candy corn is one of the most polarizing candies out there, and I'm a candy scientist so I know exactly what I'm talking about. I have a few friends who love them and can't wait for Fall to roll around, but I find them overly sweet and waxy. I can still admit that they're a quintessential treat this time of year, so I found the perfect way to spread the candy corn love without subjecting my friends (and myself) to the originals. These candy corn cookies take my favorite rolled sugar cookie dough and transform them into a seasonal treat. I've already used the recipe for festive Christmas light cookies and jammy Linzer cookies, so the possibilities are endless.

One of the reasons why I love these sugar cookies is because they hold their shape so well no matter how you cut them. I've heard rumors that it's because I use baking powder instead of baking soda, and chilling the dough is key too. The recipe is pretty standard: beat the softened butter and sugar together, add the eggs and a good splash of vanilla, then stir in your dry ingredients.

Normally I'd chill the dough for an hour or two, roll it out thin, cut it into shapes, and bake it off. These cookies are slightly different, since it's much easier to layer the colors of dough than to painstakingly cut a million shapes. After the dough mixes, I split it into three sections and dye one orange, one yellow, and leave one plain. I had to use a lot of gel food coloring to get the bright colors just right, so don't be afraid to use more than you think.

The trick to getting those signature candy corn shapes is to press the dough into layers, stack them on top of each other, slice them up, and cut each slice into triangles. I've found that a loaf pan is the perfect size to hold all the dough and helps keep everything even. It's best to let each layer chill for a few minutes before stacking the next on top so that there are clean lines between each color, but that's the perfect amount of time to mix the colors in to the next section. Once all the layers are stacked, they need to chill for at least an hour or two or you can leave them overnight.

These cookies are the perfect portable Halloween treat. They even survived my commute to work on the wonderfully crowded Chicago bus system and were devoured by my candy science coworkers who were supposedly sick of Halloween candy and sugar in general. If you're looking to round out your Halloween party menu, try some brain cupcakes or mummy cupcakes too.

2 Sticks + 2T Butter, Softened
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
3 Eggs
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
3 3/4 Cups Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
3/4 tsp Salt
Orange & Yellow Food Coloring

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt, then gradually add it to the dough.

Split the dough into 3 equal sections. Dye one orange, one yellow, and leave one plain. Line a loaf pan with saran wrap. Press the plain dough into the bottom of the pan and chill for 5 minutes. Press the orange dough on top and chill for another 5 minutes. Press the yellow dough on top, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 1-2 hours or overnight.

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

Remove the dough from the loaf pan and cut into 1/3" thick slices (1/2" is a bit too thick and 1/4" gives you crispy cookies). Cut each slice into triangles and transfer to the prepared trays. Bake for 8 minutes or until set and golden on the bottom.

Makes 80
Recipe Adapted from Back to Her Roots

October 10, 2018

Eggplant Parmesan Soup

Eggplant parmesan is such a cozy dish, with all the hot, bubbly sauce and gooey cheese and the tender eggplant that acts as the perfect vessel to eat all that cheese and sauce. I've made it healthier with some quinoa and rolled the flavors into another tasty dish with some prosciutto, and now it's time for soup. This is the sort of recipe you can make on a chilly fall Sunday and eat for dinners for the week or bring in for lunch to be the center of attention at your office. It's warm and velvety and full of veggies, and crunchy garlic bread croutons and plenty of cheese take it over the top.

It starts by roasting the eggplant, which cooks down on cooking time later by getting it nice and soft and roasty ahead of time. You don't even have to cut it up, just prick it with a fork so it doesn't explode in the oven. I give it a rough dice when it comes out of the oven so it's in bite-sized pieces when it goes into the soup. Some of it continues to break down while it simmers but this is your once chance to decide on the texture so make sure it's small enough to eat but big enough to maintain some texture.

The eggplant goes into a big pot with some onions and garlic, a can of crushed tomatoes (a great tomato-y base for the soup), a can of petite diced tomatoes (or fresh, depending on the season), veggie broth, and herbs. There are a few key things that really make this soup great, so don't skip them. The first is deglazing the garlic and onions with white wine so you can scrape up all the tasty browned bits. When it comes to Italian cooking, white wine tends to give an extra punch of flavor that you can't really place but you know makes it so much better. I use petite diced tomatoes as well as crushed tomatoes for the perfect balance of texture since the crushed tomatoes are mostly liquid while the petite diced tomatoes are about the same size as the eggplant and offer additional texture. You could use regular diced tomatoes, but I find that they can be a bit large and awkward to eat. I use vegetable broth to make this vegetarian, but chicken broth would work equally well. Lastly, fresh herbs make everything better, so if you have them then throw them in.

The soup only has to simmer for about an hour, which isn't that long for soup but still leaves plenty of time for the garnishes. My favorite is the garlic bread croutons, which are really just cubed up bread tossed with garlic and olive oil and baked until golden and toasty. You could sprinkle these on a bowl of water from the Chicago River and I'd still eat it. Yes, they are really that good. And of course no eggplant parm is complete without all the gooey cheese. I stir a handful of grated parmesan into the soup at the very end along with a glug of balsamic vinegar since the saltiness and acidity round out all the flavors. I also sprinkle mozzarella on top because everything is better with a cheese pull, one of the many lessons I've learned so far in Chicago.

2-2.5 lbs Eggplant
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Cup White Wine
1 28oz Can Crushed Tomatoes
1 14.5oz Can Petite Diced Tomatoes
4 Cups Vegetable Broth
1/2 tsp Oregano
1/2 tsp Basil
1 Cup Grated Parmesan
1 T Balsamic Vinegar
3 Cups Cubed Bread
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella

Heat oven to 425F and line a baking sheet with foil.

Prick the eggplant with a fork all over. Transfer to the baking sheet and roast for 35-40 minutes or until soft. When cool enough to handle, split the skin, scoop out the pulp, and dice roughly.

Heat some oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes or until tender. Add 3 cloves garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper. Deglaze the pot with the wine, stirring to scrape up any browned bits, and simmer for 2 minutes or until reduced slightly. Add the eggplant, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, vegetable broth, oregano, basil, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the olive oil, remaining 2 cloves garlic, and salt and pepper together. Toss the bread cubes in the oil, spread onto a baking sheet, and toast at 425F for 8-10 minutes or until golden and crunchy.

Stir the parmesan and balsamic vinegar into the soup. Season with salt and pepper as desired, then serve with the croutons and mozzarella.

Serves 6-8

September 30, 2018

Parker House Rolls

One of my goals after graduation is to learn how to bake my own bread. It's such an art, I'd actually have an excuse to eat it myself (it's easier to justify eating bread for sandwiches than a whole batch of cookies), and it takes enough time that it could be considered a hobby all on its own. There's endless options for where to start, since there are so many different shapes, sizes, flours, and other ingredients to play with. I've already found recipes for go-tos like focaccia and fun options like cheesy pull apart bread, plus plenty of quick breads like muffins and biscuits. But those still aren't true breads to me, ones that I get to smear with fancy salted European butter (a splurge for my first kitchen) and eat hot out of the oven and as a vessel for other applications. These Parker House rolls aren't quite on the level of fancy breads from a local bakery that I can use for sandwiches or otherwise, but they're a great place to start. They're soft and pillowy and buttery with just a touch of sea salt on top, perfect to eat with dinner or to stick in my purse as a snack on the train.

Like almost all breads, these rolls start by activating the yeast, which typically involves letting the yeast sit in some warm water for a few minutes until foamy. I throw in a spoonful of sugar here so the yeast have something to feed on, speeding up the process and making sure they're definitely alive and ready to help you with this bread. Meanwhile, I melt the butter in some milk, which you would normally see for breads like brioche and not in a basic bread recipe. I find that this keeps the rolls soft and tender, plus you can't beat the flavor from the butter. That milk and butter get mixed with the yeast, a bit more sugar, some salt, and all the flour. It's all pretty simple; just make sure that you don't pour the salt directly onto the yeast or you'll kill them after all that time to make sure they're alive.

The dough only needs to be kneaded for about 5 minutes. You'll know it's ready when its springy and elastic, so keep going until that happens, adding a bit more flour as necessary. I stick to all-purpose flour here since these rolls are more delicate than the hardy breads that use high-protein bread flour. Once smooth, I roll it up and let it rise for about 90 minutes in a warm place. I get that winter is fast approaching and your heating company may not have gotten the memo, so a good trick is to turn your oven on for a minute or two until slightly warm, turn it off (don't forget!!), then let the dough rise in the warm oven. This dough does get a second rise after you shape it into rolls, so just shape them as you like and repeat the rising process.

Before baking, the rolls get brushed with a bit of extra butter. This boosts the flavor and also lets you stick some flaky sea salt on top. Yes, there's already some salt in the rolls themselves but this just gives it a little nudge towards perfection. The rolls bake until golden brown, when you can then pull them apart and load them on your plate. These are my go-to rolls for salads, meat-heavy dinners, and Thanksgiving, to the point that my family gets angry when we don't have these to put leftover turkey on. Like any bread, they're easily best when they're hot out of the oven, so you can ensure that continual happiness by refrigerating the dough after shaping and baking them when you're ready to eat. Other breads don't always have that advantage, but I'll be sure to post more carby recipes as I test them out!

1 Envelope Yeast
1 Cup Milk
1 Stick Butter, Softened
3 T Butter, Melted
3 T + 1/2 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Salt
1 Egg
4 Cups Flour
Flaky Sea Salt

Whisk the yeast, 1/2 tsp sugar, and 1/4 cup warm water together. Let sit for 5 minutes or until foamy.

In a small pot, heat the milk and softened butter until the butter melts and the milk is just warm. Pour into a large bowl and add the yeast mixture, remaining sugar, and salt. Whisk in the egg. Gradually add the flour and knead for 5 minutes or until a smooth, elastic dough forms, adding more flour if necessary.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 90 minutes or until doubled in size. Split the dough into 2" diameter pieces and roll until smooth. Place in a greased 9x13" pan so they are close but not touching, cover, and let rise for another hour.

Heat oven to 350F.

Brush the rolls with the melted butter and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 20
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit

September 16, 2018

Brownie Cookies

Now that I'm settling into my new kitchen in my new apartment, I've taken to baking treats for my office. Without any roommates or self-control, I needed a new audience. The one downside to working for a candy company is the fact that everyone already eats so much sugar so whatever I make has to be really, really good. It also helps if it's small, portable, and not too sweet, and these brownie cookies fit the bill. They're packed with chocolate flavor and are so incredibly fudgy and delicious. The three types of chocolate make for a rich, complex cookie that's just sweet enough for a midday pick-me-up.

The first chocolate is unsweetened chocolate. Since you melt it down and mix it with the butter, you could use a semisweet or bittersweet chocolate instead, but then you have to adjust the sugar, which then changes the texture. I like unsweetened chocolate here for its pure flavor, plus you can usually only find high-quality unsweetened chocolate so you know it's good. Once it cools slightly, it's a fairly normal process for making cookie dough. I stir in the sugar and brown sugar then the eggs and vanilla. The second chocolate, cocoa powder, is stirred into the dry ingredients, which are sifted into the dough to make sure it's all mixed in and there aren't any lumps.

The last chocolate is a big handful of chocolate chips. I've used regular ones, mini ones, jumbo ones, and even chopped up bars of chocolate. Whatever you have on hand will work just fine; it all depends on if you want itty bitty pockets of chocolate or molten nuggets. I fold them in gently to avoid overmixing then scoop the dough into balls and let them rest overnight. This distributes the moisture, allows the flour to hydrate, and solidifies the fat, which controls the spread during baking. Fortunately it only takes about an hour in the refrigerator to get some pretty tasty cookies, but if you can wait until the next day they'll be even better. I scoop the dough into balls first since it's much easier when the dough is soft and room temperature, plus it keeps me from dipping a spoon (or my finger) into the dough whenever I open the fridge.

The cookies will still be pretty soft when you pull them from the oven. I've always been a soft cookie person, and in my opinion you can't have a crunchy brownie cookie. As they cool, they'll set into soft, fudgy bites best served warm with an ice cold glass of milk. I realize my coworkers won't get to experience them at their peak like this, but they're still addicting on their own out of the cookie tin.

1 Stick Butter
4 oz Unsweetened Chocolate
2/3 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Light Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
1 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup Cocoa Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
3/4 Cup Chocolate Chips

Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate together. Set aside to cool slightly.

Transfer the butter and chocolate mixture to a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar and brown sugar. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together, then add to the bowl. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the dough into balls and chill for at least an hour or until firm.

Heat oven to 350F and line a cookie tray with parchment. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes or until just set.

Makes 24
Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

August 30, 2018

Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

I know, I know. I just posted a recipe for strawberry cheesecake. But it's 90 degrees outside, I need something to cool off, and I want to use all the end-of-season, ripe, juicy strawberries while I still have them. Labor Day weekend is also approaching, and I'm always looking for patriotic desserts that everyone will love, plus it's pretty cool and refreshing to follow a big outdoor barbecue. Strawberry ice cream is already pretty popular, but making the base cheesecake-flavored and folding in a crunchy graham cracker crumble really takes it over the top.

The ice cream base consists of cream, milk, vanilla, sugar, a pinch of salt, and, of course, cream cheese. I whisk the sugar into the cream cheese first since you're not going to have a smooth base if you try and stir in a whole block of cream cheese. The sugar softens up the cream cheese (which should already be at room temperature), making it much easier to gradually whisk in the other ingredients. That should set aside to chill for a while since you'll get much better results if you try and freeze a cold liquid than a warm one.

In the meantime, you can toss some graham cracker crumbs with butter and sugar then toast and crumble them. I'd make some extra because I was eating it with a spoon even before it was mixed into the ice cream, and it's extra tasty when you sprinkle more on top of the ice cream. The last component is the strawberry compote: I combine fresh strawberries (or frozen, since they'll be pureed anyway) with cornstarch and sugar to taste. That gets pureed until smooth since the strawberry chunks become icy and hard when frozen. The last step is cooking the puree for a few minutes to thicken so you don't have watery ribbons frozen in your ice cream; you should end up with a thick, jammy spread that you can swirl in.

As long as you have an ice cream maker, this recipe is incredibly easy but incredibly impressive. Yes, there are ways to make ice cream without one, like whipping cream and combining it with sweetened condensed milk, but you can get ice cream makers as cheap as around $30, which is worth it in my opinion if you have any interest in playing around with ice cream recipes. Coming from a lab where people literally get PhDs in ice cream, I know how important air cells, freezing time, and other factors are when it comes to getting a rich, creamy ice cream. Essentially, you want to aerate the ice cream base and freeze it quickly for a softer texture with minimal grainy ice crystals. The faster and colder you churn, the better the ice cream is, which is why you see so many places freezing theirs with liquid nitrogen. The freezing process depends on your ice cream maker, so be sure to follow directions. I swirl in the strawberry puree and graham cracker crumbs as I scoop it into a tin to freeze further so the ice cream doesn't all turn pink, but that's a personal preference. You can also switch it up with other cookies like oreos or vanilla wafers and, of course, other fruit purees. Cheesecake will always be in style, so don't be afraid to switch it up with some ice cream!

2/3 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs
1 Cup + 6 T Sugar
3 T Butter, Melted
1 1/2 Cups (8oz) Chopped Strawberries
2 tsp Cornstarch
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1 1/2 Cups Cream
1 Cup Whole Milk
1 tsp Vanilla
Pinch Salt

Heat oven to 375F.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, 3 T sugar, and butter. Spread onto a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes or until golden and fragrant.

Blend the strawberries with 3 T sugar and cornstarch in a food processor or with an immersion blender until smooth. Transfer to a small pot and simmer on medium-low heat until thickened, about 5-10 minutes. Refrigerate until cooled.

Whisk the cream cheese and remaining 1 cup sugar together until smooth. Whisk in the cream, milk, vanilla, and salt. Pour into a prepared ice cream churner and churn according to instructions.

While the ice cream is still soft, swirl in the graham cracker crumble and the strawberry sauce. Freeze until firm.

Serves 6
Recipe Adapted from Like Mother Like Daughter

August 17, 2018

Sesame Chicken Thighs

I apologize for the lack of posts lately but I have good news! I officially moved to Chicago, complete with a gas range, a new set of All-Clad cookware, Zwilling knives, gorgeous glass ingredient jars, my trusty Kitchenaid stand mixer, and all my baking pans crammed into a surprisingly small kitchen. Don't worry, I'll post a bunch of pictures on Instagram once I finish unpacking and organizing. For now, I'm just trying to survive my first week at work (so many Skittles!) and eat something besides candy and deep dish pizza. Between being exhausted at the end of the day and only having a few things out and ready to cook with, I'm all for quick and easy dinners, and I know all you back-to-school parents, college students, and fellow 9-to-5ers feel the same. The only thing better than takeout at the end of a long day is a cheaper, healthier copycat, and sesame chicken is one of my favorites.

Sesame chicken is usually battered, fried chicken nuggets tossed in a sweet and salty glaze with maybe a few limp vegetables underneath. I definitely love it, but I also know I can't eat it all the time. Chicken thighs are my favorite cut of chicken since they stay juicy and tender through pretty much anything, plus they can be seared off for crispiness without deep frying. I sear them off in a sesame oil blend until the skin crisps up then set them aside so there's room to cook the carrots. Carrots are probably my favorite vegetable (you know, besides potatoes and corn), and cooking them in sesame-infused chicken fat is the way to go. They'll finish cooking in the oven so they really just need a few minutes, but it's worth taking the time to build those layers of flavor first.

The sauce consists of soy sauce, honey, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, and Sriracha. I personally like this ratio of sweet, salty, and sour with the pop of ginger and spicy Sriracha, but it can certainly be adjusted to fit your taste. The best time to do so is after you bring the sauce to a boil in the skillet, when everything has a chance to cook down together. Once you have the recipe just right, add a cornstarch slurry to help thicken things up and form a nice glaze. That all gets brushed on the chicken, which goes on top of the carrots, and they all cook together in the oven so the sauce infuses the chicken and it all drips down into the carrots. I like to serve some more on the side for dipping both carrots and chicken since the glaze really is that addicting. If you want rice or noodles or even some sort of salad, go ahead and drown it in the sauce, too. You can get this meal from fridge to table in about 45 minutes, and of course the leftovers go even faster.

6 Chicken Thighs
1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Honey
2 T Rice Wine Vinegar
3 T Sesame Oil
1 T Canola Oil
2 tsp Grated Ginger
1 1/2 tsp Cornstarch
1 lb Carrots

Heat oven to 425F.

Peel and trim the carrots. Cut into coins.

Whisk the soy sauce, honey, vinegar, 2T sesame oil, ginger, and Sriracha (to taste) together. Set aside.

Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining sesame oil and canola oil together in a large skillet. Add the chicken thighs skin-side down and cook over medium-high heat until deep golden brown, about 8 minutes. Remove from the pan.

Drain all but 2T fat from the skillet and return to medium-high heat. Add the carrots and cook for 4 minutes or until browned. Stir and cook for another 4 minutes. Transfer to a baking dish.

Pour the sauce into the skillet and bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk the cornstarch and 1 1/2 tsp cold water together, then stir into the sauce. Bring to a simmer and whisk until thickened.

Place the chicken thighs on top of the carrots. Brush generously with half the sauce and roast for 15-20 minutes or until cooked through and the carrots are tender. Serve with the remaining sauce.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit

July 31, 2018

Blueberry Oat Scones

Cooked blueberries are my favorite. Yes, people dump them straight from the carton onto yogurt or cereal, into smoothies, or even just eaten by the handful. I'd much rather have them cooked down into something sweet and jammy, like blueberry pie or cobbler or pancakes or, yes, even scones. Here, you don't get the big mass of molten blueberries like in a pie but you do get pockets of sweet, juicy berries that dot the tender, flaky scone. And this isn't your normal vanilla buttermilk scone. No, it has a subtle nuttiness and heartiness from ground oats, plus a crunchy oat streusel and sweet glaze to bring it over the top. These are an end-of-summer treat that will make breakfast (or snacking or dessert) just a bit more special.

I normally treat scones like biscuits: combine the dry ingredients in a food processor, pulse in cubed cold butter, and add the buttermilk until just combined before rolling, cutting, and baking. I've done it by hand when I'm traveling or just too lazy to break out (aka commit to cleaning) my food processor, but I highly recommend using a food processor here, mainly because of the oats. I use rolled oats--not quick cooking--but grind them up with the flour for a finer texture. This allows them to hydrate better, cook faster, and not get stuck in your teeth. I don't grind them all the way down to a fine powder, just small bits so you still know they're there. It helps to grind it with the flour just to speed things along since you need some bulk for the food processor to work best.

The other ingredients for the scone are pretty simple. I use brown sugar (more than you would in a biscuit), lots of baking powder for rise, a bit of baking soda since I'm using acidic buttermilk, and some salt to enhance all the sweet flavors. The chilled butter goes in next but only until small lumps remain, and the buttermilk and vanilla go in last until just combined. The blueberries go in last so they don't get crushed; I toss them in a spoonful of flour so they don't sink to the bottom then stir them in by hand. If you pulse them in with the food processor, I can guarantee that they'll break and you'll end up with purple scones.

You can shape the scones however you like, whether it's scooping with a spoon or cookie scoop, rolling and cutting into squares or other shapes, or forming into a large circle or two and cutting into wedges. As long as they're not too big or too small, you shouldn't have to adjust the cooking time much. They'll be done when they're golden and a toothpick comes out clean. I do brush on some whole milk or cream or buttermilk to help the browning along, but it's not essential.

The last step is the toppings, specifically a crunchy oat granola and a sweet vanilla glaze. You can do one or both or none depending on your time frame and how sweet you want them. The granola consists of a quick caramel cooked down with some more whole rolled oats; the mixture should cool into a crunchy slab that you can crumble over your scones. The glaze is just powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla to taste and comes together in about 30 seconds. You'll need it for the granola to stick, but if you're not in the mood you can just press the granola into the scone dough before baking and it should stay put. These are pretty hardy scones that survived a car, a plane, and another car and still made a great impression, so take those end-of-summer berries and put them to good use!

For Scones:
2 Cups + 1 T Flour
1 Cup Rolled Oats
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
2 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Chilled & Cubed
3/4 Cup Buttermilk
2 tsp Vanilla
1 Cup Blueberries
2 T Milk/Cream/Buttermilk, Optional

For Granola:
3 T Butter
3 T Brown Sugar
1 Cup Rolled Oats
Pinch Salt
Pinch Cinnamon

For Glaze:
1 Cup Powdered Sugar, Sifted
2 tsp Milk
1/4 tsp Vanilla
Pinch Salt

Heat oven to 425F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine 2 cups flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until the oats are coarsely ground. Pulse in the butter until small lumps remain. Whisk the buttermilk and vanilla together, then add to the dough and pulse until just combined. Toss the blueberries in 1T flour then stir into the dough by hand.

Roll or scoop the dough into the desired shapes. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and brush with the milk/cream/buttermilk. Bake for 5 minutes at 425, lower the oven to 375F, and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the brown sugar and heat until bubbling. Stir in the oats, cinnamon, and salt and stir to coat. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until toasted and caramelized. Spread onto a sheet of parchment to cool.

Whisk the powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt together. Drizzle onto the cooled scones and top with the crumbled granola.

Makes 12-16

July 20, 2018

Thai Brussels Sprouts Salad

Between my food science conference with endless samples of random foods, a brief bout of food poisoning, and my pizza-filled return to Madison, I will fully admit my diet would make any nutritionist weep. Although I've been trying to eat healthier, between cooking my proteins with less fat and fewer carbs and attempting to eat more fruits and veggies, it's been particularly difficult for the past week. That's why I'm excited to be back in my apartment (for two weeks, at least) with a pantry and freezer to clear out and full access to my favorite farmers' market. I can make plenty of healthy dishes like this Thai brussels sprouts salad, which only uses ingredients you probably already have at home and tons of fresh produce. The dressing itself is particularly versatile and can be used for anything from other salads to drizzled on poultry.

The salad consists of brussels sprouts, red cabbage, carrots, and jicama with a Thai dressing, peanuts, scallions, and sesame seeds. None of the veggies oxidize (turn brown) particularly quickly like apples or potatoes, so you can make it hours in advance--or even the day before--and it will still be fresh and gorgeous. I wanted an easy-to-eat salad with lots of textural variation, which is why I shaved things like the brussels sprouts and cabbage (and sometimes even the carrots) and cut the jicama into matchsticks. The carrots are even prettier as thin coins, which is why I passed them over my mandoline as well. The mandoline makes everything so much faster and perfectly even, but some good knife skills will keep things moving as well.

Technically this can be a raw salad, so it's up to you whether you like your brussels sprouts raw or cooked. I cook mine in a sesame oil blend for a few minutes until crispy and cooked through, and it doesn't take long since they're shaved pretty thin. Cooking them also gives you the option of a warm salad instead of a chilled or room-temperature one. In my opinion, the textures of the other veggies are best when they are raw, but feel free to throw them in with your brussels sprouts as well.

The dressing only takes a few minutes since all you have to do is measure and whisk a handful of ingredients together: peanut butter, soy sauce, coconut milk, lime juice, honey, ginger, garlic, and a squeeze of Sriracha. Although the combinations may seem odd, they harmonize beautifully and the ratios are easy to adjust if you want it a bit more sweet, spicy, savory, etc. It may also seem like you're using a ton of some of the ingredients, but don't worry: that's only because I had to triple the recipe to keep up with my household's demands. If you like a lightly-dressed salad, you can easily cut the recipe back down. But trust me, that won't be necessary; I have witnessed my dad try to eat it like a soup, so you'll definitely want more.

1 lb Brussels Sprouts
1/2 Small Red Cabbage
3 Medium Carrots
1 Small Jicama
4 Scallions
1 T Sesame Oil
1 T Vegetable Oil
1 Cup Peanut Butter
1/3 Cup Soy Sauce
1/3 Cup Coconut Milk
3 T Lime Juice
3 T Honey
1 1/2 tsp Grated Ginger
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/3 Cup Sriracha (to Taste)
1/2 Cup Chopped Roasted Peanuts
3 T Sesame Seeds

Trim, wash, and shave the Brussels sprouts. Shave the cabbage. Grate or slice the carrots. Cut the jicama into matchsticks. Slice the scallions.

Heat the sesame oil and vegetable oil in a skillet. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook for 5 minutes or until crispy.

Whisk the peanut butter, soy sauce, coconut milk, lime juice, honey, ginger, garlic, and Sriracha together.

Toss the vegetables, scallions, and dressing together. Top with the peanuts and sesame seeds.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Evolving Table

July 10, 2018

Cheesy Bacon Jalapeno Corn Dip

I have about a week between my trip to New England (find all my favorite restaurants here) and leaving for the Midwest for various conferences and classes... oh and my job in August. I'm spending most of that in the kitchen making all sorts of meals for my family to freeze so they don't starve without me plus some desserts for my sister's birthday later this week. I have found time to squeeze in some more indulgent dishes just because, like this cheesy bacon jalapeno corn dip. It takes that sweet summer corn that you could pretty much eat raw and makes it even better with plenty of crispy bacon, gooey cheese, and spicy jalapeno. It's a hot and bubbly addition to your summer barbecues and everyday dinners.

As always, the first step is cooking the bacon. It gives you something to snack on for the rest of the cooking process and gives a salty, savory kick to everything else in the recipe. I cook it until it's crispy and the fat renders off before chopping it up. I make more than I think I need because bacon always shrinks and some of it always ends up getting eaten by someone in my house. You'll probably end up with some extra bacon grease, too, which you can use to cook anything from roasted potatoes to cornbread to collard greens.

The jalapeno and garlic are first in the skillet since they add even more flavor to infuse into the rest of the dish. I added one jalapeno for just a bit of heat, but you can tone it down (or remove it altogether), add more jalapeno, or switch to a spicier pepper depending on your heat tolerance. Whatever you land on, make sure it's minced finely enough that nobody gets a mouthful of spicy. Once that's all tender and fragrant, I stir in the corn kernels. At this point in the summer, the corn doesn't need much cooking at all (plus it will get baked later), so I really just stir them in to get everything coated in the bacon fat and make sure there's no big pockets of peppers.

The base of the dip is cheese, cheese, and more cheese. Specifically, cream cheese, pepperjack, and parmesan. The cream cheese is standard for dips like this and adds a rich creaminess and bulk that you just can't replace. I use pepperjack for more heat, but really any good melty cheese works, so you can try cheddar, mozzarella, or even gruyere for a fancy spin. Lastly, I throw in some parmesan for some sharpness and nuttiness. It doesn't really melt well, which is why you need all the other cheeses.

This is the best place to stir in some hot sauce if you want more heat beyond the peppers and pepperjack cheese. It's also where you add the corn mixture; stir it gently to avoid crushing the kernels but enough that it's all evenly incorporated. I transfer it to a baking dish and cover it with even more cheese for a gooey brown crust before baking until hot and ready to eat. If you don't have a dish like the one in my photos, a pie plate or something of similar size works well. The wider the dish the more area there is for a golden cheesy crust, so keep that in mind when selecting your bakeware. You can also go with something disposable if you're looking to bring this outside or to someone's barbecue. Just no straws please, even if this dip is good enough to drink!

6 Strips Bacon
1 Jalapeno, Minced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
6 oz Pepperjack Cheese, Shredded
1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese
Hot Sauce, to Taste
3 Ears Corn

Heat oven to 400F.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy. Remove and chop when cool.

Remove all but 1T bacon grease from the skillet. Add the jalapeño and garlic and cook for 2 minutes or until softened, then season with salt and pepper. Stir in the corn kernels to coat.

Combine the cream cheese, 4oz pepper jack cheese, parmesan cheese, and hot sauce to taste. Add the corn and jalapeños. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the mixture to a skillet or pie plate. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Serves 6
Recipe Adapted from Host the Toast

June 30, 2018

Strawberry Cheesecake

I'm getting pummeled with blueberries this week guys, from the blueberry oat scones for my mom's coworkers (recipe coming soon, I promise) to literally everything in the state of Maine, where I'll be spending the next few days. There's blueberry pancakes, blueberry pie, blueberry cake, blueberry ice cream, and more. I feel like Violet from Willy Wonka: I might just be one giant blueberry the next time you hear from me. That's why I think other berries deserve some love, especially with the 4th of July coming up, a great excuse to make red, white, AND blue desserts. I'll get things started with a strawberry cheesecake, a behemoth with the perfect combination of buttery graham cracker crust, decadent vanilla cheesecake, and perfectly glazed fresh strawberries. Throw on a couple of those ubiquitous blueberries and you've got yourself a patriotic crowd pleaser.

When it comes to graham cracker crusts, I'm usually a sucker for convenience and will go ahead and buy the pre-made pie crusts. However, those are limited to just the regular 9" pie plates or maybe some mini pies if you're lucky. As soon as you venture into tart shells or, in this case, cheesecake crusts, you need to start doing things yourself. Luckily, it's not too hard. If you have a food processor (or even a big ziploc bag and a rolling pin), you can crush up whole graham crackers. It's even easier if you can find a box of graham cracker crumbs and skip that step entirely. From there, it's just a matter of adding sugar to taste and enough butter to hold it all together. That buttery, crumbly mixture gets pressed into the bottom--and partially up the sides of--a 10" springform pan, which is worth the investment if you are a springform pan-less cheesecake lover.

One of the reasons I love this cheesecake recipe so much is because the filling is so adaptable. Here, I'm keeping things simple and just topping it with some strawberries, but you can add any sort of flavoring to the filling, switch up the crust with a different kind of cookie, and top it with anything from different fruits to candy bars. Just whip a scary amount of cream cheese with some sugar, add some sour cream (don't question it; your cheesecake definitely needs more dairy), and stir in the eggs and vanilla.

The cheesecake batter gets poured into the springform pan, which I first wrap with aluminum foil to minimize the mess from any potential leaks. It also protects the cheesecake itself from the water bath: you have to bake the cheesecake in a big pan of hot water. This prevents the sides from cooking too quickly, since they are limited to the temperature of boiling water, which, at 212F, is much cooler than the oven. The water bath ensures that the cheesecake cooks fully and evenly to avoid overly browned edges and a gooey interior. The toothpick test doesn't work on cheesecakes, so you'll have to go by eye: when the cheesecake just jiggles in the center when you move it.

Once the cheesecake is cooked and cooled, it's time to decorate. Clearly, summer means plenty of fresh berries, so I went with the classic strawberry cheesecake here. Normally I'm a fan of slicing up the strawberries to make some pretty design, but here I like the look of whole berries. To make sure they line up nicely with no big gaps, I actually arranged them on a plate the size of the top of the cheesecake (or a circle drawn on parchment to the same size) so I knew which berries to use and where to put them. A simple jammy glaze keeps things sweet and shiny. This cheesecake should stay for a few days if you only have a few people over, but after seeing my sister do some major damage just on her own I don't think you'll have that problem.

1 1/2 Cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
1 1/4 Cups Sugar
1/3 Cup Butter, Melted
32 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/2 Cup Sour Cream
1/4 tsp Salt
4 Eggs
2 tsp Vanilla
2 T Cornstarch
1 Cup Strawberry Jelly
1 tsp Lemon Juice
1 Quart Fresh Strawberries, Hulled

Grease a 9-10" springform pan. Wrap the bottom in aluminum foil to make it watertight and transfer to a deep baking dish or roasting pan.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar, and melted butter. Press into the bottom and sides of the prepared springform pan. Chill until firm.

Heat oven to 325F.

Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese and remaining 1 cup sugar together in a stand mixer until fluffy. Add the sour cream and salt. Stir in the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla.

Pour the cheesecake batter into the crust. Pour hot water into the roasting pan until it reaches about halfway up the cake pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until just set. Turn off the oven and let sit with the door cracked open for 15 minutes. Set aside on the counter to bring to room temperature. Chill for at least 4 hours.

Combine the cornstarch with 1/4 cup water in a small pot over medium heat. Whisking constantly, add the jelly and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, and cool until just warm.

Arrange the strawberries on top of the cheesecake. Brush with the glaze.

Serves 8-10

June 22, 2018

Cheesy Garlic Pull Apart Bread

One of my goals as a newly-graduated adult is to make more of my own bread. I'm talking sourdough starter, bread for sandwiches, and brioche for French toast every weekend. I'm getting started a little early with a more playful recipe: pull-apart bread stuffed with plenty of butter, cheese, and roasted garlic goodness. I'll rip off a hunk of it to snack on while working on more recipes or to serve alongside a bowl of pasta for dinner. The recipe for the bread itself is extremely easy and very forgiving, so you'll have no trouble making it, forming it, and baking it.

The bread dough starts with milk, yeast, and sugar. The yeast needs to activate in the warm milk before you can do anything else, and a spoonful of sugar makes sure they're alive and hungry. If your yeast isn't big and foamy after a few minutes, toss it and start again with fresher yeast (or cooler milk, if it's hot to the touch). From there, it's along the lines of a brioche dough: add some butter and eggs, then knead in the flour until smooth and elastic. Since this is still a fairly delicate bread, you can use your regular all-purpose flour; bread flour has a higher gluten content for a stronger protein network but it's not necessary here. You should be able to stretch the dough pretty thin without it breaking; if not, keep kneading. This is one of the endless reasons why I love my stand mixer, since doing this by hand can be a bit much sometimes.

While the dough is rising, I prepare the filling. It starts with roasted garlic, which goes much faster if you split the head of garlic into the cloves, leaving the skins on. It's done when the cloves are golden, soft, sticky, and fragrant. Roasting the garlic mellows the flavors for a sweeter addition to the filling. It gets combined with butter, parmesan, and herbs, which--may I add--is fantastic on pretty much everything.

The trick to a cohesive pull-apart bread that doesn't leak cheese everywhere when you assemble it is to do it taco-style. Although most recipes tell you to cut the dough into squares and stack them to put in the loaf pan, I cut the dough into rounds, smear on the filling, and fold them in half before putting in the pan. Cutting the rounds the same diameter as the width of the loaf pan ensures they fit properly, and folding them in half keeps all the cheesy, buttery goodness tucked in where it belongs. It also has a pretty, rounded, rustic look that I prefer.

I've tried cramming all the dough into one loaf pan, and all it does is compact it so much you can barely pull it apart. It's better to squish most of the pieces in there and leave a few to make a handful of rolls in muffin pans. I'll fold a few rounds of dough and garlic butter together and pop them in the cups of a muffin tin so I have something to snack on without people knowing I started eating the bread. It's genius, really.

1 Cup Milk
1 Packet (2 1/4 tsp) Yeast
3 T Sugar
1/2 Stick Butter, Melted
1/2 Stick Butter, Softened
1 1/2 tsp Salt
2 Eggs
4 1/2 Cups Flour
1 Small Head Garlic
1 T Olive Oil
1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1/4 tsp Basil
1/4 tsp Oregano
1/4 tsp Thyme
1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella

Heat the milk in a microwave or small pot until just warm. Add the yeast and sugar and let sit for 5 minutes or until foamy.

Transfer the milk mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add the melted butter, salt, and eggs. Gradually work in the flour and knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Cover and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled.

Heat oven to 425F.

Meanwhile, split the garlic into cloves, leaving the skins on. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 40 minutes or until caramelized, stirring occasionally.

Remove the skins from the garlic. Mash, then mix with the softened butter, parmesan, garlic powder, onion powder, basil, oregano, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

Roll the dough out to 1/2" thick and cut into 4" circles (the width of a loaf pan). Spread some of the filling onto each circle, sprinkle with some of the mozzarella, and fold in half. Place in the greased loaf pan, folded side down. Let rise for 30 minutes.

Lower oven temperature to 350F. Bake the bread for 28-30 minutes or until golden.

Makes 1 Loaf
Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour & How Sweet Eats