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July 2, 2019

Apple Pie

If you already have an apple pie recipe you plan on making for July 4th (or any other event this summer/this year/the near or distant future), throw it out. Keep the apples and all the other ingredients, but throw away the recipe. If you don't have any apples or pie-making ingredients, go out and buy them right now. I 10000% guarantee this is better than any other recipe out there, and all my friends and family agree. There's two components for a perfect pie, the filling and the crust, and this recipe has perfected both. The crust has to be crisp and flaky, not susceptible to becoming soggy from the filling, which has to be moist and tender without being too liquidy. A scoop of ice cream really takes it over the top, so trust me when I say this is exactly what your summer barbecues are missing.


There are a lot of methods out there for making apple pie filling. There are so many types of apples, a million ways to cut them, the decision to pre-cook or not, and all sorts of other ingredients you can throw in. For my perfect pie, I peel, core, and slice the apples fairly thinly. No big halves or small dices, just eighths or sixteenths depending on the size of the apples. I go with Granny Smiths for that tart-sweet balance and ideal texture after baking (no mealiness allowed!).


Even the best cut apples can yield a dry or liquidy pie if not treated properly. I messed up countless pies but my family kept requesting them each year for Thanksgiving, and it's a good thing they did because I figured out that macerating the apples is the key to success. Macerating sounds pretty intimidating, but it just means tossing the apples in sugar and letting them sit for a bit to draw out the moisture. The water wants to dilute the sugar, so it is pulled out of the apples in only 15 or 20 minutes. Enough moisture stays in the apples for a pleasantly saucy, juicy filling without making the crust soggy or spilling all over your plate. The macerated apples are drained then combined with a bit more sugar, flour, yummy spices, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice. At this point, the sugar is just to taste depending on how tart your apples are. The flour soaks up the extra juice to form a velvety sauce. Of course you need spices and salt to round out the flavors, too. The lemon enhances the tartness, helps break down the other ingredients, and just balances all the flavors.


The pie crust is my basic recipe, as always. It's a flaky all-butter crust that can stand up to the apples and still form a lattice, if that's what you're going for. The main tricks are to keep the butter (and really all the ingredients plus the finished dough) as cold as possible and handle it minimally to avoid overworking it. I make a double batch so I can do a bottom crust and a top crust, though if you're going for a lattice and don't have much practice you may want to make a triple batch so you have plenty to work with. Regardless of how you choose to decorate the pie, there's no need for blind baking since it will be the oven for a while just to cook the apples.


I start the pie in an extra hot oven to almost shock the dough with heat, locking in the shape and keeping it extra flaky. Of course, if you kept it that high the dough would burn and the apples would be raw, so I lower the temperature to let the pie finish cooking evenly. You may still have to cover the edges of the pie to keep them from burning, since tender apples and a perfectly golden crust are definitely worth the trouble. As hard as it is, I do force my family to wait a few minutes for the pie to cool before digging in so it's slightly less messy. Honestly, it's easiest to cut after sitting in the fridge overnight. While nothing beats a hot slice of pie with a big scoop of ice cream, this pie is great at any temperature and you should give it a try at least once, even if you think your grandma does it better.


1 Double Recipe Sweet Pie Crust Dough (See Below)
3 lbs Granny Smith Apples (8)
1/2 + 1/3 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Flour
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
Pinch Cloves
1/4 tsp Salt
1 T Lemon Juice

Split the pie dough in half and roll each to about 10" in diameter. Press one round into a greased 9" pie plate. Cut the other into strips to form a lattice. Chill until firm.

Peel, core, and slice the apples. Toss in 1/3 cup sugar. Set aside for 20 minutes, then drain off the liquid.

Heat oven to 425F.

Whisk the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, flour, spices, and salt together. Add to the apples with the lemon juice. Transfer to the pie crust, top with the lattice, and crimp the edges.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425F, then lower to 375F and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the apples are tender, covering the edges as necessary.

For the crust:
Pulse 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt in a food processor until combined. Add 2 sticks chilled and cubed butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine two egg yolks with two tablespoons 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 Pillsbury

June 26, 2019

French Onion Chicken

If you haven't been keeping up with my Instagram account, you should know I crammed a dozen of New York's top spots into a 48 hour trip and basically doubled in size. Now that I'm back home, I'm trying to cook more since I ate at enough restaurants to last through the rest of the year. I'm getting creative with some basic cuts of meat, like boneless skinless chicken breasts. They can be bland and dry and tough if you don't cook them right, but I found a way to keep them tender and juicy and flavorful. I personally consider this the epitome of health food because it's covered and vegetables and low-carb, meaning I don't feel guilty eating this with a big pile of mashed potatoes on the side.


This recipe is essentially a quick French onion soup thickened to a gravy for the chicken, which is then smothered in cheese and baked until hot and bubbly. A big skillet is the key to the dish so you keep building the layers of flavor and also don't have to wash too many dishes. The onions go in the pan first with a bit of butter, and they're sauteed until tender. I add some beef broth, which I swore I would never do with a poultry dish (it's actually a long-running debate within my family, especially for Thanksgiving). However, it's basically required for any good French onion soup, so I'll let this one go.


The chicken itself is pretty simple: just get some boneless, skinless chicken breasts and pound until even and fairly thin. I know you can buy thin chicken breast cutlets, but those are usually far to thin for my taste and overcook pretty much instantly. I try to keep mine maybe 1/2" to 3/4" thick so they can get nice and brown on the outside but stay juicy in the middle.


You can sear the chicken in the same pan as the onions, as long as you take the onions out first so they don't burn. The gravy is also made in the same skillet so you can take advantage of the chicken drippings. A few spoonfuls of flour will thicken it into a roux in just a few moments. The onions go back in the skillet along with more beef broth. It should become a nice smooth gravy as soon as it comes to a boil, then I add some fresh herbs for some extra flavor. Once it's the right texture and flavor, the chicken can go back in. As everyone knows, the best part of any French onion soup is the cheese on top, so I pile it on each piece of chicken. My personal favorite here is Swiss, but the traditional route is Gruyere. Really any good mild melting cheese will do, so provolone and mozzarella are some more approachable options.


The chicken really only needs to bake for a few minutes depending on how thick you pounded them out ahead of time. The real goal here is to get that cheese all brown and bubbly (and of course make sure the chicken is cooked so nobody gets salmonella). The dish doesn't really take all that long to make, but if you wanted to prep it ahead of time a good pause would be after you assemble the skillet but before you bake it off. Chicken straight from the fridge will obviously take longer to heat up and cook through than if you had cooked the dish in one go, but it only took me about 10 minutes in the oven. It's still doable for a weeknight dinner, and the leftovers are even better.

2 lbs Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
2 Medium Yellow Onions
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 T Butter
1 1/4 Cups Beef Broth
2 T Flour
2 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
8-10 Slices Swiss Cheese (or Gruyere, Mozzarella, or Provolone)

Heat oven to 400F.

Slice the onions in half, then cut into thin crescents.

Melt the butter in a large oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 4 minutes or until translucent. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic and 1/4 cup beef broth, and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until very tender. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

Pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness, about 1/2" to 3/4" thick. Season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat on the skillet to medium-high. Add the chicken and sear on both sides until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

Add the flour to the pan drippings over medium heat and whisk until smooth. Add the onions, then stir in the remaining 1 cup beef broth. Bring to a boil, then season with salt, pepper, and the thyme. Return the chicken to the pan and spoon some of the sauce over each cutlet. Top with two slices of cheese. Transfer to the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is golden brown.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Creme de la Crumb

June 10, 2019

Blueberry Cobbler Cookies

Blueberry season is upon us! Well, almost, but given the insane number of buckets my family always lugs home after berry picking each summer I have to start planning early. Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits to bake with because they're so versatile. They work for pies, frozen treats, smoothies, all sorts of breakfasts, and pretty much anything else you can dream up. I rarely see them in cookies, though, so I made it my personal mission this summer to do some sort of blueberry cookie. Well, mission accomplished. I cook those tasty berries down to a jammy consistency, pile them on top of buttery vanilla cookie dough, top it all with crumbly streusel, and bake them into the perfect treat: the irresistible taste of a fresh cobbler with the convenience of a cookie.


The jam is extremely simple, just blueberries, sugar, and a squeeze of lemon juice. That all cooks down for about a half hour until the berries burst and turn nice and thick. This will make more than you need for these cookies, but it won't keep as long as a jar of store-bought jam, especially if you don't can it properly, so use any extra within a few days. It would be great on top of ice cream, spread onto toast, or used to dip these cookies in for maximum blueberry flavor.


All good cobblers need good streusel, and these cookies are no exception. This one consists of sugar, brown sugar, a bit of cinnamon, flour, and lots of butter. It comes together in seconds and should be perfectly crumbly. If it's a little dry, add more butter, and if it's a little wet, add more flour. You can add more cinnamon to taste, too.


The cookies are also easy to make since a simple sugar cookie is all you need to highlight the tart berries and sweet streusel. It starts by creaming softened butter and sugar together until fluffy, adding an egg and plenty of vanilla, then stirring in the dry ingredients. I scoop them into small balls and roll them in more sugar for a little extra texture and pop of sweetness. You can use your thumb or a small measuring spoon to press an indent into the center of each cookie, then fill each pocket with that tasty blueberry jam. The streusel goes on top, then the cookies go in the oven. When they're just golden on the bottom, it's time to eat. They're fantastic hot and fresh, or you can top them with a scoop of ice cream for a delectable summer treat.


Filling:
1 1/2 Cups Blueberries
1/3 Cup Sugar
1 tsp Lemon Juice

Streusel:
3 T Sugar
3 T Brown Sugar
Pinch Cinnamon
Pinch Salt
1/2 Stick Butter, Melted
2/3 Cup Flour

Cookies:
1 3/4 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Softened
2/3 Cup + 1/4 Cup Sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla

For the filling, combine the blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a small pot. Simmer over medium heat until thickened, about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool.

For the streusel, combine the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the butter, then add in the flour.

Heat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment.

For the cookies, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat the butter and 2/3 cup sugar together on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Stir in the flour mixture.

Scoop the dough into 1" balls and roll in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Transfer to the prepared trays and press an indent in the center of each. Fill with the blueberry jam and top with the streusel. Bake for 12 minutes or until just golden.

Makes 20
Recipe Adapted from Joy the Baker

May 8, 2019

Pecan Praline French Toast Casserole

Brunch is a brilliant meal. Since it can be sweet or savory, it's really the best excuse to eat literally whatever you want. I went out to brunch at a local spot last weekend, and I decided on a waffle with cheesy hash browns. It's ok because the waffle used to be served with ice cream so really I'm being healthy. I also loved this particular brunch because there wasn't a wait (and also the great company). The main reason I would shy away from brunch is the fact that literally everyone else in the city has the same idea, and I'd rather not wait 2 hours for some pancakes when I could make decent ones at home. Brunch spots are going to be extra crowded this weekend for Mother's Day, so in my opinion it's worth trying to cook something yourself. I'm 100% sure your mom would love a homemade breakfast ready when she wakes up, especially if it borders on dessert and you don't forget to clean up after yourself. This pecan praline French toast casserole is basically breakfast bread pudding, and you can prep it the night before so all you have to do is pop it in the oven and wait for Mom to get up.


Like all good French toast recipes, this one starts with challah. It's a sweet bread made with eggs and fat, kind of like a sturdy brioche. French toast is actually best when the bread is a bit stale, so don't worry about picking up a fresh loaf. If the bread is stale, it's a little drier, meaning that it has more potential to soak up all that custard.


The custard consists of eggs, half and half, an extra splash of milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. If it sounds like what you would normally make for French toast, you'd be correct, though this may be a little more than you're used to making. You also have to let the bread sit overnight to soak it all up. When making normal French toast, the bread only cooks on the griddle for a couple minutes until golden and crisp, so it doesn't have much of a chance to dry out. If you poured the custard on the challah cubes and stuck it right in the oven to bake, you'd end up with dry bits of bread floating in a weirdly sweet, gelatinous pudding. Letting the bread sit overnight allows it to sop up all the liquid so that it stays moist (yes, I said moist) as it cooks through.


What makes this casserole extra special is the addition of pecans. I throw some chopped toasted pecans directly in with the bread so they're evenly distributed. I also make a 30-second homemade praline caramel concoction with even more pecans to go on top. That extra sugar seeps down into the bread pudding and also gets nice and crisp and caramelized for some nice textural variety. You can get more creative than just pecans, too. To make it more healthy/permissible for breakfast, you can add a handful of berries to the casserole before leaving it overnight. If your mom really wants a treat, though, you can take a hint from my local brunch spot and just throw some ice cream on top. My almost-stepmom would serve this with a big dish of grits casserole and a pile of bacon for a more well-rounded meal. The possibilities for this dish are pretty much endless, as long as you don't forget the card (and your mom gets to forget about the mess in the kitchen).


1 Large Loaf Challah or Brioche
1 Cup Chopped Pecans, Toasted
4 Eggs
3/4 Cup Half and Half
1/2 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp + Pinch Salt
4 T Butter, Softened
1 T Corn Syrup

Cut the loaf of bread into 1" cubes and transfer to a greased 7x11" baking dish. Toss with 1/2 cup pecans.

Whisk the eggs, half and half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp salt. Pour over the bread, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Heat oven to 350F.

Combine the butter, brown sugar, remaining pecans, corn syrup, and remaining pinch of salt. Sprinkle on top of the casserole and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden and set.

Serves 6

April 30, 2019

Banana Upside Down Cake

I'm finally back home by myself after 10 days of hosting, traveling, and socializing. Also, it's basically May which means it's basically summer (despite that bout of snow we got over the weekend), so there's lots to celebrate. And the best thing to celebrate with? A cake, of course. This recipe is a great casual baking cake, since it doesn't require any fancy layering or frosting or decorating. The bananas speak for themselves, and the caramel seeps into every nook and cranny of the light and airy cake. A scoop of ice cream on top really makes it fantastic, especially when you're looking forward to summer.


Let's start from the bottom, although the cake is flipped over so I guess we're starting from the top. The caramel. Or carmel. However you want to say it, you'll be surprised just how easy it is to make from scratch. I'll admit it's not a true caramel, but heating butter and brown sugar together until thick and bubbly makes a pretty good sauce. A pinch of salt and a splash of rum round out the flavors for the perfect base for this cake (and also a sauce to drizzle on top of the cake and/or more ice cream).


The cake is a pretty standard vanilla cake, though it mixes up more like a Devil's food cake. There's no butter to soften or cream together, just oil and sugar whisked with eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk. The dry ingredients are pretty basic too: flour, baking powder, and salt. It mixes up in a matter of minutes for a truly speed cake with all the flavor and fluff of a classic yellow cake.


Assembly is way easier than a fancy layer cake. I spread most of the caramel on the bottom of a deep round cake pan. It should have cooled down from when it was cooked, but if it's too thick to spread just heat it up on the stove for a minute or two until it thins out again. I slice about four very ripe bananas long-ways and fan them out in a single layer on the caramel, flat-side down. You'll probably need to break a couple into pieces for maximum coverage, or you can cut them the other way into coins. The cake batter goes on last, and I tap it on the counter a few times to get out any big air bubbles.


The cake bakes until a toothpick comes out clean, then I invert it onto a fancy plate so you can see all the caramelized bananas and the extra caramel drips down into the cake. It is especially delicious when served warm (even better with some ice cream on top), so no need to wait until it cools down completely. It will cut better if you can stand to wait a few minutes, but it's still better than waiting to cool completely and spreading on layers of frosting. I can't stress this enough: if you want a quick, summery cake to snack on instead of working on your summer bod, this is the way to go.

4 Bananas
1/2 Stick Butter
1 Cup Sugar
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
3/4 tsp + Pinch Salt
1 T Rum
1 1/2 Cups Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Cup Oil
2 tsp Vanilla
1 Egg
1 Egg Yolk
1 Cup Buttermilk

Heat the butter and brown sugar together in a medium skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes or until thickened. Add a pinch of salt and the rum. Set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 350F and grease a deep 9-10" round cake pan.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and remaining salt together. Combine the oil, sugar, vanilla, egg, egg yolk, and buttermilk. Whisk the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Cut the bananas in half lengthwise. Pour the caramel into the cake pan, then add the bananas cut-side down. Top with the cake batter.

Bake the cake for 30-40 minutes or until cooked through. Let cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert.

Makes 1 9-10" Cake
Adapted from Food52

April 18, 2019

Passover Almond Crinkle Cookies

I don't think these are what my grandma had in mind when she set out to perfect her black and white cookie recipe. For her (and pretty much everyone else on the planet), black and white cookies mean a yellow cakey base with a schmear each of chocolate and vanilla frosting. Unfortunately, those aren't Kosher for Passover, which is looming ahead in all of its gluten-free, leavening-free horror. It's not my favorite holiday. We've been over this. But there are still a few good desserts out there that you can eat for the next few days, like some thumbprint cookies or naturally gluten-free things like sorbet. Adding to that list are these almond crinkle cookies, which are kind of like if you made a really dense, chewy macaron. They're sweet and almondy, and instead of a frosting or jam filling they get rolled in cocoa powder, which crackles as it bakes for a zebra-striped look.


 Because it's Passover, this isn't a normal cookie recipe. Instead of beating your butter and sugar together, adding the eggs, then stirring in the dry ingredients and any mix-ins, you prep your dry ingredients then stir in whipped egg whites and flavorings. That's it! No softening butter, chilling dough overnight, or making sure nobody sneaks a taste from the bag of chocolate chips (guilty).


The dry ingredients are just almond flour, sugar, and a pinch of salt. You're not allowed to have flour or leavening, which makes sure it stays simple. If you wanted an extra chocolatey cookie, you could experiment with adding cocoa powder to the cookie dough itself, but I personally just like the cocoa dusting on the outside.


The wet ingredients consist of whipped egg whites plus a bit of almond extract and vanilla. A stand mixer will make your life much easier here, but a hand mixer or even a whisk and some elbow grease will work in a pinch. You do only need to get them to soft peaks, so it's not as bad as it could be. You'll know they're done when they're foamy, opaque, and the tip curls or flops over immediately when you lift up the whisk. I transfer them to the bowl with the dry ingredients and add the almond and vanilla extracts as I stir it all together. Normally you would be extremely delicate in folding the whites into the dough, but here it will take a bit more force to get the dough to come together. I'm not saying beat the stuff into a pulp, but don't be afraid to get in there with your spatula and squish it together.


I'm normally a big fan of big cookies for that contrast between a soft, gooey center and crispy edges. However, these cookies are best as small bites since you don't want the outsides to brown too much before the center cooks through. You can always eat more cookies to make up for their small size, but you wouldn't want to eat more cookies if they're burnt and raw at the same time. I use my smallest cookie scoop to make 1" balls, then roll them in cocoa powder and transfer them to my parchment-lined baking sheet. I did try some with powdered sugar and they tasted just fine, but for some reason they baked up all lumpy and misshapen when the cocoa-covered ones were perfectly round. For that reason (and because of my love for chocolate), I preferred the cocoa cookies but you can do either one or a few of each. They would be great along with some ice cream at your Passover seder, and you'll forget all about the matzo when you have these to snack on all week.


2 Cups Almond Flour
1 Cup Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt
2 Egg Whites
1/2 tsp Almond Extract
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Cocoa Powder and/or Powdered Sugar

Heat oven to 300F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk the almond flour, sugar, and salt together. Whip the egg whites on medium-high speed until they reach soft peaks. Stir into the almond flour along with the almond and vanilla extracts.

Roll the dough into 1" balls, then roll each in the cocoa powder or powdered sugar. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets and bake for 25 minutes or until crackly and set.

Makes 18-20
Recipe Adapted from Love & Olive Oil

April 11, 2019

Strawberry Cornmeal Galette

I'm not sure if it's just the stores by me in Chicago, but it seems like strawberries are on sale everywhere. No, it's not strawberry season yet, but if they're cheap and they smell good (a sign of a good strawberry!), why not bake something with them? Most of my strawberry recipes leave the strawberries raw, like this strawberry cheesecake tart and this strawberry white chocolate mousse tart. But actually baking the strawberries into the tart cooks them down into a sweet, jammy filling that nobody can resist, plus it hides the fact that the strawberries aren't quite at their prime yet.


The strawberry filling starts by macerating the strawberries, which basically means you're tossing them in sugar to draw out some of the water. This gives you that jammy texture that's not too liquidy and doesn't soak into the crust to get it all soggy. After 15 minutes, drain off the liquid and add in the rest of the ingredients for the filling: a little more sugar to taste, some lemon juice and zest, a spoonful of cornstarch, and a pinch of salt. If you have really sweet strawberries to begin with, you may not need the extra sugar. The lemon juice and zest balance out the flavors, as does the salt. The cornstarch thickens whatever liquid is left so it doesn't seep out of the tart or through the bottom of the crust.


A regular pie crust would work just fine, but why not make it a little fancier? Cornmeal adds a bit of texture and a gorgeous golden hue. You still make the dough the same way: combine the dry ingredients, pulse in cold butter, and add cold water until it comes together. As with every other crust, keep the ingredients and the dough cold and work it as little as possible. I chill mine while I make the filling to make sure it stays extra cold.


Even though galettes may sound intimidating, they're actually way easier than regular pies or tarts because it's all freeform and they're supposed to look rustic. I take the chilled dough and roll it out to a thin circle-ish shape. The strawberries get piled in the middle, leaving a border around the edge that gets folded over to hold them all in. I start baking at a high temperature then lower it to finish baking. The extra heat creates more steam for a flakier crust and helps set the shape and the lower temperature allows it to cook through without burning. Once it's out of the oven, serve it with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you've got yourself a deceptively simple but fancy dessert.


1 Cup Flour
1/3 Cup Cornmeal
1/2 Cup Sugar, Divided
1/4 tsp + Pinch Salt
1 Stick Butter, Chilled & Cubed
1 1/2 lbs Strawberries
1 tsp Lemon Zest
1 tsp Lemon Juice
2 T Cornstarch

Pulse the flour, cornmeal, 2T sugar, 1/4 tsp salt together in a food processor until just combined. Pulse in the butter, then gradually add 1/4 cup cold water until the dough begins to clump. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Hull and slice the strawberries. Toss with 1/4 cup sugar and let rest for 15 minutes.

Heat oven to 400F.

Drain the liquid from the strawberries. Toss with the remaining 2T sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt.

Roll the pie dough out to a thin, even circle. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Pile the strawberries onto the dough, leaving a 1-2" border. Fold the edges of the crust up to partially cover the filling. Bake for 8 minutes, then lower the oven to 350F and continue baking for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

March 29, 2019

Chipotle Salmon with Mango Avocado Salsa

It's basically summer, with all the above-freezing days and sunlight past dinnertime. It's enough to get me in the mood for light, fresh dishes, but only if they're quick and easy to make since I don't want to be trapped in my hot claustrophobic kitchen longer than I have to. This salmon is ready in under 30 minutes, and all you have to do for the salsa is chop up some produce and let it sit for a while. Honestly, the hardest part is finding ripe mangos and avocados.


The tricks to a perfect salsa are good knife skills and time. You want the mangos and avocados to be the same size dice so you don't end up with any big chunks or small mushy pieces. This makes for a prettier appearance and better eating experience. There's also some red onion and jalapeno, which should be minced finely so you don't bite into any giant pieces. If you made them the same sizes as the mango and avocado, your friends and family would never want you to make this recipe again.


The chopped veggies (and fruit) get tossed in a light dressing. This infuses it with more flavor, and the acid keeps the avocado from browning immediately after you cut it. All you need are some lime juice, honey, olive oil, and some spices. They match the flavors in the salmon glaze to bring the whole dish together. I like to let it sit for about 2 hours, which is enough time for the flavors to meld together but not too long that everything turns brown and mushy.


The flavor in the salmon comes from a tasty glaze I make with the liquid from a can of chipotles in adobo, honey, lime juice, and spices. Pretty similar to the salsa dressing, right? The chipotles are responsible for most of the flavor, and they add a smoky heat that counters the sweetness and the acid from the honey and lime juice. That honey also makes the glaze caramelize beautifully, but keep an eye on it since it will go from brown and caramelized to black and burnt pretty quickly if you don't baby it. Luckily, it only takes about 10 minutes to cook so the hands-on time required for this dish is pretty short.


The salmon is best cooked in a skillet so you get all that surface area caramelized, but you can also use a grill, grill pan, or a nice hot oven (though it's not nearly as good). The cooking time depends on the size and thickness of your filets, so if you have a thicker piece you may want to sear it off and finish it in the oven so the glaze doesn't burn. A thermometer is going to be your friend here because cutting your fish open every few minutes to check on it is going to dry it out. Once it's cooked through to your liking, top it with a big scoop of that refreshing salsa and dig in! This recipe is going to be on my meal plan for the next few months, and if you don't mind your salmon cold or room temperature it makes a great lunch, too.

For the Salsa:
2 Mangoes, Diced
2 Avocados, Diced
1/4 Cup Minced Red Onion
1/2-1 Jalapeno, Minced
1 T Lime Juice
1 T Honey
1 T Olive Oil
1/4 tsp Cayenne
1/4 tsp Chili Powder

For the Salmon:
2-4 T Chipotles in Adobo
1/4 Cup Honey
2 T Lime Juice
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1 1/2 lbs Salmon Fillets

For the salsa, combine the mangoes, avocados, onion, and jalapeƱo. Whisk the lime juice, honey, olive oil, cayenne, and chili powder together. Add to the mango mixture and season with salt and pepper. Let sit for at least 2 hours.

For the salmon, combine the chipotles, honey, lime juice, garlic powder, and onion powder. Season generously with salt and pepper. Brush the sauce onto the salmon.

Heat a skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Sear the salmon flesh-side down until caramelized, about 4-6 minutes. Flip and finish cooking skin-side down, about 4-6 minutes more. Serve with the salsa.

Serves 4-6

March 18, 2019

Asparagus & Fontina Quiche

Birds are chirping, it's light out when I get home from work, and my face doesn't hurt when I walk outside. It must be spring! I'm ready for all the farmers markets and fresh eating and doing it all without bundling up in 12 layers. Asparagus is one of the greatest finds at the early spring markets and the best way to upgrade it is with plenty of cheese. It's like when your parents would smother your veggies with cheese to trick you into eating them except it's fancy melty fontina cheese and you're eating the asparagus on purpose. It's even better in a buttery, flaky pie crust as a quiche you can eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Oh, and some crispy pancetta doesn't hurt either.


As always, the pork comes first. Here, it's pancetta instead of bacon just to elevate the dish a bit, but bacon would work just as well. You just have to cook it off until it's crispy. I use the pork fat to cook off a bit of garlic, too. The asparagus is a little more tricky; you need to blanch it and shave it so you get those gorgeous ribbons running through the quiche. Blanching sounds more challenging than it really is but it's definitely worth the effort. You just boil the asparagus for a minute or two in salted water then transfer it to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. After that, snap off the tough ends and shave with a vegetable peeler or mandolin. I've tried slicing it with a knife but it's way easier to get thin, even strips with a peeler.


The quiche base consists of a few eggs and some half and half. Compared to most quiche recipes loaded with cream, this one really isn't that bad for you. Well, until you stir in all the pancetta and cheese. You can stir in the asparagus here and it will mostly float to the top or you can toss in as much as you want once it's transferred to the pie crust. The crust can be a classic homemade butter crust, you can throw some cheese into the crust for some extra flavor, or you can make things faster by just using a store-bought one, even though it won't be nearly as good.


The great thing about quiche is that you can eat it whenever you want. It's eggs, so it works for breakfast, or you can serve it with a salad to bulk it up for lunch or dinner. You can also grab a slice cold from the fridge if you need a midnight snack. If asparagus isn't your thing (or this just gets you in a quiche-y mood), you can also try out some with mushrooms and caramelized onions or a classic quiche Lorraine.


1 Recipe Savory Pie Crust (See Below)
4 oz Pancetta, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
4 oz Asparagus
5 Eggs
1 Cup Half & Half
3/4 Cup Shredded Fontina

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

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the pancetta until crispy. Add 2 cloves garlic and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the asparagus for 90 seconds then transfer to an ice bath. When cool, trim the ends and shave with a vegetable peeler or mandolin.

Heat oven to 400F.

Whisk the eggs and half and half together. Add the fontina, pancetta, and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into the crust and bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden and set, covering the crust as necessary to prevent over-browning.

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

March 4, 2019

Bananas Foster Banana Bread

Chicago in March is all about St. Patrick's Day, but Mardi Gras is worthy of some attention too. It's another excuse for lots of parties and good food, so I don't understand why it's not more of a big deal. I'm determined to make it into a big deal by luring people in with delicious recipes like this one, which does double duty as an indulgent breakfast or a healthy-ish dessert (it has fruit in it, ok?). Banana bread is already a fan favorite, but I upgraded it by combining it with another popular banana treat: bananas foster. I added a splash of rum and a pinch of cinnamon to the batter, whipped up a luscious rum caramel sauce, and swapped in pecans for walnuts for some added southern flair.


This banana bread starts by mashing bananas up until mostly smooth. You want to use very ripe bananas with plenty of brown spots so they're sweet and soft. If they're ripe enough, you should be able to mash them with just a fork, or you can use a mixer with a paddle attachment on low speed to get things started. I then add brown sugar (for some extra caramel flavor), eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and rum. Bananas already keep things pretty moist, but this loaf bakes for about an hour so a little extra help from the sour cream doesn't hurt. I don't usually add rum to my banana bread but it is bananas foster banana bread so it's totally acceptable here.


The dry ingredients include flour, baking soda, salt, and some cinnamon. I'm normally not a big fan of cinnamon in banana bread, but again it's bananas foster banana bread and I'm trying to stay authentic here. That all gets folded into the wet ingredients along with some pecans and mixed just until combined. I always toast my nuts before adding them since it really enhances the flavor and adds a bit more crunch. You can toast up an extra handful for snacking and/or sprinkling on top of the finished loaf.


While the banana bread bakes, I start on the caramel sauce. It's pretty standard, starting with sugar, corn syrup, water, and lemon juice boiling until, well, caramel-colored. The sugar acts as the base, the corn syrup keeps it from crystallizing and getting grainy, the water helps dissolve the sugar, and the lemon juice also helps prevent crystallization. Just keep cooking it on medium-high until it's a nice dark amber color, and avoid stirring it at all costs. If you stir the caramel while it cooks, it will start to crystallize, and you want a nice smooth sauce. You can start to stir it when you add in the cream, then also add in some butter, rum, vanilla, and salt. Most people flambe their bananas foster, but I skip that for this sauce since most of the alcohol cooks off just by stirring it into the hot caramel.


Once the banana bread is baked and cool, you can spoon on that caramel sauce and let it soak in and drip everywhere. If it's time for dessert (or just an indulgent snack), you can heat it up and top it with vanilla ice cream and more of that boozy sauce, or if it's breakfast (or you're in my office tomorrow morning and want a sample) you can just eat it as-is.

For the Banana Bread:
3 Ripe Bananas
1 Stick Butter, Melted
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1/3 Cup Sour Cream
1 tsp Vanilla
2 T Rum
2 Cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
3/4 Cup Chopped Pecans, Toasted

For the Caramel Sauce:
1 Cup Sugar
1 T Corn Syrup
1/4 tsp Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Cream
3 T Butter
1 1/2 T Rum
1 tsp Vanilla
Pinch Salt

Heat oven to 350F. Line a 9x5" loaf pan with foil and grease.

For the banana bread, mash the bananas until mostly smooth with a fork. Add the melted butter, then stir in the brown sugar, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and rum, whisking between each addition. Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together, then fold into the batter. Stir in the pecans.

Spoon the batter in to the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour or until cooked through.

For the caramel, combine the sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, and 3T water in a medium pot. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Continue boiling over medium-high heat until it turns a deep amber color without stirring. Remove from heat, then whisk in the cream. Add the butter, rum, vanilla, and salt. Pour on the banana bread when cool.

Makes 1 Loaf

February 23, 2019

Crumb Cake

I've been spending a lot of time with my family in New York recently, and one of the perks has been all the great food. There's been bagels, deli meats, steak dinners, and plenty of dessert, but everybody always goes for the crumb cake. Unfortunately, before I could snag a piece, Jackson the family dog ate literally the entire pan. Yes, I was beat to a delicious breakfast by a golden retriever. Fortunately, I have my own crumb cake recipe, and I can make it at home in Chicago where there's no large sneaky dogs (or hungry relatives) to compete with. I can attest that this is the best crumb cake recipe you'll ever make because--in addition to satisfying plenty of my family on Long Island--I had an entire exam in Food Functionality on the chemical processes that happen when you bake a crumb cake. I got an A, by the way.


The trick to a great crumb cake is balancing the moist, delicate cake with a big pile of cinnamon-spiced crumbly topping. Real New Yorkers exclusively eat crumb cakes with a 50/50 ratio of crumb to cake, and this definitely comes close. I always start with the crumb so it's ready to go when I finish the batter; its an easy blend of sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, flour, and lots of melted butter. It should be just wet enough to break into crumbly bits. I usually add the flour last and stir it in gradually so I don't over-do it since it's easier to not add flour than it is to add more liquids. It can sit out while you make the cake batter, but I find that keeping it cold in the fridge makes it easier to crumble.


Even though this can be considered a breakfast cake, you mix it up like any other cake recipe. The butter and sugar are creamed together, then you add an egg and an egg yolk plus a splash of vanilla. To avoid a lumpy batter, alternate the dry and wet ingredients. Here, those are cake flour (for an extra tender cake), baking soda, and salt plus buttermilk since buttermilk makes everything better. If you don't have buttermilk on hand, you can acidify milk with a splash of white vinegar or lemon juice, though I highly recommend just buying some buttermilk and using it in other cakes, muffins, pancakes, or even mashed potatoes.


Once the batter and the crumble are ready, they go into a 9" cake pan and into the oven. They're baked until a toothpick comes out clean, and you can even eat the slice warm since the beauty of crumb cake is you don't need to frost it so you don't have to wait until it's cool. To spice it up, you can add some fruit between the cake batter and the crumb, like some berries, peaches, or cherries. Those would help justify eating this for breakfast, or you can just pull a Jackson and have absolutely no shame.

1/3 Cup + 1/2 Cup Sugar
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
3/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
3/8 tsp Salt
1 Stick Butter, Melted but Warm
6 T Butter, Cubed, Softened but Cool
2 1/2 Cups Cake Flour
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1 Egg
1 Egg Yolk
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 Cup Buttermilk

Whisk together 1/3 cup sugar, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, 1/8 tsp salt, and melted butter. Stir in 1 1/4 cups cake flour. Chill until cold.

Heat oven to 325°F. Line an 8-9" square pan with parchment and grease.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cubed butter and remaining sugar together until fluffy. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Combine the cake flour, baking soda, and remaining salt together. Add the flour addition in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 additions.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and top with the streusel. Bake until golden and cooked through, 30-40 minutes.

Recipe Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Serves 8

February 10, 2019

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies

It's that time of year again: either you want to bake things to celebrate your significant other or you want to bake things to gorge on while you yell at the Bachelor to take out your anger for being single yet again. I'll be having a nice Galentine's Day dinner with friends and hanging with my cat, but that's no reason not to treat myself with some of my favorite recipes (and go crazy in the candy aisle on February 15). Although most people go with something elegant and/or chocolate-y (and I tend to follow suit), sometimes you just need an occasion to indulge in something red velvet. Red velvet cake is delicious but a bit too labor-intensive when you take into account all the frosting and decorating, and my red velvet crinkle cookies are a crowd favorite but a little messy. Enter these bars, which have all the flavor of red velvet and cream cheese frosting but in a portable bite and no decorating involved.


Red velvet is kind of a weird flavor. It's technically chocolate but doesn't really taste like it, and it almost always involves buttermilk. You know how I add buttermilk to pretty much everything even if it doesn't really need it? Today I did the opposite: these are bars not cake, so they don't need the extra liquid. There is some cocoa powder because it's a brownie and it's red velvet, and the splash of white vinegar really does enhance the cocoa's natural redness even if it does smell bad. However, just cocoa and vinegar would make a really sad-looking brownie, let alone a red velvet brownie, so I add a ton of red gel food coloring.


The bulk of the brownie is still a normal brownie. I mix a ton of melted butter and sugar together, then add vanilla, some cocoa, some vinegar to enhance the color, and all that food coloring. Eggs go in next, then just a bit of flour and salt to hold it all together. It doesn't need any leavening since you want that dense, fudgy texture. If you're unhappy with the color after you stir in the flour, you can stir in more dye; just be careful that you don't overmix the batter.


The cheesecake swirl is what really steps up these brownies. It's super easy: just beat some cream cheese and sugar together, add two egg yolks to help it set up during baking, and stir in some vanilla and salt for flavor. The key to that perfect marbled look is reserving some red velvet batter to dollop on top, since it's pretty hard to pull the batter up and over the cream cheese layer and still have it look pretty (and not just pink everywhere). A knife or offset spatula will give you more pronounced swirls, as opposed to just a toothpick. Once it's baked you're done, since any frosting or glaze would just cover up that gorgeous marbling. If you're feeling particularly romantic, you can skip the swirls and make some hearts instead. The great thing about red velvet is that it's perfect for any occasion, whether for Valentine's Day or just for your coworkers (as mine will experience when I bring these in for taste testing).


1 1/2 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp + Pinch Salt
2 Sticks Butter, Melted
2 1/2 Cups Sugar
1 T + 1 tsp Vanilla
1/3 Cup Cocoa Powder
Red Food Coloring
1 1/2 tsp White Vinegar
4 Eggs + 2 Egg Yolks
16 oz Cream Cheese, Softened

Heat oven to 350F and line a 9x13" pan with parchment.

Combine the flour and 1/2 tsp salt. Whisk the melted butter and 2 cups of sugar together. Add 1 T vanilla, then the cocoa powder, then the food coloring, then the vinegar. Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour mixture until just combined.

Beat the cream cheese and remaining 1/2 cup sugar together with a hand mixer or stand mixer until smooth. Add the egg yolks, remaining 1 tsp vanilla, and a pinch of salt.

Spread most of the brownie batter into the prepared pan. Dollop the cheesecake filling on top, then top with the remaining brownie batter. Swirl with a knife or toothpick and bake for 40-45 minutes or until cooked through.

Makes 24 Bars
Recipe Adapted from Sunny Anderson

January 31, 2019

Philly Cheesesteak Dip

It's time for another quick and easy dip recipe, just in case the everything bagel dip wasn't quite enough for you and your Superbowl party. This one may not be as simple as mixing three ingredients together, but it's hot and gooey and perfect for the 70% of you that had below-freezing temps this week. It's still way easier than making actual Philly cheesesteaks for a crowd since it's all the components mixed up into one skillet and baked until brown and bubbly. It also emphasizes the cheese part of cheesesteak, which is everyone's favorite part anyway.


Of course, you can't have a cheesesteak without the steak either. When I first started working on this recipe, I cut up some steak and seared it off like I would a real Philly cheesesteak (with the added bonus of tasty fat to cook the veggies in). However, even my attempt at thinly-sliced steak turned out chewy and rubbery after being cooked twice. Luckily there's a solution, and it makes your life even easier: the magic of your grocery store's deli counter. You can buy thinly-sliced roast beef like you would for sandwiches and throw it right into the dip.


I try to dice the roast beef and the veggies about the same size so it's easy to eat. For those classic Philly flavors, I cook off some onions and bell peppers, but sauteed mushrooms would also be delicious (and stretch the dip a bit more). You could also throw in some jalapenos for kick, or stir in some hot sauce. Garlic powder, onion powder, and a splash of Worcestershire round out the flavor profile.


The base is plenty of cheese: cream cheese, mozzarella, and provolone with a bit of mayo to thin it out and make it nice and gooey. The cream cheese adds bulk and a dippable texture, the mozzarella adds stretch for that classic cheese pull, and the provolone gives you the quintessential Philly flavor. Sorry Philadelphians, but I'm not about to add cheese whiz to this. Once it's all mixed up and baked, there's the matter of what vehicle you want to use to get it into your mouth. I tend to go for baguette slices or little crostinis, but pretzel chips or pita chips would work too. A regular old spoon would also work for leftovers after your Superbowl crew heads out.

2T Butter
1/2 lb Deli Roast Beef, Diced
1 Small Yellow Onion, Diced (3/4 Cup)
1 Small Bell Pepper, Diced (3/4 Cup)
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/4 Cup Mayonnaise
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Worcestershire
1 1/2 Cups Shredded Mozzarella (6oz)
1 Cup Shredded Provolone (4oz)
Crostini, Pretzel Chips, Pita Chips, etc.

Heat oven to 350F and grease a 9" skillet or small baking dish.

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and bell pepper, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 4 minutes or until tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

Combine the cream cheese and mayonnaise and mix until smooth. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper. Stir in 1 cup of mozzarella and the provolone. Add the steak and cooled veggies.

Spread the mixture into the prepared dish. Bake for 20 minutes, sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella, and broil until browned and bubbly. Serve with the bread or chips.