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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.

January 23, 2019

Everything Bagel Dip

Apparently I'm a bit late to the party. Which party? The everything bagel seasoning one. Everyone has been raving about this stuff for months, and I finally caved and bought a jar of it. My main question was what was I going to use it on, since I'm not into the whole avocado toast fad and I didn't have a desperate need to spice up my other breakfast foods. Enter my sister and her need for dorm-friendly recipes for friends in college. This dip is only three ingredients: cream cheese, sour cream, and everything bagel seasoning and can be whipped up by hand (but a mixer does make it easier). You know what party you won't be late to with this dip? Your Superbowl party, since this takes all of 5 minutes to make but will be the star of the snack table.


The main ingredient here is the cream cheese. You can't have a good bagel without cream cheese, and you can't have a good dip without it either. Since this is a bagel-inspired dip, the cream cheese is pretty much non-negotiable. I use a brick of plain cream cheese (go for the full fat stuff here... I promise it's worth it) and make sure to bring it to room temperature. If it's still cold, you'll end up with lots of little lumps, which you want to avoid if at all possible. I mix the cream cheese with some sour cream to help loosen it up and get a dippable, spreadable texture. 


Once the cream cheese and sour cream are nice and smooth, it's time to add the everything bagel seasoning. You could make your own, but that would involve buying dried garlic, dried onions, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and flaky sea salt. I'd much rather buy the pre-mixed blend, plus it's not like making your own would cut out any preservatives. Side note: preservatives aren't typically a bad thing since they have to be approved by the FDA and it's not like we food scientists throw them in everything for funsies... they serve a real and important purpose and you shouldn't drive yourself crazy trying to avoid them. Soapbox aside, if you can find this seasoning at Trader Joe's or wherever else I say go for it since it makes your life so much easier.


Unfortunately, I think your Superbowl friends may judge you just a little if you go at this with a spoon, so you'll probably want to invest in something to dip with. The clear winner is bagel chips. This is everything bagel dip, after all. You can make them yourself by slicing up some bagels and toasting them in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, or you can ask your local bagel place if they sell them pre-made. If bagels aren't your thing or you can't seem to find any, pretzel chips or pita chips would be pretty tasty too. If you're trying to be healthy, go with some baby carrots or celery sticks (or maybe find a salsa or something, since this is literally just cream cheese and sour cream). Of course, you also don't have to limit yourself with the occasion. The Superbowl may only happen once a year, but I'm hosting Bachelor watch parties every week, and you know this will be the main event.


8oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1 Cup Sour Cream
2 T Everything Bagel Seasoning
Bagel Chips, Pretzel Chips, etc. 

Beat the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer or whisk for 2 minutes or until smooth. Add the sour cream and beat for another 2 minutes until combined. Stir in the seasoning and serve with bagel chips and other dippables.

Makes 2 Cups

January 10, 2019

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

How many of you still have your New Years resolutions in tact? I'm sure lots of you are working hard to exercise, eat well, cook more, and otherwise improve your life. If you've lost some motivation (or didn't make any resolutions in the first place and just want an easy dinner recipe), don't worry! There is plenty of time to jump back on it, and recipes like this make it easy. It's all the goodness of enchiladas with none of the finicky rolling and assembly, just a big pile of spicy chicken and veggies in a creamy sauce with spiced tortilla chips. All that lean meat, beans, and vegetables with just a sprinkle of cheese makes for a pretty healthy dinner, too.


I normally start this dish by seasoning and searing the chicken. Browning it adds so much flavor, plus it gives you even more flavorful fat to cook the rest of the dish in. If you don't want to get a pan dirty, you do have a few options. You could dice up the raw chicken, toss it with the seasoning blend, and cook the dish for a bit longer in the oven. However, I still like the shredded chicken better, so buying a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and pulling the meat off of there is one of my favorite shortcuts. You can even use the bones to make a tasty soup to warm you up more with all this cold weather.


One of the perks of searing off the chicken is it gives you an excuse to cook off the onions, garlic, and jalapenos. They'll continue cooking in the oven, but this way they'll soak up those delicious chicken juices, incorporate the yummy browned bits, and mellow out some of the sharpness. The other veggies are canned, so there's no need to cook off the tomatoes, beans, or green chiles. They all get combined with the chicken, some pre-made enchilada sauce, and some sour cream. I'm sure there are ways to make your own enchilada sauce, but the whole point of this dish is to make a quick and easy meal. Using a can of sauce cuts down on time and saves you the hassle of buying tons of other ingredients.


I also take the time to make my own tortilla strips. I bake them to save on time and calories and season them lightly with salt, pepper, and chili powder. The best shortcut here is to go ahead and buy some tortilla chips instead (and use up the rest with some homemade guac). They just get sprinkled in between layers of the chicken mixture, then it all gets covered in cheese and baked until golden, hot, and bubbly. I throw more tortilla strips on top for crunch since the ones inside tend to soak up all the juices from the casserole (it's a good thing, trust me). It's great to feed your whole family for dinner, eat as leftovers for lunch, and/or freeze for another night when you're tempted to break your resolutions.


8 Corn Tortillas
3 T Oil
1 1/2 tsp Chili Powder
1 1/2 lbs Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Cayenne
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Jalapeno, Minced (Optional)
1 10oz Can Red Enchilada Sauce
1 14.5oz Can Petite Diced Tomatoes, Drained
1 4.5oz Can Diced Green Chiles
1 14oz Can Black Beans, Rinsed
1/2 Cup Sour Cream
1 Cup Shredded Cheese (Mexican Blend, Pepper Jack, Monterey Jack, etc.)

Heat oven to 450F and line a large baking tray with parchment.

Cut the tortillas in half and then in strips. Combine the oil, 1 tsp chili powder, and salt and pepper. Toss the tortilla strips in the oil and spread onto the prepared pan. Bake for 4-6 minutes or until golden and crispy, tossing occasionally.

Lower oven temperature to 375F and grease a 9x13" baking dish.

Combine the cumin, cayenne, remaining 1/2 tsp chili powder, and salt and pepper. Pound the chicken to 1/2" thick if not thin enough already, then season generously with the spice mixture.

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sear the chicken until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Set aside to cool, then dice or shred.

Cook the onion in the remaining fat over medium heat until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeƱo, if using, and cook for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant. Set aside.

Combine the chicken, onions, enchilada sauce, diced tomatoes, green chiles, black beans, and sour cream. Spread half the chicken mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with 2/3 of the tortilla strips, then cover with the remaining chicken mixture. Top with the shredded cheese. Bake for 12 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Garnish with the remaining tortilla strips.

Serves 6-8
Recipe Adapted from Anna Stockwell