Friday, November 12, 2010

Award Winning Pumpkin Chai Blondies

That's right folks, these pumpkin treats won me first prize and the title "Best Baker" in my company's annual Chili Cook-off/Bake-off. Here I am with my trophy:

I saw this on Kelsey's blog about a month ago and her description sold me that these would be a winner. The one part of the recipe that I was nervous about was the crystallized ginger - I've never had it before and was worried it may be too strong a taste on top of the blondies. When Joe tried one though and said that he liked it (he never likes anything strange) I knew that it was fine!

The only change I made from Kelsey's recipe was to add pecans on top of mine along with the ginger. These would be a great contribution to a Thanksgiving dinner!

Pumpkin Chai Blondies
Source: Apple A Day

For the blondies:
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/4 c. pumpkin puree
1 TBSP pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. freshly-grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. toasted chopped pecans
1/4 c. crystallized ginger, finely chopped

For the frosting:
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 TBSP unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13x9-inch baking pan (preferably with square corners) with foil or parchment so you have an overhang on all four sides. Spray with baking spray.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about three minutes.

3. Decrease speed to medium and add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add pumpkin and vanilla, beating until combined.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.

5. Add dry mixture to butter mixture, mixing only until combined. (Batter will be quite thick.) Stir in pecans.

6. Spoon batter into prepared baking pan and smooth with a spatula. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean. (The bars should be fulled cooked on the bottom and have a slightly undercooked texture near the top.) Place on top of a wire rack and allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then lift out of pan and allow to cool completely.

7. To make the frosting, combine all ingredients in a bowl and beat on high speed until fluffy, about two minutes.

8. Frost blondies when they are completely cooled and top with crystallized ginger. Cut into 20-30 bars, depending on desired portion size. Store in a airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Jean jackets, sweaters, crockpotting, football, foilage, haunted houses, anything pumpkin (see previous post). You can now add these little devils to my long list of reasons why fall is my favorite season.

Ever since I made the Snicker's cupcakes, I had been wanting to make the caramel buttercream frosting again. This frosting is so addicting, both times I've made it I've ended up eating WAY to much frosting straight out of the bowl. It is that good.

I got the idea to make a caramel apple cupcake and went on the hunt for an apple cake recipe. I didn't have to look to far, as Every Day with Rachael Ray had one this month (theirs called for the caramel drizzled straight on top, which I'm sure would have been amazing as well).

I had so much fun making these and especially decorating them - I think they turned out so cute! I coated the apple slices in lemon juice and they actually held up and didn't brown or shrivel for about 24 hours, so this would work well if you were making them for a party ahead of time.

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

makes 24 cupcakes


adapted from Every Day with Rachael Ray
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 apples (about 1 pound), peeled and shredded- I used Golden Delicious, you can really use whatever your preference is + 1 extra apple if you are going to garnish (with slices coated in lemon juice)

Preheat to 350° and line 2 cupcake pans with baking liners. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth. Whisk in the oil and vanilla. Stir into the flour mixture until just combined; stir in the apples. Spoon the batter into the pans until almost full. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Caramel Sauce & Frosting

adapted from Annie's Eat's

Caramel Sauce:

8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

To make the caramel sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar begins to foam a bit. It will look and smell like it’s on the verge of burning. Remove from the heat and add the heavy cream. Stir until the sauce is smooth (you may need to return it to the heat to smooth it out), then mix in the vanilla and salt. Let cool.

Caramel Buttercream Frosting:

16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup caramel sauce
Pinch of coarse salt
2 tbsp. heavy cream

To make the frosting, add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed 1 minute until smooth. Blend in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Mix in the vanilla, caramel sauce and salt until incorporated. (Note: the caramel sauce should be just warm enough that it is workable, but not warm enough to melt the butter in the frosting.) Add the heavy cream and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.

Decorate the cupcakes as you'd like, I piped the caramel butter cream, added the apple slices and drizzled the rest of the caramel sauce over.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pumpkin Risotto - Take 2

Hello readers! I'm back from another blogging drought, sorry about that! Had another trip to London for work, and then a mini-vacation with Joe to go visit my sister in Houston, and a couple of nights at a golf/spa resort in San Antonio to celebrate our 2 year anniversary!

As much fun as I had in Texas, I was SO EXCITED to come home today. Besides a 5 hour stop in Chicago on Friday between London and TX, it feels like I haven't been home in forever. I can't wait to stay put for the next two weekends (besides a quick drive up to Milwaukee this Saturday for our friends' 30th bday party - but after all that Milwaukee is nothing!).

One of the reasons I'm looking forward to staying at home is to do some fall baking with the cans of pumpkin I've been stockpiling in fear of another shortage! Now, while I haven't done any baking yet - I did recreate the pumpkin risotto I made this time last year. I'm sharing it with you again because 1) I have more followers than I did this time last year 2) I've gotten better at taking photos, and this dish deserves a better picture - and - 3) It's just that good!

I did mix up the format a bit from when I made it previously, mainly by omitting the shrimp (just didn't feel like it) and switching from pancetta to bacon (just because that's what I had on hand). I also started the dish with the bacon and left it in while cooking, rather than adding it crispy at the end. I think this really added to the depth of the flavor and helped balance the sweetness from the pumpkin and the spices.

This is a fabulous, rich and hearty fall recipe!

Pumpkin Risotto

1 cup arrabrio rice
olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock
15 oz. can pumpkin puree
4 strips bacon (chopped)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in heavy bottomed pan and saute the onion and garlic about 5 - 10 minutes over medium heat with salt and pepper to season. Add the bacon and allow to cook until slightly browned.
Add the rice, cinnamon and cloves and allow rice to brown slightly. Reduce the heat to low and add the wine and let simmer until all the liquid is gone. Then add one cup of the chicken stock, one cup at a time, cooking until the liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup (about 30 - 40 minutes total). Once the last cup of stock is almost absorbed, add the pumpkin and cheese and mix to combine.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Snicker's cupcakes - a tasty two-fer

I think the photos and the title can speak for itself. These cupcakes are insanely delicious. But why are they a two-fer? Well I was making cupcakes for co-worker's birthday, and when I asked her what she wanted, she said red velvet. Since I made her red velvet last year and I've already blogged about them, I told her to pick something else so I could blog about it too - you know, so it could be a two-fer (I'm so selfless, I know : ) - but hey I'm a busy girl and I have to be efficient!). Then she said how about a Snicker's cupcake?

I was all set to come up with my own method of making these, when I saw this recipe pop up on Annie's blog last week! I knew Annie's recipe would be great so it took all the guesswork out of it for me.

I brought these cupcakes into work yesterday, and let me tell you - these were met with some RAVE reviews. One co-worker even told me they were probably the best cupcakes he's ever had.

The caramel buttercream frosting on this is AMAZING. I can't wait to try this frosting on another cupcake and I'm already brainstorming ideas of different cupcakes to try this on.

I followed Annie's recipe to the tee, except I used a food processor to chop my snickers bars. I also skipped the caramel drizzle on top (for no other reason than I was just tired by the time these were coming together!).

Also, next time I make these I will probably use a different chocolate cake recipe. The cake recipe she has is great, however the step of dirtying up a sauce pan to melt the butter for the cake batter is probably not worth the effort for an already complex recipe.

Snicker's Cupcakes

Source: Annie's Eats

Yield: 20 cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ cup hot water
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. coarse salt
16 tbsp. unsalted butter
1½ cups sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1¾ tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature

For the caramel sauce:
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

For the filling:
24 fun-size Snickers bars, chopped

For the frosting:
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup caramel sauce
Pinch of coarse salt
2 tbsp. heavy cream

For garnish:
8 fun-size Snickers bars, chopped

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line standard cupcake pans with paper liners. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter and the sugar over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally to combine, until the butter is melted. Remove the mixture from the heat and transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-low speed, 4-5 minutes, until the mixture is cooled. Mix in the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture and beat until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed add in the dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, beating just until combined.

Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners, filling them about ¾ of the way full. Bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the caramel sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar begins to foam a bit. It will look and smell like it’s on the verge of burning. Remove from the heat and add the heavy cream. Stir until the sauce is smooth (you may need to return it to the heat to smooth it out), then mix in the vanilla and salt. Let cool. (This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)

To fill the cupcakes, cut a cone out of the center of each cupcake with a paring knife.

To make the filling, combine the chopped Snickers bars in a bowl with 1/3-½ cup of the caramel sauce, and mix to coat.

Drop a spoonful of the filling mixture into each cupcake.

To make the frosting, add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed 1 minute until smooth. Blend in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Mix in the vanilla, caramel sauce and salt until incorporated. (Note: the caramel sauce should be just warm enough that it is workable, but not warm enough to melt the butter in the frosting.) Add the heavy cream and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.

Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip. Drizzle the frosted cupcakes with additional caramel sauce and garnish with chopped Snickers bars.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cranberry orange & walnut whole wheat muffins

I actually dreamt these muffins into existence. The other night, I had a dream about making these muffins in great detail, from the orange zest to the cranberries and walnuts. Funny thing is though - I have no idea what prompted my dream. I started looking for a recipe and was having a hard time finding one that had all the criteria I wanted - mainly the whole wheat flour component.

Finally, I hopped on Katie's blog, and of course the very first muffin recipe that comes up under her tag is for the exact muffin I've been searching for! Now she posted this back in January, so maybe its been hiding out in the recesses of my mind just waiting to surface in a dream so that I would make it! Either way, I'm glad I did, this is an extremely healthy and very tasty recipe.

I made a few variations/substitutions to Katie's recipe:
* Used walnuts instead of pecans
* Omitted the flax seed (I couldn't find it and didn't feel like searching too hard)
* Since cranberries aren't in season I used dried cranberries and plumped them up in water prior to mixing into the batter

Cranberry Orange Walnut Whole Wheat Muffins
Adapted from Good Things Catered

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup oat flour - Just throw some oats into your food processor to make this yourself!
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
zest of 1 large orange
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup apple sauce
1/2 cup skim milk
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp honey
1 large egg white
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries (or frozen, or dried plumped up in water)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin tins
-In a large bowl, add sugars and applesauce and mix until very well combined.
-Mixing while incorporating, add milk, juice, honey, egg, and vanilla.
-Mix to combine well.
-Sift flours into large bowl.
-Add baking powder, cinnamon, salt and orange zest.
-Fold dry ingredients into wet.
-Fold dry ingredients in until half way combined, about 6 full strokes.
-Add cranberries and walnuts and fold in. (Batter should be just barely combined)
-Spoon batter into muffin tins
-Place into oven and bake until toothpick inserted into center of muffins comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.

My version of an Aarti Paarti (Indian inspired shrimp, naan pizza, fig martinis and a lesson in Geography)

Whew! Now that you've gotten through the longest post title ever - let me explain!

If you've followed my blog for awhile, you know that I love to have "theme" parties, as evidenced, here, here and here. Well, I couldn't have been more thrilled when Aarti Sequeira won The Next Foodnetwork Star this year. I've watched it for the last 3 or 4 seasons, and knew from the first episode that they haven't had talent like hers competing on that show for a long time. Thankfully they chose the right person (I feel like viewers were owed this after sitting through an entire season and having Aaron McCargo Jr. win a couples seasons ago).

I've really been wanting to expand my cooking horizons into different types of cuisines, and Aarti makes Indian food more approachable. Even more important - she embraces entertaining and an Aarti Paarti is such a fun way to entertain. To clarify, I suppose the definition would be having your girlfriends over and making some Aarti recipes, but I guess its a flexible definition - this is just what I did.

My friends (well, some of them) can be somewhat skeptical of my theme parties from time to time (my first Mamma Mia party confused people when they saw what it was all about) - so I just invited some friends over for a girls night, and didn't tell anyone what it was about. I also didn't want people to be skeptical of trying Indian food. The night was a success, the food was delicious, and I will definitely be throwing more Aarti Paartis!

First up, my only non-Aarti recipe, was a fig martini. I've been wanting to try this since I had one in London. But figs are used a lot in Indian cooking (right?) - so I figured - close enough....

I don't have the exact measurements so here is how I made them (this should give you 2 martinis):
  • 2 spoonfuls fig puree
  • Shot of vanilla vodka
  • Ice
  • Cranberry juice (top off the rest of your cocktail mixer with this)
These were delicious and pretty close to the ones I had in London. A great way to kick off our party.

Next up was Aarti's "Friday night shrimp" which won oodles of praise during the Iron Chef challenge. These did not disappoint and were incredibly delicious and flavorful. This was really my first time cooking with Indian flavors so I was nervous I wouldn't like the tumeric and coriander - no need to worry - this will be one of my go-to party appetizers for some time!

Recipe -

A word of warning - wear gloves when you are working with tumeric - at least if you have white nail polish on like I did - it will turn your nails yellow : )

Next up was the Naan Pizza Aarti made in her pilot episode. This was equally as delicious - the mango chutney used in the sauce really gives this pizza an interesting flavor. It was so easy to make, I used Trader Joe's frozen naan as the recipe suggested, and substituted queso fresco for paneer, as a lot of the FN reviewers suggested if you can't find it.

Recipe -

All in all, my friends and I had a blast and enjoyed Aarti's recipes, I can't wait to try more of hers - I'm already planning on making the chicken and bread budding recipe from her lastest episode!

Oh yeah, and the geography lesson I mentioned - as we were discussing Indian cuisine, turns out some of my friends (and myself) were a little unclear on where India really is located. Thus ensued a ridiculous conversation about world geography that involved me pulling out a globe.

Even worse? I had invited a new friend over who is a colleague over from my company's London office. She grew up in Australia and is quite the world traveler so helpfully educated us on world geography. We wonder why Americans get the stereotype we do! How embarrassing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chicken roll-ups with Asparagus, prosciutto, basil and mozzarella

I got the inspiration for this dish when I found super-skinny asparagus in the store, and remembered that I fresh mozzarella leftover from another recipe. I had made a version of this before following a Rachael Ray recipe, but don't think I blogged about it (which probably had way more to do with the photo I took than how good the recipe was!).

This is an extremely easy, quick and tasty week night meal. My favorite part is that your veggies and protein are combined into one dish!

Chicken roll-ups with Asparagus, prosciutto, basil and mozzarella
Source: Adapted from Racheal Ray


2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
12 skinny asparagus spears (about half if your spears are normal size - also if they are normal size I'd recommend blanching them first)
2 slices prosciutto
1/3 cup fresh mozzarella, shredded
6 fresh basil leaves
olive oil
Italian seasoning

* Pound out the chicken breasts extremely thinly using a ziploc bag and mallet

* Heat up some olive oil (just enough to coat the pan) in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.

* Lay out your two chicken breasts on a clean surface. On top of each one, layer one slice of prosciutto on each, followed by basil leaves, followed by the mozzarella, then finally place the asparagus spears in the middle.

* Roll up the chicken breasts around the asparagus

* Season the outside of the breasts with salt (go very lightly on this since the prosciutto is salty), pepper, and Italian seasonings.

* Place the roll-ups into the pan, seam side down. Let cook on each side (turning 4 times each) cooking about 5 minutes on each side. This should cook your breasts through, but depending on how thin you were able to get them - check for doneness. If not done, stick a lid on your pan and cook until done.

Fabulous Fruit Tart (free of fruit glue!)

I've been dying to make a beautiful fruit tart ever since we got a new two-story Whole Foods in Chicago this past fall. For those who don't live in Chicago, let me tell you - you haven't lived until you've spent some quality time in this Whole Foods. From the minute you glide down the escalator into what is the most beautiful, bountiful produce section you've ever seen - having a glass of wine in the wine bar - to spending over 30 minutes sampling soups and cheeses - its easy to forget you're even in a grocery store.

My favorite thing about this Whole Foods though is the amazingly beautiful pastry cases where the fruit tarts usually steal the show. Before I ventured out and tried making my own - I wanted to try one of these guys that I've been eying from Whole Foods.

Well my friends, I have to say when I finally did - I was disappointed. It wasn't that the crust wasn't perfect, that the cream wasn't rich and that the fruit wasn't fresh - no it was the mysteriously clear, gel-like substance holding the fruit on top of this beautiful tart together that put me off. I have no idea what this stuff was, I assume its some type of common adhesive used in the pastry world, but really Whole Foods? Doesn't your name alone imply the absence of mysteriously clear gel-like substances on your food? Even if it helps your tarts look more beautiful?

Shortly after this gag-inducing experience, I saw Kelsey post a Fresh Fruit Tart recipe from her engagement dinner (Congratulations Kelsey!). Its an Ina Garten recipe and contained no mysterious gels so I ran right out and bought myself a tart pan!

The timing worked out perfectly because my Dad was in Chicago for a few days for work. I was so excited to have a Sunday dinner with him, Joe and my brother. That's one of the things I miss most about living away from my parents so I really wanted to make it a special dinner. We had flank steak, spinach salad and orzo pasta for dinner, followed by this for dessert.

The tart came out perfectly from the crust to the cream, to the fruit that was just placed on rather than held together. I was quite proud of myself, this being my first tart experience and plan on making many more!

And I can't close the post without mentioning that I had nothing to do with the fruit placement, that was all my brother (well, I may have a rearranged a few berries at the end, but for the most part he did it all by himself).

Fresh Fruit Tart
(Source: Apple A Day, from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)

For the tart shell:
3/4 c. unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 c. granulated sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
pinch of salt

For the pastry cream (makes enough for two nine or ten-inch tarts):
6 extra-large egg yolks at room temperature
3/4 c. granulated sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
3 TBSP cornstarch
2 c. whole milk
2 TBSP unsalted butter
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 TBSP heavy cream (I used half and half)
1 TBSP Cognac or brandy

For the topping, you may use any fresh fruit you like.


To make the tart shell, mixer the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until they are just combined. Add the vanilla extract.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add to the butter mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together.

Generously dust your working surface with flour and turn the dough out onto the surface. Using a rolling pin also dusted with flour, shape your dough into a circle large enough to cover a 10-inch round tart pan. Press the dough into the tart pan and trim the edges so they are even. Chill the dough in the pan until firm.

When ready to bake the shell, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Butter or spray one side of a piece of foil and place it, buttered side down, on the tart shell. Fill with dry beans, rice, and pie weights and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and prick the tart shell several times with a fork. Bake again for 18-25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool to room temperature.

To make the pastry cream, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed for about three minutes in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. The mixture should become light yellow and fall back into the bowl in a ribbon. On low speed, beat in the cornstarch.

Bring the milk to a bowl in a large saucepan and, with the mixer on low, slowly pour it into the egg mixture. Once all of the milk is incorporated, return the mixture to the saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick, about ten minutes. (Don't worry if the mixture looks clumpy for a couple of minutes. If you're whisking or stirring consistently, it will relax.) Bring to a boil and cook on low heat two to three minutes more. Taste to be sure the cornstarch is cooked.

Remove from the heat, mix in the vanilla, butter, cream, and Cognac or brandy, and strain into a bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the custard and refrigerate until cold.

To assemble the tart, spread the chilled pastry cream even over the interior surface of the cooled tart shell. Arrange the fruit to your liking. Ina recommends assembling the tart no more than a few hours before serving, as a baked shell or finished tart should not be refrigerated.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mado - Bday Dinnner II

This is the last of my "I've been too busy to cook or bake let along blog about it updates". I've actually been cooking and baking quite a bit over the last couple of weeks, so let's get this out of the way so I can share it with you - mmmkay?

So for my other birthday dinner with my girlfriends, we went to Mado, another Mediterranean inspired restaurant that uses local ingredients (sound familiar!?). I have to say that I enjoyed dinner at Mado as much as our dinner at the Girl and the Goat - without all the hype!

My friend sent me a list of restaurants to choose from a few weeks back and I chose Mado based on the description, without doing a lot of research on yelp reviews, etc. I was shocked when I went on Yelp afterward to find that Mado only has 3.5 stars. Maybe we went on a good night, but I found little to complain about with this restaurant.

The atmosphere in the restaurant is great for such a small place, low lights and candles in a brick, lofty space. We also had no complaints about the service, however that seemed to be a big contribution to negative reviews on yelp, so maybe we just got lucky.

So actually the only negative thing I have to say about the place was our starter course - we ordered the citrus cured lake perch, while it was beautiful and the flavors were there - the texture of the fish was very tough and rubbery - not at all appetizing.

We were concerned that the rest of the dinner would be a disappointment, but our fears quickly went away when we saw our entrees!

We actually decided to share entrees since we couldn't decide on what we wanted. We got:

Spit roasted chicken with marinara and chick peas

Penne with arugula and pistachio pesto

Roasted Rainbow trout

All three of these dishes were unbelievably delicious! Our favorites were split between the pesto pasta and the chicken (not to diminish the trout which so very tasty as well).

The pesto was so creamy and rich, unlike any other pesto I've had before. I have made arugula pesto and love how arugula gives it a peppery bite - but I think it must have been the pistachios that put this over the top for me. I am definitely trying this one at home soon!

The chicken - oh my god, the marinara sauce was sooo delicious, we couldn't get enough. While the chicken was very juicy and tasty, we loved the beans with the sauce on them just as much.

So all in all, this dinner was a great start to our night out and I am shocked by any less than stellar reviews I saw on this place. Maybe they just went through a pretentious stage and they're over it now!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Girl and the Goat - Restauarant Review

So for my birthday dinner last week, my wonderful husband managed to snag us a reservation at (Top Chef Season 4 winner) Stephanie Izard's new restaurant, The Girl and the Goat. It's been open for less than a month and next to Lady Gaga crowd surfing practically naked at Semi-Precious Weapons during Lollapalooza - its all Chicagoans are talking about.

For such a highly hyped restaurant, you really wouldn't guess it from the ambiance or the service. The decor is very open and welcoming - which as a matter of fact, pretty much describes the service as well. I think I would even venture to say that this was probably the best service I've ever experienced in Chicago, from the valets to the hostesses to the waitress to the sommelier, to the bus boy. Everyone came off as genuine, eager to please and overly excited to talk to you about their favorite dishes (although they were all quick to point out that everything on the menu was delicious).

So the focus of the restaurant is small plates with Mediterranean flavors and organic, locally sourced ingredients. Right up my alley. Not really up Joe's, but that's okay because it was my birthday. Again, along with the service, I really didn't find the food to pretentious at all, just good food, prepared skillfully and packed with flavor.

I should preface before going on that just because Joe didn't like a dish, doesn't mean it wasn't delicious. As you know, he's just a meat and potatoes kind of guy and can be a bit resistant towards anything that is even a little bit "out there".

We started off with fried okra stuffed with homemade sausage.

As you can see I snapped the pic after we started eating it, (00ps!), but rest assured - it was delicious. In fact, a lot of the dishes were not what I would call beautiful but I think that's part of the charm of her food.

Next we had the hiramasa crudo, with pork belly and caper berries. This was probably the prettiest of the dishes, but my 2nd least favorite (but I liked this about 100 times more than what my least favorite dish was).

While it was a very tasty dish, my only complaint was it did seem a bit salty between the fish, the sauce and the caper berries. By the way I had never seen a caper berry before - they look like fruit but taste like capers (as the name suggests!).

Next, we had the soft shell crab, over sweet corn with lime and chili aioli. OH. MY. GOD. This was DELICIOUS. Between the texture of the fried crab with the crunchy corn and the amount of flavor she managed to pack into the corn - this was definitely my favorite of the night, and probably up there with Top 10 things I've ever tasted.

Next they brought out the green beans we had ordered, which were delicious, probably the tastiest green beans I've ever had (they were served with a fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews) - but my only complaint was they were the second to last dish we received. I would have liked to have had them earlier in the meal so we could have snacked on them throughout. That didn't stop me from eating close to all of them (Joe of course didn't like them).

Okay, so this next dish is very difficult for me to talk about. And its been almost two weeks.

So - I'll just come out with it. It was pig face. Yes, dear readers, pig face. I'm not sure what to say about this, other than - I really don't know what we were thinking. All I know is Joe seemed intrigued by it, the server recommended it, and I can be somewhat of an adventurous eater. Since Joe rarely is, I seized the opportunity.

I wish I hadn't.

They pull all the fat off the face and roll it up into some type of a sausage, served with shoestring fries and an egg.

I'm sure there are more adventurous eaters out there than me who liked this - but the whole thing just came off as overly greasy to me and just unappetizing. My stomach also did not feel right the next morning, which could have more to do with the fact that I was probably more mentally grossed out by this - but let's just say I won't be trying pig face again anytime soon.

And I've been steering clear of pork since then. I'm sure I'll get over at some point.

So at least we didn't completely end the night on that note - we ordered a delicious dessert, called the fudgesicle, which was essentially frozen fudge covered in coarse salt, topped with an olive oil gelato. This was a delicious and much more pleasant way to end our night!

One thing to add is that for such an outstanding and hyped up restaurant, the prices are very reasonable for Chicago. We had plenty to eat, along with a bottle of prosecco, and I think our bill was around $125.

So all in all, I really very much enjoyed the Girl and the Goat and will definitely be returning, next time though probably with girl friends - and I will not be ordering the pig face.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Macarons from Vanille Patisserie in Chicago

So unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know that macarons are the hottest thing since - well, cupcakes. I've seen them all over the blogosphere lately and apparently Facebook has figured out that they'd be right up my alley since they are always advertising them to me.

While I'm really excited to try making them at home, my life has been a bit too crazy lately for any real baking challenges. That and - despite the fact that I've been craving them every time I see a picture of these adorable little cookies - I hadn't actually tried them yet!

I figured out the perfect excuse to try them when some friends and I went up to Ravinia Park (outdoor concert venue in a Chicago suburb) to see an Abba cover band (yes, we know we're huge dorks, as evidenced by our love for Abba here). I started researching where the best place to buy macarons in Chicago was and decided on Vanille Pastisserie, a french bakery in Lincoln Park. I was all set to take an alternate route home on the El the night before we left to pick some up - when I realized that they have a location in the French market right by the train station we were leaving from the next day to go to the concert - perfect! I love when the universe aligns for me like that....

So what did I think of these tasty little devils?

(Please excuse the chipped nail polish, I told you, its been a busy month!)

Well they were exactly what I imagined they would be - light, sweet, meringuey. We got a variety of flavors and while they were all delicious I think I liked the raspberry, pistachio and lavender ones the best. It will be tough to decide which kind to make first when I do try making them.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A change of pace for a bit....

Hello out there! So the last few weeks of my life have been crazy, just like summer tends to get for most people.

Besides the fact that I'm now traveling to London once a month for work, I've just had a lot going on the last few weeks, but since its all dying down now, I thought I'd share with you what I've been eating, since I haven't done that much cooking or baking lately (well, nothing blog worthy that is).

My birthday was last week, and since I'm one of those people that likes to drag out the celebration as long as possible, a lot of it involves eating out. So my next few posts are going to be of restaurants and such around Chicago.

Speaking of my birthday - do you like my new apron?

My friend April flew in from Denver this weekend and gave me this fabulous apron from Anthropologie. My favorite color is purple, so this was obviously a hit with me (and if you look closely you can see another birthday present from Joe - hint: it tells time and contains diamonds!!!).

I love the apron so much that I was determined I could wear it as a dress (although that may have been the wine talking). What do you think?

And speaking of April, we went to see Lady Gaga at Lollapalooza on Friday - AMAZING.

Here she is with a chocolate espresso tart we I ate before the show.

Who buys a huge chocolate tart and drinks it with their Bud Light at Lollapalooza? This birthday girl. And it was delicious.

Stay tuned - for more updates soon - including macarons (that I bought, not made) and pics from my birthday dinner at Stephanie Izard's new restaurant - The Girl and the Goat.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sorry Dear...(Margarita Cupcakes)

Joe had to go out of town for work this past week and while I missed him terribly (and still do since I'm in London now - terrible timing!), I enjoyed a week full of Joe-free food (lots of feta cheese, whole grains and veggies and hardly any meat - and I might have had popcorn for dinner one night). All kinds of stuff that he wouldn't feel jealous in the slightest about missing.

Except for these cupcakes that is.

Some friends and I had plans to go to Movies in the Park (if you don't live in Chicago its something they do in the summer with a free movie playing on a jumbo screen in a park - basically an excuse to have a picnic in the city) one night and I had been dying to try this recipe.

So while my friends (and co-workers) happily devoured them, poor Joe didn't get a single one. I guess I'll just have to make them again : )

I got this recipe on Annie's Eats and knew I would love it when I saw the frosting was a swiss buttercream. These cakes are seriously delicious and have a good kick to them. I opted for a green sugar garnish to mimic decorative rim salt, but as Annie noted, a sprinkling of coarse salt would actually work too - I just wasn't brave enough!

Margarita Cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3 limes, zested and juiced
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

For the frosting:
2 cups sugar
8 large egg whites
Pinch fleur de sel (coarse salt)
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2½ tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2-4 tbsp. tequila

Source: Annie's Eat's

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 325˚ F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir with a fork to blend. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Blend in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the lime zest, lime juice and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat each addition just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners, filling each about ¾ full. Bake 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If desired, brush the cooled cakes with tequila to emphasize the true margarita flavor.

To make the frosting, combine the sugar, egg whites, and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.

Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (don’t worry, it will come together, though it may take a long time!) Stir in the lime juice and tequila and mix until fully incorporated and smooth.

Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.

Frost the cooled cupcakes with the buttercream and garnish as desired.

Cupcake on FoodistaCupcake

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Flank Steak with Chimichurri (and my 5 year anniversary)

So this was not my wedding anniversary, not a blog anniversary, or even work. Somehow, out of the blue on my way home from work Tuesday night, it popped into my head that it was 5 years to the date that I had moved to Chicago. I got a little nostalgic and called my good friend April who moved out to Chicago with me (and sadly lives in Denver now) to reminisce about our move, or our "escape" from Ohio as we liked to call it. 5 years ago I moved with all my possessions in a U-Haul (btw, I highly recommend that all single women drive their own U-Haul at least once in your life, it makes you feel like a new woman), having 1 friend and 1 brother in the city, anxious and a little nervous about what laid ahead.

Now, I'm so fortunate to have a great group of friends, a job that I love like a lot, and most importantly, my best friend and husband Joe. So just as I was thinking about going out and celebrating, I remembered I had this flank steak marinating in the fridge and a hungry husband at home. Joe and I had a celebratory beer on the balcony and then cooked dinner and found a Criminal Minds rerun on TV that we hadn't seen before - a perfect evening : )

I've been meaning to try chimichurri sauce, which is the easiest and most delicious thing in the world. Seriously, you can put this stuff on anything; fries, any type of grilled meat, over avocado (as I did with my meal), mixed in with your cilantro, lime and black bean rice (as I also did with my meal).

I decided to put it over marinated, grilled flank steak, which was soooo delicious - I'll be making this stuff again soon!

Flank Steak Marinade


1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds flank steak

Mix the oil, soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, garlic, and ground black pepper in bowl, and pour the marinade over the steak - I did mine in a large Ziploc bag, but you could use a bowl or a shallow glass dish. Marinade for 6 - 24 hours.

Preheat the grill to medium/high heat, oil the grate and grill for about 5 minutes on each side.


Chimichurri Sauce


1 large garlic clove
1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro
1 1/2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Add garlic, cilantro, parsley, vinegar, oil, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a food processor then pulse until herbs are finely chopped.

Source: Adapted from What's on My Plate (Gourmet 2001)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Long overdue recap of Londontown....

Hello! So I'm back from London (have been for a few weeks now, sorry!) with a recap of my trip, and of course what I ate. I apologize in advance for some of the poor photo quality. I (of course) forgot my camera charger and had to take pictures of the entire trip on my blackberry - this is partly why it took me so long to post them.

I've been to London a few times before for work, but being there for a whole month really gave me plenty of time on the weekends to get out and see quite a bit of the city and its restaurants (and bars ; ). I think its funny how much people equate England with terrible food. Yes, the traditional English fare can be quite disgusting (see "traditional English breakfast" below), however London has some of the most amazing restaurants - especially ethnic food.

The first weekend I was there, I went on a tour to see Leeds Castle & Canterbury Cathedral.

Leeds Castle

Canterbury Cathedral

Cloisters at Canterbury

I love love love medieval history and learning more about plus getting see it in person is just the coolest thing. I booked my tour through Evans Evans and would highly recommend using them. You get to see so much in a day that it would be impossible to do it on your own for the same price in a day. I ended up booking another tour through them later on that month and both tour guides were amazing.

On the tour I met a lovely couple, Barbara and Richard from New Jersey. They took me under their wing and after chatting with them all day and realizing how much we had in common, they invited me out to dinner that night with them. Since my plans consisted of the couch in my company flat, a dinner of bread, olive and wine, and whatever I could find on British television, I happily rescheduled those plans for the next night : )


They took me to Pasha, a Morroccan restaurant on Gloucester Road. Richard and Barbara had been telling me about the fig martini there all day long so I was extremely excited to try it - and let's just say it lived up to the hype. I am kicking myself for not getting a photo of it (and Google images yields nothing like what I had) - but please my take my word for it - it is AMAZING. Barbara and I managed to get the recipe from the bartender, so as I soon as I try it I will post it here.

The next weekend I did a few more touristy things around the city, including going to the Tate Modern. I can't necessarily say that I'm a huge fan of modern art, but the Tate definitely has one of the best, if not the best modern art collections in the world. It wasn't far from where I was staying and the price was right (free) so I was really glad I went. Even if you're not huge on modern art, you won't be disappointed, pretty much every piece you see is interesting and discussion worthy (if not head-scratching).

Andy Warhol room at the Tate

A Monet painting, that ironically, my sister and I had bed sheets based on this painting growing up. I sent her a pic from the museum and she recognized it right away : )

And then....finally....after 2.5 long weeks....Joe came to visit! This was by far the longest we've ever gone without seeing each other (and hopefully never will again). He was just over for a long weekend, but we had so much fun - and ate a lot. One thing that I wanted to do while he was here was take him for a "traditional English breakfast". Joe is a huge fan of breakfast, and basically judges every hotel, city, and country we visit on the quality of their breakfast.

Traditional English breakfast my friends, is...well...its disgusting. See for yourself:

In case you're wondering what the greasy brown blob in the upper right hand corner is - those are mushrooms. Underneath them are baked beans. And yes those are french fries. And ham. And sausage. And a fried tomato. Accompanying this was coffee about the consistency of tar (which I had false high hopes for since it was actually brewed and not instant like most Brits drink their coffee). After 2 weeks of cooking for myself (lots of whole grain pasta, veggies and hardly any meat) - my body pretty much went into shock after eating this meal. While I thought this would be right up Joe's ally, he wasn't overly impressed by it either. Oh well, scratch that one off the life list and move on.

We went on that day to the Tower of London, which was probably my favorite touristy thing I did while I was there. The history is just so amazing, not to mention the Crown Jewels (unfortunately they won't let you take pictures of them). The other really cool thing was an exhibit on royal armour.

Henry VIII's armour (and his horse's). Up close, you could see the initials "H" and "C" engraved along the bottom for that scoundrel and his first wife. Very very cool.

After doing a "pub lunch" that day (which I learned does not actually consist of food), I left Joe for an hour to take a shower and come back, and found he had made a best friend in the form of a very nice old man named Ross:

He has a tendency to do this type of thing wherever we go.

That night, we headed into Central London and stopped for drinks before dinner.

And an appetizer of crab risotto and salmon roe. Which I forgot to photograph until we were done eating it.

It was delicious.

We made our way to Shanghai Blue for dinner and had a blast, as well as a delicious meal. What's interesting about ethnic cuisine in London is it feels a tad more authentic than what we get in the States (even in cities like Chicago). Maybe its because London is more of a global city, but whatever it is it works.

Actually its funny that I say that about a Chinese Restaurant that has live blues music during dinner, but I mean the food is more authentic Chinese : ) The atmosphere was really cool and we enjoyed our dinner and drinks. I ordered a honeydew melon martini, which AGAIN I forgot to take a photo of! Joe ordered a Shanghai Mule, which consisted of ginger beer and sake, along with lychee. Neither of us had ever had lychee before, and Joe (very maturely) made an inappropriate comparison of it to a part of a bull's anatomy (why a bull?) before biting into it.

Joe, biting into lychee

As part of our meal, we ordered steamed salmon dumplings with gold flakes. Gold flakes are cool and all, but you can't really taste them. The dumplings were delicious though.

The next day we did another Evans Evans tour of Windsor Castle, Bath and Stonehenge.

Me in front of Windsor Castle

St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle (Henry VIII's remains are in there)

Roman Bath at Bath

Joe and I at Stonehenge

Stonehenge was probably my favorite part of that tour, it is just unreal seeing it in person. And - we're lucky because the exhibit is being closed this summer for 10 years to do repairs.

After the tour we were exhausted, and Joe had an early flight the next day. So we did what any good Americans would do. We stayed in and ordered pizza. Not just any pizza....

That's right folks, we ordered Papa Johns. In London. Joe loves Papa Johns pizza and we have no Papa Johns in Chicago (I'm well aware of the fact that we are lucky to have access to pizza in Chicago that is far superior to Papa Johns - but hey he wants what he wants). So when we walked past one I relented and we ordered it. It wasn't very good.

The last noteworthy thing I did was getting drinks with some co-workers the last night I was there. We went to a restaurant/bar, Sketch which was unbelievably cool. Words can not describe walking through this place - other than its a bit like Alice in Wonderland. It definitely has an ultra-hip, fairly pretentious vibe to it and drinks were crazy expensive (we didn't eat there). Totally worth the experience though and I definitely want to go back next time I'm in London (I'll be sure to wear a trendier outfit than I did the first time too : ).

Herb martini at sketch, made with rosemary, mint, basil and lemon vodka. Delicious.

Toilets at Sketch, shaped like eggs (the blue lights in the background were the boy's side). I'm told that when you close the door to one of the eggs on the boy's side there is an audio track of a woman laughing at you.

So all in all, I had a great time and enjoyed the food and the cocktails. In fact, I'd say this trip opened my eyes to cocktails a bit. I'm always a go-to wine drinker when I'm out at dinner and for some reason never consider cocktails. Its not like there aren't options here in Chicago so I'm excited to try more interesting combinations (and make the fig martinis at home). I actually convinced a friend of this the other night while we were at a byob sushi place and we both tried different asian-inspired martinis instead of drinking wine. While they were delicious, she subtly reminded me that a $10 martini for one person is significantly less economical than the corkage fee on a $10 bottle of wine that you can share : )