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.