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Banana Nut Muffins

July 18, 2014

Some super exciting yet bittersweet news, my friends! On the same day I started my Whole30 challenge, I also landed my first gig in Italy– baking American-style desserts for a local gelateria. The irony is almost laughable… almost. This will be an exercise of will power like I’ve never experienced.

 

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Normally, if I’m baking something and I am trying to refrain from eating any of it, I simply pop in a piece of gum and then voilà! No one wants a lick of peppermint batter… But that’s not entirely true either, especially when making Peppermint Crinkle Cookies, Peppermint Truffle Brownies, or Peppermint Mocha Cupcakes, but that is much different  than licking brownie batter with gum in your mouth, ya know?

 

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I had a hunch gum wasn’t Whole30 compliant with all of it’s added sugars, unpronounceable ingredients, and what have you, but I decided to double check, just in case… because I’m not really eating it, just chewing on it?? Well, in case you’re wondering, it’s not, but they did suggest brushing your teeth more frequently or chewing on mint leaves or fennel seeds for fresh breath alternatives… I already brush my teeth at least three times a day and at some point, brushing my teeth four times a day starts getting a bit excessive.

 

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My other alternative was to drink coffee while baking, but that proved to be ineffective considering I was making all breakfast treats and coffee would only complement my baked goods. Also, during the Whole30 I can’t consume dairy so my daily lattes are now just gagged shots of espresso. I’ve recently bit the bullet and started forcing myself to stomach plain espresso (after all, Italians look at you funny if you order anything with milk after 12 o’clock), but I always add copious amounts of sugar and since I’m not consuming sugar.. Well, now I really have to take it like a shot.

 

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But enough complaining and more sharing, since drinking espresso plain is pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things… With the exception of baking for a few weddings, bridal showers, and baby showers, I’ve never really baked for a crowd and since my dream/goal in life is to open a bakery with my sisters, I thought this would be the PERFECT opportunity to experience baking for a crowd! Thankfully, we’re starting off slow with baking only two days a week, depending on how well received my desserts are, we’ll adjust accordingly.

 

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After sharing my classic Blueberry Muffins, the owner of the shop had the wonderful idea of introducing a breakfast-like treat for the morning as well as my desserts. Since my Blueberry Muffins were a hit, I decided to make Banana Nut Muffins! Alas, I have finally baked all the flavors of Costco’s variety-pack! I personally love banana baked goods because if done right, they are always super moist and flavorful and you can always get your hands on a bushel of bananas!

 

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These Banana Nut Muffins are no exception; moist, not too dense, flavorful, and crunchy with a slightly crisp, caramelized crust. They are super easy to make and they rise to the perfect little domed tops- just how I like my muffin tops. Of course, I refused to cheat on Day 1 so these are the opinions of others, but I know I’ll be making these again when I can eat all of them straight out of the oven!

Banana Nut Muffins recipe from Tyler Florence:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

4 overripe bananas

1 cup brown sugar

¾ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½-1 cup pecans, chopped

Raw sugar, optional

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and lightly butter a muffin tin.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Mash 2 of the bananas with a fork in a small bowl so they still have a bit of texture. With an electric mixer fitted with a wire whisk, whip the remaining bananas and sugar together like you mean it, for a good 3 minutes. Add the melted butter, eggs, and vanilla and beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated. Fold in the nuts and the mashed bananas with a rubber spatula. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins to fill them about three quarters of the way. Give them a rap on the counter to get any air bubbles out. Sprinkle raw sugar and chopped pecans over the top of the muffins.
  3. Bake until a toothpick stuck in the muffins comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before turning the muffins out. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Brambleberry Crisp Ice Cream

July 15, 2014

The sun is shining, the air conditioner is blasting, and I’m sweating in a tank top and cut-offs. Summer is here and the season of homemade ice cream is among us!

 

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Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home cookbook is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. Each time I flip through it, I fantasize about all the different recipes of hers that I’ll eventually get around to making, like Beet Ice Cream with Mascarpone, Orange Zest, and Poppy Seeds or her assortment of  Sour Beer Sorbets. Not to mention, Jeni’s go-to ice cream base is the absolute perfect at-home base for experimenting with and making a flavor that’s truly your own… If you really wanted to make me happy, you could order me a copy of her newest cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts (hint hint, Tony).

 

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Jeni’s Ice Cream is kind of a tradition between Tony, my best friend and college roommate, Chelsea, and her boyfriend and Tony’s BFF, Hunter. The four of us are not above buying two pints of Buckeye State and Salty Caramel and devouring it all under 10 minutes with four spoons. Chelsea and Hunter are also the only two other people in this world that are as obsessed with food and can eat as much as Tony and I. It’s a beautiful relationship. Since Jeni’s opened up shop on Southport in Chicago, we’ve made it a tradition to get Thai food at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Sticky Rice, and then make our way over to Southport for an after-dinner treat.

 

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During our last visit to Chicago, the four of us squeezed in one last trip to Jeni’s before Tony and I departed and I had my first taste of Brambleberry Crisp, or as I like to mistakenly call it, Bumbleberry Crisp. Whether its ice cream, frozen yogurt, or gelato, I am a creature of habit and I always choose a chocolate-y or caramel flavor. Fruit is for the birds. But since I am not ashamed of sampling every Jeni’s flavor available (Jeni’s little helpers are always so encouraging and friendly), I sampled Brambleberry Crisp. Oh. My. Word. I’ll just copy and paste the description from Jeni’s website since words are beyond me when describing this ice cream, “

Buttery, oven-toasted oat streusel and a striking, sweet-tart “brambleberry” jam of blackberries and black currants layered throughout vanilla ice cream.

 

It’s truly like eating a slice of heaven mashed into a delicious and creamy vanilla ice cream. I was so excited to recreate this flavor at home aanddddd luckily for me, ALL of the different components of this ice cream (oat streusel, brambleberry jam, and Ugandan vanilla bean ice cream) are featured in her first cookbook.

 

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I made my way to the market to pick up brambleberries… What the heck are brambleberries? Pretty much the family of berries grown on “bramble” bushes. Anyway, I couldn’t find black currants anywhere, so I just bought extra blackberries and some raspberries. So yes, technically this isn’t a Brambleberry Jam, but a Blackberry-Raspberry Jam, but it does the trick. I cooked my jam and my oat streusel on the first day to save some time and popped my ice cream bowl attachment into the freezer, that is, after a few minutes of reorganizing the freezer and removing two drawers (silly, small Italian freezers and fridges).

 

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The next morning, I woke up with a smile on my face– it’s ice cream day! I seeded my vanilla bean, cooked my cream, made my slurry, and cooled my milk mixture; only to find out that my American KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment DOES NOT FIT my European KitchenAid. What do you mean??? What do you mean this does not fit?! I was furious. I thrashed around the kitchen for a bit and then did some research on the Internet to find a solution. The solution entailed using a bunch of gizmos and gadgets to remove a washer, which is completely unnecessary in the first place, and quite frankly, it just sounded like a lot of work that I wasn’t willing to do. But I wasn’t about to give up that quickly.

 

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I have a newfound respect for “hand-churned” ice cream because boy, that is an arm work-out and a half! The entire 50 minutes I hand-churned my ice cream, I was thinking, “How in the world did people do this before machines??” and I felt completely justified, almost compelled, to eat this entire batch of ice cream because I surely just burned all of the calories I would consume eating it while churning it. The ice cream ended up getting a little icy, because sue me, I threw in the towel after 50 minutes of churning and placed it in the freezer as is, kind of a melting, hot mess. But even my icy Brambleberry Crisp was amazing… and totally worth a 50-minute arm work-out of hand-churning.

So yeah, if I could hand-churn this ice cream, you can surely make this recipe with an ice cream maker because it is THAT GOOD.

Brambleberry Crisp Ice Cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home:

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream:

2 cups whole milk

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 ½ ounces cream cheese, softened

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 ¼ cups heavy cream

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out, seeds and bean reserved

“Brambleberry” Sauce:

2 cups blackberries and raspberries

1 cup sugar

Crisp Streusel:

½ pound unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and chilled

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups old-fashioned oats

  1. To make the sauce, combine the berries and sugar in a 1-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue boiling, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 220 degrees F (5 to 8 minutes). Let cool slightly, then force through a sieve to remove seeds. (Or leave a few seeds in there just to prove you made it.) Refrigerate until cold before using.
  2. To make the crisp streusel, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put all the ingredients except the oats in a bowl and blend by rubbing the dry ingredients into the butter with your fingertips. Work quickly so that the butter does not melt. When the mixture looks like coarse sand, add the oats and mix well. Spread out on an ungreased baking sheet. Break apart any large clumps into crumbs about ¼ to ½ inch in size. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until toasted and browned, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, especially in the corners, and to turn over the unbaked portions. Let cool completely, and then freeze until ready to use. The streusel can be frozen for up to 1 month.
  3. To make the ice cream, mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.
  4. Combine the remaining milk, the cream, sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla seeds and bean in a 4-quart saucepan, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes precisely. Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  5. Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.
  6. Remove the vanilla bean. Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy.
  7. After churning, pack into a storage container alternating it with layers of bramblerry sauce and crisp streusel. Press a sheet of parchment paper directly against the surface, and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least four hours.

Blueberry Muffins

July 12, 2014

As a dessert feign and avid baker, I am always trying to intensify flavors and add complicity to classic desserts (i.e., Browned Butter Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt, Nutella and Dulce de Leche Stuffed Double Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt, Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart with Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts, etc.). I love overly sweet things and I tend to cram as much as I can into one single dessert and I tend to lose sight of the beauty of simplicity when it comes to desserts.

 

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Tony and I made a quick trip to Amsterdam this past weekend and stopped by our favorite coffeehouse, Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters, like an actual coffee shop not a pseudo-Amsterdam-coffeeshop. I discovered Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters before our first trip to Amsterdam on Instagram believe it or not. I can’t tell you how many different restaurants, cafes, and bakeries I’ve discovered by stalking Instagram and hashtags; it’s almost sad, but definitely worth it. Anyway, after scrolling through hundreds of photos of this coffeehouse, I knew I had to make it a priority to get to this place and order a flat white and a chocolate chip cookie.

 

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On our first trip to Amsterdam and Lot Sixty One, we were fortunate enough to meet the owner, Adam, an expat from Australia who travels the world and opens the most amazing coffeehouses that are designed and operated to perfection. As we walked in the door, Adam was walking up the stairs with a baking sheet of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I almost tumbled over in pure delight right then.

 

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As Adam graciously answered our 100+ questions about his experience and different shops, I tasted quite possibly the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had in my life. I stopped him in mid-sentence and asked if he made these himself and where he got the recipe… Of course, he couldn’t give away all of his secrets, but he was willing to offer me the ingredient list and to my surprise, it was nothing out of the ordinary… He used a high quality butter, granulated sugar, eggs, baking soda, flour, and high-quality chocolate chips. No special tips or tricks. He simply used the highest-quality of ordinary ingredients and made something truly extraordinary.

 

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Our most recent visit back to Lot Sixty One was no exception. We arrived to Lot Sixty One as soon as they opened and we were greeted by the overwhelming aroma of fresh wild blueberry muffins hot from the oven. Since we were slightly early, the chocolate chip cookies were still baking, but Tony was unwilling to pass up on the Blueberry Muffins… As we waited for the chocolate chip cookies to bake, my baking talents were stomped all over once again by this simple and classic blueberry muffin. Like their chocolate chip cookies, these Blueberry Muffins were simply sensational, emphasis on simply. They only used the highest ingredients available and didn’t mess around with any special gimmicks; no browned butter or crumble topping to speak of. They were so good that we ordered two more flat whites and another muffin to go along with my cookie.

 

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After listening to Tony rave about how amazing these Blueberry Muffins were and how they were the best baked good he’s ever tasted, I decided it was time to make a classic Blueberry Muffin recipe using Italy’s seasonal wild blueberries and the highest-quality ingredients I could find.

 

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Even while looking for a classic Blueberry Muffin recipe, I was tempted by the lemon sugar, brown butter crumble, and jam swirling additions of other recipes, and kept having to remind myself to stick to the goal! Simple and classic! This recipe is an old New York Times favorite and I fell in love with it because of its simplicity and ordinary ingredient list.

 

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Although these muffins weren’t comparable to Lot Sixty One’s because they were much lighter than Lot Sixty One’s dense muffins, they were still a huge hit. I used Lurpak butter, which is a delicious salted Danish butter– quite frankly I can eat it plain and I also found a special blend of organic flour for sweets and desserts to use as a substitute for the cake flour. It is a super-light crumb, almost cupcake like, moist, subtly sweet, and full of flavor with blueberries bursting throughout each bite! Delightful.

 

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Until next time, Amsterdam!

 

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Classic Blueberry Muffins from The New York Times, originally published with On Blueberry Hill:

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1 egg, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 ½ cups fresh blueberries, cleaned

½ cup milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using an electric mixer, combine the butter and lemon zest. Add 1 cup of sugar and beat until light. Mix in the egg and then the vanilla.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Place the blueberries in a bowl and toss with ¼ cup of the flour mixture. Add the remaining flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the milk, mixing just to combine. Gently fold in the blueberries.
  3. Line a muffin pan with paper muffin cups. Spoon the batter into the cups, filling them about ¾ full. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining sugar. Bake until muffins are lightly browned and spring back when touched in the center, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Triple Layer Peanut Butter Brownies

July 8, 2014

A few weeks ago Tony and I went to a BBQ with a handful of our friends from CrossFit and I took it upon myself to make all the desserts for the outing. I have been pretty inactive in terms of baking and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to dust off the old Zia Francesca (the name I’m given my Italian KitchenAid, for those of you who don’t know). Although it was a week before Fourth of July weekend, I figured it would be the closest thing to a Fourth of July party we would be attending in Italy so I made it my mission to make all my desserts in true American fashion.

 

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I made Banana Cake, mostly because I really wanted to try my hand at making a Naked Cake again, Peach Brown Butter Buckle, because what’s more American than peaches and a crumble, and Triple Layer Peanut Butter Brownies, made with Skippy Peanut Butter, because what else would I use? I don’t want to toot my own horn, but they loved EVERYTHING… Specifically these Triple Layer Peanut Butter Brownies.

 

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I hadn’t even finished slicing the cake before these brownies disappeared. Literally, seconds! Thank goodness I had already eaten a few “ugly” brownies while packing them in the Tupperware or else we would have had a real problem on our hands. I must admit, it was a cruel trick, introducing all of these Italians to the beautiful combination of peanut butter and chocolate… But don’t be alarmed, you can find Skippy in a few grocery stores throughout Florence! It costs an arm and a leg for a measly jar of 12 ounces, but I’m not about to use their version of canned peanut butter– especially when baking.

 

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Unfortunately, I was too occupied with assembling cakes, heating up cast iron skillets, keeping gelato cool, and transporting desserts that I didn’t get a final product of ANY of the desserts. Fortunately, I made way too much ganache and I had the perfect excuse to whip these bad boys up again three days later!

 

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I found this recipe on Not Without Salt and I was smitten. The brownie is pretty much the exact same recipe I posted a few weeks back with the exception of a ¼ cup sugar to counterbalance the sweetness for the peanut butter frosting… But then I added a dark chocolate ganache for an extra touch… It’s a winner.

 

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Triple Layer Peanut Butter Brownies slightly adapted from Not Without Salt:

Brownies:

10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) butter

1 cup sugar

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cold large eggs

½ cup all-purpose flour

Peanut Butter Frosting:

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) softened butter

¾ cup peanut butter

1 cup powdered sugar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon Maldon

Ganache:

1 cup high quality dark chocolate chips

2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

  1. To make the brownies, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
  2. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. (It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added.)
  3. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
  4. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes is Medrich’s suggestion but it took me at least 10 minutes longer to get them set. Let cool completely on a rack. Once cool, frost with peanut butter frosting and sprinkle with flake salt (Maldon) or Fleur De Sel.
  5. To make the peanut butter frosting, cream the butter and the peanut butter until combined. Slowly stir in the powdered sugar until completely incorporated. Spread over cooled brownies. Sprinkle the Maldon all over.
  6. To make the ganache, place chocolate morsels in a large non-reactive bowl and in a medium saucepan, heat cream until bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour it over the chocolate. Let chocolate and cream mixture sit for 3 minutes. With a wooden spoon, begin stirring small circles in the middle of the bowl. As the smooth mixture begins to form in the middle, slowly expand the size of the circle until the cream and chocolate is fully incorporated. Let ganache cool for 5 minutes and then gently spread over the top of the pie and decorate as desired. Cover with foil and let ganache set in the freezer for an additional two hours.

 

 

Peach, Fig, Prosciutto, Blue Cheese, and Walnut Salad with a Dijon and Honey Vinaigrette

July 1, 2014

Since moving to Italy, my love for cooking has grown tremendously. My knowledge of ingredients is still sparse and my techniques are still awful and would make any judge on MasterChef cringe in horror. Which is coincidentally the only show I can watch in Italy that’s in English… but bad techniques or not, cooking has become a true love of mine, to the point that I would rather cook most meals than go out to eat or even… bake!

 

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If cooking in Italy has taught me anything, it’s the importance of cooking with quality local ingredients, in other words, seasonal ingredients. If something isn’t in season in Florence, tough luck, because you’re not going to find it ANYWHERE. Since I’m still learning the seasons of most vegetables, fruits, and meats here, most days I find myself standing in the middle of the Mercato Centrale with a worthless list of ingredients that can’t be found because they’re not in season and I’m forced to improvise… This might be easy for some, but for a baker turned home-cook, this is a difficult challenge!

 

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I like to plan my dinners well in advance so I don’t end up eating red meat twice in a week or eating fish on a Monday, when the best day to eat fish is obviously on Tuesday when the fishmongers get the majority of their stock, and so on… As you can imagine, improvising dinners does not fare well!

 

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One day I found myself in this exact predicament because apparently lamb isn’t sold in the summertime in Italy? Who knew?! Without the main event, I was left with a handful of dried figs and walnuts I had already purchased for my third attempt at homemade protein bars and a few kilos of fresh peaches to make my second Peach Brown Butter Buckle of the week (which will make its appearance on the blog very shortly) and I had a spark of creativity—a delicious, salty, sweet, and creamy salad composed of Fresh Peaches, Dried Figs, Prosciutto, Blue Cheese, and Walnuts and finish it off with a Dijon and Honey Vinaigrette.

 

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I bought the rest of my salad makings, picked up a Bistecca Fiorentina, and called it a day… I’ve learned that when in doubt, give Tony a steak and it doesn’t really matter if I serve steak juice as a side, as long as the steak is cooked, we’re in business. But I’ll be honest… the salad completely stole the show that night. Tony and I were so engulfed with the salad that we barely even touched our steaks! And that my friends, is saying something.

Peach, Fig, Prosciutto, Blue Cheese, and Walnut Salad with a Dijon and Honey Vinaigrette by The Bite Sized Baker:

For the salad:

500 grams salad mix

5 ripe peaches, sliced

200 grams dried figs, sliced

200 grams walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

200 grams prosciutto, cut into thin strips

100 grams blue cheese, mild

For the vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons lemon juice

¼ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. For the salad, place all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss everything together.
  2. For the vinaigrette, puree all the dressing ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Taste and adjust to your preferences. Pour over salad and serve immediately. Vinaigrette can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Pulled Chicken Salad with Honey-Cilantro Vinaigrette

May 30, 2014

The summer after graduating college I interned at a start-up technology company called Food Genius. I’m still not entirely sure exactly what they did or how they did what they did, but I do know they created an algorithm that tracked millions of menu items from restaurants across the country, and then used that data to understand current food trends and to predict upcoming food trends… And in return, they provided that insight to professionals in the food industry… In other words, these are not my words at all and I had to Google them quickly to make sure I was saying it correctly… It’s really surprising that I didn’t get a job there after my internship…

 

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Anyway, I was hired on to write copy for their website and manage their social media platforms, but I’m preeeetttty sure they just hired me because they wanted some diversity (i.e., a girl) and they could get baked goods out of me… Just kidding, kind of. When I proved to be ineffective in writing copy for the company’s website (because really, I have zero technical writing experience and the only writing experience I have is for this blog and I STILL have no idea what the company actually did), I was deemed responsible for creating a master copy of ALLLLLLLLL of the chain restaurants in the United States, including their locations, menus, nutritional guides, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else they thought would prove useful.

 

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I am a compulsive pre-orderer and always look up restaurant menus online so you would think I would LOVE this task, but oh, my gosh… Those were some of the longest days of my life. Slash, I’m really hoping I never want to work for this company in the future, because they would surely love reading this. Oh, hey Eli and Justin! What’s up? There are literally thousands of chain restaurants in the United States and I refuse to eat at most of them on principle alone. There’s something about an 1,800 calorie salad that doesn’t appeal to me… Yeah, Cheesecake Factory, I’ve read your nutritional guide enough times to recite it.

 

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So, California Pizza Kitchen isn’t that much better, but when I read that the infamous CPK was the inspiration behind Lindsay of Pinch of Yum’s Shrimp and Avocado Salad recipe, I thought I should reframe my thinking because her take on the chain’s salad was so delicious, healthy, and fresh. I Googled chain restaurants in the United States, which brought me to my rant about why I am not employed at Food Genius, and I researched chain restaurant menus for salad inspiration.

 

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While Public House is certainly not a chain restaurant (in fact, I’m pretty sure there’s only one in Chicago), I feel like the menu and the overall quality of the food falls under the chain category… That isn’t to say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy myself in the past at Public House while watching the Blackhawks game and munching on their Pulled Chicken salad. And before you go on and judge me for ordering a salad at a bar, I had come straight from Doughnut Vault, where I smashed six doughnuts with my girlfriend, so I was feeling the need for a little green and this salad spoke to me.

Pulled Chicken, Apple, Avocado, Dates, Fennel, Goat Cheese, Walnuts, Cornbread Croutons, and Honey-Cilantro Vinaigrette. It was exactly the kind of summer salad inspiration I was searching for. Pure deliciousness. I decided against making homemade Cornbread Croutons when recreating this recipe at home to save myself some calories and time. But if you happen to have cornbread at home, I wouldn’t be above cubing and toasting it for croutons… Because really who can feel bad about eating a salad??? Except for Cheesecake Factory, that is.

 

Pulled Chicken Salad with Honey-Cilantro Vinaigrette by The Bite-Sized Baker:

For the salad:

4 cups salad mix

1 granny smith apple, cubed

1 avocado, cubed

2 rotisserie chicken breasts with skin removed, shredded using two forks

½ cup dates, chopped

½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

¼ cup goat cheese, crumbled

For the vinaigrette:

½ cup cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons lime juice

3 cloves of garlic, minced

¼ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. For the salad, place all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss everything together.
  2. For the vinaigrette, puree all the dressing ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Taste and adjust to your preferences. Pour over salad and serve immediately. Vinaigrette can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to two days.

**Note: The pulled chicken pictured is from a Chipotle Pulled Chicken recipe I made. I wasn’t a huge fan of the chipotle chicken and salad flavor combination and would recommend using a rotisserie chicken for this salad!

One Pot Moroccan Chicken and Chickpeas with Pistachio Couscous and Goat Cheese

May 7, 2014

I’m sure many of you can agree with me here that deciding what to make for dinner every night is a difficult task. I used to ask Tony for dinner suggestions and requests and he would usually respond with something along the lines of Lamb, Tzatziki, and Sweet Potatoes with Tahini… I mean, I liked that dinner a lot too, but after making it fives times, I’m over it… so I no longer do that.

 

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Instead of asking Tony, I typically devote at least two or three hours on Sundays to brainstorm a weekly dinner menu. I know, it sounds a bit excessive, but I try making five new dinner recipes a week so research is necessary! Also, one of these days, I’ll actually recreate some of my favorite recipes during the day so I can post it. Lately, my biggest inspiration behind building a weekly menu is TRAVEL!

 

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One of the reasons I fell in love with cooking and baking in the first place is because I always felt like food, cooking, and eating is the best way to get to know another culture. The act of following a traditional recipe or using new ingredients could transport me to another place… If I couldn’t travel somewhere, at least I could cook the cuisine! My version, at least.

 

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Tony and I have a Bucket List of all the different places we want to travel while we’re living abroad and one of my biggest targets is Morocco. Everything about Morocco screams exotic to me from the beautiful mosques, open-air souks, spices, cuisine, desserts, mountains, and beaches. Unfortunately, I think there is only one trip to Africa in our near future and both Tony and I want to see some cats… Yes, we watched African Cats and we fell in love.

 

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Speaking of love, I am in LOVE with this One Pot Moroccan Chicken and Chickpeas with Pistachio Couscous and Goat Cheese from Half-Baked Harvest. I initially discovered Half-Baked Harvest on Instagram when Tieghan posted a recipe for Beignets Tiramisu with Chocolate Ganache. After shamelessly stalking her blog and beautiful food photography for about two hours, I became a true believer; this girl is a culinary mastermind. I’ve made her recipe for One Pot Moroccan Chicken and Chickpeas three times in one week. Granted, Tony accounts for about 4 servings in one sitting so I had to make extra, but it was also just THAT good. Everything is perfect about this dish from the amount of flavor, spiciness, texture, and color. I followed this recipe exactly as is, but added a few extra chipotle chiles because I like to eat things that set my mouth on fire.

 

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One Pot Moroccan Chicken + Chickpeas with Pistachio Couscous and Goat Cheese recipe from Half-Baked Harvest:

Chicken:

1 pound skinless and boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon coriander

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to your liking

½ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon salt

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

2 cloves garlic, minced or grated

1 red pepper, chopped

3 carrots, chopped

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 chipotle chile in adobo, minced

2 cups chicken broth (or veggie broth)

2 cups cooked chickpeas (rinsed and drained if using canned)

1 lemon, zest + juice

¼ cup fresh cilantro, plus more for serving

Couscous:

3-4 cups cooked couscous

¼ cup chopped pistachios

6 medjool dates, sliced (optional)

2-4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

  1. To make the chicken, toss together the smoked paprika, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
  2. Heat a large high-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add some olive oil to coat the bottom of the skillet and once hot add the chicken and half of the seasoning mixture to the skillet. Brown the chicken all over until cooked through, about 6 minutes. Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside.
  3. To the same skillet add a little more olive oil to pan and swirl to coat. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, red pepper and carrots to the skillet, sauté 4-6 minutes. Add the remaining spice mixture and sauté another 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the chicken back to the skillet. Stir in the tomato paste, chipotle chile, chicken broth, and chickpeas. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat, and simmer 5-10 minutes or until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in the cilantro and lemon zest + juice. Taste and season with salt if needed.
  4. To serve, divide the couscous among bowls or plates and sprinkle the couscous with the chopped pistachios and dates. Top each plate of couscous with the chickpea mixture. Sprinkle on the crumbled goat cheese and garnish with chopped pistachios and cilantro. EAT.
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