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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.

Best Cocoa Brownies

May 2, 2014

Brownies are something I rarely ever make, not because I don’t love them– nothing is quite as enjoyable as eating a big slab of brownie with an ice-cold milk 24 hours later… But mostly because I love boxed mix brownies.

 

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Some people have their guilty processed pleasures of Oreos, Cinnabons, Lucky Charms, Girl Scout Cookies, etc., but I am a box mix brownie guilty processed pleasure kind of gal. In my experience, Ghiradelli, Betty Crocker, and Duncan Heines have it down to a T! My personal favorite is Ghiradelli, but when you’re in a pinch, any of those will do.

 

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I’ve never cared to hassle myself with actually measuring out ingredients for brownies because I am perfectly satisfied with a box mix brownie. However, since all the boxed mix brownie options in Italy look like they’ve sat on the shelf since 1950, I decided I better change my ways of thinking.

 

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I went out into the world (or maybe just to the closest market to my apartment) on a search for unsweetened chocolate and came home with nothing… “Senza zucchero” brought me to an assortment of artificially sweetened chocolate and I wasn’t going to have any of that. I always like to keep a handful of 70-85% cacao chocolate bars on hand at any given day… because you never know when you’re going to want cookies or ganache! But 100% cacao chocolate bars are something I rarely ever have on hand… Why would I want a chocolate bar that I can’t enjoy an occasional bite of?

Anyway, I had brownies on my mind and a bunch of half eaten 70-85% chocolate bars on hand… So what’s a girl to do? Nix the chocolate bars altogether and make Cocoa Brownies.

 

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I liked this recipe A LOT. It’s super easy and moooost people have all the ingredients on hand, unless you’re a 22-year old male college student… Don’t even get me started on the state of Tony’s kitchen when I met him in college. But I digress, back to these brownies. You can’t fully appreciate this recipe without knowing the reasoning behind her cocoa-only brownies. Yes, I discovered them by default, but Alice Medrich made them with the complete intention of using only cocoa powder so she could control the fat and sugar contents of the brownies to create a chewy, candylike top, hence why Alice Medrich’s recipe is called the “Best Cocoa Brownies,” and that they are.

 

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These brownies are deep and rich in chocolate flavor and have a crackly and shiny crust with a dense and fudgy middle. They are simply perfect for both the boxed mix brownie lover and the brownies from scratch lover.

Best Cocoa Brownies originally from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet, found on Smitten Kitchen:

10 tablespoons (140 grams) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups (250 grams) sugar
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
½ cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (75 grams) walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

  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. (I go further and throw mine in the fridge or freezer for a while; it’s the only way I can get them to cut with clean lines.)
  5. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

Blueberry, Lemon, and Mascarpone Tart

April 29, 2014

I was so pleased with the appearance of my Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart that I ran out to the store and bought another tart pan the following day. One can never have enough bakeware, even if you only use it once… I’m looking at you mini cupcake pan that I just HAD to have… But really, bite-sized things are just too cute! ;)

 

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I was also slightly ready for a detox of all things hazelnut/chocolate/caramel oriented. I realized I went a little overboard in that department in the past few weeks and I’ve neglected all the non-chocolate dessert lovers out there!

 

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Now, I have thought long and hard on what dessert to make that didn’t include any of my seven guilty pleasures of chocolate, Nutella, caramel, dulce de leche, peanut butter, sea salt, and browned butter– a very difficult task, I might add! After consulting friends and family for recommendations I decided to make a Blueberry Lemon Tart… Mostly because I thought it would look pretty and because I really really despise cheesecake, which everyone always seems to request.

However, I did make some sort of compromise and made a mascarpone cream filling? Kind of the same thing as cheesecake, no?

I loved this tart for a handful of reasons. The first and foremost was the tart crust I found on David Lebovitz’s blog… I’m the absolute WORST at making pie crusts, but this tart crust is kind of fool-proof ANNNND there’s no food processor, mixer, pastry cutter, or rolling pin required! All you need to do is dump your ingredients into an oven-safe bowl, let the oven work it’s magic until your house smells of browned butter, stir in your flour, and then you have dough! As David Lebovitz puts it, there couldn’t be a more interesting method to make tart dough.

 

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For the filling, I made a light and fluffy lemon-mascarpone cream and plopped some blueberries on top. It’s one of those desserts that you can easily whip up in an hour or so and proudly bring to a friendly gathering. Zero stress and minimal effort. It was almost too easy to make that I felt the urge to make something immediately after.

Blueberry, Lemon, and Mascarpone Tart by The Bite-Sized Baker (Tart Shell by David Lebovitz):

Tart Shell:

90 grams (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used canola)

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

150 grams (5oz, or 1 slightly-rounded cup) flour

Filling:

8 ounces heavy whipping cream

¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

2 lemons, zested

250 grams mascarpone

1 cup blueberries

  1. To make the tart shell, preheat the oven to 410 degrees F (210 degrees C). In a medium-sized ovenproof bowl, such as a Pyrex bowl, combine the butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt.
  2. Place the bowl in the oven for 15 minutes, until the butter is bubbling and starts to brown just around the edges.
  3. When done, remove the bowl from oven (and be careful, since the bowl will be hot and the mixture might sputter a bit), dump in the flour and stir it in quickly, until it comes together and forms a ball which pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  4. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch (23 cm) tart mold with a removable bottom and spread it a bit with a spatula.
  5. Once the dough is cool enough to handle, pat it into the shell with the heel of your and, and use your fingers to press it up the sides of the tart mold. Reserve a small piece of dough, about the size of a raspberry, for patching any cracks.
  6. Prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork about ten times, then bake the tart shell in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown.
  7. Remove from the oven and if there are any sizable cracks, use the bits of reserved dough to fill in and patch them. Let tart shell cool completely.
  8. To make the filling, place the sugar and heavy whipping cream in a bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment. Beat just until cream reaches stiff peaks. Fold in mascarpone and lemon zest.
  9. To assemble, spoon the lemon-mascarpone cream into the prepared tart shell, smoothing the top with a spoon or rubber spatula. Arrange blueberries in a decorative pattern over the top if desired. Store in fridge until ready to serve.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart with Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts

April 24, 2014

So the other day I had some free time on my hands, which is typically the case when you’re fun-employed in Italy…

 

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Like most days, I started my morning by going to CrossFit, drinking a coffee, showering, and making a trip to the Mercato Centrale… Which, by the way, has become quite an enjoyable experience. Louie and I made friends with our butcher and whenever we see him, he gives Louie free scraps and bones and cheers me on when I ask or say something in Italian… I would imagine his name is Enzo, but one could never be too sure. Once I got home at around 2:00PM, I was contemplating what to do for the next three hours until I had to start preparing dinner. Like a respectable citizen of society, I could use those next few hours to practice my Italian OR I could pick up some hazelnuts and bamboo skewers and master the art of Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts… I think we all know what the obvious choice was here.

 

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I feel like my desserts sometimes lack the “WOW” decorative factor and these little hazelnuts definitely add some “WOW.” Once I made the caramel, the rest was pretty fool-proof– poke, dip, and dry. Thanks to Martha Stewart, bless that woman. But afterwards I was left with 25+ Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts and no dessert to add some “WOW” to.

 

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Now my wheels were really turning and I started to brainstorm which showstopper dessert I could waste the afternoon with… Since these are Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts, there obviously had to be caramel involved and something that goes well with hazelnuts… Chocolate, yes. But, a chocolate, caramel, and hazelnut what?

 

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Cue in tarts. A crispy cookie crust with layers of salted caramel, smooth and creamy chocolate ganache, and toasted hazelnuts for an additional crunch factor. It’s decadent, silky, gooey, salty, crispy, and crunchy all in one bite. It’s prettttty much every food adjective you could want in a dessert, hence making it a showstopper dessert on its own… And then you add Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts?! Wow is the word.

 

 

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I wish I could say I only had one bite of this rich and decadent dessert and then I was done with it… But that would be a flat out lie. I was feeling very proud of myself after I only had one bite during my little photo shoot, but then later that day I ate about a quarter of the tart… all the while standing up in my kitchen and adding the extra Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts to every bite… Nothing goes to waste in this kitchen!

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tar with Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts slightly adapted from The Perfect Finish and Martha Stewart:

Tart Shell:

10 tablespoons butter, room temperature

½ cup sugar

2 large eggs

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

Caramel:

½ cup heavy cream

1 cup granulated sugar

5 tablespoons water

Pinch of sea salt

1 cup hazelnuts, skinned and toasted

Chocolate Ganache:

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 cups heavy cream

Caramel-Dipped Hazelnuts:

10 hazelnuts, toasted and skinned

1 cup sugar

¼ cup water

  1.  To make the tart shell, cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until incorporated. In a separate bowl, mix flour and salt. On low speed, add in flour mixture, ¼ cup at a time, and mix until dough comes together. Shape dough into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to a ¼-inch thick. Transfer dough to a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and press dough evenly into bottom and sides of pan. Freeze for 30 minutes. Prick the tart shell all over with a fork and bake until cooked through, about 30 minutes.
  3. To make the caramel, heat the heavy cream over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil and set aside. In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine sugar and water and bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer inserted in the syrup reads 375 degrees F. Remove man from heat and slowly whisk in cream until smooth. Pour caramel into cooled tart shell, sprinkle hazelnuts over caramel, and refrigerate until firm.
  4. To make the chocolate ganache, place chocolate morsels in a large non-reactive bowl. 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 slowly pour the ganache over the caramel and refrigerate until firm.
  5. To make the caramel-dipped hazelnuts, gently insert pointed end of a long wooden skewer into the side of each hazelnut. Place a cutting board along the edge of a countertop; place newspaper on the floor, directly under cutting board.
  6. Prepare an ice-water bath. Heat sugar and the water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and syrup is clear. Stop stirring; cook until syrup comes to a boil, washing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystals from forming. Continue to boil, gently swirling occasionally, until medium amber. Plunge pan into ice bath to stop the cooking; let stand until thickened, about 10 minutes. (To test: Dip a skewer in caramel and lift a few inches; if a thick drip slowly forms and holds a string, the caramel is ready.)
  7. Dip a skewered hazelnut into caramel, letting excess drip back into pan. When dripping syrup becomes a thin string, secure opposite end of skewer under cutting board. Repeat with remaining hazelnuts. (If caramel hardens before all hazelnuts have been dipped, rewarm it over low heat.) Let stand until caramel string has hardened, about 5 minutes; break each string to desired length. Carefully remove skewers. Candied hazelnuts should be used the same day; store, uncovered, at room temperature until ready to serve tart.
  8. To serve tart, sprinkle with sea salt and garnish with candied hazelnuts prior to serving.

Fesenjan Chicken

April 22, 2014

Since moving to Italy I have been cooking like it’s my job! Which in all fairness, it kind of is.

I’ve always blamed my sub-par cooking skills on my desire to eat healthy and since most of my meals lack copious amounts of butter, oils, cream, sodium, etc.– my cooking isn’t “exquisite.” The way I see it, if I’m going to indulge, it’s going to be in dessert so I always try to eat relatively clean meals…

 

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But we all know that’s an excuse because “healthy cooking” can still be equally delicious, my issue is I just don’t spend nearly enough time researching and experimenting with new savory recipes as I do with desserts to become a better cook.

It is a timely process to plan meals for the week, shop for ingredients, prepare ingredients, and cook a meal on a daily basis! Especially when cooking is still brand new territory for me… Fortunately, I ain’t got nothing but time so that’s exactly what I do!

 

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This past week I decided to make Fesenjan Chicken, a classic Persian dish of chicken, toasted walnuts, and pomegranates. I chose to make Fesenjan Chicken on the sole basis that Tony looooves pomegranates and I bought a bottle of Pomegranate Molasses on impulse and had no idea what to do with it.

Like every night, I gave myself ample time to mentally prepare myself and my ingredients before getting down to business… Starting with a glass of red wine and some James Vincent McMorrow tunes.

 

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I’m still learning how to properly use a knife and I definitely still wear swimming goggles while cutting onions so delegating my time wisely is key. I was especially on edge this night because I had to finely grind a half pound of walnuts with a knife since I am not in possession of a food processor… After about 45 minutes of hand chopping walnuts to a fine meal that otherwise could have been completed in 2 minutes with a food processor, I was already peeved when I moved on to preparing the raw chicken. About halfway into browning the chicken and burning myself with spitting oil, I realized that silly me, assigned Tony to pick up chicken at the store, and like a boy, he picked up a bunch of chicken wings and thighs, all with skin and bones… None of which is acceptable in this dish… Okay, I thought, “I’ll just remove the skin and the bone myself…” It was bad. I was just mutilating half-cooked, greasy chicken and infecting my entire kitchen with salmonella, which I had cleaned earlier that day… At that point, I had splinters of chicken bone swimming in my chicken broth and salmonella in my hair. I threw in the towel, literally… because that was surely infected with salmonella too.

Fortunately, we live in Florence, where there are hundreds of restaurants within walking distance of our apartment, so we didn’t starve that night… But I still had Fesenjan Chicken on my mind. After all, I did ALLL of that work for the walnuts.

The next day, I went to the Mercato Centrale in a search for boneless and skinless chicken breasts, which to my dismay, they only sold whole chicken breasts with the bone.. and I wasn’t going down that road again. I went to the supermarket and the same thing, so I manned up and I deboned a chicken breast for the first time.. However, this time it was raw and much more effective.

 

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After the deboning, everything went swimmingly. I chopped my onions in record time, thanks to a trick I learned from Ina about leaving the onion root while chopping, I cut my chicken into a uniform size and then cooked them evenly, and my walnuts were already finely ground… The rest was just seasoning and mixing. Easy!

This was to date, one of the top five meals I’ve ever cooked. It’s one of those meals that I was literally patting my own shoulder while we ate dinner because I was so proud of the final product. The chicken is so tender and juicy it literally falls apart as you mix it and it packs so much flavor with the pomegranate molasses, walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric too! The nutty aroma of the walnuts filled my kitchen and I was singing its praises before even serving it. I served it over plain Basmati rice and topped it with pomegranate perils and freshly chopped parsley. So delicious and surprisingly, pretty nutritious!

 

Fesenjan Persian Chicken Stew with Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce from Simply Recipes:

1 to 2 large yellow onions, chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons olive oil

5 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

½ pound walnut halves (about 2 cups)

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts, trimmed of excess fat, cut into medium size pieces, patted dry and salted

2 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of sugar

½ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Salt

  1. First toast the walnuts. You can do that one of two ways. You can either spread them out in a single layer in a large skillet, and toast them on medium high heat, stirring frequently until lightly toasted, or you can spread them out in a single layer in a baking rimmed baking sheet, and toast at 350°F in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes. In either case, once toasted, remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, pulse in a food processor or blender until finely ground.
  2. In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, pat the chicken pieces dry again and place the chicken pieces in the pan, working in batches if necessary to not crowd the pan, and cook until golden brown on all sides. Sprinkle the chicken with salt while they are cooking.
  3. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the chicken from the pan, set aside. Add a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of oil to the pan. Lower the heat to medium low. Add chopped onions to the pan and sauté until translucent, stirring on occasion to release the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  4. Return the chicken pieces to the pan with the onions. Pour 2 cups of chicken stock over the chicken and onions. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
  5. Stir in the ground walnuts, pomegranate molasses, sugar, and spices. Cover and cook on very low heat for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so to prevent the walnuts from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  6. Remove from heat and adjust sugar/salt to taste. At this point the chicken should be fall apart tender.
  7. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley. Serve over basmati rice.
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