Monday, June 15, 2015

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Strawberry Fields Forever

Hello friends, sorry about the recent radio silence. The padre and madre came to España and we have

been wandering around sweating buckets and looking at old things for the past week...

Today I have a quick-and-easy for you: strawberry corn muffins. Corn muffins on their own are kind of sad and unloved--unless you're at Jason's Deli where I have previously shoved a whole handful into my pockets for later consumption (why are they so good there???).

But aside from Jason's corn muffins are typically dry and flavorless and left standing alone when all the good flavor of muffins are gone...until these. These strawberry corn muffins are so dense and sweet and flavorful and basically exploding with fresh berry goodness that they will be gone before you can say strawberry fields forever.

These corn muffins are much healthier than your basic recipe because instead of using canola oil and white sugar they use strawberry yogurt. I am a big fan of mixing 1/2 c. plain non-fat yogurt with 1 tbs. all-fruit strawberry preserves but you can also use store-bought. These little beauties cook up in no time and look so pretty you can give them as a gift or bring them to a brunch.

I recommend using organic wild strawberries for these: they are very small and incredibly sweet and will change the flavor profile entirely. You can also use conventional strawberries but try and pick exceptionally flavorful ones. I have made these with both kinds of strawberries but the wild batch (thank you, Pittsburgh farmer's market!) won by a landslide. It's the perfect recipe to usher in late-spring/early summer produce and these born-again muffins will rock your world.

1 c. cornmeal
1 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. strawberry yogurt
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. milk
1 - 1/2 c. ripe strawberries, hulled

1. Preheat oven to 400C. Grease muffin tin or line with paper liners.

2. In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Gently stir in milk, egg, vanilla, yogurt and stir to combine. Fold in strawberries gently.

3. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and springy or a knife inserted into center comes out clean.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mad Dills

Memorial Day weekend is a fantastic occasion for a number of reasons. Aside from the fact that it is an important time to honor and give thanks to all of our servicewomen and men for risking their lives (and don't you forget it -- beer comes second to this), it also serves as the start of grilling season.

Grillers, light your coals.

MDW is a culinary smorgasbord of crispy charred meats dripping with cheese. There are few things more inherently satisfying than a charbroiled burger with a fat slice of cheddar oozing over the sides. Lord have mercy.

Obviously all the classic grilled meats will come into play this weekend, but we would be loath to ignore the side dish on a weekend like this.

Sadly, hotdogs and hamburgers are the perennial stars and side dishes become congealed mayonnaisey afterthoughts, typically picked up at your neighborhood Jewel-Osco.

Let's change that this year. Let's say yes to cornbread, yes to bright and briny bean salads, yes to properly constructed slaws!

Preach, LL

I typically hate slaws -- more often than not they are overly sweet, drowning in mayo and hopelessly limp even before they've sat under the blazing sun for a few hours. The thing is, a good slaw is an excellent counterpoint to a hunk of grilled meat. Creamy, crunchy and tangy, meet greasy, chewy and juicy. Truly, a match made in heaven and a relationship that has lasted longer than 100% of Bachelor(ette) marriages.

This is a recipe for a beautifully simple and deliriously easy dill slaw. It doesn't have any white sugar or weird ingredients in it, and it'll go even faster if you get a bag of pre-shredded cabbage and carrots. Feel free to adjust the levels of seasoning, but remember that a slaw should be fairly mild so it doesn't overpower the main players.

1 medium head green cabbage, shredded
1 c. shredded carrot
1 c. shredded radicchio (optional -- if added, increase mayo as needed)
3/4 c. mayonnaise
1 tbs. white vinegar
2 tbs. fresh dill, minced
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine mayo, vinegar, dill and black pepper in a small bowl. Whisk to combine. Adjust seasoning to taste.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the cabbage and carrots until evenly incorporated. Fold in dill mayo and mix until well coated.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Puff Daddy

In my very educated opinion, no breakfast is complete without an egg. Be they scrambled, poached (in the dead of night, natch), sunny-side up or in an omelette, the egg is king of the breakfast castle.

Americans are all about the egg as part of a balanced breakfast but my Spanish school kids look at me like I'm loca when I say I had an egg on toast before coming to school.

What Spaniards have embraced, by contrast, is egg for every OTHER meal of the day, typically by way of tortilla española: an egg casserole filled with thinly sliced potatoes and, maybe, a little onion. Tortilla by itself is great but as far as I'm concerned, 90% of foods could seriously benefit from some cheese. Also, it's kind of a lot of work to make what with the slicing of the potatoes etc. etc. etc.

Therefore, I present to you a staple of the Suss family brunch, served year-round (except Passover). It's cheesy and full of saturated fat and a little spicy too. Best of all, it takes exactly 5 minutes to put together. Not to mention it refrigerates perfectly and reheats like magic. Serve it for any get-together, make it on a Sunday for easy weekday breakfasts or eat it for dinner with a simple green salad (aren't you classy!). Now without further ado...chili cheese egg puff.


5 eggs
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 c. cottage cheese
2 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 c. melted butter
1 tsp. crushed reds (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8x8 baking dish.

2. In a large bowl, beat eggs well. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and pour into prepared pan.

3. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until top is brown and puffy and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Clam Walks Into a Bar...

...and announces, "I've just won the Powerball! 10.5 million, I can't believe it!"

Everyone crowds around him, offering congratulations and pats on the shell when the bartender suggests he buy a round for the house. The clam looks scandalized and swiftly exits the bar.

"Well," says a nearby mussel. "I guess he was a little shellfish."


Boy am I funny.

I am also a self-proclaimed shellfish addict. Totally hopeless. I know it's treyf but I figure if God really didn't want his chosen people eating it then moules marinières wouldn't taste so good.

One of my favorite ways to eat seafood (besides all the ways) is in pasta. There are very few things that cannot be improved by spaghetti, and seafood is definitely not one of them. This recipe came about as a challenge from Tommy -- now that we're down to our final months in Spain, (holyshitholyshitholyshit) we need to take advantage of all the things we won't be able to enjoy once we're home. One of those things is disgustingly fresh seafood.

Therefore, we descended into the depths of the fish market at the mercado and scooped up a boatload (heh) of clams, mussels and shrimp. Initially I was really intimidated by the prospect of cooking shellfish having never done it before but some Internet research revealed that it really isn't difficult at all.

All you need to know is this: if it doesn't open while you cook, throw it out. If it's already open before you cook it, throw it out. Because our stupid stove is the size of a Barbie kitchenette, I had a lot of difficulty getting the mussels to cook evenly. The burners simply weren't big enough to effectively distribute the heat. Thusly, I had to throw almost half of the mussels away because they just wouldn't open all the way. I am 90% sure they were fine to eat but in this case better safe than sorry is the name of the game.

As far as mussels go, pick ones that don't have any cracks in the shell and that are tightly closed. If a mussel opens after you remove the beard (the little cluster of thread-like fibers at the bottom of the shell), give it a sharp tap on the counter. If it closes right away, it's fine. If not, say bye.

Clams just need to be rinsed and soaked in cold water about 30 minutes before cooking. Otherwise, it's smooth sailing there.

Feel free to adjust the level of heat in the chili oil here. I personally like spice but it is truly up to you. You can also add other seafood like scallops or cockles or even chunks of a sturdy fish such as snapper if you so choose. This is a great recipe to feed a lot of people that looks really fancy but honestly isn't that much work. A sprinkle of fresh parsley and a shave or two of fresh parmesan is all you need to make it look like you graduated from Le Cordon Bleu. I won't tell if you don't.


1 lb. spaghetti or angel hair pasta
1 lb. cherrystone clams
1/2 lb. mussels
1/2 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (tail on is fine)
1 lb. cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/4 c. evoo
1 medium onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 c. dry white wine
1 c. seafood stock

For the seasoned oil:
1/2 c. very good olive oil
2 tsp. crushed reds or to taste
1/2 tsp. each dried basil, parsley and oregano
2 tsp. sea salt

1. In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients for the oil together. Set aside.

2. In a large, deep skillet, heat olive oil until it shimmers. Add garlic and onion, cook over moderately high heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook for another 3 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, clean mussels by rinsing them well in cold water, scrubbing off any barnacles or attachments. Remove the beard with a sharp tug. Set aside with the rinsed clams and shrimp.

4. To the skillet, add the stock, cherry tomatoes and 2 tbs. of the oil mixture. Bring to a boil. Add the shrimp, mussels and clams and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are tightly curled and the shells are all open, about 5 minutes.

5. While the shellfish is cooking, make the pasta according to the directions on the box. Drain well.

6. Transfer pasta to a large bowl and toss with the seafood, its sauce and 2 to 3 more tablespoons of the hot oil. Serve immediately with fresh parsley, parmesan and the rest of the oil for drizzling.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Orange You Glad...

...I'm not going to finish that horrible joke? The temptation was significant, let me tell you.

Sorry for the brief hiatus but Tommy and I decided to go to Switzerland for a long weekend. Yes, I know, I am living the dream. Also they really do know their chocolate and cheese out there.

Were it not for the fact that it is the most absurdly expensive place I've ever been, I would totally move there. Gorgeous scenery, amazing food and the cleanest bathrooms I've ever seen. Everywhere we went. Seriously. As those close to me can tell you, this is very important to me. In other news, after eating gruyere fondue in Gruyere (heh), The Melting Pot is totally ruined for me.

As fun as the weekend was, it was expensive and pretty darn heavy as far as culinary options go. We did manage to eat a ton of ethnic food however which made me incredibly happy. Thai, Indian and Ethiopian (Tommy's first time!) were all happily consumed. Especially the Ethiopian food. Those people know their way around a lentil, let me tell you.

Therefore, Tommy and I have wanted to keep things pretty light since we got home. Lots of fresh fruits and veggies, not quite as much chocolate (but really still kind of a lot...whatever). This is a whacked-out quasi-fruit salad that makes fantastic use of the wealth of citrus fruits we are blessed with out here, plus the overwhelming supply of olives. It sounds like a strange and even unappetizing combination but trust me, the sweet/sour/salty flavors play together in the nicest possible way.

Additionally, you don't have to cut the oranges into supremes (the fancy way to say peeled wedges) but it makes consumption easier and looks really pretty. Here's a good step-by-step tutorial if you're interested.

It's worth it to use good quality olive oil if you have it for this recipe. A bright, grassy flavor will play best with the citrus. If not, good old extra-virgin will do as well.

This is a great side dish and would pair well with most whitefish and maybe couscous. In fact, that sounds pretty damn good for dinner tonight. This also works best if it sits briefly (30 minutes, give or take) to let the flavors really meld. If you have culinarily adventurous friends, this would make an awesome potluck dish: you will look like a super inventive chef and you don't even have to tell them it only took 15 minutes to put together.

4-5 oranges (mix of navel, blood, etc.), cut into supremes
1/2 c. pitted green olives, roughly chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/4 c. good-quality olive oil
2-3 tbs. fresh chives, finely minced

1. Carefully supreme your oranges, or alternatively, slice them into thin rounds.

2. Combine the oranges, green olives and red onion in a medium sized bowl and drizzle with the olive oil, mixing to combine.

3. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Add chives just before serving.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Game of Scones

What comes to mind when you think of the wildly popular HBO series Game of Thrones? Sex, darkness, blood and surprise top my list. Also blonde hair envy...damn. So what does any of that have to do with baking scones?

For my part, scones and I have a love-hate relationship. I love eating them, I hate making them. I always make a gigantic mess while rolling out the sticky dough, invariably spilling flour everywhere which forces my nails into the palms of my hands with surprising force--blood.

The darkness comes from the fact that scones should be baked blind: as in, leave that oven door shut. Opening and closing it over and over again to check the doneness of the scones changes the temperature inside and can reduce fluffiness.

Scones are not really a sexy food either. They're more of an old British grandma drinking tea with her ankles crossed prettily. These scones, however, combine tart lemon and sweet berries in a way that could only be described as food porn. Sex on a scone.

And finally surprise: when I take the first bite of a steaming hot scone fresh out of the oven, I'm instantly inspired to bake more, even though I know it makes me crazy.

These lemon berry scones use greek yogurt which makes them a little bit lighter than normal scones which use cream. That's not to say they're healthy in any way--they're not. But who cares? They're so good it really doesn't matter. And they're too much work to make with any sort of regularity. The trick to good scones is to not handle the dough very much. As with any flour-based baked good, the more you mess with it the worse it will be. Feel free to use blueberries, raspberries and blackberries in any combination for this recipe. There's no way it can be bad.

2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. lemon zest, finely grated
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. turbinado (large-grain) brown sugar
Scant 6 tbs. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
1 c. greek yogurt
Milk for extra moisture (if necessary) and brushing.
1 heaping cup mixed berries

For the icing:
3/4 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1 tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest

1. Preheat oven to 415F.  Line a flat baking pan with baking paper and set aside.

2. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and lemon zest to a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add the butter and use your fingertips (or a food processor) to incorporate it into the flour until the butter is incorporated throughout the flour in the size of small peas (same as making pastry dough).

3. Gently stir in the berries and then add the yogurt. Fold through gently. Add a splash of milk if mixture is too dry.  Do not over-mix.

4. Form the mixture into a ball by kneading gently and place onto a flat, clean, lightly floured surface.  Pat into a round of around 2 inches thick. Slice into triangles and place onto the prepared baking pan, putting the triangles back into the round shape.
5. Brush the tops with extra milk and bake for around 20-25 minutes or until light golden brown on the top and cooked through.
6. While the scones are baking, combine all the ingredients for the icing and whisk hard until they are all incorporated and the glaze is smooth.
7. Transfer scones to a wire rack to cool.  Once completely cool, ice tops with lemon drizzle.

This recipe is originally from A Splash of Vanilla.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Jessica Does a Juice Cleanse

Did this title get your attention? It should, because if you know me even a little bit you know that
a. I do not subscribe to food trends (see: my aversion to anything advertising truffle butter)
b. I would never voluntarily give up food for an extended period of time, and
c. I think juice cleanses and, frequently, those who swear by them are dumb and need a shot of good ol' science.

What I meant when I said "juice cleanse" was actually "dinner with an entire bottle of wine in it." Tonight we're making coq au vin, fancy French for slow-braised chicken in red wine sauce. It requires some work but the results are truly fantastic and it freezes incredibly well. As far as the chicken itself goes, have your butcher cut it up for you. That's part of their job, so don't be afraid to ask. If you don't want to buy a whole chicken or aren't able to, use a mixture of BONE-IN, SKIN-ON breasts, thighs and drumsticks. Boneless, skinless mush will not cut it for this recipe.

I used the Barefoot Contessa's recipe for this (all hail the Queen) and aside from the fact that I didn't brown my chicken quite enough, it turned out fantastically well. Why is it important that I didn't brown my chicken enough? Because the skin was still very porous and soaked up all the wine and turned purple. Tommy said it looked like zombie meat. I was not amused. But it tasted good as hell so eventually he shut up and ate his dinner and was grateful to have such a lovely girlfriend who cooks beautiful meals.

A further note: when you cook with wine, use wine that you would also want to drink. If you think it tastes bad in a glass, you probably won't like it much better in a recipe. Apart from that, you're all ready to go. It's not a hard recipe but it does require about an hour of active prep and cook time so keep that in mind. Bon appetit!

4 oz. good bacon or pancetta, diced
1 (3 or 4 lb.) chicken, cut in 8ths
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
1/2 lb. carrots, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. Cognac or good brandy
1/2 bottle good dry red wine, like Burgundy
1 c. chicken stock
10 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tbs. unsalted butter, divided, at room temperature
1 1/2 tbs. all purpose flour
1/2 lb. frozen pearl onions
1/2 lb. cremini mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced
2 tbs. EVOO

1. Preaheat the oven to 250F.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon.

3.Meanwhile, lay the chicken out on paper towels and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. When the bacon is removed, brown the chicken pieces in batches in a single layer for about 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon and continue to brown until all the chicken is done. Set aside.

4. Add the carrots, onions, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper to the pan and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.

5. Add the Cognac and put the bacon, chicken, and any juices that collected on the plate into the pot. Add the wine, chicken stock, and thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just not pink. Remove from the oven and place on top of the stove.

6. Mash 1 tablespoon of butter and the flour together and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions.

7. In a medium saute pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and cook the mushrooms over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until browned. Add to the stew. Bring the stew to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste. Serve hot.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Undercover Lovers

Here's the thing about most foods -- they are at least 46% tastier when dipped or coated in a sauce. That's a verifiable, scientific fact. Look it up. I'm an expert when it comes to sauces. From tangy-sweet balsamic glazes to blow-your-head off curry sauces to unrepentantly garlicky dips, I love a good dunk.

But sauces shouldn't be limited to the savory realm of foods. In fact, I would like to take it upon myself to help reinvent the sad state of the dessert sauce. I feel like every time I get a dessert in a restaurant it comes with some sad, jarred "caramel" sauce that tastes more like fake vanilla flavor than anything resembling true caramel or a pathetic swatch of raspberry jam that's been reduced with a splash of lemon juice. PUH-LEEZ (insert Liz Lemon eye-roll here).

This whole issue is part of a larger theme in the restaurant industry of laziness and boredom when it comes to the dessert menu, a topic I will touch upon at a later point in time.  But I am here to rectify, in a small part, that hideous trend of jarred pseudo-creativity.

And therefore I bring you a quick and easy dessert that combines a trio of nature's most compatible flavors, perfect for a quick snack or as an indulgent breakfast topping. Easy enough that you could make it right now, healthy enough that you won't feel bad about not sharing, tasty enough that you won't even think it's healthy: frozen banana slices nestled under a dark-chocolate peanut butter sauce.

I know this doesn't push the envelope all too much in terms of sensationally creative thinking but at least everything here is made from scratch. I highly recommend making your own peanut butter if you have a blender or a food processor; it's incredibly easy and, if you can buy nuts in bulk, far cheaper than store-bought.

Make sure you cover the baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper before freezing the banana slices or they will stick to the metal forever. Additionally, feel free to top the banana slices with your choice of add-ons: crushed nuts, shredded coconut, cacao nibs, carob bites -- the choice is wholly yours. Just make sure you freeze them through completely before eating. You can also use milk chocolate if you aren't vegan or skip the peanut butter if it's not your style.

With hot weather right around the corner, these are a fantastic alternative to calorie and preservative-laden ice cream treats. I won't tell Ben and Jerry if you don't tell Häagen and Dazs.


2-3 ripe (but not mushy) bananas, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1/2 c. smooth, unsalted peanut butter
8 oz.  bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
3-4 tbs. your choice of toppings (see above)

1. Arrange the banana slices on a large baking sheet covered with waxed or parchment paper.

2. Melt the chocolate over medium-low heat in a double-broiler until completely smooth. Alternatively you can melt it in 30-second intervals in the microwave, but watch it carefully so it doesn't burn.

3. Carefully whisk in the peanut butter until completely incorporated.

4. Using a fork or whatever kitchen implement you find easiest, (kebab skewer? toothpick?) dunk the banana slices into the chocolate mixture and coat evenly. Shake off any extra chocolate sauce.

5. Sprinkle banana slices with your choice of toppings and freeze until solid, about 2 hours.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Now You Sear Me, Now You Don't

Searing food is about as close to magic as the average home cook can get without the use of molecular gastronomy. The ability to make something so perfectly crunchy on the outside and yet still juicy and tender on the inside, is, in my opinion, nothing short of Houdini-esque.

While my knowledge of traditional magic is limited to what I've experienced at Disney World and its College Park counterpoint, R.J. Bentley's Filling Station, my knowledge of kitchen magic is pretty extensive. And the ability to sear a protein well is one of the best tricks I can pull out of my hat.

Searing, in which the outside surface of a food is cooked at high heat until a crunchy, caramelized crust forms, is ridiculously easy and has the added benefit of making your food look much fancier than it actually is. The trick is getting your sautee pan extremely hot so that the outside of the food begins cooking much faster than the inside, resulting in that crunchy, intensely flavorful outside.

For this recipe, I used two gorgeous tuna steaks and crusted the outsides with a cumin-heavy spice mixture before searing them in a little oil. I would have used coconut oil if I had it, but sadly sunflower seed oil had to do. I served the tuna steaks with a traditional mixture of rice and green peas and the result was a totally Caribbean vibe that made me want a piña colada and a hammock. Super yum. Super fast. Super healthy (so you can eat more cookies after dinner, duh).

Some quick tips:

- Avoid a nonstick pan for this. Cast iron or stainless steel are better.

- Use just about tablespoons of canola oil to lightly grease the pan. It has a much higher smoke point than EVOO and won't begin to burn before you put your food in.

- Pat the meat/fish/poultry dry before you put it in the pan. This will help it to sear properly instead of just steaming.

- DON'T FUTZ WITH IT. Seriously, you will be much happier if you leave your dinner alone to do its own thing instead of poking at it every five seconds. Just let it be for a few minutes, flip it and repeat. The meat has to stick to the bottom of the pan to get that coating; it will naturally release when it's ready to be turned.

2 tbs. crushed cumin seeds or ground cumin
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne or crushed reds
4 tuna steaks
2 tbs. coconut or canola oil
2 tbs. lime juice
2 tbs. cilantro or parsley, roughly chopped
Lime wedges for serving

1. In a small bowl, combine the cumin, garlic powder, salt and cayenne. Stir well to blend. Sprinkle evenly over the tuna steaks, coating completely. Shake off any extra.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Place tuna in skillet (do it in batches if you can't fit them without crowding) and partially cover.

3. Sear for about 3 minutes, then flip the fish and sprinkle with the lime juice. Continue to cook until lightly browned on the outside and opaque in the center, about 3 more minutes.

4. Transfer tuna to plates and sprinkle with the chopped herbs. Serve immediately.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

French Kisses

Tonight, after eight long days of misery and matzoh meal, Passover ends. At sundown, I will be forking seafood pasta (with shrimp, mussels and clams -- oops, sorry #treyf) into my mouth with hideous abandon.

And to celebrate, I highly recommend you make this disgustingly good baked french toast. It's a Paula Deen original so you KNOW it's chock full of butter, racism and sugary goodness. Wait what?

But seriously, just 20 minutes of prep plus a sleepover in the fridge tonight equals gooey, cinnamony breakfast tomorrow.

Because the grocery store was low on the french bread supplies on Saturday evening (everything is closed on Sundays here), this is what I bought:

Because pecans don't exist in Spain I used walnuts in the streusel topping and it still tasted fantastic. Additionally, this kept well in the fridge for several days. Tommy was overheard to have said that it's the best french toast he's ever had.

And because I'm an intrepid journalist I told him to say that.

In my opinion, this french toast doesn't need any maple syrup (ack, gag) or other toppings. Just serve it piping hot out of the oven and it will make its own buttery, cinnamony sauce. It's okay to lick the plate. You deserve it.

Pairs well with: an exceptionally strong latte, a good Bloody Mary and the knowledge that Passover won't come again for another whole year. L'chaim to that!

1 loaf French bread or slightly stale challah (13 to 16 ounces)
8 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash salt

For the Praline Topping:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg


1. Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each. (Use any extra bread for garlic toast or bread crumbs). Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices.

2. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

3. The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

4. To make the praline topping, combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well.

5. Spread praline topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden.

Monday, April 6, 2015

I Can't Believe it's Not (Peanut) Butter!

Here is a true fact about me: I am wholly, unabashedly, potentially dangerously, unrepentantly addicted to peanut butter.

I have been known to eat it with a spoon straight out of the someone else's house.

Seriously, I might have a problem.

So much so that I made Tommy bring a 1 lb. jar of Whole Foods All Natural Crunchy to Spain with us (taking the place of several very important things he intended to pack). NOT SORRY.

My sainted mother sent me another jar just a few months later and we had been portioning it out (read: I was not allowed to stick a soup spoon in there for breakfast) until further supplies could be located.

But then Tommy got me/us a blender for Valentine's Day. Romantic, I know. No seriously, he knew how much I wanted one. And in between hummus and velvety-smooth soups, Tommy decided to make peanut butter.

And make peanut butter he did. This is without question the best peanut butter I've ever tasted. Between the two of us we were taking "healthy fats" to a whole new level. It was getting somewhat worrisome. Everything went out the window when he added a whole bar of dark chocolate to the last batch. I don't even have words for it. I was almost mad at him, it was that good.

Then Tommy decided he was going to make almond butter. I am a big fan. Not only is it a fun change from my BFFPB but it is also crazy delicious in its own right. Huge shoutout to MaraNatha which makes my current favorite basic almond butter.

We decided to get fancy with it and make vanilla almond butter with cinnamon and while we nearly set the blender on fire, the butter was DEFINITELY worth the squeeze. Would we make it again without a proper food processor? No, probably not. It was a pain. But once I get back to Chicago, all bets are off.

Also fun fact, almond butter is Kosher for Passover whereas peanut butter is not. I know. Worst holiday ever. At least Yom Kippur is only one day of torture.

A quick note: be patient with the poor almonds. It takes about 15 minutes for the butter to really get going. Don't give up on them.

2 c. raw almonds
2 tbs. honey
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. sea salt

1. Carefully toast the almonds in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Watch them carefully so they don't burn. Let cool.

2. In a blender or a food processor, combine all the ingredients.

3. Pulse until the almonds are grainy and pretty finely ground, about 1-2 minutes. Scrape down the sides as needed.

4. Let the blender/food processor run for about 10-15 minutes until the oils start to release. Again, scrape down the sides as needed, and again BE PATIENT.

Enjoy on toast, apple slices or a spoon.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


The title of this post, #Thinspiration, is perhaps my least favorite hashtag that exists aside from "#CleanEating" (I washed my apple before I smothered it in homemade dark-chocolate peanut butter spread, does that make it clean eating?). All over Pinterest and Twitter are these horrible posts of women and men with the bodies of Greek gods and goddesses flexing in excellent lighting -- each one captioned "#Thinspiration."

By now you've got to know that I am a huge proponent of healthy eating. Nutrition education and preventing childhood obesity are two of my biggest passions. But hear this: YOU DO NOT NEED TO INSPIRE YOURSELF TO BE THIN. You need to inspire yourself to do everything in your power to live a healthy life. You need to be good to yourself, respect your body and understand that it's okay to eat a cookie more than once a month. If you want to inspire yourself to get in shape, that's FANTASTIC. I'm cheering you on and will continue to do so until you reach and exceed your goals, and even if you don't I still offer you a high five.

But you do not need to be thin.

The only time I approve of #Thinspiration is when it involves a recipe. That faux-Alfredo is a prime example--it's not good to eat tons of butter and cheese and heavy cream. So I gave spaghetti Alfredo some #Thinspiration and a healthy meal evolved.

So too with this recipe: #Thinspiration Shepherd's Pie. Traditional shepherd's pie involves lots of ground lamb and creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. My version goes for lean ground turkey, tons of fresh veggies and cauliflower mashed potatoes. Still totally delicious, so much healthier for you.

The cauliflower mashed potatoes do have a few tablespoons of butter in them, but real butter without any weird chemicals or preservatives is infinitely better for you than creepy margarine substitutes.

Comfort food shouldn't make you feel guilty when you eat it and shepherd's pie is ultimate comfort food. Also it keeps really well in the fridge or freezer, so you can pull it out on a night when cooking a meal seems like an insurmountable task. Feel free to add some chopped up green beans to the veggie mixture; if I could find them in Spain I would have.

For the mashed potatoes
2-3 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 medium head of cauliflower, broken up into florets
4 tbs. skim milk
3 tbs. butter
2 tbs. Greek yogurt
1 tsp. garlic powder (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the pie filling
1 lb. lean ground turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs. flour
2 tsp. tomato paste
1 c. chicken broth
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
3-4 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 c. English peas, fresh or frozen
3/4 c. sweet corn kernels, fresh, frozen or canned (rinse before using if canned)
3 tbs. EVOO

1. To make the mashed potatoes, cover the potatoes and cauliflower with water and simmer until very tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well and remove to a large bowl. Add all other ingredients and mash to desired consistency.

2. In a large saute pan, heat the EVOO over medium high heat. Once it shimmers, add the onion and carrot and cook just until they begin to take on color, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add garlic and stir to combine.

3. Add the ground turkey and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until browned and cooked through, about 3 more minutes. Sprinkle the meat with flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute.

3. Add the tomato paste, chicken broth, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary and thyme. Stir to combine, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer slowly for about 10 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened.

4. Add the corn and peas to the mixture and spread evenly into a large baking dish. Top with the cauliflower mashed potatoes and smooth evenly over the top, sealing the edges.

5. Bake at 400F for about 25 minutes or until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove to a cooling rack and let sit about 10 minutes before serving.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Rosemary's Baby

I know I just posted yesterday, but I'm sick and I'm bored and I really don't feel like studying for my Spanish certification exam so consider yourselves very lucky.

That being said, because I am sick and cranky and can't hear out of my left ear, this will not be a fun and bubbly post. I'm too grumpy.


Sometimes I get all into making a fancy main course like a whole roasted chicken or shepherd's pie (coming soon to a blog near you) and I end up with zero inspiration for the side dishes.

I'm already worn out from ripping errant tail feathers out of a chicken carcass or attempting to skin fish so the last thing I want to do is whip up a batch of cranberry and almond wild rice or make some homemade mashed potatoes.

Therefore, I bring you these little gems. They're beyond easy and also, happily, beyond delicious: they're rosemary and garlic smashed potatoes. I made these to go along with some baked salmon for Tommy and he's been asking me to make more ever since. I recommend making a large batch because not only do they reheat exceptionally well but they would also be fantastic as part of a breakfast skillet with sausage, eggs and asparagus.

Do yourself a favor and only use fresh rosemary for these. If you try and use dried the flavor won't be the same at all really and they won't be great. Also, don't overcook the taters when you boil them or they'll just fall apart during the baking stage.

Also fun, these are kosher for Passover! I know, that hideous holiday is creeping right up on us. Because my parents are the world's greatest and my mother is Queen of the Care Package, I received a box of Manischewitz goodies including egg matzoh, matzoh ball soup mix and honey cake. I'm going to try to keep K4P but we'll see how that goes. At least I can inflict some minor damage on my intestinal system with the supplies my parents sent me. I'm so loved.

10 small red potatoes, scrubbed
1/3 c. EVOO
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper.

1. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Cook the potatoes, completely covered in water, until tender--about 20 to 25 minutes.

2.  Remove the potatoes, cool and drain on a clean dish towel for a few minutes. Preheat the oven to 450 and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

3. Carefully smash the tops of each of the potatoes with a measuring cup or the palm of your hand (carefully!!!) until each potato is about 1.5" thick.

Drizzle the EVOO evenly over and under all the potatoes and distribute the garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper among them.

4. Bake until crispy and golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Souped Up

If you know me at all, you know my feelings on souped-up vehicles which is to say: I view them with crushing scorn accompanied by an eye-roll so fierce that my eyeballs threaten to get stuck facing opposite directions in their sockets.
Something like this.
Your matte paint job reminds me of long, fake nails with a pink-tinged French manicure. Your lack of a muffler makes me want to call the cops and report you to the Department of Motor Vehicles for some unknown violation (yeah, I'm THAT person). Your absurd yellow halogen headlights are not only supremely stupid looking but incredibly dangerous for all oncoming traffic. Your car, as a whole, inspires me to open my own chop shop where I use the 3-pound meat cleaver my dad got as a gift from his younger bother where I service only your car and by service I mean hack that godforsaken thing into bits and then recycle it, piece by piece, while you watch.

Souped up cars are not my thing.

But souped up cold remedies sure as hell are. Oh yes my friends, I am on my second ear infection of the school year. My left ear is throbbing with pain and I imagine an inside view of my sinuses looks like a water park clogged with sodden autumnal foliage. Take a second and picture that.

I've told you all before that when I'm sick I am a fiend for soup. I love soup so much I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant (credit: Tracy Jordan). I especially love this soup, which is something of an acquired taste.

Because as much as I hate dumb, souped up cars, I FREAKING LOVE KOREAN FOOD. Yes, that was a big jump, but you will soon learn why.

I am blessed to have not one but two half-Korean friends who introduced me to the wondrous joy that is K-food long ago. From hot stone bowls to fresh tofu to old kimchi to fish cakes to tiny chili-covered fish to unpronounceable baked goods filled with bean curd and mango, I love it all. The gigantic Korean grocery H-Mart is my happy place and I fully enjoy being one of three white people when I visit.

I also fully enjoy when either of my friends or their Korean family members cooks for me. I am a total mooch and I will certainly invite myself over when they are having Korean barbecue. I actually have requested lunch that my friend Tammi's mother cook me a special lunch on more than one occasion and because Tammi is a kind soul she relays that message to her mother Kai and I get to stuff my face.

One of my favorite things that Kai makes is a soup called miyuk gook. It's a really simple combination of broth, seaweed, cooked rice and bits of beef. Tammi always eats it when she's sick and it's become one of my favorite comfort foods when I'm feeling under the weather as well.

Of course if you're not super into seaweed it might not be your jam, but I am a huge fan of that weird salty stuff and have been known to snack on sheets of plain nori paper so...

This is a bastardized recipe for that incredibly comforting soup. It comes together really quickly, and if you don't have any beef lying around you can certainly leave it out.

Now I'm going to go back under my quilt and watch 8 more episodes of Friends. I hate being sick.

2.5 c. dried miyuk seaweed, cut into strips (can be found at most Asian groceries or specialty foods stores)
1 tbs. sesame oil
3 tbs. soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic, minced
About 4 oz. beef, drained of blood and minced
6 c. water
1 c. cooked white rice

1. Rehydrate the miyuk in a large bowl of water for about 20 minutes. It will grow substantially so use a good-sized bowl.

2. While the seaweed is soaking, sautee the beef with the sesame oil, soy sauce and garlic until not quite cooked through.

3. Remove the seaweed from the water bath, drain, sprinkle with kosher salt and rinse thoroughly.

4. Add the miyuk to the beef and continue to cook for another 5-6 minutes. Add the water and the cooked rice and bring to a boil. Let simmer for about 20 minutes and serve immediately.