Sunday, September 30, 2012

Stuffed Acorn Squash

I have this sort of "addictive" personality. It manifests when I start watching a TV show on Netflix and I get sucked into too many episodes in a row. Also when I start reading a book and cannot put it down until I figure out how it ends. Apparently it can happen when I'm cooking as well.

Right now I'm loving the flavors of bacon and apples together- salty and tart are quite perfect right now.

I made that kale salad last week and then I made this stuffed acorn squash. It really hit the spot. You could probably make this dish vegetarian by subbing a tablespoon of oil for the bacon grease; but then you'd be missing the bacon apple flavor combo.

Right now I'm thinking an apple pie with a bacon studded crust sounds pretty good. Mmm... I'll get back to you on that.

Stuffed Acorn Squash
1 acorn squash (about 1-1.5 lb), cut in half
3 strips bacon, cut into small pieces
1/2 apple, diced (about 1/3 cup diced apple)
1/3 cup diced onion
1 celery stalk, diced
2 pieces whole wheat sandwich bread, diced
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
handful craisins
drizzle of honey

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Place the acorn squash halves cut side down in a microwavable dish. Microwave on high for 5 minutes or until the flesh of the squash is soft and cooked.

In a skillet over medium heat, brown the bacon pieces until they are crispy about 7-8 minutes. Remove the bacon pieces to a paper towel and discard of all but 1 tbsp bacon grease. Add the onion, celery and apple and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add the bread pieces and stir to coat. Drizzle about 1 tsp honey (more or less to taste) on top of the stuffing and mix in. Add the chicken broth and stir; simmer for about 3-4 minutes until fragrant and the liquid is absorbed. Season with freshly ground pepper. Mix in the craisins and cooked bacon pieces.

Spoon stuffing mixture into the squash halves. If you have extra, spoon it into a ramekin or small baking dish. Bake about 25 minutes until hot.

P.S. What do you think about more pictures? I'm playing around with new things...

Friday, September 28, 2012

Raw Kale Salad

I really think you should get into kale. According to WebMD, one cup of kale has only 36 calories, but 5 grams of fiber, 15% of your recommended calcium and vitamin B6 intake, 40% of magnesium, 180% of vitamin A, 200% of vitamin C and a whopping 1020% of vitamin K. It also has loads of potassium. Talk about a superfood.

There are lots of ways to prepare kale. You can boil it or saute it in a little bit of fat (think extra virgin olive oil or a small amount of bacon grease for some extra flavor). You can make it into substitute chips (I have to admit this is not my favorite thing; I tried it but I have a disgust for eating paper-like things and I just couldn't get behind more than a few of them. But I know lots of people who really like them). You can blend it into a green smoothie. You can make it into pesto. You can serve it raw like I'm doing here. To break down the toughness of the leaves, you're going to want to massage the kale first with some oil and something acidic. You can use lemon juice (that's what I normally do when I'm making a side salad of kale). Here, though, I'm using balsamic vinegar. Works great. Feel free to experiment with toppings but I went with some bacon, apple, feta cheese and sunflower seeds. It was perfect for a quick and easy (and healthy!) weeknight meal.

Raw Kale Salad with Apples, Bacon, and Feta
Approximately 2 cups torn kale (stems removed)
1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 dash salt
1/2 cup diced apple (something tart like Jonathan or Granny Smith)
1 slice bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled*
1 tbsp toasted sunflower seeds**
1/8 cup feta cheese

Place the torn kale in a bowl. Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, mustard and salt. Pour onto the kale and massage in with your hands. Refrigerate until ready to assemble salad.

Toss the apples with kale. Top with the bacon, sunflower seeds and cheese.

*I typically chop up the raw bacon using kitchen shears and then cook in a pan over medium heat. When the bacon reaches my desired crispiness, I drain off the fat and pat the bacon crumbles dry.

**Toast raw sunflower seeds in a small amount of oil (or leftover bacon fat from above) over medium heat stirring constantly until they are golden brown, about 3-4 minutes.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Spinach and Pepper Jack Stuffed Chicken Breast

Sometimes I feel like I'm a pre-teen girl stuck in a late 20s body:

          1. I love Taylor Swift music.
          2. I CANNOT WAIT for the release of Breaking Dawn Pt 2 (Check out the trailer here). Oh my,
              November 16 cannot come soon enough. Who wants to go with me so I'm not the creepy old lady
              surrounded by the kiddos? Although, are they going to fight at the end? WHAT?! How different is
              it going to be than the book? Don't worry, I'll report back. ;)

          3. I am looking forward to the new season of Vampire Diaries on CW.

          4. Sometimes when I'm at the library I peruse the teen books looking for vampire (are you sensing a
              theme?) and alternate world (like Hunger Games) books. And then I read them. And enjoy them.

          5. Holding hands is my favorite form of physical affection.

          6. I'm an over-liker on Facebook. Yes, I will like your wedding photos, the pictures of your adorable
              little children, your announcements of exciting news, your funny quotes, and your random status
              updates. Even when I haven't had a real conversation with you in quite some time. Every now and
              then I'm tempted to like those sad or frustrated statuses because I want you to know that I saw it
              and I'm thinking of you. Of course I don't because then you'd think I was a sadist or something.

          7. I rely on the show Boy Meets World for true life lessons.


Please don't judge me.



You are totally my BFFs in cyber world.

Alas, there are a lot of things about me that do not coincide with a pre-teen girl. Like the fact that I drink cups of coffee to keep me going everyday. Or that I sit at home on Friday nights knitting and watching movies by myself. Or that I can't get myself out of bed 30 minutes earlier each morning to style my hair just so. Or that making new creations to stuff inside chicken breasts makes my heart do a cartwheel, jump up for a toetouch, and land down in a pretzel (of course, my body cannot do those things anymore without significant repercussions). These pepper jack and spinach stuffed chicken breasts did just that.

Try them... whether you are an old soul or young-at-heart. I think you'll like them.

Spinach and Pepper Jack Stuffed Chicken Breast
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2-3 handfuls of fresh spinach (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup freshly grated pepper jack cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup flour (whole wheat or all-purpose)
6 tbsp 100% egg white egg beaters (or 2 egg whites)
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top of it.

Pound the chicken breasts until they are very thin. Cut each breast in half for more manageable sizes.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the spinach and cook while stirring until wilted, about 3-4 minutes. Remove to a cutting board and chop coarsely. Combine the spinach with the cheese in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper as desired.

Place the flour, egg whites and panko in three separate shallow bowls. Place quarter of the spinach mixture on each of the chicken breasts and roll up, securing with 2-3 toothpicks. Working one at a time, roll the chicken in the flour, followed by the egg whites and finally the panko. Place on the prepared rack. Spray each chicken with cooking spray.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until browned and the cheese is melted.

Serves 3-4.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mushroom and Blue Cheese Spaghetti Squash

Remember when I made the last spaghetti squash recipe? Well, I had half the squash leftover and a desire to try something else with it. I decided to test whether or not I could really sub the squash for pasta and so I wanted to whip up a quick and easy sauce to go with it. I looked in my fridge and found mushrooms and blue cheese. I figured I could make a creamy sauce to test the theory.

Side note-- this meal makes me giggle because if Scott had been here, there would have been no way he would have touched this with a ten-foot pole. Blue cheese and mushrooms are two of his least favorite foods and here I am making them the focal point of this meal. I guess sometimes it is nice to be cooking just for yourself. ;)

Well, the verdict from the experiment. #1 - this sauce is delicious. It made my apartment smell great and I could have eaten it with spoon. Pretty good for just winging it, if I do say so myself. #2 - it complimented the spaghetti squash fairly well. Although maybe not the most traditional, I liked it.

Try it out if you are a mushroom and blue cheese person. If you aren't, hold out, I promise I'll experiment with some other spaghetti squash sauces/dishes this fall.

Please note, it certainly isn't the "prettiest" dish I've ever created. I did eat it with a nice green salad topped with assorted veggies so my meal wasn't quite as bland in color as the picture would indicate.

Mushroom and Blue Cheese Spaghetti Squash
1/2 spaghetti squash
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tbsp corn starch
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp blue cheese crumbles
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tbsp butter
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook until softened, about 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Dissolve the corn starch in the milk and add to the pan. Cook until it begins to thicken, about 2-3 minutes. Add the blue cheese crumbles and mix completely; stirring to melt and continue to thicken. Season with freshly ground pepper.

Place the spaghetti squash cut side down in a microwave-safe dish. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 5-7 minutes until the squash is soft. Use a fork to pull the flesh into thin strands and transfer to a bowl.

Top the squash with the mushroom mixture.

Serves 1.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kahlua Cupcakes

It's officially time to wish you a happy fall! Saturday was the first day of fall and Illinois definitely had the fall weather going on. I dusted off a scarf and sported it and a jacket all day long. Of course, I wasn't ready to go all winter, so I rocked some sandals :)

Saturday was more than just the first day of fall. It was my first Illini tailgate experience. My aunt and uncle have season tickets and they come over for most games. This past week they dragged along my cousin and we got to play while they went to the game. Kinda like being kids all over again. Just grown-up kids that went shopping at the mall, walked 2 miles across campus to tailgate, and hung out in the warmth of a bar instead of attending the game.

Plus we ate these boozy cupcakes.

Oh my word, you guys -- If you want a decadent chocolate cupcake and enjoy some coffee and Kahlua, you HAVE to make these! The cupcake is super moist and the buttercream frosting puts it over the top.

Perfect for tailgating, watching football on your TV at home or as a staple for the dessert table during upcoming holidays.

Kahlua Cupcakes (adapted from Curvy Carrot)
For the cupcake:
2 eggs (yolks and whites separated)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1.5 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup brewed coffee, cold
1/2 cup Kahlua

For the frosting:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
dash of salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp Kahlua
Bittersweet chocolate, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Using a hand mixer (or stand mixer or whisk), beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the granulated sugar and beat until thick and stiff.

Mix the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda in a small bowl.

Mix together the coffee and the Kahlua.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, and beat to mix thoroughly. Gradually and alternately, add the flour mixture and coffee mixture, mixing on low, ending with the flour. Gently fold in the egg white mixture using a spatula.

Pour, or ladle, the batter into a cupcake pan with liners, filling each about 2/3 to the top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool completely.

To make the frosting, beat the butter on high until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating on low to incorporate completely. Once it is smooth, add the salt, vanilla and Kahlua and mix until you reach the desired consistency.

Pipe or frost the cupcakes how you desire. Top with freshly shaven bittersweet chocolate.

Makes approximately 16 cupcakes (I recognize that there are only 15 in the picture above. I actually made 16 but couldn't fit them all in my cake carrier so I had to eat one on Friday night before I frosted them on Saturday morning. FYI: the cupcakes were great by themselves).

Monday, September 24, 2012

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

Monday mornings are rough.

Somehow I'm always tired on Monday mornings. Even when I haven't had a whirlwind weekend. Just something about the start of the work week that makes me tired.

My typically Monday morning consists of planning out the goals for the day (and week), catching up on emails, perusing recently published articles that are sent to my inbox via PubMed alerts and looking through my favorite food blogs (shh, don't tell my boss about the latter one). Then it is time to kick my butt into gear and get into the lab. Making molecules, purifying reactions, etc, etc. You know, getting the normal going. Of course, some Mondays are more productive than others... today, I wasn't having success with my purifications that were on deck today-- a super long distillation and preparative TLC that didn't want to separate my epimers despite my tests last week (no worries if you don't understand those words, just know it has been a long Monday in lab... I'm still here...).

A good Monday night meal might be something like these stuffed shells. Especially if you follow the growing food trend of "Meatless Mondays". Me? I don't really stick to trends; I do meatless whenever I want, but if it was just a Monday thing, stuffed shells would certainly make it into the rotation. Overall, a pretty easy meal to put together; serve them with some garlic parmesan toasts and a side salad and you start out your week healthy and delicious.

Do you celebrate Meatless Mondays? If so, what's your favorite go-to meal?

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells
10-12 jumbo shells
4-5 large handfuls fresh spinach leaves (you can substitute 1 package of frozen, thawed chopped spinach)
1 cup skim milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cups of your favorite marinara (homemade or store bought)

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Cook the jumbo shells in boiling water as indicated on the package. When the shells are finished cooking, remove with a slotted spoon to a strainer and rinse with water so they are cool enough to handle. Add the spinach to the hot water in the pan and cook with stirring until wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Drain the spinach and squeeze out as much liquid as you can; coarsely chop the cooked spinach.

Combine the cheeses and nutmeg in a bowl. Add the spinach and mix completely.

Spread about 1/2 cup marinara in the bottom of a baking dish. Working one shell at a time, fill with the spinach and ricotta mixture. Place in the prepared baking dish. Once all the shells are filled, cover with the remaining marinara.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling. Serve hot.

Serves 3-4.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tuna Noodle Salad

This is one of those recipes that reminds me of home-- summer nights growing up. My mom would make it, we'd eat it for dinner, and then have leftovers for days. And I loved it.

But before we get right down to the recipe, I have to ask: are you a mayonnaise or miracle whip person?

Growing up, we were definitely a miracle whip household. I don't even remember my parents having mayo in fridge; we actually called the bottle of miracle whip "mayonnaise". However, they are completely different flavors, and nowadays, I always have a bottle or jar of both ready for use. Particular recipes need the creamy mayo while others need the tangy miracle whip. I think this tuna salad necessitates the miracle whip. The tangy flavor accents the crispy celery, green pepper and pickle. It adds enough flavor without overpowering the tuna, yet leaves it light and fresh.

If you are a mayo-only person, I would advise caution when trying to substitute directly in this recipe; I will not be held responsible for poor results.

Tuna Noodle Salad
1.5 cups small pasta (mini shells or macaroni or others)
6-oz can tuna packed in water, drained
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 medium green pepper, diced
1 large dill pickle, diced
3 oz sharp cheddar cheese, diced
4 tbsp light miracle whip (more or less to taste)

Cook the noodles as indicated on the package omitting the salt. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Combine the tuna, celery, green pepper, pickle and cheese in a medium bowl. Add the pasta and toss to mix. Add the miracle whip and mix to coat.

Refrigerate until ready to eat. Serve on a bed of lettuce, if desired.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Brown Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Can I just rant for a few moments? 

This is for you, bicyclists of the UIUC campus:

I don't understand you. Don't understand you in the least bit. Some of you ride on the sidewalks and believe that you have the right-away no matter what. You don't look to see if there are pedestrians in your way before you almost bowl us over. You cut us off and make us move around you. Let alone the times that two of you are about to cross paths and neither of you wants to slow down so you practically squish a pedestrian between you. Then there are the other half of you that ride on the street. You never follow the rules of the road. You never stop at stop signs. You never look both ways. You never yield to pedestrians. You are never careful when you slide up to the right side of a car that is turning right at a stop sign or light even though there is a possibility that they may not see you in their rear view mirror.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that riding a bike can get you to class faster than walking. I know it can give you some good exercise. I know that you are being green. BUT, you do not rule this campus. You should always be aware of those around you who are walking or driving (or even riding another bicycle). It's common sense, dudes and dudettes.

Slow yourselves down and observe the world around you.

And make these cookies. Actually, everyone, cyclists and non, should make these. They are scrumptious. The brown butter and cinnamon are great flavors together and there are so many chocolate chunks that you taste one in every bite. Delicious!

Brown Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies (adapted slightly from How Sweet It Is)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 brown sugar, loosely packed
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup old fashioned oats
dash of salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks

Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a small saucepan, whisking constantly. Cook until bubbling and brown flecks start to form in the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and continue to whisk for an additional 30 seconds. Let cool completely.

Combine the dry ingredients (flour, oats, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon) in a small bowl.

Add the cooled butter to a large bowl and whisk in the sugars until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Mix in the dry ingredients until completely combined. Fold in the chocolate chunks.

Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Form the dough into 1 1/2 inch balls. Place them about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.

Makes about 20 cookies.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Summer Pasta Salad

I don't know why, but this year I'm so excited for fall. Maybe it's because I'm back in the Midwest and fall time in Michigan was always my favorite time of the year. I think I have high expectations for fall in central Illinois although I'm guessing it may not be quite as wonderful. There aren't really as many trees and it'll probably be mostly sowed corn fields everywhere. But, nothing beats the weather. I love mornings and evenings when you need a jacket to be outside, but days that warm under the sun. There is a slight breeze, but nothing close to the bone-chilling wind that the winter will inevitably bring. The humidity is almost non-existent.

It makes me want to pick apples, carve pumpkins and go for long walks.

Plus the cooking gets wonderful in the fall. Pumpkins and other fall squashes. Apples. Stews and rich soups. Roasted chicken. Turkey. Casseroles. And more.

But before we jump into fall, we have to celebrate the last few days/weeks of summer produce. Like this summer pasta salad that is full with perfect tomatoes and zucchini. It is a creamy pasta salad, but some of the heavy mayo is replaced with Greek yogurt. It keeps it light and refreshing.

So get out there and stock up on the end of summer produce before autumn completely takes over.

What are you looking forward to most as we change seasons?

Summer Pasta Salad (adapted from SkinnyTaste)
1 cup mini shells (or other small pasta)
1 cups grape tomatoes, halved
1 small zucchini, sliced and quartered
1/2 small onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
3 tbsp light mayo
2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
dash of oregano
dash of freshly ground black pepper
dash of garlic powder

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cool water.

Combine the pasta with the tomatoes, zucchini and onion in a bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients. Pour onto the pasta and mix thoroughly to combine.

Chill for at least an hour. Serve cold.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Chicken and Tomato Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

Last night I ate popcorn, a yogurt and a spoonful of peanut butter for dinner. No, I'm not sharing that recipe for you. Because, of course, there really is no recipe.

Instead, I'm sharing with you a recipe from the night before

      that was totally delicious

            and I'm so glad I made it

                 and I kinda wish I would have had the motivation to make the second half last night because it  
                 was a square meal

                         certainly more than popcorn, yogurt, and peanut butter

                              and you should totally make it too

                                     then we could swap stories, over popcorn, about how much we loved this meal

                                             it would be a lot of fun

                                                     I promise.

For reallllzzz though, have you had spaghetti squash before? I don't think that you can really approach it as a substitute for pasta because it has a little different texture and flavor, but I do think that it is a great way to make a low carb dinner. This filling is perfect to add some flavor to squash; it is composed of chicken, tomatoes and green olives, plus a little bit of basil and topped off with feta cheese. The chicken, tomatoes and basil make it almost a marinara flavor and the green olives add the perfect amount of salt.

AND it is a fun meal because you get to eat it out of the squash shell.



Chicken and Tomato Stuffed Spaghetti Squash (adapted from Heat Oven to 350)
1 cup diced grape tomatoes (or other tomatoes, could be canned)
1/3 cup diced green olives
10-12 basil leaves, chopped
1 large chicken breast, diced
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 spaghetti squash, cut in half and seeds removed
3-4 tbsp crumbled feta cheese
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat broiler to high.

Place the two halves of the spaghetti squash cut side down in a microwavable container. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 5-7 minutes, until soft and tender.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and season with black pepper. Cook until browned on all sides and until almost all the pink is gone, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, olives and basil. Simmer on low until the chicken is cooked completely and the sauce thickens, approximately 5 minutes.

Flip the squash halves over and using a fork pull the flesh into thin stands, almost angel hair pasta-like. Make a small hole in the center of the squash and divide the filling between the two halves. Sprinkle the top with feta cheese and season with additional black pepper.

Broil until the cheese is golden brown, about 3 minutes.

Serves 2 (1/2 squash per person).

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Parmesan Ciabatta Bread

Things I'm loving right now:

1. The start of the school year and new and exciting seminars. I can't tell you how pumped about science I get after I listen to a good seminar. I love listening to people talk about what they have done and what they are doing to try to understand a particular problem. Even when it is in a field that I don't know particularly well, if the speaker is good, I'm hooked and enthused about their work. Talk about rejuvenation. It just reminds me of how much I belong in the world of academics.

2. Peaches and nectarines. And how they have been on sale for like the past month.

3. Mini Premium Saltine Crackers. I think this is because I normally buy off-brand, low-fat, low-sodium saltines, but these are only made by Premium and full of salt and fat (not that they are particularly bad for you). I'm not kidding you when I say I ate any entire box over the course of 3 days when I was sick. And then I bought another box, and I'm almost done with that one too.

4. Black polish on my toenails. It makes me happy, okay?

5. Fall in the midwest. I love that it gets cool at night, but is still sunny and warm during the day. It makes me want to be a creep-o at a high school football game on a Friday night. Or don my old pom uniform to cheer the team on.

6. Freshly baked bread. Especially this perfection of parmesan ciabatta bread. I finished the bread late (read: 10:00 pm) on a Sunday night and still I scarfed down two hot from the oven pieces before I went to bed. I sliced and froze one of the loaves, but the other didn't even last the week. I ate it breakfast, lunch and dinner. And boy, was it good. Plus, I got to knock another thing off that cooking bucket list of mine.

I wish you could smell this through the screen. 
Just look at that delicious cheese... yum...

Parmesan Ciabatta Bread (adapted from Annie's Eats)
For the overnight starter:
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
0.25 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup warm water
1/8 tsp dry active yeast

For the dough:
All of the starter
2.5 cups all-purpose flour
0.5 cup warm water
1.5 tsp salt
0.5 tsp dry active yeast
4 oz parmesan cheese, cut into 1/4 in cubes

For the starter, combine the warm water with the dry active yeast in a medium bowl. Once it is foamy, add the flours and stir well to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and allow at room temperature for 12-20 hours until bubbly.

Combine the water and yeast and allow to get foamy. Using your food processor (or stand mixer) equipped with the dough blade, combine the starter, flour, water with yeast and salt. Pulse and knead on a low speed for 6-8 minutes until the dough is soft and slightly sticky. Add additional water or flour as necessary. Remove the dough from the food processor and knead in the cheese using your hands.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow to rise for 1-2 hours until very puffy.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide in half. Form each half into a loaf (mine were about 10 X 5 inches). Place the loaves on a parchment lined baking sheet. Spray the top of the loaves with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for 45 minutes until they are puffy again (I found they didn't get quite as puffy at this stage).

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes until the bread is golden. Remove the loaves and let cool.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Corn and Roasted Tomato Risotto (a how to)

I'm not sure how much you have perused the website. Besides the (almost) daily recipes, there is a link to a page on right that takes you to my Recipe Archive. Use it to get back to those recipes you want to make most easily. I have them categorized by type of dish to help you sort through them.


Additionally, awhile ago I added another page link on the right labeled My (Cooking) Bucket List. Here I started a list of the foods I would like to try my hand at sometime in the future. I'm hoping to continue this blog and add those recipes as I attempt them. Plus, the bucket list will likely grow as I find more desires in the kitchen.

This bucket list idea was partially inspired by my infatuation with competitive cooking shows-- in particular, MasterChef. I certainly do not have enough skill for shows such as Chopped and Next Food Network Star, but the home cook aspect of MasterChef makes it a potentially obtainable dream for me. However, on MasterChef there are certain types of cuisines and dishes that the contestants are expected to be able to make. Take, for example, a few weeks ago when the bottom two cooks were tasked with creating THREE souffles in one hour. Holy cow, talk about pressure. Not only are souffles technically challenging, but they needed to infuse the correct flavors and add a little bit of extra umpf to stand out. Before I would ever try out for the show (not saying I'm committing to season 4), there are some things that I need to give a once (or twice, or three times) over.


The first thing I put on my bucket list (and that has been on my bucket list FOREVER) was risotto. From what I understand this dish is really a challenge and staple for cooks of all levels. Even on Chopped and NFNS, a bad risotto can send you packing. Many of the recipes out there are designed for making risotto for four and since I wasn't comfortable enough with the dish to adapt things right out of the gate, I turned to my trusty "Serve Yourself" cookbook. Of course, it has a risotto! And a perfect one for summer-- packed full of fresh corn and roasted tomatoes topped with fresh basil.

To tell you the truth, I had this recipe on my menu for 3-4 weeks in a row until I finally made it. I am usually pretty good at sticking to the menu plans for the week (since I've already bought the groceries and planned everything out), but this risotto was just overwhelming. Mostly, I think, because I would be exhausted at the end of a work day and just not ready for a labor intensive meal. So, I'd fall back on picking up Panera on the way home or whipping up a quick salad or grilled cheese and putting off the plan. But finally, on a Saturday night, I said, "Julie, you gotta bite the bullet and do it. It's going to be yummy and you won't know how much effort it actually takes until you make it." And so I did. With no regrets. It was delicious and not nearly as scary as I had imagined. Risotto can now be crossed off the bucket list, and certainly, I will be making more. Watch out, world (or kitchen)!

Maybe you are like me and you are intimidated by risotto. For that reason, I took some pictures along the way to guide you in your risotto making. Kind of a "how to". If you're an expert, skip ahead to the recipe at the bottom that is written like normal. And certainly, as always, feel free to double or quadruple the recipe to feed your whole family. :)

Also, please note that I followed Joe's suggestion of making corn broth. When I read this recipe in his book, I asked why I had never thought of to do this before. Especially since I'm now in the middle of corn country and I can buy 8 cobs for $1 sometimes! Of course, I can't eat 8 cobs before they go bad, so I typically cut the kernels off and freeze them for future use. I never once thought to do anything with the husks, silks and used cobs. Talk about wasteful. This broth is soooo easy and flavorful! You can use it as a substitute for vegetable or chicken broth or stock in just about everything. You not only avoid the high amount of sodium in the prepackaged kind (that's why I like to make chicken stock too), but it doesn't cost you a cent more than what you were paying for the corn anyway. Some people are so smart. I'm just piggy-backing off of them; feel free to jump on as well. ;)

Okay for real, I'm on to the recipe.

Talk about the longest post ever.

Thanks for sticking with me.


First and foremost, prep your ingredients. Cut your onion and garlic, grate your cheese, and start your tomatoes roasting (sorry for the lack of photo, I wasn't committed to the how-to until after I started cooking).

Bring your corn broth to a simmer and cover.

Heat the oil and add your onion and garlic. Cook until softened.

Add the corn and rice and stir until they are coated with oil.

Add the wine first, but then add the hot broth (1/4 cup at a time*), stirring constantly until all the liquid is absorbed. *I found that about using a ladle about half full was a good approximation for 1/4 cup.

Continue to cook until the rice reaches the desired consistency.

Lastly, stir in the tomatoes, followed by cheese and butter. Serve topped with the basil leaves and extra grated cheese.

Corn and Roasted Tomato Risotto (very slightly adapted from "Serve Yourself" cookbook)
1/2 pint grape tomatoes
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 to 1.5 cups corn broth (see below) or vegetable stock
2 tbsp coarsely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, chopped
kernels from 1 ear fresh corn
1/3 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 basil leaves, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Please the tomatoes on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil. Toss with 1 tbsp oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Roast for 30 min, until the tomatoes are lightly browned and collapsed, turning halfway through.

Bring the corn broth to a simmer over medium heat in a small saucepan. Reduce the heat to low and cover.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook about 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the corn and rice and cook, stirring quickly, until the rice is well coated, about 1-2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is almost gone, about 5 minutes. Add in 1/4 cup hot corn broth and repeat the cooking and stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add the broth (1/4 cup at a time) and stirring constantly until the rice has been cooking for about 20 minutes total. Taste the rice to make sure it is tender but still slightly firm. Add the tomatoes. Cook for 2-3 more minutes until the rice in tender, but not mushy, adding more liquid if necessary.

When the rice is cooked correctly, stir in the butter and cheese. Add salt and pepper as you like. Transfer to a bowl and top with the sliced basil and more freshly grated parmesan.

Homemade Corn Broth (from "Serve Yourself" Cookbook)
4 ears of corn (including husks and silks and everything)
7 cups water

Rinse the corn. Remove the husks and silks, discarding any browned or blackened spots. Cut into about 2-3 inch pieces.

Remove the kernels from the cobs. I like to stand the cob upright in a large bowl and slice from the top downward. It doesn't make as big of a mess in the kitchen. Cut the cobs into 2-3 inch pieces. Freeze the kernels if you are not going to use them immediately, for another use.

Add the cobs, husks and silks to a large stockpot. Cover with the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered for about 1 hour. No need to stir or disturb.

Strain the broth into a large bowl. Squeeze the solids to remove as much liquid as possible. Use in place of vegetable broth/stock immediately or freeze for future use.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pork Quesadillas




I am so sorry.

I've totally been slacking. I'll blame it on that cold I got last weekend and the fact that it apparently completely knocked me on my behind. Work has taken all my energy and when I've spent time at home, I've had just about enough left to sit on my couch or sleep in my bed. I really haven't done a lot. I also promise I haven't intentionally been ignoring you. Somehow the week went by and I didn't get to posting.

The plan was to post this recipe shortly after the pork in the crockpot and the burritos. Just to hit home the use of leftovers in unique and different ways. This is technically a leftover leftover meal. Because if you remember the chipotle bbq pork, I just used that to make this quesadilla.

So now:

"Knock it off, Napoleon! Make yourself a dang case-a-dill-a"

Chipotle Pork Quesadillas
Ingredients (per quesadilla):
1/4-1/3 cup chipotle barbecue pork
1/4-1/3 cup shredded cheese
10 inch flour tortilla
chopped lettuce
chopped tomato
chopped avocado
sour cream or Greek yogurt

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Spread the pork on one half of the tortilla. Sprinkle the cheese on top of the pork. Fold the tortilla in half to enclose the filling.

Bake for 5-8 minutes until the cheese is melted. Turn on your broiler and broil until the top is golden brown, approximately 2 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 3-4 minutes. Cut into triangles.

Serve topped with lettuce, tomato, avocado and sour cream, as desired.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Italian Vegetable Stew

Ugh. My head is congested. My chest is congested. I slept for almost 48 of the 60 hours between Saturday night and Tuesday morning. It's crazy how you can sleep so much yet still be so tired. I guess that means your body is busy fighting off whatever disease you picked up from the fact that undergrads are back on campus. Don't worry that you have had like zero contact with them, it's just that they are back, bringing in their wake disease and destruction.

Okay, maybe it isn't their fault. But I'm blaming them nonetheless for my completely comatose state during this holiday weekend. I had grand plans of work plus rest and relaxation and updating a few recipes on the blog. Well, I got the rest, just not the relaxation nor the work. I sat on my couch watching episodes of Supernatural on Netflix, drinking Sprite Zero, and eating chicken noodle soup and mini-saltines. I didn't have the energy to open up my computer and come up with witty things about my recipes for y'all.

But before the sickness completely took me over (read, Saturday night at about 9:00 pm when I crawled into bed), I made this stew. I actually want to call it, clean-out-your-pantry-and-fridge-stew because that's totally what I did. I grabbed a half eaten eggplant, a 1/3 leftover zucchini, some mushrooms that wouldn't last another week, and a can of diced tomatoes. I mixed them all together with some seasonings and broth and let them simmer for about 4 hours on Saturday afternoon. I also threw in some browned Italian sausage because I felt like adding some meat to the mix, but that is totally optional, it would have been just as hearty without the meat. The stew turned out great, and it cleaned out my fridge. Which was totally a good idea when I was planning on grocery shopping for the week on Sunday, but in retrospec was a bad idea because now my fridge is practically empty and I didn't have the energy to plan out meals and go to the store.

At least I have leftovers. :)

Italian Vegetable Stew
1/2 large eggplant, chopped
1/3-1/2 large zucchini, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
5-6 baby portabello mushrooms, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced, more or less depending on how spicy you want it to be
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1/2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 lb sweet Italian sausage, optional

If using, brown the sausage in a small pan over medium heat, breaking up into smaller pieces. Cook for approximately 5-6 minutes until no longer pink.

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 2-5 hours, until the vegetables are soft.

Serve hot with bread.

Serves 4-5.