Friday, May 27, 2011

Rhubarb Streusel Muffins

To close out Rhubarb Week, I have a few little rhubarb-related tidbits to share with you.

First, this:

and this:

And I baked some muffins!  I baked them last night, because I'm leaving on an early flight to see my family and go to my cousin's wedding (whoop!), so heads-up, family!  I'm bringing muffins!  :-)

I'm very excited to get out of Chicago (where it was rainy and 45 degrees yesterday!  ick!), and go to Virginia, where today's high temperature is a toasty 90 degrees!  Did anyone else catch that?  THAT IS TWICE AS WARM!  I'm all about it.  I've got an adorable new vintage-inspired bathing suit, a big floppy hat, sunscreen, espadrilles... bring on the summer! 

I hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

Whole Wheat Rhubarb Streusel Muffins
adapted from Deb's recipe at

I expected these to be a heartier breakfast muffin, because of the use of whole wheat flour, but they are surprisingly light!  Next time around, I might add in a little something else for heft - oatmeal or ground flaxseed, or walnuts.


1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


1 large egg
1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced rhubarb, in 1/2-inch pieces (from about 6 to 8 ounces of stalks)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 12 muffin cups.

Make streusel: In a small dish, stir together flours, sugars, spices and salt. Stir in butter until crumbly. Set aside.

Make muffins: Whisk egg in the bottom of a large bowl with both sugars. Whisk in butter, then sour cream. In a separate bowl, mix together flours, baking powder and baking soda and stir them into the sour cream mixture, mixing until just combined and still a bit lumpy. Fold in rhubarb and 1/3 (feel free to eyeball this) of the streusel mixture.

Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle each muffin with remaining streusel, then use a spoon to gently press the crumbs into the batter so that they adhere. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean. Rest muffins in pan on cooling rack for two minutes, then remove muffins from tin to cool them completely.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Crostata That Almost Wasn't

Sometimes things just work out.

Yesterday afternoon, the Coppertop Guy called me.  A friend of ours who lives in Indiana had a really early flight out of O'Hare this morning and needed a place to crash.  We expected him to get in really late, say hi, go to sleep, and then leave before we woke up.  At about 5, CG called again to say that our friend had gotten on an earlier train and was going to be to our place at about 7.  I love to feed people, so I was happy about this new development.  I got home from work, looked at the messy house, decided that people like to eat more than they like to look at clean rooms, and went straight to the kitchen.  I threw together the crust for this absolutely lovely strawberry rhubarb crostata that I had been planning.  CG got home and I found out immediately that he did not share my opinion about messy rooms not mattering.  Ah well, marriage is a learning experience, after all.  I baked chicken breasts and potatoes, made these butter-glazed radishes and carrots, and tossed together a quick spinach salad.  While everything was working (I love braised and baked things - you can get them going and then go do something else!), I made the strawberry-rhubarb filling.  Then we sat down to eat.

I love when friends unexpectedly drop by.  This is probably due in part to my leave-the-mess-and-let's-have-some-cake mentality, but mostly I just love having people around.  This particular friend just finished his Master's degree and is about to start a new job, left this morning for a week-long trip to El Salvador, and his wife is having a baby in August.  It was so nice to have this impromptu get-together to catch up and hear about his life.  With all the ways we have to communicate with each other, nothing can replace a face-to-face conversation over a shared meal.

Not to mention, it can really pay off to have an extra pair (or two) of hands in the kitchen.

Caught up as I was in the lively conversation we were all having, I didn't give my full attention to the crostata assembly.  I took the little disk of dough out of the fridge, sprinkled flour on the counter, and started rolling.  I got it all rolled out, poured the filling on top, folded up the edges... and then remembered that I was supposed to have done all this on a piece of parchment so that I could transfer it from the counter to a baking sheet. 

Pause for a moment of panic.

These two sweet men who were casually chatting in the kitchen saw the impending catasrophe, and with barely a word from me, they sprang into action!  It took six hands and two spatulas to get that sucker onto the pan, but it didn't fall apart!  Woohoo!  Crisis averted!

I am very thankful for my friends.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Crostata
adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2011

The flavor of the whole wheat flour adds a whole new level to the crust, and its nuttiness stands up well to the intense flavor of the rhubarb.  I used coarse kosher salt, and I loved coming across the little intact bits of it as I ate!  Salt + butter + sugar = good.


1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg
1 tablespoon whole milk

1/4 cup cornstarch
4 cups 1/2-inch-thick slices rhubarb (about 6 stalks)
1 cup fresh strawberries, quartered
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg, beaten
Raw sugar

Combine both flours, sugar, and salt in a processor; blend for 5 seconds. Add butter; pulse until butter is reduced to pea-size pieces. Whisk egg and milk in a small bowl to blend; add to processor and pulse until moist clumps form. Gather dough into a ball; flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap; chill at least 1 1/2 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

Dissolve cornstarch in 3 Tbsp. water in a small bowl; set aside. Combine rhubarb, strawberries, and sugar in a large heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until sugar dissolves and juices are released, about 4 minutes. Stir in cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil (rhubarb will not be tender and slices will still be intact). Transfer to a bowl. Chill until cool, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°. Roll out dough on floured parchment paper to 12" round; brush with beaten egg. Mound filling in center of crust; gently spread out, leaving 1 1/2" border. Gently fold edges of dough over filling, pleating as needed. Brush border with egg; sprinkle with raw sugar. Slide parchment with crostata onto a large rimmed baking sheet and bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly, about 45 minutes. Let crostata cool on baking sheet on a rack. Transfer crostata to a platter, cut into wedges, and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tornado Relief (and Roasted Rhubarb)

A streetcorner in Joplin, before and after the tornado. (Photo cred: Flickr/Aaron Fuhrman)

Some friends of ours live in Joplin, MO.  Sunday night's tornado missed their house by a few blocks, and they are safe, but I can't stop thinking about them.  And I can't stop praying for the people who were not so lucky; people who lost their homes, or even their lives.  I've been watching footage of the wreckage the tornado left, feeling helpless... and watching in disbelief as the reports of more tornadoes keep pouring in.

If you'd like to help the relief effort in Joplin, there are many different ways you can contribute.  CNN has compiled a list of the different organizations that are helping to clean up, care for those who were injured, reunite people with their families, and provide food, water, and shelter to those whose homes were destroyed.  Text "REDCROSS" to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or visit the American Red Cross website to donate, give blood or volunteer.

I will donate $1 to the Red Cross for every person who comments on this post with a prayer or a word of encouragement to those affected by this disaster.

And here's a recipe, too.  To make your day a little sweeter.

Roasted Rhubarb
adapted from Molly's take on a recipe from Canal House Cooking, Volume 3

I just became aware of the existence of vanilla bean paste earlier this week, and I am still a little amazed by it.  For less than the price of two vanilla beans, you can get four ounces of a mixture of sugar, vanilla extract, and vanilla beans that, to my taste, does precisely the same thing that vanilla beans do.  And it lasts forever in the fridge!  For a girl on a budget, this option cannot be beat. 

2 lb. rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths
½ cup sugar
½ cup crisp white wine
1 vanilla bean, split (or 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste)

Set a rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put the rhubarb in a Dutch oven or other deep oven-safe pot. Add the sugar, wine, and vanilla bean (paste), and stir to mix. Bake (uncovered) for about 30 minutes, or until very tender, giving the pot a gentle stir about midway through to ensure that the rhubarb cooks evenly.

Yield: About 2 cups.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lentils with Rhubarb and Caramelized Onions

I just finished reading Mark Bittman's Food Matters (you should read it; it's fabulous), and it convinced me (again) to eat many, many more plants.  If you're anything like me, deciding not to eat something leads to obsessing over it, dreaming about it, and eating it in extraordinarily large quantities.  Here's how the conversation with myself usually goes:

Well-intentioned me, on a Sunday night, after a sugar-, carb-, meat-, cheese- and alcohol-laden (otherwise known as fun) weekend:

"OK. This week I'm going to commit to being healthier. I'm not going to eat refined carbs or sugar. I'm going to scale back the wine. I'm going to eat less meat and cheese. I'm going to work out every day! I can do it!"

Realistic, food-loving me, about 15 minutes later:

"But wait... what about bread?  I think I should be able to have bread.  And what about those cookies I was going to make?  And chocolate.  OK, but only dark chocolate, and only in small portions..."

Hungry me, Monday morning:


Clearly, this approach is not working out so well.  So instead of reminding myself several times a day of what things I want not to eat, I am expanding the horizons of what I would like to eat.  Namely, plants.  Fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains.  These things are delicious!  Instead of choking down blandly prepared, sad piles of refrigerated grains and veggies, I want to eat plant-based meals that taste amazing!  And this is not hard, it just takes a little imagination, a willingness to experiment with new flavors, foods, and combinations, and maybe a little planning. 

Most of the savory rhubarb recipes I've seen so far combine it with either meat or legumes and Indian spices.  I made some lentils with rhubarb, and I loved it so much that I can't wait to try some of the other things I've seen!  The rhubarb is pleasantly sour, but not sharp.  Combined with the sweetness of caramelized onions and the earthiness of the lentils, it is delicious, and even better eaten as leftovers for lunch the next day! 

Lentils with Rhubarb and Caramelized Onions
adapted from this recipe from My Little City Food Garden

1 onion, sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1/8 cup dry white wine
4-5 fresh stalks rhubarb, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup lentils
2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or a few sprigs fresh if you have it on hand)
Salt to taste

Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add onions a small handful at a time, waiting until each addition softens a little before adding more.  Once the onions are golden, caramelized, and smelling like heaven, add the wine and deglaze the pan.  Add rhubarb, lentils, vegetable stock, and thyme, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil.  Cover immediately, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 35 minutes, until liquid is evaporated and lentils are tender.  Adjust seasonings and serve.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rhubarb Week!


I am obsessed with rhubarb right now, and I decided to make it official. 

I hereby declare this to be the Coppertop Kitchen Official Week of Rhubarb!

For my whole life, I have been content to make one rhubarb crisp a year, sit down and eat the whole thing myself with a spoon, and wait until next spring to do it again.  This year, I decided to find out what else I might be able to do with this delicious seasonal vegetable/fruit!  Each day this week, I will devote my time here to sharing little-known-facts about rhubarb, and some recipes that don't (all) involve strawberries and/or pastry.

Did you know?
Rhubarb was first cultivated in China for medicinal purposes (it is a digestive aid, and can be a mild laxative), and was first grown for culinary purposes in Britain and America in the 18th century. 

Rhubarb Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake
adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2008

This recipe originally used cherries and balsamic vinegar instead of rhubarb and bourbon, but my version worked beautifully.  Also, I don't have an appropriately-sized and -shaped skillet, so I used a regular 9-inch cake pan. 

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon bourbon 
3 cups chopped fresh rhubarb (4-5 stalks) 
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground medium grind)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, separated
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon bourbon
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Combine 1/4 cup butter with brown sugar and 1 tablespoon bourbon in 10- to 11-inch ovenproof skillet with 2-inch-high sides. Stir over medium heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to high; add rhubarb and bring to boil. Remove from heat.

Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup butter in large bowl. Add sugar; beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks, vanilla and 1 teaspoon bourbon. Add flour mixture alternately with milk in 2 additions each, beating just until blended and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another medium bowl until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until whites are stiff but not dry. Using rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of whites into batter to lighten slightly. Fold in remaining whites in 3 additions (batter will be thick). Spoon batter over rhubarb in skillet, then spread evenly with offset spatula to cover rhubarb.

Bake cake until top is golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool in skillet on rack 5 minutes. Run spatula around edges of cake to loosen. Place large serving platter upside down atop skillet. Using pot holders or oven mitts, firmly hold platter and skillet together and invert. Leave skillet atop cake 5 minutes. Remove skillet. If necessary, rearrange any fruit that may have become dislodged. Let cake cool at least 45 minutes. Cut cake into wedges and serve slightly warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or bourbon-laced fresh whipped cream.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Review: Dirty Dishes

Dirty Dishes: A Restaurateur's Story of Passion, Pain, and Pasta
by Pino Luongo and Andrew Friedman. 

I came across this book as I was looking for restaurants to visit on a recent trip to New York City.  AFter reading great things about Pino's restaurant, Centolire, on the Upper East Side, I decided I had to try it.  My plan had been to go there for lunch in the middle of a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I didn't make it to the museum, sadly, but I decided to make a special trip to the restaurant anyway.  I love the fact that, even though it's in a supremely ritzy and overpriced area, Centolire Cafe & Panini remains a little lunch spot where you can get an inexpensive, absolutely delicious bite to eat.  Someday I'll go back and eat in the mama restaurant for dinner, but this was a great first taste.

Later I learned that there's a restaurant in Chicago called Coco Pazzo that was started by Pino, too!  Our third wedding anniversary is coming up, and I bet you can guess where we'll be!

Pino's story is engaging and evocative.  He begins by describing his early life in Tuscany, and how he discovered his love of food in his mother's kitchen and honed his instincts in his uncle's restaurant.  I couldn't help but be enveloped in the world of memory he created through describing the smells and flavors of his childhood.  He then recounts his burgeoning acting career, followed by a very reluctant emigration to New York, where he found that the only place he could go to escape his homesickness was in a restaurant where the smells and tastes of home were recreated.  He then makes the astonishing journey from a busboy who barely speaks two words of English, to a New York restaurant mogul, and then to a family man with one successful restaurant, happy to admit that it was all for love of cooking.  I was transported.  And I can't wait to expand my own repertoire to include some of the traditional Italian dishes that were described so lovingly throughout the book: pappa al pomodoro, pasta carbonara, traditional bolognese, rigatoni alla buttera, and spaghetti alle vongole (assuming I can find some dang vongole...).

Some of my favorite passages:

"Má never worked in a professional kitchen, but by the time she became a parent, cooking was such an extension and reflection of her life, it became a natural means of self-expression, right down to how she demonstrated her love for her children." 

"We'd bust the melons open on our knees, stick our heads inside, and devour the sugary flesh, emerging with devilish smiles and dripping-wet faces.  After we had our fill, we'd stage a watermelon war, logging the orbs at each other in the dark until we were covered from head to toe with juice.  Then we'd hop on our scooters and disappear up into the hills to the east, toward Saturnia, where there were warm sulfuric waterfalls.  We'd let the spa water cleanse our clothes and skin, then collapse in the grass and stare up at the moon and stars until we fell asleep."

"You can only be told so much about pasta.  If you want to understand and master it, you need to immerse yourself in it until you've absorbed it and it's become a part of you, like that perfect, elusive coming together of pasta and sauce."

Check out his restaurant, books, and more about Pino at  Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Market Day... and Moose Tracks Cookies.

Visited the Daley Plaza market again today, and picked up so much great stuff!  Pickles, orange blossom honey (the local bees went for a winter vacation in Florida), 3 more bunches of asparagus, some cheese, and most importantly...

I looked for it last week, but they had already sold out by the time I got there!  So I got two bunches this time.  And I will be searching high and low for different ways to use this delicious vegetable... fruit?

...(going to Wikipedia)...

"Rhubarb is usually considered to be a vegetable; however, in the United States, a New York court decided in 1947 that since it was used in the United States as a fruit it was to be counted as a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties."  What duties do fruits have, exactly?


The farmer who sold me the rhubarb told me that it freezes really well, and I told him thanks for the tip, but I'd rather stuff myself silly with something when it's in season (even if that's only 3 weeks a year), and then wait for it to come around again.  He looked at me with that look salespeople get when you talk to them more than they wanted you to, and I continued to the next stall to make someone else uncomfortable. 

Keep your eyes peeled for rhubarb-laden recipes in the coming days (and please share some if you've got good ones!), but in the meantime, you should probably make these!

Moose Tracks Cookies!
I came across this recipe yesterday as I was scanning my favorite blogs, and as soon as I read the words "pudding cookies," I knew I was a goner.  As far as I can tell, there are nearly limitless flavor combinations for these cookies, but the Coppertop Guy loves Chocolate Moose Tracks ice cream, and I wanted to do something nice for him.  And I wanted not to have to eat all the cookies myself.  And I had bought this little container of mini milk chocolate peanut butter cups at Trader Joe's this weekend.

So the Moose Tracks cookies were born!  And they are goooooooooooood. 

Chocolate Moose Tracks Cookies
(about 40 cookies)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 3.9-oz. package instant chocolate pudding mix
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3 Tbsp. chocolate sauce (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
1 12-oz. container mini milk chocolate peanut butter cups

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Beat butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until fluffy again.  Add vanilla and pudding mix, and beat until combined.  Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda, and add to the butter and sugar mixture.  Mix well.  Drizzle in the chocolate sauce, and mix well again.  Gently stir in peanut butter cups.  Drop by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet, press down slightly to flatten, and bake 10-12 minutes.  Pour yourself a glass of milk.  Eat, baby.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Today's is a sad story, my friends.  The story of my first attempt at spaghetti alle vongole.
I left work in the afternoon and took the train home, dreaming of a perfect dish of pasta al dente, tossed with garlic, white wine, red pepper flakes, fresh clams and parsley.  I have been thinking about this dish for weeks: the briny taste of the clams, the subtle heat of the red pepper... a bowl of heaven with a hunk of bread and a glass of cool, crisp wine.

It was not to be.

Mistake #1: I Did Not Call Ahead.

I got home, hopped in the car and drove 20 minutes to The Fish Guy, assuming that they would have fresh clams on hand.  I walked in and scanned the cases of seafood.  Oysters.  Fillets of fish.  Lobsters.  Not a clam in sight.  I asked a gentleman behind the counter if there might be some in the back.  He walked back to check as I held my breath.  He returned with the bad news.  No clams.  "But!," he said, "We do have these frozen chopped clams! What are you making?"  "Pasta," I replied.  "Oh, then these would probably be even better!  You already came all the way out here," (how did he know?) "you might as well take these instead."

Mistake #2: I Listened To The Salesman.

Skeptical but willing to experiment, I bought the container of chopped clams, made a pitstop for parsley, and then went on my merry way home, hopeful that my dinner had not been foiled.  I pulled into a parking spot in front of my building and as I put the car in park, I heard a loud hissing sound.  I opened the car door and looked out, and sure enough, one of my tires was completely deflated.  I sighed and breathed a prayer of thanks that, if I had to get a flat, at least I was already at home.  This way, I can (almost) pretend it didn't happen and my amazing husband can fix it!  (Not that I couldn't.  I mean, theoretically I could do it... right?  But theoretically he could make dinner, and that's not happening, so... it is the way it is.  And we like it.)

Mistake #3: I Plowed Ahead With The Recipe As It Was.

I heated up the olive oil.  I added my (very) thinly sliced garlic and it toasted beautifully.  I added the crushed red pepper flakes and the wine.  And then (good grief what was I thinking?!) I just dumped in my mostly-frozen container of chopped clams and tried to defrost and cook them at the same time.  Fresh clams should take 3-6 minutes to cook, and then be removed so that they don't get overcooked and tough.  I honestly don't know what you should do with frozen chopped clams.  It seems like you can easily use canned clams for chowder (which is probably much cheaper anyway), and you definitely shouldn't do what I did with them, so... who knows?  Anyway, by the time my block o' clams was melted, the individual pieces were rubbery and inedible.  In an attempt to salvage my dinner (thank goodness I didn't have anyone else to feed), I tossed my perfectly-cooked spaghetti in the pan for a few minutes, put some in a bowl, and sat my still-hopeful self down at the table to eat.


The pasta was actually perfect, which made me even more disappointed that I had wasted the time, money, and effort on the stupid clams.  If I had just stopped with the oil, garlic, and red pepper, I would have had a perfectly delicious and respectable meal.  Oh well.  I was able to choke down enough pasta (along with a big slice of bread and a little more wine) to fill me up, but definitely not to make me very happy.

I will not let this failure deter me!  I will have my spaghetti alle vongole!  Luckily, as I was paying for the clams, the guy said, half-jokingly, "If you don't like them, come back here and I'll give you twenty bucks." 

Oh, I'll be back.  Stay tuned for part two of the clam saga!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Frittata Primavera

I've been wanting to try my hand at frittata for a while now.  I am a big fan of eggs.  They're so versatile, tasty, filling, and healthy.  I came across a good-looking recipe in Mark Bittman's Food Matters (a book I will eventually read cover to cover), and last night I finally decided to give it a go.  I love that the recipe is flexible; you can basically use any combination of veggies, meat (or not), and cheese (or not) that you feel like (or have on hand), so it's a very simple and obvious choice for a busy weeknight.  On this particular weeknight, I was busy because I met my adorable and fashionable friend after work for a glass of wine and some shoe shopping.  After a glass of delicious California Cab and having acquired these little beauties,

Oh how I love these!!!
I took my tired and hungry self home, grabbed an armload of veggies from the fridge, and started slicing.

I heated some olive oil and butter in a skillet, and added:

Half a Vidalia onion,

Some sliced red cabbage (why is this called "red?"  It is clearly purple.),

5 stalks of green garlic, sliced,

10 stalks of asparagus, purple and green,
A few leaves of spinach, ribboned,

and 3 eggs, salt and pepper, and about 3/4 cup of jack cheese with basil.

This is after about 10 minutes of undisturbed time on a very low flame, and 3 minutes under the broiler.
Does it look amazing to you?  I'm hungry again just looking at it.

Dinner is served!  Frittata, a piece of toasted Italian bread, and a tiny glass of Chardonnay.
Though it's only 3 eggs, it is a LOT of food.  Especially just for little old me.  So I saved half of it for lunch today.  So healthy, so springy, so delicious!  Buon appetito!

More-Vegetable-Than-Egg Frittata
adapted slightly from Mark Bittman's Food Matters

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, peeled and sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 to 6 cups of chopped or sliced raw of cooked vegetables, drained of excess moisture if necessary
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon or mint leaves (optional)
2 or 3 eggs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Put a tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet and turn the heat to medium.  When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook, sprinkling with salt and pepper, until it's soft, about 3 minutes.  Add the vegetables, raise the heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften, anywhere from a couple of minutes for greens to 15 minutes for sliced potatoes.  (I added each vegetable separately, as I sliced, so that I could eat faster.  Just slice and add the longer-cooking-time veggies first.)  Adjust the heat so the vegetables brown a little without scorching.  (If you're starting with precooked vegetables, add them to the onions and give a couple of good stirs before proceeding.)

When the vegetables are nearly done, turn the heat to low and add the basil.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pan is almost dry, up to another 5 minutes for wetter ingredients like tomatoes or mushrooms.  Add cooked meat, if desired, just before adding the eggs.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs with some salt and pepper, along with the cheese if you're using it.  Pour over the vegetables, using a spoon if necessary to distribute them evenly.  Cook, undisturbed, until the eggs are barely set, 10 minutes or so.  (You can set them further by putting the pan in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes, or running it until the broiler for a minute or two.)  Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. 

P.S. The shoes are from Banana Republic.  Just in case you need them too.  ;)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake Bars

The story of why I made these is not that exciting.  I wanted to make a dessert (preferably involving chocolate) to bring to a party I had been invited to.  I had a bag of really awesome Michigan cherries in my freezer, and I'm moving in 2 weeks and am trying to use stuff up.  So I thought for a few minutes and this idea was born.  And it was delicious.  Here's the deal:  Chocolate cookie crust.  Cherry pie filling.  Cheesecake.  Are you with me?  :-)

These cherries are the best!  You can order them online here

My friend Marie, the lovely hostess of the party (and writer of this blog) and her
chocolate cupcakes with chocolate-red wine frosting!  Delicious!

Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake Bars
(Makes about 30 2-bite bars)

1 1/2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs (just guess - it doesn't need to be exact)
1/3 cup melted butter

Cherry Filling:
24 oz. frozen tart cherries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. corn starch
1/4 tsp. almond extract

16 oz. softened cream cheese (I used the reduced fat and you can't tell)
2 eggs
1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325.  Grease a 9x13 baking pan with cooking spray, and then add parchment paper and press in the corners.  Combine cookie crumbs and butter until completely moistened.  Pour into the prepared pan and press into the edges.  Bake for 12 minutes, remove and cool.  While it is cooling, prepare the cherry filling.  Combine frozen cherries, sugar, corn starch and almond extract in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.  Pour filling over the chocolate crust.  Allow that to cool while you make the cheesecake layer.  Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time and beat until incorporated.  Add yogurt, sugar, and vanilla, and beat again until combined.  Pour cream cheese mixture over cherry mixture and spread gently to cover.  Bake for 35 minutes, until set but still a little jiggly.  Cool completely and then refrigerate for at least 3 hours (or overnight, like I did).  Slice into bars, and garnish with shaved chocolate, if desired.

Friday, May 13, 2011

IT'S ALIVE! Demystifying Yeast.

Often, when I mention to someone that I made something involving yeast (rolls, bread, pizza dough), they shake their heads and say, "Wow.  I've never had any luck with yeast.  I could never do that."  If this sounds like you, and you've given up on having home-baked yeasty breads, I am here to say... (cue motivational speaker voice...)


Yeast is not magic, no matter how magical the products taste.  It's science!  Let's explore, shall we?

I wish.

Yeasts are unicellular microorganisms.  The word "yeast" comes from the Indo-European root yes-, meaning boil, foam, or bubble.  In baking, the yeast converts sugars present in the dough into carbon dioxide, which gets trapped in little pockets and causes the dough to rise.  When you slip the dough in the oven, the yeast dies, and the air pockets set, resulting in that heavenly texture, full of bubbles and holes.  Yeasts are also used in the production of alcoholic beverages; the sugars present in fruits or grains are converted into ethanol, carbon dioxide, and other byproducts which affect the flavor.  Learn more (I did!) about the history and ecology of yeasts here.

The trick to getting yeast to do your bidding is a simple matter of temperature.  If the water or milk you use to "proof" the yeast isn't warm enough, it won't convince the yeast to wake up and start doing its job.  If it's too hot, the yeast will die without having fulfilled its life's mission!  Now, I'm sure you could find out the ideal temperature for yeast to grow, and then use a digital thermometer to make sure it's perfect.  Or you could do this: stick your finger in it.  If it's room temperature, it's not hot enough.  If it burns you, it's too hot.  If it feels like bath water (in other words, you can put your finger in it, but after a few seconds it starts to get a little uncomfortable), it's juuuuuust right.  Good job, Goldilocks.  You're ready to add the yeast.

Spoon some yeast into the hot liquid, stir it very briefly, and then leave it alone!  You can't make it do anything.  It has a mind of its own.  Let it do its job.  With any luck, in a few minutes, your yeast will have gone from this:

to this:

Now, when I performed this bit of science-magic last night, it was all for some pizza dough.  And so, to my 1 cup of hot water + 1 tablespoon of yeast granules, I added a teaspoon of sea salt and (about) 2 cups of flour.  Maybe a little bit more.  The point is, you want to end up with a dough that doesn't stick to your finger when you poke it.  When you've got it, take the dough out, spray some cooking spray in the bowl, replace the dough, and spritz the top a bit, too.  Then put a damp kitchen towel on top and put it in a warm place to rise.  Put your pizza stone in the oven and crank the oven as high as it can go (this is the secret to a crispy, awesome crust!).  Let the dough rise until it's doubled in bulk, and then punch it down and cut it into pieces.  From this size batch of dough, I made 4 smallish, very thin crust pizzas, but you could make two larger, not-as-thin crust ones, too. 

Here are my ready-to-go toppings:

Green garlic, lemon zest, parmesan cheese, and asparagus ribbons!
Thank you to Deb at Smitten Kitchen for the ribboned asparagus idea!  I love it!

Roll out the dough and place it on the hot pizza stone.

Brush with olive oil.

The cheesy, meaty toppings need more time than the asparagus-ribbon topping.

In goes the asparagus-lemon-parmesan-topped pizza! 
Cook time is 8-12 minutes total, until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden and crispy.

I made a boy pizza (tomato sauce, jack cheese with basil, and prosciutto) and a girl pizza.

Dessert pizza!  Apricot preserves, ricotta and lemon zest.

What can't you put on pizza?!  Yum.  

Ribboned Asparagus Pizza
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
makes 4 flatbread pizzas

1 cup very warm water
1 Tbsp. dry yeast
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
2 cups (or more) all-purpose flour

Olive oil (for brushing)
12 asparagus, peeled into ribbons
1 cup shaved parmesan cheese
zest of 2 lemons
4 stalks of green garlic, thinly sliced

Combine the warm water and yeast and let rest until yeast is foamy.  Add salt and flour and mix together, then knead until it forms an elastic, not-sticky dough, adding more flour as necessary.  Cover with a damp towl and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour).  Meanwhile, put a pizza stone in the oven, and preheat oven as hot as it goes.  Divide dough in four pieces, and roll into thin, oblong shapes on a floured surface.  Place the dough, two pieces at a time, onto the preheated pizza stone, brush with olive oil, and place in the oven for 4 minutes.  Remove and add asparagus, green garlic, parmesan, and lemon zest.  Return to oven and bake for 5-8 minutes longer, until the asparagus is wilted and the crust is golden and crisp.  Slice and enjoy!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Market Day: What's In Season

There are many reasons why spring in Chicago is the best.  One such reason is being able to take pictures of things like this:

Where natural and urban beauty meet.

I'm sorry, you probably couldn't tell exactly what is going on in the bottom left.  Here you go:

Goose Babies!!!

Another is the return of the daily neighborhood farmers' markets!  Today is my first market day of what I will call the Happy Season (from now until the end of October, when all the markets are closed save one), and what follows is my bounteous haul! 

Well, hello, market!  Long time, no see!

Home state shoutout!  Michigan asparagus all the way!

Love the live music!

From this gentleman, I bought jack cheese with Thai basil.

Green garlic and curly spinach from here!

Lunch! Ham and parmesan crepe with tomatoes!

Purple asparagus!

Local food treasure.

I had been hoping for some rhubarb, peas, maybe even (be still my heart) strawberries... but spring has not been very kind to us yet, and it's going to be a couple of weeks until we have that kind of variety.  Still, I am not complaining!  I've got asparagus in two colors, green garlic, curly spinach, and locally produced cheese, and that is a great place to start! 

Happy spring, all!