Monthly Archives: February 2010

Orange you glad…

Have I told you lately that I love citrus? Yes. Oh, how I love citrus. See also: here, here, here or here. I’ll stop there, but I could go on. There’s just something about the clean, crisp bright flavors of lemon, lime, and orange I can’t resist. Maybe it’s their versatility – from delectable desserts to savory main dishes and sides, citrus just seems to add that punch of flavor that makes me want to jump up and shout YUM! Or maybe it’s their timing – when the snow is falling and the wind is blowing the stores are packed with fragrant citrus fruits from California and Florida. (Hey, this is Iowa – locally grown citrus doesn’t exist, okay? Let’s reconvene on the whole local food issue come sweet corn/tomato season, please and thank you.) When it’s so cold and snowy out, piles of sunshine-hued fruit just makes me smile – they chase away the S.A.D.s, if you will.

Our local grocery chain built a CASTLE of citrus in the store a few weeks back. True. And quite the castle it was too. Towering turrets of tasty treats. 🙂 They may or may not have dubbed it the Disneyland of Citrus. I swear they did…but I can’t actually remember…I may have just called it that myself as I whistled Zip-a-dee-doo-da down the aisles. LOL. At any rate, what I do remember is being socked in the face so hard with the scent of oranges upon entering, that I was practically drooling. The scent must have burned itself into my subconscious because all of a sudden anything and everything orange was sounding really, really good.

So, of course, when I saw this recipe for Orange Brownies, I immediately added them to my Super Bowl party menu as an easy-to-eat, non-chocolate dessert option. See, this is what I do when I entertain. I set out to please everyone. Which is silly. But that’s how I roll.

Now, I know what your thinking: how in the world can a BROWNIE recipe be void of any and all chocolate. It’s the chocolate, by definition, that makes it a brownie! DUH!

Hey, I don’t name the recipes, all right? I just make ’em. 😉

Actually, I think brownie part of the recipe comes from the texture of the bar. They are somewhere in between chewy and cakey, which is common in brownies. They are not ultra-dense and gooey like a super fudgey brownie, but they for sure have a bit of a brownie feel. Plus, there’s no brown sugar so I don’t think they can be called a blondie either.

Let’s just forget about all the technicalities and call these bad boys what they are…DELICIOUS! The chewy brownie-like texture paired with the bright flavor of orange and creamy frosting is such a great combo.  They were a big hit at the party. Everyone raved! Me personally? I found myself downright obsessed with them. As long as there were leftovers in the house, I found myself thinking about having one. It was like my only reason for getting out of bed in the morning was so I could get through my day of pesky healthy eating so I could get my hands on one of these. That’s serious. They are that good. I’m thinking the two entire sticks of butter and 4 whole eggs may have something to do with it. Just a wild guess.

Dear Paula-
Thanks for all you do!
Smooches,
Erin’s Growing Butt.

My only note on this recipe would be that the frosting recipe makes a TON! You could easily halve the frosting recipe and it would still be great. So if you’re a bit of frosting-phobe, you make want to knock it back.

Frosting-phobes? Hm. These people live in the land of leprechauns and unicorns, right? Next to the bridge trolls and across the street from the gnomes? Right. Got it.

ORANGE BROWNIES (Recipe Source: Paula Deen, Foodnetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure orange extract (I couldn’t find pure and used imitation. Despite the fact that it was in fact ORANGE, as in orange in color, it worked fine)
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 recipe Orange Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe follows

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13X9 inch baking pan.
  2. Stir together flour, granulated sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add butter, eggs, orange extract, and orange zest. Beat until well blended with an electric mixer.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until light golden brown and set. Remove from oven. Spread the Orange Cream Cheese Frosting over completely cooled brownies. Cut into squares.

ORANGE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 4 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 (1-pound) box confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice

In a large mixing bowl, whip the butter and cream cheese together with an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until it is all combined and smooth. Beat in the orange zest and juice. Spread over brownies.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Smokey Red Pepper Dip with Toasted Pita Chips – more delicious party food!

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Filed under bars, fruit

Holy Guacamole!

I would like to formally petition to add guacamole to the list of the things I thought I didn’t like but actually do. Alphabetically, it would come after eggplant but before sweet potatoes. 🙂

It’s no surprise as a kid I didn’t like guacamole. I mean…LOOK.AT.IT. It’s a freaky bright green AND creamy. Ew. No, thanks. Pass the Velveeta dip, please…

Well, as customary with most things I thought I didn’t like but actually do, I am now kicking myself for staying away so long. I should have known that actual guac pays no resemblance whatsoever to the green-powder drenched guacamole flavored Doritos I once stuffed my face with in college after a particularly long night out on the town.

After that? SOURED. Seriously. I’m not sure they even make those anymore. It’s probably for the best. If you do see ‘em, resist those strangely perfect green triangles of highly processed corn product. You are better off. Just trust me, okay? Great. 🙂

Stick with the real thing, because unlike it’s green Dorito cousin, actual guacamole is a hearty, healthy and satisfying snack. Avocados are insanely good for you, full of the heart healthy fat we SHOULD be eating. The Dorito version? Not so much.

To save on added calories, serve it up with baked tortilla chips instead of fried. Or ditch the chips all together and use crunchy carrot or celery sticks as your dippers instead. Anyway you smash it, guac is good and good-for-you eats.

For our Super Bowl party this year, I decided to try my hand at some homemade guac. I’d never made it before, but how hard could it be, right? Truth be told – it’s not hard at all! Actually, it’s simple! It seems everyone has an opinion on what makes a good guacamole and even though I’m new to its wonderfulness, I had pretty good idea of what I wanted in my final product. First of all, I wanted there to be some definite texture and chunkiness to it – too pureed and I’m put off. That’s part of the reason I was interested in recipes that included both diced tomato and onion. Second, I have quite the hatred for cilantro (sorry, cilantro fans) so I knew I’d be leaving that out.

This recipe from my gal Ina fit the bill PERFECTLY. It’s a snap to throw together and it’s super fresh and delicious. The best part is you can adjust the ingredients to your liking. Salt is a key component to this, as it really makes the flavors pop. Be sure to taste as you go and season liberally. Then watch your party guests devour it. Or better yet, take the bowl, hide in a dark closet and eat it all yourself! 🙂

GUACAMOLE (Recipe Source: Ina Garten, Foodnetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 ripe Haas avocados
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (I subbed lime)
  • 8 dashes hot pepper sauce
  • 1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded, and small-diced

DIRECTIONS:

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. Immediately add the lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss well. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper. Makes about 3 cups.

ENJOY! 🙂

One year ago: Lemon-scented mini-cheesecakes with mixed berry topping. One of the most popular posts on my blog to date! I loved these little guys. 🙂

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Filed under appetizers, veggies

Good Enough?

When it comes to most of what’s on the Food Network, I can take it or leave it. If I’m bored and there happens to be an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on, I’ll watch it – but I don’t have my TiVo set up on Season Pass mode so I’m sure to never miss an episode or anything like that.

Usually, the Food Network background noise if I’m doing something else – responding to emails, updating my blog or working in the kitchen. Sometimes the background noise is so annoying I have to turn it off. (Cough, Sandra Lee, cough, cough.) There’s only one Food Network personality that can pull me away from whatever I have planned and draw my attention away from more productive things. I’ve literally stopped dead in my tracks in the living room on the way to basement with a basketful of laundry and stood there mesmerized for entire segments when I happen upon this person. I never know when she’s on either, so it’s always a big surprise.

I get so excited. I squeal with delight. I become enthralled when… INA comes on!

Love her. LOVE. Whatever she’s making, I usually want to run right into the kitchen and start whipping it up myself. Everything is pure food perfection. I like her because she’s insanely knowledgeable. And it’s about layers and technique to maximize flavor – not crazy combos or out-there ingredients. She exudes this…quiet authority, if you will. She knows what she’s talking about…and she makes you want to listen and think like her when it comes to food. She takes things that are relatively simple and turns them into something extraordinary. Case in point, this Baked Shrimp Scampi is one of my most favorite meals I’ve ever made. Simple ingredients, outstanding, amazing results. (Note to self: Make again. SOON!)

Plus, how cute are she and Jeffery? RIGHT?! I just love them.

It’s customary, in my family, to pick on the people we like (Only people we like. If you get picked on a lot, that means we like you a lot. J) So even my foodie idol is not safe from some good natured fun poking every now and then. Eric teases that she’s too fancy – out there in her gorgeous Hamptons house (which is like the most gorgeous country house EVER. I wish she’d invite me over!) And that it’s pretentious when she uses the word “good” when it comes to her cooking. “Good” olive oil. “Good” vanilla. “Good” Cocoa powder, etc. As if she’s saying, in not so many words, if you live somewhere where you have do your shopping at the Super Wally, you might as well just give up.

Of course, we know that when she says “good” she does not mean the most out of the way, expensive item in the world, she means a quality product that you know and trust. When you cook with few ingredients, like she often does, it would make sense that you wouldn’t want to use the bottom of the barrel, cheapo stuff…because let’s be honest, you get what you pay for – ESPECIALLY when it comes to food.

It’s still fun though, when I make an Ina recipe, to come up with most extravagant definition of “good” we can think of.

“Use “good” shrimp. I recommend a special breed found only in waters off the Hamptons. They cluster around a rock that looks like an exact replica of Mount Rushmore, 100 feet below the surface. They must only be harvested at the peak of freshness – once a year from 7:18 a.m. to 5:23 p.m. on April 8th– and eaten within 45 minutes of coming out of the water. No other shrimp will do.”

“Use “good” cinnamon.  Preferably this one available only at an invitation-only spice shop in the back of dark alley in Manhattan. You have to know the password and undergo a full body scan to get inside and it costs eleventy-billion dollars an ounce. If you get the password wrong the first time, a giant bouncer named Tiny will club your knee caps, but don’t worry…it’s well worth it.”

We’re just kidding around, of course. Ina is still my homegirl, even if she’s way more sophisticated than we can ever hope to be. 🙂

To prove it, I present the recipe for her insanely rich and decadent Coq Au Vin. Valentine’s Day is all about indulgence and pampering and this recipe fits the bill perfectly. Bone-in chicken pieces are browned in bacon grease (hello? DELICIOUS!) and then slow cooked in a rich flavorful broth of vegetables, stock and red wine. The end result is rich and flavorful dish with lots of layers of flavor, full-bodied red wine, spicy liquor, meaty mushrooms, and a hint of sweetness from the carrots. The chicken was fall off the bone tender. I don’t make it very often because of the added fat and calories, but good skin on, bone in chicken is such a treat. Dare I say I prefer it over red meat? I think I do!

The only thing I would different next time would be to make sure the chicken is really good and brown on the outside. I don’t think I let mine crisp up enough, so the skin got a little slimy and just kind of fell off. Other than that though, this was the perfect Valentine’s Day dinner! I served mine over egg noodles, but mashed potatoes or rice would be good too. A simple salad and crusty bread and you’ve got a meal worthy of someone special.

COQ AU VIN (Recipe Source: Ina Garten, Foodnetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil (good. ha…. ;))
  • 4 ounces good bacon or pancetta, diced
  • 1 (3 to 4-pound) chicken, cut in 8ths
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound carrots, cut diagonally in 1-inch pieces
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1/4 cup Cognac or good brandy (I subbed whiskey because that’s what I had on hand)
  • 1/2 bottle (375 ml) good dry red wine such as Burgundy
  • 1 cup good chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 10 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 pound frozen small whole onions (this elusive product I have never ever seen in the store. Not one time! I just left them out.)
  • 1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
  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. 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.
  5. Mash 1 tablespoon of butter and the flour together and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. 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.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes. Oh, how decadent and delicious!

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Filed under chicken, veggies

I Choo-Choo-Choose You!

Ralph Wiggum is my Valentine. I choo-choo-choose him. 🙂

Oops. I mean, Ralph is my four-fingered, animated, 2nd grader Valentine. Eric is my real life Valentine. I choo-choo-choose him first.

If you are a Simpsons fan and get this then I heart you. We should get together and talk in Ralph-isms over coffee.

“Me fail English? That’s unpossible!”

“I ated the purple berries! They taste like….burning.”

“The doctor said I wouldn’t have so many nosebleeds if I kept my finger outta there!”

🙂

And for you, all my lovely reader Valentines…CUPCAKES! Share them with your Valentine, even if your Valentine is Ralph Wiggum. Little cupcake buddies for you and all your four-fingered, animated friends.

See??

Moist, tangy and festive red velvet cupcakes topped with swirls of sweet, creamy cream cheese frosting and wearing a Valentine’s Day smile. They choo-choo-choose YOU to share their candy hearts with. 🙂

All it takes to turn these cupcakes from irresistible to adorable is a couple of squeeze bottles and a few squares of baking chocolate. The eyes, mouths and cherry stems are semi-sweet squares (3 to 4 ounces) and the cherries and hearts are white squares (4 ounces, divided) colored with gel food coloring. (Note: You can’t use liquid food coloring to color chocolate – it will seize.)

You can really make and shape you want out of chocolate to decorate your cupcakes – either by tracing the shape – like I did with cherries:

I picked out an image I liked, (Thank you, Microsoft Office and your wonderful array of free clipart) and then printed it several times across the page. I turned a baking sheet upside down (so the lip of the pan didn’t get in the way) and put a sheet of parchment over my images. It’s easy from there! Just trace over it with chocolate. To fill it in, I just put a couple dots of chocolate and then smoothed it with a toothpick. I clearly don’t have the steadiest hand in the world, but overall I was pleased with how they came out.

Or you can draw the design free hand – which is what I did for the eyes, smiles and hearts. If you do draw free hand, make sure to do way more than you’ll need to decorate. That way, you can choose the best ones  to top your cakes. 🙂

To set the shapes, place the cookie sheets in the refrigerator or freezer – then just peel them off! You’ll have extra. You’ll have to figure out something do with them. I’m sure you’ll think of something. 🙂

Now, let’s talk about the cakes themselves! I’ve made red velvet once before – I turned them Illini blue, but that doesn’t matter. They were good, but a tad dry. When I decided to make red velvet for Valentine’s Day, I knew I wanted to try a different recipe. This one from Kelsey at Apple a Day (who’s blog is WONDERFUL, by the way! Such creative and homey recipes!) seemed to be a favorite among the blogging world.

I have to say…these are phenomenal! SO moist, the perfect crumb, a great crown, amazing color. They are pretty much spot on. They have that great tangy flavor that is unmistakably red velvet. It’s kind of hard to explain how red velvet cake tastes, isn’t it? It’s for sure not chocolate – but it’s a different taste from a plain white cake too. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe, Kelsey! This will be my go-to red velvet from now on!

Cream cheese frosting is pretty traditional with red velvet. Feel free to use your favorite. I like the one in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It has a great flavor and just has the perfect creamy consistency. It’s super easy to work with – pipes like a dream, if you will. 🙂

So, Happy Valentine’s Day from the Cupcake Buddies! Hope you got to spend it with all your favorite people. 🙂

RED VELVET CUPCAKES WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING (Recipe adapted  from: Cake Man Raven at Sauver.com, as seen at Apple a Day, Frosting from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 1/2 c. cake flour
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 TBSP cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 c. buttermilk
  • 2 TBSP (1 oz.) red food coloring
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. white distilled vinegar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa, and salt into a medium bowl.

Beat eggs, oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until well combined. Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Line two 12 cup muffin tins with paper liners and fill each one 2/3 full.

Bake cupcakes, rotating halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cakes cool 5 minutes, then remove to cooling rack. Let cool completely before frosting.

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

**Note: I halved the cake recipe above to get 12 cupcakes – this frosting recipe makes about 4 cups, which was the perfect amount for laying it on pretty thick in piped swirls. If you make 24 cupcakes, you’ll probably need more frosting (this recipe is easily doubled), or check out the frosting recipe Kelsey has in her post. 🙂

  • 1 80z. package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 5 3/4 to 6 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add 2 cups of the powdered sugar beating well. Gradually beat in additional powdered sugar to reach desired consistency.

Gang’s all here! ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Rich, meaty and satisfying Short Ribs with Tagliatelle for a Valentine’s Day at home with my hubby. 🙂

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Against the (S)law

I let the cat out of the bag a couple weeks ago about my past lunchtime coleslaw-induced breakdowns. Would you be shocked and appalled to learn I’m about share a slaw recipe with you?

No, no. My feelings toward coleslaw and its white and creamy hell haven’t changed. I didn’t wander into a dark alley and come face to face with a giant, maniac Hellmann’s jar dressed as cupid wielding heart-shaped arrows ready to strike me down and make me fall head over in heels love with his thick, gloppy innards.

Whoa. Ew, right? Crazy bad mental picture. My apologies to anyone who may have nightmares about giant, winged, diaper-clad Mayo jars with WEAPONS strapped to their backs.

ANYWAY! (I say that a lot, don’t I? Ha.)

The idea of a slaw side is a good one. Crunchy, cool, colorful, a plethora of other “C” adjectives I can’t think of right now. (Where’s a thesaurus when you need one?!) It’s a nice fresh alternative to your typical cold lettuce salad.

The problem is Coleslaw Tunnel Vision – the idea that it MUST be covered in a thick, mayo-based dressing and left out in the hot sun for a few hours to spoil all the fun at your family reunion. Wait. Scratch that last part. :-p That doesn’t REALLY happen.

Or does it? That mayo is a snake in the grass. He’ll bite ya!

I’ve been looking for an excuse to try a coleslaw alternative that was dressed up all fancy-like in a flavorful vinaigrette instead of the traditional mayo dressing. Something that would make people ooo-and-ahh like coleslaw’s hip, urban dwelling cousin came to town and is down at the corner tavern making a scene in her designer duds while regular BORING coleslaw sits in the corner and sulks out of jealousy. Or something.

Ahem. Enter Peppery Coleslaw with Orange Chili Vinaigrette!

This is a GREAT alternative. Fresh and crunchy with just the right kick of citrus and spice. The vinaigrette is has a great bright flavor that I just loved! And it’s versatile too. It’d be great topper for any of your favorite salads. I made this for a crowd and I was concerned about the heat level. I know I love spicy, but I wasn’t sure about everyone else. This go round, I eliminated the chopped jalapeno and decreased the hot chili oil from 2 tablespoons to one. It wasn’t really spicy at all with these modifications – downright mild, actually. In fact, I MISSED the kick of heat. I will make the recipe as written next time and if you’re a spice fan, I suggest you do the same! Try this for your next picnic or potluck! 🙂

PEPPERY COLESLAW WITH ORANGE CHILI VINAIGRETTE (Recipe Source: Paula Deen, Foodnetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

For the slaw:

  • 1 (16-ounce) bag 3-color slaw mix
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup light olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons hot chili oil

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a medium serving bowl, combine the slaw mix and the peppers.
  2. In the container of an electric blender, combine the orange zest, orange juice, lime juice, mustard, sugar, cumin, salt, and pepper and process until smooth. With the blender running, add the oils in a slow, steady stream. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Just before serving, add the Orange Chili Vinaigrette, tossing gently to coat. Serve immediately.

ENJOY! 🙂

One year ago: Orange Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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Filed under sides, veggies

Each time I roam…Chicago is…

Calling me home!

Growing up, I never really had that strong desire to leave home. It seems like all 18 year olds have only one thing on their mind – getting as far away from their hometown as possible.

This was not me. Crappy winter weather and all, I had accepted the Chicagoland area as my home. In fact, I honestly believed I’d never move.

Until I did. Move, that is. And it’s not like Iowa is super far away or anything, or I have to get on plane to see my family but it is…different. Smaller. Slower. Rural. Not bad – just not home.

Plus, people are always telling me I talk funny? Me?? Talk funny?? Like how?! This part I just don’t understand. I didn’t grow up in the city or anything, but apparently I have that nasal-y twang in my voice that just screams Chicago. Just ask the random girl who came running up to me poolside in Vegas thinking I was her long lost high school friend, Meredith. When I told her she was mistaken, she asked me where I was from. When I told her,  she responded with “Oh, I should have known by your accent,” before turning and walking away.

::side eye:: ::head scratch:: Hm. Ooohhhhh-kaaaay. Whatevs, man!

Well, say what you want about me and the way I talk, but I’m proud of where I come from! Growing up in area that is so ingrained in it’s traditions, you kind of develop tunnel vision as a kid and it becomes hard to imagine life outside your bubble.

As a kid, I thought everyone in the entire country had the pleasure of enjoying the awesomeness that is EAGLE MAN.

“Oh. Look at those low rates.”

Your sneakers are my gym shoes. I’ve ALWAYS said gym shoes. Shoes that are actually worn to the gym are gym shoes. So are the sleek pink and gray Pumas I have for bopping around town on the weekend. Gym shoes are all encompassing. I’ve gotten the side eye for this one in the last few years since moving away. “Sorry, Ms. D – can’t dress today. Forgot my gym shoes.” (In my locker, where I left them…on purpose…five minutes ago.)

I end sentences with prepositions (in speech) all.the.time. I hear this is a Chicago thing? Maybe? “I’m going to the store, do you wanna go with? Okay, where are my car keys at?” I also add superfluous ‘thes’ where they aren’t needed. “I’m going to THE Target.” “I’m going to THE HyVee.” This must come from years of shopping at THE Jewel and THE Dominick’s. 🙂

And it wasn’t until I moved away that I realized that the entire rest of the country is DOWNRIGHT DEPRIVED because they can’t just head on down the road and find the PERFECT Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich. Growing up, I really didn’t understand the specialness of this sandwich. There was a beef place on just about every corner it seemed – even within walking distance of our house! (Although that place wasn’t particularly good…and it’s long gone now.) Every catered event from sports banquets to family reunions included piles of this delicious thin sliced beef swimming in its meaty juices with chewy Italian rolls on the side.

Now I’m in a place where people have never even experienced this sandwich. Say WHAT?! It leaves me wondering – at least once a month when that unmistakable craving hits- Where’s the BEEF?!

Well, for the Super Bowl, I planned to bring the beef right to my own house. I could call up Portillo’s and have them ship me a pile frozen…or I could dive right in and make it myself.

Browsing recipes, most of the ones I came across involved the crock pot and packets of Italian salad dressing mix. Meh. Tasty, I’m sure and certainly easy, of course. But NOT Italian beef. There’s no way you can thinly slice a beef roast that’s cooked in the crock all day – shredding is your only option. That just wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted to keep it as authentic as possible.

Then I spotted this recipe over at The Paupered Chef. This recipe calls for coating a sirloin tip roast in a spice mixture and roasting at a high temperature for about 20 minutes to get a nice crust going and then reducing the heat, adding water to start your juice and slow roasting the meat to a perfect pink on the inside. Then the whole thing is popped in the fridge overnight for the flavors to get down in there real good. The next day, it’s popped in the freezer for about two hours, thus making it just icy enough to slice paper thin with a knife. (You got a meat slicer? Yeah, me neither. It was a knife or nothing!)

The verdict? Drum roll, please! It came out GREAT! It’s a bit time consuming, but most of it is inactive time so all you need to do is plan ahead. The Paupered Chef tossed the meat in the juice on stove top for just a minute or two before piling it on a roll. But since I was making it for a crowd, I decided to reheat the meat and juice slowly in the crock pot for a few hours before we were ready to eat it.

I must confess – I spiked my juice with beef stock. I didn’t want to, I really didn’t and I totally negated my goal of keeping it authentic by doing it…but when push came to shove the juice just wasn’t beefy enough – I added about 3/4 cup and it was perfect.

Even though our team wasn’t playing last night (Ahem. Bears.) this was still great game food. Let’s talk about serving. The roll, in an authentic Italian beef is important, but I had to go with what I could find…a chewy, white sub roll would have to do. And if you want to do it up right, you gotta top it with hot peppers or giardiniera and dunk the entire thing, bread and all, in the juice. Or make it “wet” as they’re known about town. I actually prefer mine “dry.” That is, not dunked. And I wasn’t sure if my party guests would be down with the whole hot pepper thing, so I caramelized a bell pepper/onion mixture to top them off. The sweet bell peppers are an acceptable alternative to the hot – the onions…mmm. Not. To the purists. But, hey, when you go to the trouble of making it at home, and I already spoiled it by adding the beef stock, I didn’t feel too guilty about taking a few more liberties with authenticity. I can’t wait for an excuse to make this again!

HOMEMADE ITALIAN BEEF (Recipe Source: The Paupered Chef)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 1/2 pounds beef round or beef sirloin tip roast (Mine was a bit bigger, about 3.3 lbs.)
  • 1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 quart water
  • Pinch grated nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Beef stock, broth or bullion to taste, if needed.
  • Bottle of giardiniera (if desired. I made a bell pepper/onion mixture instead)
  • Italian rolls, for serving

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Mix together the red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Rub half of this mixture on top of the meat.  Set the meat in a large roasting pan and set in the oven.  Roast for 20 minutes (I roasted mine for 30 minutes since it was a bit bigger), then reduce the heat to 250 degrees.  Cook for another 20 minutes.

After the 20 minutes, add the rest of the spice mixture to the quart of water.  Pour the mixture into the roasting pan. Cook for another 30 to 45 minutes, or until the temperature of the middle of the roast is 130 10 140 degrees.

Remove the meat and set aside to cool.  Set the roasting pan on your stove top burners and turn the heat to medium high. Scrape up the brown bits that have stuck on the bottom.  Reduce mixture slightly for a few minutes.  Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool.

Cover the meat and put the juice in a container. Store in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.

Before serving eat, transfer the meat to the freezer for 2 hours. Then slice the meat as thinly as possible.

Yes, that’s a wadded up paper towel in the background of this photo. We didn’t eat that. :-p

TO REHEAT:

Warm the liquid in a saucepan on the stove.  Add the grated nutmeg.  Reduce the mixture if it is too watery.  Then dump a handful of the sliced meat into the juice and cook for 2 minutes, or until just heated through.

OR

Combine meat and and liquid in the crock pot. Heat on low for 2 to 3 hours or until just heated through.

Pile the meat directly from the pot onto rolls. Dunk in the juice, spoon a bit more liquid on top of the sandwich or serve on the side to dip. Top with hot or sweet peppers or giardiniera.

ENJOY! 🙂

One year ago: “Me Time” Pizza – Check out my one of a kind masterpiece I created during a lazy weekend home alone last winter. 🙂

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Books ‘n’ Butter

Food and books. The two (non-human) things that make my world go round. Give me good food and a good book and I am happy camper. There’s something about holding a book in my hand that’s comforting in the same way as holding a spoon and digging into a bowl of homemade ice cream. And don’t new books smell awesome!? Just like bread or cookies or brownies baking at home.

I’m weird. I know. It’s okay, I’ve accepted it.

So naturally, I’ve developed quite the love for COOKBOOKS! It’s the best of both worlds! In fact, I’m becoming sort of obsessed with them. I could literally spend a half a day in Barnes & Noble. Two hours to browse and gather a stack of novels a mile high and two hours to get lost in cookbooks of all kinds.

I got some really great cookbooks for Christmas. All different kinds that I can’t wait to dive into. It’s great to get some books I may not have necessarily picked out for myself – like the MEAT BIBLE. Thanks to my awesome brother-in-law for the great pick! It’s right up Eric’s alley for sure!

This book is full of all kinds of useful information about meat. It’s one area I could use a bit of schooling that’s for sure, especially when it comes to beef as I’m pretty sure I couldn’t tell you the difference between a ribeye steak and New York strip. I haven’t had time to really dive into the educational portion of the book yet, so I decided to start off with something easy and familiar.

Enter flank steak with an absolutely DIVINE and DECADENT Roasted Red Pepper Butter. Holy freakin’ yuminess, Batman. This was knock-your-socks off delicious. The original recipe calls for flat iron steaks, but I’m not overly confident in my abilities to cook steaks and not have them come out like shoe leather. I think I’m drawn to flank steak because I like how it’s served cut into thin strips as opposed to one giant hunk of meat. I like beef…in more delicate portions. On the side I served the steak with some roasted brussel sprouts (which I am obsessed with as of late. SO good.) and crash hot potatoes.

The butter is sensational and compliments the flavor of the beef PERFECTLY. The shallot and garlic blend perfectly with the smokiness of the roasted red pepper. The recipe makes way more than you’ll need for the steaks but it’s okay because you’ll want to layer this on just about every single thing you make for the next week. I used it on the steaks, on vegetables and fish before wrapping up what was left and sticking it the freezer. I’ll be busting it out again for steaks again soon for sure!

FLANK STEAK WITH ROASTED RED PEPPER BUTTER (Recipe adapted from: Lobel’s Meat Bible)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, 8 of the tablespoons well-chilled and cut into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme (I used dried)
  • 2 roasted red bell peppers (I used jarred, but you can roast you’re own in you prefer. If you do use jarred, drain and rinse the peppers thoroughly and then watch your salt addition)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons smoked sweet Spanish paprika or regular sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon (or to taste)  kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. flank steak
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a small skillet. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until just softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the thyme. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  2. Put the 8 tablespoons well-chilled butter, the red peppers, paprika and salt in the bowl of food processor. Scrape the contents of the skillet into the processor and blend, pulsing at first, until smooth and well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  3. Pack the butter into a ramekin or roll in plastic into a sausage shape. Refrigerate until firm.
  4. Remove the butter from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature while you prepare the steak. Salt and pepper the steak. Preheat a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat until almost smoking. Add the oil, swirling to coat the skillet. Add the steak and reduce heat to medium. Cook 4 minutes on each side, or until desired doneness. Remove from skillet and let rest for a few minutes. Slice the meat against the grain and transfer to serving platter, top with butter and serve.
  5. Store extra butter in the refrigerator for a week or in the freezer for a few months.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: I made ADORABLE little ‘butt’ cookies for my friend’s bachelorette party. Too cute!

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