Archive for June, 2009

Our Friends’ Yard

I’m really glad for the great friendships we’ve formed in Chicago.  I’m glad our friends have us over all the time, too.  I’m glad that they like to garden and I’m glad that they work on their yard and I’m glad that it’s summer and warm out and jobs just don’t seem as important.  Because sitting in our friends’ yard in their new lawn furniture on a mellow summer night is one of the most relaxing things I’ve found to do.  


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I saw this cake ages ago on Smitten Kitchen and just plain skipped it over.  But I’ve noticed that my palate is changing constantly and what appealed three months ago might not now and vice versa.  So when I saw this on another food blog, I think Not Derby Pie, just this month I wanted it.  Immediately.

It’s simple and elegant.   It’s not your classic chocolate and peanut butter.  It’s incredibly moist and nutty in taste.  It’s texturally perfect.  The methodology is almost identical to the Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake I made some time ago, but I found the combination of the brown butter with the hazelnuts, as opposed to pear, to be what put this over the top.  So over the top that it was hard to resist eating a good fourth of the cake as soon as the ganache had been draped, seeing as how I was home alone and no one would have had to witness the ravaging.  I did resist, but that didn’t keep me from having a sinful thought pattern the next day at work.  11am: Wish I had Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake for breakfast.  12pm: Why can’t my lunch be Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake?  3pm: Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake would be a better snack than pineapple.  5pm: Why did I freeze the Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake?  10pm: Glad I froze the Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake or I would have eaten it all tonight.

Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake
From Smitten Kitchen, but originally adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques

5 ounces (about one heaping cup) hazelnuts, blanched to remove dark skins*
1/2 pound unsalted butter (plus 1 tablespoon melted extra for greasing the pan)
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting the cake
1/3 cups all-purpose flour
6 large egg whites
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 °F.

Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and toast 12 to 15 minutes, until they’re golden brown and smell nutty. Wrap them in a clean dish towel to steam for 15 min.  Then rub vigorously until the skins come off.

Cut out a circle of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of a 10-inch round cake pan. Brush the pan with a little melted butter and line the bottom with the paper.

Place the rest of the butter in a medium saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise down the center, and using a paring knife to scrape the seeds and pulp onto the butter. To make sure not to lose any of the seeds, run your vanilla-coated knife through the butter. Add the vanilla pod to the pan, and cook the butter until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Set aside to cool. Remove the vanilla pod and discard.

Grind the hazelnuts with the confectioners’ sugar in a food processor until they’re finely ground. Add the flour and pulse to combine. Transfer to a large bowl.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the granulated sugar and mix on high speed 4 to 5 minutes, until the mixture forms very stiff peaks. When you turn the whisk upside down, the peaks should hold. Transfer the whites to a large mixing bowl.

Alternate folding the dry ingredients and the brown butter into the egg whites, a third of a time. Remember to scrap the bottom of the brown butter pan with a rubber spatula to get all the little brown bits.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 35 minutes to 40 min.  Cool on a rack 30 minutes. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan, and invert the cake onto a plate. Peel off the paper, and turn the cake back over onto a serving platter. Sprinkle it with powdered sugar or cover with ganache (below).

Draping Ganache for 10-inch Cake

4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or finely-chopped chocolate
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules

Melt the chocolate, heavy cream, and coffee in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Drizzle over the top of the cake.

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What do you do when it’s mid-June and you want to enjoy all those great summer dishes … but the temperature hasn’t passed 65 yet?  A summer soup is the perfect solution (though it didn’t sound like one to my sister who was panting in the 100 degree Oklahoma weather).  This soup combines many of the great flavors of summer, with corn, cilantro, and avocado.  The roasted corn comes out somehow both crunchy and chewy, which I found very interesting texturally.   But let’s be honest, I’m never one to turn down guacamole and if you want to put a generous-sized plop of it in the middle of my soup you won’t hear a single complaint out of me. 

This would make a great starter course for a meal.  In fact, we talked about this at dinner time primarily because I kept exclaiming over how this recipe ever thought it would feed 4-6.  I made the whole thing for the two of us and the soup pot was scooped clean within 30 minutes. 

Fresh Corn Soup Topped with Roasted Corn Guacamole
Originally from Epicurious.com, May 2009
Yield: 4-6 servings

Roasted Corn Guacamole 
Kernels from 3 ears fresh corn, or 2 cups frozen corn, defrosted 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
Salt and black pepper 
1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion 
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped 
1 lime, finely grated zest and juice 
1 jalapeño, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped 
1 avocado, pitted and chopped
Kernels from 5 ears fresh corn, or 3 cups frozen corn, defrosted 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
1 clove garlic, crushed 
1/2 red onion, chopped 
1 jalapeño, stemmed and chopped 
Salt and black pepper 
1 1/2 cups chicken broth 
Cilantro sprigs, to garnish

Roast the Corn for the Guacamole
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Put the corn kernels on the baking sheet and toss with the oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste. Spread the corn out evenly on the baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, until the corn turns a golden brown. It may seem that you have left the corn in the oven for too long, but you want the corn to caramelize and get a little crunchy. Remove the corn from the oven and set aside.

Prepare the Corn for the Soup
Put the kernels (fresh or frozen and defrosted) in a blender.

Combine the oil and the garlic in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and jalapeño. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until the vegetables are soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the blender and puree until smooth. (You may need to pulse or stir the corn mixture in order to achieve a smooth consistency, but do not add any more liquid.)

Simmer the Soup
Pour the corn puree into the soup pot and place over medium heat. Stir constantly for a few minutes, until the soup begins to thicken. Slowly whisk or stir in the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, decrease the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

Finish the Roasted Corn Guacamole
In a bowl, combine the roasted corn, red onion, cilantro, lime zest and juice, and jalapeño. Gently stir in the avocado. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve and Garnish
Ladle the soup into soup bowls. Place a generous spoonful of the guacamole in the center of each bowl. Garnish with a small sprig of cilantro placed in the center of each.  (The soup can be made a day in advance, cooled, and stored in the refrigerator. However, it is best to make the corn guacamole a few hours before you are going to eat it.)

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My Friend Jeanine

She came to town last weekend after a few scheduling changes and much anticipation on my part!  Jeanine is one of my very best friends from college.  The first thing I liked about Jeanine was the fact that she agreed to sing in the public dorm bathroom with me on the very first day we met just because the acoustics were good.  She tells me she is shy and other people might say so but it’s a lie.  I have plenty of stories to prove otherwise.  The other first thing I noticed about Jeanine, which is still a pretty cool and wonderful thing, is that she is a very loyal person.  I always noticed how good Jeanine was at handling or ignoring or leaving a conversation where someone was talking poorly about a friend of hers.   Pretty cool and pretty trustworthy friend to have at your side.   I was pretty sad when she decided to ditch this city for other parts.  Now I’m pretty glad and proud because she’s done a great job of starting over in places where she knew no one and she’s got some pretty cool plans in her future.  Mostly I’m glad that despite the distance and lack of phone calls on my part, she is still a great friend, just in another town.  I think all this reminiscing deserves a photo or two.  I think I’m hoping the fact that I just said nice things about Jeanine means she won’t kill me for posting some of these on the great wide web.

Though we’re not in college anymore and my current bathroom doesn’t have acoustics good enough to warrant a bathroom medley, we still had a great time together (and of course we still sang in the car).  Pedicures were first priority.  Other than that, we spent time walking the neighborhood, visiting Adam & Lydia and their new baby, hanging out at Taste of Heaven for pastries, and visiting the Museum of Contemporary Photography and getting the BEST free parking space ever in history … and getting soaked trying to run the two blocks from our car to the museum in an all-out storm.  There may or may not have been a few screams along the way and their may or may not have been a trail of water behind us on those slick hardwood floors. 

We also spent time (um, 3.5 hours) hanging out at Letizias with coffee, salads, pastries and philosophical questions, shopping Division and scoring some great, matching yellow sandals.  Jeanine was nice enough to get excited about watching a recording of the So You Think You Can Danceepisode I missed on my airport run and to sit through a church event that involved snow cones.  And I discovered that she loves donuts and cheese as much as I do when we visited the Oak Park Farmer’s Market in the morning and Millenium Park for a concert in the park at night.  

Jeanine & Lydia soaking up sun at Taste of Heaven

At Letizias

Outside Adam & Lydia’s house after Friday’s storms

Oak Park Farmer’s Market

Concert at Millenium Park

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Six Years.

Today marks six years of marriage to a great partner.  I’m so thankful to be married to someone who consistently works to make my life easier and more fun … just because that makes him happy too.  I’m glad for a relationship of trust and real honesty and for a partner who is humble and very quick to say he is sorry.  I’m extremely appreciative of the fact that he has dutifully gone to work at a job that he doesn’t enjoy for four years in order to support me in my career goals.  I’m thankful this year for how well cared for I have felt through all of the surgeries and sickness and for the fact that it was more important to sit by me in a hospital room through countless hours of boredom than to be anywhere else.

Happy 6th! 

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Wide Open Spaces

Chicago is not known for its wide open spaces.  If I want to see some of that, I have to get out of the city and drive for awhile.  We did just that this past Sunday when we spent the day hiking around a forest preserve in Elgin.  The weather was supposed to be 75 and sunny.  Not knowing how long my recovery time would be, I wanted to take advantage and do something active the day before my final surgery.

Here is some of that wide open scenery and nature we went looking for.

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Sometimes when I see a recipe, I just know it’s going to be a slam dunk.  Like, say if I ever saw a recipe for sausage stuffed with bacon and wrapped in pancetta this recipe would be a slam dunk, a sure thing, with Nate.  That doesn’t mean I’d make this particular artery clogging combo.  I’d probably turn the page of the magazine really quick-like in order to make sure Nate never caught sight of it.  I can’t handle when he starts daily chanting campaigns about food items.

But this particular recipe was a sure-fire slam dunk for both of us … and one I could live with.  Love of asparagus?  Check, check.  Love of heart of palm?  Double check.  Love of prosciutto?  It’s like this salad was made for us!  And on top of all our favorite tastes being combined in one giant charred goodness, it takes about ten minutes to throw together.  The only trouble we had with this one was Nate’s practically mathematical calculations to ensure that our portion sizes were dead even.  The direct quote being, “I don’t want to cheat you.  But I don’t want to cheat me either.”  In the end, neither of us felt cheated by these rich, bright flavors.


Grilled Hearts of Palm Radicchio, and Asparagus
Originally from Fine Cooking 99, p. 23
Serves 4 as a side dish

5 hearts of palm, rinsed and patted dry
½ head radicchio, halved lengthwise
½ bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
¼ c. extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T. fresh lemon juice
½ t. finely grated lemon zest
pinch of granulated sugar
3 very thin slices of prosciutto di Parma
1 oz. shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (scant ½ cup)

Heat a gas grill on high or prepare a hot charcoal grill fire.

In a large bowl, toss the hearts of palm, radicchio, and asparagus with 2 Tbs. of the olive oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and several grinds pepper*. Grill, flipping as needed, until nicely marked all over and tender, 4 to 5 minutes total. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil with the lemon juice, zest, sugar, 1/4 tsp. salt, and a pinch of pepper.

Core the radicchio. Cut the radicchio, asparagus, and hearts of palm into pieces about 3 inches long by 1/2 inch wide. Return to the large bowl and toss with the prosciutto, Parmigiano, and 2 Tbs. of the vinaigrette. Serve drizzled with the remaining vinaigrette, if desired.**

*I made the entire vinaigrette at once in a big bowl (including the lemon, zest, and sugar), tossed the vegetables in before grilling and then tossed everything again in the same vinaigrette.  I can’t imagine why there would be any real need to make two separate blends.  
** I zested a bit more of the lemon over the final arrangement for one last flavor boost.

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