Friday, June 28, 2013

Mixed Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream

There aren't that many red, white and blue foods. And you KNOW you want to extend your patriotism to your desserts next week. That and sizzling, dog-terrifying fireworks is what makes the 4th so special. 

I grew up in a town that does the 4th really well, like almost annoyingly well. There's a Pleasantville-like local parade, carnival; the whole nine yards really. I can smell the used-up sparklers and bug spray now. One of my most favorite parts is that every house on the parade route has a front-yard party and in this town everyone knows each other well enough to wander from party to party, enjoying treats along the way. There are literally hot dogs and popsicles for BLOCKS. 

I love these mega parties, but I'm over two things 1) matching Old Navy flag t-shirts for the whole family and 2) that annoying flag cake. You know the one I'm talking about and we've all made it at least once.

So this year try something different with a mixed berry tart. You can make it ahead and the berries are patriotic perfection when they're all piled up on a white mascarpone cream. 

I'm not a pastry master (or even apprentice, for that matter), so I prepared Deb Perelman's fantastic tart shell. That is a woman who knows her pastries! I know my limits.

Mixed Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream
1 tart shell -- see Smitten Kitchen
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup cream, cold
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups blueberries, rinsed and dried
1 cup raspberries, rinsed and dried
1/4 cup apricot preserves
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Prepare tart shell according to instructions and allow to cool completely. This can be done one day ahead and stored in an airtight container, once completely cooled.

Combine mascarpone cheese, cream and sugar in a mixer with a whisk attachment. Beat until stiff peaks form. Spread evenly in tart shell. Top with blueberries and raspberries, piling them up in a casual arrangement.

Combine apricot preserves and lemon juice in a small sauce pan over low heat. Simmer until mixture reduces by half, about 3 to 5 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush on berries for extra shine. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

BBQ Ribs

With some foods you just need to get your hands dirty. Like sticky, saucy, finger-licking good. No bourgeois forks and knives -- man up and dig in with those paws. Ribs are one such food. Use of utensils should be banned. And you'd look patently ridiculous if you tried. This is 'Merica for god's sake!

So with the the biggest of American holidays nearly upon us, I implore you to eat like a real American and dig in to some BBQ ribs. Of course being a vegetarian or passing on pork doesn't make you less of an American -- maybe less interesting -- but still American...but follow along with my joke, alright?

In our house, this is the Husband's territory. His father has a tried-and-true technique that results in fall off the bone, juicy ribs every time.

I should give myself a bit of credit; the husband does the ribs and I do the sauce. My sauce simmers away as the Husband gets to work. That's what she said...

Start by puncturing the ribs on both sides with a fork and then you'll pour orange juice over them. The acid in the juice helps tenderize the ribs, so you'll leave it on for a few hours.

Once marinated and tenderized, you'll cook the ribs low and slow in the oven for about two hours. Then a quick finish on the grill with the sauce for a bit of char.

Carve up and dig in. Use your hands... go America.

BBQ Ribs
2 racks pork baby back ribs
1/2 cup orange juice
1 batch homemade BBQ sauce

Use a fork to prick holes on both sides of ribs. Pour orange juice over ribs and place in freezer bags. Refrigerate for 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove ribs from bag and place on a sheet pan. Cook in oven for two hours, turning halfway through. When 1 hour remains on ribs, combine BBQ sauce ingredients and simmer for 45 minutes to one hour. Remove ribs from oven.

Preheat grill over high heat. Baste ribs in BBQ sauce and place over direct heat on the grill. Cook ribs for 15 minutes, or until desired char is achieved. Baste twice while grilling.

Serve with remaining sauce on the side and enjoy!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Whipped Feta with Roasted Red Peppers

This girls loves a cheese plate. Like, eat-the-whole-thing-without-realizing-and-then-be-too-full-for-dinner, loves a cheese plate. Something about sitting around with a glass of wine and good conversation before a meal is oh so pleasing. In college, when we were too poor for anything but the hot dogs sold until the EL train (true story), my roommate and I used to go out to my Aunt and Uncle's house and spend hours devouring their expertly selected cheese and antipasti. Heaven for food-loving 19-year-olds.

But here's the thing about cheese plate... everyone always seems to do the same thing. Yes, I love a triple-cream brie or a smoked gouda, but some times you gotta mix it up! This whipped feta is the perfect remedy for cheese plate boredom. The roasted red peppers bring some flair and the damn easy. 

The ingredients are straightforward and easy to find. Crumbled feta, whipped cream cheese, lemon juice, red pepper and of course, olive oil, salt and pepper. 

Food processors are pretty much man's greatest invention. Or at least the greatest invention for time-crunched and/or lazy cooks like myself. Yeah cars and life-saving medical devices are pretty swank, but come on, easy chopping and mixing up in here!

I mean, it 30 seconds it turns simple ingredients into this amazing, creamy goodness.

So the red peppers are easy too... you basically just burn the shit out of them. Seriously. Char their skin until it peels off. Boom.

Serve on a pretty board with cracker of your liking or freshly slice baguette. A spread of cheese and bite of pepper on top. Break the chains of cheese plate monotony. Onward food soldiers!

Whipped Feta with Roasted Red Pepper
2 red peppers
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup whipped cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat oven broiler to high. Coat red peppers with 1 tablespoon olive oil and place on a cookie sheet. Place directly under broiler and turn every few minutes, until all sides are charred and black. Times will vary by oven. Once cooked, remove peppers from cookie sheet and immediately place in a plastic freezer bag and seal. Allow peppers to cool in bag before peeling away blackened skins. Slice peppers, discarding seeds and stems.

In a food processor, combine feta and cream cheese. Slowly stream in olive oil until mixture is smooth and creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with crackers or sliced baguette. Cheese and peppers can easily be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated separately. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lemon Lime Cilantro Shortbread Cookies

It's all about the butter. I don't make cookies that often, but when I do, it's all about the butter. Don't even start on any kind of margarine nonsense with me. Blaspheme! I'm not really about the big, filled-with-nine-candybar kind of cookie either. Simplicity is the way a cookie finds its way into my heart. With all this praise of butter, it's can't come as a surprise that I love shortbread. To echo the one an only Chris Trager on Parks and Rec, these cookies LITERALLY melt in your mouth.

But who says shortbread has to be borebread? There are so many flavors that can be added to jazz up this humble dessert. I was feeling summer-y ahead of a recent picnic, so citrus made oh so much sense. But plain lemon lime felt pedestrian. Then like a chorus of herbacious angels it occurred to me -- cilantro makes everything better. In this fair cookie, it gave just the extra hint of something special. Something to make you say "hmmmm."

Here we find our flavor stars -- lime zest, lemon zest and finely minced cilantro. Such a pretty little bunch and such natural friends.

But butter won't let those colorful characters steal the spotlight. No... butter knows this cookie is all about her. Zest and herb best step-off.

A friendly whir in the food processor makes friends of fat and flavor foes.

So like most shortbread dough, you need to chill it down before cutting and baking. I use plastic wrap to form the dough into a roll and then tightly seal the ends. My dough roll isn't perfect, which means that my cookies won't be perfect. I'm also not perfect, so it's fine.

Then into the freezer she goes -- at least two hours, preferably overnight.

Remember what I said about the roll not being perfect? Still looks like that out of the freezer. Still okay. Roll in granulated sugar and slice thinly.

Admire the pretty green flecks. Bake just until the edges are golden, not the whole cookie. This will keep them buttery and soft. 

Lemon Lime Cilantro Shortbread Cookies
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup powdered sugar (also called confectioner's sugar)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 teaspoon cilantro, finely minced
2 sticks unsalted butter, very cold and cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar

In a food processor, combine flour, powdered sugar, salt, lemon zest, lime zest and cilantro. Pulse until evenly combined. Add cold butter and process until it starts to look like sand. Add lemon juice, lime juice and egg yolks; pulsing until dough forms.

Form dough into a 2-inch log on a layer of plastic wrap. Seal ends tightly and freeze log overnight (or for at least two hours).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove dough log from plastic wrap and gently roll in granulated sugar, ensuring sugar is pressed into dough. Using a sharp knife, slice dough into 1/4 inch rounds. Place cookies are a parchment lined tray (you'll use two) and bake for about 15 minutes, or until just the edges are golden. Allow cookies to cool on the tray for a few minutes, before removing to cooling racks. Serve at room temperature and enjoy!

Shortbread dough adapted from Everyday Food.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Garlic Cheddar Cheese Straws

So we've been picnic-ing a lot lately. I mean a lot! St. Louis has a full schedule of free concerts at parks throughout the summer and we've been taking full advantage. Let me tell you,there are some hardcore picnic-ers at these events -- think full catered spreads, stemless wine glasses and this table everywhere. After our first outing, I figured I'd get in on this!

Picnic foods can be a little bit tricky -- they need to be portable, they need to stand up to hot/humid weather, they need to be easy to eat (often without utensils) and they need to be made ahead of time. For my first big picnic affair with friends, I decided to start simple and keep it classic with garlic cheddar cheese straws.

The soft crunch of these guys keeps you coming back for more and these were real crowdpleasers amongst our friends. I opted for garlic cheddar this time, but the possibilities are endless. I'd love to do "everything bagel" style or something with loads of fresh herbs.

*Thank your Husband for breaking them in half to pack them. Remind yourself to buy a longer plastic container for such things. 

Puff pastry makes for a quick preparation. I try to keep a box in the freezer for unexpected occasions when I need a quick appetizer.


Just a bit of light rolling out for this recipe, but the dimensions don't need to be exact.

A quick brush of beaten egg serves as the "glue" for your cheese and seasonings.

Use the tip of a sharp knife to slice 1/2 inch strips and then carefully twist. Some cheese is going to fall out... it's just going to happen. You're going to be alright.

Bake for just a few minutes until golden and the cheese is melt-y.

Garlic Cheddar Cheese Straws
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed (but still cold)
Flour, for dusting
1 egg, beaten
1 cup aged white cheddar, shredded
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a floured surface, lightly roll out puff pastry until it measures approximately 10x12 inches. Brush surface of pasty with beaten egg and sprinkle on garlic powder, salt, pepper and cheese. Gently press cheese into pastry.

Gently cut dough into strips and twist, taking care to keep cheese on dough. Place twists onto a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until golden. Cool straws completely before storing in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker and Shutterbean

Friday, June 14, 2013

Cold Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce

Is there such a thing as a good carb? Buckwheat noodles are better for you than regular pasta, right? I have no clue, but this sounds like a perfectly reasonable explanation. If anything, buckwheat sounds like its good for me. Ahhh... carb denial. 

Let's have a little diet discussion shall we? I actually hate the word diet. Screams of denials and Kardashian-endorsed Khemicals. Needless to say the last few weeks haven't been my healthiest. Between packing up the kitchen in Chicago and getting together with friends to say farewell, we ate out a LOT more than usual. And all of those beers and dinners made my shorts a wee bit tighter. 

When I start feeling this way, my first fix is to get back in the kitchen. I know it sounds counter-intuitive to cook when one is feeling plump, but the reality for me is that I eat much healthier when I cook. Cooking a meal forces us to make conscientious choices about what we're consuming. You're the one in control of what's on the plate. 

For all this talk of healthy eating, this isn't even THAT healthy of a recipe. But you know what? This homemade noodle dish is fresh and certainly beats take-out. And this is my blog, so I get to rant about dieting when I feel like it. End rant.

Alright, focus on the noodles. Soba are a super tasty Japanese noodle made with buckwheat flour. What's  special about them to me, is that they're really good served chilled. Hello hot summer nights. Hello leftovers.

I dressed them with a basic peanut sauce, which is the same sauce used for satay.

You could certainly have the noodles as your main dish, but they're a great complement to a salad (and feel a bit more full). A little extra sauce would be good dressing too.

Cold Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce

2 bundles soba noodles (they usually come packaged in small bunches)
2 tablespoons peanut butter
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3/4 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon sriracha
1 tablespoon grapeseed or vegetable oil
Small handful cilantro, chopped
3 green onions, chopped

Boil about 6 cups water in a medium pot and cook noodles according to package instructions. Once cooked through, drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water. 

Combine peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sriracha and grapeseed oil in a small bowl. Toss to combine with cooked noodles. 

Garnish the noodles with cilantro and green onion. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thai Steak Salad

Before I left Chicago, I put together one last quick meal in the tiny kitchen. It was a bittersweet endevour to say the least, but the outcome couldn't have been better. Between the going away dinners and packing up the kitchen (I have wayyyyyy too many white dishes), we were eating out nearly every night. We need some lighter, fresh fare to balance. 

Thai Steak Salad is one of my favorite options for when you're craving bright crunch, but need some substance to fill you. I never once saw this on a menu during my time in Thailand, so I can't claim that the execution is authentic, but fish sauce and loads of fresh herbs really do harken back to the incredible cuisine found there. And especially as we head into the heat of summer, this is a great recipe to have up your sleeve(less?).

Green stuff is really at the heart of this dish's flavor and your fingers will smell delicious after prepping it all. There are certainly circumstances in which dried herbs are a find substitute for fresh, but this simply isn't one of them. The herbs will not only provide flavor, but will be part of the leafy greens of the salad. Green onions, lime and cucumbers join the green party like it's St. Patty's (with less morning drunkenness, of course).

Thai basil, mint and cilantro are at the center of attention at this salad party. Each bringing a different flavor note, to build bright complexity. Traditional fresh basil would work just fine here, I just happened to stumble upon Thai basil at the store this week. This variation has slightly more licorice flavor and a sharper pointed leaf. But again, regular ole' fresh basil would be just as good.

A word on chopping herbs... they can be sensitive little bitches. Yes, I just called herbs bitches. They deserve it for so easily bruising. The easiest technique I've found is to stack them up and roll them into an "herb cigarette" and slice. Some of you may be more experienced than others with this rolling technique. I always have to laugh when I see Martha Stewart-types doing this on TV. I'm also very mature.

I had my butcher fillet the hangar steaks so that they were nice and thin. Skirt steak would work here too, but I think hangars have a lovely tenderness. Just be sure it's something cut thin, so that you can easily eat in a salad.

This is where you're all about to get uncomfortable... there is fish sauce in this recipe. You know how Thai food and other Asian takeout never tastes the same at home? It's because we're all terrified of the easy-to-find, yet unfamiliar Asian condiments used to create the flavorful sauces. Do you want to put fish sauce on your cereal? Probably not, but this is the stuff that gives the dressing its authentic flavor. Trust me. Fear not condiments.

Once grilled-off, thinly slice your steaks and top with the goodie herbs, veggies and dressings. See that fish sauce wasn't so bad, right? Or are you still distracted by my joint joke earlier?

Thai Steak Salad
1 1/2 lb hangar steak, filleted and at room temperature
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup chopped Thai basil
1/2 cup chopped mint
3/4 cup chopped cilantro
4-5 green onions, chopped
3 hearts romaine lettuce, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sriracha

Preheat grill over high heat. Brush vegetable oil on steaks and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-high and grill steaks over direct heat for 3-5 minutes per side until medium-rare (times may vary depending on the thickness of your steaks).

While the steaks rest, combine basil, mint, cilantro, onions, lettuce and cucumber in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and sriracha for dressing.

Thinly slice your steaks against the grain and arrange atop lettuce mixture. Lightly dress salad and enjoy.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Farewell Chicago

*I had planned to post this on my last day in Chicago (Friday), but failed to remember that my internet was being disconnected and computer packed up. Who's the smart girl now? 

Sitting down to write one more blog post in Chicago is an overwhelmingly daunting task. I mean, how do you sum-up the ten most formative years of your life? To reflect on my time in Chicago is to reflect on becoming an adult. I can't say for sure whether I'm a "real" adult or not yet, but I think there's a lot to be said about becoming. And Chicago was the place that inspired me to become

Becoming Light-Hearted
I moved here as a slightly disgruntled 18-year old who probably just needed to calm down. Too many times judgement and anxiety stood in the way of having fun. This city and the wonderful people who live in it truly appreciate the power letting loose. Chicago taught me how to have a blast and make a few bad decisions -- the ultimate prescription to break free of worry. Don't grow up before you have to. Savor the precious years with only small worries and commitments. Laugh at yourself, because you're probably being kind of ridiculous.

PS -- Is there another photo in the world that says "22" more than this one? 

Becoming Tough
It can't all be fun and games -- wah wah adulthood. Chicago made my skin a lot thicker, literally and metaphorically. Working in big agency PR was no cake-walk and I definitely cried in some bathrooms and may have made an intern cry at some point (obviously not on purpose). Put in the time and energy to do good work and you'll build the confidence needed to survive. Oh and you're probably going to screw a few things up along the way. Move on, dwelling on it will only make it worse.

Also, Chicago is freaking cold. Like really freaking cold. There is not a cell in my body that will miss that. I am good with never again waiting for a bus on Lakeshore Drive with wind so cold that I can feel my contact lenses. The city is wonderful and makes up for the winter in so many ways, but it's still damn cold. 

Becoming Reflective
I'm not always good at "turning off," never really have been. Whether it was school or my crazy-ass job, I had to teach myself how to step away from it all and not think. This is truly an acquired skill for type-A's. Find a hobby that helps empty your mind -- its cooking for me -- and find a place that can put you in a good mood no matter what. Mine was the lakefront and boy will I miss it, but I know there's a new place to be discovered. 

Becoming a Partner
The best friend I ever made in Chicago wasn't even there for the first year. That's right, the Husband and I started as a long distance couple and I count the day he showed up in Chicago for good as one of the best ever. Chicago will always be treasured as the place we dated, were engaged and were newlyweds. And I can confidently say we made the most of it. Here's the best thing though... my best friend comes with me now, no matter where we are. Home is wherever we're together (with the tiny dog, of course). That part of becoming an adult pretty much rules.

Becoming Carey
I'll always love a hot dog after 2:00am (no ketchup!) and I'll always melt a bit watching Ferris Bueller. I hope I can always find a way to have fun, even if it's the 12th day straight below zero. I hope I've learned when to be firm and when to mellow out. I will always remember Chicago date nights and I hope we'll always feel like newlyweds out on the town.

Even when we move far away, the places we live become part of our histories and the fabric of what makes us "us." Chicago will always be a part of becoming me. On to the next adventure...