Thursday, April 17, 2014

Brie grilled cheese with bacon and fig

Did you guys know that April is Grilled Cheese Month? Since there's a whole month dedicated to this sandwich, we may as well get a bit crazy with it! You ready?

How does brie, bacon, and fig jam sound to you? Good? Good!

It's a simple sandwich to assemble. First, get some good quality bread and butter the outside of it. On one piece of toast put a little layer of fig jam (but not as much as I did--you want a hint of sweetness but you don't want it to overpower the as I say and not as I do). On the other piece layer a thick cut of brie and some cooked bacon.

The perfect marriage of flavors, but use less figs than I did!
Assemble the sandwich and fry in a pan over medium heat until the cheese is melted.

That's it!

I've never made this sandwich any other way, but if you don't have fig jam on hand I'd think that just a touch of honey or thinly sliced apples would give you that sweet component that goes well with brie.  (Apples would be nice too for the texture contrast they'd provide.)

And again, if this idea of something sweet on a savory sandwich is off putting, just remember the sweet shouldn't be too sweet. It's simply meant to compliment the salty and creamy from the bacon and the cheese. The figs I had on hand were whole figs in syrup so the amount of fruit I used really overpowered the sandwich. Just a touch would have been plenty!

Yours in celebrating any month that dedicates itself to cheese,

Brie and bacon grilled cheese with fig, adapted from Smells Like Home

Yield: 2 sandwiches

4 slices bread of your choice (I used a hearty french loaf)
Butter, softened (salted or unsalted)
1 - 2 TBSP fig jam
4 slices of thick-cut bacon, cooked crisp
4 oz brie, sliced about 4″ long, 1/4″ thick

  • Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. 
  • To prepare the sandwiches, butter one side of each slice of bread ("the outside"). Spread up to 1 tablespoon of the fig jam on the unbuttered side of two of the slices. On the other slices divide the bacon and cheese (again, on the unbuttered side) and assemble your sandwiches.
  • Place the sandwiches in the skillet and cover the pan with a lid or sheet of aluminum foil for about 3 minutes; this will ensure your cheese gets melty before your bread gets too dark.
  • Remove the lid (or foil) and check the undersides of the bread with a spatula. When the bread is lightly browned, flip the sandwiches to finish off the other sides. 
  • When both sides of the sandwiches are perfectly browned (you know what that looks like) and the cheese is just about melted, remove them from the pan, cut, and serve hot and gooey.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

DIY mousepad

What do you do when the mouse pad that your brother gave you back when you started college 16 years ago is beyond dingy, but you're too cheap to buy a new one?? Just make your own!

How exactly did I make my own mouse pad? I Googled "DIY mousepad," saw a bunch of really neat ideas, decided to go with the glue method, grabbed my mod podge and some cool fabric (that I was supposed to use to sew my best-friend's baby a dress but never managed to), and got to crafting!

Yes, it's a totally cheesy mouse pad and it was super gross after all those years of use.
This blog has a great step-by-step tutorial, but basically you paint some mod podge on the front of the mouse pad, lay your fabric on top, and let it dry for 30 minutes (under a stack of books helps). Then repeat the same on the back to seal up the edges.

And viola!

Don't use tooooo much glue though (as I did in a few spots). Just a light layer is enough.

Looks pretty swanky on my new desk space, right?!?!

Happy crafting!
Jacqueline

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Liz's lemony chicken salad (and homemade broth with the leftover parts)

I'm always on the lookout for a relatively quick and healthy meal that can be made on a Sunday night and last me throughout the week for lunch. Chicken salad using a grocery-store rotisserie chicken is one of my most frequently made go-to meals. Typically I shred the meat by hand, then throw in your usual suspects for chicken salad (mayo, celery, salt & pepper, etc).

So when my friend Liz posted a recipe for lemony chicken salad with walnuts, apples and fresh tarragon, I knew that I had to try it. It's completely different from any chicken salad I've made (and definitely not something I would think of myself) but it was incredible. Light, fresh, bright, and bursting with flavor!

Perfect for a sandwich, with some hearty crackers, or on top of lettuce for a low-carb meal.
And yogurt in place of mayo makes it that much more healthy!
Usually I tell people to play around with recipes or to cut out a particular ingredient if they don't have it on hand, but in this case I'd highly recommend making it as-is the first time (you know, as long as you don't despise a certain ingredient or have a particular allergy). You might think to yourself that the apples aren't really necessary, but they kinda are. Ditto for the nuts and the fresh tarragon. The interplay of each ingredient is really key to this dish, and your taste buds will thank me.

Freshness in a bowl: apples, celery, red onion, walnuts, and chicken
Oh, and the second best part of this dish is that you can use the bones from the rotisserie chicken to make your own stock!!!

Just put all the skin and bones in a slow cooker, top with water (~5 cups for a single carcass), and throw in whatever else you have on hand. Ideally I like to add ~1 onion (cut into 4 parts), a few peppercorns, few cloves of smashed garlic, small handful of parsley/cilantro, 1-2 ribs of celery and 1-2 carrots. NO salt, as you should add salt to your broth after it's done. But if you don't have anything on hand that's OK too. The chicken by itself will still give you better stock than anything you'll buy at the grocery store.

Feel free to use the broth right away or freeze for later use. Two cups fit perfectly in a zip lock bag.

I hope the next time you're at the grocery store thinking to yourself "What the hell am I going to eat this week for lunch?" you remember this post and give it a try. I promise you, you won't be disappointed.

Buen Provecho,

Lemony chicken salad, slightly adapted from Floating Kitchen

Note: replace some or all of the mayo with Greek yogurt if you'd like to lighten this dish up a bit more. Personally I prefer full mayo versions with chicken salad, but both work well with this recipe.

Shredded chicken, from 1 rotisserie chicken (~3 cups cooked chicken if making it fresh)
1 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup apple, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
2-3 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
3/4 to 1 cup light mayonnaise, more or less to taste (see note above)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

  • In a large bowl, combine the chicken and the next 5 ingredients (celery, onion, apple, nuts, tarragon). Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayo and the remaining ingredients (mustard, lemon juice, salt & pepper). 
  • Pour the dressing over the chicken mixture and toss gently until everything is well coated.
  • Serve immediately or let sit in the refrigerator to give the flavors some time to meld together.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Noah's ark cake

I haven't decorated a cake in a long, looooooooong time. It's just so time consuming that I tend to reserve it for special occasions. Which includes any big family events, like a baptism!

So when my cousin asked me to make a Noah's ark inspired cake for her son's baptism, I couldn't say no. Sure, it sucked up my whole Friday/Saturday, but it's always great to get people excited about cake.

And I learned a few new techniques in the process. Like mixing corn syrup + vodka + food coloring to paint the fondant boat. It gave the fondant this sheen that remained even when dried. Fabulous!

I used a cut-up Kiehls box for the "skeleton" of the boat and then realized the rope handles of the bag
were PERFECT for the boat. So while it's all not edible, it's pretty damn cool!
This isn't the first time I've made animals before. You may remember this jungle cake I made a while back...

But I have to admit, other than the lion (which was insanely cute), I think the animals this time around were a bit more adorbs. It's all about the smiley faces and the rosey cheeks. And floppy ears.

Since I knew the decorating would take up so much time, I went with doctored-up box mix cake recipes for the layers. I used this recipe for the chocolate cake (9" layer) and the recipe below for the orange-flavored yellow cake (12" layer).

I hate having to resort to box mixes, but these recipes are pretty damn good in a pinch. But if you are using a box mix, make sure to use your best buttercream frosting. It'll make the world of difference. My newest favorite frosting is German buttercream, which basically tastes like an ice-cream version of buttercream frosting. I could just eat it with a spoon!

And if you like what you see here, just wait another month when I'll be making yet another baby shower cake. Apparently this, this, this, this, and this cake was not enough to have in my portfolio.

Buen Provecho,

Orange (rum zum optional) cake, from The Cake Mix Doctor
I usually make this recipe with a bit of rum (as written) but for this family occasion I replaced the rum with more orange juice. With or without the liquor this cake comes out extremely tender and moist, with a freshness unexpected for a box mix cake!

If you want to torte your cake layers (which I like to do to balance the frosting better with the cake layers), make sure to refrigerate the cakes overnight. This will allow you to slice the cakes in half without them crumbling all over you!


1 package plain yellow cake mix
1 box instant vanilla pudding (3.4 oz)
4 large eggs
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup dark rum
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
1 TBSP freshly grated orange zest, optional

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Prepare your cake pans (two 9" pans is what I used). Spray with baking spray, lay down a circle of parchment paper (or wax paper) on the bottom, and spray again with baking spray. Set aside.
  • Mix all ingredients in a large bowl on low until blended, ~1 minute. Increase speed to medium and mix for another 2 minutes.
  • Pour into prepared pans and smooth batter.
  • Bake for 45 - 50 minutes, or until cake bounces back when lightly touched and a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Cool in pan for a few minutes, then invert onto baking sheet, and allow to sit until completely cool.
  • If cutting the cakes to fill with frosting, cover with plastic wrap and store in fridge for a few hours, or ideally overnight. This will allow the cakes to "set" a bit better and allow you to slide them without making a mess.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Citrus fennel salad + balsamic brussels sprouts + swordfish

Sometimes I love when I have random errands to run in the city, because it gives us an excuse to drive into a neighborhood that we normally don't visit.

Case in point--returning my Comcast cable box directly led to this incredible, yet completely impromptu dinner:

Sprouts, swordfish, and salad (citrus style)
How exactly does cable box --> incredible meal?? You see, about a block away from Comcast is this great little neighborhood grocery store called Stanley's. Not only is 80% of the store just fruits and veggies, it's super cheap. So we decided to stop in and just grabbed a basketfull of produce that looked good.

A big bag of Brussels sprouts for less than $2? Sold! A giant and fragrant fennel bulb that reminded me of the citrus salad I'd made years ago and had been wanting to recreate? Sold! Incredibly sweet ruby-red grapefruit and oranges galore? Sold, sold sold!

Naturally sweet citrus is the key to this fennel salad
We already had some frozen swordfish from Trader Joe's thawing in the fridge, so it took almost no time to whip together this incredibly flavorful and uber healthy dinner.

I couldn't believe it myself. Usually I'm a super planner when it comes to meals, but I have to say, the impromptu dinners often times end up being my favorite!

Buen provecho,

Citrus fennel salad, adapted from Smitten Kitchen and a previous recipe I'd made

I didn't use the mint leaves (didn't have them) or the hazelnuts (forgot to add them) but they sound like they would be delicious in this recipe so I've included them below if you'd like to add them.

1 medium-large fennel bulb, leaves and stems trimmed off
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
Splash of balsamic vinegar (optional)
1/2 ruby-red grapefruit, sectioned or sliced in half moons
~1 orange, sectioned or sliced in half moons
1 small shallot, peeled and cut into paper-thin slices
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lime zest
10 mint leaves, chopped (optional)
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts or walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)

  • To prep the fennel, remove the top fronds. Slice about 1/2 inch from bottom of fennel bulb and discard. Slice the fennel bulb in half lengthwise, remove the dense core in the middle, and slice thinly using a knife or a mandoline. 
  • In a large bowl, toss fennel with the salt, pepper, lemon juice, and a bit of balsamic (if using). Add shallots, olive oil, and mint/nuts (if using) and toss gently. Sprinkle with lime zest.
  • Transfer the fennel to a large platter and arrange orange and grapefruit slices on top.
  • Sprinkle with a bit of the fennel fronds and serve.
Balsamic-roasted Brussels Sprouts, from Tide and Thyme

1 lb Brussels sprouts, bottoms trimmed (cut larger sprouts in half)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper

  • Preheat oven to 425 F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. 
  • Place Brussels sprouts on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Toss to distribute oil and seasoning evenly and flip Brussels sprouts so that cut side is facing down (if you've cut them). 
  • Roast in oven for about 20-25 minutes, flipping the sprouts halfway through baking, until sprouts are easily pierced with a knife and starting to brown on the edges. Remove from oven and serve immediately. 

No recipe for the swordfish (sorry!) The grill was acting up, so we finished it in a pan. Nothing fancy though, just salt, pepper, and oil to season the fish until done. Read more...

Friday, March 21, 2014

Springtime cocktail

It was almost 60 degrees today in Chicago. We haven't felt that kind of weather in an uncountable number of days! It'll be back to below freezing again within a day or so, but until then let's celebrate with a spring drank.

Normally whiskey is my wintertime drink of choice, but the addition of St Germaine and lemon take this cold-weather liquor to a warm(er)-weather cocktail.

Happy Spring! Can't wait until this weather stays and I can walk around without a coat once more.

Buen Provecho,

Spring whiskey (rye) cocktail
Feel free to reduce the amount of lemon juice in this drink. It was quite strong, but I loved it! Then again, I like eating lemons straight up...

For ~ 1.5 cocktails in my awesome glasses, we used ~ 3 oz whiskey, 2 oz St. Germain, and 2 oz lemon juice) Scale up/down depending on how difficult your work week was! :)

1.5 - 2 parts rye whiskey (3 - 3.5 oz)
1 part St. Germain (2 oz)
1 part lemon juice (2 oz)

  • Put ingredients in shaker filled with ice.
  • Shake shake shake shake shake your shaker.
  • Strain into glass and enjoy!


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Baked eggs in creamy spinach

Another installment of weekend egg time! Two weeks ago I served up poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce on savory steel-cut oatmeal. It was truly a perfect breakfast, and today I have something to match its awesomeness.

Baked eggs cooked in a creamy spinach sauce. And yes, it tasted as incredible as it sounds.

I love me a baked egg, but what takes this dish over the top is the creamy spinach sauce. Sauteed spinach, bechamel sauce, and gruyere cheese.

It sounds quite decadent, but the proportions are perfect without too much bechamel or gruyere. The result is a perfectly creamy spinach that isn't overly greasy or cloyingly fatty.

And then, when you bake the dish, the edges of the creamy spinach caramelize a bit while the egg stays perfectly tender. Perfect when you've got a slice of toasted crusty bread to dip in!

It actually tastes a lot like a creamy spinach dip you might find served at a party with tortilla chips. But with the egg it goes from a party dish to main brunch meal. A hot meal, in more than 1 way!

I overcooked the eggs a teeny tiny bit for my taste (I like them a bit more runny), so hopefully with more practice I'll get the timing down for a perfectly baked egg. So if that means I have to keep making this dish over and over again to get that flawless end product, well then that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make!

Yours in still loving her weekend egg-stravaganzas,

Baked eggs with creamy spinach, from Marc Mastsumo


220 grams (7.75 ounces) fresh spinach (or 180 grams (6.5 ounces) cooked and squeezed spinach)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white truffle oil (I don't have this, but would love to try it next time)
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
40 grams (1.4 ounces) shredded gruyere cheese
2 - 4 eggs

  • Blanch the spinach in large pot of boiling water and then drain and rinse with cold water. Squeeze the excess water out of the spinach before trimming the roots off and cutting it into 1/2-inch pieces. Add the spinach to a bowl.
  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir aggressively with a silicone spatula until the flour and butter are evenly combined and the mixture is bubbling. Do not let the flour brown.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and add the milk, using a whisking motion with the spatula until there are no lumps left. If you still have lumps, use a whisk until the mixture is smooth.
  • Return the pot to the heat and cook until the mixture is thick and bubbly. Add the salt, truffle oil and nutmeg and then dump the mixture into the bowl with the spinach along with the gruyere. Stir to combine.
  • Divide the mixture between two 12 ounce ramekins or a larger oven-safe dish. Level off the top and then make an indentation for each egg.
  • If you're preparing this ahead of time, cover the ramekin(s) with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you're ready to bake the eggs.
  • Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and put them in a cold oven. Set the temperature to 450 degrees F (230 C).
  • While the spinach is cooking, break each egg into a small bowl/ramekin. (This will allow you to add the eggs to the spinach quickly.)
  • When the spinach mixture is bubbly (at least 10-15 minutes), pour an egg into each indented well.
  • Bake until the whites are just barely set (about another 8-12 minutes). (Note: mine were a bit done after 10 minutes, so maybe start checking yours after 7 or 8 minutes to make sure they don't overcook.)
  • Serve immediately with toast.