Saturday, August 29, 2015

Waffled hash browns

On a whim, while browsing Amazon, I bought a cookbook called Will it Waffle? Some of the recipes are a bit goofy (doubt I'll be making wontons in my waffle maker) but others are absolute genius, like these waffle hash browns.

You see, if you like things crispy, then the waffle iron just might be the perfect gadget for cooking! The high heat and extra surface area created by those wells means more crispy, crunchy, goodness.

You could practically break the hash browns in half and just eat them straight with your hands! And I loved how easy they were to portion out.

I have yet to try other recipes from this book (the fawaffle [falafel] has gotten incredible reviews, so it's next on my list) but after reading through all the recipes I have to admit that they seem more "legit" than a kitschy book on using your waffle maker. The ingredients and recipes all sound great, they just all use a unique way of cooking.

Yours in always having fun with her cooking,

Waffled Hash Browns, adapted from the book Will It Waffle?
Serves 2 (1 large waffle hash brown)

1 russet (baking) potato, about 10 ounces each, peeled and shredded
1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted or baking spray

  1. Preheat waffle iron (Belgian or standard style will both work). If it has temperature controls, set it to medium. 
  2. Squeeze shredded potato with a towel until it’s as dry as possible (hot tip: if you have a potato ricer you can squeeze your shredded potato in that to save your towel).
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine shredded potato, rosemary, salt, and pepper. 
  4. Use baking spray or butter to grease both sides of the waffle iron. If using butter, carefully grease both sides using a silicone brush or paper towel. 
  5. Pile shredded potatoes into waffle iron, over-stuffing it a bit, and close lid. (The pressure of the lid will compress the potatoes and help them emerge as a cohesive, waffled unit.) 
  6. Cook for 2 minutes, then press down on lid to further compress potatoes (be careful: lid may be hot). 
  7. Continue cooking potatoes for 5 minutes longer, then begin checking them: the are ready when potatoes are golden brown all over, about 1 to 2 minutes longer.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Quick pizza dough

There's something so satisfying when making pizza from scratch. It's cheap, delicious, and pretty quick to the throw together. But the biggest problem for me is planning in advance. I've blogged here with 2 different pizza dough recipes, but both require at least a few hours of resting time (regular dough and a no-knead recipe).

So what do you do when your boyfriend wants pizza, as in pizza right now? You make a quick dough that's ready from start to finish in less than 15 minutes.

Who would believe this took 10 minutes to prepare?
I was shocked how good the dough was. I mean I figure it couldn't be bad, but the texture was spot on! Super crusty on the outside and tender on the inside.

See that parchment paper under my pizza? Read my tips below for why I use it.
Then just top with whatever you want. We always have cheese and sauce on hand in the freezer (read my tips below), so we top our pizza with whatever else we have in the fridge or pantry. Green olives are always a go, and we happened to have peperoni this time too for the boy's half.

Want a few more hot tips for making pizza?
  1. Get your pizza stone blazing hot, as in preheat your oven to 475 or 500 degrees for at least 30 minutes (up to an hour is ideal).
  2. Transferring pizza to your hot stone can be a b*tch, and can lead to a few pizza fails. Though I eventually mastered the technique using a pizza peel, I've started using a simple trick: I now simply prepare my pizza on parchment paper, then just slide the parchment paper + pizza directly on my stone. Yes, you can cook the pizza directly on the parchment in the oven! The edges of the paper will get pretty brown (see the picture above), but it doesn't burn. Then you simply grab the paper and slide your pizza back on your pizza peel (or an upside down baking sheet). Make sure though you're using parchment paper (which can withstand up to 500 degrees in the oven) and not waxed paper, which I think starts to melt above 350.
  3. My final tip for always being ready to make pizza on the fly? Make sure to always have some Trader Joes pizza sauce (the one in the refrigerator section with the black plastic lid is my favorite) in your freezer along with a block of mozzarella. Yes, you heard me. FREEZE YOUR CHEESE! Did you know you could do that?!? I had no idea! But we tried it a while back and we found that freezing the mozzarella whole had no effect on the flavor/texture of the cheese. (Note: I haven't tested this with fresh mozzarella, I'm talking about the Americanized block of mozzarella.) And as a bonus, the cheese is a lot easier to shred from the freezer. (Just let it warm up a little bit in the fridge or at room temperature.) Double win!
  4. If you're new to pizza making, check out this blog post for some more details and great photos.
15-minute pizza dough, from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Yield: Makes 1 pretty large pizza or 2 medium pizzas

Check out the original post for tips on making a larger batch of dough

1 cup warm water
1 TBSP honey
1 TBSP oil
1 TBSP instant yeast
1 tsp salt
2 to 3 cups all purpose flour (though I haven't tried it, the original post says you can also use a 1:1 ratio of all purpose to whole wheat, just knead it for a few minutes longer)

  1. In a large bowl or in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the water, honey, oil, yeast and salt. 
  2. Add the flour gradually until a soft dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The exact flour amount will vary so go by the touch and feel of the dough versus the exact cup measurements in the recipe. The dough should be soft and smooth (not leaving a residue on your fingers but not super stiff, either). 
  3. Knead the dough for 2-3 minutes if using all purpose flour, or 5-6 minutes if using whole wheat flour. 
  4. Let the dough rest, covered, for 10 minutes. 
  5. Shape the dough into pizza(s), spread with sauce and toppings, and bake at 475 or 500 degrees on a preheated pizza stone or on a lightly greased baking sheet for 8-12 minutes.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Spinach pies

Growing up we would often have borek at family functions, which is basically fried dough filled with a lightly-seasoned meat filling with onions and parsley. I doubt it's super traditional, but my family always used egg or spring roll wrappers, which makes for an incredibly crispy, hand-held snack!  I could easily eat half a dozen in one sitting...

In addition to the meat-filled ones, my mom often made a vegetarian version with spinach and feta cheese, much like a Greek spinach pie. So when I found myself with leftover egg roll wrappers, I wanted to recreate that delicious childhood snack.

Addictive spinach pies baked in egg roll wrappers
I scoured a few recipes online and from my middle eastern cookbook, and based on my personal taste preferences came up with a recipe that sounded good to me. And if I say so myself, I hit it out of the park on my first attempt!!

I baked these up to make them a bit healthier, which worked out pretty well. They definitely had a crispy bite to them, though in some spots the wrapper had a dry texture. The filling though was perfection.

Baking them was definitely less messy and made them a healthier alternative, though I won't liethey're so much better when they're fried in oil. :) You just cannot replace that uber crispy, cracklin' dough in an oven (though if anyone out there has tips for me, I'm all ears).

And if you're wondering how to roll these suckers up, I've made a handy-dandy GIF tutorial for you!

The first step that I didn't photograph was to cut your wrappers into squares (mine where slightly rectangular, so I cut off ~1/2" to make them square). But don't throw away those scraps! Fry them up in a thin layer of and top with cinnamon sugar for a yummy treat.

A handy tip when working with egg roll wrappers: make sure to always keep them covered with a dish towel, both when they're in the package and after you've filled and rolled them up. The wrapers are like phyllo dough and can dry out very quickly.

Once you're done with each egg roll, place cut side down on a baking sheet (again, keep them covered with a dish towel as you finish the batch).

Yours in re-making foods that bring back the memories,

Spinach pie borek, adapted from my memories of my mom's recipe, a variety of websites, and The Complete Middle East Cookbook
Makes ~12 borek.

Note: A lot of recipes I saw also add parsley to the dill. I didn't try it, as I don't remember my mom doing it that way, but if you have some parsley around I'm sure it'll be delicious as well. Somewhere around 1/4 cup chopped would be good. The egg is optional as some recipes called for it and others didn't, and I can't remember if I included it or not in mine! Pretty sure my mom would always use an egg. :)

1 pound spinach, frozen and thawed
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions, green and white parts (~3-4 scallions)
8 oz feta cheese, ~2 cups crumbled
1/2 oz parmesan, ~1/4 cup shredded
1/3 cup chopped dill (must be fresh, not dried), ~small bunch
1 large egg, lightly beaten (optional)
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp kosher salt

To assemble
egg roll wrappers, cut into squares*
small bowl with water (for sealing the wrappers)

*Mine were a bit rectangular, so after cutting into squares don't throw away that strip of wrapper. Just fry it in a bit of oil and sprinkle with some cinnamon sugar. Best way to use up the leftovers!

  1. If baking your egg rolls, preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Squeeze the thawed spinach very well to remove as much moisture as you can. Roughly chop.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl combine all your filling ingredients.
  4. Prepare your egg roll wrappers by cutting them into squares, if needed. Make sure to keep them covered with a dish towel to preven them from drying out.
  5. Now it's time to roll your borek! See my GIF above for a visual on how to wrap. But for a written step by step:
    1. Place wrapper with point facing you (ie, diamond, not a square)
    2. Dip your finger in water and wet all 4 edges of the wrapper (~1/2")
    3. Add 3 TBSP of your filling (1/4 cup) horizontally across the center of wrapper, making sure to not fill all the way to the edge. (A mini scoop works perfect for this job!)
    4. Wrap up the bottom edge of your wrapper and tuck under your filling.
    5. Fold over the left side, then the right side of your wrapper, pressing each side to seal.
    6. Flip your egg roll up once, then once more to finish the wrap. Make sure the roll is properly sealed. (You can dip your finger in water and dampen the flap a bit more if it isn't laying flat.)
  6.  Place seal-side down on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet and cover with a dish towel. Repeat until you're done with all the rolls, making sure to keep them covered to prevent them from drying out.
  7. GENEROUSLY grease both sides of your borek with olive oil, and bake (seal-side down) for 10 minutes. Note: I found that I had to brush the borek with oil a few times as they were drying out in the oven instead of getting crispy. I probably could have done this even more than I did.
  8. Flip over to the other side, and bake an additional ~10 minutes.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Indoor smokey pulled pork

Summertime means grilled and smoked foods galore! But what do you do when you don't have a smoker but want some delicious smoked meats? You make this recipe. Which also happens to be (hands down) the best pulled pork I've ever made.

Smokey pulled pork + BBQ sauce + Hawaiian buns
Warning: Drool-worthy photos of meaty goodness to follow. 
You may want to avoid this post if you're a vegetarian. :)

Though the flavors aren't quite as pronounced from what you'd get with a smoker, it's beyond awesome for an oven version, with a mellow smokey flavor. The best part of the meal though was the texture of the pork. It's insanely crispy on the outside, so much so that I was even eating the bits of fat that had that perfect crackly skin. And I'm typically NOT a fan of the fatty bits. But I just couldn't... stop... eating.

It may look hideous but it's delicious! This is half the pork shoulder straight from the oven.
Of course the recipe came from Cooks Illustrated, because they're the only crazy people out there who would brine the pork in liquid smoke, then coat it with even more smokey flavor. Oh, and they also have you cut the pork should in half to create even more surface area to get that crackly skin. But it's worth every single step.

You won't believe how crispy this pork gets!
This isn't a meal I'd make on the regular, but one worth trying at least once this summer. I even went all out and made the BBQ sauce recipe they suggested, though you could easily replace with your favorite brand.

I should note though that the recipe is pretty simple. A brine at the beginning, then just a long trip in the oven. Overall the recipe is pretty hands off until you start shredding the meat. But between the brine and the baking it'll take ~7 hours from start to finish.

Crispy. Crispy. Bits. They make this entire dish!!!!
Then just bring your bowl out to the table along with some BBQ sauce and some Hawaiian sweet rolls and you've got yourself a bona fide summertime meal!

Yours in helping you get your smoke on, even for those of us without fancy smokers,

Indoor smokey pulled pork, adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Serves 6 to 8

Note: Please please PLEASE make sure to wrap your baking sheet completely in foil. Don't do what I did, which was to simply put a layer of foil on the bottom of my baking sheet. As the fat rendered off the pork all the meat juices just seeped underneath the foil and formed a thick burnt crust on the bottom of my entire baking sheet that took days to soak and scrub off. So wrap your ENTIRE baking sheet with at least 1 layer of foil (heavy duty if you have it), making sure that you don't have any overlapping pieces where fat can drip under and create a mess. Then when the pork is done you can simply unwrap your baking sheet and cleanup will be a breeze.


1 cup table salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 TBSP liquid smoke 
1 boneless pork butt (about 5 pounds), cut in half horizontally (to increase the surface area of the meat)

Wet rub
2 tsp liquid smoke
1/4 cup yellow mustard

Dry rub
2 tsp table salt
2 TBSP sugar
2 TBSP ground black pepper
2 TBSP smoked paprika (or regular paprika)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce, optional
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup light or mild molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Alternative: If you don't want to make the BBQ sauce from scratch, simply use 2 cups of your favorite sauce thinned with 1/2 cup of the defatted pork cooking liquid from step 7.

  1. FOR BRINING THE PORK: Dissolve salt, sugar, and liquid smoke in 4 quarts cold water in a large container (Note: I used my soup pot). Submerge pork in brine, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  2. While pork brines, make your "wet rub" by combining mustard and liquid smoke in small bowl; set aside. To make the dry rub combine the black pepper, paprika, sugar, salt, and cayenne in second small bowl; set aside.
  3. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Completely wrap a baking sheet in foil (see note above) and set aside.
  4. PREPARE PORK FOR THE OVEN: Remove pork from brine and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Rub the "wet rub" mustard mixture over the entire surface of each piece of pork. Sprinkle entire surface of each piece with the "dry rub" spice mixture.
  5. Place pork on wire rack set inside foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Place piece of parchment paper over pork, then cover with sheet of aluminum foil, sealing edges to prevent moisture from escaping. (Note: covering the pork with parchment and then foil prevents the acidic mustard from eating holes in the foil.)
  6. Roast pork for 3 hours.
  7. Remove pork from oven; remove and discard foil and parchment. Carefully pour off liquid in bottom of baking sheet into fat separator and reserve for sauce.
  8. Return pork to oven and cook, uncovered, until well browned, tender, and internal temperature registers 200 degrees on instant-read thermometer, about 1½ hours.
  9. Transfer pork to serving dish, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes.
  10. FOR THE SAUCE: While pork rests, pour 1/2 cup of defatted cooking liquid from fat separator into medium bowl; whisk in sauce ingredients.
  11. TO SERVE: Using 2 forks, shred pork into bite-sized pieces. Toss with 1 cup sauce and season with salt and pepper. Serve, passing remaining sauce separately. 
The shredded and sauced pork can be cooled, tightly covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat it gently before serving.  Read more...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Quinoa salad with lemon dressing

Quinoa, of the white variety how I wish I loved you more than I do.

You're healthy. And quick to cook. And pretty damn filling. Good good good!
But you're also pretty damn bland. With a less-than exciting texture. Booo booo.

Your cousin, red quinoa, now that's a different story (hubba hubba). It's hearty and nutty with a nice bite to its texture. But red quinoa isn't easy on the wallet, so I can't be cooking it up every week. Instead I keep coming back to you, insipid white quinoa.

But apparently if you add a ton of flavorful veggies and some lemony dressing to you you're delicious. And not the "you're-healthy-so-I'm-telling-myself-that-you're-delicious" delicious. The "honest-to-goodness-I-could-eat-you-every-day-for-lunch" delicious!

Which is exactly what I did! Make a big batch of the quinoa and pair it with some grilled chicken breasts and you've got yourself a healthy, flavorful, and filling meal. 

Yours in giving white quinoa a second chance,

Quinoa Salad, adapated from Iowa Girl Eats
This salad keeps great all week long, so prep it on the weekend and have a healthy side dish or meal for days! 

And want some more ideas for quinoa? Check out this watermelon and feta salad and this Moroccan butternut squash stew with quinoa.

salad ingredients
3/4 cup quinoa, uncooked (or up to 1 cup for a more "quinoa-y" salad)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can corn, or 1 bag of frozen corn, thawed
1/2 to 1 red, orange, or yellow pepper, diced
2-3 green onions, sliced (or you can substitute 1/4 cup red onion, chopped)
1 avocado, chopped
1/3 - 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper

lemon vinaigrette
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons worth)
1-2 small garlic cloves, microplaned or finely minced
1 teaspoon agave nectar or honey
salt and pepper
6 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

  1. Cook quinoa according to package instructions. When it is completely cooled, add to a large bowl along with the rest of the salad ingredients.
  2. Combine vinaigrette ingredients in a mason jar and shake, shake, shake.
  3. Toss salad with vinaigrette.
  4. Serve immediately or allow to chill in the refrigerator.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Fish (or shrimp) tacos with a secret sauce

It's summer time! Which means lots of grilling and outdoor eating and quick, fresh, light meals. You know what's perfect for that? FISH TACOS! Or SHRIMP TACOS! Basically, any seafood in a taco. :)

There are a million recipes out there for cooking the seafood, so I'm not providing a full one today (check out Peas and Crayons for a salmon chili-rub recipe). We like to use a simple cajun seasoning for our firm white fish or shrimp. Then we grill the seafood for a touch of smokey flavor, or just cook it on the stovetop (shrimp cook up in no time in a skillet)!

But the reason I'm blogging about this today is that I want to share with you our secret ingredient that takes this dish to the max: sriracha ranch sauce. Yes, it's only 2 ingredients, and it doesn't sound all that great. But I swear, it'll blow your mind. It makes the absolute best sauce for these fish and shrimp tacos!

Anther reason we love this dish is that you can use what you have on hand for a great meal. Things we like to top our tacos with include:
  • sriracha ranch awesome-sauce (absolutely required, of course)
  • cabbage slaw (see the honey-lime slaw recipe below before for inspiration)
  • cilantro (a must in my book)
  • avocado
  • cojita cheese
  • a touch of fresh-squeezed lime juice from a wedge

Sriracha Ranch Sauce, from Peas and Crayons
3 TBSP homemade or store-bought ranch dressing (Brianna's makes the best dressing in my opinion)
1 TBSP Sriracha Chili Sauce

Honey-Lime Slaw, adapted from Peas and Crayons
Use this recipe below as a guide for your slaw, and add/remove ingredients as you see fit. At bare minimum you just need cabbage, something acidic, and a touch of sugar. DONE!

1 cup cabbage, finely chopped/shredded
¼ small red onion, sliced thin
1-2 TBSP lime juice (or combo of apple cider vinegar and lime juice)
1 tsp honey (up to 1 TBSP to taste) or sugar
fresh cilantro, to taste
¼ tsp garlic powder
a pinch of salt
1/2 TBSP mayo, optional 

Friday, July 3, 2015

East End Cooler (strawberry cocktail)

It's starting to feel like summer in Chicago! Finally!!!

Let's celebrate the 4th by putting some fruit in our cocktails. It's also crimson, so it knocks out one of the 3 food groups everyone will be serving this weekend (you know: white food, red food, and blue food).

This cocktail was a combination of 2 of my favorite liquors (Hendricks gin and St Germain) with super fresh strawberries. It looks a bit like a girly drink, but don't let it's beautiful hue frighten you away. This 'aint no strawberry daiquiri, and has just a touch of sweetness. It's simply a bright, fresh berry flavor to compliment the delicious liquors.

So grab your muddler and shake up a refreshing and crisp cocktail this weekend!

Buen Provecho,

East End Cooler, from St. Germain Cocktails website

2 oz gin (I love Hendricks or Deaths Door)
1.5 oz fresh lemon juice
1.5 oz St-Germain
1/2 oz simple syrup
1 strawberry (or 2 smaller ones if you want to pump up the flavor)

  1. In your shaker, muddle your strawberry
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, fill with ice, and shake shake shake (do this until your shaker gets ice cold, almost painful to the touch, around 15-20 seconds!)
  3. Strain into a coupe glass or highball glass with ice
  4. Garnish with a small strawberry or mint (or both)