hey it’s good to be back home again…

Those who know me (and, by this point, maybe also those who read this blog) know how much I love a good figure of speech or turn of phrase. I inherited a whole bunch of my best one liners and witticisms – most of which are unmentionable here- from my Grandpa Gerald. Driving home from Madison late last night, I could hear Grandpa’s voice telling me, “Katlynn, you have wheels on your butt,” his favorite zinger for anyone in the family who was constantly on the road, running around too much and not content to stay home and take it easy. And while I live to travel and spend time with my people scattered across the country, my wanderlust has certainly gotten the best of me lately and it I’ve barely unpacked my suitcase in the last 2 months. Cooking the delicious meal I’m about to tell you about with Joanna with tonight, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and contentment to be home in Chicago with no trips on the horizon. I think it’s time to take the wheels off for a while.

When home is Chicago and the forecast is “ice storm warning,” the sugar cured girls have no choice but to pull out all the stops on the heartiness front. This mushroom bourguignon recipe is one that Joanna and I turn to again and again when we want something special and filling but relatively low-fuss.  There’s quite a bit of chopping involved (I recommend recruiting a sous chef to make light work of this part) but it comes together quickly and without stress. You’ll probably want a sous chef to help you finish that bottle of wine you opened for the stew too. We’ve served the bourguignon over roasted potatoes or egg noodles in the past but I think we found the perfect base in polenta on this iteration. If you’re as dubious of preparing the polenta in the oven as I was at first, you’ll have to trust me when i say that it works like a charm. This method is so easy that I may never cook polenta on the stovetop again.

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I hope you’ll find an occasion to stay home and try out the recipe in your own kitchen. And if you need a sous chef and you have a couch I can crash on, there’s a girl in Chicago with wheels on her butt that could probably be persuaded to come visit you wherever you are.

Mushroom Bourguignon and Oven Baked Polenta (adapted lovingly from two of our very favorite and most trusted food blogs, Smitten Kitchen and Joy the Baker)

For the bourguignon:

2 T olive oil

1 T butter

2 lbs portobello or cremini mushrooms, washed and cut into 1/4″ slices

1/2 lb carrots, sliced

1 large onion, quartered and sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 c red wine

2 c beef or vegetable broth

2 T tomato paste

1 T fresh thyme leaves (1/2 t dried)

1 1/2 T all-purpose flour

Parsley, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat 1 T oil in a large, heavy pan over high heat. Cook the mushrooms until they start to brown but don’t yet start to release their liquid. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Lower the heat to medium and add another 1 T oil to the pan. Toss the onion, carrot, thyme, a few good pinches of salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the onions start to brown. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Add the wine, scrape off any vegetable bits that may have stuck to the bottom of the pot, turn the heat all the way up, and cook until the wine is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Add back the mushrooms along with the broth and tomato paste. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until everything is tender. Mash the flour into the butter to make a paste then stir it into the stew. Cook 10 more minutes at medium heat until the stew is thick enough for your liking. Add parsley just before serving. Serve over polenta (recipe follows)

Oven baked polenta

1 c coarse ground cornmeal

4 c water

1 tsp salt

4 T butter

1/4 t crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat the oven to 350F. In an 8×8 baking dish, mix cornmeal, water, and salt. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and add butter, stirring until the butter is melted. Bake for 15 minutes. Stir in red pepper flakes and serve.

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a treat from my mom

I received a picture text from my mom a couple of weeks ago with the following image:

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I theorize that she was trying to simultaneously 1) impress me with her Pic Stitch-ing skills, 2) make me jealous that I wasn’t home to enjoy her cooking, and 3) subtly hint that these should be featured on the blog. Well, mom, you succeeded on all three of these measures!

My mom has been making these rosemary roasted cashews for the past few weeks for her and my dad using fresh rosemary from our garden. I had the good fortune of being home last weekend for my cousin’s wedding, and while I was there, I was able to snag the remains of a batch of these cashews. It’s probably a good thing that there weren’t too many left, because I could have easily eaten many cupfuls of these addictive, salty, sweet, and spicy nuts if given the opportunity. Thanks Mom for this great recipe and for raising me to believe that constantly reading about, talking about, and taking pictures of my food was perfectly normal.

My Mom’s Rosemary Roasted Cashews

She says:

I’m glad that you like them!  We do, too.  It’s kind of a typical me-recipe, a bit of this and that.  Based loosely upon the Barefoot Contessa roasted cashews with rosemary recipe, except–I use a little olive oil in place of butter,and a smaller amount of brown sugar.  I put a couple of cups of raw cashews on pan, bake at 375 about 10 minutes, stirring often (they brown quickly)  While they are toasting, I chop about 2 tbsp of fresh rosemary, add to small bowl with a little bit of ground red pepper, a teaspoon or so of brown sugar and a teaspoon or more of kosher salt. Stir in a little olive oil, a teaspoon or so. When nuts come out of the oven, toss immediately into seasoning, stir well to coat and then spread out on a cool plate or tray to cool and crisp. Add extra salt as needed, I always add extra salt! Enjoy! 

school is sweet

I tend to have an optimistic outlook on life. Which is why, even after today’s 12-hour lecture/lab/review session marathon, I can honestly say that there are some really great things about spending so much time in class as a second year medical student. For one, these long days of study provide protection from the frigid temperatures outside. When most of my activities are housed in one building or in the hospital, which is a short underground tunnel walk away, I can almost forget that it’s zero degrees outside! From a nerdier standpoint, it’s pretty rewarding to walk away from day of class knowing that I’ve accumulated a great deal of knowledge, which I’ll be putting to use to take care of people scarily soon. But perhaps the biggest advantage of being in class so much these days is that I am constantly surrounded by my wonderful, intelligent, and most importantly, dessert-loving classmates.

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Among our class, there is a strong culture of baked-goods-passing during lecture. I couldn’t help but laugh when a few weeks ago, as we were being schooled on the detrimental effects of diabetes and the rampant pace at which it is growing in the U.S. as our diets continue to deteriorate, a box chock-full of chocolate cake and cookies was making its way around the room.   While as med students, we know the importance of eating healthily, we also know that desserts, in moderation, definitely boost our moods and make all the learning we do just that much more enjoyable. Because of this, I am never at a loss for people with whom to share my late night baking experiments, and I am a regular provider of in-class sweets.

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My most recent contribution was cranberry orange bread with dark chocolate chunks. I had a stash of cranberries in my freezer that needed to be put to a noble use. Kate had been telling me about a great recipe she had for cranberry orange bread, and while I usually consult far too many books and websites before settling on a recipe to make, I trusted Kate’s judgment on this one and I’m so glad I did. This bread was dense, but extremely moist. The dark chocolate chunks were optional, but I’d highly encourage adding them. They added depth to the bread and helped cut through the acidity of the fresh cranberries and orange. Like many baked goods I’ve shared here recently, this would be great to serve at any occasion, but from my experience, it is especially suited to serve as a mid-lecture pick-me-up.

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Cranberry Orange Bread with Dark Chocolate Chunks

Adapted from The Shared Table

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1½ teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup butter, softened

¾ cup orange juice

1 tablespoon grated orange rind

1 egg, room temperature and beaten

1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate

One large (9×5) or two small (7½ x 3½) loaf tins, greased or Teflon. If glass, reduce oven heat to 325

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With a pastry blender or two knives cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

In small bowl combine orange juice and grated rind with the beaten egg. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix just enough to dampen. Don’t beat. Carefully fold in the nuts and cranberries.

Butter pan well, line the long sides and bottom with one length of wax paper, butter paper in place, for easy removal of the loaf. The mixture will be stiff and must be pushed into the corners of the pan with a spoon or spatula. Form it slightly higher on the sides to compensate for the rising crown.

While oven preheats to 350°, allow the filled pan to rest.

Bake in the the oven until the loaf tests done when pierced in the center with a metal skewer or toothpick, about 50-60 minutes. If it comes out clean and dry, the loaf is baked. If moist particles cling to the pin, return the loaf to the oven for an additional 10 minutes. Test again.

Remove bread from the oven . Carefully turn from the pan, peel the wax paper away and cool on a metal rack. An easy way to remove the loaf is to turn the pan on its side, tug gently at the leading edges of the wax paper to work the loaf loose. Allow the loaf to age overnight before slicing.

just what the student doctor ordered

Flu season has officially announced its nasty presence throughout the country. It seems that I can’t turn on the radio, open my email, or walk through the halls of the hospital here without being reminded of the especially aggressive season that’s taken hold, and furthermore, of the seemingly low efficacy rates of the vaccine this year. All this adds up to the need to prophylactically boost my immunity. That means plenty of sleep, hydration, and of course, stocking my fridge and pantry with immunity-boosting foods.
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I made this soup with flu prevention and health promotion on my mind. It’s loaded with ginger, turmeric, spinach, carrots, and quinoa. A dash of red pepper flakes adds a generous dose of heat that promises to clear out your sinuses. I enjoyed the flavors of this soup as I was concocting it, but I felt there was something slightly off about the many different textures that were at play. So, I whipped out my favorite new Christmakkah gift (thanks, Erica!), a mini food processor, and blended the soup until smooth. This helped the spices and flavors meld together even better. I served the soup with a sprinkling of cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice. If you had it on hand, some yogurt would make a nice addition. After having this soup for dinner, I’m feeling in pretty good shape. Hopefully it brings you a delicious dose of flu prevention too!
Immunity Boosting Soup
2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, sliced

3 tbsp finely grated ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp turmeric
2 tbsp garam masala
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
1 quart chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
6 cups water
1 cup quinoa
1 large bag washed spinach leaves
Cilantro and lime, for serving
In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute onion for about 5-7 minutes, until slightly golden. Add carrots and saute another 2-3 minute. Add ginger and garlic and saute another minute. Add spices and stir well. Add broth and water. Allow mixture to come to a boil and then add the quinoa. Boil soup for about 10 minutes, and check to see if quinoa is done (should be softer, but not mushy). Add spinach leaves and allow them to wilt for 2-3 minutes, being careful to not overcook the spinach. Taste soup for seasonings and adjust to your liking.
For pureed option: Allow soup to cool a bit before blending it in batches in a food processor or with an immersion blender.
Serve with cilantro and lime wedges. Yogurt would also be a great addition!

hibernation celebration

When you have survived as many winters in the upper midwest as I have (a full quarter century’s worth!), you are bound to have high standards for “hibernation fare.” These are the recipes the very thought of which will help you ward off frostbite when your scarf is frozen to your face and you can’t feel your toes at the bus stop.  This is the type of food best enjoyed while sitting on the couch, wearing your comfiest sweats and two pairs of wool socks, watching your favorite football team in a victorious effort on the Frozen Tundra.

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Hibernation fare is one of those categories where you have to be true to your deepest comfort food whims. I have a bit of an unorthodox approach seeing as I’m not a meat-and-potatoes type and I’ve never been the biggest fan of soup. No hot dish for me, but if that’s your thing, by all means bring on the tots. I tend toward chunky, filling-but-not-heavy stews and curries. To solidify a spot in my winter rotation of recipes, a dish should have a little bit of kick and it should be tastier as leftovers for lunch two days later than the day you made it. Bigtime bonus points for inclusion of tomatoes or squash. Ex: this well-loved white been stew. Deb’s formula for perfection in lentil form. Or this newcomer to the list, Thai red curry with kabocha squash. I think I could drink the broth with a straw as the antidote to all things that are January in Chicago. Adjust the spice to your liking, adjust the squash to what you have on hand (though if you can find kabocha, its pumpkiny goodness is extra good) and serve some Joanna’s January Cake for dessert. Stay warm and stay tuned for a whole winter’s worth of hibernation recipes to come from the sugarcured kitchens

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1 large kabocha (or other orange) squash

10 oz tofu, cut into 1/2″ cubes

1 large handful green beans, cut into 2″ pieces

1 red bell pepper, diced

1/4 c basil leaves, chopped

1 T oil

1 15oz can coconut milk (light or regular)

3 T red curry paste

1/4 c water

2 T brown sugar

2 whole thai red chilis

1 T fish sauce (optional- I omitted it but I’m sure it would be a tasty addition if you have it on hand)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half. Line a baking sheet with foil and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Place the squash halves cut side down on the tray and roast for about 30 minutes until tender but not totally mushy. Let cool.

In a large saucepot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the curry paste, mashing it to incorporate it with the oil. Slowly whisk in the coconut milk until no clumps remain. Add water, basil, sugar, chilis, and fish sauce (if using) and bring to a simmer. Add red bell peppers and green beans and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes until the veggies are tender.

Peel the roasted squash and cut into 1 inch chunks. Add the squash and the tofu to the curry and heat just until they are warm. Serve over rice.

a cake for january

Hello friends! It’s been a very long while since we’ve given this blog some love. A combination of finals, a trip to South Dakota, a week at home with family celebrations nearly every day, and a running start to the new academic quarter all contributed to blog delinquency, but we promise that we are back and ready to shower Sugar Cured with plenty of recipes, stories, and drool-inducing photos in 2013.

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One of my goals in this new year is to make more recipes from my cookbook collection, especially more baked goods from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours. I received this beloved baking bible over five years ago, and everything I’ve made from its pages, from lemon cream tarts, to towering layer cakes, to fudgy brownies, has been a resoundingly sweet success. In my down time, I love leafing through the pages of this book and imbibing the delectable pictures and poetic stories that accompany the recipes. Each time I peruse the pages, I find myself drawn to one recipe in particular: Cinnamon Squares. A cinnamony cake batter rippled with a chocolate, espresso, cinnamon sugar filling, capped with a melted chocolate glaze. As someone who finds the combination of coffee and cinnamon irresistable and is always in the mood for a healthy dose of chocolate, this recipe has screamed my name from the moment I first read it. Yet for some odd reason, I had never made it. I resolved to end this madness for once and for all, and last night I baked this humble, yet complex cake for a dessert party.
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The result: really, really good. And, as Kate said upon tasting it, “This is the perfect January cake,”—reminiscent of the recently passed holiday season with its cinnamon spice and chocolate decadence, but standing in a flavor realm of its own and emboldening the new year with a caffeinated jolt. This cake is perfectly suited to snack on all day long (say, while you’re at home studying on a Sunday), yet is sophisticated enough to serve as a dinner party dessert. Please don’t do as I did and wait five years to make this.
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Wishing you wellness, happiness, and of course, good eats in this new year!
Cinnamon Squares

Cake
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp plus 2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp instand espresso powder
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
10 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped or 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Frosting
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment or wax paper. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake: Stir 2 tablespoons of the sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons of the cinnamon and the espresso together in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, the remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar, the baking powder, salt and the remaining 1 tablespoon cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients over the flour mixture and gently whisk until you have a homogenous batter. Now, using the whisk or a rubber spatula, fold in the butter with a light touch, just until the butter is absorbed. You’ll have a smooth, shiny batter.

Scrape half of the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the chocolate over the batter and dust with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Cover with the rest of the batter and smooth the top again.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is puffed and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan; a thin knife inserted into the center will come out clean. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let it rest for 15 minutes before unmolding it onto another rack. Peel off the paper, invert it onto the first rack, and cool to room temperature right side up.

To Make the Frosting: Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and fit the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, stirring gently and often, just until they melt. Be careful not to overheat the mixture so much that it thins out; the chocolate should be smooth, very shiny, thick and spreadable. (If it thins, leave the frosting at room temperature for a bit, until it thickens a little.)

Using an offset metal icing spatula or a table knife, spread the frosting in generous sweeps and swirls over the top of the cake. Allow the frosting to set at room temperature, then cut the cake into 9 squares, each about 2 1/2 inches on a side.

For Cappuccino Squares (I did this): If you like the cappuccino flavor combination of coffee and cinnamon, you can easily switch the balance in this recipe by adding a jolt of coffee flavor to the batter. Just mix 1 tablespoon instant espresso into the milk and warm the milk in a microwave oven until it is hot enough to dissolve the coffee. Cool the milk and carry on.