parting gift

Growing season is quite different in Florida than it is in many parts of the country. Sweltering summers suffocate most budding things, while mild, breezy winters and springs foster a bounty of juicy strawberries, ruby red tomatoes, and sweet onions. I was lucky to be home for part of the Florida harvest season to enjoy my parents’ ever-thriving backyard garden, taking full advantage of the herbs, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes that sprung up each day and marveling at the beauty of the flowering trees that jutted up amongst the palms.

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But there are some things that actually thrive in the Miami summer sun. Tropical crops, mostly. Carambola, avocado, and the king of all tropical fruits: the Mango.

Daily, while walking my dog, hundreds of green mangoes hung from the trees that dot my neighborhood, taunting me with their unquestionable unripeness. On more than one occasion I thought about plucking one from a branch or giving a tree a gentle shake, but after many a summer of mango picking and eating experience, I know that to force a mango to fall from a tree before its prime time would be somewhat of a sin. So I dashed my hopes of savoring a mango during my stay in Miami, comforted by promises of a mango-filled care package come June.

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And then, a miracle occurred. On the last day I was home, taking one last walk with Chase and my mom up our street, we passed an especially abundant tree in a neighbor’s front yard. “Let’s check the ground,” my mom said. (This neighbor had confessed to my mom years ago that, despite his bountiful tree, he actually hated mangoes, and gave us carte blanche to salvage them from the ground whenever we wanted). Skeptically, I walked toward the tree, doubtful that any mango would have fallen in early May. But lo and behold, right before our eyes was a perfect, unmarred mango. A parting gift.

It was hard as a rock, but given patience, a home in a brown paper bag, a 1,400 mile cross-country road trip in my toasty trunk, and another week and a half long rest on my kitchen counter, it transformed into a soft fruit, flecked with dots signalling ripeness and emanating a honey-sweet aroma that fragrance makers can only dream of bottling.

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I peeled the soft skin and cut the bright orange flesh into neat cubes, then abandoned all tools and used the ones nature gave me to ungracefully clean the last bits of clinging fruit off the pit—the most indulgent part of mango eating. When you have something so pure and so delectable in front of you, there’s little want to alter it with other ingredients. I enjoyed it simply, in a bowl of yogurt and topped with a sprinkling of homemade granola, for a breakfast that I never thought I would have the chance to savor in Chicago in mid-May.

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It is my hope that you are able to fully and simply savor the fruits and vegetables that grow around you this season.

Vanilla Almond Granola

Best when accompanied by fresh fruit and yogurt

3 cups oats

1 cup flaked coconut (I use sweetened)

1 cup slivered almonds

2 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp salt

¼ cup plus 2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325. Combine oats, coconut, almonds, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine (I find that using your hands actually works best to really get all of the wet and dry ingredients incorporated). Spread mixture evenly onto a large baking sheet. Bake for about 40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until lightly toasted. (The granola will continue to cook a bit and will dry out as it cools, so be careful to not overcook). Remove from the oven and place baking sheet on a rack. Allow granola to cool fully before storing in an airtight container. Keeps for a couple of weeks at room temperature, and for a couple of months in the freezer.

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rising from the rank

This week we once again bring you an ingredient switch. But this time, it is not predicated on a lack of finding the ingredient. Oh no, I found epazote. I even added (and quickly removed) a few leaves of it to my dish. Let’s just say, if lemongrass is my new perfume, then epazote is what I am going to use to ward off my enemies. This stuff is frankly foul. My sister Erica, who has a knack for characterizing scents, declared that epazote smelled like “cheap industrial bathroom cleaner.” I had to agree. So, in the interest of saving Kate the physical and olfactory trouble of acquiring and using epazote, and of saving you all from reading about malodorous creations, we adopted a new ingredient. Still sticking with a Mexican theme, this week we’re taking on the poblano pepper.

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On Saturday, my then-quest for epazote took me to one of my favorite South Florida gems, the Homestead Farmer’s Market. This open air market caters to a largely Mexican and Central American community and carries a plethora of Latin ingredients: dried chiles, homemade queso fresco, warm freshly made tortillas, tomatillos, and poblanos to name a few. I came home with three overflowing bags of goods, and more importantly, with inspiration and guidance from conversing with women at the market to try my hand at a classic Mexican dish.

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Chilaquiles. It seems that there are a million versions and techniques of making this conglomeration of fried tortillas, warm salsa, drippy eggs, and cheese, but I used my limited experience with eating chilaquiles at restaurants and my desires to try my hand at making a poblano and tomatillo salsa to guide the way. I broiled a big, bright green poblano pepper with a bunch of plump tomatillos and a jalapeno to impart them with a smoky flavor. Once blistered and blackened, I whirred them up with key lime juice, onions, and cilantro to make a quick and fresh salsa that had a healthy dose of heat.

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We had the good fortune of being able to buy warm, freshly made corn tortillas from a stand at the market. I cut them into wedges and gave them a light fry and sprinkling of kosher salt to make a warm and crunchy bed for the salsa and eggs. If you’re in the market for an addictive appetizer rather than a brunch-y creation, then I’d suggest you stop here and dive into a bowl of fresh chips and poblano tomatillo salsa. But we found the self control to press on with the chilaquiles, soaking the chips in the warm salsa, and topping the saucy mixture with fried eggs.

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For my family, the most fun part of making and eating chilaquiles was getting to adorn them with all sorts of accompaniments: queso fresco, avocado, cilantro, lime, onion, crema, and—what deserves a future post in itself—pulled ancho chile spiced lamb that Erica had seemingly effortlessly stewed. We ate this as breakfast-for-dinner, and I’m already looking forward to making this for a brunch in the near future, perhaps experimenting with new techniques, flavors, and toppings. Rest assured, epazote will not be one of them.

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Chilaquiles with Poblano Tomatillo Salsa

Poblano Tomatillo Salsa

1 lb tomatillos, peeled and rinsed

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded

1 poblano pepper, seeded

½ medium onion, chopped

½ cup cilantro

1 lime, juiced (or juice of 3-4 key limes)

1 tsp salt

Set broiler to high. Cut tomatillos, jalapeno, and poblano in half and place on a large baking sheet. Broil until mostly blackened, about 4 minutes on each side. Place roasted tomatillos and peppers in a blender with onion, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Puree until blended.

Tortilla Chips

8 corn tortillas

Vegetable oil

Salt

In a large skillet, heat ½ inch oil to 350. Cut tortillas into sixths. Once oil is hot, fry tortillas, about 1 minute on each side, until golden brown. Drain onto paper towels and sprinkle with salt while still hot.

To assemble: 

Heat salsa in a saucepan until hot. Divide tortilla chips into four bowls. Divide hot salsa evenly over chips and allow it to sit while you cook the eggs. Cook the eggs to your liking (we liked ours with a runny yolk). Place cooked eggs over chips and salsa. Serve immediately with a panoply of toppings! Recommended: queso fresco, crema, lime, cilantro, onion, avocado.

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.

on the cusp

Right now, I feel like I’m on the cusp of many things. In school, we’re on the cusp of final exams, although we still have an entire body system to learn about in the next week (expect lots of stress-baking to appear around these parts). Weather-wise, Chicago is on the cusp of having long-standing bitter winter cold, but until that hits, I’ve enjoyed basking in the downtown holiday decor amidst deliciously mild temperatures. Calendar-wise, we’re on the cusp between Thanksgiving and all of the festivities that December brings. And food-wise, my palette is on the cusp between craving the pumpkiny spice of fall cuisine and beginning to experiment with the rich indulgences of the holiday season.
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This latter cusp is what inspired last night’s midnight baking project. For the past few weeks, the combination of dark chocolate and fresh cranberries has been dancing in my head. Sultry dark chocolate paired with plump tart cranberries just seemed like a winning match. I’ve also been wanting to make pumpkin bread, and I had half a can beckoning to be used up in my fridge. I decided to pair these two sugary visions together to make a marbled pumpkin chocolate cake, studded with tart cranberries and loaded with semisweet chocolate chips.
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I used pumpkin in both parts of the batter to keep things extra moist, and what resulted was a soft, spicy, and light-yet-rich cake that I think is one of my favorite creations to date. I am glad I had plenty of people to share this cake with today, or else I might have devoured the entire pan myself. I encourage you to celebrate this cusp-y part of the season and indulge yourself in a slice, or two, or three of what I’ve dubbed as the On the Cusp Cake.
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On the Cusp Cake (Marbled Pumpkin & Chocolate Cake with Cranberries)
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup soy milk (or regular milk or buttermilk)
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 cup fresh whole cranberries
Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling on top (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9×9 square baking pan.
Place cranberries in a small bowl and mix with 1 tbsp sugar. Set aside while making batter.
Get out two separate medium mixing bowls, one for the pumpkin batter and one for the chocolate batter. In each bowl, mix 1/4 cup vegetable oil with 1/2 cup sugar. Add 1 egg to each bowl and mix. Add 1/2 cup pumpkin to each bowl and mix.
In pumpkin spice batter bowl: Add 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Mix until just incorporated. Add 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/4 cup soy milk and mix until just combined.
In chocolate pumpkin batter bowl: Add 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Mix until just incorporated. Add 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/4 cup soy milk, and 1/2 cup chocolate chips and mix until just combined.
Pour half of the pumpkin batter into the pan and spread to cover the whole surface. Using half of the chocolate batter, drop large spoonfuls of the chocolate batter over the pumpkin batter. Spread all of the cranberries evenly on top of the batter currently in the pan. Pour remaining pumpkin batter into the pan. Drop remaining chocolate batter in large spoonfuls on top. Swirl the batters together using the edge of a knife to make a marble pattern. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of chocolate chips on top and sprinkle a bit of cinnamon sugar on top, if desired.
Bake cake for 40-50 minutes, until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool on rack in pan. Cut into squares to serve.

le almond

If I had to choose one pastry to eat for the rest of my life it would be an almond croissant. To me, it is pastry perfection: flaky dough that is slightly crisp on the outside yet pillowy soft on the inside, filled with a heavenly concoction of almonds, butter, and sugar. The waste-hater in me is also endeared by the fact that almond croissants are made using the previous day’s leftover croissants, a tidbit I learned from my sister who lived in Paris for nearly a year during college.
My fondness for almond croissants is bolstered by the memories I have of eating them. In high school, my friends and I frequented a a French bakery for after school snacks, putting our newly minted driver’s licenses to the most indulgent of uses. When my sister was living in Paris, I had a two-hour layover in the Charles de Gaulle Airport and she came and met me at the terminal. We hadn’t seen each other in nearly six months, and she brought us almond croissants from her favorite Parisian bakery to share over coffee and catch-up conversation. Four years later, I visited Paris myself and made it a priority to get a croissant from this very same bakery. To this day, I don’t think I’ll ever find anything that rivals its butteriness, flakiness, and all-encompassing decadence.
While I have not yet gained the courage or dough-making prowess to tackle baking almond croissants myself, I recently made a cake that was deliciously reminiscent of the filling of an almond croissant. I found the recipe in a great  new baking cookbook and it’s name, “Le Almond,” immediately stuck out to me. This cake uses four pure ingredients for its flavor profile—almond paste, vanilla bean, lemon, and orange—and allows each of them to shine through one and a half whopping sticks of butter and a scant amount of flour, resulting in an exceedingly moist, rich cake. I’d suggest cutting this cake into small squares to serve. A little bit of this cake goes a long way in adding a special sweet touch to a brunch spread and to bringing a little bit of my favorite French pastry to life.
Le Almond
From The Sugar Cube cookbook
Recipe makes 2 loaves (I halved it to make 1)
Cake:
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 7-oz tubes almond paste, broken into pieces
1 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
2 lemons
2 oranges
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter at room temp, cut into chunks
7 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Citrus soak:
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 oranges
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp water
1/4 vanilla bean
Confectioners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 325. Butter and flour two 9×5 loaf pans.
For cake: Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl (or use a whisk to mix them together).
Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat almond paste and sugar on low speed until mixture is sandy and only small lumps remain, 3-5 minutes. Turn mixer off and grate zest of 2 lemons and 2 oranges into mixing bowl to catch the oils. Turn mixer to medium and gradually at the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and mix until fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and remix in any clumps. Add eggs one at a time with mixer on medium speed, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl again. Add in flour and mix in on low speed until just combined. Scrape down bowl one last time and the pour batter into prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake in center of oven until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Cake will be darkish red-brown in color when ready.
For citrus soak: combine lemon juice, orange juice, sugar, and water in medium saucepan. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out seeds. Add seeds to pan along with pod and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 1 minute to thicken and concentrate flavors. Remove from heat and discard pod.
Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for about 20 minutes. Invert it onto a parchment-lined wire rack. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Brush liberally with citrus glaze and let cool completely before cutting into thick slices.

out of bed and into the kitchen

I’ve written before about how much I love brunch. While going out for brunch is always a real treat, the past two weekends I have stayed in for brunch, sharing leisurely Sunday midmorning meals among good friends. I have to admit that, unlimited refills of coffee aside, these homemade brunches just might trump the restaurant versions. One of the main reasons is because they have given me an excuse to have my hands deep in dough at 7:30am on a Sunday morning.

Such was the case two Sunday mornings ago, when I awoke with visions of vanilla sugar dancing in my head. Although I had already baked a decadent almond cake for brunch the night before (recipe coming soon), something inside beckoned me to preheat the oven and imbue the gray and misty morning with warmth and sweetness. I had all the ingredients on hand for my favorite cream scone recipe, which exclusively uses heavy cream as the fat element and comes together in a matter of minutes—the perfect recipe for a tranquil early morning in the kitchen.
 
While the original recipe calls for lemon zest and cranberries, I had vanilla bean on the brain, and thus, a new version of this scone was born complete with a vanilla bean glaze. These delicate mini scones were pure, simple, and delicious on their own, but also paired well with lemon curd at our brunch. Take this basic recipe and make it your own. I hope it adds a sweet touch to a leisurely Sunday brunch in many of your homes.
 

Vanilla Bean Cream Scones
(Adapted from Bon Appetit)
Makes about 24 mini scones

Scones:
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/4 cups whipping cream

Glaze:
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp half and half (or heavy cream)
Preheat oven to 425°F. Add sugar to a large bowl and scrape vanilla bean seeds into it. Rub mixture with your fingers to create a vanilla sugar. Add flour, baking powder and salt to sugar mixture. Add whipping cream and stir just until dough forms. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead gently just until dough holds together. Form dough into 10-inch-diameter, 1/2-inch-thick round. Cut into 12 wedges and then cut each wedge in half to create 24 mini scones. Place scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, until lightly golden. Transfer to rack to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, to make glaze, scrape seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean into a small bowl and combine with powdered sugar and half and half until smooth. Add more sugar or cream as needed to create desired texture. Spoon glaze over scones while they are still warm and allow glaze to set as scones cool completely.

in excess

Here we have some quantities that are slightly excessive:

1) Bean/legume recipes on sugarcured lately. Lentils+chickpeas+chili+stew= a sure sign that the season of hibernation fare is upon us.

2) Cups of coffee I consumed this weekend. I am mostly incapable of studying on cold days unless I have a warm drink close at hand. I should probably learn to like decaf.

3) Pharmaceutical agents I need to memorize in the next 2.5 weeks

4) Onions caramelized in my kitchen in the last 48 hours.

Sometimes I get flavors stuck in my head the way normal people get songs stuck in their heads and this weekend caramelized onions were on repeat.

The lion’s share of those vegetables-in-candy’s-clothing went into this frittata. The recipe was loosely adapted from Marcella Hazan and largely governed by the ingredients I had in my fridge. It turned out so nice that I made it twice- for both Saturday and Sunday brunch.

This frittata is ridiculously simple. The only key to success here is to really caramelize these onions. I wish I had gotten around to writing a rant about the way recipes suggest that onions can be properly caramelized in 5 minutes before this author beat me to the punch. Figure on at 30 minutes to get the onions sufficiently soft and delicious.

Tomato and Caramelized Onion Frittata

1 T butter

3 c onions, thinly sliced

salt and pepper, to taste

1 t sugar

1 c thin slices of zucchini or summer squash

6 eggs

1/2 c crumbled feta or goat cheese

1 large tomato, thinly sliced

First, you’ll need a heavy skillet that is safe to go under the broiler. It should be 8-9″ in diameter and nonstick or cast iron.

Preheat the broiler on high heat.

Heat said skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the onions, stirring to coat, and continue to cook until they are very soft and beginning to brown. If they start to get crispy before they are soft, turn down the heat. When they start to soften significantly (after 15 or 20 minutes of cooking), add the sugar and a pinch of salt and continue to cook until golden brown.

Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a large bowl, season with salt and pepper, and whisk thoroughly. Add half the cheese and whisk again to combine. Set aside.

Add the zucchini and cook for about 4 minutes until it is tender but not soggy. Add the eggs and stir to mix the liquid with the vegetables. Place the tomato slices on top in a single layer and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Let cook about 6 minutes over medium low. The bottom half of the egg mixture should cook through but the top will still be liquid.

Transfer the skillet to the broiler and cook another 3-4 minutes until the eggs are solid and the cheese begins to brown. Be careful not to burn yourself when you remove the pan from the oven- it will be flamin hot (not that I have ever done anything klutzy like that). Let cool at least a few minutes before serving. Serve hot, warm, or at room temp, cut into wedges.

this i believe

It’s hard to top a day on which I get to hang out with my mom and dad and watch my beloved St. Louis Cardinals beat the Cubbies in extra innings at Wrigley. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks and I don’t care if I every come back…

Even though there were at least as many Cards fans as Cubs fans in the stands, and even though the Cubs are a miserable 33 games out of first place, it’s clear that nothing can shake the beliefs of a true baseball fan. We sat behind an octogenarian Cubs fan who I overheard say he had been coming to the stadium since he was 8 years old. When I hollered for joy at Carlos Beltran’s game-tying homer in the late innings, this gentleman turned and said to us, “Sit down! You seemed like very nice people until I found out you were idiot Cardinals fans.”

This elderly gentleman’s loyalty to the lovable losers, even after (as my roommate puts it) “104 years of shame and embarrassment” since the Cubs last won the Series, got me thinking about the unshakable beliefs that baseball fans have in their clubs.  It got me thinking about this monologue from probably the best baseball movie of all time, Bull Durham.

Crash Davis Believes In….

I certainly believe that the DH should be outlawed and I certainly have my own list of beliefs that are questionable importance to anybody else in the world and of utmost importance to me. At the top of my personal list is “I believe that everybody should have a homemade cake on their birthday.” If you are my friend and I am aware that it is your birthday, this is a non-negotiable point.

Sometimes I am so busy that I forget about my own rule until 1 hour before I am supposed to be at the birthday party and the “cake”  is Pizookie, one of the laziest but most delicious desserts I know (Recipe= Tollhouse cookie dough baked until warm but still gooey and topped with vanilla ice cream).

Sometimes I make my very favorite chocolate cake of all time and then forget to take pictures of the finished product. And now I have a wonderful excuse to make it again soon so I can post it.

Sometimes I want to serve birthday cake for breakfast and so I make this coffee cake. I believe that any cake can be a breakfast cake if it tastes good with coffee, but not all people share this belief and so I am forced to make a cake that is socially acceptable for breakfast.

I believe that the combo of sour cream, chocolate chips, and cinnamon-sugar is as sweet as the perfectly executed 4-6-3 double play. I bet that even that crochety old Cubs fans would agree with me on this one and I bet you will too.

Classic Coffee Cake

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 stick butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 c granulated sugar

3 large eggs, separated

1 1/2 t vanilla

2 c sour cream

3 c all-purpose flour

1 t baking powder

1 1/2 t baking soda

3/4 t salt

1-2 c semisweet chocolate chips (adjust depending on how chocolatey you want it to be)

1/2 c sugar

1 t cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter or spray a 9×13 pan and cover the bottom with a sheet of parchment paper.

Cream butter and 1 1/2 c sugar in a large bowl. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Sift together flour, soda, baking powder, and salt. Alternate mixing in dry ingredients and sour cream until the mixture is smooth and very thick. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into batter.

Mix together the remaining cinnamon and sugar. Spread half the cake batter in the prepared pan. Sprinkle with half the cinnamon-sugar and half the chocolate. Dollop on the remaining batter and spread it carefully. Top with remaining cinnamon-sugar and chocolate, pressing the chips into the batter slightly. Bake for 40-50 minutes until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Serve with coffee (duh) and revel in eating cake for breakfast…

good eggs, or confessions of a cheap/broke foodie

The other day, scanning food blogs while eating a quick dinner of scrambled eggs with veggies, I bookmarked a recipe for ratatouille with baked eggs. The author called “a great date recipe,” and I had to laugh at one of the commenter’s response to his claim: “pretty sure I’d be onto the fact that my date was cheap/broke if he served me eggs for dinner!”

While I can think of dozens of dinners more romantic than ratatouille with eggs, I’m pretty sure that this 20something cheap/broke vegetarian foodie would be onto the fact that my date knew a thing or two about quick, delicious, inexpensive suppers. While some would call my eggs-for-dinner habit cheap or lazy, I’ll side with Julia Child on this one: she called her rolled omelet recipe “dinner in half a minute.” Maybe ten years and a regular paycheck down the road, I’ll see things from that snarky commenter’s perspective. But it’s more likely that I will have perfected Julia’s omelet technique by then and I’ll be showing it off to anyone who’ll deign to have such a peasant’s meal.

This shakshuka, another gem of a recipe from Plenty (see green couscous and baba ghanoush posts), is pretty nearly my perfect food. It’s comforting but light , it’s tomatoey, and it has a kick. I served it- without shame of being judged as cheap- at a potluck dinner this week, and my only regret was that I had to share it. It’s great for feeding a crowd but could easily be scaled down. Ottolenghi’s recipe doesn’t call for hot peppers, but I added a poblano to intensify the smoky flavor.

Shakshuka

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 cup olive oil or vegetable oil

1 large onion, sliced

1 red and one yellow pepper, sliced

1 poblano pepper, seeds removed, diced

1 T sugar

2 T fresh thyme leaves, removed from stems

1/4 c chopped parsly

2 T chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish

6 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 tsp paprika

Salt and black pepper

8 eggs

Start by prepping all of the vegetables. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but it will make the process run much more smoothly.

In a large pan (I used my soup pot), dry roast the cumin seeds on high heat for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the oil and onion and saute until the onions are soft and have a little color. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Add peppers, sugar, herbs, and paprika and continue cooking on high heat for 5-10 minutes, until everything is fairly soft.

Add the tomatoes (with any juice that escaped while you chopped them) and some salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes. The mix should have the consistency of a pasta sauce. Add water if it seems too thick and simmer longer if it seems too thin. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Divide the sauce between 2 medium sized frying pans. Make 4 gaps in the mixture in each pan with the back of a spoon and carefully break an egg into each gap. Sprinkle with salt and cover the pans with lids. Cook on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes until the eggs are done to your liking. The white should be just set and the yolk runny. You can baste the egg whites with the tomato liquid while they cook, but don’t disturb the yolk. Sprinkle with cilantro and feta cheese and serve with crusty bread or pita.

On brunch

I was born at 11:28am. I’d like to think this is why I have a deep fondness for the mid-morning hours and particularly for the sweet and savory smorgasbord that is brunch. I’m almost certain that I entered the world with a keen sense of the fluffy omelettes, jam-smothered toast, and foamy lattes being consumed all around me. To this day, I find great comfort, security, and serenity in brunchtime.

Brunch is leisure. It is protected time in which the day is still young and full of possibility. Time is counted not in minutes but in the number of coffee cups that have been refilled.

Brunch welcomes everyone to the plate. Salty smoked salmon, slices of juicy fruit, drippy eggs, rich pastries, crisp salads, and bubbly champagne are merrily married.

Brunch is friendship. It is the meal over which I have shared some of the best conversations with people dearest to me, allowing sweet memories to languidly linger in pools of maple syrup.

Summertime has afforded both Kate and I the privilege to brunch at some delightful cafes around Chicago in the company of good people (hello Claire and Danielle!). My brunch philosophy: 1. Find friends who like to share 2. Order two items—one sweet, one savory 3. Split them down the middle 4. Savor it all with a big cup of coffee.

Kingsbury Street Cafe — 1523 North Kingsbury Street. The sweet: lemon pancakes with blueberries, creme anglaise, and lemon sauce (ah-mazing). The savory: goat cheese, spinach, and mushroom omelette with roasted tomatoes and homemade multigrain baguette toast.

The Bongo Room –1152 South Wabash Avenue (South Loop location). The sweet: vanilla bean brioche french toast with vanilla bean sauce, strawberries, and chocolate crumble. The savory: artichoke, pesto, roasted yellow pepper, feta, and avocado omelette with dill potatoes and multigrain toast. Pardon the mishmash of a photograph.

Medici on 57th – 1327 East 57th Street. Abandoned my philosophy and went to town on the incredible homemade pastries: carrot muffin and chocolate croissant. Side of fruit for good measure. Enjoyed on their rooftop patio.

I am always on the hunt for new brunch spots, so please share your favorites!

Wishing you many beautiful brunchtimes.