Strawberry Shortcake

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I think the last time I posted I lamented the sluggishness of the oncoming spring weather here in Omaha.  Well, surprise surprise, it’s still not here.  We’ve had freezing rain, snow, rain, clouds, wind, and pretty much everything else you can think of that isn’t spring weather.  To top off the disappointing weather, I have been deep in finals for this semester at school.

With this easy version of strawberry shortcake, I hoped to usher in the sun, the budding trees, and the singing birds.  For the moment, it lifted our spirits, but ultimately, spring has yet to be sprung here in my lovely city.

This isn’t so much a shortcake as it is a sponge cake.  It’s light and airy due to the whipped egg whites, but it retains a tender cake texture because of the egg yolks, sugar, and small amount of flour.

What I love so much about strawberry shortcake is that there are many variations or additions one can make.  For instance, one could add Cointreau or Grand Marnier to the strawberries as they macerate.  Instead of a liqueur, one could add a splash of balsamic vinegar or even the seeds from a vanilla pod.

As for the cake, I could see orange zest as being a nice addition to the batter.  Or perhaps a dash of cardamom for a floral note?  I enjoy adding fresh herbs to my desserts and I think a little fresh thyme would be lovely in the batter!

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Roasted Carrot Soup

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The weather here in Omaha is on the fence.  It doesn’t know what it wants.  Sunny?  Overcast?  Chilly?  Rainy?  Make up your mind already and move on!  Yes, it is Spring, but my brain wants nonstop sunny weather.  Anyway, I woke up the other morning unsure of what to make for that night’s dinner.  I knew I had some things going on during the day, so standing over the stove for hours wasn’t an option.  I wanted something fresh, something Spring-like, something easy.

After my day’s activities, I stopped at the market.  Wandering around the produce section, I spotted some bright orange carrots.  They were exactly what the overcast day called for.  I thought, “Well, I could roast these and maybe have pork chops or something on the side.”  But I wanted to do something more with them.  Carrots are an under-utilized vegetable, if you ask me.  They have a natural sweetness that comes out during the roasting process, but I didn’t want to stop there.

Soup.  I came up with soup.  Sounds boring, right?  Or weird, maybe?  Well, you’d be wrong on both accounts.  This soup was easily one of the tastiest vegetable-centered dishes to come out of my kitchen.  I could hardly believe it!  Not that it was without faults, but those aside, it was hearty, spicy, a little sweet, and totally satisfying.

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This recipe was also just enough for Scott and I to have dinner and then leftovers the following day for lunch.  It reheated on the stove quite nicely and paired well with a sliced baguette and salted butter.

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Roasted Carrot Soup

**You’ll need an immersion blender or regular blender for this soup.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 – 2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds or half-moons
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
cracked black pepper
kosher salt
1 leek, white and light green parts only, sliced lengthwise and then into half-moons
3 large shallots, chopped
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons ginger paste
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake (adjust if you like it a little spicier)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 quart chicken stock (use vegetable stock if you want to go vegetarian)

Method:

Heat oven to 400ºF.  Place carrots in a medium bowl and drizzle evenly with 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Sprinkle with cracked black pepper and kosher salt.  Toss with your hands so the carrots are evenly coated and turn out onto a large rimmed baking sheet.  Roast for 25 to 30 minutes or until tender.  Remove from oven and set aside.

When carrots are done, heat remaining 1 tablespoon in a large stockpot over medium heat.  Add shallots and leek to pan, sprinkle with kosher salt and cracked black pepper and sauté until tender, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring often.  Be mindful not to burn the shallots and leeks, adjust heat if necessary.

Add minced garlic and ginger paste, stir well.  Sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in crushed red pepper flake, ground cumin, and ground coriander and stir until fragrant.  Add sherry vinegar and honey, stir into mixture.  Add roasted carrots and chicken stock.

Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and allow it to simmer for at least 15 minutes.  Use an immersion blender or regular blender to purée.  Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil.  A dollop of crème fraîche or some chopped fresh cilantro would be lovely, as well.

 

 

Our New Orleans Experience

Last week Scott and I spent five days in one of our favorite cities, New Orleans.  We went with two of our closest friends, Sarah and Matthew.  It was their first time to the Crescent City, but Scott and I have had the pleasure of visiting many times.  It was a treat to spend time with them, enjoying all the wonderful food and drink that New Orleans has to offer.

And eat and drink we did!  Scott and I were so excited to introduce some of our favorite places to Sarah and Matthew.  Of course, we hit up Café du Monde for beignets and café au lait.  We also visited The Napoleon House for a muffaletta sandwich and a Pimm’s Cup, The Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel for, what else, a Sazerac, and we ate fresh oysters shucked by Thomas at Pascale’s Manale.

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Ricotta Gnocchi

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I have been so behind on posts lately!  Ack!  I’m sorry.  Hopefully, this super simple recipe for ricotta gnocchi will make up for my absence.  I made this not long ago and served it with roasted broccoli and it was delicious.  It had the flavor of ricotta cheese and maintained its pillowy texture – not heavy at all.

Most gnocchi is made with potatoes, but frankly, the prep for potato gnocchi was way too time consuming for that particular night.  Ricotta it was!

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All that is required for this recipe is one bowl and a large floured surface – and some patience.  Because the dough itself is a bit soft, you’ll need to flour your hands well and make sure the surface is floured, in order to roll the dough into ropes.  Be patient and don’t worry about the way they look.  They’ll taste amazing.

As for the ricotta – go for whole milk ricotta when choosing at the store.  It’ll be thicker and have more flavor.  If you find that there is a lot of liquid in the container when you open it, dump the whole lot into a fine mesh strainer and let it drain.  The less liquid, the easier it’ll come together.

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Too Busy To Cook??

Yes…it’s true.  The past two weeks have been two of the busiest weeks so far this year.  School is really throwing down and it seems like just when I have it all under control, my classes knock me down again.  Oh, and I should mention our furnace died earlier this week and it’s winter in the midwest.  Stressed!  Fear not, though, as a new furnace is being installed at this very moment!

My sincere apologies to all of you dear and devoted readers.  You are out there, right?

I have only made a few things worth sharing in the last two weeks – ramen and some lovely snacks I brought to an Oscar party.

The ramen:

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Now, this dish was no easy feat.  Just ask David Chang, as it was his recipe I followed.  I’m absolutely loving my Momofuku Cookbook and I’ve been trying to make at least one thing from it every week.  The ramen broth was quite an ordeal.  I had to order five pounds of pork bones from the butcher and then wait.  And wait.  After about five days, I got the call that they were ready.  I had all the other necessary ingredients: kombu, dried shiitake mushrooms, scallions, chicken legs, smoky bacon, onion, and carrots.  I couldn’t wait.  Into the oven went the pork bones!

Before:

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After:

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Just let me tell you, after all was said and done, after all the roasting, simmering, and waiting – the flavor of the broth was divine.  I wish I could hug David Chang and thank him for bringing something so amazing into my life.

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Beignets

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Fat Tuesday was this week and while others around the nation were stuffing themselves, I was eyeball-deep in required reading for class.  As a reward for my academic diligence, I thought I would whip up a batch of homemade beignets.

After some research, I began to feel a little intimidated.  I don’t have a very good track record when it comes to frying things, but Hells Bells, I wanted beignets!  Beignets I shall have!

The dough itself was relatively easy to throw together, and the fact that it only required a 1-hour rise time was definitely attractive.

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The dough is quite sticky and requires a heavily-floured surface in order to be rolled out.

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Apple Brown Butter Upside-Down Cake

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If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that I have a special place in my heart reserved for America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.  Last April, I was chosen as a finalist for their “Learn To Cook” series.  Alas, I did not win, but I still love them and put my full trust in their tried-and-true recipes.  What I love so much about their recipes is that they test out many different methods, using many different ingredients until they settle on the “perfect” way to do something.

This cake is no exception.  Normally, when one thinks of an upside-down cake, images of juicy rounds of pineapple studded with shiny and saccharin-sweet maraschino cherries come to mind.  But this one is different in so many wonderful ways.

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On Goats, Halibut, and Creamed Cabbage with Bacon

Around noon yesterday, my husband and I met our friend Ryan at one of our favorite bars near our home, Krug Park.  Sundays are the perfect day to sit down for a Bloody Mary, and Anne knows how to make a good one.  We met there not just for the great drinks and good conversation…we met there to talk about goats.  More specifically, Nigerian Dwarf Goats.

See, our friend Ryan is a lot like me in that he has a passion for food and cooking.  Unlike me, he is a chef here in town.  But he takes his love for food one step further and as a result, deserves the label of urban farmer.  He and his wife raise chickens, ducks, and they have quite the green thumb when it comes to their garden.  But that wasn’t enough for Ryan.  He wanted to add some goats to the mix.  I volunteered my goat-sitting services immediately.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of our communal goat adventures.  Right now, we’re just in the planning stages.  I can’t even tell you how excited I am to experiment with the milk from our little goats.  I’m thinking cheese.  Lots and lots of cheese.  At least to start with.  Then, who knows what?  All I know is I’m excited to be a part of Ryan’s endeavors.

Now, on to dinner.

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Chicken Canzanese

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Forgive me for my brief absence, dear readers.  My husband had an art opening in Wichita this weekend, so I was unable to experiment in the kitchen.  I did miss it, though, and got right to it on Sunday night.  However, that night was a simple dinner of pan seared chicken breasts with a light salad (I wanted something easy).

But last night…last night was a different story.  See, the weather in Wichita was lovely while we were visiting – in the 60’s, sunny, with a light breeze – but Omaha, well, Omaha was straight up winter when we arrived home.  Bitterly cold with an unforgiving wind that blew right through me.

For whatever reason, chicken was on the menu again.  But I wanted something heartier than a chicken breast with salad.  I wanted something braised, with a sauce, on polenta.  I wanted a rich, warming dish perfect for a winter’s night.  Chicken Canzanese it was.

Canzano is a small hamlet in the Abruzzo region of Italy.  On a map, it would be located in the mid-calf area of the country.  The dish is absolutely delicious, and why wouldn’t it be?  It’s flavored with prosciutto, garlic, white wine, sage, rosemary, clove, and red pepper flakes, and braised in the oven for a solid hour.

I chose to use chicken thighs for this version, but I’m sure it would be equally good with a whole cut-up chicken, chicken breasts, or even turkey breasts or thighs (though I would imagine you’d have to increase cooking time).  The sauce is absolutely so wonderful that I could see it going well with fish or Cornish hens, as well.

The only other notation I’ll make is that if you can’t find prosciutto, feel free to use bacon as a substitute.  I made some polenta to go under the chicken, but I could see noodles as a nice substitute, as well.

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