Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Homemade Pizza: A Surprisingly Easy Dinner Idea

No, don't get me wrong, I love me some Cottage Inn Cheeseburger pizza or a large, deep dish sausage and onion from Jet's, but let's be honest with ourselves -at around $15 a pie, that's a lot to spend on something that you don't get to keep.

Now normally I will make my own pizza using dough from the market. That's the little trick here - I go to Whole Foods or a local bakery that I know makes pizza, and ask for a ball of their dough. It usually runs no more that $2.50. Then all you have to do is add your own toppings and throw it in the oven.

Yesterday, however, was a special day because I took on the task of making my own dough...using my stand mixer's "knead" attachment :) I love that thing! I used a recipe from the Williams Sonoma cookbook:

2 1/3 c flour
3/4 c lukewarm water with 1 Tbs yeast dissolved into it for 10 minutes
1 tsp salt

It's that simple, really. You just put the flour and salt in the mixer, make a well in the middle, pour in the yeast after the 10 minutes and mix until the mixture starts to look like...well...dough. I added 1/2 tsp oregano and a sprinkling of garlic powder to mine to give some extra flavor. Then you take the dough out and knead it for about 10 minutes - until it's smooth and elastic-like. Next, set it in a large bowl that's lightly oiled, cover with saran wrap, and let rise for about 2 hours - by this time it should have doubled in size. What did I do during that 2 hours - went for a nice workout, you know, to burn off the calories :)

After the 2 hours were up, I took out the dough, punched it down, and rolled/stretched it into the crust. I poked holes all over with a fork and set it in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes to pre-bake. Then I took it out, added the tomato sauce (I really have fallen in love with Classico Spicy Tomato), cheese, and toppings...but I won't lie, that sounds much simpler than it actually was...

...because after cutting the ball of mozzarella I had leftover from last week, I sampled some (tgfp=thank gosh for picking) and realized it was no longer good. Now mozzarella balls cost $4 a piece, so I was already bummed it wasn't usable, but I was also too proud to go to the store and buy another one - so I improvised. I had some left-over sausage cream cheese mixture from Saturday - see last post - so I put that over half the pizza. Pepperoni went over the other half and the whole thing was sprinkled with caramelized onion because they makes anything taste a MILLION times better. What about cheese? I shredded some Seaside Cheddar from Whole Foods and sprinkled that on top along with some pecorino. The results were spectacular, but trust me, this totally could have gone the opposite way...



Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dinner and a Movie (or Two)

When you think Saturday night, you wouldn't think "staying in" would be at the top of the list of uber fun things to do. But let me tell you, this Saturday night was one of the best I've ever had.

Three of my most favorite people came over for a night of cooking, laughing, and romantic comedies. We started by watching the USA play Ghana in the World Cup (something we might all like to forget), then we made jam thumbprint cookies, took a visit to the local Blockbuster (one of the most eventful ones I've ever had), and finally made a simple yet yummy dinner with biscuit dough. Where was the bf, you wonder? In the next room killing zombies with a friend. My girlfriends and I got a kick out of hearing their strategic attack calls during lulls in the movie :)

Below you will find the recipe for the biscuits and cookies.

Jam Thumbprint cookies:

For these I used a recipe by Ina Garten found here
  • The great thing about these cookies is that there isn't any egg - meaning you can eat the dough!!! My friend and I, as the designated "pickers" of the bunch, took advantage of this convenience quite a few times :)
  • I like using raspberry jam, but any jam you like is fine
  • Note that the cookies don't spread in the oven, so you can place them pretty close together.
  • Also, I refrigerated the cookies after forming them so they REALLY wouldn't spread all over the place.

Sausage Biscuit things:

Thanks to a friend's friend, I was introduced to this recipe which is going to be a staple at any party I host in the future. The great thing is, you can cut the biscuit dough in half and use mini muffin tins and then fill with different mixtures - for example: ham, cream cheese, and scallions or sauteed onion and goat cheese with sundried tomatoes.

  • You just take store bought biscuits and press them into a cup form and then into a muffin tin
  • Brown about 1 package of free sausage - along with a sprinkling of pepper and salt. Drain and put this in a bowl and let cool somewhat.
  • Add 1 package of 1/3 fat cream cheese and mix together
  • Press 1 spoonful of this mixture into the biscuit dough (which is easy since we already formed a bowl-shape)
  • Put in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes
  • At 12 minutes, take them out of the oven and press the filling down (the biscuits have baked somewhat at this point and pushed the sausage mixture up - the idea here is to keep the filling from oozing over)
  • Bake another 10 minutes until golden brown

Tips from the Cook:

  1. When hosting a baking party, it's a good idea to pick your recipes beforehand - easy ones that involve lots of hands, so everyone has a job to do and feels included - even if one of these jobs is taste-tester :)
  2. Divy up the ingredients before as well - this way one person doesn't have to buy everything and figure out pay-backs, etc. when friends are over. Also, it's kind of awkward to ask for money when you're all having a good time together!
  3. Pair with a good movie - we watched Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and The Proposal - and some great conversation and you have a fun, relaxing, tasty evening. The last thing we decided before heading our separate ways was that baking night will be a monthly event for sure!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Restaurant Week and Random Updates

These lovely images were taken from here and here

Hello all!

Don't think I've forgotten you - I just have been actively stopping myself from baking because although my taste buds get happy, my waistline does not.

Tuesday I made a delish pasta salad but alas, forgot to take pictures! So I will just have to tell you it was tasty and you'll have to believe me.
from: http://www.infogirl.org/img/sept05/main_street_restaurants.jpg

I want you all to know that in Ann Arbor, for only a couple more days, is this awesome event called "Restaurant Week" where top restaurants open their doors with a pre-fixed price and semi-fixed menu. Typically, there are 3 options per course and they serve 2 or 3 courses, so this really is a deal. My boyfriend and I went out for a combined graduation/congratulations lunch at an amazing restaurant called The Real Seafood Company. Our first course was the soup course: I had gazpacho and he had New England Clam Chowder. For our entree we were served shrimp in an anise-spiked cream sauce and BBQ salmon. And for dessert we had their take on a strawberry cream puff: puff pastry triangles layers with homemade strawberry whipped cream and drizzled with a strawberry reduction sauce...yum yum yum! Three courses, plus their amazing, buttery bread cost $12/person. On average, we leave there having spent $40 or $50/person (the food is THAT good). So needless to say, we were both happy - especially my bf because he paid...thank you, honey!

Yesterday I tried this really awesome pub called Conor O'Neill's which had an added course of a selection of beers to taste. For this excursion, I went with my good friend and owner of the Patticake blog. We had their take on spinach/artichoke dip (which was tasty and o-so-cheddary), grilled Turkey Reubens, and strawberry rhubarb crumble for dessert.

Check out http://annarborrestaurantweek.com/ for a list of participating restaurants and their menus. Let me know how it goes if you visit one :)

Finally, look out for an amazing post Saturday evening (but most likely Sunday morning) because this weekend some girls are coming over for another BAKING DAY!!!! On the menu we have sausage biscuit things (yes, that's their formal name) and shortbread thumbprint cookies with raspberry jam. Get psyched!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Just Peachy!

One of the nice things about having a friend close by is that when you feel sick, as I did yesterday, the other person can make you dinner. Last night my boyfriend made me a delicious meal of chicken sandwiches. He pounded, breaded, and fried a few chicken breasts, caramelized an onion, and made a sauce to put over them. Thank you, honey!!!

After dinner I felt much, much better and decided to show my appreciation by making him a peach pie. My boyfriend is originally from Maryland and loves anything peachy :)
Here's the recipe I use for basically all pies:
The Crust:

I used a store-bought one - it's easier and I really don't eat much of the crust anyway. If you want, you can make your own using any recipe you find, but really a plain ole pre-made one is just fine.

The Topping:

This is my FAVORITE part of any pie because I use a crumble topping. I have an insane love of crumble and my boyfriend always teases me because I pick it off the top of the pie when it has finished being baked. Anyway, what you do is put about 3/4 cup oats in a bowl with a sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add about 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup brown sugar. Mix this all together then cut in with a fork or your fingers a little less than 1/2 stick softened butter. You can add more oats if the mixture looks too buttery and more butter if...well, you get the picture. I also sprinkle in a little almond or vanilla extract - these extracts go really well with stone fruit or other fruits like apples.
The Fruit:

I peeled and cored 5 peaches and sliced them into different thicknesses - I personally like a little uneven texture when you bite into a pie. I then added about 1/4 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar, a tad vanilla, a sprinkling of salt, and a squirt lemon juice and let this sit for maybe 15 minutes to accumulate juices. In a sauce pan I added the juice of a half lemon and 1/2 tsp cornstarch - these I whisked together to eliminate any bumps. I warmed this till the mixture thickened a little, then added the juices from the fruit. Lastly, I added the fruit and mixed everything together. You can eliminate this last over-the-stove part if you don't want a gooey filling - but I myself love the gooey center/crumbly top combo.

So, I poured the fruit into the crust and baked the pie at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Before putting the pie pan in the oven I set it on a baking tray so any spillover wouldn't end up on the bottom of our oven.

You can serve this with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream or just plain.
A good friend came over and we coupled pie with a romantic comedy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Home Alone Doesn't Have To Mean Freezer Food

My boyfriend and I spend a lot of time together, but he's not from Michigan so when he visits his home state, I use that time to find perfect welcome-back recipes. No joke, I made this one with the ingredients I already had - and here's a secret, a lot of them were the kitchen rejects - bits of stuff I had left but no idea what to do with.

For instance, I first chopped the flat-leafed Italian parsley (note, I had no idea where this recipe was going at the time). This was left-over from some meatloaf we made a couple nights before. The shelf life of parsley is much shorter than you'd think. This bunch had another 2-3 days left. I honestly think the supermarkets purposely give you gobs of parsley knowing you can never finish it. But back to the cooking - chop the parsley.

Next, do all your prep work. This means slicing. I love Mediterranean-esque combinations and after studying abroad in Italy, I came to really appreciate pasta. It's not a vessel for sauce; it is something to be savored.

  • Roughly chop some black olive - I like these because they seem oilier which in this case is a good thing!

  • Also, chop about half an onion and mince 3-4 cloves garlic (I LOOOOVE garlic, so adjust the amount to your liking).

  • Cut half a package of baby/grape/pear/ tomatoes in half. See, this recipe really is about what you have on hand. You could even use sundried tomatoes if you wanted to. Again, the tomatoes were the ones I had used to take to work that week and I didn't really have enough for another salad, so I threw them into the pasta.

  • Put the tomatoes on a sheet pan, cover with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes - until they looked dried out and their juices have concentrated

  • Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a saucepan and saute the garlic and onions. The onions should be almost caramelized when you've finished - 10-15 minutes

  • Add the olives and tomatoes and drizzle with a little more olive oil - set aside

Make the chicken - this is optional, but I really think it works well.

  • Heat oil in a deep saucepan
  • Pound down some chicken breast so it is flat
  • Cover with seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
  • Layer chicken in the oil and let crisp up
  • Drain on a paper towel to remove excess oil

When I made this I was actually really surprised that the oil didn't seep into the crumbs - the chicken just got deliciously crispy.

For the pasta - this is how I cook mine and I don't care what other people say is taboo and whatnot; it works.

  • Add about 1 tsp of salt to a pot of water and let come to a boil
  • Put in a drizzle of oil and the pasta - I used spaghetti
  • Cook for about 8-10 minutes or until the pasta is al dente (to the tooth - meaning still a little tough in the middle). I've learned though, that everyone's taste for pasta is different. The dish is ultimately for you, so make it the way you like it.

Drain the pasta and add it to the sauteed items - heat thoroughly and add some more olive oil. Since this is not being cooked anymore, use a fruitier olive oil - one you can really taste. Place the pasta on a plate with a couple pieces of chicken and sprinkle with the parsley.

Now...it is time to eat...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Weekend Lasagna

It's been a while since my boyfriend and I have had a free evening to spend together. As two recent grads, we don't have the luxury of eating at expensive restaurants once a month for a date night. But we can dine lavishly at home, which can be more fun because we get to take part in the food-making process.

After surveying our supply of food items - the wheels in my head turning all the while - I realized we had enough to make a delicious lasagna-ish dinner! Vodka sauce, lasagna noodles, ground beef, mozzarella cheese. However, we were sans onion, which I put into everything - but we were both tired and decided we could make it work with plain sauce; no specialized add-ins. As we began cooking however, my boyfriend looked at me and said, "This just isn't going to work. We don't have any garlic - I can't handle that." So we popped the frozen ground beef in the microwave to defrost and ran to the store to grab a couple Vidalia onions and a head of garlic.

We arrived home, stocked with supplies, and started on the lasagna. My mom, bless her heart, hardly ever made lasagna when I was growing up because we mainly ate curries and rice - not pasta. But thanks to my experience in Italy, I properly learned to make some key Italian dishes. Lasagna was one of them.

So first we chopped and sauteed half a Videlia onion - known for it's sweet flavor, this onion is perfect for something like a lasagna which, due to the tomato sauce, can be quite acidic. After the onion has turned opaque, I added 3 large cloves of minced garlic and let the onions/garlic continue sauteing until the onions were a golden color.

We moved this into a bowl and sauteed the beef next. We kept the beef in larger chunks because I think it makes for a nice texture. I personally, like to know exactly what I am eating. We seasoned the meat with the following: please note that I don't exactly measure when I cook - the way I gauge how much I'm using is how many turns around the pan I sprinkle the ingredients. So you can change any of these amounts to suit your own tastes.

1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder (these 3 things consist of the Holy Trinity of my mom's cooking and she passed it along to me)
1/4 tsp nutmeg (this is a secret ingredient that brings out a lot of flavor)

So while my boyfriend was working on the meat, I started on the sauce. I emptied a container of Classico Vodka Sauce into a saucepan - LOVE vodka sauce, by the way - along with some leftover Prego Original that we had in the fridge, 1/2 tsp oregano, more garlic powder, and a tad salt. The vodka sauce is a little creamy so it also cuts the acidity of the tomatoes. Any jarred sauce needs to be spiced up a little, in my opinion - I don't like pouring something directly from the box into the frying pan - it makes me nervous... I then added the onion mixture and the ground beef and let this simmer over medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes. We did a little preliminary clean-up during this time just so there wouldn't be as much to do later.

The lasagna noodles I have come to absolutely adore are the ones in the box which you don't have to cook beforehand. They are more square shaped - I forgot to take a picture so I apologize for that. I believe Barilla makes them - but they aren't long like the "regular" lasagna noodles. Using this kind is tastier, easier, and faster. Perfect.

We started by layering some of the meat mixture on the bottom of a Pyrex dish. Because we weren't cooking the noodles beforehand we needed to be sure they were covered with liquid so they could cook through. We layered: noodles, sauce, cheese, noodles, sauce, cheese, noodles, sauce, and cheese. So you'll have about 3 layers total. For the last sauce layer, I mixed in some leftover vodka sauce with shrimp that my friend had made for me a couple nights before. This ended up giving a great twist to the recipe because it was homemade, had shrimp, and was spicier than the other sauce. But you can use all the same kind if you want - I just wanted to show you that you can really throw anything in this and it won't be a disaster :) Notice I did not use ricotta cheese!!! I only layered a little mozzarella between the layers. For the very top layer I mixed mozzarella and picorino because it has a little more edge and bite to it - pecorino is a sheep's milk Italian cheese, similar to parmigiano reggiano. When I was in Italy, they didn't do a ricotta layer - them made a bechemel sauce. But this works just fine and I personally don't like my lasgana to be so stiff it's like a cake.

Here is the final product before it went into a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. I first covered it with aluminium foil so the cheese wouldn't burn. After the 35 minutes was up, I took off the foil and stuck a knife in the middle: it went through, so I knew the noodles were cooked. Then I put it back in the oven for 7 minutes so it would turn a little golden on top.

We ate this with Trader Joe's Garlic Bread, but honestly it is fine just as is.

And there you have it - date night lasagna!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Brownies for Breakfast?

Not gonna lie, there are some things even I cannot eat in the morning. Today I learned that one of those things is a brownie. Truth be told, I don't really know how much I ate, all I know is that I rolled out of bed and while I was ganaching the top and cutting and priming them for my department, little pieces kept falling off and I couldn't bear to throw them away. So I ate them, and became quite ill. But the good kind...

I have really caught the baking bug as of late and so on a recent trip to the grocery store, my boyfriend ever so slyly added another box of brownie mix to the shopping cart. Smart man because as soon as I saw it I had a plan - raspberry brownies! So decadent, so fudgy, so delicious. I think, if there's anything I've learned from my experiments with brownie mix, it is this:

ANYTHING can go in a brownie and be tasty - marshmallows, peanut butter, M&Ms, Snickers. All you need to do to take it to that next level - to make it a little more "gourmet" if you will, is dress it up. For example, after baking the brownies, I made some more ganache and spread it over the top, then drizzled over some raspberry jam (which I heated in a saucepan to loosen). Now people know what's in it AND it looks like it should be on a magazine cover.

All I did was prepare the brownie mix according to the instructions, substituting milk for water. I also ended up omitting the fudge packet (because it was late and I forgot), but everything turned out fine :) Again, I used the Betty Crocker Ultimate Fudge mix- I have found this mix makes a higher brownie while maintaining moisture, which I really, really like. There is something so satisfying about sinking your teeth into a tall, chocolaty, sinfully delicious concoction. Where was I again? Oh yes! After making the batter, I layered about half in the pan - I have really found that I enjoy making brownies in a round cake pan. I think it's because there seems to be less "edge" per piece (also I believe there is less surface area) and so the brownies stay fresh longer.

I also coated the pan in waxed paper and then buttered the paper = no sticking. I made the mistake of not doing this last time and my poor pan paid dearly for it. The brownies were vacuum sealed to the bottom: we tried cutting them out with a knife and then one of us had the idea to bang the pan with a spaghetti sauce jar which, as we foun, dented the cakepan. It was a funny little episode that taught me it is just as important to line and butter your pans as it is to make a good recipe.

So, there you are with 1/2 of the brownie mix layered in. Now, warm up about 1/3 cup raspberry jam and plop it over the top. Slightly spread it out so there is a layer. Alternatively, you could put in all the batter, pour over the jam, and use a toothpick to swirl it in. But I was ganaching this so it didn't matter to see the raspberry jam AND I think having it in the middle contributes to a more concentrated raspberry flavor.

Cover with the remaining batter and bake as directed

When the time is up and after they have cooled slightly - like 1 1/2 hours, make some ganache by heating 1/3 c chocolate chips with a couple Tbs heavy cream and spread it over the top

I brought these into work as a Thursday treat - so I think the recipe is great as a party item or something to share when you don't have tons of time but want to make an impression. I promise next week there will be more savory items. I have just been in a baking mood :)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Dear readers (according to SiteMeter there are a few of you out there),

I want to make a raspberry cheesecake - anyone have a recipe I can work off of?


Monday, June 7, 2010

Dear Mom...

Dear Mom,

Have I ever told you that you are the best?

My mother and I have, thankfully, gotten much closer this year. I think if I removed her name from her emails, it's like one of my best friends is writing to me - she uses smiley faces and exclamation points and "likes" - seriously, maman joon, you are amazing.

The last couple of days my boyfriend and I have been eating all the tasty leftovers from last week. But I don't want my posts getting stale! After getting off the phone with my mom, I realized what I should write about - her :)

My mother and I have very similar tastes - we can each go on vacation separately and come back wearing the same clothes. It's hilarious! For as long as I can remember, my mom has made me the same birthday cake (by my own request, of course): almond with whipped cream and raspberries. This past year, I got to return the favor (but maybe not 21 years of them). I replaced raspberries with strawberries, since strawberries are her fav.

Here's what you do:


Find a good pound cake recipe (I think any recipe from the Williams Sonoma cookbooks are the best) and add sour cream and a whole stick of almond paste, chopped into itty bitty pieces. I add sour cream to almost any cake I am making because I love the tang it adds and also the moisture. I also will throw in a tad of buttermilk, too. So you'd just lessen the amount of milk you use and add the buttermilk. Adding extra sour cream, I've found, doesn't mess with the recipe - you might just want to bake it a little longer. Also, most pound cake recipes call for 2 sticks of butter which I think is insane: I cut it down to about 1 1/2 and then add the sour cream (like 1/3 cup - and I use the lowfat kind; no one can tell).


Make some fresh whipped cream. I learned how to do this from my mom when I was in preschool :) so it's like a habit for me now. You just whip the cream until stiff peaks form - but don't over-beat because then you have butter. You can look up a snippet on how to do this if you're unsure on YouTube or something. For 1/2 cup of whipping cream I added about 2-3Tbs powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp almond extract - yum!!!! Almond extract is my favorite ingredient!!!!! I don't like my whipped cream too sweet, so you can add more sugar if you want to. You add this stuff when the cream starts to thicken a bit. For a cake, I'd make about 1 1/2 cups of cream, unwhipped, total = 3 cups whipped cream after all is said and done.

FYI: They now make stabilizers for whipped cream so it won't deflate. I've used these before but don't really see a difference so I'm wondering if that's because I am in Michigan - the plain land of the Midwest :)


slice and marinate in 2 Tbs of powdered sugar to render out the juices


Cut the cake in half - my mom also taught me NEVER to bake 2 cakes separately because that makes them dry. Instead, make one whole cake and split it in two after it has cooled completely. You might need to cook the cake longer - 50 min instead of 30 but it's worth it! Plop some whipped cream in the middle, layer over the strawberries, put on the second layer of cake, more whipped cream, and then the strawberries in a a pretty pattern.

There you go!

This cake is wonderful because you don't have to bother with icing the whole thing - the homey/chic look suits it just fine.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Baking Parties - A Great Way to Reconnect

Dear Readers:

Think of the hardest time in your life - maybe it was last year, maybe 6 years ago, maybe you're going through something now. This past year was MY hardest, by far, but I learned that sometimes you have to put yourself out there in order to learn who cares about you most. Lucky for me, there were a lot of those people and I am so lucky I shared with them. Life may not be perfect but if you surround yourself with happy people who care about you and who you care about, it's so much easier to see yourself pulling through and being alright.

For all my friends, you know who you are: I am so grateful to have you in my life.

Today, three such friends arrived at my apartment and we had a baking day. Baking does not necessarily mean sweets (although we dabbled in that department as well). We made some delicious pizzas and then pleased our sweet tooth with the most AMAZING brownie concoction which has ever graced my kitchen. This is really the most simple recipe ever but is guaranteed to make you friends wherever you may go.

Oooooo-ey Gooey Candy-bar Brownies

What you need:

• 1 box brownie mix - we used Betty Crocker with Fudge (usually I advocate from-scratch recipes, but in the case of brownies, I truly believe boxed mixes yield the most fudgy product, and I like me some fudgy brownies)
• 1 package mini Heath bars
• 1/3 cup Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips
• 3 Tbs heavy cream

What you do:

1) prepare the mix using the hints below
2) butter an 8x8 cake pan (if you want, you can wax paper it as well)
3) set oven to 350 degrees
4) layer 1/2 the brownie mixture in the pan
5) cover with the Heath bars
6) cover with the other 1/2 of brownie mix
7)bake for 35-40 minutes
8) let cool then cover with the chocolate ganache

For the ganache (this is the to-die-for part)
1) warm the chocolate and cream in the microwave, checking often to be sure it doesn't over heat
2) mix vigorously and watch as it thickens up
3) spread over the brownies

Tips from the Cook:
~ You can try this recipe with different candy bars - if you find one that you like, write to me, please :)
~Chocolate can separate if you heat it too much, so stir it often; even if you think the chips haven't melted, give them a stir to get the ball rolling
~Whenever I am making a boxed mix, or anything that calls for water (for example, oatmeal or cake mix), I substitute milk; this makes the recipe so much more decadent and rich. Try it - it really works!!!!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Corn Chowder - My Way

It was a rainy day kind of night - not to be unexpected for us here in Meeeechingan, as my boyfriend says it. One of the things I hope to stress is that you don't need to go out and BUY ingredients every time you decide to cook something. Look at what you have on hand and use your recipe as a guideline. If you are new to cooking and don't feel comfortable adding your own spin just yet, that's totally fine. The point is to learn and to be creative.

I happened to have some BEA-utiful fresh corn in the fridge and had it set in my head that I was going to make corn chowder. Chowders are a new addition for me - I always thought they were too difficult for some reason. But really, they are super easy to make - just let the heat do the work for you. Here's my recipe (as modified from this recipe by Ina Garten).
What you need:
splash of olive oil (1-2Tbs)
1 large onion and 1 bunch of scallions, chopped
1 Tbs unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste - I start with a 1:2 ratio of salt to pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
6 cups chicken stock (or 3 cups stock and 3 cups water)
6 Yukon Gold potatoes - you don't need to peel these, but chop them small so they cook faster
5 ears fresh corn, cut off the cob
4 Tbs cream cheese
2 Tbs cooking sherry
pinch paprika
1/2 cup sharp white cheddar cheese, grated ( I LOVE Australian cheddar, but more on this later)

What you do:
1) heat the oil over medium-high heat
2) add the onions and saute until the while onion pieces are translucent - then add the butter
3) add the flour and cook for about 3 minutes (lower the heat a little while you do this)
4) season with salt and pepper and turmeric
5) add potatoes and stock and cook until potatoes are tender - about 20 minutes (the chowder will be bubbling slightly and starting to thicken up)
6) add the sherry and other spices - NOT the cheddar (yet)
7) let the chowder acquire the right consistency before you add the cheese - you want it to be thick enough that it coats a spoon lightly; remember it will thicken while it cools, too
8)add the cheddar and serve!!!!

Tips from the Cook

~the butter/oil combo allows for the richness of butter flavor but the hot temperature of oil
~I like my corn crunchy so I don't blanch it before putting it in the chowder
~adding cream cheese (I use the 1/3 fat kind) is a lower calorie substitute for using loads of heavy cream - and it adds a tasty tang at the end)
~add more potatoes and stock if you want to stretch the recipe but don't have enough corn or cheese (potatoes make the dish taste more filling)

Italy Adventures

While I craft a lovely post about some delish corn chowder I made tonight, indulge in these photos of Italian cuisine. I was lucky enough to study abroad in a little town outside Florence and during my summer I travelled throughout the country following my tastebuds.

Of course there are MILLIONS more pictures, but it would have taken ages for them all to load - besides, we want to get to the recipes, don't we?
P.S. - If you have tips on vacation eateries, feel free to share; I totally caught the travel bug!