burger bonanza

burgerbonanza

Those that know me might find this hard to believe but I can be difficult to please (insert sarcastic face here).  There are lots and lots of burger joints in our ‘hood (some with hundreds of Yelp reviews touting their greatness) but I would rather spend the $$$ on some quality ingredients than get served bland mush.

Before hosting a burger party, I asked myself: what are the elements of a good burger?

I am one of the great philosophers of the 21st century.  Proof later in this post.

First and foremost: the BEEF–grassfed, 85% lean, salt and pepper, end of discussion.
Second: the hamburger bun– soft melty brioche vs hearty chewy preztel.
Third: toppings–pimento cheese? animal style? bacon? egg? condiments? pickles? jalapenos? everything but the kitchen sink?!!

In the end, I let the people choose.  I laid out all the elements for burger greatness and let them make their own mistakes burgers.  My favorite combo?  Bacon-grilled onions-pimento cheese-on-a-pretzel bun.

Light Brioche Bun recipe from the NY Times.
Pretzel Bun recipe from AllRecipes.

Pimento Cheese

Ingredients
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 c mayonnaise
2 c shredded extra sharp cheddar
4 oz pimento peppers
1-2 tbsp of pickled jalapenos with liquid (optional depending on your heat tolerance; if omitting the jalapenos, use a little vinegar or liquid from the pimentos to thin out the sauce)
1/2 tsp mustard
salt and pepper to taste
additional seasoning to taste (I did a dash of garlic powder, paprika, and cayenne)

Directions
1. Combine ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined.  Refrigerate until ready to serve (tastes best if you let the flavors hang out for a few hours).  Serve at room temperature.  Tastes great on chips, on crackers, on a spoon…

Proof of my great philosophizing at the Grand Canyon:

grand canyon

summer essentials: ice cream sandwich

icecreamsandwich

As much as I love baking, the thought of turning on the oven on a 90 degree day can be very daunting.  Which is why my ice cream maker gets so much love during the summer.  My standard ice cream recipe is a custard base that uses a lot of egg yolks which ensures a creamy, smooth product instead of the icy slush that you get a lot with homemade ice cream.  But I’m always on the hunt for better recipes.  Plus separating 6+ eggs is a bit of a pain and can be wasteful since egg whites do not keep well.

Enter, cornstarch.  An ingredient that was always around the kitchen when I was a kid and very commonly used to thicken sauces in Chinese cooking.  It allowed me to use less heavy cream (which I suspect you could even use a base of all whole milk, but it’s cheat day–gotta live a little) and less eggs (which I suspect you could omit without issues but I am still a custard girl at heart).  Surprisingly, I have never bought cornstarch in my adult life and now I feel like I’ve been depriving myself!!  You’re totally missing out if you do not try this recipe.  I’ve made this ice cream 2 weeks in a row for cheat day.  This time around, I sandwiched it between two (or more like six) of the ultimate, best, end-all-be-all cookies.  The combination of sweet and salty, chewy and crunchy, refreshing and gooey… well, what can I say?  It is DEFINITELY worth turning on the oven for.

Creamy Ice Cream Base
Makes about 2 quarts

Ingredients
3 c of whole milk, set 2 tbsp aside
1 1/2 c heavy cream
3/4 c granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
4 oz cream cheese

*Special Equipment: Ice cream maker with at least 2 quart capacity, if not a self freezing model, place bowl in the freezer 24 hours ahead of churning time

Directions
1. In a bowl, whisk together the 2 tbsp milk and cornstarch.  Place egg yolk in a separate bowl.  Whisk together heavy cream, vanilla extract, salt, and cream cheese in a large mixing bowl.
2. Pour remaining milk and sugar into a large saucepan over medium heat.  Stirring constantly, heat until sugar is dissolved and milk has started to steam but not boil.  Remove from heat.
3. Very slowly drizzle about 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks and whisk vigorously to gently warm the eggs without scrambling them.  After the eggs have been tempered, add them to the saucepan and continue whisking, making sure to scrape the sides and the bottoms of the pan.  
4. Place the saucepan back on medium heat.  Add the cornstarch slurry.  Continue whisking the mixture until it has reached a temperature of 175 degrees F or until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.
5. Pour the milk mixture over the heavy cream mixture and whisk until combined.  The cold heavy cream will cool the mixture slightly but you can put it on an ice bath to speed up the process.  I just let it cool on the counter for 1/2 an hour and then place some plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream mixture to avoid a skin from forming.  Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
6. Churn according to your ice cream maker’s directions.  I churn mine for about 25 minutes and then I place it in an airtight container with a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the ice cream and freeze for 4 hours.

ice creamcookies

strawberry cinnamon rolls

strawberry cinnamon rolls

 

After a long, long, long, longgggg (did I mention long?) winter, summer is finally here!  I thought I would post this recipe before it ended.

As a kid, I loved to eat strawberries sprinkled with sugar.  It was a crunchy, sweet, and refreshing treat.  When I saw this strawberry cinnamon roll recipe on userealbutter, I was mesmerized.

I made them in cupcake form knowing that it would be really messy.  Before I even put them in the oven, they smelled mouthwatering.  Fresh from the oven, they tasted every bit as amazing as I thought they would.

strawberry cinnamon roll2

Strawberry Cinnamon Rolls
adapted from userealbutter
makes 24 rolls

Ingredients

dough
1 1/4 c whole milk
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 c (3.5 oz) granulated sugar
6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sea salt
5 c (22.5 oz) all purpose flour

filling
3 c fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and cut into medium dice
1/3 c  granulated sugar
1/2 c dark brown sugar
3 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter, softened

frosting
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 c unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 c reserved strawberry filling
1 tsp orange zest
pinch of sea salt

Directions

Dough: Place the milk in a microwave safe bowl and heat for 15 second increments until temperature reaches between 100 and 110 degrees F. Pour the milk into the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast of the milk. Let sit for 5 minutes until frothy. Add the sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla extract, and salt to the milk and beat until combined. Slowly add the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing until combined. Switch to a dough hook and knead the dough until it becomes smooth (it took my stand mixer about 7 minutes).  You can also mix all the ingredients by hand and then knead the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes.  Spray a large bowl with non-stick spray or grease with vegetable oil or butter. Place the dough in the bowl and flip it over to coat–this prevents a skin from forming. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator overnight.  You can also let these raise in a warm, draft free place for 2 hours.  I prefer to do overnight for cinnamon rolls/sticky buns/yeast dough because there is no way I am waking up 2+ hours early to prepare breakfast.

Strawberry Filling: Place the diced strawberries and the 1/3 cup of granulated sugar in medium saucepan over medium high heat.  Stir the mixture until it comes to a boil and then lower the heat so the mixture is simmering.  Continue cooking and stirring occasionally for 30 minutes or until it has a consistency halfway between a syrup and jam.  I prepared this the night before as well and stuck it in the fridge. Reserve 1/3 cup of the strawberry filling for the strawberry frosting.  I also mixed together the brown sugar and cinnamon and kept it in a zip top bag overnight.  Yes, I am a total zombie in the morning.

Make the frosting: Add all the ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl.  Beat mixture until smooth.  Resist eating the entire bowl with a spoon.

The Best Part: Place 24 liners in your cupcake tin(s).  Or you can butter two 9 inch round pans or two 9×13 inch rectangular baking pan. If you chose the refrigeration option, you will need very little flour on your rolling surface.  This is another reason I prefer to refrigerate my dough.  Cut the dough into two equal halves (yes, I did weigh them) and make a 14×12 inch rectangle. Spread 1/2 cup of softened butter over the dough, leaving a a half inch margin along the long edge. Sprinkle half of the brown and cinnamon mixture over the butter, patting down lightly. For the 1st batch, I placed 1/2 of the strawberry mixture on the dough.  Starting at the long edge, I rolled the dough into a log and pinched the end to seal it.  Using a sharp knife, I sliced it into 12 equal slices and placed them in the prepared cupcake tin (or whatever pan you’re using).  It was a huge mess with strawberry juice oozing out everywhere.  I felt like I was leaving a lot of deliciousness behind.

For the second half of the dough, I omitted the strawberry mixture from the filling.  I preferred this method because it was easier to roll into a log, slice, and a million times less messy (no need to wipe down the board between rolling out the dough).  Instead I put a little bit of the strawberry mixture in the bottom of each cupcake liner before placing the slices of dough on top.  Then I topped each piece with a little bit of strawberry mixture.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until they fill the cupcake liner, about 1 hour.  There was a noticeable difference in taste and texture between the two batches.  Batch 1 was crispier on the outside and wetter toward the center.  Batch 2 was softer all around and had more of an all over strawberry taste since their was some juice drizzled over the top.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the pans on a baking sheet because they do get oozy.  Bake the rolls for 22-25 minutes or until the center of the dough reads 180 degrees F. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before bathing them with frosting.

banana walnut protein muffins

Banana Walnut

I really needed some comfort food during the Arctic vortex that hit Chicago.  My mother-in-law makes the most delicious banana bread.  Slightly sweet and incredibly moist, it is perfect with a smear of butter and a hot cup of coffee.  On cheat day, I could easily devour a whole loaf but since the deep freeze came on a Monday, I had to improvise…

As I write this, it is snowing.  AGAIN.  For the 1,000th time this winter.  Save yourselves!!!  Make these ahead of time, store them in the fridge, and microwave one for 15 seconds for a nice warm breakfast or snack.

Banana Walnut Protein Muffins
makes 12 muffins

Ingredients
3 medium bananas (very ripe, almost black)
3 large eggs
1/2 c peanut butter (or substitute any nut butter)
1/4 c almond milk (or substitute coconut, 2%, lowfat, etc flour)
2 scoops of vanilla whey protein
1/2 c coconut flour (or substitute almond, wheat, all purpose, etc flour)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp butter (or coconut oil, other fat of choice)
pinch of salt
1/2 c walnuts

Directions
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a muffin tin with paper wrappers.  If you have a food processor, break the bananas into large chunks and pulse until mashed, about 10 pulses.  Then add all the other ingredients except the walnuts and pulse until everything is combined, about 20 pulses.  If you don’t have a food processor, mash the bananas in a large mixing bowl with a fork and blend in the protein powder and almond milk until incorporated.  Add the remaining ingredients except the walnuts and stir to combine.
2. Using an ice cream scoop or two spoons, fill the wrappers to 2/3 full.  Top each muffin with walnuts.  Bake for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out relatively clean (a few dry crumbs, not a goopy mess).  Place the muffin tin on a cooling rack for 5 minutes, then remove the muffins and allow them to cool completely before storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days and even longer in the freezer.  To keep frozen muffins moist as you defrost them in the microwave, wrap them in a damp paper towel.

the ultimate, best, end-all-be-all cookie

thecookie

I rarely bake a whole cake or a whole pie on cheat day.  I can justify eating two dozen cookies but a whole pie just seems excessive.  I am not a cookie snob, I can eat a box of Oreos or a carton of Tagalongs.  But if I’m baking cookies from scratch, I will need advance notice.  My cookie dough rests for a minimum of 24 hours (preferably 48-72 hours, but I’m not a dictator–most days).

The Ultimate, Best, End-All-Be-All Cookie
modified from Alton Brown The Chewy Recipe
makes about 24 cookies

Ingredients
8 oz unsalted butter (2 sticks)
6 oz bread flour
6 oz all purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 oz granulated sugar
8 oz light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 oz whole milk
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
12 oz Heath (I like to roughly chop up the miniature bars so I can have big chunks)
sea salt for sprinkling (optional)

Directions
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Swirl the pan as the butter browns.  It will bubble up and become fragrant and turn a nutty brown.  Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
2. Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda onto a paper plate. Pour the butter into your stand mixer’s work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 2 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, whisk together the whole egg, the egg yolk, milk and vanilla extract in a measuring cup. Reduce the mixer speed and slowly add the egg mixture. Mix until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.
4. Using the paper plate as a slide, gradually integrate the dry ingredients, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Once the flour is worked in, stir the Heath pieces in with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
5. Scoop the dough into 1 1/2 oz portions (about 1 heaping scoop on a small cookie scoop or 2 tablespoons) and place in an airtight container.  Refrigerate for 24-72 hours.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and place racks in the top third and bottom third of the oven.  Line cookie sheets or sheet pans with parchment paper.  For thick, chewy cookies you want cold dough and cold cookie sheets.  If you don’t have enough cookie sheets, let the cookie sheet cool slightly and then rinse with cold water.  Place about 6-8 balls of dough onto each sheet.  Sprinkle with sea salt (optional).
7. Bake 2 sheets at a time for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.  The edges will look slightly browned but the center will look undercooked.  They will finish cooking on the pan.  Remove from the oven and onto a wire cooling rack for 5 minutes.  Remove parchment paper and cookies from the cookie sheet and allow to cool on the wire rack for a few more minutes until they are cool enough to handle.  DEVOUR!  (And share.)

midweek ultimate: browned butter balsamic brussel sprouts & bacon

brussel sprouts

 

Hope everyone had a good holiday!  After a week of diet busting meals (birthday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day x 2, etc), I really needed something healthy and tasty so I roasted a huge pan of brussel sprouts.  I halved them and drizzled them with browned butter, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper (add salt if omitting the bacon) before roasting them in a 400 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes or until a fork can pierce through.  While they were roasting, I cut up, fried, and blotted some nitrate free bacon.  Great by itself or alongside some leftover turkey!

crunchy chocolate protein bars

crunchy chocolate protein bars
Fact: Chocolate tastes good.  Fact: Chocolate protein powder does not taste good.  I don’t care what anyone says!  This is FACT.  So I had a bunch of containers of uneaten, unpalatable chocolate/mocha/etc protein powder that needed to be consumed.  Make these and you’ll need to buy more chocolate protein powder…

Crunchy Chocolate Protein Bars
makes 16 bars

Ingredients

1/2 c walnuts
1/2 c pecans
1/2 c old fashioned oats
1 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 c peanut butter
1 large banana, very ripe almost black, mashed
4 scoops chocolate whey protein powder
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1-2 tsp Splenda/sugar/stevia/agave/sweetener to taste
2 oz dark chocolate (I use Ghiradelli 70% dark)
splash of unsweetened almond milk
sea salt

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Toss pecans, walnuts, and oatmeal with coconut oil until coated.  Spread in an even layer on a lined (Silpat, foil, parchment paper) baking sheet.  Bake for 12-15 minutes until you can start to smell the nuts and everything is lightly toasted.
2. Combine banana, peanut butter, protein powder, cocoa powder, sweetener, and pinch of sea salt in large mixing bowl.  Stir in toasted nuts and oatmeal until combined.  Press into an even layer in a parchment or foil lined 9×9 square pan (they will be quite sticky).  In a bowl, break dark chocolate into large chunks and add a splash of almond milk.  Microwave in 15 second intervals, stirring in between rounds, until chocolate is completely melted.  Spread over the bars and sprinkle with sea salt.  Refrigerate until set (about an hour) and then cut into 16 bars.  Keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze bars wrapped individually in parchment parchment paper.