One of the many reasons why I love cooking is the endless creativity. And one easy way to be creative in the kitchen is taking a standard, classic recipe and adding a fun twist to it. I’ve loved doing this ever since I started cooking when I was 6 years old. Granted, swapping out the hot dog for a kielbasa in my version of pigs in a blanket wouldn’t bring James Beard to my house, but it certainly started fueling the fire that would motivate me throughout my professional life. My latest “twist” takes classic carrot or zucchini breakfast bread and uses parsnips instead. Parsnips have a nutty, almost caramelly taste when cooked, so naturally I thought they would work well baked into a sweet loaf. And who doesn’t love browned butter? The two special ingredients take the classic shredded veggie loaf to a new level. It’s great for breakfast bread, dessert, or a midnight snack!
The saga of diversifying the munchkin’s palate continues. This week’s chapter unfortunately includes a painfully long family battle with an ugly virus so introducing any new flavors had to be put on the back burner. However, we all seem to be coming out of the dark as of last night (ish) so I jumped at the chance to spice up our dinner (and provide something more satiating than the water, rice, and cold meds diet we’ve been on for the past 9 days). Introducing: my shakshuka.
The beauty of my version of this poached egg and tomato dish is its not only super easy and healthy, but quite the fusion food (why introduce one flavor when you can introduce several)! While the origin of shakshuka is disputed, one thing everyone can agree on is its super tasty. My recipe includes a spice blend from Ethiopia called berbere which includes spices like chilies, cinnamon, fenugreek, and coriander to name just a few. Don’t worry if you can’t find berbere- have fun playing around with different spice blends (curry, harissa, etc.). In fact, this dish is so versatile that you can really do anything with it! Add more veggies, cheese, herbs, or sauces (I topped this one with a chimichurri). Breakfast for dinner? Sure! Warm spices? Yes please! Zesty Argentinean salsa on top? Heck yes! Bread?? Mmmmmm.
Sometime between stepping down as a chef, becoming a mom, and today, I’ve developed an “obsession” with wanting to cook/bake anything and everything I can from scratch. This passion has proven to be quite rewarding (not to mention healthy and economical!). Sourdough bread, yogurt, beer, jams, cheese, cured meats; you name it, I’m attempting to make it at home. I truthfully believe that if more families were to change their daily routines a little to allow for more real home cooking not only will they be happier and healthier but we could collectively start to decrease our carbon footprint, among other aspects that are damaging our environment. I do know, however, that our modern day lifestyles prevent most of us from enjoying the luxury of slow cooking- whether that be a home cooked meal or even just preparing an item from scratch instead of purchasing it from the store that has been manufactured for our convenience. But you’d be surprised at how easy some kitchen staples are! And omg, they taste SO much better than anything from a store. This simple cultured butter recipe is just that. It only takes 10 minutes of active time and the result is far more superior to any butter out there. Its creamier than “normal” butter, its tangier than butter, its buttier than butter! I will never buy butter again.
Yields about 1 cup butter (and buttermilk!)
- 1 pint good quality cream
- ¼ cup whole milk plain yogurt (with cultures)
- Salt, to taste
Combine cream and yogurt in a large jar or bowl and whisk well. Cover jar or bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let mixture sit in a warm area of your kitchen for 18 to 36 hours. It’s ready for step 2 when it’s thick and taste rich and tangy.
Seal the jar or cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it reaches 60 degrees, 1 to 2 hours
Line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl. Make sure there is plenty of extra overhang of cheesecloth.
In the bowl of a food processor or mixer, add the thickened cream and mix on high until the yellow curds begin to separate from the buttermilk, 2 to 3 minutes.
Slowly pour the mixture into the cheesecloth lined strainer, separating the butter solids from the buttermilk. Let sit for 1 to 2 minutes, allowing buttermilk to drip through. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth up and around the butter and squeeze the butter to extract as much buttermilk as possible. Pour the buttermilk into a separate container and reserve for another use.
Place the butter in the empty bowl. Be sure to squeeze out all excess butter from the cheesecloth. “Wash” the butter by rinsing it 3-4 times under cold water, until the water runs clear. The butter will start to harden.
Place the butter on a clean towel and pat lightly to remove excess moisture. Knead a few times with your hands and pat dry again; this will help extend its storage life. Sprinkle the finished butter with salt and knead a few more times to combine.
The butter will last about a month in the refrigerator.
As you can see, I’ve been on a big baking and pastry kick lately. My experience with savory cooking has started to take a back seat to my baking passion these last few months. It is where I got my start, after all. I was a 6-year-old who preferred to bake brownies and cookies than play with toys or run around with the other kids. I was drawn to the beauty, science, and sugar of baking and pastries long before I fell in love with the hot line. And even though I do enjoy my life as a savory chef, part of me wonders where I (and/or my career) would be if I had gone the sweet route instead diving into the world of salt, fire, and skillets. Thankfully no one is forever stuck in the path they initially chose. Thus, I’ve begun to pay more attention to the sweeter side of life lately. Will this new (old) love of sweets and breads become something greater than just some late-night stints in my kitchen after work? Who knows… But until then, there’s brioche swirl bread.
I absolutely LOVE babka. Enriched sweet dough and delectable chocolate wrapped up in a wonderfully entrancing package — what’s not to love? While the original recipe is about as good as it gets, the creative juices have been flowing lately, which has led me to create this tasty new version. And since I’m feeling bogged down by our dreary, early spring weather, I wanted to create a summery twist (see what I did there?) on this swirly classic.
Blueberry Basil Brioche Bread
- 345 g bread flour
- 9 g salt
- 50 g sugar
- 10 small basil leaves
- 4 g yeast
- 78 g whole milk, at room temperature
- 135 g eggs (about 3), at room temperature
- 2 g vanilla extract
- 170 g unsalted butter, soft and cut in small chunks
- zest from 1 lemon
- 100 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 7 g blueberry powder*
- 30 g sugar
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp. water
*Blueberry powder is available online or in specialty baking/cooking stores. If you don’t have access or the time to hunt this ingredient down, just head to your local grocery store and purchase dehydrated blueberries. Pulse those dried babies in your food processor and voila, blueberry powder! A little goes a long way, so don’t let the cost of the berries deter you. I still have a good amount in my pantry even after I used the 7 grams needed for this recipe.
A quick note that, yes, this recipe works with weight instead of cups and teaspoons. If you’re as big of a fan of baking as I am, you’ll do well to purchase a kitchen scale. It’s the one and only way to properly (and accurately) bake. For example, one cup of flour that I measure will not yield exactly the same quantity of one cup of flour that you measure. Baking is a science. Even the slightest variance in measurement means the difference between a beautiful loaf of bread and something only the dog would eat. The only way to ensure the perfect bake is to use a scale. So I do apologize to those who don’t have a scale yet, but trust me, if you run out and buy one now, your breads (and your family) will thank you.
To make the basil brioche dough, start by making the basil sugar. In a food processor, blend the sugar and basil leaves until the basil is finely chopped. Combine the flour, salt, basil sugar, and yeast in a medium bowl.
In a stand mixer, stir to combine the milk, vanilla extract, and eggs. Pour the dry ingredients on top and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Turn the mixer to medium and mix until the gluten develops and the dough comes together (about 5 minutes).
Continuing on medium speed, add one-third of the butter. Once that butter has been incorporated, add another third of the butter. Wait until it has been completely mixed in, then add the remaining butter. Take the dough out of the bowl and place on a floured surface. Cover with plastic wrap and rest for 1 hour. Don’t worry if the dough seems loose – it’s rich, buttery brioche bread. A light and slightly wet dough means you’ll end up with fluffy bread.
After an hour of resting, transfer the dough to a sheet pan lined with greased parchment paper (to prevent sticking). Wrap the sheet pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 12 hours. The longer you can refrigerate the dough the better the end product will taste. But if you’re like me and cant wait that long, one hour is totally acceptable.
For the blueberry filling, whisk all the ingredients in a bowl until combined.
Roll out the brioche dough to a rectangle 14 inches by 18 inches, keeping the edges as straight as possible. Spread the blueberry filling on the dough, making sure to cover it completely. Tightly roll up the brioche from the long side of the rectangle. Cut the dough lengthwise almost to the top, leaving 2 inches of uncut dough at the top. Twist the two lengths of dough so the cut side is facing up. Gently press the end together. Carefully transfer the braided loaf into a greased 9×5.5 inch loaf pan with the ends tucked under.
Cover with plastic wrap and let it proof for 1½ to 2 hours until doubled in size. Do not put it in too warm of a spot or the butter will melt out.
Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
Brush the loaf with egg wash. Bake the loaf for 16 minutes, then lower the temperature to 300ºF and bake for 30 to 35 minutes more, until the loaf is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and let it cool in the pan until it is cool enough to handle. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
For those of you heading out to the pumpkin patch like we are this weekend, make sure you have plenty of snacks for all of those hay rides, corn mazes, haunted houses, and pumpkin hunting that you’ll be doing! I love having a stash of these homemade granola bars in my pantry for days like this. A little sweetness, healthy nuts and quinoa, and some antioxidant-rich dark chocolate makes those special trips away from home a little easier when the tummy starts growling. The cool thing about these granola bars is that you can really put anything you want in them. I’ve made granola bars loaded with candied ginger for my wife when she was battling morning sickness; we’ve made them with dried blueberries and lemon zest during the summer to take camping or on long hikes; and these particular beauties are chock-full of delicious autumn flavors. As if the pumpkin festivals you’re headed to this weekend won’t have enough pumpkin flavored food (I’m hoping for some pumpkin sausage and pumpkin beer like I had the pleasure of eating last year!), these granola bars will definitely get those pumpkin-hunting juices flowing.
Autumn Harvest Granola Bars
Yields 18 bars
- 1 cup old fashioned oats
- ½ cup quinoa
- 1 cup dried cranberries and chopped, dried apples
- ¾ cup sliced almonds
- ¼ cup pecans
- 1½ tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- ¼ tsp. vanilla extract
- ¾ cup plus 2 tbsp honey
- pinch of salt
- ¼ cup flax seeds (optional)
- 3 oz dark chocolate
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place oatmeal on a sheet pan and toast for 4 minutes. Repeat the same step for the sliced almonds, and quinoa. Toast the pecans for 5 minutes, rough chop, and place in the bowl. Mix in the dried fruit, flaxseeds, pumpkin pie spice, salt, and cinnamon to the bowl.
Line an 8×8″ cake pan with parchment paper that has been lightly coated in coconut oil (or veggie oil/butter, if you prefer). In a small saucepan on medium heat, add in the honey and vanilla extract. Boil the honey mixture until it reaches 300°F (roughly 2-3 minutes, if you don’t have a candy thermometer). Once the honey mixture is ready, add it to the nut-dried fruit mixture and stir until completely coated. Spread the mixture in the lined cake pan, pressing firmly into all of the edges and corners. Let cool for 1 hour. In a double boiler (or microwave, but be careful not to overcook), melt the dark chocolate until smooth. Using a fork, gently flick the chocolate across the granola bars in long ribbons. Cool for an hour, then cut into 18 bars.
YOU GUYS! It’s
almost time for pumpkin season!! I have been waiting all year for my two favorite seasons: pumpkin season and Christmas-treat season! But because I’m staring down a few months of delicious goodies, I came up with this guilt-free, protein-packed pumpkin pancake recipe to fuel you through the upcoming festivities. And I threw in a recipe for apple compote and homemade almond-honey granola to go along with it!
Yields 10-12 small pancakes
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 5 egg whites (reserve egg yolks for my aioli recipe to come!)
- ½ cup cottage cheese
- ¼ cup pumpkin puree (made from roasted fresh pumpkin or from the can. No judgment here!)
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 3 tbsp. honey
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
- To make your own: mix 1½ tbsp. cinnamon, 2 tsp. ground ginger, ½ tsp. allspice, ½ tsp. ground mace, ½ tsp. ground cloves, ½ tsp. ground nutmeg)
In a blender, mix all of the ingredients until fully blended and smooth. Cook pancakes on a 350°F griddle or skillet on low for 4-5 minutes, flipping after 2-3 minutes. Because of the amount of pumpkin compared to that of the oatmeal, these pancakes are more on the denser side than fluffy. So trust me, if you’re dying for a pumpkin fix, these are right up your alley.
Yields 3 cups
- 2 cups rolled oats
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup raw sliced almonds
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp. coconut oil (or other neutral oil like avocado, vegetable or canola)
- 3 tbsp. honey
Preheat oven to 260 °F. Mix all of the dry ingredients in a bowl. In a saucepan, bring vanilla extract, oil, and honey to a boil. Once bubbling, turn off the heat and pour into the bowl of dry ingredients, mixing to combine. Spread mix evenly on oiled or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Stir the granola, spread evenly, then bake for additional 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Yields 3 servings
- 4 granny smith apples
- 1 lemon, juiced
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tbsp. honey
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- ¼ tsp. garam masala (it’s my secret! No one will know what amazing warm spices you used!)
- ¼ tsp. salt
Cut apples into small cubes. Add remaining ingredients and apples to saucepan and simmer on low for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When it comes to nut butters, the winner in our household is pecan butter. It has a more unique flavor than peanut butter, and is a little sweeter than almond butter. The thing is, we’ve never been able to find pure pecan butter in grocery stores. It always seems to be combined with other nuts, such as almond-pecan butter or pecan-walnut butter. So we started making this pecan butter from scratch years ago and it has become one of our pantry staples ever since. The optional flaxseed meal makes this spread even more nutritious. My wife enjoys it on sourdough toast every morning with her hot coffee.
Cinnamon Pecan Butter
Yields 2 ½ cups
- 5 ½ cups whole, raw pecans
- ¾ tsp. cinnamon
- 1 ½ tsp. sugar
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- ¼ cup flaxseed meal (optional)
Blend the pecans in a food processor until pureed, about 3-4 minutes. When buying pecans for butter, look for pecans that haven’t been on the “shelf” for too long. Bulk sections of supermarkets and farmer’s markets are great places to look for the freshest nuts. The fresher the pecan is, the more natural oils are released during blending, which makes for a creamier butter. Add cinnamon, sugar, salt, vanilla, and optional flaxseed meal. Blend on high until smooth and buttery in consistency, about 5-6 minutes.
One of the first things I learned in culinary school was that the obnoxious tall white hats with the 100 pleats we wore represented the 100 different ways you can cook an egg. Something tells me that Marie-Antoine Carême (the father of French cuisine and reason the toque became the iconic piece of a chef’s uniform) would disagree, but it does make for an interesting fact to share with die-hard foodies. That being said, eggs are quite a big deal in the culinary world.
Another egg-citing thing they taught me in culinary school is that eggs are one of the toughest ingredients to “master”. With varying degrees of temperature, time, and finesse standing between you and that perfectly appetizing egg, it’s no wonder I had to spend weeks standing over a sauté pan with those yellow yolks staring up at me. Maybe they were right about those 100 egg recipes after all. But I’m happy to report that it’s actually not that difficult to cook
an egg your favorite kind of egg. And my favorite way to eat them is sunny-side up.
Golden runny yolk, unturned, and crispy underneath; a sunny-side up egg is great for breakfast, on a burger, over grilled asparagus, or on a salad. The yolk provides that luscious, velvety sauce without adding additional ingredients. (Thanks, American Heart Association, for taking the fear out of eating eggs!)
Yields one serving
- 2 eggs
- 3 tbsp. avocado oil (or your favorite oil)
- salt and black pepper to taste
Add oil to non-stick saucepan on medium-high heat. When oil is almost smoking (try the oil test from my tomato compote recipe!), add the two eggs. Add salt and pepper to the top. Cook for 1 ½ minutes, or until edges are brown and whites are opaque. Want over-easy or over-hard eggs? Cook eggs on one side for 1 minute, then turn over and cook for additional 30 seconds for over-easy, additional minute for over-hard.
I have always been a strong advocate for the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” philosophy. Unfortunately I, like many others, don’t get the luxury of enjoying a gourmet breakfast during the week. Between early alarms, a three month old baby, and attempting to make myself professionally presentable when I can barely open my eyes, my weekday breakfast typically consists of nothing more than oatmeal made in a matter of minutes that is washed down with as much coffee as digestively possible. That being said, when the weekend rolls around, breakfast becomes less of a means of fuel and more of an experience. I am my father’s daughter, after all: a devout “Sunday brunchist” whose area of worship was at the Sunday morning brunch buffet. Needless to say, we take breakfast seriously in my family. And to me, there is nothing better than eggs, fresh homemade sourdough, and seasonal roasted vegetables. Don’t get me wrong: I would never turn down pumpkin pancakes or croissant French toast with berry compote; but there really is nothing better than a few simple yet quality ingredients cooked in the comfort of my own kitchen as the sun comes up. (Yes, unfortunately I don’t sleep in on the weekends either. But at least there’s always coffee).
So here it is: my entrance into the blog stratosphere with my favorite “most important meal of the day.”
This recipe was created back when I was first dating my wife, and it has maintained its position at the top of the breakfast favorites list ever since. The beauty of this recipe lies in the crispy, sunny-side up eggs, homemade sourdough toast (recipe for sourdough starter and bread to come!!), and a chunky sauce made from roasted heirloom cherry tomatoes, caramelized onions, and herbs. What makes this seemingly simple dish so delicious is the use of those seasonal cherry tomatoes that pack a mighty punch of flavor when roasted.
Roasted Heirloom Tomato Compote
Yields 2 servings
- ½ pint of cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters
- ¼ red onion
- ½ sprig of rosemary
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 4 tbsp. avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
‘Tis the season for tomatoes, so be on the lookout for heirloom ones! (Thanks, Mom, for the homegrown tomatoes!) Otherwise, cherry tomatoes from your local store will be just as delicious. Roast the quartered cherry tomatoes for 15 minutes in a 375°F oven (or on the toast setting in a toaster oven), until slightly browned on edges. I prefer to roast the tomatoes as opposed to just sautéing them in a pan. Roasting preserves the composition of the tomatoes and dries them out just enough so that the tomatoes create more of a chunky compote instead of sauce. Plus the browned edges elevate the final flavor even more.
While the tomatoes roast, julienne the red onion and mince your herbs.
In a saucepan, heat your oil on high heat until almost smoking. (Tip: throw a droplet or two of water into the oil to test the heat. If the oil spits back at you, it’s ready!) Turn down the heat to medium-low and add your onions, herbs, a few small pinches of salt, and black pepper to the pan and sauté, stirring constantly to avoid burning.
As you slowly cook your onions, the sugars will begin to caramelize. In order to avoid burning the onions and keep that delicious “fond” (the brown buildup on the bottom of the pan), add a few tablespoons of water to deglaze the pan as needed. Don’t rush this step. The slower the onions cook, the more natural sugars are released. The process does take time but the end result will produce a sweeter, melt-in-your-mouth texture. When the onions are brown and soft (10 minutes), add the balsamic vinegar. Cook for 1 minute, then turn off the burner and set aside.
Once the tomatoes are roasted and the onions are caramelized, add the tomatoes and their juices to the sauté pan of onions. Turn the burner on low and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. This last step will bring all of the components together and reduce the juices to create a thick, slightly syrupy consistency.
The compote is ready to serve! Our compote is served with fried eggs and homemade sourdough toast.