Friday, August 2, 2019

Peach Bourbon Brown Butter Cake with Nielsen-Massey Vanillas

I was sent products from Nielsen-Massey Vanillas in order to facilitate the writing of this post. All opinions are my own.

It's odd that some people think of baking as a winter time activity. I mean, I get it; no one wants to unnecessarily warm up their house in the middle of a heat wave by having the oven on.  But it's a real shame, because there's so many flavors that are only available during the summer that work so well in baked goods, not to mention we can all use a little stress relief at all times of the year.

You've seen the title of this post, so you know what I'm going to say next: peaches. Baked goods with peaches are absolutely fantastic. In general, I find that stone fruits are some of my favorite things to bake with, because their flavors are so complex and vivid when the fruits are fresh, but even more so when cooked. And you can't exactly cook with fresh peaches in the dead of winter, so making a delicious summertime treat is really your only option if you don't want to use frozen or canned fruits.

Recently my friends at Nielsen-Massey Vanillas released two limited edition vanilla extracts and asked if I'd like to try one of them out. I opted for the Indonesian Vanilla because it was purported to have woody, smokey notes, and that it worked well in high heat/slow bake recipes. The woody/smokey notes immediately made me think of grilling peaches, which was just the thing to compliment the recipe I had in mind.

What did I have in mind you ask? Again... it's right there in the title of the post, so you pretty much know already. Basically, I wanted to try making a take on the Midwest favorite; Gooey Butter Cake. I'd never had this finger-licking treat before I moved to Chicago, but now I've been well educated on this bake sale classic, and it is well loved for a reason. The reason, of course, is BUTTER. But even classics can stand to be improved a little.

The only thing  that has always bothered me about gooey butter caked was that typically, a boxed yellow cake mix is used to make the crust. Why not make it from scratch? It's just as easy as using the box, and you can have more control over the quality of the ingredients. 

I also decided to use brown butter in all elements of this cake to give it a nuttier, more toasty flavor, that I thought would really compliment the Indonesian vanilla. This step by step guide from Nielsen-Massey Vanillas's Better Your Bake series perfectly demonstrates how to achieve brown butter without burning it, which is something I used to struggle with. 

Lastly, I decided that I wanted to top my cake with a richly flavored, slightly tart peach puree in order to off-set the sometimes cloying sweetness of the cake and filing. The addition of some good bourbon and roasted cinnamon is absolutely gilding the lily with even more deliciousness, pushing this cake into a more adult-centric flavor profile. If I wanted to sound pretentious, I might call it "elevated nostalgia."

Peach Bourbon Brown Butter Cake

For the Crust:
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) of butter, melted and browned
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
3 cups cake flour
a pinch of salt

For the Filing: 
1 package of softened cream cheese (8 oz)
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) of butter, melted and browned
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
a pinch of salt

For the topping:
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) of butter, melted and browned
4 large peaches, pitted and cut into slices
1/2 cup good bourbon
1 teaspoon roasted cinnamon
a pinch of salt
sugar to taste
4 sheets of gelatin, bloomed in warm water

Pre-heat oven to 375. 

First, make the crust: In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, vanilla, eggs, and brown butter. Mix until it forms a dough (you may need to kneed it with your hands. If it's too dry and not coming together, add a tiny bit of milk or water until it becomes a cohesive dough). Press the dough into a non stick or greased 9x13 pan, forming an even base and bringing the dough up half way on the sides of the pan.

Next, make the filling: In a medium bowl, add the cream cheese, butter, eggs, vanilla, sugar, and salt, and mix with a hand mixer until everything is combined and smooth. Pour the filling over the crust and smooth out the top. Bake for about an hour, or until the edges of the crust are just starting to brown and the filing is set but still slightly jiggly. Set aside to cool.

For the topping: Add the peaches to the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium high heat and cook until the peaches have become extremely soft and rendered out most of the juice, about 15 minutes. Add in the bourbon, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt and let cook an additional 10 minutes. Take the mixture off the heat and using an immersion blender, puree the peaches completely. Taste the mixture and add sugar as needed (it's best to keep the puree a little on the tart side). Put the mixture back on the heat and add the gelatin sheets, then stir until they have completely dissolved. Pour the puree mixture over the top of the cooled cake and make sure to smooth it out into an even layer. Refrigerate for a few hours or over night to set the topping, cut into squares, and serve.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Cookbook Review: Mark Bittman's Dinner for Everyone and Collaboration with Peapod (Discount Code!)

I was given a copy of Dinner for Everyone as well as provided with ingredients from Peapopd free of charge in exchange for an honest review of my experience with the book. Use the code BUNNY20 to get $20 off any Peapod order of $75 or more and 60 days free delivery.

My mother has an extensive cookbook collection. As a child, I remember marveling at her cabinet full of huge and classic tomes , full of delicious things. She loves to flip through them like they're coffee table photography books, searching for dinner ideas. I've sort of inherited her love for cookbooks, but my cooking style is a little different; where as my mom will follow a recipe to a T at least three times before even thinking of altering it, I tend to look at cookbooks more as outlines for experimentation rather than strict instructions. My rule of thumb is, "I see what you're saying, but..."

The problem with my style is that sometimes things go awry, and the tendency is to blame the recipe. "How dare you not turn out as expected after I altered your delicate ecosystem!" The thing about recipe creators is they tend to test their recipes rigorously to make sure the result is consistent time and time again. Sometimes I change things because I like a bit more garlic, or because I'm not a huge fan of herbacious flavors, but sometimes I try to make a thing vegan or gluten free when it is clearly not meant to be, and that is where things tend to go wrong.

This is why a cookbook like Mark Bittman's Dinner for Everyone and expertly crafted meal kits by Peapod are great for not only culinary jerks like me, but for traditional recipe followers. Peapod, the number one home grocery delivery service, has partnered with Mark Bittman to create two shopable recipes from his book, as well as a meal kit for one of his recipes. The meal kit was created to give customers everything they need to prepare Mark's Pho with Black Tea Broth, all perfectly portioned and prepped. At only $25 for four servings, I was a little skeptical at just how much food this kit would produce, but the moment I started pulling fresh ingredients out of the bag, I got very excited. You don't even need the cookbook to make the pho, since the meal kit comes with a laminated recipe sheet!

The two shoppable recipes are for Mark's Oven Roasted Salmon and a Veggie Paella. These two recipes show up on the Peapod website, followed by a list of ingredients available on the site for easy delivery to your door step. This way, shoppers can make sure they have everything they need in one convenient spot in order to prepare the recipes, but also are able to choose ingredients according to their tastes, dietary restrictions, or budget. This was such a cool feature! I really hope Peapod does even more of these shoppable recipes in the future, even though it did sort of enable my culinary jerk inclinations (I ended up subing out the red peppers and eggplant in the veggie paella with zucchini and mushrooms, but the resulting dish was still very tasty).

Now, let's talk about the book, which features 100 classic dishes, all prepared 3 different ways; an easy preparation version, a vegan version, and a no holds barred luxury version, meant for company. I absolutely loved being able to not only pick a dish that sounded interesting, but to pick how I wanted to prepare it! Cooking for myself for the weekend? The easy prep is ideal. Ate too many cupcakes last week and now having guilt issues? Time to try some vegan meals. Unexpected visit from a blogger friend? Time to pull out all the stops with a real show stopper.

When I first received the book, I immediately gravitated towards the "Breakfast for Dinner" section... for obvious reasons. The best part was that Mr. Bittman had split that section into two: savory and sweet. I picked three different dishes from these two sections and challenged myself to prepare them all EXACTLY as they had been written so that I could get an idea of how good these recipes really were. First up, I tried the easy prep savory recipe: a take on a Welsh Rarebit. This was a very simple recipe that really was very quick and easy to prepare, and resulted in a pretty darn delicious dish (though I may have eaten it for actual breakfast and not dinner, but shhhh, don't tell anyone).

Next, I moved on to the sweet vegan recipe: Quinoa and Blueberry Griddle Cakes. Sadly, I had less success with this recipe. The prep was very simple, but try as I might, I just could not get the quinoa to the texture Mark described (he said it should resemble mashed potatoes). I tried everything: cooking it for double the time, cooking it with double the water, letting it sit over night, but the grains refused to burst. It must have just been a particularly resilient type of quinoa! I forged ahead and tried to make the griddle cakes anyway, but once I tried to flip them, they just refused to stay together. I ended up with a pretty tasty hash, but no solid griddle cakes.

Finally, I choose the showstopper sweet recipe: Mascarpone French Toast with Sweet Dark Cherries. The prep for this dish was actually extremely easy, but it did require quite a bit of a time commitment; first to dry out the bread (either by leaving it in the open air for a day, or by drying it in the oven), then to give the bread time to soak up the custard mix, and finally to bake the dish. The result was pretty good, though I can't quite imagine going through all that trouble to serve it for dinner. A spectacular Sunday morning brunch dish? For sure. But it didn't quite seem like the best option for dinner.

In summation; Dinner for Everyone and the collaboration with Peapod are a pretty awesome pairing. You can pick up Dinner for Everyone online or where ever cookbooks are sold. You can also get $20 off an order of $75 or more (that's pretty much the cost of the Pho meal kit, hint hint) and 60 days free delivery from Peapod by using the code BUNNY20 at check out. Make sure to leave me a comment below if you try any of Mark's recipes on Peapod!

Friday, May 31, 2019

A Beginner's Guide to Cooking Fish with Sitka Salmon Shares

I received free products from Sitka Salmon Shares in order to facilitate the writing of this post. All opinions are my own.

The first thing you need to understand is that I grew up in the desert. You know what there's not a lot of in the desert? Seafood. I mean, other than Red Lobster. In addition to being a desert dweller, my mother was not really a fan of fish. I have vague recollections of breaded fish sticks coming out of a toaster oven at some point, and on occasion, she mixed up a bit of tuna salad using stuff from a can, but that was really it. Add to that the fact that my only other experience with seafood was wrinkling up my nose as we passed the fish counter at the grocery store, and you have the makings of a 20+ year aversion to anything with gills.

When I started this food blogging journey so so so very long ago, I began to think about my food phobia. I hated fish, but why? I'd never really had it. I'd certainly never ordered it in a restaurant. And I liked shellfish well enough, so what was the real problem?

Everything came to a head when I was at an event in which a very famous Chicago chef was cooking a meal live in front of a small crowd. That meal was a take on bouillabaisse, a tomato based fish stew, and he was chucking just about every type of aquatic life into his pot. "It's ok," I thought, "I'll just pick around the fish and eat the mussels." Then, much to my horror, the chef himself began ladling soup into our waiting bowls, and with a smile, he gave me a huge chunk of fish meat. "Want to make sure you get a little bit of everything," he said with a wink. I steeled myself for the worst as I lifted a spoonful of fish to my lips and... it was actually quite good! Then and there, I made a deal with myself: if I was ever offered fish, I was going to accept it, and I have been happily surprised by many delicious fish dishes ever since.

Now that brings us to the present and my first interactions with Sitka Salmon Shares. When they first approached me about trying one of their boxes full of freshly caught Alaskan seafood, I was admittedly apprehensive. Having seafood presented to you by a master chef was one thing; preparing it myself was quite another. But now that I have a proper kitchen and my cooking skills have increased beyond that of a starving college student throwing things together in the vein hope they will be edible, I decided to be brave and give cooking fish a shot.

When I received the box from Sitka, I was immediately impressed with everything. Not only did the vacuum packed cuts of fish look vibrant and clean, they had also included several recipe cards, information pamphlets, and a small cedar wood plank, presumably for grilling the fish on. The even had an insert informing how to properly remove pin bones from the fish, something I had been worrying about doing wrong! Each individual cut of fish was portioned and cleaned, and then clearly labeled with its species, date caught, and even the name of the fisherman who had caught it! Best of all, everything arrived frozen solid with not even a hint of odor.

Sitka Salmon Shares works much like a farm co-op; subscribers sign up for a period of 3-9 months, and are then sent a box each month containing a portion of an individual fisherman's harvest. This system not only ensures that the fishermen get to keep a higher portion of the sale than they would by selling their wears on the open market, it also gives the subscribers access to the most seasonal varieties of fish.

I decided to start my fish cooking journey by tackling a small cut of Coho salmon. I made a quick little marinade out of soy sauce, honey, garlic, and ginger, then steamed the fish in my Instant Pot along with some mushrooms, peas, and onions. The result was a nicely flavorful fish, but a little over cooked and dried out. Next, I decided to attempt a salmon quiche. I oven roasted a cut of Keta salmon, then shredded the meat. This time, I cooked the salmon to a perfect consistency, so it remained moist and flavorful. I added the meat to a pre-cooked pastry shell along with some sauteed onions, spinach, and Swiss cheese. I then poured a mixture of eggs and heavy cream over the whole thing and baked it for about 35 minutes at 350. Now, I know some people are squeamish about fish and cheese, but I thought the nuttiness if the Swiss and the butterines of the salmon worked really nicely together!

Feeling a little more confident, I decided my next task was to tackle the two pieces of Wild Alaskan Pacific Cod. The first thing that popped into my mind was fish and chips, and following that, fish tacos, so I decided to combine the two. I cut the cod into small chunks, beer battered it, fried it, and combined with with a simple slaw (cabbage, red onion, and carrots mixed with mayo, sour cream, and lime juice), and did a quick pickle on some apple sticks to add a bit of brightness to everything. I was pretty happy with the results, and the softness of the cod inside the crispy batter was so perfect with all the crunchy toppings!

I saved the best and most daunting fish for last. My box had included a beautiful piece of sea bass, and I fretted for a while about what I was going to do with this delicate fish. I just so happened to have picked up a sous vide circulator, and after a bit of research, I discovered that using a sous vide machine to cook sea bass was a very good idea. I placed the fish into a ziplock bag along with some butter, garlic, salt, and pepper, the cooked it in the water bath for 30 minutes at 133 degrees. In the meantime, I whipped up a quick gnocci side dish with some wilted baby kale and Parmesan cheese. The sea bass out of the bag was so tender that it began breaking apart as I plated it! This was definitely my favorite preparation of them all, if only because it made me feel so dang fancy!

It really surprised me how comfortable I've become with cooking fish over the last few months. I've gone from completely intimidated to completely enthusiastic. It just goes to show that when you are working with a product of such high quality, you really can't go wrong. Whether you are an experienced fish chef or a curious beginner like me, I cannot encourage you enough to consider signing up for one of Sitka Salmon Shares' subscription plans. Let me know in the comments what your favorite way to cook seafood is!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Last Minute Mother's Day Chicago Brunch Guide 2019

Explore the City
Take mom somewhere new and exciting for her special day or visit an old neighborhood favorite.

III Forks, Lakeshore East, a la carte or prix fixe for $45
Red Fish Bleu Fish, Hyde Park, a la carte, half priced entrees for moms
Eden, West Loop, a la carte, featuring special menu items
The Florentine, The Loop, a la carte, featuring  special menu items
Staytion Market and Bar, The Loop, a la carte, featuring special menu items
Chicago Q, Gold Coast, a la carte, featuring special menu items
Blue Door Farm Stand, Lincoln Park, a la carte, featuring special menu items
Blue Door Kitchen and Garden, Gold Coast, a la carte, featuring special menu items

Freebies for Mom
Many restaurants around the city want to pamper your mama as much as you do. Here's some that are featuring gifts, cocktails, and more for your beloved matriarch.

Bar Roma, Andersonvile, a la carte, complimentary dark chocolate hazelnut truffles for moms
Acadia, South Loop, three course prix fixe for $85 with complimentary flowers for moms
Broken Barrel, Lincoln Park, a la carte, free cocktail for moms
Safehouse, River North, a la carte, free mimosa for moms
Sunda, Rive North, buffet, $65, complimentary glass of champagne for moms
Cantina Laredo, River North, All brunch dishes include the choice of complimentary mimosa made with fresh-squeezed orange juice, or bloody maria made with Casa Noble organic tequila
The Chicago Firehouse, South Loop, buffet, $59, free sparkling cocktail for moms
True Food Kitchen, River North, a la carte, all moms will received a $10 gift card
The Albert, Gold Coast, a la carte, flowers for moms
Tortoise Supper Club, River North, buffet, $69.95 per adult, all moms will receive a freshly cut rose
Porkchop, Hyde Park, a la carte, complimentary mimosa and entree for moms
Kizuki, Wicker Park and Lincoln Park, free mimosa with purchase of any ramen

Brunch and a Show
These options offer not just a great meal, but a little entertainment to boot.

The Signature Room, Magnificant Mile, buffet, $80, featuring live music
Artango Bar and Steakhouse, Lincoln Square, 3 course prix fixe for $39, featuring live music
Punch Bowl Social, West Loop, a la carte, arcade games will be free all day

VIP Access
Chicago restaurants love moms so much that many who don't usually serve brunch open wide their doors for only one special Sunday morning a year.

Michael Jordan's Steakhouse, Magnificent Mile, a la carte
Ocean Prime, River North, a la carte
Eddie V's, The Loop, three course prix fixe, $49 per adult
Perry's Steakhouse, Oak Brook, a la carte
Benny's Chop House, River North, 3 course prix fixe for $49

People Pleasing Buffets
Large family? Picky eaters in the group? Buffets are the way to go. And there are options all over the city for every budget.

I|O Godfrey, River North, $39 per adult
LondonHouse, Magnificent Mile, $70 per adult
Travelle at The Langham, River North, $175 per adult
Prairie Grass Cafe, Northbrook, $53 per adult
Burnham's at Eaglewood Resort and Spa, Itasca, $48.95 per adult
Pinstripes, River North, $36 per adult
Hubbard Inn, River North, $50 with bottomless drinks, $30 without
Parlay at Joy District, $50 per adult
Tuscany, Wheeling, $44.95 per adult

Friday, May 3, 2019

Home Made Spinach Manicotti with Pirro's Sauce

I was sent products free of charge by Pirro's Sauces in exchange for an honest review of their line. All opinions are my own.

My life was forever changed when I received a pasta roller as a Christmas present last year. Since then, I have been obsessed with perfecting my own fresh made pasta recipe. I started very basic, trying different combinations of flour, eggs, oil, and water, and I quickly discovered just how many variables there are in pasta making. Do I use whole eggs, or just the yolks? Do I salt the dough, salt the water, or both? Does adding oil to the dough actually make a difference? Should I rest the dough, or work with it straight away?

After much experimentation and research (ie, late night Googling), I arrived at a method I felt comfortable with, but I couldn't quite get the texture I wanted. I started trying different flours; semolina, whole wheat, tapioca, and on and on. Finally, the answers I was seeking came in the form of bread flour, which is essentially all purpose flour with more protein. This added protein promotes the formation of gluten, which in noodle making terms, gives a chewier, stronger product than just using the regular old white stuff. Once I discovered bread flour, I was making fresh pasta pretty much every week.

With my new found ability to produce copious amounts of carbs tucked neatly into my culinary tool belt, I was thrilled when Pirro's Sauces reached out to me to see if I'd like to sample their line of all natural, authentically Italian products. Pirro's Sauces are based on the recipes of owner Brianna Pirro's grandmother, handed down through her father, who founded Pirro's Restaurante in Woodstock, IL. The sauces were so popular at the restaurant that customers used to request jars of them to take home, so the move to professionally bottle and sell them was a natural progression. Though the restaurant may have closed in 2012, the Pirro legacy lives on through their lineup of delicious, high quality sauces; Marinara, Pesto Pomodoro, Bolgnese, Puttanesca, Rustic Vodka, and Pizza Sauce.

When I first got my hands on the sauces, I decided the simplest way to get an idea of their flavors and quality was to first try out the classic Marinara with some hand made noodles and fresh mozzarella (this has literally been my go-to meal for half my life. I literally eat it once a week). I was really impressed to see that there wasn't a single chemical, preservative, or artificial thing listed in the ingredients; just veggies, olive oil, and spices. The sauce itself had a bit of a chunkier texture to it with a thinner base than what I usually see from a jarred pasta sauce. This was actually perfect for tossing with the fresh pasta, as the noodles absorbed much of the flavorful liquid, and the finely chopped ingredients were able to disperse evenly throughout. The flavor was so wonderful; no metallic or overly acidic notes, but lots of sweet tomato goodness with a little bit of a crunch from the celery and carrots and an aromatic hit of garlic and basil.

Now that I was certain Pirro's knew what they were doing, I took their Pesto Pomodoro and made a quick and easy take on a Shakshuka with it. Basically, I just poured the whole jar into a non stick skillet, heated it up to a simmer, cracked a few eggs into it, sprinkled in some goat cheese crumbles, and let the whole thing cook over medium low for about 5 minutes. Lastly, I toasted up some naan bread, then sat down and started scooping into my concoction. Because the pomodoro has a good bit of Parmesan cheese in it, the flavor of this sauce was a little richer and the texture a little more hearty. I think it's a testament to how good this sauce is that I was able to really enjoy it basically straight out of the jar with very little alteration.

Finally, the sauces having proven their worth to me, I dived into something I had not yet attempted; a stuffed pasta dish. Deciding to use the Rustic Vodka sauce to make my pi├Ęces de r├ęsistance, I whipped up a batch of spinach pasta dough (recipe below), rolled it into thin sheets, and stuffed it with a simple mix of ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, and a few spices. I lined a few of my little makeshift manicotti into the bottom of an enamel lined Dutch oven, covered the tops of them with some of the creamy tomato sauce, then added the next layer of pasta, then sauce, and continued layering until all the pasta and sauce was in the pot. I put the whole thing in the oven for about an hour at 400 degrees, took it out, and dived in. The Rustic Vodka may have been my favorite sauce of them all because it was just so rich and buttery. I don't know if I've ever had a better version from a jar (or in a restaurant, for that matter).

So that settles it for me: Pirro's might now be my official favorite jarred pasta sauce brand ever. Not only are they delicious, I love that their story started right here in Illinois and that they are female owned. This is exactly the kind of company I want to clear room on my shelves for.

Spinach Pasta Dough

2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon of salt
2 cups of spinach
3-5 whole eggs

In blender or food processor (I use a bullet blender), add the spinach, eggs, and salt, then blend until the mixture is smooth and a vibrant green.

On a counter top or large cutting board, mound the flour and make a large, wide hole in the center of the mound (I use the base of a measuring cup) so that it resembles a volcano. Slowly pour about half of the egg and spinach mixture into the middle, making not to let the liquid leak outside the flour mound. Using a fork, slowly begin whisking flour into the liquid until it forms a paste. Keep adding more liquid until a solid dough can be formed (a bench scrapper is great for this stage when the dough is prone to stick to hands). You may not need all of the liquid, but you also may need to add flour if the dough is becoming too sticky to kneed. Once you have a smooth, non sticky ball of dough, wrap it in a dry kitchen towel and let it sit for at least 15 minutes before putting it through a pasta roller. If the dough sticks at all to the roller, add more flour, kneed, and rest again.

This dough will keep for a while in the fridge, but be aware that the longer it sits, the more the color will darker. Alternatively, you can freeze the dough for later use.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Springtime Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with Nielsen Massey Vanillas

I've always heard that panna cotta is the lazy chef's fancy dessert. You'll see this thick, creamy, molded custard dessert on menus quite often, mostly because it requires very little cooking or baby sitting. Just heat, mix, and leave it in the fridge. Lazy or not, I love it. I am an unrepentant dairy addict, so if you offer me something creamy, most likely I'm gonna be ok with it.

This year, I have promised myself to be more adventurous when cooking at home and try things I've never done before, so I decided it was time to give the panna cotta a go. Now, the secret to making a perfect panna cotta is having a perfect base recipe to layer flavors on top of. That's one of the reasons this dessert is one of my favorites; it's versatility. It can be fruity, it can be chocolaty, it can be floral, it can be boozy, or any combination one could dream of.

When I started to build my panna cotta recipe, I knew immediately that I wanted to flavor the base with Nielsen Massey Vanilla Bean Paste. This stuff is a staple in my baking cabinet, mostly because it adds the touch of those little vanilla speckles that always make a dessert feel more elevated. They even recently released a new version of the Vanilla Bean Paste, made with Tahitian vanilla, which carries fruity and floral notes (as opposed to the Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste, which is more rich and creamy in flavor).

Since my vanilla of choice was a little more on the fruity side, I chose to make my first ever panna cotta a passion fruit panna cotta. Instead of making my own passion fruit curd, I opted for one I already knew was great, but maybe next time I'll be brave enough to try making one from scratch!

I was almost shaking when I un-molded my little rounds of creamy goodness for the first time, but they turned out PERFECTLY! Fruity, floral, just a touch of sourness, and a silky smooth texture that makes you never want to stop eating them. Don't like passion fruit? You can literally use this base recipe with any kind of flavor! Fruit jams, infused syrups, spice blends... the possibilities are literally endless!

Passion Fruit Panna Cotta

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half and half
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup passion fruit curd
2 tablespoons Nielsen Massey Tahitian Vanilla Bean Paste
1 envelope un-flavored gelatin
2 tablespoons any sweet white wine (can also use white grape juice)

Add two tablespoons of white wine to a small sauce pan and sprinkle gelatin over the surface of the liquid. Leave to bloom.

Add heavy cream, half and half, and sugar to a medium sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a soft boil, then take off the heat. Add in the passion fruit curd and the vanilla bean paste and whisk slowly to combine.

Heat wine and gelatin mixture over a medium heat. Remove immediately once gelatin is completely dissolved. Very slowly, pour the gelatin mixture into the cream mixture while whisking. Once everything is combined, pour into small ramekins (should fill about 4-8, depending on size). Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour (over night is best).

To un-mold, unwrap the ramekins and run a thin knife blade along the edge. Dip them into a bowl of hot water for a few seconds, then invert them onto a plate. Garnish with fresh berries and serve.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

35 Last Minute Chicago Easter Brunch Spots 2019

Neighborhood Favorites
Tried and true brunch destinations, all featuring super special dishes on their Easter brunch menus.

Chicago Q, Gold Coast
Bar Roma, Andersonville
Cantina Laredo, River North, all entrees include a complimentary mimosa or bloody maria
Ocean Prime, The Loop
The Albert, Gold Coast
Broken Barrel, Lincoln Park
Tuscany Restaurants, Little Italy 
Weber Grill, River North, Lombard, Schaumburg
True Food Kitchen, River North
Imperial Lamian, River North
Eden, West Loop
Virtue, Hyde Park

Fun for the Whole Family
These spots feature fun activities to keep the more energetic members of the family happy while everyone gets a chance to chow down. From pictures with the Easter Bunny himself, to face painting and egg hunts, these are great options for families large and small.

Blue Door Farm StandLincoln Park, a la carte
I|O at The Godfrey, River North, buffet, $39 per adult
The Signature RoomThe Loop, buffet, $80 per adult
Travelle at The Langham, River North, buffet, $175 per adult
Punch Bowl SocialWest Loop, a la carte featuring special menu items
The FlorentineThe Loop, a la carte featuring special menu items
Burnham's at Eaglewood Resort and SpaItasca, buffet, $48.95 per adult
The Estate by Gene and GeorgettiRosemont, buffet, $52 per adult, includes a complimentary brunch cocktail

Best Bet Buffets
Buffets are always the easiest choice for large groups and picky eaters. Here's some of the best on offer for all types of budgets.

La Storia Ristorante, Gold Coast, $55 a person (additional for unlimited mimosas)
ETA Restaurant + BarStreeterville $45 per adult
The AshburnRosemont $25 per adult
Acadia, South Loop $95 per adult
SundaRiver North $60 per person
Prairie Grass CafeNorthbrook $53 per adult
The Chicago FirehouseSouth Loop $59 per adult
Tortoise ClubRiver North $69 per adult
Hubbard InnRiver North $50 per adult, includes unlimited mimosas and bloody marys
Parlay at Joy DistrictRiver North, $50 per adult, includes mimosas
Tuscany Restaurant, Wheeling, buffet, $42.95 per adult

Perfect Prix Fixes
Perfect for the indecisive, these prix fixes will allow you to just show up, order a cocktail, and let the chefs do all the rest of the work for you. 

Eddie V's, The Loop, three course prix fixe, $49 per adult
III ForksEast Lakeshore, prix fixe for $45 per adult, includes one cocktail, bread service, and an entree (a la carte menu is also available)
Artango Bar and SteakhouseLincoln Square, 3 course prix fixe, $35 per adult

Friday, March 29, 2019

Mocha Latte Brownies with Java House Cold Brew

I was sent products free of charge by Java House in exchange for an honest review.

Well hello there, my poorly neglected blog audience! I know it's been a hot minute since I last posted here. But what with the Insatgrams and the Twitters and such, I've needed to take some time off from this poor old blog to really understand what it is I liked about food blogging in the first place. And you know what? The truth is that I really missed discovering new things that give me the culinary tingles. So let's talk about one of those things, shall we?

I've been a big cold brew fan for a while now. This is mainly due to two factors: 1) I've become an absolute coffee addict in my 30's, and 2) I have a decent amount of regular acid reflux. Cold brewed coffee is less acidic than hot brewing, and I find that the smoother flavor generally appeals to my particular palate. From big chain coffee houses to my local cafe, whenever there's cold brew on offer, I'm very likely to order it.

I've tried cold brewing at home, but I can never seem to get a strong enough flavor for my liking. Generally, I end up having to buy a really expensive super dark roast just to get any sort of enjoyment out of it, and if I should want to add a splash or milk or a little flavor, the coffee just disappears into nothingness. This is why when Java House reached out and asked if I would like to try their liquid cold brew concentrate pods, I immediately said yes.

The Java House cold brew pods come in four varieties: Sumatran (dark roast), Colombian (medium roast), Ethiopian (light roast), and Decaf (medium roast). They are sized to fit into any K-Cup coffee machine, so you can actually enjoy them hot, cold, or anywhere in between. The cups contain a perfectly portioned amount of liquid cold brew concentrate, so you just need to add water to them (or shoot them straight, if you want to. I won't judge you. Actually I will. Add some water, you heathen). You actually don't even need a K-Cup machine to enjoy them because you can literally just crack them open and pour them into a mug or over ice. Or, if you're me, you can add them to some bourbon cream liquor and start your morning off right with a Kentucky Coffee Cocktail.

I very much liked the versatility of these little suckers, and the flavor on all the roasts was top notch. Of course, my favorite was the dark roast. Because I like my coffee black as my soul. But the others were perfectly enjoyable. If you happen to be down the K-Cup isle of your local grocery store, I would highly encourage you to pick up a box of these and give them a try.

Because I can't just make a cup of coffee and be happy, I decided I wanted to try using some of the Java House cold brew in a recipe. I've heard that adding coffee to brownies brings out the chocolatiness, so I did some experimenting and OH MY GOD. Best idea EVER! A basic brownie suddenly became the fudgiest little hunk of deliciousness to ever come out of my oven. Once again, I can't leave well enough alone, so I decided to pay homage to the coffee by giving my brownies a frothy topping to mimic the foam on a latte. This turned out so incredibly well that I am halfway tempted to quit my day job and start selling these suckers on a street corner like Famous Amos did with his cookies. Seriously, if you're a choco-holic like me, you have got to try these!

Mocha Latte Brownies

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Java House Cold Brew Liquid Pods (any roast, but I prefer the Colombian for this)
1 cup flour

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 packet of unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 Java House Liquid Cold Brew Pod (I prefer the Ethiopian for this)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. grease a 9x9 square baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the melted butter, sugar, and cocoa powder and mix until smooth. Add vanilla, cold brew pods, and eggs and again stir until smooth. Lastly, add in the flour and combine into a thick, smooth batter. Pour the batter into the greased baking dish and bake in the oven for about 35 minutes or until the top feels completely solid. Let cool to room temperature.

For the topping, add the heavy whipping cream to a pre-chilled bowl and whip with a stand or a hand mixer until the volume has doubled and soft peaks have begun to form. Set into the fridge to keep cold. In a small sauce pan, add the Java House cold brew pod and 2 tablespoons of cold water, then sprinkle the gelatin on the surface of the liquid and let sit for about 2-3 minutes. Heat up the liquid over medium heat. Once the gelatin is completely dissolved, add the sugar and stir until no more granules are left. Remove from heat. Bring out the chilled whipped cream and begin whipping again with a stand or a hand mixer. Slowly stream in the gelatin mixture. The cream will deflate some, but should begin to look foamy and glossy. Quickly spread the cream over the top of the brownies in an even layer, then cover the dish and set in the fridge to set up for a few hours or over night. Cut and serve.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Guest Post: March Brunch Events with Illinois Party Bus

The following is a sponsored guest post from our friends at Illinois Party Bus.

There are some great upcoming brunch events to consider checking out in Chicago! Here are four of them coming up in March. If you need a convenient way to get around town after enjoying a brunch with friends, head over to Illinois Party Bus.

March 3
435 East Illinois St
Start your day with yoga and bottomless brunch, along with complimentary mimosas for $5 at this event hosted at Pinstripes. Yoga runs from 10 to 11AM, and brunch is served until 3PM. Bring your own yoga mat and get ready to have some fun! All levels are experience are encouraged to attend.

March 3
1113 West Belmont Avenue
The brunch buffet includes a yogurt bar, crab deviled eggs, beignets, jambalaya, mimosas, shrimp and grits, as well as sweet potato has and french toast. With ticket choices that offer unlimited drinks and a DJ spinning beats, this is sure to be an awesome pop up brunch event. It's $35 for brunch, and $50 for brunch with unlimited drinks.

March 3
at Rose Room Chicago
415 West 119th St
This brunch is unique, because it's a round table discussion. There will be multiple panelists at this engaging discussion. With crafted beers and brunch at the end of the discussion, there's a lot to look forward to at this event. Tickets range from $5 to $10, so it's an affordable option as well.

March 16
at Peace of Mine Pastry and Specialty Shop
408 W 71st St
Here is an awesome option for women who are interested in wellness. This brunch and healing workshop focuses on nutritious brunch dishes, mimosas, and personal wellness. There will be a life coach giving an inspirational talk and an awesome Goddess buffet. Tickets are $50 for this event.