Category Archives: From the Cookbook

Dark Chocolate Cherry Granola

dark chocolate cherry granola 5

I had a hard time writing this post. I wasn’t sure if I should go the travel angle (you know, “this dark chocolate cherry granola is great to pack on trips because it’s healthy, easy to transport, delicious to snack on, will save you from making unnecessary rest-stop-chicken-nugget purchases [or is that just a me problem?] or buying a $17 turkey and Swiss airplane sandwich, etc. etc.”) or the back-to-school angle (“now that you’re back on the grind, make sure you’re a) eating breakfast; b) that that breakfast is actually fueling you properly and not setting you up for an 11 a.m. crash; c) said breakfast is actually delicious and doesn’t taste like weird bran-cardboard”).

Is it too late for a travel-related post? Do people still take vacays on Labor Day weekend? Or has school already started and am I just so out of the loop that I don’t even know these things anymore? These are the things I think about when I’m not marveling over Blue Ivy’s “Flawless” dance or that kiss between Elaine Benes and Tim Whatley.

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So instead of having an angle, I’m just going to talk about this granola. It features dark chocolate and cherries, two of my favorite things, and I threw in pecans for good measure. The inspiration came from a KIND bar, which float around our office as “healthy snacks” and I devour as a substitute for candy bars. (No really, their dark chocolate sea salt one with almonds basically is a candy bar. With only 5 grams of sugar. It’s a magic candy bar.) This one, with dark chocolate, dried cherries and cashews (+antioxidants, whatever that means) was pretty good, but I wanted pecans, a bit more crunch and a little less sweet, and more spices. I found a granola version at Whole Foods, but at $5 a bag, I knew I’d eventually be forced to make my own.

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In my head, even though I’ve made it before, the prospect of making my own granola seems daunting. All those ingredients! There’s a reason this stuff is so expensive, right? That’s where the bulk section of your grocery store is a godsend, since you can buy as little or much of any ingredient you need. And then when you consider that the only steps here are “stir,” “dump” and “bake,” well … why aren’t I (and you) making homemade granola all the time??

And as it turns out, the recipe is fail proof. I somehow graduated from an oven knob
whose temperature markings are all wrong
to one that has no temperature markings whatsoever (asdfk;sdkfj;sdf;asdf), so my granola got a bit burned before I realized what was what. But it was still delicious — loaded with toasted nuts and tart cherries and spiced oats and dark chocolate chips.

dark chocolate cherry granola 6

It’s less sweet than store-bought granola, which is a big plus for me, but you may want to add a tablespoon or two of honey if you like your granola sweet. And I’m not so into clumps, but if you are, Food52 has some tips for creating big granola clusters. I used olive oil since that’s all I had, which added a fruity, slightly savory note to the granola that I liked. But you could always use a more neutral oil like canola, or go the coconut oil route.

Regardless of how you tweak it, you should make this. Because as it turns out, dark chocolate cherry granola is perfect, either as a back-to-school breakfast or a road-trip snack, or even as an afternoon pick-me-up during a busy week. Continue reading

Nutella Cheesecake Dip

nutella cheesecake dip 3

Guys, it’s time to get serious. There are two weekends left before the unofficial end of summer, this weekend and next. Soak up all that summer has to offer between now and then: lazy days by the pool or beach, picnics in the park and backyard barbecues, dinners al fresco with a cold glass of rose … once fall hits, life will be a little less “chill.”

And if you’re in search of an easy put-together-in-two-seconds dessert to bring to the beach or the park or your friend’s backyard, look no further. I managed to throw this Nutella cheesecake dip together in 5 minutes, 3 of which were used to clean the bowl and beaters once I was done. (It helps that my sister sat there and hulled strawberries for me, and broke all the graham crackers because I inevitably can only break them like this.)

nutella cheesecake dip 1

I’d never really explored the world of sweet dips (once again, very late to the party), and had no idea how easy they could be. It makes sense of course: mixing together softened cream cheese, Nutella, a wee bit of sugar, a teeny amount of milk and an even smaller bit of vanilla extract always seems like a good idea. But a creamy, slightly tangy, barely sweet dip that pairs perfectly with strawberries, bananas, pretzels, graham crackers, etc. etc., so delicious that 10 people devoured it in less than 2 hours? Who knew?

nutella cheesecake dip 4

You could, of course, make a quick graham cracker or chocolate wafer crust, pour the dip into the crust and then freeze it, to make a quick no-bake Nutella cheesecake. But keep it simple. Summer’s almost over. Get out of the kitchen and soak up those last few rays of sunshine, preferably with a big bowl of Nutella cheesecake dip and a pint of summer’s last glorious strawberries. Continue reading

Zucchini and Sweet Corn Soup

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This was supposed to be a recipe for zucchini ribbon salad, with crunchy roasted chickpeas and crumbles of bright, tangy ricotta salata and a drizzle of extra fruity olive oil on top. But then I caught a weird midsummer cold, no doubt from the frigid tundra that is my office, and somehow that light summery salad became soup.

Unless you’re going the gazpacho route, soup in the summertime is a controversial option–hot liquid on a hot day is usually no bueno. But it’s been pretty mild the past few weeks (downright fall-like in the mornings, much to my chagrin), and soup can be such an easy, satisfying meal on weeknights, even if you don’t have a runny nose and a hacking cough.

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Look for small-ish zucchini, since they tend to have more flavor. I used frozen corn that I had in the back of the freezer (see: last minute recipe change), but it was still delicious, and fresh corn would be even better. Lemon zest and juice plus a handful of fresh mint add a zesty freshness to the soup, grounding it firmly in “summer” territory. And I couldn’t resist adding a few crumbles of ricotta salata to finish, because y’know, cheese.

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While eating this soup for lunch today, I came to a sad realization: summer is almost over. Labor Day is around the corner, and with it, all the back-to-business craziness of fall. I’m not ready to give up on summer dresses and Central Park picnics and days that last ’til 8 or 9 p.m. Let’s not think about it, and just eat soup instead. Continue reading

Skillet Gnocchi with Blistered Tomatoes

skillet gnocchi 4

Regardless of how much you cook, acclimating to a new kitchen is a process. Finding the best place for your pots and pans, your utensils, more (or less, for most NYC-ers) counter space, learning the quirks of each new oven and stove, not to mention where to keep all those spices you’ve accumulated in 4.5+ years of blogging?? Oh wait, that’s my anxiety seeping in, sorry.

Getting used to the in and outs of a new place takes time. The best way to do it? Cooking. Otherwise, you’ll never learn that the oven runs hot, or that the stove angles downward, or that two people cooking at the same time will be impossible without a kitchen cart.

skillet gnocchi 1

But obviously, that doesn’t mean jumping into a multi-part, 25-ingredient masterpiece in Week 1 at the new place. (For one, if you’re anything like me, most of your stuff is still in boxes because you hate unpacking.) Keeping the recipe simple allows you to focus on the kitchen itself — do the stove knobs get stuck at certain heat levels? Can I use this counter for prep work or is it in an awkward area? (If you have the luxury of multiple counters, you might find that one spot is easier to use than another.) Is the stove so small that my big skillet doesn’t fit? (Yes.)

I learned that the hard way, while making this skillet gnocchi with blistered tomatoes. Lost amidst the moving drama and excitement over Chicago was that summer produce has taken over the farmer’s market. Cherry tomatoes come in all colors and sizes, each
mini ball pit
of deliciousness. They star in this five-ingredient dish, and their quick jaunt in the skillet, along with spicy Italian sausage, olive oil and a pinch of crushed pepper, punches them up ever so slightly.

skillet gnocchi 3

You can get fancier with this, sauteeing diced zucchini or adding toasted pine nuts or shaved Pecorino. But it’s just as delicious in its simplest form, an easy weeknight dinner that doubled as my opportunity to test out my new home. Continue reading

3 Bites from Chicago

In my annual “fly to the Midwest for a concert I could’ve seen at home” series, last weekend I went to Chicago. The vacay served the triple purpose of allowing me to: a) see Beyonce a second time; b) catch up with old friends and family; and c) avoid packing / preparing for my pending move. AND I got to eat some amazing food. Win-win-win-win.

the bean

Chicago’s food scene is pretty well-established, so much so that the James Beard Awards, one of the most important stamps of approval for an American chef, will move its awards ceremony to the Windy City next year, after 24 years in NYC. There are the obvious superstars: Grant Achatz’s Alinea and Next, Paul Kahan’s The Publican, Stephanie Izard’s The Girl and the Goat.

We didn’t bother trying to make rezzos at most of these places, since they’re booked up well in advance (and at least in the case of Alinea, are well out of our very-limited budget). But we did still manage to eat like queens. My favorite meals in Chi-town:

Pequod’s
Our first stop after landing: PIZZA. While tourists (and Steve Harvey) debate whether Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s, I got a tip from a local and headed straight to Pequod’s. Located a bit outside of downtown in Lincoln Park, Pequod’s serves up more of a “pan pizza” than a true “deep dish” (this explains the difference), but the main attraction is the ring of caramelized Parmesan on top of the crust. The Parm gets all nutty and frico-like in the oven, and adds some crunch to the otherwise bread-like (in a good way!) pizza crust.

pequods

I’m not sure if I’ve been converted to a Chicago-style pizza girl yet (I’ll take a newspaper-thin slice with a crispy crust any day of the week), but Pequod’s was by far the best pizza I’ve had in a while. Bonus: they’re super cheap — our 10-inch pie was $14 with toppings and provided us with both lunch and breakfast the next day. And while we didn’t order it, they also have a $5 personal pie lunch special!

Karyn’s on Green
It’s a bit weird to go to a city known for its pizza and its hot dogs and then eat vegan. But Karyn’s on Green, in Greektown, was worth eschewing meat and cheese for. I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical — I’m usually not a fan of vegan places that traffic in fake meat, and their dinner menu included crab cakes, chicken parm and a charcuterie plate. But the charcuterie plate made interesting use of mushrooms and sunflower seeds to make pate and salumi, which was surprisingly good.

karyns

I stayed on the safe side with my dinner order: roasted portabello caps with a root vegetable hash (and obviously, a side of caramelized Brussels sprouts). Vegetables are bomb when they’re done right, and Karyn’s knows how to do their vegetables — the portabellos were meaty without being rubbery, the hash was perfectly crisp-tender and the tempranillo glaze was a nice added touch.

Little Goat
We closed out our trip at Little Goat, Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s diner on the oh-so-trendy Randolph Street in the West Loop.

little goat

Izard’s diner takes bar food to the next level: grilled cheese with guanciale, nachos with homemade masa chips, cream cheese ice cream on top of blueberry pie. Mili and I split an order of the machos nachos, with BBQ pork, pickled peppers and those deliciously crunchy house-made chips, and the kalbi beef ribs. The ribs were BOMB: tender and slathered with a tangy fresh strawberry sauce, then topped with crispy fried onions. We ended with a slice of crazy-good Mexican chocolate cake and of course, a round of photos in the photo booth. The restaurant had a fun vibe and was a really nice way to end our trip — plus, Randolph Street is packed with bars, so the after-party is just a few steps away.

leonidas

Bonus bite: Leonidas Chocolates. This small Belgian chocolate shop/cafe is just off Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile. We went there for dessert after a perfect lakeside picnic with my family, and between the excellent pastries, the supremely rich/delicious brownie, the amazing truffles and chocolates, and the gigantic chocolate-covered strawberries, I was in heaven. Plus, outdoor seating = perfect people-watching in this busy part of downtown.