Pasta with Greens in Walnut Cream Sauce

My daydreams can easily be broken down like this: 80% food, 19% wedding and 1% replacing the dead battery in our kitchen smoke alarm. Toward the end of last week the food portion of my daydreams was largely filled with thoughts of the ravioli with walnut cream sauce that my brother ordered for lunch on Christmas Eve, and it didn’t take too long for those daydreams to transition to recipe hunting. I’m not a huge fan of cream sauce, or at least I don’t allow myself to be for fear that I’d lose all self-control and treat myself far more often than I should, but sometimes you just have to satisfy your cravings, and I could not get that pasta sauce out of my mind.

I skimmed through several recipes for pasta with walnut cream sauce and ultimately settled on one that required buying the fewest number of ingredients and included some greens. Whether it’s with good reason or not, I tend to be skeptical of Food Network recipes, but this one is definitely a keeper: Penne with Swiss Chard and Leeks in a Walnut Cream Sauce. Imagine creamed spinach on pasta with a little crunch from toasted walnuts and the unexpected hint of tarragon. It was incredible, and if it weren’t for the cup of cream, I’d probably cook it once a week.

DSC_2176

I made a few tweaks to the recipe to keep the grocery list short and to make use of things already in our pantry, and they all seemed to work just fine. We had frozen kale, so I picked up a bag of frozen spinach to supplement it, which both bumped up the amount of greens and eliminated the steps of washing and chopping the chard. There was no fresh tarragon at the store, so I used dried and added it with the greens. And finally, I used campanelle instead of penne. Dinner was ready in no time and devoured in no time. The simplicity of the recipe makes it great for a quick weeknight meal, but it’s indulgent enough that it would work well for a special occasion. Weeknight or weekend, you need to make this!

The New Year

Hello again, friends. I didn’t intend to take nearly two weeks off from blogging, but the days got away from me, and I think I needed the break. After posting my last weekend post of 2013 I toyed with the idea of quitting blogging altogether, but Matt quickly talked me out of it, which is somewhat surprising considering he’s the one who suffers most while I take photos that delay his enjoyment of a hot meal. I think I need more variety in posting and fewer arbitrary deadlines because when a hobby becomes a chore, it’s no longer a hobby. Furthering my temporary disinterest in blogging was the fact that my nice camera, after being away for repair for the second time in less than a year, broke yet again with the first picture I took after its latest fix. Off it went for another several days, and I was stuck with just my phone as a camera. It was liberating at first, but when you see the difference in photo quality below, it’s pretty clear (I hope) which photos are from my phone and which are from my camera, and mediocre photos make the whole process less fun. So, after delaying learning how to use all of the features on my camera for the last year, I am forcing myself to shoot only in manual. Maybe learning more about it is the key to it not malfunctioning every six months.

And now to catch up (see, I’m too much of an over-sharer to quit blogging). Life has been busy. First there was New Year’s Eve, which we celebrated at a friend’s house with law school friends and a crowd of Brazilians. New Year’s Day was spent at home, cooking, watching football, and eating so many homemade pretzels with cheese dip that we skipped the big dinner that we’d planned. My mom was in town for another round of wedding dress shopping (a decision has been made!). We introduced her to Everest on Grand before spending the next few days eating a crazy amount of leftovers, we made falafel, and then one of us took off for Hawaii (not me). We did our first wedding registry and then celebrated a good friend’s birthday with too much vodka (me). Then it got really, really cold for the better part of a week, and I now know what an air temperature of -22 feels like, although I could’ve done without that life experience. I learned that fleece-lined tights are one of the best inventions, and one of the best times to rid your freezer of leftovers is when it’s too cold outside make a stop at the grocery store on your way home from work. It finally (finally) warmed up, and I’ve stocked up on groceries, enjoyed a couple of nice, single-layer-of-clothing runs and resumed a full schedule of activities in the kitchen. It’s been good, and it’s been exhausting.

IMG_3371

Our last meal of 2013 was tilapia tacos with cabbage slaw, black beans, avocado and cumin crema. My goal for 2014 is to cook more fish.

IMG_3398

Cooking our first meal of the new year.

IMG_3401

Chocolate chip pancakes, sausage, soft scrambled eggs

IMG_3411

Rye pretzels that we made quick work of with some thrown-together cheese sauce

photo-9

It only took me twenty-one months to make a second batch of homemade falafel.

photo 1

It was as good as I’d remembered, and we were able to share it with my mom and also my dad, who enjoyed hand-delivered leftovers from my mom in an airport somewhere the following day.

DSC_2039

Saturday morning breakfast tacos

DSC_2048

Traditional roast chicken with lemon, garlic and herbs is fine and all, but roast chicken with harissa is my new favorite preparation. It’s just as simple as any other basic roast chicken, and biting a piece of crispy chicken skin that has a bit of a kick from the harissa is exactly how I want to spend 2014.

DSC_2057

Roast chicken with sweet potato and regular oven fries and a cilantro-yogurt dipping sauce

DSC_2070

Molasses-rye bagels

DSC_2090

Poppy, sesame and parmesan bagels

DSC_2101

Bagel bonding of the best kind

DSC_2083

Preserving lemons

DSC_2107

When I saw this recipe for Cheaters’ Duck Confit, I knew that the time had come for me to cook duck for the first time. It’s always intimidated me, but when the only ingredients in a dish are duck, salt and butter and the method is slow cooking followed by a quick sear, it seems a lot more approachable. I spotted duck leg quarters at our co-op yesterday, and a mere $13 later I was well on my way to making a very indulgent main course.

DSC_2116

Searing the duck legs after two-and-a-half hours in the oven and draining them of the butter and fat that they cooked in

DSC_2135

Duck with roasted potatoes and a spinach salad with fennel, grapefruit and feta. As you can imagine, duck cooked in its own fat and butter coupled with creamy roasted potatoes and a bright salad was pretty much the best Sunday dinner ever.

2013 Highlights

It’s not often that I go back through old posts, but because 2013 was a huge year both in an out of the kitchen I couldn’t help but scroll through all of my posts from the year to find some favorite moments. The year started out with a brioche obsession (loaves, doughnuts, buns), and seeing those pictures reminds me that I need to make more soon, as there’s no feeling quite like having a freezer full of brioche and bagels. I turned 30 in March, had two of my best friends visit in May, and we had two sets of friends get married in June. Somewhere in there I made croissants for the first time, which was definitely a baking highlight of the year. We had a lot of family in town in the late summer/early fall and went to Chicago for a wedding in October before vacationing for a week on Kauai with my family. We came home from Hawaii tanned and engaged and dove into planning our own wedding shortly thereafter. We spent Thanksgiving in Iowa, Christmas in Wisconsin and I spent a long weekend in Chicago in between. 2013 was a great year, and I am fairly certain that 2014 will be even better.

IMG_9790

Tartine Bread brioche

IMG_9828

Fish tacos with my mom and brother

IMG_0100

Brioche doughnuts

IMG_0108

I can’t say that I remember much about this cauliflower soup, but this picture makes me want to make it again immediately. I think it’s the mustard croutons.

IMG_0212

Matt’s Valentine’s Day crab cakes

DSC_5355

30th birthday bloody mary bar to accompany ham and cheese yeasted waffles

DSC_6394

My first batch of croissants

DSC_6864

A Minnesota weekend with two of my best friends that included a night of deep-frying chicken, pickles and onions. Can we do it again soon?

photo-2

We spent part of our summer monitoring the bird nest on our deck.

IMG_0411

St. Paul wedding

DSC_9219

I recreated the pizza pot pies from a restaurant in my old Chicago neighborhood.

IMG_1355

My family visited, and we feasted on Brasa take-out.

DSC_0661

Matt’s family visited, and we finally tried Bogart Loves doughnuts (now Bogart’s Doughnut Co.!).

IMG_1952

I spent a couple of days canning tomatoes, which I can now say was totally worth it.

IMG_2161

Weekend in Chicago for another wedding

IMG_2616-2

In Hawaii, getting engaged at sunrise. The highlight of 2013.

every picture can be a ring picture

Yes!

fresh fish burrito and my ring

Ring. Fresh fish burrito. Guacamole. Some of my favorite things.

DSC_1493

I made Lasagna Bolognese from scratch twice in the last two months. It disappears quickly.

image-2

A cold but fun Wisconsin-Minnesota football game

IMG_2889

Trying on my mom’s veil over Thanksgiving

IMG_3074

Culinary delights in Chicago between wedding dress shopping appointments

IMG_3114

Bone marrow, bread, beets

IMG_3242

One of many dozens of bagels made this year

IMG_3291

Happy New Year to you!

2013 Weekends – Week 52

The last weekend of 2013 is history!

IMG_3321

We had Friends Christmas on Friday night, and we stayed out way past my bedtime because the party can’t stop until someone wins Trivial Pursuit.

IMG_3320

From a lamb roast to pulled ham, roasted root vegetables to mashed cauliflower, salad to spinach balls, we ate a lot of delicious food. Thanks, Nick and Heather!

IMG_3322

The weather at the beginning of the weekend was incredible – sunny and 40 instead of below zero and windy, which is how the weekend ended. I went for a run on Saturday morning, and it was so nice out that I ended up going five miles instead of the usual three to four that I do in the winter before the cold gets the best of me. A gloveless run with my sleeves pushed up in late December is such a treat, and finishing it off with this breakfast was a great start to the day.

IMG_3324

Egg sandwich with provolone, harissa and a spinach ball

IMG_3328

That yolk!

IMG_3331

This was the sunset from the Costco parking lot on my first day as a member. My sister-in-law convinced my mom that joining Costco was a good idea, and in turn my mom convinced herself it was a good idea for wedding-related stuff (in case we want to serve large tubs of hummus and monster boxes of cereal to our guests?), and suddenly we all have memberships. I have mixed feelings about the place and am a little weirded out by the people checking your card on the way in and checking your receipt on the way out, but I guess that’s just the nature of the beast. The other customers seemed a bit more assertive and less considerate with their giant carts than at other stores, but dang are their containers of yogurt and tubs of spinach cheap. I tried to be practical and reasonable about what I bought, which in Costco-speak means a two-pound block of cheddar, ten pounds of rolled oats, twenty-four cans of San Pellegrino and the biggest bag of tortilla chips I’ve ever seen. I saved the liquor store and the fifty-pound bags of flour for my next visit. 

IMG_3333

Post-Costco relaxation: sipping a Manhattan and making bagels

IMG_3335

Whenever I’m faced with a situation like this (i.e. a large object that needs cutting), I’m always tempted to pull a Beverly D’Angelo from Christmas Vacation. You know that scene where she’s in the kitchen and lights a cigarette while preparing dinner, and then her mom yells from the other room about her smoking she hacks a head of lettuce in half? That’s my siren song, which, come to think of it, explains why I like Gallagher so much. Next year for Christmas I’d like nothing more than a watermelon and a sledgehammer.

IMG_3344

I resisted the urge to hack the pineapple in half and instead cut it into little pieces for pizza. One was pepperoni and the other was ham, pineapple and hot cherry peppers. We were hoping for banana peppers, but neither Costco nor our co-op sell them. What gives?

IMG_3348

Buy three pounds of almonds at Costco, make a giant batch of almond butter

IMG_3351

Egg bagels

IMG_3354

It was too cold on Sunday to run out for cream cheese, so we had another round of egg sandwiches.

photo 1

Spinach, roasted beet and fresh mozzarella salad

photo 2

Salad + leftover pizza

2013 Weekends – Week 51

We spent Christmas in Wisconsin with Matt’s family this year, and while we there we ate, ate some more, and then ate a little more. That’s a slight exaggeration, and we of course did a lot more than eat (like drink!), but most of my pictures and memories are food-related, so we’ll stick with the eating part. We had planned to do a combination of meals in and meals out, but we had so many ideas for things to cook that we ended up eating all but a couple of meals at home. One of these years we’ll try out some Milwaukee hot spots, but spending hours in the kitchen is always fine with me.

IMG_3213

I brought lasagna bolognese to Matt’s grandma’s for dinner Saturday, making and assembling it in stages and then freezing it in its unbaked form for transport. It was pretty much frozen solid when it went into the oven and took maybe two hours to bake. It wasn’t quite as perfect as its unfrozen and freshly baked version, but it was still better than anything store-bought.

IMG_3216

Kopp’s frozen custard on our way into the Milwaukee area

IMG_3220

Running through several inches of fresh powder to work off that Kopp’s

IMG_3222

Brunch at First Watch

IMG_3224

Beer that my mom sent with us after Thanksgiving

IMG_3227

Not your average Packers game spread

IMG_3234

A light dinner after some hefty snacks: Toasted Spelt Soup with Escarole Collard Greens and White Beans

IMG_3237

A white Christmas

IMG_3240

Part of my Christmas gift to Matt’s sister was a lesson in bagel making.

IMG_3242

I think she did a pretty awesome job.

IMG_3244

Bagel breakfast with cream cheese, lox, dill, tomatoes, red onion and capers

IMG_3248

Delicious!

IMG_3250

Minnesota beer

IMG_3255

Poached Cod with Tomato and Saffron and purple potatoes with feta, lemon and dill (inspired by this recipe)

We all loved the cod, which made for a nice, light dinner. I used fire-roasted tomatoes instead of regular because one of the recipe comments said it was a little bland, and we all agreed that while it’s a simple recipe it could be modified in a million different ways (add chickpeas for a heartier stew, mussels instead of cod, mussels in addition to cod…). We’ll definitely be making this again, and the saffron reminded me that I need to make paella soon (and register for a paella pan?).

IMG_3259

Most my family was spending the holiday in Chicago, and with Milwaukee being so close, Christmas Eve was the perfect opportunity for Matt’s and my families to meet. Thanks to our lunch at a little Italian restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, our families won’t be complete strangers at our wedding. One more thing checked off the list.

IMG_3260

New Glarus bock

IMG_3268

Christmas Eve steaks expertly cooked by Matt and topped with a shallot pan sauce plus roasted veggies and salad

IMG_3280

Christmas strata thanks to Matt’s dad

IMG_3287

Christmas cookie thanks to my mom

IMG_3291

Minnesota-bound

IMG_3292

Diving into my favorite Christmas gift on the road. I was so excited about the release of this book that I might have ended up with two copies gifted by two people…

IMG_3302

2013 Weekends – Week 50

I’m on week two of life with no camera, which is both nice (less fussing, more eating) and lame (paying full price to repair the same issue I had seven months ago because I was one month outside of the repair warranty). I had brunch plans with overlapping groups of girlfriends both mornings this weekend, and we went out on Friday night, so I suppose it was a nice weekend to be camera-less.

IMG_3160

Sweet potato, greens and scrambled egg quesadilla

IMG_3161

Pizza and salad at Cossettas before Catching Fire

IMG_3166

Almond-oat lace cookies that were super easy to make and taste just like toffee

IMG_3171

Chicken tinga tacos

IMG_3177

Fresh bagels as a housewarming gift for a friend

IMG_3178

The highlight of brunch (other than catching up with friends, of course) was mimosas made with blood orange San Pellegrino instead of orange juice.

IMG_3179

Ok, the gluten-free Samoas were pretty awesome, too.

IMG_3180

The best party favors

IMG_3188

Nachos with chicken tinga leftovers

2013 Weekends – Week 49

I headed to Chicago last weekend with the primary purpose of finding a wedding dress, and with that came the added benefits of hanging out with family, trying a few new restaurants and escaping subzero temperatures in St Paul. When I booked my flight a month or so ago, it all seemed kind of premature, but as the trip approached my excitement levels rose, and I couldn’t wait to try on pretty dresses while sipping champagne with my mom and sister-in-law. I may or may not have found a wedding dress, and I definitely ate my fair share of great meals in those four days.

IMG_3013

My flight was delayed out of Minneapolis, so I did a lot of window shopping before ultimately giving in to the urge to buy fancy snacks at Surdyk’s Flights.

IMG_3030

Friday lunch: The Mario at Rollin To Go in Evanston

IMG_3037

Dress shopping at BHLDN

IMG_3045

My mom and I made a quick visit to Eataly on our way to dinner, and we didn’t know this at the time, but it had just opened earlier in the week and would be taking a break three days later because of the insanity of its first week of business. We were there to check out the packaged goods, but I’d like to return sometime to eat, although I’d probably be completely overwhelmed by all of the options.

IMG_3046

When I was in middle school or early high school, my mom and I started taking girls trips to Chicago. We would spend the entire day shopping, and when the stores closed and our feet ached, we would drop off our bags at the hotel and head to dinner, usually hitting up Topolobampo one night of each trip. Since I’ve moved to Minnesota our shopping trips are now done up here, and while we manage to eat at great restaurants (and not pay sales tax on clothes!), I miss our upscale Mexican feasts. It wasn’t until after I left Chicago for Minnesota that XOCO opened, and I’ve been dying to try it ever since (I even saw Rick Bayless walk in to XOCO while waiting outside of Topolobampo for our table a few years ago – my kind of celebrity sighting). After an afternoon of shopping and an evening bridal appointment downtown, Friday night was the perfect opportunity to revisit our old tradition. It was wonderful! We got there later in the evening, but there was still a long line to order – margaritas to the rescue!

IMG_3050

We went a little crazy with our ordering, but I knew I wouldn’t make it back to XOCO for a while and wanted to try pretty much everything on the menu. We started with chicharrones and an order of guacamole with roasted fennel and pumpkin seeds – both good, especially the guacamole. I had assumed that the portions would be smaller, but it turned out that the prices are just very reasonable.

IMG_3054

My mom’s cochinita pibil torta

IMG_3055

My choriqueso torta

IMG_3058

As we were getting ready to leave, a group of people sat down at the table next to ours and apparently had more people joining them that were going to take over our table. Someone who worked at the restaurant saw what they perceived as us being rushed out by this other table, which was definitely not the case, but as a result, he gave us free hot chocolates for the walk home. I thought I was full, but next time I’ll remember that you’re never too full for a cup of thick, rich hot chocolate. It tasted just like the truffles that you get at the end of your meal at Topolobampo, and it was the perfect ending to an awesome day with my mom.

IMG_3074

Despite the bitter cold on Saturday, my mom, brother, sister-in-law, nephew and I headed down to the Loop for lunch at Berghoff’s and a trip to Christkindlmarket. We’ve been going to Berghoff’s for as long as I can remember, and the only thing that’s changed is my order – from the turkey dinner and a root beer to wiener schnitzel and a dark beer.

IMG_3076

My mom and I ordered strategically so we could have a little of each of our favorite things. I ordered the wiener schnitzel with vegetables and German fried potatoes…

IMG_3077

And she ordered the game sausage plate (boar, venison and duck) with root vegetables and spaetzle. I think the game sausage was my favorite of the two, although I have no idea which sausage was which. Not pictured: sides of sauerkraut, creamed spinach and red cabbage.

IMG_3080

This was my first visit to the Christkindlmarket, and while I can see how it could be a fun thing to do around the holidays on a 30-degree day, standing in a long line for lukewarm mulled wine on a 10-degree day is not my idea of a good time.

IMG_3082

I’ll leave it to the rest of the group to keep up their tradition of fighting crowds in the cold to collect little mugs.

IMG_3086

We capped off our day of running around in the cold with carry-out from Lou Malnati’s. This was always my favorite deep dish place when I lived in Chicago, but after trying Pequod’s a couple years ago, this didn’t quite live up. The crust wasn’t as buttery as I remember it being, and it also tasted a bit undersalted. I’d still chose it over Giordano’s, though.

IMG_3097

Mimosas at Madewell after another round of dress shopping

IMG_3101

Observing

IMG_3104

After hearing stories from my mom, brother, and sister-in-law about amazing meals at The Purple Pig, I finally got to experience it myself when we had a late lunch/early dinner/only real meal of the day there on Sunday. My brother and I both ordered the same cocktail with gin (I think), s citrus component, sage (simple syrup?) and maybe something else. They were excellent.

IMG_3108

We ordered so much food that the waiter eventually told us that he thought we’d ordered enough…and then we added another item to the list. I only took pictures of a few of our many, many small plates, although each of them was delicious. This was the burrata with the most amazing kale pesto and equally delicious chorizo-stuffed fried olives.

IMG_3112

While I’ve been told that Magnus loves the bone marrow at The Purple Pig, this time he mostly stuck to his iPad, orange juice and shaved brussels sprouts.

IMG_3114

Bone marrow with a parsley, caper and fennel salad

IMG_3116

The pork heart “Italian beef” panini was the one thing I couldn’t resist ordering. You can throw giardiniera on anything, and I will eat it, and it’s not every day that you’re presented with pork heart as a sandwich filling. When in Rome…

IMG_3119

It was a cold, windy walk back to the car after our meal, and since we were parked across the street from it, it only made sense to reward ourselves with dessert from Sprinkles Cupcakes. So good!