October dinner at work

October 29th I was honored with tickets to a fancy dinner. For those of you familiar with Floriole’s monthly dinners you know they really are quite spectacular. I still can’t believe that a café that has perfected breakfast and lunch can create food that, in my opinion, is fair competition to any dinner joint in town. The most recent three-courser drew inspiration from fall fare.

This is a place that produces each and every item served on the menu from their little (efficient) kitchen space. I mean everything — the bread to the preserves, pastries to the candies, tarts and the rooftop herbs garnishing the housemade soup. Everything. What an honor to work there.

Food: butternut squash apple soup with pumpernickel croutons and kale chips
Place: Floriole Café & Bakery
1220 W. Webster Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614

 

Red wine braised short ribs, potato purée, roasted root vegetables, gravy (more kale chips)

 

Warm apple tart, brown butter/apple cider ice cream

 

Impressive, no? Next month’s dinner: November 13th, goose cassoulet. Uhhh, yum?


tandoori chicken

Indian for lunch. I felt like meat (a bi-annual craving), but still went white. All-in-all, impressed. Hit the “meat spot,” if you will. The tandoori tasted BBQ-y. The lamb lit my mouth pleasantly on fire.

Food: tandoori chicken, lamb in spicy mystery green sauce, rice, mango lassi
Place: Essence of India
4601 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625

Sometimes I can’t understand the logic behind garnishes/accompaniments — take the shredded carrots, raw white onion, and undressed greens here. Do they….think I’m going to eat that with my rice?

Stay tuned — fancy dinner tomorrow evening at my place of employment, Floriole!

-a


aaand…. revamp!

I know I have said it before, “I’m sorry I haven’t updated this in a while!” “Whew, it feels like it’s been a long time since a blog post!” blah, blah, blah…

I think the roadblock to keeping this blog current, my hang up if you will, was simple: I read so many gorgeous, well-written, *ahem* commercially funded food blogs, how could mine ever compare? How could I ever be able to spend enough time and give enough energy to a blog instructing people what/how to cook? Showing everyone my beautifully grown-up kitchen? Showcasing spotless photos of magazine-quality plated dishes? The answer is simple: I can’t.

Writing this truly does make me happy. I just need to add fulfillment in there too. So, I need to go another direction. Now here at allisoncooks, I will not only show you what I have prepared in my kitchen, but also foods I have sampled around Chicago. I take pictures of everything I’m about to eat anyway — why not just post them up with a little blurb?

Food: croque monsieur, greens, iced coffee (and Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk — meh, it was just OK)
Place: Café Selmarie
4729 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625


The vinaigrette was nice and zippy. I could have gone for a little more béchamel on the croque, but my thighs are probably happier there wasn’t.

 

Tomorrow it is supposed to dip into the 40′s here. Jacket –> coat?

 


cardamom buns, again

Bakers have got to be the most popular people around, what with all of the sharing they must do. Every time I venture back into baking world I am faced with the same inevitable challenge that follows: what do I do with all of the food afterward?? I am but one person and, although I have a sweet tooth that can rival most 3rd graders, I simply cannot finish two dozen cookies and an entire cake on my own. I’m sorry.


So, you can imagine my relief when I came across this recipe from Bon Appétempt. Swedish cardamom buns. Here’s why I’m happy — 1.) These are buns designed to be enjoyed during a relaxing tea time, among friends (read: they’ll eat what I can’t); and 2.) They freeze beautifully (or, more time for me to eat what others could not).

Cardamom has rapidly moved to the forefront of the favorite-spice race in my kitchen this past year. Any chance I have, I’m grinding those cute little seeds: into oatmeal, any cookies, sweet breads, even my coffee grounds.

These buns have more than a few steps, yes (more than I usually do), but they are very much worth it. Your entire home will fill with the smells of warm spices and buttery yeast.

Oh, and, nuking them for 15 seconds brings them right back to life after being frozen for weeks. Boom.

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Cardamom Buns

Dough:

• 1 1/2 packets dry active yeast

• 5 T butter

• 1 c milk

• pinch of salt

• 3 1/2 T sugar

• 1 t ground cardamom

• almost 3 c flour

Filling:

• 3 1/2 T butter, room-temperature

• 3 1/2 T sugar

• 1/2 t cinnamon

• 1/2 t ground cardamom

Topping:

• 1 egg, lightly beaten

• turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw)

- Make dough: Melt butter with milk in saucepan until luke warm. Add yeast and let sit a few minutes until foamy. Stir in salt, sugar, and cardamom.

- Transfer yeast mix to a mixing bowl or, if mixing by hand (as I did — it’s not too much work, trust me), a large bowl. Add 2/3 of the flour and mix until smooth and shiny, I just used my hands. Add a little more flour (save some for kneading later) and keep mixing until dough pulls from the sides of the bowl.

- Cover bowl with a towel and let rise in a warm place (like near the oven) until it has doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

- Make filling: Mix all filling ingredients together. That was easy.

- Prepare muffin cups — either use sturdy foil muffin liners that can stand up on a baking sheet (as I did) or fill each cup of a muffin tin with liners.

- Flour a work surface and turn dough out to knead. Knead until smooth and shiny again, then cut in half. Roll out each half into a rectangle of equal size, about 12″x12″. Evenly spread filling over one rectangle, (not quite to the edge), then top with the other rectangle.

- Roll up rectangle sandwich, long side-to-long side, and cut into equal-sized rounds. A sharp knife helps here.

- Place one round in each muffin cup. Cover filled muffin cups with a towel and let rise until doubled in size (again), about 30-45 minutes.

- Preheat oven to 425°F. Once buns have risen, coat each with a little egg wash and a generous sprinkling of turbinado sugar.

- Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden.

**Enjoy either that day or the next to avoid drying out. Or pop them into freezer bags and keep them in the freezer for…a long time. IF you don’t eat them by then.


madison happenings

Recent adventures:

Nat comes to visit

For her last Spring Break (graduating in less than a month! Wha??), Nat flew up here to spend the week with me. First thing’s first: beer and cheese curds.

Fortunately, unlike every other year in Wisconsin’s history, early March was not a frozen tundra. We got to walk all around town without freezing our faces off. Or rather, we would mosey around until we found a bakery, stop for a pastry, keep walking, stop for another, keep walking, convince ourselves we deserved a third since we were walking so much… Probably didn’t cancel out.

As you can see, almost painfully good.

World Cheese Championship

This year, the world competition for best cheeses was held right here in Madison. And, I work in a cheese shop, so…had to go. An entire meal of cheese. (Paid for that later.) Fantastic selection, mostly from North America, Europe, and Oceania. My only complaint is not having the time to slow down and think about each cheese, instead being herded like cattle sheep goats (take your pick at a milk type — cheesemonger pun, couldn’t resist) through the lines while shoving world-class cheese down the hatch.

In the end, European cheeses won out (sorry WI) — second and third places were given to Swiss-style cheeses from Switzerland and the blue ribbon winner was a Gouda from the Netherlands. The winners were decided by esteemed judges hand-picked from all over the globe. Some of them came into the shop to chat with us a few days leading up to the competition. It was fascinating to pick their brains about cheese. (Can you imagine devoting your life to a bacteria process? Even working in a cheese shop, I can’t wrap my brain around it.) The judges were very serious, eating/smelling/observing/feeling the cheeses, some taking up to five minutes to eat one bite of a cheese (unlike the rest of us cattle). Here’s a shot of the action:

I like the guy in the red tie.

So, lots of food happenings. Just the way I like it. Next weekend starts the Madison farmers market, only the largest in the country. *ahem* I’m sure plenty of recipes will soon follow.

Next up, cardamom buns. Stay tuned.

-a


25

Happy Birthday to me. Quarter of a century.

stand-by microwave chocolate cake, with candle

I make “birthday resolutions” kind of like most people make New Year’s ones. I feel this is necessary because sometimes people wish me a happy birthday with something like “Hope you’re one year the wiser!” Erm…. sometimes I am? Consequently, I feel that by holding myself to a resolution or two birthday-to-birthday it kind of keeps me on “track” with myself. That can’t be a bad thing, right?

Anyway, one of them to is to get back on this thing. So, stay tuned for the continuation of this foodie diary. I’m off to eat cake.

 

-a


spice girl

Scary, Baby, Ginger, Sporty, Posh.

My first concert ever was to see The Spice Girls. In middle school. With my dad.

And he put purple highlights in his hair to match mine. Greatest dad?

My friends and I were so obsessed with the Spice Girls we all bought platform shoes (that resulted in no ankle injuries, oddly enough) and planned on going as the group for Halloween one year. I was assigned the role of Posh Spice who, as you could probably guess, is a spitting image of myself: black hair, olive skin, 5’3″, British…

Not the best fit. Some things were never meant to be, I guess.

So maybe the Spice Girls didn’t stick with me, although I do sing a mean “zigga-zig-aahhh,” but another form of spice did: molasses spice cookies.

(Lame segue?)

I make these all the time. Really, all the time. I have a tupperware container filled with them at any given moment. Good source of iron from the molasses, I tell myself. It’s probably their fine coffee-dunking ability… (Dunkability?)

I haven’t settled on one particular recipe for molasses spice cookies yet. For awhile I was making one from an old Gourmet magazine, then a Barefoot Contessa creation, and now this one from the food blog 101 Cookbooks. It may look like a lot of ginger but don’t worry, they aren’t overly spicy. Kind of gingersnap-like. I modified the recipe a bit — technically these are only “double ginger cookies” since I left out the crystallized ginger, no lemon zest, and substituted half the butter for canola oil.

Still plenty good, though, as the tupperware is currently empty.

The yield for this recipe (or any cookie recipe, really) depends on how big you scoop your cookies. I have a mini ice cream scooper that gives me tablespoon-sized cookies that I like to use. You could make these bite-sized if you split a tablespoon of dough in half, or make them jumbo by making them two tablespoons.

I like to make sure the cookies will fit within the rim of my coffee cup. Just saying.

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Molasses Ginger Spice Cookies

(adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

• 2 c whole wheat or spelt flour

• 1 t baking soda

• 4 1/2 t ground ginger

• 1/2 t salt

• 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

• 1/4 c molasses

• 2/3 c sugar

• 1 1/2 T fresh ginger, finely grated

• 1 egg, beaten

• large-grained sugar (such as turbinado or “Sugar In The Raw”), for dusting

- Preheat oven to 350°. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat mat. Pour turbinado sugar into a bowl and set aside.

- In a large bowl, prepare dry ingredients: mix together flour, baking soda, ground ginger and salt.

- In a small saucepan heat butter until just melted over medium-low heat. Add molasses, sugar, and fresh ginger. Take mixture off the heat to allow to cool down a little. When mixture is no longer hot, whisk in the egg.

- Pour molasses mix over dry mix and stir until just combined. Form cookies into desirable size and roll in turbinado sugar.

- Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until cookie tops start to crackle.

** Optional: walnuts. I was going to use them (as shown in the pictures) but forgot all about it. Smush one walnut half in the top of each cookie before baking and it will get toasty as the cookies bake. It’s a nice crunch.