Chocolate Bottomed Macaroons

In the same vein as yesterday's posts, I wish all you fine Jewish friends a Happy Passover. It doesn't need to be Passover for you to enjoy macaroons, but it doesn't hurt. These fabulous little toasty coconutty beauties are enhanced by a chocolate bottom. My first experience with macaroons were ones with chocolate bottoms, and I swear to you, it is the best imaginable way to have them.

Chocolate Bottomed Macaroons (reprinted from The Naked Beet, who got it from the Joy of Baking)

-4 large eggs
-3/4 cup of sugar
-1/4 tsp. salt
-2 tsps of vanilla extract
-6 cups of shredded, unsweetened coconut flakes
-a small amount of chocolate ganache

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Whisk eggs with sugar, salt, and extract. Add in all the coconut and make sure the flakes are moistened entirely.

2. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes. Line a baking or cookie sheet with parchment paper. Once the mixture is cold, use a tablespoon or melon baller to scoop each macaroon into a round triangle. You can also shape them with slightly wet fingertips into your desired shape before putting them into the oven. Put them into the middle of the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Cool the macaroons on the cookie sheet before you remove them from the tray. Some of the edges will be very brown (almost burnt) but don’t worry about this, as the bottoms will be covered in chocolate!

3. Once the macaroons have cooled, dip each one into the ganache approximately an eighth of an inch from the bottom, making sure any excess drips come back to the ganache bowl before you place the macaroon sideways down on the plate. Continue with all the macaroons. You can store them in a metal canister, covered by wax paper at the top and bottom. They will keep for a week or so.

You know what works well for storing macaroons? An empty macaroon canister.

Yield: I think I got about 50 macaroons out of this recipe.
Calories: Don't know, but they're not great for you. On the plus side, they're little and extremely chewy, so it's easy to only eat one or two. Just don't overindulge (difficult as that may be).

Chocolate Ganache
-3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
-2 tablespoons unsalted butter (salted was also fine because you're using such small amounts per macaroon--I know because I ran out of unsalted. Whoops.)
-1 tablespoon brandy or cognac (All I had was orange curacao, and y'know what? It was great.)
-8 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped up finely

1. In a saucepan, bring cream and butter to a boil for a couple minutes, stirring constantly. Make sure it doesn't burn!

2. Place chopped chocolate in a bowl. Pour boiling cream mixture over the chocolate and stir until combined.

3. Ganache it up to your heart's desire.

Israel: Israeli Salad ....and Brisket!

Once upon a time, I lived with my good friend Zack. Before living with me, Zack lived in a house with something like 8 other college boys. Zack and at least a few of these former roommates were Jewish. During my tenure as Zack's roommate, he invited me along to his old apartment to take part in Passover Seder. Being a foodie and a cultural anthropology nerd, I happily accepted the invite. Now, I will not say that this was a particularly orthodox Seder (it may have involved someone reading from The Haggadah in an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice), but it was interesting, and above all, delicious.

As his contribution to the meal, Zack prepared his mother's recipe for beef brisket. It was delectable. As an aside, I adore Zack's mother. She is the nicest lady you'll ever want to meet. She sent us homemade Matzo Crunch during passover (SO GOOD), and she sent her son's goy roommate (that's me) an ornament to hang on the Christmas tree!

So, it was a natural decision that I would make Zack's Mom's (she has a real name--it's Karen) Beef Brisket for my Uber-Shiksa Seder. Actually, it was not my intent to do a Seder meal (which is why it's very clearly not a Seder meal). I wanted to do my Israel challenge during the week of Passover. My first thought was "Ooh! Macaroons!" But macaroons are not Israeli (they're French). Neither is beef brisket (it's German). So, I made macaroons and beef brisket and Israeli Salad.

Israeli Salad is considered one of Israel's national dishes. It's close to tabbouleh, but does not have bulgur wheat (making it a very appropriate Passover treat). Though it is a national dish, the origins are fairly recent. Tomatoes were not introduced into the area until the early-mid 1800's.

Israeli Salad (from
-4 small plum tomatoes
-2 cucumbers, peeled
-3 scallions
-1/2 cup flat leaf parsely, chopped
-1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
-1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
-3-4 tablespoons olive oil
-Juice of 1 lemon
-Salt & pepper to taste

1. Finely chop all vegetables and herbs.

2. Lightly mix all ingredients together in a bowl.

3. Serve at room temperature (though, I had mine cold and it was pretty refreshing).

Zack's Mom's Beef Brisket (from Karen F. Zack's Mom.)
-3-5 lb beef brisket
-1 large white onion, chopped
-1 bottle of good, dark beer (we used Negra Modelo because there was absolutely no other good dark beers at the store...stupid Illinois. However, Negra Modelo worked just fine).
-Various spices, to your liking (I used the following: Salt, pepper, oregano, garlic powder, thyme, and paprika).

1. Preheat oven to 325.

2. In a 13x9" glass pan, place brisket fat side up. Put as much of the spices on the brisket as you'd like. Pour chopped onions on top of brisket, and around sides. Pour the bottle of beer around the sides of the brisket (not on top!).

3. Cover pan tightly with tin foil. Bake for at least two hours. At the two hour mark, push the onions off the brisket and baste. If not done, re-cover and bake longer until your desired degree of meat done-ness is reached.


Light Brioche Buns

When I'm bored, I look for new and exciting food blogs. When I hit a good one, I dig deep. The other day, I read a year and a half back into the Smitten Kitchen's blog (because really--who doesn't love that woman?). During one such blog reading frenzy, I came across Lori's Lipsmacking Goodness. Her blog is very readable and funny, and the recipes she makes are very much to my liking. So, imagine my elation when she tried out one of the recipes I'd wanted to try from Smitten Kitchen!

Once I read Lori's post about these Light Brioche Buns, I was unable to get them out of my head. It became an obsession. At work, I would answer the phone and say, "College of Briocheneering, this is Heather." I would arrive home, fall into Greg's arms and say "Brioche! I brioched you so much today!"

I am glad that I was so obsessed, because it resulted in fabulous buns. I brioched the hell out of those buns.

Light Brioche Buns
(Yanked from Lori's Lipsmacking Goodness, who yanked it from the Smitten Kitchen, who yanked it from the New York Times recipe from Hidefumi Kubota, Comme Ça, Los Angeles)

-3 tablespoons warm milk
-2 teaspoons active dry yeast
-2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
-2 large eggs
-3 cups bread flour
-1/3 cup all-purpose flour
-1 1/2 teaspoons salt
-2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1. In a glass measuring cup, combine 1 cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, beat 1 egg.

2. In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, unfloured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Shape dough into a ball and return it to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts. Gently roll each into a ball and arrange 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let buns rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours.

5. Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Yield: 8 buns.

Verdict: Mmmmmmmmmmmm. And furthermore: MMMMMMM! These are fantastic. Originally, I thought that "light" was descriptive of the texture of the buns--as in, 'airy.' But no. These are dense, rich, sinful buns. "Light" refers to the fact that they are MUCH lower in calories than normal brioche (as you may or may not know, brioche is loaded with calories, due to its high butter and sugar content). I planned on using these as sandwich buns for beef brisket (and they would work well as sandwich buns), but ended up just smearing some butter on it and enjoying it all on its own.

Chile: Empanadas de Pino

Things I consider a challenge:
-Rolling dough into a circle
-A recipe that requires you to "press the dough together to seal edges" (who knows if it'll stick? ack! the mystery!)
-Filling pastries with things that may leak out during the baking process

It was for these reasons that I chose to make Empanadas de Pino for my Chilean challenge. That and because they looked delicious. Empanadas are not for the faint of heart (literally--you shouldn't eat these if you have a heart condition). They are one of the more fat bastardy items I've made in recent times (including croissants, because let's face it, those croissants didn't have meat in them). The dough has two tablespoons of butter and twelve--count 'em, twelve!--tablespoons of shortening. And two egg yolks. And that's just the dough. Mmm...arteriosclerosisicious...

As you may or may not know, empanadas are popular the world over, though they are known by many names. They originated in Spain and Portugal, and were brought to South America by colonists. Despite the foreign origin, empanadas are strongly associated with South America, and are one of the national dishes for both Chile and Argentina (slightly different fillings for each country, but the same concept).

Each family has their own variation of Empanadas de Pino. This is a great recipe for varying the fillings or spices as you see fit. For example, as my mother would tell you, I hate raisins in savory dishes. They do not belong there! My dad used to make "Spanish Rice" a lot when I was a kid, and he would ruin it by putting raisins in there. Yuck, blech, and ptooey! Nonetheless, I made exactly two empanadas with raisins per the recipe below, just to say that I tried the "real thing." I can also say that I didn't enjoy it. Luckily, the rest were raisin-free and totally tasty.

Empanadas de Pino (from

-4 cups flour
-1-2 teaspoons salt
- 2-3 tablespoons sugar
-2 tablespoons butter, softened
-12 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening, at room temperature
-3/4 cup cup water
-2 egg yolks

1. Sift the flour into a bowl. Stir in the salt and the sugar.

2. Work the butter and shortening or lard into the flour mixture with your fingers until well blended.

3. Whisk the egg yolks into the water. Stir in the 1/2 cup of water/egg mixture, a little at a time until the dough comes together smoothly. Keep kneading the dough, adding more water/egg a little bit at a time as necessary (you made need more than 1 cup), until the dough is very smooth, about 5-10 minutes. You can knead the dough with a standing mixer and a dough hook attachment.

4. Cover the dough with saran wrap and let rest on the counter for about an hour. (Dough can also be kept overnight in the refrigerator, then brought to room temperature before using.) Dough should be soft and smooth, and not elastic - if you poke a hole in it with your finger, the indentation should remain.

-Makes enough for 8 large empanadas (**NOTE: I don't know how 'large' the empanadas are that they're referring to. In the filling recipe below, you'll see the instructions given for the size of the dough balls creates about 24 balls, not 8. So...modify this to your size/amount liking!)

Pino Filling:
-Empanada dough (see above)
-3 large onions, chopped
-1 pound ground beef
-2 teaspoons cumin
-1 teaspoon chile powder
-1 tablespoon paprika
-1 beef bouillon cube, dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water
-2 tablespoons flour
-1/2 cup raisins
-1/2 cup chopped olives
-2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
-1 egg yolk
-2 tablespoons milk

1. Prepare empanada dough and chill.

2. Cook the onions and garlic in the vegetable oil and butter until softened. Add the ground beef, cumin, chile powder, paprika, beef bouillon, and salt and pepper to taste.

3. Cook the beef, stirring and crumbling the meat, until browned. Add the flour and continue to cook for 5 or 10 minutes more.

4. Remove the meat mixture and let cool. The beef mixture will keep up to 2 days in the refrigerator.

5. Shape the empanadas: Separate the dough into golf ball size pieces, and roll into smooth balls. Let rest for 5 minutes. On a floured surface, roll each ball of dough into a 6 inch diameter circle, about 1/4 inch thick. Add 1 tablespoon of the beef filling, a few raisins and some chopped olives, and a slice of hard boiled egg to the middle of the circle.

6. Brush the edges with water and fold the pastry in half over the filling, to make a semi-circle.

7. Seal the edges by pressing down with your fingers.

8. Brush the sealed edge lightly with water, then turn the edge toward the middle and press with your fingers to seal.

9. Mix the egg yolk with 2 tablespoons milk, and brush the empanadas with the mixture.

10. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Servings: My recipe made 24 dough balls. There was easily enough pino filling to make another 24. However, 2 hard boiled eggs was not enough for 24 dough balls. As I found the hard boiled egg slice to be the best part, I would recommend making a third or fourth egg, just in case.

Now, for the element of surprise: I also made dessert empanadas! I made up a filling to be kind of an Italian-Greek desserty sorta thing (I was hoping for something like baklava in an empanada--genius, I know--which it wasn't...but it was still fantastic). These were awesome. They were like little semi-creamy apple pies. Since I made it up, I don't have an exact recipe per se. But it went something like this:

Italiany Greeky Dessert Empanadas:
-About 1/4-1/3 cup part-skim ricotta
-3/4 teaspoon sugar
-1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon (depending on your taste)
-1/4 teaspoon allspice (I thought I had ground cloves, but I didn' this worked in a pinch)
-Handful of walnuts per empanada

1. Mix the ricotta and spices together very well.

2. Follow the empanada dough rolling protocol from above. Spread a generous tablespoon or two of the ricotta mixture onto the dough. Sprinkle on as many walnuts as you'd like (I think a nice big helping is best--it helps fill out the empanada more). Squeeze honey all across the filling. Mmmm, honey.
3. Close, seal, and brush with egg yolk as with the savory empanadas. Sprinkle with some more sugar. Bake as above.

Servings: I made four dessert empanadas (with filling left over).

Ireland: Corned Beef, Champ, and Irish Soda Bread


Doing Ireland three days before St. Patrick's Day? Who would've guessed?!

About this time every year, I get serious jones for corned beef brisket. Okay, that's a lie. I have serious jones for corned beef brisket pretty much all the time--but I usually only buy it around St. Patrick's Day, because a) It's on sale ($5 for a brisket? That's crazy talk!), and b) I can justify all the salt and fat once a year, because, it's St. Patrick's Day, dammit.

Making corned beef is both not a challenge, nor is it particularly Irish. In fact, corned beef brisket is one of England's national dishes, not Ireland's. I don't know how it became so associated with Ireland. Either way, I thought that in the vein of trying to be proper in my challenges, I would also make Champ (mashed potatoes with leeks), and, at Greg's request, Irish Soda Bread. Both very Irish! Both very delicious!

I won't put the corned beef recipe up, because you should just follow the boiling instructions on the package. However, here are the Champ and Irish Soda Bread recipes for your cooking pleasure.

Irish Soda Bread (from a Gourmet Magazine cookbook)
-4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus extra for sprinkling
-1/2 cup toasted wheat germ (**NOTE: Our local co-op was completely out of wheat germ. How often do you suppose that happens? Anyway, I substituted oat bran from the bulk bin (the grains looked similar), and forgot to toast it, and it was all still fine)
-2 teaspoons baking soda-1 1/2 teaspoons salt
-1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
-1 1/2 cups dried currants (or, failing you finding those, raisins)
-1 tablespoon caraway seeds
-1 3/4 -2 cups buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 400. Sprinkle flour on a baking sheet.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, wheat germ, baking soda, and salt. Add butter, tossing to coat. With your fingertips, blend butter into the flour until a coarse meal forms. Add currants and caraway seeds, tossing to coat. Stir in 1 3/4 cups buttermilk, adding up to 1/4 cup extra if necessary, to evenly moisten. Don't over work the dough!

3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. With floured hands, knead dough for 1 minute, sprinkling with extra flour to prevent sticking (and the dough will be sticky!). Divide the dough into two equal parts and place on the baking sheet. Pat each part into 5" rounds. Sprinkle each round with flour, using fingertips to spread flour evenly over the surface. With a sharp knife, cut a shallow X into the top of each round.
4. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until golden brown. Cool for 2 hours before cutting (**NOTE: I didn't--poor planning. However, it was great served warm.)

-Makes 2 loves
-Calories: Unknown, but probably not too bad for you.

Champ (from a Gourmet Magazine cookbook)
-3 pounds potatoes (like Russet), scrubbed
-1 1/2 cups milk
-1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
-6 small leeks, rinsed well, divided in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise (about 3 cups)

1. Place potatoes in a large pot. Cover by 2" with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 30 minutes.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, heat butter and milk in a saucepan over medium heat, until butter melts. Add the leeks, simmer 5-10 minutes, until tender. Strain the leeks into a bowl, squeezing moisture through sieve. Keep the milk mixture warm by covering.

3. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and place into a large bowl (**NOTE: We love nutritious potato skins in our household, so the skins stayed on). Doing 1/3 potatoes and milk mixture at a time, mash the potatoes and milk mixture to reach the desired consistency. Mix in salt and pepper to taste. Fold in the leeks. Serve warm.

**You may make this up to 2 days in advance, if kept covered and chilled. Reheat, covered, in a 350 degree oven until hot.

-Serves 6
-I think it's pretty obvious that this is not good for you, and you should eat it in moderation. :)

Verdict: I ate this meal with a Capital Brewery Imperial Dopplebock. I recommend you eat this meal with a nice medium to dark bodied beer, too. It was a winner. I love Ireland. Erin go Braugh. Vive le Ireland.

Italy & Daring Cooks Challenge: Risotto, Veal Rollatini, Italian-Style Swiss Chard, and Rosemary Foccacia


This month's Daring Cook's Challenge was risotto, hosted by Eleanor and Jess of Melbournefoodgeek and Jessthebaker. The only requirements were that you make your own stock (whether it be beef, chicken, or some sort of vegetable-based stock), and your own base (which consists of wine, rice, oil, cheese, and butter). Other than that, you could make any one of a billion risotto recipes found the world over. I am not particularly adventurous when trying new things--I don't improvise much and I stick to the recipe. In this case, I think that served me well. I wound up making a Porcini Mushroom Risotto.

The Daring Cook's Challenge coincided nicely (again) with my 50 Countries Challenge. There are some countries you just need to do up right, and Italy is one of them. What I really wanted to do for my Italian 50 Countries Challenge was make Rosemary Foccacia. After all...what would be better than Rosemary Foccacia and Porcini Mushroom Risotto?

I'll tell you what's better: Veal! Veal that's been stuffed with chopped mozzarella, prosciutto, and parmesan, pan-fried, baked, and then served with mushrooms that have been sauteed in white wine and chicken stock. And then maybe served with a side of spicy, garlicky, olive oily swiss chard. And a nice glass of Chianti (the fancy imported kind with a cool customs sticker on it).

Now, that's an Italian meal.

Did I get carried away? Yes. A bit. I made this meal for when our dear friend Gwen came down for a visit, and so justified away the ridiculous expense and labor intensiveness. The meal took 4 hours to prepare, used every skillet I own (as well as most of the sauce pans), and absorbed every single place I had to set down said pots and pans. This may (or may not) have been helped by the fact that Gwen was making me fantastic brandy old fashioned's throughout the process.

However, I think I needed those drinks, because the focaccia was a raging disaster. It was less me than the recipe. I used a cookbook called "Antipasto" (though, I don't remember the authors/publishers at the moment). It is a book full of (you guessed it) antipasto. I thought that surely, this book full of Italian food would know how to make focaccia. I was wrong. 4 cups of flour to 1 cup of milk and 1/4 cup olive oil made a dry, brain-like, unkneadable mass that was supposed to be "smooth and elastic." I'm no novice at bread making, so this shouldn't have been a problem. Alas, it was. There was simply too much flour. The bread ended up tasting like nothing but flour. It was very, very gross. So gross that I refuse to post the recipe. But, here is a picture.

Disastrous Foccacia. Looks better than it was, believe me.

The rest of the meal was spectacular. The best part was the veal--something I recommend you run out and make this instant. The risotto was a triumph of mushrooms and patience--lusciously rich and creamy. The swiss chard was flavorful and added the non-fatty nutrients the meal needed. A good Chianti rounded it all out. I almost forgot about the sad foccacia. Oh well. Next time.

Porcini Mushroom Risotto
(from Simply Recipes)
-4 Tbsp butter
-2 cups porcini mushrooms (**NOTE: I used two 1 ounce bags of dried porcini mushrooms--save the liquid you rehydrate in, it will serve as your stock!)
-2/3 cup cognac, vermouth, or dry white wine
-3/4 cup heavy cream
-7 cups chicken stock* (**NOTE: Use your rehydrating water as stock! I'd saved the stock from when I rehydrated "Exotic" mushrooms for my Japchae, so I used that to supplement the 7 cups needed for this recipe)
-1 Tbsp olive oil
-1/3 cup of peeled and minced shallots (OR 1/3 cup of yellow or white onion, finely chopped)
-1 3/4 cups arborio rice
-1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
-Salt and freshly ground black pepper
-2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
*Note: If cooking gluten-free, use homemade stock or gluten-free packaged stock.

1. Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté about 5 minutes (if using chanterelles, dry sauté first for a minute or two and let the mushrooms cook in their own juices before adding the butter). Add cognac, bring to a boil, and reduce liquid by half, about 3-4 minutes. Lower heat to medium, add cream, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

2. Bring stock to a simmer in a saucepan.

3. In a deep, heavy, medium sized saucepan, heat oil and remaining butter on medium low. Add shallots or onions and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat with butter and oil. Add simmering stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring enough to keep the rice from sticking to the edges of the pan. Wait until the stock is almost completely absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup. This process will take about 20 minutes. The rice should be just cooked and slightly chewy.

4. Stir in the mushroom mixture and the Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve garnished with parsley.

-Servings: 6
-Calories: Don't know, don't want to know.

Veal Rollatini (from The Italian Chef)
-1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, chopped
-1/4 pound prosciutto, chopped
-1/4 cup freshly grated parmagiano-reggiano cheese
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
-1 pound veal scallopine, thinly sliced and pounded
-1/4 cup olive oil
-flour spread on a plate for dredging
-3 tablespoons of butter
-1/2 pound of mushrooms
-1/2 cup white wine
-1/2 cup chicken stock
-salt and sepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine mozarrella, prosciutto, parmagiano-reggiano and parsley in a bowl and mix well. Place a tablespoon of the mixture on each scalloppine, roll up and fasten with toothpicks.

2. Heat olive oil in a large oven-proof saute pan over medium-high heat. Dredge the rolled up veal in flour, shaking off the excess and place in pan. Brown quickly on all sides, then place the pan in the oven. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, turning once, until veal is cooked through and the cheese is melted.

3. Remove pan from oven, transfer veal to a plate and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Drain the oil from the pan, place over medium heat and add the butter and mushrooms. Saute the mushrooms until they begin to release their juices.

4. Add the white wine to the pan, and scrape loose with a wooden spoon all browning residues on the bottom and sides of the pan. Cook until the wine is reduced by half, then add the chicken broth and season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Return the veal to the pan and cook until sauce is reduced by half and thickened. Transfer the rollatini to warm serving plates, spoon sauce and mushrooms over and serve.

Servings: 4
Calories: Seriously, don't even think about it.

Italian-Style Swiss Chard (from
-1 bunch Swiss chard (**Note: I used two bunches--just the leaves, not the stems--with the same measurements given here, and it worked great. It was *just* enough for three servings, believe it or not!)
-1 cup water
-1 tablespoon salt
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
-1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
-salt to taste

1. Wash the Swiss chard and cut into 1 inch strips. Separate the thick and tough stalk sections from the upper leafy strips.

2. Bring the water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil in a large saucepan.

3. Cook the stalk sections in the salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Stir in the leafy strips and cook until the leaves are wilted and the stalks are fork tender, about 6 minutes. Drain and set aside.

4. Heat the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a large skillet over medium heat until aromatic, about 3 minutes. Add the drained Swiss chard, cook and stir for 2 minutes; season with salt to taste.

Servings: 3-4
Calories: 75, Fat: 6.9g

Verdict: Greg was a touch on the tipsy side by the time dinner was served, but he declared Italy the supreme ruler of the 50 Country Challenge. I'd have to agree. It was pretty faboo.

Chipotle Mac & Cheese

I love carbs. I love noodles, specifically. I love cheese. I love spicy food.

That is why a Cooking Light version of this recipe rocks my universe.

Seriously. This is one of my favorite recipes. When I told Greg I was making it this week, he got all excited. And then I got all excited. And then I waited like a kid on Christmas until I got to make it yesterday. And it was worth all the build up. It always is.

Chipotle Mac & Cheese
(from Cooking Light)
1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles, undrained
4 cups hot cooked elbow macaroni (about 2 cups uncooked)
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup 1% low-fat cottage cheese
1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray
3 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Remove 1 teaspoon adobo sauce from can; set aside. Remove 2 chipotle chiles from can; finely chop to measure 1 tablespoon. Reserve remaining chiles and adobo sauce for another use.

3. Melt butter in a Dutch oven (**or large, deep-sided skillet, like I do) over medium-high heat. Add chopped chiles, onion, bell pepper, and garlic; cook 4 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring frequently. Sprinkle with flour; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium; add tomatoes. Cook 3 minutes or until thickened.

4. Add reserved 1 teaspoon adobo sauce, pasta, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, milk, Parmesan, and egg; stir to combine. (**NOTE: Yes, this stage does look like a dutch oven full of vomit. But it's really good, I promise.)

5. Spoon pasta mixture into a 2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray; top with breadcrumbs. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

-Servings: 6
-Calories: 324, Carbs: 39.6g, Protein: 34.2g, Fat: 8.5g

-Exchanges: 2.5 starch, 3.5 protein, 1.5 fat (this recipe does not work out evenly calorie-wise for exchanges...but these are my best estimates).

Sweden: St. Lucia Buns (Lussekatt)

I like to buck tradition. And in the spirit of bucking tradition, I made a Swedish Christmastime dessert in early March. I also like to make pancakes for dinner sometimes. What of it?

Tradition dictates that on December 13th (Saint Lucy's Day), the family's oldest daughter wearing a white robe with red sashes, and a wreath with candles on her head, wakes the eldest members of the family with these lussekatt in bed. Additionally, the daughter sings a song. Legend tells us that Lucia put the candles in the wreath on her head in order to free up her arms to carry the bread she was smuggling to Christians in hiding. Lucia must've been really graceful, because I know if I were her, my hair would've caught on fire. So, let's all be thankful that I'm not Swedish (as I am my family's eldest daughter).

Does anyone remember Kirsten, the Swedish "American Girl" doll? I don't think she's regularly sold anymore, but when I was very little, she was one of the three dolls they had. I became familiar with Saint Lucy's Day because of Kirsten, and because of this book cover:
Though, I don't think I knew what she was carrying were lussekatt. And I'm pretty sure I never thought I would make them.

So, here we are. I made lussekatt. Mostly because I'm going to be at work late for the first three days of the work week, and will be unable to cook (and because we had dinner plans last night). Also--and no offense, Sweden (we all know I love you and IKEA)--I found most of the Swedish recipes I was finding to be pretty unpalatable. The idea of lightly flavored saffron buns was much more appealing. I also thought lussekatt were slightly less predictable than Swedish Meatballs, and much prettier to photograph.

St. Lucia Buns (Lussekatt) - from Recipe Gold Mine
-2 packages dry, active yeast
-1/2 cup warm water (110-115 degrees)-2/3 cups lukewarm milk, scalded and cooled
-1/2 cup sugar
-1/2 cup butter, softened
-2 eggs
-1 teaspoon cardamom
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
-5 - 5 1/2 cups, unbleached all purpose flour
-1/2 cup raisins
For Glaze:
-Butter, softened
-1 egg, slightly beaten
-1 tablespoon water
-2 tablespoons sugar

1. Dissolve years in warm water in a large bowl. Stir in scalded milk, sugar, butter, 2 eggs, cardamom, salt, saffron, and 3 cups flour. (**NOTE: I used a blender to mix all of this, adding 1 1/2 cups flour at a time). Beat until smooth. Then, stir (by hand) enough of the remaining lour to make dough easy to handle.

2. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.

3. Place dough in a greased bowl, turn greased side up. Cover, let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 1/2 -2 hours, or until doubled.

4. Punch dough down; divide into 4 equal parts. Cut each part into 6 pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth rope, 10-12" long. Shape each rope into an S-shape and coil the ends. Place on greased cookie sheets. Brush tops lightly with butter and place raisins in the middle of each coil. Let rise until doubled in size, about 35-40 minutes.

5. Heat oven to 350. Mix 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water and brush buns with mixture. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until golden-brown, about 15-20 minutes.