Gift-giving for the Culinary Inclined

This year Mr. J and I got some great food and cooking related holiday gifts and I wanted to share them! Here’s a roundup of these fun items. Our families know us too well.

Cast Iron Skillet for the grill, and an authentic deep dish Pizza Pan from Lou Malnati’s in Chicago. I’m so excited to whip up some pizza soon! We can’t grill outside the condo, but someday we’ll own a house and can grill year-round (or when there isn’t snow covering it).

I asked for bakeware and this one is so fun! I love the yellow. You’re sure to see some posts come out of this.

We got some tools as well. 3 Wooden Pampered Chef spoons & spatulas, a set of new whisks, and a nifty little spoon to get to the smallest quantities.

I got a set of 3 CorningWare baking dishes with covers. Great sizes. Now I have options to whip up double batches and freeze them.

Lastly, we got a set of everyday dishes from Bobby Flay…or from Mrs. E & Mr. T but made by Bobby who will always have a special place in our hearts since we got engaged at his restaurant, Bar Americain.
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Mr. J and I got a few cook books and some fun ingredients that I’m sure will make an appearance soon.

Cuchi Cuchi – ooo la la!

Yay! A new fav!

I went to Cuchi Cuchi on a Thursday evening at 6 PM with one of my favorite people to eat with, Miss L. We were so enraptured by the decor, costumes, and cocktails we couldn’t even order when prompted.

Miss L and I have been meaning to try this home-y vintage hideout. Normally, we study menus and read reviews anywhere one of us has plans to go, even if we not both going! I should have studied the cocktail menu more closely before awkwardly not being ready each time our adorable waitress came over…at least we warmed her up for when we weren’t ready to order food either!

Cuchi Cuchi is small, with a bunch of small tables, a few couch & coffee table lounge areas, and a great looking bar. The employees wear amazing costumes. I distinctly remember us commenting on a white flapper-style dress we saw pass by. Our waitress was friendly and maybe Russian? She donned a black velvet hat with a birdcage veil. Don’t you just wish everyone wore them nowadays? She genuinely wanted us to like everything we ordered and she applauded our drink choices and her return was timely. I chose a hibiscus martini and Miss L had a blackberry cosmo. We found them sweet, a good strength, and well made. I was impressed.

Cuchi Cuchi describes the food as, “international, ‘straight up’ smaller plates to be paired or shared.” They seem concerned people will call it tapas, which also seems to be a big deal to them.  We shared and really loved it. Our charming waitress suggested we order four plates to share. Given the price and being unfamiliar with the size, we started with just two to share.

After much deliberation, we got the potato croquettes with tomato curry dipping sauce and warm brie dipping sauce. Yum! I preferred the tomato sauce since the potato croquettes were small & cheesy so they need something to balance it. We also got the chicken kiev. I have no idea how they formed it the way they did. Mushrooms and herbs were cupped within an incredibly thin chicken breast shaped into a bowl. Must recreate this at home! Ordering anothing plate might have been a good idea but we were leisurely enjoying our bites, drinks, and convo so it was fine.

I’ll definitely be back. Clearly the Cuchi Cuchi crowd shows up at a fashionable 8 PM or later so 6 PM is definitely the time to sit back, and take your time. I envision a great drink and a bite at the bar in my future too.

Likes: memorable experience, amazing drinks, really unique atmosphere, historical references for the cocktails
Dislikes: prices were a bit high for me to truly be a regular.

Photo courtesy of Jason Bagley via Creative Commons

Baked Blueberry French Toast

This recipe is from Giada De Laurentiis. I know her recipes are supposed to be amazing, but this one must have a mistake. There is wayyy too much liquid. I adapted it and then baked it a second time to help with the consistency. Baked french toast is definitely the way to go. It means everything is ready at the same time! I’ll probably give it another go, but guessing the liquid amounts is probably a better method.

Ingredients

-Butter, for greasing (I used non-stick spray)
-6 eggs (I used 3 eggs)
-3 cups whole milk (I used 1 cup soy milk & 1/2 cup heavy cream)
-3/4 cup maple syrup, plus extra for serving (I used 1/2 cup)
-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus 1 tablespoon
-1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
-1 lemon, zested (I used 1/2 tsp lemon juice)
-3 (1-inch thick) slices (8 ounces) day-old challah or sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (I used about 6 slices of day old, oversized, French bread)
-2 cups (12 ounces) fresh or frozen, thawed, and drained blueberries
-3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Directions

Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until
frothy. Add the milk, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and lemon zest. Add the bread cubes and mix until coated. Stir in the blueberries. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
In a small bowl, mix together the remaining cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle the
cinnamon sugar over the egg mixture in an even layer. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the top is golden and the filling is set.

I baked for about 60-minutes and then let it cool/set. It definitely had too much liquid so we ate the crispy top parts. For round two, I baked it again in ramekins with another dusting of cinnamon sugar.

Apple Sausage Pizza with Beer Sauce

I love pizza in all forms. You’d think my family had pizza night growing up. Since we didn’t, I seem to make it a lot or at least make calzones a lot. This pizza was a great fall flavor and was adapted to use ingredients on hand. Mr. J doesn’t eat mushrooms so I out they went and we had some red onion so in that went!

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I’ve tried dough of all sorts. I still claim that fresh-refrigerated dough is best. The refrigerated dough in a can comes in third. Today, I gave Jiffy Mix a try which was a surprising 2nd choice. The dough instructed me to mix with water and then keep it at 85-degrees. I put it on the back burner where the oven vents. I found it extremely sticky and feared too much flour would make it wicked hard. Spray a piece of plastic wrap with non-stick spray to keep it where it belongs.

Ingredients

- pizza dough
- wheat germ for the bottom of the pizza so it doesn’t stick
- 2 links of sweet Italian sausage
- 1/2 red onion
- 1 small granny smith apple, sliced thin
- 1 cup of cheese (I used a mix of mozzarella and cheddar)
- 1 cup of beer (I used Blue Moon)
- About two tablespoons of coarse grain mustard
- About 1 tbs sour cream

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Directions:
Remove the casings on the sausage and brown it in a skillet. Add onion half way through  Remove the sausage and onion and add the beer.  Let it reduce by half and then add the mustard and black pepper.  Let the sauce cool a bit and add the sour cream.  Meanwhile by rolling out the pizza dough into some flour until it’s evenly thin.  Sprinkle wheat germ onto the pan before spreading dough out. Top it with some sauce before topping with sausage, onion, apple and cheese.  Drizzle with the beer/mustard sauce. Bake for about 15 minutes.

Increasing the Fall in Pumpkin Bread

Nothing is more fall than pumpkin bread BUT with walnuts and Craisins that fall factor was just amped up about 10 times. I don’t bake much but bread seems more manageable than cookies. I have to say, while it won’t make me a baker, I’m quite proud of the results! Can you say breakfast for the week?

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Ingredients

-1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
-4 eggs
-1 cup vegetable oil
-2/3 cup water
-3 cups sugar
-3 1/2 cups flour
-2 teaspoons baking soda
-1 1/2 teaspoons salt
-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
-1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
-1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
-1/2 cup Craisins
-1 cup walnuts 

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Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 7×3 inch loaf pans or one regular and 2 mini loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pumpkin pie spice. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended.

Pour into the prepared pans. Add Craisins and walnuts to taste. Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.