Nerd in the Kitchen

Easy & Delicious Shortbread
December 10, 2009, 11:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Today is the last exam in the law class that I TA. The kids are good, I like them a lot. So much in fact that I occasionally bake for them. The tricky part is that class is at 8am. What is easy and can be produced in large quantities and is still appropriate for the morning? A few weeks ago, I made 3 different kinds of muffins. That was a little insane, especially since I had to bake most of them at my friend’s apartment, requiring me to move my entire baking process midway. That was rough, but the muffins were awesome. Of course. There wasn’t really another option, was there? I didn’t think so. Well that brings us to the shortbread. One of my favorite blogs made super-easy lemon-chamomile shortbread. Simone has made these a bunch. Super tasty, but I was looking for something a little different from that combo. That’s when I ran across a clever kitten’s espresso-chocolate shortbread. Sounds perfect! However, it requires at least 2 hours of chilling, then cutting, and putting on baking sheets…ugh…so much work for the end of the semester. That’s when I decided to make my own recipe. And it came out really well. I actually made two different kinds: espresso-chocolate-toffee-almond shortbread and plain old espresso-chocolate shortbread. I made the toffee-almond first, then altered the recipe for the second one. Also, I made a double batch toffee-almond in a 9×13 pyrex and single batch plain in a 9×9 dark-coated pan. Totally different results. The toffee-almond were thick and and crumbly, whereas the plain were thinner and less crumbly. I found that doing a double batch in the stand mixer isn’t the best idea. The dough doesn’t come together quite the right way, instead forming shortbread sand that then needs to be patiently pressed into the pan. Is one form better than the other? Nope. Both are great, it just depends on what you’re looking for. So since I did this twice in a row with different variations, I’m going to post my favorite one, which was my second try. However, it’s really easy to make it into the toffee-almond. Really the only different was the type of chocolate bar I used (the toffee-almond used a milk chocolate toffee almond bar, the plan used a dark chocolate bar)!

Easy Espresso-Chocolate Shortbread

Makes 18 cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

~2 oz. chocolate of choice, finely chopped

2-1/4 cups flour

1-1/2 tsp. instant coffee

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease a 9×9 pan.

2. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy.

3. Add the chocolate, flour, and coffee and mix until combined and smooth.

4. Evenly press into prepared pan.

5. Bake for 28 minutes, until set and edges begin to brown. The overall color doesn’t change much in the baking process, so don’t be worried if they don’t look done.

6. Let cool for 10-15 minutes, then cut the shortbread into 9 squares and cut each of the squares along the diagonal, creating perfect little triangles. Let cool completely in the pan before removing.


No Knead Bread
November 17, 2009, 12:35 am
Filed under: Baking, Side Dishes

I’ve long thought that bread is witchcraft or voodoo. Or something magical. Mix flour, water, and yeast, maybe a pinch of salt, give it a good knead, then poof. Bread. I’m always intimidated by kneading. What if I under-knead? Or over-knead? What does it take? I don’t know. That’s why I’m thrilled to have discovered no-knead breads. No-knead breads are the way to go. And this is my go-to bread when I plan a day in advance. It’s just so easy and so good. It really can’t get any easier than this. Along with the salted butter ice cream and butternut squash risotto, I made this bread for a Monday night dinner. Make this bread as soon as possible. You won’t regret it. Actually you might. For realizing how easy bread-making can be. One thing you do need for this: a deep, oven-safe dish with a lid. I use an enamel-coated cast-iron dutch oven, but any oven-safe dish will do!

Easiest no-knead bread

3 c. flour

1/4-1 tsp. dry active yeast (depending on how long you are going to let it rise. Remember, the longer the rise, the better the bread. only use 1/4 tsp. if you can let it rise for 24 hours or 1 tsp. for a 12 hour first rise)

1-1/2 tsp. salt

1-1/2 c. water (I’ve found that it usually takes 1-3/4 cups)

Pinch of cornmeal (optional)

1. Stir together all dry ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Slowly stir in water until a very sticky dough is formed.

3. Put dough in a well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for up to 24 hours.

4. After the rise (when the dough is dotted with tiny bubbles), turn the dough onto a floured cutting board. Fold the dough onto itself. Let sit for 15 minutes. Quickly mold the dough in a nice round ball and cover with a dishtowel (whatever you do, do not use terrycloth as it will stick to the dough). Let rest for 2 hours. In this resting period, the dough won’t really rise at all, so don’t be nervous when you uncover it and it looks the same.

5. While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 450F. As the oven is heating, place a cast-iron dutch oven or other covered dish in the oven and let it go for about 30 minutes.

6. When the dough is ready, remove the dutch oven, sprinkle some cornmeal on the bottom of the pan, and carefully shimmy the dough from the cutting board into the pan. Put the lid back on and put the covered pot in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes with the lid on, followed by another 20 minutes with the lid off.

Be patient with this and you will receive the immense satisfaction of a perfect loaf of artisan-looking bread.

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream
November 17, 2009, 12:11 am
Filed under: Dessert, Ice cream, WW

This is one of the best ice creams I’ve ever made. Really. It’s amazing. And worth every calorie-filled bite. This is one that I will never ever try to adapt to be healthier. It’s just too good. I made it for tonight’s dinner party. I’m terribly sorry I don’t have any pictures. Hopefully I’ll get a camera soon (Christmas? Hint hint.). This doesn’t need the extra step for the praline, but it does help! One note: as a baker, I always use unsalted butter. Make sure to buy salted butter for this. It makes all the difference.

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

Adapted from David Lebovitz

For the caramel praline (mix-in)

1/2 c. sugar

3/4 tsp. sea salt

For the ice cream custard

2 c. whole milk, divided

1-1/2 c. sugar

4 tbs. salted butted

3/4 tsp. sea salt

1 c. heavy cream

5 egg yolks

3/4 tsp. vanilla extract


1. Spread the ½ cupof sugar in an even layer in a medium-sized, unlined heavy duty saucepan. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or brush it sparingly with unflavored oil.

2. Heat the sugar over moderate heat until the edges begin to melt. Use a heatproof utensil to gently stir the liquefied sugar from the bottom and edges towards the center, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved. (Or most of it—there may be some lumps, which will melt later). Continue to cook stirring infrequently until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it’s just about to burn. It won’t take long.

3. Without hesitation, sprinkle in the ¾ teaspoon salt without stirring, then pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet and lift up the baking sheet immediately, tilting and swirling it almost vertically to encourage the caramel to form as thin a layer as possible. Set aside to harden and cool. When cooled, break into tiny pieces. This can be done by hand or whatever method you prefer.

Ice Cream

1. Make an ice bath by filling a large bowl about a third full with ice cubes and adding a cup or so of water so they’re floating. Nest a smaller metal bowl (at least 2 quarts/liters) over the ice, pour 1 cup of the milk into the inner bowl, and rest a mesh strainer on top of it.

2. Spread 1-1/2 cups sugar in the saucepan in an even layer. Cook over moderate heat, until caramelized, using the same method described in Praline Step #2.

3. Once caramelized, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt, until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you go. The caramel may harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel is melted.

4. Stir in 1 cup of the milk.

5. Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a heatproof utensil, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160-170 F (71-77 C).

6. Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath, add the vanilla, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.

7. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

8. Once your caramel ice cream is churned, quickly stir in the crushed caramel, then chill in the freezer until firm.
Another note: The little bits of praline will probably liquefy as the ice cream firms in the freezer. This is totally normal and actually supposed to happen.

For weight watchers: This makes about 1 quart, which means each 1/3 cup is worth 7 points. A lot, I know. But worth it. Really.

Procrasticooking: Dinner party on a Monday night
November 16, 2009, 11:54 pm
Filed under: Pastas & Sauces, WW

I haven’t posted in a while, which is really a shame. If I must say so, I have created some really delicious meals in the last few weeks since my last post in September. I’ve been crazy stressed. My life is a complete mess. Generally failing in all arenas. PhD applications are due really soon, as are all of my papers. Punk rockers don’t want to be interviewed (are you a punk rocker in Syracuse?? If so, talk to me!!). So what does this all mean? I’ve been baking and cooking a lot. Seems counterproductive (it is), but it helps me calm down. Also, it’s seriously time to get back on that weight watcher wagon. It’s happening. All of that being, it’s a Monday night and I made dinner for 9. No big deal. Just your typical Monday night dinner at Chez Kelly. It consisted of an antipasto, homemade bread, butternut squash risotto, and salted butter caramel ice cream. Everything was so good. I forget how much I enjoy a good antipasto. This one was gathered at Wegman’s olive bar and deli. We had marinated artichoke hearts, chili marinated garlic, pitted kalamata and green olives, garlic or almond stuffed olives, marinated mushrooms, good parmesan, Genoa salami, and hot capicola (Wegman’s brand is great). Aside from the antipasto, everything else was homemade. It made for an exciting Sunday evening/Monday. Here are the tasty recipes.

Butternut Squash Risotto

Adapted from Ina Garten

2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed

Olive oil, salt, and pepper

4 tbs. butter

1-1/2 c. onion, diced

1/2 c. white wine

6 c. chicken stock (I used vegetable stock for the vegetarians)

1 tsp. saffron threads

1 c. grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400F.

2. Spread chopped butternut squash on a baking sheet, lightly coat with olive oil (I use a spray), and season with salt and pepper. Put in oven for 20-25 minutes, until tender.

3. Put all of the stock in a pot and simmer.

4. In a large heavy bottom pot, like an enamel coated cast iron pot (I know that says braising pan, but I desperately want it and it is perfect for risotto), melt the butter and saute the onions over medium-high heat until translucent, but not brown.

5. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, for 4-5 minutes. This allows for the rice to start to cook a little before adding the liquid.

6. Add the white wine and stir frequently for about 4 minutes, until the wine is nearly gone.

7. Now here is where the work comes in. Add 2 ladles of the stock to the risotto and stir until it is nearly gone. Add another 2 ladles of stock. Stir. Ladle stock. stir. This should go on for about 30 minutes. After about 15 minutes, it will start to look done. It’s not. It’s a trick. Taste it and it will still be crunchy. Be patient with the risotto. Put on some good music and just keep ladling and stirring until it seems like the risotto won’t absorb any more liquid. At this point, it should take about 4 minutes for 2 ladles of the stock to be absorbed.

8. Once the rice is al dente, remove from the heat, add the roasted squash and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Note: Risotto is very fickle. It needs to be served almost immediately. If making this for a dinner party, either plan on eating it as soon as your guests arrive or par-cook the risotto until it needs about 2-3 more ladles of stock and immediately remove from the heat. Do not cover the pot, as that will encourage further cooking. About 10 minutes before you’re ready to eat, bring the risotto back up to cooking temperature and finish with the remaining stock and add the cheese/squash.

For weight watchers out there: It’s possible to get 8 portions out of this. 8 portions means that each is worth 7 points. 6 portions equals 9 points.

Lasagna Dinner Party
September 20, 2009, 2:11 pm
Filed under: Pastas & Sauces

I’m branching out. Not so much in terms of cooking, but in terms of making new friends. It’s exciting stuff. This past week, I learned I have a common interest in cooking and baking with Cyp. Cyp is quite the maker of desserts. So we decided to do dinner. He’d make dessert, I’d handle the rest. This plan went down last night and I must say it was pretty successful. Seven of us gathered around my dining room table and feasted on venison lasagna, roasted vegetable lasagna, french bread, Cesar salad, and Cyp’s chocolate torte with vanilla ice cream. Dessert was, in a word, awesome. Dinner was pretty good to. I swear, one of these days I’ll start taking pictures. I don’t know what’s going on with me, but I seem to be dropping everything in the kitchen. Things just haven’t been going right. Which is pretty disconcerting. It’s usually the one place I can count on for consistency. So instead of trying some new, fun dish, I stuck to an old standard with a twist: lasagna, which i could make blindfolded, but with venison instead of a mixture of beef, pork, and veal. The french bread was an interesting endeavor. It tasted fine, but every step along the way, it just seemed wrong. We polished off the first loaf, but I ruined the second one by dropping a lot of the vegetable lasagna on the bread. Remember I said I was dropping stuff? This was just step one of the mess of dropping things all over my kitchen. Anyway, the venison lasagna was really tasty, but the noodles seemed overcooked or something. Tasty nonetheless. It’s great for feeding a crowd, it’s easy to make, and people always think you put a lot more effort in than you actually did. Sounds perfect to me!


1 lb. lasagna noodles, cooked al dente

Olive oil/olive oil spray

1.5-2 lbs. of meat (venison, pork, beef, veal, or any combination of those)

1 medium onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

Salt, pepper, and your favorite Italian seasonings

2 large jars of tomato sauce (this is way easier than making your own, but if you want to make it, you probably need about 8-10 cups), reserve 1 cup of the sauce

1 lb. ricotta cheese

3 cups shredded mozzarella

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Lightly coat a large sauce pan with olive oil and brown the meat, onions, and garlic. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and other favorite Italian seasonings like oregano or red pepper flakes (or just use some Italian seasoning!). When the meat is cooked through, add the majority of the tomato sauce.

3. Time to layer the lasagna. In a lasagna pan or a 9×13 baking dish, pour the 1 cup of reserved tomato sauce. Put down a layer of the lasagna noodles, so that they overlap slightly. Spread 1/2 of the ricotta on the noodles. Pour a little more than 1/3 of the meat sauce evenly over the ricotta. Sprinkle 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese on the sauce.

4. Repeat the pasta, ricotta, sauce, and cheese layer.

5. Add a third layer of pasta. Top with the remaining meat sauce and mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top.

6. Cover with tin foil and put in the oven. Back for 30 minutes, then remove the foil for the remaining 20 minutes, allowing the top layers of cheese to turn slightly brown.

7. Let the lasagna sit for 10 minutes or so before cutting, otherwise the pasta and layers will fall all over the place!!

8. Serve with some good bread and a nice salad.

Comfort tonight: Roasted Butternut Squash with Pasta
September 17, 2009, 7:51 pm
Filed under: Pastas & Sauces, WW

Two things are influencing my food mood: the beginning of fall weather and a need for comfort. I picked up my CSA tonight and was disappointed to not get a butternut squash. This confirmed that I really wanted to make a dish that Jesslyn and I made this summer when I visited her and Jim in Madison. It was a roasted butternut squash with pasta one-pot dish. And it was to die for. When we made it, the recipe said it fed 4 and we thought that it would feed 6. There was so much of it! As it turned out, it fed the three of us. It’s just that good. We gorged on it. Simone and I have our weekly baking club tonight and we decided this would be a great, easy dinner to make while we baked peanut butter fudge treats.

The pasta took about 30-40 minutes start to finish to make and it was exactly what I was looking for. A comforting, fall bowl of pasta. I highly recommend this to everyone!

Roasted Butternut Squash with Pasta

Serves 3-6 people, depending on how hungry you are!

1 medium to large butternut squash, peeled and seeded

1 medium onion, diced

4 strips of bacon, diced

1.5 Tbsp. fresh sage, chopped

Olive oil, salt, and pepper

1 lb. of pasta (rigatoni or penne)

1.5 cups of the pasta water

1 cup Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

2. Cube the squash into pieces no larger than 1″. Distribute the squash, onion, and bacon on a baking sheet. Lightly coat with olive oil and sprinkle with the sage, salt, and pepper. Put in the oven for 25 minutes, turning the squash about halfway through.

3. While the squash is cooking, boil the pasta. When the pasta is done, drain it, but reserve about 1.5 cups of the pasta water. Pour the pasta back into the now-empty pot.

4. When the squash is tender and the onions have caramelized, pour the baking sheet contents into the pot with the pasta. Add the Parmesan cheese and 1 cup of the pasta water. Mix until the cheese is melted and the squash is combined. Add water is needed.

Note: 1/6 of this is 12 WW points. It’s worth every bit.

Dinner tonight: Bolognese over spaghetti squash
September 16, 2009, 8:33 pm
Filed under: Pastas & Sauces, WW

Ok, so I saw this on slashfood this week. It’s a healthy version of a traditional bolognese sauce, served over spaghetti squash. Now, I make a pretty kickass traditional bolognese and just always resigned myself to the idea that it would be a bad thing to eat. But over spaghetti squash?? And using turkey instead of a mixture of pork, veal, and beef?? BRILLIANT! Since it is getting cooler and more fall like and I received a spaghetti squash in my CSA last week, I decided to make my own version. I haven’t eaten it yet as I’m waiting for Simone and possibly Jason to get out of class and get back to my apartment to enjoy this hopefully awesome meal, but I can say that I’ve tasted the sauce. I know I overuse this word, but this sauce is awesome. I have absolutely no doubt that this is going to be an amazing meal. As if there aren’t enough vegetables involved with this meal already, I’m also roasting some carrots. It’s that time. Plus, I had an absurd amount that I really should use before they go bad. The kitchen house and surrounding area currently smell heavenly and I really can’t wait for this dinner. Fall has arrived. And it’s healthy. I meant to take some pictures of this during the process, but I was distracted by John’s stimulating conversation and the rest of the bottle of chardonnay. One of these days I’ll start posting pictures again!

Turkey Bolognese over Spaghetti Squash

Adapted from

Makes 4 servings

1 medium to large spaghetti squash

Salt, pepper, and nutmeg

Olive oil or olive oil spray

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 medium onion, cut into chunks

4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

1 lb. ground turkey

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp. dried oregano

1/4 cup tomato paste

1/4 cup milk (I used 1%)

1 cup dry white wine, like chardonnay (optional, see note. if opting out of wine, add an extra cup of broth)

2 cups low sodium, fat-free beef broth

1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Cut the spaghetti squash in half and remove the seeds. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and nutmeg (about 1/4 tsp. of each). Put the seasoned squash halves cut-side down on a baking sheet lightly coated with olive oil. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until the squash is fork-tender. When it is done, use a fork to separate the strands and transfer to a colander to remove the excess liquid.

While the squash is roasting, make the sauce.

3. Chop the onion and garlic in a food processor or mince by hand and set aside. In the same processor (or same mincing method), chop the carrots.

4. Coat a large sauce pan with olive oil, heat over medium-high heat and add the onions and garlic. Cook until soft, about 4-5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook another 4-5 minutes.

5. Add the turkey, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the turkey is no longer pink.

6. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Incorporate the oregano, bay leaf, and tomato paste. Add the milk and cook until the milk is evaporated (should be less than 5 minutes).

7. Add the wine and cook until the wine is evaporated.

8. Reduce to low heat. Add the tomato sauce and broth and cook until the liquids have almost completely evaporated, leaving a thick, meaty sauce. This should take about 20 minutes. About halfway through, taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings accordingly.

9. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.

10. Plate the spaghetti squash and top with the finished Bolognese sauce. Serve with extra Parmesan cheese and maybe some good bread!

Note: In terms of weight watcher points, one serving is 6 points when made with wine and 5 points when made with 3 cups of broth instead of the wine.

Additional note: We’ve now eaten the bolognese. It was amazing, as predicted. Also, it easily serves 5-6 people, meaning 4 WW points/serving when cooking with wine!