And I started those aforementioned brownies around 9pm…yeah, I did that, AND I cooked, because we needed dinner too, but I late night baked, which I now believe is the best kind of baking! There’s something really satisfying about ending your day on a sweet note, the feel of flour soft on your hands in evening light…or maybe that’s just my exhaustion talking. To be honest though, I’m not much of a baker, mostly because baking is so precise and I don’t always like to play by the rules, even though I know why the rules are there. Baking is where I find myself most challenged in the kitchen, but because it’s 2017, and this is the year to be bold, I’m going to try baking something every week. Yes, every week…because much like anything you do in life, you only get better with practice, so tonight, I’m going to practice. And sure, that doesn’t really coincide with my healthy habit goals for the year, but no one said I had to eat everything I baked! This is why Frankie (and my coworkers & friends) make GREAT guinea pigs! #shameless
But first thing’s first! Dinner, picked by my most frequent, full-time critic: Sun-dried Tomato, Basil Orzo with Chicken and steamed Green Beans (I am also trying to find additional ways to love my veggies other than roasted or pan seared). Did I mention that it was late? 8:30pm was when my apron strings were officially tied and I got to work, but there’s a story behind it. (Fun) Fact: Wednesday nights are Dog Training nights for Tuggs up in the North burbs, which doesn’t even end till 7:30pm, so I try very hard not to cook on training days, but it couldn’t be helped! Why? Because, apparently everyone in Chicago was making Orzo on Tuesday, which was when I went grocery shopping originally…
I went to three (THREE!) different stores—two Jewel Osco’s (one by my work, one in Lincoln Square) and the one Tony’s by my apartment—before the third Jewel I went to in Wilmette rewarded me with their last two boxes…I mean, I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a single box of orzo anywhere! I now plan to keep orzo handy at all times in one of my tall storage jars in my cupboard, and will buy it if I see it so I don’t have to postpone cooking and resort to take-out Thai food, which isn’t bad, but I was all geared up to cook! Ugh, but whatever, we got there eventually didn’t we?
With orzo in hand, I have to say, there’s nothing quite like the versatility and texture of orzo pasta. It lends itself so well to all sorts of flavor profiles that other pastas like spaghetti can’t. Plus it’s just fun to eat, a little party in every bite that dances on the tongue! Same with risotto (if done right with some good wine, and I do have an AWESOME looking recipe for risotto that I want to try soon)! And what’s an orzo without Parmesan cheese? I swear, I love my cheese, it’s the one thing I don’t think I can live without (even Blue cheese, which isn’t my favorite), but almost everything I make has cheese on it or in it. Not a lot, because, you know, I’m trying to be healthy, but it’s usually there, and if it isn’t, I end up eating some cheese at lunch, or a little plate of cheese and crackers before dinner (I’m also on a Manchego obsession right now, and I’m not sorry about it one bit).
I went with the jarred sun-dried tomato this time, just for ease of time and prep, but I also grabbed a little container of natural sun-dried tomatoes, which I think I will let simmer with the pasta to re-hydrate and lend itself to the broth sauce that would be left behind post-pasta cooking. I think it would be a little more pronounced as well, rather than having a slightly oily note, which isn’t always the best. OH! And did I mention that recently I purchased my first ever cruet for my olive oil the other day? I couldn’t resist and I felt very chefy using it last night for the very first time to saute my garlic! That’s the greatest thing about being in the kitchen and cooking as much as I do (which incites vast amounts of research on better ways to do what I’m already doing), I’m always learning something new!
Overall, a successful dish that warmed my tired soul after a long hard day! Soft, velvety, rich, a little tangy, a little sweet (on top of my green beans, which I tossed in a little butter, salt, and pepper). But then it was time for the hard part, the baking.
Now, I had only heard of Smitten Kitchen once before I started this whole blogging adventure, and that was to make Chicken Noodle Soup when Franklin was very ill one not so fine Friday night. And funny enough, the first dish he ever made for me, before we were actually dating each other, was his own version of Chicken Noodle soup in the basement of his fraternity house nearly 8 years ago, the same night we knew we were meant for each other [cue the awe sounds here]. But Frankie’s sister-in-law swears by Smitten Kitchen’s chicken noodle soup, so I looked it up, and found more than I bargained for. I even bought my very first cookbook from her because it just seemed like the right time and opportunity, not to mention my mom got a BUNCH for Christmas and I was feeling a little envious. Is it bad to say that I don’t own a cookbook? Well, it’s out there, so don’t judge me too harshly, especially with all the great things like Pinterest & Food52 with their online recipes. But as I was perusing her site and buying a cookbook (and pinning every other cookbook I want to own eventually), I came across a brownie recipe and I realized it had been over a YEAR since I last had a brownie from scratch, not a box. So, I said “screw it” and here we are!
And after going through the whole making brownies process, there are definitely some things my kitchen is lacking: Glass, heat proof bowls. I mis en place all the time, but I use my Fiesta ware that I got as a moving gift from my mom, and having the glass bowls you see in kitchens all the time has been a dream of mine, but it also makes the process of double boiling SO MUCH EASIER—but since I didn’t, an extra sauce pan was the perfect vessel to melt the butter and make the chocolatey goodness you see before you! (Or is it above you?)
Anyway, these brownies are awesome, but! I know I didn’t do the parchment paper right. Since cooking it, I have talked to one of my coworkers (who bakes WAY more than I do) about how to make it behave and do what I want. The secret she says? Just a little water. Wet the bottom of the pan, eye ball the size of the paper you need, cut, and press it against the water and use your nail along the crease to make it stay. Put a little water on top of that sheet when you layer on the second. Just enough to get it a little damp, not totally wet. Then, PERFECT EDGES! See, this is the great thing about cooking too! It always manages to bring people together in ways you wouldn’t expect, but find INCREDIBLY helpful in the long run.
These were utterly delicious and I think next time I’m going to try making them with dark chocolate cocoa powder, or go to my favorite spice shop to see what interesting cocoa powders they have on stock. (I shall reveal my secret spice shop in the next post, but let me tantalize you with this sneak peek of a recipe I’ve been perfecting for over 10 years: Chicken. Pot. Pie.)
And with that, I bid you ADIEU and very happy eating (while I track my first cookbook)!!
Cooking Maggie Out!
BONUS RECIPE! Chicken Noodle Soup from Smitten Kitchen