Finnish Cinnamon Rolls

It's spring break here in Chicago. It's also been snowing throughout the week. Gross. Today at least the sky was bright and sunny, but I still had to bundle up against the wind. No lake-side frolicking for me just yet. I made these beautiful little cinnamon rolls a few weeks ago when I was in school stress mode, but I may have to make them again if it's going to stay chilly like this (and as my thesis deadline approaches). 

For now, though, I'm mostly relaxed, after spending an excellent weekend with my cousin Sydney and hunkering down at my favorite coffee shops throughout the week. Sydney and I spent a too-short day and a half exploring downtown Chicago, making fun of our parents (as only loving children do), and eating our way around the city. We visited the Art Institute first before making our way along the Mag Mile to take a few selfies at the Bean and stop into Eataly for lunch. We had an early dinner at Lou Malnati's (after a little shopping spree of course), then headed back to Hyde Park for some more wandering, 57th Street Books, and Sabrina at my apartment. We ate at Valois the next morning with Jimmy before she flew home again, back to being a star softball player and fabulous student. I miss her very much.


Next weekend, though, it'll be my turn to travel. Friends, soon I shall be visiting the bustling metropolis of Fort Worth, Texas! I'll be spending Easter with the Steele-McDonough clan, eating lots of delicious food and hopefully getting a little sculling in with my favorite doubles partner. I've never been to Texas before, so this will be exciting, and maybe I'll get some cowboy boots if I'm feeling fancy. Pictures to come!


Also 10/10 would recommend binge watching New Girl and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt with all of your free hibernation time before classes start again. Especially if you too are procrastinating writing your thesis (I'm looking at you fellow fourth years). I've also been reading The Master and Margarita again over break, in English this time, in preparation for a class on magical realism in Russia and Southeastern Europe. I'll be taking the class on top of a full load of psychology courses that I need to graduate, but I think it'll be worth it.


The My Blue & White Kitchen blog is acting up (it's asking me for a password to enter for some reason?), so I unfortunately don't have the recipe to post (or to use in the future *sobs*). If I figure out what's going on with the site I'll add the link in. They're basically cinnamon rolls that have a lot of ground cardamom in the dough, so they taste deliciously reminiscent of a chai latte, and in place of frosting they have pearl sugar sprinkled over the top before baking. They are glorious indeed.

Chocolate Cake

Hey kids, I'm back. And I have cake.


I know every quarter I say wow, I have a lot of stuff to do, lemme tell you how stressed I am, et cetera, but listen, this has probably been the heaviest course load I've had in my four years. Granted, I'm not also doing nine million other things (i.e. crew and all that it entails), so I am sane and well-rested. But pulling together my honors thesis has been quite the ordeal, on top of the two linguistics papers I told you about last time. Which naturally means that I've made two cakes this week, in addition to a batch of pierogies. I whipped this cake up last night just as I was sitting down to read for my Balkan languages and identity course, because, why not, it's not like I have two weeks left until finals... 

The first cake of the week was a clementine and almond cake with chocolate glaze from, you guessed it, the Jerusalem cookbook. I cannot praise this book enough, truly -- I also made Ottolenghi's burnt eggplant salad (which tastes so much better than it sounds) that I've been eating on pitas with classic hummus (also from his cookbook), swiss chard leaves, pomegranate seeds, mint, and parsley. So. Good. I've been eating my pierogies with a mountain of sour cream and braised red cabbage with apple cider vinegar and caraway seeds, and later this week I've got roasted chicken with parmesan cauliflower lined up. I can't complain. Jimmy has made a series of different vegetable stews, in particular a Moroccan chickpea stew from the New York Times cooking blog, that are super tasty as well. 

While I've been procrastibaking, I've also been planning for super exciting upcoming adventures! Papa Z and I will be doing some apartment hunting in DC in the coming months, so I've been figuring out the city's layout and finding nice places to live. I'll also be doing the classic post-graduation Euro trip this summer, and I've started seriously planning for that as well. Right now I'm thinking of spending a few days in Nice, France, taking a train along the coast to Genoa, Italy, and then hopping over to Bologna before meeting up with Jimmy and his family in Siena, just south of Florence. Then a few days in London before returning to Chicago to pack up and U-Haul over to DC with my life's possessions. Exciting!! 

Life is good, friends. I promise you'll hear more soon, especially because I have photos of two other recipes I've been meaning to share with you. Chao chao for now.


The recipe is from Tasting Table. If you haven't already subscribed to their emails, you really should, I'm just saying, look at this cake.

Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad

Here is another delightful recipe from Jerusalem (by Ottolenghi & Tamimi). I made the most delicious chicken broth I've ever had (true life, no hyperbole) from Oma & Bella on Saturday, and used the leftover chicken to make this salad. It was really quite prescient of me because I promptly came down with a 24-hour bug of some sort on Sunday. I essentially lived on broth, saltines, and diluted Gatorade for a couple days before feeling normal again. Truly, this broth is magical. I can post the full recipe if you'd like, but suffice to say it was an almost three hour affair involving celery root, parsnips, carrots, leeks, dill, and parsley. How could that not be excellent? There's a special place in my heart for parsnips, so it already couldn't go wrong. I think the most instrumental techniques were a) covering the raw chicken in Kosher salt and letting it sit for half an hour before rinsing and cooking and b) constantly skimming any foam off the top of the pot to keep the broth crystal clear. I'm sorry to say that I've eaten (well, drunk for the most part) it all already.


These are crazy times, friends. I'm starting to think seriously about my move to Washington, D.C., after graduation. I'll be working there for the next two years as a financial analyst in the relatively new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and I'm super excited. I haven't done anything quite like this before, but my seemingly disconnected experiences throughout college came together nicely for this opportunity. I've started apartment hunting, searching for an adult volleyball league, and looking for [cheap] language classes for my abundance of spare time (in comparison to UChicago life). Exciting!! But first I need to graduate, which entails me finishing my honors thesis. That's been going fairly well, in the sense that I haven't hit any major road blocks in experimentation or writing, but a lot more slowly than I had anticipated.


Otherwise I've been taking two absolutely fabulous linguistics classes to finish my minor, one on language and identity in Southeastern Europe and another specifically on contact linguistics. I've been so happy and engaged that I'm considering linguistics graduate school now, with an eye toward international policy work slash foreign service slash international economic consulting. That's not terribly specific, but I know at least that I do not want to go into academia per se. I've become increasingly interested in studying Ukrainian identity, especially as a function of language, in such a contested area with an incredibly interesting history and currently volatile political situation. Not to mention that I identify as ethnically Ukrainian, without really understanding why I personally identify as such, what that means for others, and what that identity entails among Ukrainians living in Ukraine or who recently emigrated. I'm writing a term paper on the emergence of Ukrainian identity through the establishment of its literary language, so we shall see what I dig up there. I'm also writing a term paper for my other linguistics class on a Ukrainian-Russian mixed language spoken in Ukraine called surzhyk (a pejorative term for flour made from mixed grains), which will be incredibly interesting for me.

All in all I am actually having a fabulous, albeit stressful, penultimate quarter, full of excellent reading, excellent food, and excellent quality time with my favorite people.

Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad
adapted from Jerusalem by Ottolenghi & Tamimi

1 orange
2 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoons saffron threads
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 kilogram (2 1/4 pounds) chicken, cooked and shredded
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, sliced thinly
Handful cilantro leaves
Handful basil leaves
3-4 sprigs-worth of mint leaves
1 serrano chile, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Trim and discard about a 1/2 inch off the top and tail of the orange. Cut it into 12 wedges, keeping the skin on and removing any seeds. Place the orange, honey, saffron, and vinegar in a small pot with just enough water to cover. Simmer for 1 hour. You should have a soft orange and about 3 tablespoons of syrup left (If the liquid gets too low during cooking, just add a little more). Puree the orange and syrup together to create a smooth paste, adding small amounts of water as needed.

In a large bowl, season the shredded chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Pour half of the sauce over the chicken and toss to coat (reserve the other half of the sauce for another purpose, like serving with fish or vegetables). Add the olive oil, lemon juice, and fennel, then toss to combine. Add more salt, pepper, oil, or lemon as needed. Tear the herbs over the bowl with your fingers, then toss in the chile. Toss everything to combine. 

Grapefruit Cookies

I truly want to like grapefruit. I buy a couple of them every so often, thinking that this time, my palate will be sophisticated enough to appreciate it. Inevitably, I will struggle through the first couple segments of the fruit, before declaring that I do not, in fact, like grapefruit - then the remaining segments will languish for a week in a bowl in the fridge as I pick them out one by one, nibble on them, and twist my face at the incredible bitterness. The problem is that, three years ago in Florida, I timidly tried and subsequently devoured the most excellent grapefruit known to humankind - tart, vaguely bitter but in a pleasant way that offset the sweetness of the juice running down my fingers. That was a glorious fruit indeed, and a mental taste-image to which I keep returning, only to be disappointed again. Over Christmas break, I fell victim to my memories once more, but this time, after picking at one of the fruits for a while, I used the other for these cookies. Can't go wrong with butter and sugar.


On an unrelated note. I made pizza with Jimmy a couple weeks ago and snagged this glorious photo of the dough. Behold.


This post was pretty short; I'll have more next week or even this weekend (hopefully), but I'm under water on all of my obligations for the quarter already. Surprise. At least it's my second to last quarter, and once I finally turn in my thesis and graduate I'll be traipsing around our nation's capital for a while. Spoilers! More soon!

Grapefruit Slice-and-Bake Cookies
adapted from Bon Appétit Lemony Slice-And-Bakes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated grapefruit zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks

Whisk flour and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter, sugar, zest, and vanilla in a large bowl, occasionally scraping down sides, until light and fluffy (3 minutes).

Add the egg yolks and beat just to blend. Reduce the speed to low, then add the flour mixture and beat, occasionally scraping down sides, just to blend. 

Divide dough in half. Roll each half into a 10 inch long log about 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 1 hour. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap one dough log at a time. Using a sharp, lightly floured knife, cut log into 1/4 inch-thick rounds. Transfer to the prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart.

Bake until cookies are firm and golden brown around edges, 16–18 minutes. Let cool for 1 minute, then transfer to wire racks and let cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough log, using cooled baking sheets and new parchment paper.

Icing
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons (or more) fresh grapefruit juice

Whisk sugar and juice in a small bowl, adding more juice if too thick. Spread or drizzle icing over cookies. Let stand until icing sets, about 10 minutes.

Chermoula Eggplant

If you are a reader of food blogs you've already heard everyone extolling the virtues of the Yotam Ottolenghi and his cookbooks Jerusalem, Ottolenghi, Plenty, and Plenty More. I bought Jerusalem early this year on a whim: it's an absolutely gorgeous book, full of fabulous photography and overflowing with detail on the regional cuisines that have influenced and inspired Jerusalem's. I really enjoy when cookbooks are more than a collection of recipes, when they have a narrative that elevates the recipes on their pages. So yes, I highly recommend Jerusalem if you are an adventurous eater who likes to eat her vegetables. Moreover, this book has hands down the best way to cook eggplant in the history of forever and ever amen. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, score the flesh with deep cuts across the surface (without cutting through the skin), and slather some good marinade yum yums all over it (i.e. chermoula). When you roast it at a high temperature, the marinade seeps down into the all those crevices you've made, and you end up with soft, velvety eggplant that tastes super good. Yup. It's delicious. Ottolenghi is the based god of vegetables.

Chermoula is a marinade used in Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian cooking. This recipe in particular combines preserved lemon, garlic, cumin, dried coriander and chili, and paprika, but there are variations that include saffron, fresh coriander (a.k.a. cilantro), onion, black pepper, et cetera. If you've never had preserved lemon before it is divine and you should buy some immediately, or make your own if you are so blessed to have citrus growing near you.

nekkid chermoula eggplant with all-dressed-up chermoula eggplant

You probably won't hear from me again until the new year, so ¡feliz año nuevo! I'll be in New Hampshire for Christmas festivities, then in Wisconsin for more holiday festivities before returning to Chicago. I'll probably be asleep for most of break, because that's what vacation is for, but I'll at least be awake to eat too many cookies (is there such a thing?), play games (SCRABBLE YAS), and do the gifting thing. Let the holiday food coma begin!

Chermoula Eggplant
from Jerusalem

2 medium eggplants, sliced in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons preserved lemon peel
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1/4 c olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Score the flesh of each eggplant half with deep, diagonal cuts without piercing the skin. Mix together the rest of the ingredients, lemon peel through olive oil, for the chermoula. Spread the chermoula over each half, and place on a baking sheet with the cut side up. Roast for 40 minutes, or until the eggplants are completely soft.

Meanwhile, make the bulgur salad.

Bulgur Salad
slightly adapted from Jerusalem

1 c bulgur (you can substitute rice if you prefer)
1/4 c olive oil
1 handful cilantro
10-15 leaves mint
1/3 c golden raisins
1/3 c green olives
1/3 c sliced almonds, toasted
1 handful green beans
Kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 c Greek yogurt

Soak the raisins in a little hot water to reconstitute them. After 10 minutes, drain and set aside. Cook the bulgur or rice, adding in the green beans in the last minute or so, then add the olive oil and salt. Finish with the herbs, olives, almonds, and lemon juice.

Once the eggplants have cooked, serve with the bulgur salad, a spoonful of yogurt, and a drizzle of olive oil.


Thanksgiving Turkey + Leftovers

Friends, Thanksgiving was excellent. The turkey, cider cranberry sauce, sage and onion stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potato biscuits, roasted root vegetables and brussel sprouts, and berry pie all turned out as planned (although there was a slight debacle with the meat thermometer). Snaps all around to my lovely sous chef and amazing apartment cleaner Tor, and to my parents for buying wine and champagne (and the turkey). The parental units didn't make it to my dinner this year unfortunately, but I had 14 people, and everyone left well-fed and happy, with leftovers to spare.

Dropped the ball on the photography again, but certainly didn't drop the ball in the food department.

I made sure that the turkey carcass wasn't discarded this year (Papa Z got an ear full from me last year when he threw it away in the chaos of post-dinner clean up) so I could make stock and turn it into some delicious chili. This recipe is fabulous, and I've been eating it over swiss chard and mashed potatoes for lunch for the past couple days (I made even more mashed potatoes this week after my leftovers ran out, no shame). Of course, I also made a glorious post-Thanksgiving sandwich with brie and mustard, because that's the point of making Thanksgiving dinner.


Now it's tenth week, which means finals the next. I'm so, so excited for this quarter to be over. Until then, I will be playing The RiverCooler than Latch (remix of Latch), and Blank Space basically on loop.

In other news, happy second birthday today to this blog! Time for those terrible twos.

Roast Turkey
from Alton Brown

1 cup Kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon allspice berries
1/2 tablespoon chopped crystalized ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water
1 apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage
Canola oil

2-3 days before you want to roast the turkey:

Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator. Once thawed, combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar and salt, and bring to a boil. Remove the brine from the heat, then refrigerate until cold.

1 day before you want to roast the turkey:

Combine the brine, water and ice in a 5-gallon bucket (or thoroughly cleaned cooler). Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

On the day you want to eat:

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine. Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil for at least 15 minutes before carving (I let mine sit for almost an hour and it was still hot).

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

Apologies for the crappy iPhone photo, friends. It's been a rough few weeks, and I didn't quite have time to take pretty photos of my food before eating it. But I started playing volleyball intensely again last week, which has improved my quality of life tremendously.

I used to practice with the men's club team my first year (since there's no women's club team at UChicago), when they didn't usually have enough guys to run a full practice; but as I got more involved in crew, and then kept getting injured, I stopped going. Now they have plenty of guys on the team, so women who want to practice with them have to try out. Another woman, who's a graduate student in biochemistry from Poland and a really sweet person all around, and I both go regularly now, and it's been excellent. I somehow forgot how much I loved the sport, even though I started playing 9 years ago, and how fun sports in general can actually be. How did I forget that? Stupid, right?

Don't get me wrong, I do love rowing, especially sculling I've found (even though I'm still very much in the learning stages for that), but not racing. The anxiety around racing, coupled with all of the interpersonal drama and stress of being on the board, made rowing more of a stressor than a stress reliever. Even though I fully separated myself from crew this quarter, I've been feeling unmoored, in a stressed and chaotic state without any satisfying sense of purpose. I do my schoolwork because I have to graduate, I go to work because I have the responsibility to go, I work on my honors thesis because I have committed to writing one.

Salsa practice on Tuesdays became the other consistent little light in my week, after my FaceTime calls with Jimmy on Sundays -- but in between was just this frenetic energy, relaxed every once in a while by the quiet moments when my roommates and I stopped to cuddle and eat ice cream together. Going back to volleyball has given me a consistent, calm sense of purpose, and a culturally acceptable forum for me to hit things really hard. My anxiety is lower, I've been sleeping better, and looking forward to practice gets me through the week. Now if I could not have to spend so much time doing case studies to prepare for job interviews that would be sweet. Until then, there will be pita bread and hummus for me to make and devour.


Whole Wheat Pita Bread

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 1/4 cups warm water, divided (about 115 degrees F)
1 1/2 cups bread flour, divided
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, divided
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Cornmeal

In a large bowl combine yeast, honey and 1/2 cup warm water until the yeast dissolves. Let the mixture stand 5 minutes until puffy (if it doesn’t puff up, discard the whole mixture and start over). Add 1/2 cup bread flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, and stir until smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.

When yeast mixture is doubled, add remaining warm water, flours, olive oil and salt. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until a smooth, elastic and only slightly sticky dough forms, about 10 minutes. Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, and turn once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch down the dough. Divide it into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, then stretch each dough ball into a 7-inch wide circle. Transfer the discs of dough to baking sheets lightly dusted in cornmeal. Cover the dough with tea towels and let rise them until puffy, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 500 degrees F with one rack in the lower third of the oven. Carefully place 4 pitas at a time directly on top of oven racks. Bake 2-3 minutes or until puffy and golden. Using tongs, flip pitas and bake 1 minute more. Transfer pitas to a cooling rack to cool 2 minutes, then place in a kitchen towel to stay warm and pliable. Repeat with remaining pitas.