Pork and Chestnut Ragu

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Winter is here, and you know what that means…sickness! Everyone seems to have some form of cold, cough, or sore throat. I’ve definitely caught the bug. While everyone is out and about doing their Christmas shopping, I’ve had to stay in for most of the weekend and take a sick day today from work. This is tougher for me than it should be. General American working culture makes it seem like taking a sick day and, therefore, taking care of yourself, is a bad thing. It’s as if coming into work even though you’re sick is a badge of honor and dedication. Thankfully, I work at a company where culture dictates that taking care of yourself is a top priority. And, who wants to catch my germs, anyways?

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Taking care of yourself 101: Drink mugs and mugs of this beautiful tea—preferably in your favorite mug.

My boss just told me this today, and I think we all need this reminder on the daily: Never apologize for taking care of yourself. You know your needs better than anyone else does.

Part of taking care of myself includes nourishment, of course! When I’m sick, I always muster up the energy to cook myself something, even if it’s just warm chicken broth. Now, when most people are sick, they think “soup!” Well, when I’m sick, the first thing I think of is, “pasta!” (Are you at all surprised?)

So, earlier this week I saw peeled and cooked chestnuts at Trader Joe’s, and something came over me that said “you MUST buy these and cook with them!” even though I’ve never cooked with chestnuts before in my life. I was kicking myself later in the week, staring at these chestnuts dumbfounded. Then I took out all my cookbooks and cooking magazines to look for a recipe. Thank goodness, I found a copy of Jamie Oliver’s magazine (aptly named Jamie Magazine) from November/December 2011. He had a whole section on cooking with chestnuts. Perfect! His recipe was for Chestnut Tagliatelle with Venison Ragu. Well, I hate venison (don’t hate me!) and I did not have the ingredients to make the homemade tagliatelle, so I tweaked the recipe a bit to make my own version of it! Behold (let’s show this beauty pic again…):

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Pork and Chestnut Ragu

  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 vacuum-packed package of peeled and cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup tomato purée
  • 3/4 cup red wine (I used Chianti)
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  1. Add finely chopped carrot, celery, and onion to a sauté pan with 2 tablespoons butter, the bay leaves, cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the ground pork and break that up in the pan. Sauté until cooked through.
  3. Add the chestnuts and nutmeg and stir together.
  4. Add the tomato purée, stir in, then add the red wine and stir again.
  5. Add the chicken broth and let the mixture come to a boil. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
  6. Add the tomato paste and mix into the sauce. The sauce will thicken at this point and should only need a few more minutes to simmer.
  7. Taste the ragu and add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Serve this with a pasta of your choice. Rigatoni pairs perfectly, if you were looking for a recommendation!

The holiday season is about giving to others, but please remember to give to yourself, too. Happy December!

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

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Today is election day. Today marks a pivotal point in our country’s history. A new chapter is about to begin, and many of us are worried about what the outcome will be this evening.

Before I continue, I urge everyone to vote. Please. We have the incredible right in the United States to make our voices heard. Exercise this right. Do your part to ensure this country goes in the right direction.

Now, because this day is going to be filled with so much apprehension and anxiety, I want to talk about spreading the love.

From an early age, I saw gifts of food as gifts of love. My Mom would bake banana bread or lemon bread for new neighbors to welcome them. She learned this ritual from my great grandmother. During the Depression, my great grandmother “Bunna” would not only make food for her five children, but she would also cook meals for those around her who could not put food on their table that day.

Have you heard of the five love languages? They are quality time, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. We all have our favorite ways of giving and receiving love, and those ways can be placed in one or more of these categories.

Over time, I’ve come to find that I give love through acts of service—specifically when I cook for others. If I cook for you, I’m sending my love to you. The top way I receive love is through words of affirmation. So, if I cook for you, and then you tell me you like what I made, the love comes full circle!

So, where do banana chocolate chip muffins fit into this reflection? It all starts with my Mom’s recipe for banana bread, the bread that she would make and give to others as an act of service, love, and kindness. I adapted that recipe to make muffins—a very portable breakfast staple and the perfect way to make anyone’s morning special.

Bake these muffins. Wake up tomorrow morning. Have a few with a cup of coffee or tea. Bask in the sunshine that is this election being o-v-e-r. Give some of these muffins away out of love. Because, boy, do we need more love right about now.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (equal to a half stick) melted butter
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 and 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lightly whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl, mash the bananas well.
  4. In a third bowl, whisk the egg and sugar until light yellow.
  5. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and bananas to the egg and sugar mixture. Mix well.
  6. Add the flour mixture and mix with a spoon until just incorporated. Don’t overly mix!
  7. Add the chocolate chips and stir until just incorporated.
  8. Line a muffin tin with paper baking cups. Spoon the batter into each cup until it’s about 2/3 full.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes. Check the muffins with a toothpick—if it comes out cleanly, the muffins are done.

Kristina Eats: Chicago

Chicago: bright, electric, innovative, resilient.

I was born in Evanston, Illinois, but I moved to Ohio when I was two months old. Needless to say, I hardly had any memories of Chicago or the surrounding area. Last weekend, I finally made the trip for the first time as an adult. Here are some of the places my friends and I fell in love with.

The Publican

A few of my colleagues at America’s Test Kitchen recommended this West Loop restaurant to me. The Publican and Publican Quality Meats boasts high-quality, local meats and cheeses. They diligently document where they source their ingredients. Our meal was guaranteed to include seasonal ingredients.

To start: Honeycrisp Apple—a salad featuring a whole ball of fresh, ultra-creamy burrata, mouthwateringly sweet honeycrisp apples, julienned brussels sprouts, and walnuts topped with a whole-grain mustard vinaigrette. Every bite was at once sweet, earthy, crunchy, tangy, and creamy. Gorgeous.

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For the main affair: Pork Belly, seared and placed atop creamy, chewy grits. Roasted pears and hazelnuts were placed on top of the pork belly with greens and crumbled farmers cheese. This portion of pork belly featured the meatiest part, with hardly any fatty sections. Pure heaven.

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Bombobar

Located on the side of Bar Siena, this is a walk-up gelato and bomboloni (Italian donut) joint with picnic tables for you to sit at (and heat lamps for when it gets cold outside). The flavors are out of this world. I chose to have one scoop of Caramelized Coconut Fudge and one scoop of S’Mores gelato. Creamy, decadent, and incredibly unique.

Tip: If you ask, they will make you a bomboloni ice cream sandwich. Yes, you read that right.

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Portillo’s

Chicago’s go-to place for the quintessential Chicago hot dog (poppy seed bun, yellow mustard, sliced tomatoes, sweet pickle relish, chopped onions, a dill pickle, pickled sports peppers, and celery salt). I was skeptical, but the poppy seed bun made it work and I loved the combination of flavors. That’s not a soda I’m drinking there, either. Nope, that’s a cake shake. Portillo’s puts a whole slice of double-layer chocolate cake in a milkshake. And that’s their size small. Worth a try, but you’ll probably need to share!

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Lou Malnati’s 

My Chicago friends all told me one thing: feast on deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s. Below marks the first moment I’ve ever had this deep dish pizza pie. The crust was crunchy yet buttery. The cheese was melty, gooey, and stringy, even with fresh tomato sauce placed on top (still a conundrum to my Regina’s pizza heart).

Tip: If you have to wait a long time for a table, never fear. You can place your pizza order on the spot. Since the pizza takes almost an hour to make, your pizza will be ready for you by the time you sit down.

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Fork

Situated in Lincoln Square, this casual brunch spot specializes in cheese and charcuterie. Because of this, I ordered their burrata cheese plate (can you tell I’m a bit of a burrata freak?). This cheese plate featured a ball of homemade burrata placed on top of pistachio pesto. To the right of that is grilled grapes with a balsamic vinegar reduction. Grilled, buttered crostini complete the plate. I loved the smoky grapes and the savory, nutty flavors of pistachio in pesto. The burrata was also top-quality.

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The Allis

For an affordable, casual-chic afternoon tea, I could not have imagined a better place in my mind than The Allis. Situated in the West Loop, this historic building features glass chandeliers and chairs upholstered with various colors of velvety fabric or soft leather. So while the building seems to have once been a warehouse, the furnishings make the space chic and luxurious (hence the casual-chic descriptor). I loved the dishes. I wanted to steal them and take them home with me (I didn’t though, don’t worry!). While I would have loved more tea sandwiches, the buttery, flaky scones and the expertly crafted pastries made the experience well worth it.

Tip: If you run out of tea, just ask for more hot water!

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Here’s to you, Chicago. Thanks for treating me like a queen. Until next time!

Fall Apple Bake and Bourbon Apple Oatmeal

Have you gone apple picking yet? If not, go now and embrace the season!

I went apple picking a few weeks ago. Here in New England we had a drought, so I had to prepare myself for a different sort of crop. Less water means smaller, less abundant apples. However, when we got to the orchard, the apples were still beautiful and delicious.

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Nature shows us that life does not always happen the way we plan it, and that is okay. Beauty still comes from the unexpected events. This was an imperfect year for apples in New England, but that doesn’t mean these apples were useless. Ohh no. I made two fabulous recipes from them. We, too, can create beautiful things in times of uncertainty, when we are in our own “droughts.” I’ve come to find that expectations can easily disappoint, for they hardly ever represent reality. The true measure of resilience is making the most of your present circumstances, rather than discrediting them for not living up to what you thought was perfect.

On to the APPLES!

My Momma made this apple bake for my sisters and I every year. I unabashedly have it for breakfast, lunch, or dessert with vanilla ice cream.

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Fall Apple Bake

  • 8 medium size tart apples; peeled, cored, and sliced (McIntosh and Cortland are best)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoons grated orange zest

Topping

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 2 1/2 quart soufflé dish, deep casserole dish, or 12-inch cast iron skillet.
  2. Mix sliced apples, brown sugar, flour (2 tbs), and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add orange juice, lemon juice, and orange zest to the apple mixture and transfer to your baking dish.

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  1. For the topping, mix flour (3/4 cup), salt, and brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and break down with either a fork and knife or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. Add the chopped pecans or walnuts to the topping and spread this over the apples.

20160925_144619Bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes. You’ll want the top to be golden brown and the filling to be bubbly!


But wait…there’s more!

Below is the most beautiful breakfast on earth. Make this topping for your oatmeal, and you will start your day off like the champion you are.

Bourbon Apple Oatmeal

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  • 1 Mcintosh Apple, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1.5 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • Cinnamon and Nutmeg to your liking (I like a lot of spice!)
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  1. Melt butter in a skillet.
  2. Add apple slices, water, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Sauté for about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add bourbon. Sauté for another 3-4 minutes.

Add topping to a serving of steel cut oatmeal. Happiness will ensue.

 

Seven Layer Bars

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Seven Layer Bars

Seven layer bars are my favorite dessert to bring to a party. They disappear before you know it. Why? Because these bars include the very best ingredients used in baking.

Seven layer bars are also known as “sin bars,” after the seven deadly sins. While I firmly believe this treat is a blessing, I can see how each ingredient matches up with one of the sins.

  1. Butter (gluttony): Butter. Butter, butter, butter. Keep repeating the word to yourself. Say no more.
  2. Graham crackers (envy): They are the foundation of a s’more, the crust for cheesecakes. Who wouldn’t envy the graham cracker?
  3. Butterscotch (lust): The most beautiful, mysterious flavor. I find butterscotch difficult to describe fully.
  4. Chocolate (greed): My love, my vice, my everything. I cannot get enough of chocolate.
  5. Coconut (pride):  It’s everywhere, in all forms. Why wouldn’t coconut be proud?
  6. Walnuts (anger): Have you ever seen a whole walnut? I hope so. It’s elegant, buttery, and craggy. It looks angry.
  7. Sweetened condensed milk (sloth): The very nature of this ingredient is sloth-like. It’s so slow to come out of the can, you have to use a spatula to get it out. Perfect match.
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Let’s get a close up shot, shall we?

Seven Layer Bars

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 6 oz chocolate chips
  • 6 oz butterscotch chips
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  1. Melt the butter.
  2. Mix the graham cracker crumbs with the butter until fully combined. Place mixture into a 13 x 9 baking dish. Press the graham cracker mixture down until it forms a crust covering the bottom of the pan.
  3. Layer the coconut, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and chopped walnuts on top of the graham cracker crust.
  4. Pour the sweetened condensed milk over these layers to cover the entire pan.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.
  6. Make sure to let the bars cool before you cut into them!

 

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Cotija Cheese

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Cotija Cheese

Today I’m offering a two-part reflection. One on the beauty of cast iron skillets, and another on the deliciousness that is the brussels sprout.


We Should All Be Like Cast Iron Skillets (a poem)

We should all be like cast iron skillets—

A vessel that can take the heat.

Built of strength, it can endure most anything.

With time, it becomes more nonstick,

seasoned, retaining the wisdom of what’s touched its surface before,

letting things go cleanly, more easily.

We should all be like cast iron skillets—

a vessel through which masterpieces are made.

Reliable, it will always be there,

a labor of love lasting a lifetime.


As I grew up, brussels sprouts had a bad reputation. The cliché going around was that one may like vegetables, except for brussels sprouts.

A typical conversation among friends or family members:

Inquiring adult: “Kristina, do you eat your vegetables?”

Kristina (as a child): “Yes, I eat my vegetables!”

Adult: “Which vegetables do you like to eat?”

Kristina: “Well, I like corn, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, broccoli, all kinds. But I hate brussels sprouts. Gross!”

Here’s the thing—I had never even tried brussels sprouts. I heard such terrible things about this vegetable that I didn’t have the guts to try it until I was maybe 23 years old.

I know. Shameful.

When I did finally try them at a restaurant in Boston, I was floored with how delicious this vegetable really is. Brussels sprouts have a more earthy, cabbage-like flavor that pairs so incredibly well with bacon and cheese. The sprouts caramelize, boasting a hint of sweetness that begs for crispy bacon and salty, yet firm cheese. This is why we see many recipes for brussels sprouts with parmesan, for example. I chose cotija cheese for its mild yet salty qualities. The cheese melts just enough, and then it browns right along with the sprouts at the very end.

This dish is one of my kitchen experiments, and after a few tries, I’ve hit the jackpot of deliciousness. I love serving this as a side dish with baked chicken or on top of pasta. Enjoy, and let me know if you make it!

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Cotija Cheese

  • 1 lb. brussels sprouts, cut into halves or quarters depending on the sprout’s size
  • 3-4 slices applewood smoked bacon
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed in a garlic press
  • 1/4 cup crumbled cotija cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Slice bacon into pieces about 1/2 inch wide and place into a cast iron skillet. Turn on the heat to medium-high and fry until crispy. Take the crispy bacon pieces out of the pan with a slotted spoon and place bacon into a dish. Set aside.
  2. While the bacon is cooking, prepare your brussels sprouts. Slice off the very bottom of the sprout and throw away. Cut the brussels sprout in half. If the sprout is quite large, you can cut the sprout in half again.
  3. Once the bacon is done cooking, place the brussels sprouts in the cast iron skillet with the bacon fat. Over medium heat, let the sprouts acquire an initial char (about 2 minutes).
  4. Place minced garlic in the pan and stir to incorporate. Add crushed black pepper to taste (I used about 1/4 teaspoon, you can always add more).
  5. Pour 1/3 cup chicken stock into the pan and cover the skillet with a lid. Let the sprouts steam over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes. The liquid should be about evaporated.
  6. Turn up the heat to medium high and let the sprouts caramelize further as the liquid fully evaporates, 1-2 minutes.
  7. Add crispy bacon and crumbled cotija cheese into the pan. Turn off the heat, and allow the cheese to melt just slightly.