Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Belgian Liege Waffles

For Father's Day this year, all Paul wanted was to go on a hike with the family somewhere we had yet to visit. He did a bit of research and chose "the Grand Canyon of the East Coast" as our destination, the tranquil Letchworth State Park in New York. A decent drive from our home, Paul's original plan was to get up and out of the house very early so we could theoretically spend more time hiking there than driving before having to head back home to enjoy some grilled steak. He figured if we left the house by 8:30 AM, then we would arrive there around 11:30 or so and hike around until about 3:00 before making it back to Erie with plenty of time to light the grill, grill the steaks, and have dinner on the porch by 7:00 or so. Needless to say, things did not really go as planned.

Part of this was my fault. I still wanted to feed Paul a special breakfast for Father's Day. Despite my tempting offerings of homemade bagels and lox or Eggs Benedict, Paul really wanted something relatively quick so, again, we would not be lingering around eating when we could be driving to our hiking destination. So, he chose smoothies. I am all for slurping down pureed fruit for breakfast, but that seemed a bit too simple for a celebratory day like Father's Day, so I kept bugging him to pick something else. Suddenly, his face brightened as the memory of something irresistibly delicious popped into his head and he turned toward me and declared: "Liege Waffles!"

We had made Liege Waffles only once before, shortly after Lucy was born when Peter had flown out to visit his new niece. We were chatting about food, like we often do with Peter, and somehow we started talking about true Belgian waffles and their rich delicious and slightly crunchy chew thanks to the generous amount of pearl sugar scattered throughout the batter. No syrup required. We then proceeded to select a recipe, search every grocery store in our area for pearl sugar, and make our own liege waffles. Peter took charge of the actual making of the recipe and they turned out so incredibly good! We never actually tracked down pearl sugar despite our exhaustive efforts, but Peter figured out a way to make some at home and it worked very well! Paul was obsessed with the results and the memory of how much he enjoyed that experience was the reason he chose to select those waffles as part of his father's day breakfast. Only this time, we actually ordered the pearl sugar ahead of time.

Setting an alarm for 6:30 AM so I could make the waffle batter early enough so as not to affect our departure time, When I awoke, I was surprised to find that Paul was already up and stumbling around trying to figure out how to make the batter himself. Boy, he really wanted to make sure we got out on time! I told him to go back to bed and that I had everything covered.

"Ok, maybe for just a few more minutes," he mumbled, rubbing his red eyes.

I proceeded to make the batter and set it aside for the rise. Then, I set the table and got everything prepped to make the smoothies and packed a lunch bag for our afternoon at the park. During this time, Matthew, Emma, Lucy, and Amy all woke up and wandered into the kitchen. Matthew proudly set up Paul's gifts next to his plate, brewed coffee, and started to help me cook off the waffles. Everything was pretty much ready, but there was no sign of the Man of the Hour. I sent up the kids to wake him up and he once again made it downstairs looking like he had just been hit by a bus.

"What happened to waking up early there, Sleeping Beauty?" I asked him. The time was 8:00 AM.

Lucy is sending me her "come hither" signal.

We enjoyed our breakfast of smoothies and waffles. Paul, just like the last time, adored the waffles. He absolutely stuffed himself full of them, claiming that we would "hike it off" later. He also loved his gift from the kids of some wind chimes for the backyard. Paul had specifically asked Matthew to suggest wind chimes to me as a gift, and Matthew followed through! However, by the time we had finished, the time was well past 9:00. Paul began to panic and bark orders at everyone to "get moving!"

Showers were taken, clothes were thrown on, floors were quickly swept, and children were briskly strapped into their car seats. Finally, we were ready to go! The time was 10:00 and Paul was not happy. "We were supposed to leave hours ago!" he grumbled as we finally wound our way along the road leaving our neighborhood.

Pretending to be the Lorax.

It didn't get any better from there. Unfortunately, serving smoothies to the kids for breakfast resulted in an endless number of potty breaks, most of which occurred about three miles after we had passed a convenient rest stop. Let's just say, both kids are becoming quite seasoned at fertilizing rural fields. With each call from the backseat of "I have to go to the potty!" Paul grew increasingly more crazed.

"We are never going to get there! We might as well turn around and go home!!" he threatened as he took a hopping Matthew to the restroom for what seemed like the hundredth time. There is no better day than Father's Day for the children to really highlight the truly messy, tedious, frustrating aspects of fatherhood!

Eventually, we did make it to our destination and it was all worth it. The views! The beautiful views! While hot, the slight breeze ripping through the trees cooled us down nicely and made hiking fairly painless. The waterfalls were breathtaking and even the kids were silenced briefly as they gazed at the wonder before them. We did spy three large snakes along our hike so Amy was on edge the entire time. I enjoyed toying with her anxiety by screaming out "SNAKE!" every once in a while and watching her jump and scream in terror. We were having so much fun that we ignored the increasing shadows as the day grew old and stayed into the early evening, unwilling to rush ourselves as we took in the sights.

We did make it home eventually and, just as on the way down, the potty breaks were ridiculously frequent. Once we arrived home, Matthew and Emma were both sleeping peacefully in the back. Both kids woke up as we pulled them from the back seat, but Matthew requested to go right to his bed and continue sleeping for the night while Emma bounced back into her happy, hyper self and remained with us as we enjoyed a grilled steak dinner...at 10:30 PM.

Sometimes, the best-laid plans often go very wrong. However, sometimes they give way to an even better, more wonderful result. We had a beautiful day despite the initial frustration and angst. And Paul still got to end the day with a 10 oz. rib-eye, so he was feeling pretty dang content to closing his Father's Day with some clogged arteries.

Happy to finally be done with carrying a very heavy Emma on his back!

Oh, and he loved the waffles and hoarded the leftovers days afterwards. I am including the recipe below because I know we will be making them again and perhaps, if you're at all curious about how good these really are, you can try your hand at whipping them up as well!

Liege Waffles
from Whipped the Blog

1 (1/4 ounce) package yeast
1/3 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
3 eggs
1 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional but good!)
1 cup pearl sugar (we bought ours on Amazon)

Mix the yeast, water, sugar and salt in a bowl and let it develop or sit for 15 minutes. Place the flour in a separate large mixing bowl (we use the bowl of our kitchen aid stand mixer) and make a well in the center of the flour.

Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, pour the yeast mixture into the well and mix until blended on medium speed. Add the eggs (one at a time), the melted butter a bit at a time, and the vanilla and cinnamon. Be sure to mix well after each addition to the batter. The batter will be thick and very sticky.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and let the dough rest until it doubles in volume inside the bowl, about 1 hour. Gently fold in the pearl sugar and let the dough rest for 15 more minutes. While the dough is resting, heat the waffle iron.

Spoon about a 2″ ball of dough into the center of the waffle iron. This should yield a waffle that is about 4″ in diameter. I know that sounds small, but these rich waffles pack quite a punch. Waffles will take 3-5 minutes to bake. Play around with the heat settings on our waffle iron it to get it to cook to your liking.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Perfect Iced Coffee

Lucy is growing up too fast. Since her first birthday, she has evolved from a baby into a kid seemingly overnight. Two weeks ago, she started being more adventurous with her step-taking. This turned into more aggressive attempts at walking that often resulted in her careening into furniture or face planting on the floor. But, despite the scrapes and bruises, she always picked herself back up and kept on trying. Now, she is pretty darn good at not just walking but running around all over the place. Her newfound bipidelism has transformed her from a clingy, begging-to-be-held, little ball of anxiety into an extremely happy, energetic child with a whole new world of opportunities for exploration and adventure! She has been sleeping better at night and even willingly falls asleep in her crib. Hallelujah!

Her speech has also been evolving. She adds new words to her vocabulary every day. As an example, we headed to the pool today because the temperatures soared into the mid-90s and the opportunity to cool ourselves off in the unheated outdoor pool at our local YMCA was too tempting. While at the pool, Matthew wanted to play a round of "Marco Polo." I was holding Lucy in the pool and responding "Polo" each time Matthew cried out "Marco". Suddenly, Lucy started to respond along with me, only her version of the word "Polo" sounded more like "pow-wow." It was too adorable. After we came home, both Paul and I could not resist casually calling "Marco" across the room and laughing hysterically each time Lucy would call back "pow-wow". And, as a side note, playing Marco-Polo with Matthew is fairly tedious since he loves to be "it" but really doesn't swim after the people who call out "Polo" because, well, his swimming skills are still being cultivated. We end up looking pretty silly because we pretty much just bop around without moving and yelling "Marco-Polo" back and forth at each other without anyone ever getting tagged.

Lucy has also inherited her siblings' love for all things coffee. She loves tasting my cup of coffee in the morning and will often throw a mini-tantrum when I refuse her. When I made over eight quarts of this fantastic iced coffee, Lucy was at my feet, arms waving and everything, ready to try some in her sippy cup. I told her no, but the little rebel just waddled over to her Aunt Amy who allowed her to drink a fair amount from her glass since she is currently attempting to win the title of "Favorite Aunt" from my children and believes indulging them in all their whims and fancies is the way to do it. Let's just say, Lucy stayed up a bit later than normal that night.

Lucy's love for this iced coffee is well warranted! It is smooth, creamy, sweet, and refreshing with the additional benefit of caffeine to keep the imbiber awake and alert. Paul and I normally make iced coffee by simply saving the leftover hot-brewed coffee from breakfast in a container in the fridge. However, we always noted that this version of iced coffee tended to taste rather bitter and unpleasant. When I found the method for this iced coffee that involved cold brewing the coffee at room temperature and then straining the grounds before refrigeration, I honestly did not think it would make a huge difference in taste from our previous lazy method. Boy, was I wrong! Words can't express how much I loved this. Paul drank about a quart by himself today and, between the jitters, he exclaimed, "We're making more of this stuff!" 

Oh, and adding some Bailey's totally puts this over the top! 

Perfect Iced Coffee

1 pound Ground Coffee
8 quarts Cold Water
Sweetened Condensed Milk
Bailey's Irish Cream (optional, but oh-so-good!)

In a large container, mix ground coffee with water. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature eight hours or overnight. 

Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and set over a pitcher or other container. Pour coffee/water mixture through the strainer, allowing all liquid to run through. Discard grounds. 

Place coffee liquid in the fridge and allow to cool. Use as needed. 

To make iced coffee, pack a glass full of ice cubes. Fill glass 2/3 full with coffee liquid. Add healthy splash of half-and-half. Add 2-3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk and stir to combine. Taste and adjust half-and-half and/or sweetened condensed milk as needed. I also like to just make a really big pitcher sweetened to our taste. Add Bailey's as needed/wanted to the glasses for the 21+ year-old crowd.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza

Lucy was an amazing traveler for the most part during our time in Chicago. She loved strolling about the city, waving to the chubby pigeons, jumping in alarm at the sounds of the honking horns of the disgruntled Chicago drivers, and staring heaven-wards at the towering skyscrapers. However, her favorite part of the whole trip was probably when we stopped to enjoy some authentic Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizza.

When in Chicago, probably the most cliche touristy thing to do is to visit one of the many iconic pizza parlors and sample some of the greasiest, most decadent, most infamous pizza on the planet. Surprisingly, I have never ever tried authentic deep dish during all my trips to Chicago over the years. Paul, on the other hand, had tried several versions and was really turned off by his most recent tasting a few summers previously when, after cutting himself a generous slice, he noticed the copious amounts of grease pooling on his plate from the pizza. Paul turned off by grease? You know it had to be bad!

After discussing his dislike for deep dish with a co-worker from Chicago, we were directed to try the pizza at Lou Malnati's. Supposedly, their pizza is more fresh and less detrimental to the arteries. I'm sure it still does not qualify as a health food.

So, while in Chicago, we headed to the nearest Lou Malnati's for lunch one day and found the restaurant to not be too busy. We ordered their famous original deep dish pizza which was described as having a butter crust and a sausage and tomato topping. Lucy was extremely fussy as we sat and waited for the pizza and we scrambled to find amusing objects for her to play with and inspect. However, each object entertained her for an average of 30 seconds before she angrily chucked each one at the ground. One by one she pelted a fork, a salt shaker, a bottle of children's Tylenol, a nasal aspirator, a bib, a toy bracelet, a rattle, a pair of sunglasses, and my wallet. I'm happy to report that my reflexes are still sharp since I successfully prevented her from beaming the nearby diners with these objects. Lucy has a surprisingly strong throwing arm.

But when the pizza arrived, Lucy's grumpy and angry expression was suddenly transformed into one of pure excitement and delight. We immediately began feeding her bite after bite of the gooey, sloppy, magnificent cheese-filled monstrosity and she could not gobble it down fast enough. That child was in heaven. She ate a whole piece all by herself - minus the thick outer crust.

While Lucy was a lover of the deep dish, I found myself a bit underwhelmed. I felt the crust was a bit under-salted and the bottom was soggy. I also was unimpressed with the under-seasoned tomato topping. It tasted like eating canned tomatoes straight and I really dislike the tinny taste that often accompanies canned goods. In other words, I was pretty sure I could make a better deep dish pizza. In fact, I was positive I had.

When Paul and I were first married, we joined several other young adults in the area and formed a prayer group. The meetings were held on a rotational basis at the homes of the various members and Paul and I volunteered to host one of the evenings. For dinner, we made five different deep dish pizzas, four featuring meats such as pepperoni, sausage, and ham, and one that was completely vegetarian since one of the girls could not eat meat. The dinner was a success and I remember thinking that deep dish was so delicious! I'm a crust gal when it comes to pizza and I just fell in love with the crisp, buttery dough ensconcing the pizza. Unfortunately, after that dinner, things got busy and  completely forgot about that recipe. However, eating the pizza in Chicago reminded me of it and I resolved to make it once again when we arrived home. This time, I would be sharing the recipe with my pizza-obsessed children.

My memory of how good this recipe is was not inaccurate. This stuff is way better than the pizza you can get in Chicago. I love the rich crust, the slightly spicy sauce, and the hearty sausage - it is difficult to avoid reaching for another slice of this pizza even if you are completely full after the first. Thankfully, it's not terribly greasy and not even a little bit soggy compared to the pizza we had in Chicago. The recipe is easy but does require a bit of advanced planning. The results are well worth the extra bit of effort - just ask Lucy.

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza
adapted from Cook's Illustrated and Emeril Lagasse

For the Dough:
3¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup yellow cornmeal
1½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast
1¼ cups water, room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon + 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

For the Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

For the Topping:
1 pound mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 pound hot Italian sausage, cooked and crumbled
Shredded Parmesan cheese

First, make the dough. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl. Add water and melted butter and mix on low speed, using a dough hook, until fully combined, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping sides and bottom of bowl occasionally. Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is glossy and smooth and pulls away from sides of bowl, 4 to 5 minutes. (You can easily make this by hand, mixing in the water and butter with a spatula and then kneading by hand.)

Coat a large bowl with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Using greased spatula, transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat the dough in oil; cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled in volume, 45 to 60 minutes.

While the dough rises, make the sauce. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and garlic over medium heat until very fragrant. Add the herbs, seeds, salt, and black and red peppers, and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes carefully and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 20 to 30 minutes. Be careful not to get burnt by the flying drops of scalding tomato that might occasionally spring from the pan as the sauce simmers. Remove from the heat and let cool completely before using.

When the rise time is over, turn the dough out onto dry work surface and roll into a 15x12-inch rectangle. Using an offset spatula, spread the softened butter over the surface of the dough, leaving a ½-inch border along the edges. Starting at the short end, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. With seam side down, flatten the cylinder into an 18x4-inch rectangle. Cut rectangle in half crosswise. Working with one half, fold into thirds like a business letter; pinch seams together to form ball. Repeat with remaining half. Return balls to oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in refrigerator until nearly doubled in volume, 40 to 50 minutes. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lower position and preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with 2 tablespoons olive oil each. Transfer 1 dough ball to dry work surface and roll out into a 13-inch circle. Transfer dough to the pan by rolling the dough loosely around a rolling pin and unrolling into pan. Lightly press dough into pan, working into corners and 1 inch up sides. If dough resists stretching, let it relax for 5 minutes before trying again. Repeat with remaining dough ball.

For each pizza, sprinkle layer the sliced mozzarella on the bottom. Add the crumbled sausage on top of the cheese. Spread half the tomato sauce over the sausage. Sprinkle some Parmesan over the top.. Bake until crust is golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove pizza from oven and let rest 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Weekend in the Windy City

As mentioned previously, our little family and our newly hired "sister nanny" headed to Chicago for the wedding of Paul's Notre Dame roommate John. We were invited to the rehearsal dinner and thus planned to arrive Friday afternoon to allow a bit of time to relax, unwind, and stretch our legs before heading out for the event. Amy was thrilled because our hotel was located directly next to a gigantic mall, so she was able to sneak in a little shopping before we took off. I practically had to drag her out of American Eagle and only my promise of burger and fries made her come amicably. When did my little baby sister turn into a teenager?

Paul and I headed to the rehearsal dinner which took place at an outdoor recreational farm that serves as a living history museum by recreating pioneer life through hands-on activities and educational demonstrations. The farm included an operational carousel ride and a train ride. John's family had the entire place at our disposal for the rehearsal dinner and it was so much fun to be able to roam around the beautiful park and take in a carousel ride (or two, or three) with a large glass of wine or beer in hand. In fact, it was while taking our second private ride on the carousel that we spied a familiar figure walking towards us. Why, it was Paul's long-lost identical twin Peter who also came to town for the wedding festivities! He promptly hopped onto the carousel and we took a fun little spin while we reunited and debriefed Peter about his travels. It was such a fun night. The greatest part was arriving back to our hotel and finding that Amy had gotten Lucy to sleep for us. We all enjoyed a great night's rest in preparation for our early departure to downtown Chicago the next morning.

Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early, dressed in our church clothes (minus the heels and such for those are not conducive to walking long distances) and headed towards downtown Chicago bright and early. One of my college friends lives downtown and offered us parking at her building, which was a complete lifesaver! Our first destination was a visit to Millennium Park and The Bean. Lucy was all about the photo opportunities this park provides.

Next, we headed to grab some much-needed caffeine from Intelligentsia Coffee - our favorite coffee shop in all the land. The mocha I ordered was incredible but the experience was slightly tainted by my horrific allergies. My eyes would not stop welling up with tears and my nose was itchy and runny. I was miserable. Peter suggested that we find a pharmacy to get me something to help me through the day. We found a CVS on a nearby corner where I consulted the pharmacist to find the best remedy to keep my symptoms at bay so I could at least semi-enjoy the day. He fixed me up with a medication and I began to feel better within the hour.

Since my hunt for allergy relief ate up a good deal of time and the darkening clouds in the sky signaled that rain may be on the way, we decided to head in the direction of The Field Museum. Of course, we ended up getting a bit lost and caught in the storm. Fortunately, Peter hailed a cab and we were delivered very quickly to the steps of the museum. Paul, Peter, and I were basically most excited about seeing the Lions of Tsavo. If you are unfamiliar with the story, they were a pair of notorious man-eating lions who claimed the lives of 135 construction workers on the Kenya-Uganda railway in 1898. The attacks occurred over a nine month period where the lions would stalk the campsites of the workers, dragging their victims from their tents and devouring them. Both lions were eventually shot and killed by Lt. Col. Patterson and he had both beasts made into large rugs. Eventually, he sold the rugs to The Field Museum where they were stuffed and reassembled to more closely resemble their original forms. We were disappointed to learn while we were there that the pelts had been so badly damaged during their time as a rugs in Col. Patterson's study that the stuffed lions on display are actually significantly smaller than they would have appeared in real life. It was still thrilling to see them since we have been fascinated with their story ever since watching the film Ghost and the Darkness in college.

Since we were short on time, we really had to be selective about what exhibits we visited. After quickly seeing the lions, we raced through the mummy display and then headed to see the dinosaur exhibit. I had to take a picture of each and every dinosaur skeleton for Matthew. It was such a great exhibit! I think even Lucy enjoyed making her way through there.

And, of course, we had to capture a photo of Lucy up-close and personal with her new pal Sue the T-Rex. Matthew was so jealous.

I wish that we could have spent more time at the museum, but it was time to watch John get hitch and we had to hike all the way to Lincoln Park for the ceremony! We headed that way, walked through the parks in the rain, and made it back to our parking garage where we put on our uncomfortable dress shoes and fixed our hair. Peter did a complete "Clark Kent" change behind the car while the rest of us covered for him. It would have been a bit awkward for one of us to get arrested for public indecency right then.

We made it to the church with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately, Lucy was done with being confined and the last thing she wanted to do was sit quietly in a pew. We took turns entertaining her in the sanctuary while we enjoyed the beautiful music and touching exchange of vows between John and Jenny. It was such a beautiful, traditional Catholic wedding ceremony in a breathtakingly beautiful church. The bride wore her grandmother's wedding gown and the affection she and John have for one another was radiantly apparent.

After the ceremony, we headed back out of the downtown area into the suburbs where the reception was to take place. We got Lucy and Amy set up with food and then quickly changed into "black tie" attire before heading to the nearby country club where the party was waiting. It was such a fun reception, complete with endless amounts of food, drink, and music provided by a really fantastic live band. I actually got my husband to dance with me for several numbers, a significant happening considering he prefers to hide on the sidelines and watch other people dance most of the time. It was a great party celebrating a great couple!

We left the reception feeling pretty exhausted and, unfortunately, when we arrived back at the hotel we found that Lucy had rebelled and refused to sleep for Amy. It took a little while to get her to sleep which contributed to all of us waking up early the next morning feeling pretty lousy. However, we had to get up early to get to Sunday Mass and check out of our room before heading back into the city for a few hours more of exploration before our long drive home.

We spent the late morning and early afternoon wandering around downtown Chicago, through the Magnificent Mile, around the Lincoln Park Zoo, and long the riverfront. We especially enjoyed gazing at the breathtakingly tall buildings and gorgeous architecture - something notably lacking in our neck of the woods! Amy was about ready to kill me since we walked about 12 miles and her feet were about ready to give out. Lucy discovered that her new favorite pastimes is chasing pigeons. Paul would take her in the stroller and zoom her quickly towards any pigeon we spied until the poor bird flew away. Lucy thought this was pretty awesome. When we took her out of her stroller for a bit, all she wanted to do was follow the birds.

We ended our time in Chicago with a visit to my dear college friend Caroline, her husband Kevin, and their adorable little baby Thomas. The last time I saw Caroline was at her wedding three years ago, so it was really thrilling to see her settled and happy with her new little baby. After that, we had to leave really quickly because Peter had to get to the airport to catch his plane back to LA and the rest of us had to drive home to see the other little munchkins. My allergies had also returned with a vengeance and I could barely see on the drive home because my eyes were so irritated and red. We arrived home exhausted, but very satisfied with how the trip went.

I will be posting a Chicago-themed recipe in homage to our trip in the next post!