Lizzard Loves Blue Sky Snow Covered Vail

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Walnut, Date & Chocolate Scones

I love scones.
Lizzard Loves chocolate, dates & walnuts
If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you already knew this about me. Scones are a perfect pastry that can be made 1,000 different ways. Sweet? Savory? Crunchy? Soft? Indulgent? Quasi healthy? A scone can wear all those hats. Who doesn't love something so versatile? Did I mention it is a pastry? I am a sucker for a delicious pastry. 

Since I am thoroughly obsessed with scones, it would make sense that I am constantly on the lookout for new scone recipes. A couple of weeks ago I tried the new bacon date scone at Blue Sky Bakery. Not shockingly, it was delectable. The mix of sweet and salty will get me every single time. Side note- Blue Sky Bakery is one of those places that deserves to be visited by every northsider. It has awesome food, offers catering, has a cute cafe for enjoying their baked goodness or for private events and has a larger mission to offer job training to homeless teens in Chicago. Honestly - what could be better than a delicious bakery? A delicious bakery that is doing its thing to support teens who truly need it. Check it out, you will not be sorry!

There I go again, getting sidetracked. Blue Sky Bakery's bacon & date scone was still on my mind last week, so I wanted to take a stab at it. I didn't have bacon though.........and I didn't have buttermilk, which I need for my "go to" scone recipe. The world wide webs to the rescue again.

I adapted the recipe I found at Vegan Baking Mama's blog to my tastes and to what I had in my kitchen. Check out her original recipe & other delicious offerings at her blog. These are far sweeter than most scones I make, including the ones linked above. The combination of  dates and milk chocolate make for a great combination, but it is also very sweet! If you would like to try these but don't love sweet pastries, swap in dark chocolate, reduce the dates to 1/3 cup and increase the walnuts to 1 cup. I am so happy with the crisp edges and chunky texture these scones have. They have an awesome chew to them as well. Sigh. I do really love scones.

Walnut Date & Chocolate Scones
Makes about a dozen scones

2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
3/4 cup pitted dates, roughly chopped
3/4 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
7oz milk chocolate, roughly chopped
3/4 cup soy milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Line 2 baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mats.
2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, oats, sugar, flax, salt & baking powder.
3. Cut in the butter using a knife in each hand, a pastry cutter, or your fingers. If you use your fingers- work fast do you don't melt the butter! You should have a crumbly mixture with small pieces of butter remaining.
4. Mix in the dates, walnuts and chocolate.
5. Add the soy milk and vanilla and gently mix until incorporated.
6. Using a 1/3 cup measuring cup, scoop out the dough and place it on the prepared baking sheets.
7. Put the baking sheets into the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
8. While the dough is chilling, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and wash some dishes if you're feeling particularly motivated! 
9. Bake the scones for 20-22 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through cooking time. The scones will brown at the edges and on top when they're done!
10. Slide the scones onto a wire rack to cool, then enjoy.  
Lizzard Loves Walnut Date & Chocolate Scones

I love "springing forward" and spring food

I love the first signs of spring. 

Lizzard Loves signs of spring
Daylight Savings Time is one of those signs; the light in the evening has been such a mood booster for the past week. Our 50+ degree days with sunshine haven't hurt either. Admittedly these days have been interrupted with snow and overnight lows in the teens, but I am not letting that get me down!

It makes me laugh every time I see Chicagoans wearing shorts when the mercury rises above 50 degrees for the first time each spring. I tell myself "only in Chicago" but I wonder - do other Midwestern cities react with similarly misplaced joy?? Please note, I am as thrilled as the next person to have the sun shine on my bare face - but 52 degrees does not shorts weather make :)

Lizzard Loves signs of spring
Another sure sign of Spring? My favorite little monkeys busting out their bikes (while one was wearing snow pants- but that is not getting him down- so why would I worry about it?)

The running around the city without coats on is another surefire way of knowing warmer weather has arrived (see top of the post for that photo :). I love spending time outside with my nephews; but the polar vortexes made it pretty difficult to enjoy the outdoors in January & February. Thank goodness March has brought weather warm enough to play outside!
Lizzard Loves signs of spring

Perhaps the best indicator of impending springtime is seen in my kitchen. I am quick to look for recipes that are brightly colored and chock full of fresh veggies like peas and asparagus. Admittedly, my desire to celebrate the first signs of elusive springtime weather in Chicago precedes the availability of local asparagus and other delicious spring veggies at the farmers market. Sometimes I need to buy produce from California. There, I admitted it.

Last week's effort at a new recipe was a success. I adapted the recipe below from Veggie Num Num (find their delicious recipe here). Neither Chris nor I are vegetarian or vegan , so it wasn't important to me to follow the recipe exactly as it was written. The adjustments I made were both for flavor & our current eating habits. Feel free to omit the chicken for a vegan recipe! I know we will eat this dish in a meatless version at some point; whether for a Meatless Monday or a Friday during Lent, or just because we often make an effort to eat less meat.

Pasta with Spinach, Avocado & Pea Pesto
Makes 5-6 servings
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
2 cup English peas (I used the ones in Trader Joe's refrigerated case)
1.5 avocados 
3 cup baby spinach
4 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt & black pepper, to taste

10 oz package penne, rotini, or pasta of your choice. I used buckwheat spaghetti because its what I had in the pantry.

12 oz fresh haricot verts (French green beans). I bought them at Trader Joe's, Costco also sells them. Feel free to substitute (or just add) peas, asparagus, or other veggies you like. Regular green beans would be just fine here- I like how thin the haricot verts are.

2 cups reserved cooking liquid from the pasta (just in case)

1/8 - 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped  (for garnish)

1/2 cup baby spinach leaves (for garnish)

8-10 oz cooked chicken breast (I didn't have time to prep the chicken the night I made this- so I bought the precooked chicken breast at Trader Joe's. I don't like it nearly as much as chicken cooked at home, but I was in a bind & used what was available. This recipe would be a great way to repurpose leftover chicken from another meal!)

1. Set a large pasta pot with at least 6 quarts of water on the stove to boil.

2. While you wait for the pasta water to boil; bring 3 cups of water to boil in a small pot. Add the peas, cook for 1-2 minutes. Drain & set aside to cool.

3. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Scoop out your 2 cups of cooking water before you drain the pasta. Dump the pasta back into the cooking pot to keep it warm. Or use this kind of pot (I have it & love it).

4. Cut the haricot verts in half or thirds, depending on your preference. Place the beans in a steamer basket. Cover the bottom of a pan with an inch or 2 of water. Add the steamer basket to the pan, cover & turn the heat to medium high. Steam the beans for approximately 8 minutes, turn off the heat and leave the pan covered to allow the beans to finish cooking.

5. While the beans are cooking, you have time to make your sauce. (I used my VitaMix to make the sauce, but a regular blender should be able to do the trick too!) Toss the spinach, roughly chopped walnuts, peeled garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, avocados, and a generous pinch of kosher salt into the pitcher of your blender. Pulse until the mixture turns to liquid and then puree until it is smooth. If you are struggling to get it to blend, add more lemon juice & olive oil in small increments until it is loose enough to puree. Should you have a VitaMix, feel free to toss a 1/4 of a lemon in instead of just the juice. I removed the outer peel because I didn't feel like scrubbing it. I picked out the seeds I could see before adding it.

6. Add the beans, cooked chicken, and sauce to the pasta pot (where your cooked pasta should be patiently waiting). Turn the heat to low and toss the ingredients to combine them. If the sauce is too thick to coat the pasta well, add the reserved liquid 1/4 cup at a time until you reach your desired consistency.

7. If you are feeling fancy, pour the pasta into a serving dish & garnish with the walnuts & spinach leaves. If it is a regular weeknight; portion the pasta into bowls & garnish it there :) The walnuts do add a nice crunch - so don't skip this step!

8. Once you've enjoyed the fruits of your cooking labors & are cleaning up the kitchen - cover & refrigerate any leftover cooking liquid from the pasta. If you plan to eat this dish warm again; add a couple of tablespoons of the liquid before you warm it up to ensure it doesn't dry out! I assume this would be a delicious cold dish, but given the snowstorm that visited Chicago the day after I made this dish; I ate the leftovers warm.
Lizzard Loves the color, texture and taste of this pasta.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Running Into Frozen Lake Michigan

I love submerging myself into frigid water whilst dressed as a banana.
Lizzard Loves running into Lake Michigan in March!
OK, that is a lie. 

The actual act of dunking myself in the sandy, 32 degree water of Lake Michigan was relatively awful. 

Lizzard Loves being out of that frigid puddle of water

I do love the craziness of it. 

Lizzard Loves friends old & new dressed as bananas
I love the fundraising for Special Olympics Chicago. It is such a great cause. I love that 20 of our friends & family members helped us raise more than $900 for Special Olympians in our area.

I love dressing up like a banana with my husband, best friend & a bunch of new friends. 

Lizzard Loves friends old & new dressed as bananas
I love that my husband & I borrowed 2 yellow turtlenecks & old school ties from my Dad to do this Polar Plunge.
Lizzard Loves borrowed clothes
 I love that #SwimmyFallon was goaded into participating in this year's Polar Plunge by our mayor. I particularly love the expression on his face as he exited the water.

Lizzard Loves Jimmy Fallon