Chopped Challenge Round 2: Matty

date April 14, 2020 location The Kitchen

As the second contestant in the chopped challenge, I had the advantage of strategizing around Brit's performance. If her meal didn't come together the way she wanted, I could impose a more conservative strategy in my dish, doing just enough to outperform her. Unfortunately, that was not the case and I knew I had pull out all the stops for my challenge.

The mystery ingredients:

- Greek Yogurt
- Wonton Wrappers
- Blueberries
- Bratwursts

This was definitely a tough basket, and struggling to think creatively around wonton wrappers, the best idea I could come up with was to make... wontons.

Naturally, the meat would be a component in the wonton filling which left the blueberries and greek yogurt as a sauce. What I came up with is Broccoli, Bratwurst and Cheddar Bechamel stuffed Wontons, served over a Blueberry Balsamic sauce.

For the Wontons:

1/2 Onion, diced
4 Bratwurst Sausage Links
1 cup Broccoli
Cheddar Bechamel (recipe follows)

For the Bechamel Cheddar:
2 tablespoons Butter
2 tablespoons Flour
1 1/4 cups Milk, heated
1/2 cup Cheddar Cheese
Freshly ground pepper

For the Blueberry Balsamic Sauce:

1 tablespoon Butter
1 cup fresh Blueberries
1 tablespoon Honey
1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon Corn Starch

Preparation Steps:
For the Wontons:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine broccoli with about a tablespoon of cooking oil, add salt to taste. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until broccoli begins to brown.

Grease a skillet with cooking oil. Over medium heat, cook onions for about 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add bratwursts and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bratuwursts and dice finely.

Make the Cheddar Bechamel:
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don't let it brown - about 2 minutes. Congratulations, you've made a Roux! Add the hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil. Add cheese, salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

In a large mixing bowl, combine bratwurst, broccoli.

Add the Cheddar Bechamel.

Add about a a teaspoon of filling to each wonton and wrap - I used the diamond method, folding the wrappers into a triangle diaganolly, then affixing one corner to the other.

Fry the wontons in at least an inch of cooking oil at 375 degrees, for about 1-2 minutes on each side.

For the Blueberry Balsamic Sauce

Add the balsamic vinegar, honey, and blueberries to the pan and bring to a boil, until almost completely reduced, around 5 minutes (you can stir, but try to preserve the shape of the blueberries).

Remove from heat, add the butter and let cool for a few minutes. Strain the mixture, separating the blueberries.

The next step is to combine the greek yogurt with the sauce. This will add a nice thick creaminess to the sauce, but you'll need to be careful as yogurt curdles at high temperatures, particularly nonfat greek yogurt which is what I used. Adding fat (butter), and combining the greek yogurt with corn starch helps prevent curdling.

Combine the Greek Yogurt and cornstarch.
Stir greek yogurt into the sauce.

To plate, using a large spoon, splash the sauce onto the plate and place a bunch of blueberries at the start of the splash. Distribute wontons across plate.

Chopped Challenge Round 1: Brit

date April 13, 2020 location The Kitchen

Several years ago, Brittany and I played a game with two other couples where one couple would host dinner while the remaining guest couples would scheme together at the grocery store and show up to the meal with "mystery ingredients" - the more exotic, the better. The hosting couple would be forced to prepare a meal with the mystery ingredients and whatever else they had in their kitchen, a game based on the Food Network show "Chopped".

With the pandemic having us look to alternative forms of entertainment, and a recent shopping spree of shelf-stable pantry items having us look to make room in the cabinet and freezer, my wife and I decided to play a 1 on 1 version of the game using some ingredients that were nearing their expiration date. The rules are as follows:

- All 4 ingredients must be used
- Each chef is given 24 hours notice of the ingredients, and may leverage the internet for inspiration

The dish will then be judged on the following criteria:
- Taste
- Use of the mystery ingredients (does the recipe showcase the ingredients or hide them)
- Plating/Presentation

Oh, and just like the show, there is only 1 ice cream maker. First come, first served.

Brit's Mystery Ingredients:

- Pancake Mix
- Black-Eyed Peas
- Salmon
- Champagne Mango

Brit's Plan: Salmon Croquettes with Black Eyed Pea Purée and a Mango Sweet Chili Drizzle

For the Croquettes:

1/2 onion, diced
1/2 cup Pancake Mix
1/4 cup Corn Meal
1/2 cup Bell Peppers, diced
1/4 cup Mayonnaisse
1 teaspoon Cajun Seasoning
2 Garlic Cloves, minced

For the Mango Sweet Chili Sauce:

1 Champagne Mango
2 tablespoons Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

For the Black-Eyed Peas
1 package Frozen Black-Eyed Peas
1/4 cup Butter
Salt, to taste

Preparation Steps:
For the Croquettes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place salmon on greased baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes until cooked.

In a large mixing bowl, pull the salmon apart with two forks. Add the onion, pancake mix, corn meal, bell peppers, mayo, cajun seasoning and garlic cloves.

Combine into batter, then form into patties about 4 inches in diameter.

Fry patties on a greased, medium temp pre-heated skillet for about 3 minutes per side.

For the Mango Chili Sauce:
Combine the mango and sweet chili sauce in a blender and blend until smooth, store the sauce in a plastic squeeze bottle.

For the Black-Eyed Peas:
Add 3 cups of water to a large pot and bring to a boil. Add black-eyed peas, return to a boil then reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 40 minutes covered. Remove from heat.

In a blender, combine melted butter, cooked peas, and salt. Blend until smooth.

To serve, spoon the black-eyed peas on a plate, top with Croquettes. Carefully squeeze out a zig-zag pattern of the mango chili sauce on the cakes.

Grandma's Famous Swedish Pancakes

date April 13, 2020 location The Kitchen

These are my grandma's famous Swedish Pancakes, always prepared with mandarin orange sauce. The recipe has been in the family for a long, long time and when I asked my mom where it came from she wasn't certain and thought it may have been cut out of a newspaper. While its origins remain a mystery, it is a certainty that this recipe has left many Hart family grandchildren with full bellies over the years.

For the Mandarin Orange Sauce:
1/2 cup Sugar
2 tablespoons Corn Starch
1 11oz can Mandarin Oranges
1/2 cup Orange Juice

For the Swedish Pancakes:
3 eggs
1 cup Flour
1 cup Milk
1 cup Half and Half
3 tablespoons Butter, melted
1 tablespoon Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt

For the Mandarin Orange Sauce:
Combine sugar and corn starch in a medium saucepan.

Drain 1/2 cup of juice from canned oranges and combine with the 1/2 cup of orange juice. Discard excess canned orange juice (though the can usually contains exactly 1/2 cup of juice).
Stir juice mixture into sauce pan until smooth. Heat until boiling, stirring constantly until thick around oranges. Serve warm.

For the Pancakes:
Beat eggs with 1/2 cup milk for 3 minutes.
Add flour, beat to heavy, smooth consistency. Beat in remaining milk, sugar, half and half, butter and salt.

Pour onto lightly greased griddle.

Spinach Pancakes with Cream Cheese and Corn

date April 13, 2020 location The Kitchen

A couple of years ago, Brittany and I would occasionally splurge on a meal delivery service. Though we now prefer to do our own shopping, these services are a great way to discover new meal ideas, unique ingredients, and combinations you would never have thought of. One of our favorite dishes was Meez Meal's Spinach Pancakes with Basil Corn Relish.

The below recipe is a slightly healthier spin-off of that dish. To make it even healthier, just skip the cream cheese and use less butter in the rosemary corn topping.


For the Pancakes:
1 10oz package Frozen Spinach
2 tablespoons butter
2 Eggs
1/2 cup Semi-Soft Italian Cheese (Fontina, Gruyere, Provalone, Gouda or Emmentel) - I used mozzarella here which is a little too Soft
1 15oz can Chickpeas
1 Onion
2 garlic cloves

For the Cream Cheese:
4oz Cream Cheese
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice

For the Corn:
3 tablespoons Butter
1 sprig of fresh Rosemary
5oz Corn (Fresh, frozen, canned) - in that order of priority

Preparation Steps:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Separate the chickpeas from their liquid but do not discard (this will be used to make aquafaba later which gives the pancakes a fluffier texture).

In a large bowl, mash the chickpeas to a smooth texture using a fork or potato masher. Melt the butter and add it to the bowl. Drain all the water from the spinach and add it to the bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, then add them to the large bowl. Shred the cheese and add it to the bowl. Mince the garlic, dice the onion and them to the bowl and combine all the ingredients into a batter.

To make the aquafaba, put the liquid from the can of chickpeas in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on high for 3 to 5 minutes until stiff peaks form. Add the aquafaba to the large bowl and stir until comined.

Melt 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter, cooking oil, or ghee (if you're fancy like me) on a skillet over medium heat. Ladle the batter on the griddle and cook until golden brown (2-3 minutes), then flip and cook for another 2 or so minutes.

Transfer the pancakes to a greased baking sheet and continue baking in the oven for 7-10 minutes.

While the pancakes are baking, prepare the cream cheese and corn toppings.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add cream cheese and lemon juice and whip until smooth.

In a small saucepan add butter, rosemary and corn and cook over medium-low heat until the butter just starts to brown.

To serve, top pancakes with a scoop of cream cheese, and spoon the butter rosemary corn on top.

Girl and the Goat Miso Butterscotch Budino Recipe

date April 05, 2020 location The Kitchen

I'll never forget my first experience at Girl and the Goat. Brittany and I share a bit of a sweet tooth and always save room for dessert when dining out. When the dessert menu came out, we were debating between two of them - though I don't recall what they were - we decided we'd ask the waiter for a recommendation without any hint of where we were leaning to avoid influencing him in any direction, and he firmly recommended the Miso Butterscotch Budino (budino is a sweet italian custard/pudding). His recommendation didn't help us as the Budino was not in our top two (Miso in dessert? No thanks), so we decided to order both of the desserts that we were considering. In one of the most gracious acts of kindness I have ever experienced first hand, (ok, that may be a bit of an over exaggeration) our waiter brought us not only the two other desserts we ordererd, but also the Budino, "on the house". The Budino was the best of the three by a longshot, and on a whim, I googled the recipe when I got home. Sure enough, Stephanie Izard, Girl and the Goat owner and Top Chef champion, posted the recipe on her blog. With limited activities available due to social distancing measures these days, I went all out in my attempt to create the dessert.

Izard is a far better chef and entrepreneur than food-blogger, and her recipe is more of a rough guideline than a precise set of instructions for re-creating her dish. Furthermore, her recipe only includes the budino itself, not the entire creation which includes candied cashews, vanilla cake, a pineapple sauce and whipped cream. In an attempt to document a more detailed recipe, I present you with my rendition of Girl and the Goat Miso Butterscotch Budino.

To make this recipe the way I did, plan for it to take an entire day. The good news is that each of the components can be premade and stored until serving time. Alternatively, just make the budino and omit or replace the toppings with store bought options.


For the Budino: *I halved the below recipe and still ended up making way too much.

2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/2 teaspoon Salt
3 tablespoons White Miso Paste
2 cups Dark Brown Sugar
6 1/2 cups Heavy Cream
8 sheets Gelatin (or 3 gelatin envelopes ~20.4g gelatin)
8 ounces Butter

For the Vanilla Cake:

1 cups Cake Flour (cake flour is simply all-purpose flour where 2tbsp is replaced with 2tbsp Cornstarch)
1/2 cups Sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/8 teaspoon Salt
1/4 cup Butter
1/3 cups Buttermilk
1 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 Egg
1 Egg White

For the Candied Cashews:

1 Egg White
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
2 teaspoons Cinnamon
3 cups Cashews (raw)

For the Whipped Cream:
1 cup Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons Sugar

For the Brown Sugar Glazed Pineapple:
1 Pineapple
1/4 cup Brown Sugar

Preparation Steps:
For the Budino:
Combine the heavy cream and dark brown sugar in a medium pot and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the butter, vanilla and salt. Make sure to taste the mixture before finally whisking in the miso paste. Taste again (Miso is the hero ingredient here and it’s neat to see how a umami flavor brings out the sweetness of the pudding). Strain the mixture through a strainer to remove any soybeans or koji from the miso. While the mixture is warm, stir in the gelatin sheets for several minutes. Chill over an ice bath and continue stirring until cool to avoid gelatin clumps.

Fill your serving dishes with the pudding and refrigerate until set.

For the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350F, place parchment paper in the bottom of an 8-inch greased and floured cake pan.
Combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) in a stand mixer. With the mixer on low, add the butter a piece at a time until the mixture looks crumbly:

In a large bowl, combine the wet ingredients (buttermilk, vanilla, butter extract, egg, and egg whites). With the mixer running on low, slowly add the wet mixture to the dry until a batter is formed. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for about 25 minutes testing the cake with a toothpick.

Let the cake cool for 20 minutes before carefully removing from the cake pan.

For the Candied Cashews:
Preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Whisk together the egg white with 1 tablespoon of water for two minutes and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the sugars and cinnamon and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the cashews with the egg white mixture until combined. Then stir in the sugar mixture.
Spread the coated cashews on a baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 30-35 minutes stirring and separating clusters every 10-15 minutes.

For the Brown Sugar Glazed Pineapple:
Cut the pineapple into tidbits.

Add butter or oil to a pan and heat pineapple and brown sugar until sugar just starts to carmelize, about 5 minutes.

For the Whipped Cream:
Chill your stand mixing bown in the freezer for at least 15 minutes.
Add the sugar and cream to the mixing bowl and whisk on medium speed for a few minutes or just when the mixture forms stiff peaks.

Put it all together:
Use a cookie cutter to cut out a cake shape that fits in the serving dish.

Top the miso with the cake.

Then whipped cream, pineapple sauce and finally the cashews.

Carne Asada Vinaigrette

date April 03, 2020 location

Craving some carne asada for dinner, I stumbled upon an excellent marinade recipe when I realized how similar that recipe was to my go-to Lemon Yogurt Vinaigrette salad dressing. Feeling inspired, I merged the recipes, making a sort of Carne Asada Vinaigrette which is delicious and, for a salad dressing, healthy. The greek yogurt provides a hidden boost of protein, and unlike store bought dressings, contains no heavily processed oils like canola, sunflower, or palm.

1 cup Lime Juice (or the juice of 3 limes)
1 cup Orange Juice (or the juice of 1 medium orange)
4 Garlic Cloves
1 bunch Cilantro
2 teaspoons Salt
1 Jalapeno Pepper
¼ cup White Vinegar
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup Greek Yogurt

In a blender, combine the lime juice, orange juice, garlic cloves, cilantro, salt, vinegar and jalapeno pepper. Let the mixture sit for 5-15 minutes before blending to tame the flavor of the garlic.
Blend the mixture until thoroughly combined (the cilantro should be fine enough that it won’t get stuck in your teeth)
With the blender on its slowest setting, pour the olive oil in a steady stream until combined.
Pour the greek yogurt in a bowl and slowly add the dressing mixture stirring constantly.

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Cabbage Salad Meal Prep

date April 01, 2020 location Lockdown, USA

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, I've spent the past several weeks cooped up inside along with nearly everyone else in the world, feeling restless. Lately, I've featured a healthy mix of my two favorite hobbies on my blog: running and photography. I figured with the lockdown in place, there is no better time than now to introduce a third hobby I've come to enjoy recently: cooking. As a runner, diet is a crucial element to performance, and a proper diet should ensure sufficient nutrients and a proper supply of energy to maximize workout performance but also keep body weight at a level optimal for racing.

With running occupying so much of my time lately, I'm always looking for meals that check my four major boxes: taste, health, ease of preparation, and cost. I'll save a deeper analysis of this criteria for a different blog post, but simply, a meal should taste great, be healthy, easy to prepare, and not break the bank. I've come to find that cabbage salad checks all of these boxes. Furthermore, cabbage is extremely versatile and pairs great with a variety of fruits, nuts, grains and a plethora of salad dressings. My weekly meal prep is as follows:

I usually make purchase both green cabbage and red cabbage. While this isn't necessary, the varieties have different micronutrient profiles and blending them ensures consumption of a wider breadth of vitamins and minerals.

The first step is to give the cabbage a thorough wash, shedding/discarding the outer layers if necessary.

I then chop the cabbage into large slices that fit in my food processor.

I use the "fine slicing" blade on my Cuisinart at the high-speed setting.

After batching through all the cabbage, I'll mix the colors in a large bowl.

I tend to eat very large salads so I'll tightly pack a 32oz recycled yogurt container intended for a single serving.

At meal time, I'll combine the cabbage with whichever fruits, nuts, seeds, grains or other mix-ins I have on hand, along with a healthy amount of salad dressing (that recipe for another day).

Here I mixed the cabbage with dried cranberries, mandarin orange slices, chickpeas, and pepitas.

A First Win and the Postponement of Boston

date March 14, 2020 location Columbia, SC

To say that this week has been a crazy one would be the understatement of the century. It has been a dream of mine to run the Boston Marathon since I crossed the finish line of my first marathon 17 years ago in 2003. I finished the marathon in 4:33 for an average race pace of 10:33/mi and I was damn proud. An on-off relationship with running would follow the years after, until about three years ago when a fitness tracker sucked me back into the sport, adding with it a newfound appreciation, respect, and most importantly patience for this pastime. I slowly added on miles, reading books and blogs about proper nutrition, preventative exercise routines, and the history of the sport. I quickly went from amateur to weekend warrior, finally qualifying for the 2020 Boston Marathon with a qualifying time of 2:51:12 for an average race pace of 6:32/mi. This past weekend, week 12 of my 18 week Boston training plan, I ran the Run Hard Columbia Half Marathon as a tune-up race for Boston, crossing the finish line in first place and capturing the first ever win of my running career. Just six days after this race, it was announced that for the first time in the 124 year history of the race, the Boston Marathon would be postponed due to the coronavirus.

As it has been for everyone, this past week has been a rollercoaster. The indirect consequences of this pandemic, including: the cancellation of anticipated events, an inundation of corona e-mails from companies you haven’t transacted with in years, or the forced conversion from toilet paper to a bidet, pale in comparison to those facing major financial setbacks or health-related consequences due to COVID-19. These unprecedented times of isolation force to the top of mind our favorite hobbies that are no longer possible. In one way, I am lucky that my hobby doesn’t require a large gathering or some now unobtainable supplies in order to perform. For me, the last few days have had me consider why I actually run. Is all the hype of the Boston Marathon really because the event itself is so wonderful, or purely the artificial desirability generated by a strict qualifying standard? Is the Boston Marathon that much better than my local marathon, or any of the 1000s of marathons taking place every year? Are any of these races even better than a 26.2 mile run by myself, with no bib, official race t-shirt, or medal at the end? And is that 26.2 mile run (an arbitrary number if you ask me), any better than any other Sunday long run? The answers to these questions aren’t simple. While on one hand, I would love to romanticize my sport, pretending like the zen of just going out and moving is all that matters. But the truth is that if it wasn't for racing - the anxiety building up just before the starting gun goes off, followed by the satisfaction of crossing the finish line with a new PR - I wouldn’t be as passionate about the sport and I wouldn’t be running as much. So the ultimate question for me and I suppose everyone else is: What now? I managed to run every single day outside from November through February in Chicago’s frigid winter but I think I may take tomorrow off from running. I’m still sore from last Saturday’s race and the worst running mistake I could make now is getting injured. Maybe in April I’ll start a new training plan targeting a goal race on the newly planned mid-September date of the Boston marathon, or some other race, perhaps an ultra? Guess i’ll just take it day by day.

Crossing the finish line in first place at the Run Hard Columbia Half MarathonView Exif Information

Crossing the finish line in first place at the Run Hard Columbia Half Marathon

Sunday Morning Stroll to Promontory Point

date October 27, 2019 location Chicago, IL

Set the alarm early this morning to try and get some sunrise photos from promontory point. Unfortunately, there were a few too many leftover clouds from last night's storms to capture the skyline facing north, so I opted for this instead.

Long run to promontory point.View Exif InformationView on Map

Long run to promontory point.View Exif InformationView on Map

Fall in Full Flight over Lincoln Park Zoo

date October 23, 2019 location Chicago, IL

Taken on my run this morning.

Fall colors over the Lincoln Park ZooView Exif InformationView on Map

Fall colors over the Lincoln Park Zoo