fake out

One of my best girlfriends from college recently found out she has Celiac disease (gluten intolerance). Before moving to Chicago, I tried to teach her a few recipes that were quick, easy, and gluten free. Quite a challenge for a carb-a-holic like myself! That being said, I love a good challenge!

Before Cate found out she needed a GF lifestyle we would get together once or twice a month and I would teach her a new recipe. I always enjoyed going over to her place, splitting a bottle of vino and sharing my knowledge of food while getting filled in on all the latest gossip and reality tv shows. It was a night of guilty pleasures for us both!

At first, the thought of planning a gluten free meal seemed impossible. Its sort of like when someone tells you that you can't have a cupcake. Suddenly all you can think about is eating a cupcake! After a little more thinking, I remembered a dish my dad ate in his Jenny Craig days, spaghetti squash. Very skeptical that a veggie could fake me out, fill me up and make me think I was eating pasta, I decided why not?! I went to the store, picked up a spaghetti squash, a gluten free bottle of vodka sauce and some spinach to saute for a side dish. Yep, an entrée of veggies with a side of veggie... oh how I was praying that this would be a satisfying meal! Lets be honest, I can eat my fair share of pasta, heck, I can eat my fair share of any food. Spaghetti squash didn't seem too promising on my end. To my surprise, it was very satisfying and quite delicious! Not to mention this entire meal could be made in under 20 minutes. Such a quick weeknight meal for a working woman! It was perfect. Give spaghetti squash a try, you might just be pleasantly surprised!

I usually make a version of it once a month or so... Here's my recent spaghetti squash recipe, this one's for you Cate!

Baked Pesto Spaghetti Squash

for the pesto:
1 package fresh basil leaves (about 2 cups loosely packed)
2-3 cloves of garlic
1/4 c. toasted pine nuts
1/4 - 1/3 c olive oil
salt + pepper to taste
1/4 c fresh grated parmesan cheese

for the dish:
1 medium sized spaghetti squash
1/2 c. grape tomatoes
1/4 c. parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375º. Cut spaghetti squash in half and scrape out the seeds. Place skin side up in a baking dish with about 2" of water. Roast it in the oven for 30-45 min until tender. Pull squash out of the dish and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, Place the basil, garlic, toasted pine nuts and salt & pepper, blend until ingredients are well chopped. Slowly pour the olive oil into the food processor as its blending. Add enough oil for it to make a loose paste. Finally stir in the 1/4 c. parmesan cheese. Home made pesto in 5 minutes! It's so much better than the stuff you buy!

Next, cut grape tomatoes in half and set aside. Grease a casserole dish with olive oil or butter. Grab one half of the spaghetti squash and with a fork, scrape the sides until strings come up from the flesh. Do this to the other half and place your spaghetti in a mixing bowl.

add the pesto and stir. Mix in the grape tomatoes and then transfer to your casserole dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4c parmesan cheese and bake in the oven at 350 for 10-15 minutes until cheese is bubbly and brown!

improv style:
don't have time to make the pesto, get a good quality store bought brand. not a huge tomato fan? try adding peas and pine nuts instead. this recipe is really easy and forgiving so put your favorite pasta sauces and ingredients in like you would with spaghetti and you've got a quick and healthy dinner!



that's what it's all about!

I've gotten a few questions about why IMPROV kitchen? What does it mean? Well, it simply comes down to this...

My friends ask me all the time, what's your "signature" dish. This always stumps me. I don't know, I just cook with what I have in the kitchen. Sometimes it's good, sometimes its great, sometimes its just OK. Heck, I've even had complete failures! Don't ever make a beer cheddar soup with a super hoppy IPA, that was REAL bad! That being said, I kind of just throw things together with the flavors I know. I think that goes back to the whole "growing up in the kitchen" thing. After being around food a lot, you sort of learn the basics and from there you can make educated guesses as to what works and doesn't. What you like and what you don't...

Back to answering the question of why IMPROV kitchen. Simply put, its the style in which I cook. The whole food blogging thing is a good challenge for me to actually measure out my ingredients and share my recipes. I'm usually the "little bit of this... little bit of that, glug of this, taste and add more ___" kind of a person.

I recently joined a farm share produce delivery. Once every 2 weeks I get a basket of fresh fruits and veggies. Some of the stuff I've worked with before and others I've never even tasted. I thought this would be a great way to challenge myself in the kitchen and to learn new flavors. If you have an ingredient suggestion, shoot me an email at theimprovkitchen@gmail.com or tweet @improvkitchen.

I look forward to sharing more improv dishes with you! Happy weekend everyone!



We all have them.

Currently I'm obsessed with anything Leopard print. I just found some fabulous leopard print cupcake papers at Sur La Table, oh do I have plans for you! But back to the task at hand...

A staple food obsession of mine is pumpkin. It all started my senior year of college. I'm not sure what brought it on but oh man am I happy it did. I'll never forget the day I fell in love with pumpkin. It was the middle of fall and I went to Noahs for my usual egg bagel toasted with schmear for breakfast. To my surprise, they were out. How could they be out of such a staple bagel flavor at the early hour of 12?! Oh, that's not what you consider an early hour? FINE! With my heart set on a bagel for breakfast I got the pumpkin bagel with pumpkin schmear. If I can't have my staple, I'm gonna go wild! Boy was I glad I did, HEAVEN! Coming home I decided I needed more pumpkin. I had a pumpkin scone for lunch but I still couldn't satisfy my need for pumpkin. I decided to make pumpkin pancakes for dinner and pumpkin cookies for dessert. I was obsessed.

I know to most people "pumpkin season" is over. For me, it never is! I made this Pumpkin Curry soup for my boyfriend about a month ago. It pairs perfectly with my Coconut Chicken Fingers. The first time I made the soup I did it with a fresh sugar pumpkin. The second time I used canned pumpkin, both turned out great! I give you Pumpkin Curry Soup and Coconut Chicken Fingers:

Pumpkin Curry Soup

1 small onion
2 tbsp curry powder
1 large clove of garlic
1 can pumpkin puree (or a small fresh pumpkin that's been roasted)
1 1/2 c. chicken stock
1 c. coconut milk (I used light, for a richer soup use regular)
1 tsp fresh ginger
1 pinch salt to taste
1/2 c. heavy cream (optional)

In a medium sized sauce pan saute your onion until transparent. Add curry powder and smashed clove of garlic (keep it whole) and let cook for 1 minute. Add roasted pumpkin or can of pumpkin, coconut milk, chicken stock and fresh ginger. Simmer soup for at least 20 minutes to let the flavors build. Transfer soup mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Place soup back in saucepan and add salt to taste. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Turn heat down and finish with a 1/2 c. heavy cream just before serving.

I've made it with and without the cream. Both are very tasty. Who am I kidding, everything is better with cream. If you're not trying to be good, go for it!

Garnish with dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt and some pomegranate or pumpkin seeds. I used greek yogurt and pomegranate seeds. The pomegranate ads a burst of freshness, I highly recommend!

improv style:
Don't have fresh ginger? Use a 1/2 tsp of powdered ginger instead. Like it a little spicy? add 1/4 - 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper. Like your soup chunky? Don't puree it. Vegetarian? Use veggie broth instead of chicken broth.

Coconut Chicken Fingers

for the marinade:
6-8 chicken breast tenders
1/2 c. coconut milk (again, I used light)
1/2 c. greek yogurt
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp chile powder
1 pinch cayenne
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1/4 tsp salt

for the breading:
1 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
3/4 c. shredded coconut (make sure it isn't sweetened)
salt and pepper to taste

dipping sauce:
1/2 c. greek yogurt
2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Preheat your oven to 375º. Mix the marinade ingredients together in a bowl and coat the chicken. Let marinade for at least 20 minutes. You can let it marinade over night if its easier. The yogurt makes the chicken really tender. This is some of the juiciest chicken I've ever had!

On a breading plate (just what I call the plate I put the crumbs on) mix all the dry ingredients together. Take the marinaded chicken and scrape off any excess yogurt. You don't need the chicken to be dry, a little yogurt is good to make the coating stick to the chicken strips, you just don't want it dripping with yogurt. Dredge the chicken into the panko/coconut mixture and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil before baking. Bake about 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and golden brown. Half way through baking, flip the chicken so it browns on both sides.

Mix together the dipping sauce and serve! Matt (my boyfriend) likes to dip the chicken in the soup. You can serve it with your favorite dipping sauces or try the one I suggested!

improv style:
Love extra crunchy and golden chicken fingers? ME TOO! Fry the chicken strips instead of baking. If I wasn't trying to be "good" I would too! Don't like spicy? Leave the cayenne out. Try a sweet and sour or hoisin dipping sauce with it instead of the yogurt dip.


hungry? ME TOO!

I Love food, no seriously, I LOVE it.

To honor all that is consumed, I've decided to catalog my culinary adventures. I grew up in a household that honored a home cooked meal. However, it wasn't until I studied abroad in Italy that I learned my true passion for eating and cooking. I quickly realized how lucky I was growing up with a mom who loved to cook. I grew up in the kitchen, it comes as second nature to me. And that didn't happen by chance, it happened because of my mom. Most kids grow up watching Saturday morning cartoons, I grew up watching cooking shows. Before Food Network and Cooking channel all we had were Saturday mornings with Julia Childs, Jacques Pepin, and Caprial... My mom and I would write as fast as our little hands could to get the recipes. Did you get that last ingredient? How long does it bake for? It's crazy to think how much has changed since then - AND thank goodness for that!

I recently moved from my hometown Seattle to Chicago. After many long conversations with my mamma discussing recipes and the things I recently made, I decided to start a blog. To share with her, and to share with you, my love. Because in my family, the way we show our love is with food.

Let the culinary adventure begin!