Back and Ready to Party? No, not really.

Hello! I’m back, sunburnt, over-tired, and ready to start the (super-fun!) process of looking at my vacation photos. So, this post will be short—one to tide you over until I write up my vacation, boring you silly with the details (you’re excited, right? right?) I’m really only writing because:

It’s Daring Bakers Time!

Yes, you heard me, I completed the Daring Bakers challenge even though the deadline coincided with the first day back from my vacation. See, this month, I was a good DB. I knew I wouldn’t be able to procrastinate until the absolute-last-minute before deadline and I made this cake ahead of time. I know, I’m just that good.

The challenge was Dorie Greenspan’s Party Cake and we were encourage to play around as much as we liked. I used orange marmalade as my filling. It doesn’t make for a pretty cake—one where every layer is cut with a beautiful red stripe of raspberry jam—but it was the only homemade jam I had on hand and the tanginess of the orange and lemon in the marmalade was great with the buttermilk cake and buttermilk whipped cream topping.

The challenge was hosted by Morven and you can find the recipe on her page (sorry, I’m being lazy). To make my version, substitute orange marmalade for the lemon curd, take out the coconut, and use buttermilk whipped cream instead of the icing (1/3 cup buttermilk to 2/3 cup whipping cream, with 2 tablespoons of sugar—whipped to your liking.)

I would give you some details about how it tasted, but I’m tired, so go look at all the other wonderful DB posts and drool over their much-prettier-than-mine cakes! I’m going to go take a nap.

Two-Week Two-Year Anniversary, Maple Baked Beans, and a Plug

I like to stretch celebrations out as far as possible. Birthday? you ask; Birthweek!! I reply! Got a new job? Let’s celebrate until you feel assimilated into it! One, maybe 6 months, yeah? Your dog learned to sit? That warrants, what eight, yes eight nights at least of revelry and debauchery. Why not!?

James Salant

Life is just to trying not to celebrate the small stuff—and to make those celebrations last for a week at the least. That’s why Jim and I started celebrating our two-year anniversary on the Ides of March (though it’s really the 11th or 13th or something—I’ve revised our history because I have a semi-creepy obsession with Julius Caesar) and we’ll continue celebrating until March 30th—all the way through our VACATION! Yippee!

We’re going to the Outerbanks, NC, where we rented a little one-room cabana along the beach. It may not be warm enough to swim, but it’ll be perfect for fixin’ a fire in the sand and cuddling with my boyfriend and my dog, who lucky for him, gets to join us. And yes, that is a buffalo hanging in the frame alongside our bookcase. Like, what, you don’t have a framed picture of a buffalo?

I’ll leave the rest of my talking about vacation for when I get back—with lots of pictures and stories I hope! Now, I think, we should talk about our 1st night of our 2 week anniversary dinner: Maple-and-Sage Rubbed Pork Tenderloin and Real Maple Baked Beans!

First, the pork. Here is my shameless plug: Urban Accents Vermont Grill Maple-and-Sage DryGlaze. When I say shameless, I mean it, because when a very cool guy named David asked me if I would try out some of the Urban Accents products and then blog about it—under no circumstances needing to say anything complimentary, I was ready to be disappointed. See, I make all my own rubs and I have always felt like that was the only way to go in order to get the best. I was ready to dislike the stuff—dryglaze I thought, ohh, ohh, look at me, I rub on dry and then I get all glllaaazzzyyy in the oven, ohh, ohh. Bull, I thought. And then we cooked it. And it did go on dry and then get all glazy in the oven. And it was delicious. It was better than any of the other homemade rubs I’ve tried on this very same cut of farm-raised-heirloom-pork-by-Cherry-Grove-Farms. And, what I felt was the best part, it was so easy, on a night when I prepared the rest of the dinner hours ago, on a night that’s better spent cuddling in your two-year-old relationship than futzing with some dead pig in the kitchen. So, no, there’s no shame in telling you all to go buy some Urban Accents stuff online (or in Whole Foods, where I found, and bought, some more spice blends–the garam masala is great and I have a recipe with it in store for you!)

And now, since this post is getting a wee-bit too long, let’s move right on to the beans. The real beans.

I hardly ever—actually never before I made this recipe—cook with dried beans. Call it laziness, but I think canned beans taste just fine. Usually, canned beans are perfect for those weeknight dinners, where I haven’t planned anything in advance and at 7 at night I’m scrambling through my pantry looking for dinner. They epitomize handy, quick, and substantial to me. Those are not, however, the right words for your anniversary night (well, maybe substantial, but whatever, you get my point) so I turned to my trusty idolized friend, Ina.

I saw Ina’s maple baked beans on a Barefoot Contessa episode called “Dinner Date” a while back, making a mental note to try them one day. It was one of those mental notes that hide inside the dieing brain cells that have had too much caffeine, or booze, or internets—lost until one day, right before your anniversary, your mom brings up baked beans on the telephone and you realize that’s the perfect thing to make! I love regular ol’ maple baked beans but, being a celebration and all, I wanted our anniversary beans to have a little pizazz. Ina’s recipe, with the addition of ginger and Chinese chili paste, was the ticket. The end product was perfect—sweet, a little spicy, full-bodily mapled, and of course, bacony (did I say I was leaning towards vegetarianism? Who? Me?).

Using dried beans allows for you to cook them for 6 to 8 hours, resulting in intact, not-too-mushy beans that have incorporated all the flavors in the pot. It’s the perfect party dish, even if you have a party of two, since you make the whole thing in the early afternoon, and simply take the pot out of the oven at dinner. Sitting here drinking my coffee and having a serious case of packing-procrastination, I wish I still had leftovers!

Talk to you all when we get back. Happy 1st Day of Spring!

Maple Baked Beans

adapted from Barefoot Contessa

1 pound dry red kidney beans
2 quarts water
1 large yellow onion, cut in eighths
1 bay leaf
6 whole black peppercorns
3/4 cup grade B maple syrup
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Chinese chili paste
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
7 ounces thick-cut smoked bacon, cubed

Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water by 1-inch and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight. Drain and rinse the beans and then drain again. (Or, quick-soak beans by placing in a pot with 2 quarts water to cover. Bring pot to a boil and boil for a minute or two. Remove pot from heat and let sit for an hour. Drain, rinse, and drain beans again. Proceed with recipe.)

Place the beans in large pot with 2 quarts water, the onion, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 50 minutes, or until tender. A good test is to scoop up several beans in a spoon and blow on them: if the skin starts to peel off, they’re done. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid.

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.

In a small saucepan, whisk together the maple syrup, brown sugar, ketchup, chili paste, ginger,mustard, salt, and 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid, still reserving the remaining liquid. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium heat for 6 minutes.

Transfer the beans to a medium Dutch oven or a bean pot. Push half the bacon into the beans and place the rest on the top. Pour the maple syrup sauce over the beans. Place the lid on top and bake for 6 to 8 hours. Check occasionally; if the beans are too dry, add 1/2 cup more of the cooking liquid. If you like, you can remove the lid for the last 30 minutes to thicken the sauce. Discard the bay leaf. Serve hot.

Hangover Corned-Beef Hash

Even though my St. Patrick’s Day was filled with doctor’s appointments and physical therapy, I figured there might be a few of you out there nursing a hangover and in need of an easy dinner. Corned beef hash is the ticket if you have any leftovers.

To tell the truth, Jim and I didn’t end up eating the usual corned beef and cabbage at all—rather, we made the meal into hash right from the start. Although we knew we wouldn’t be having hangovers (I think we probably got to bed before 10 last night), I wanted an easy, reheatable meal for later in the week when things get hectic before our vacation next week (yippee!).

The recipe is from Bon Appetit last month—you know, the one that showed un-lazy people (unlike me) how to make their own corned beef. It’s mainly just all your leftovers, thrown into a pot and cooked with some beaten egg. But don’t let my plainness fool you—it’s delicious, extravagant, and a wholly different way to eat your leftovers. The egg works to make the dish creamy and uber-comforting. Who wouldn’t want some hash to nurse a hangover (or just a bad case of the Tuesdays?)

Enjoy. And remember to hydrate.

Corned Beef Hash

from Bon Appetit March ’08

1/4 cup finely chopped fat trimmings reserved from Homemade Irish Corned Beef and Vegetables or 1/4 cup finely chopped bacon
2/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped cabbage reserved from corned beef
1/2 cup chopped root vegetables (mixture of carrots, turnips, and parsnips) reserved from corned beef
2 cups finely chopped corned beef
2 cups chopped potatoes reserved from corned beef
2 large eggs, beaten to blend
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter or olive oil

Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat; add fat trimmings and sauté until light brown and fat renders, about 3 minutes. Add red onion to skillet and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add cabbage and chopped root vegetable mixture and sauté 5 minutes. Transfer vegetable mixture to bowl; stir in corned beef and potatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add beaten eggs and toss to coat.

Melt butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add corned beef hash mixture and cook until golden brown on bottom, occasionally pressing down with spatula, about 4 minutes. Turn hash mixture over in small portions and cook until second side is golden brown, occasionally pressing down with spatula, about 3 more minutes.

Meanwhile, bring water in reserved skillet to simmer. Using slotted spoon, gently transfer eggs back to skillet. Cook just until yolks are softly set, about 2 minutes.

Divide corned beef hash among plates. Top hash with one or two poached eggs if you like.

Who Knew? Spaghetti Squash Actually Resembles Spaghetti!?!

For years, whenever I heard about spaghetti squash one thought came to mind: Gimmick. Labeling can be such bullshit; frozen bean burgers are said to taste “just like beef;” there’s an item on menus called “cauliflower mashed-potatoes” (which are good, but sadly not mashed potatoes); and everything is low-carb, low-fat, high-fiber, nutrient-enhanced, and made to do every wonder for our bodies but taste good. You just can’t trust anything.

Who am I to know that spaghetti squash had been around since, like, the dinosaurs? I hadn’t known spaghetti squash existed before McDonald’s, the Atkins Diet, and commercials. I hadn’t known anything existed before commercials.

But, for the past few months, I’ve been walking past those big bully squashes in the veggie section of Whole Foods, eyeing them suspiciously. Maybe they aren’t so bad, I thought, but I sure as hell don’t know what to do with a five pound lump of a spaghetti squash. So I left them alone.

And then I stopped eating meat. Well, stopped would be an overstatement (but it makes for a more dramatic feeling, don’t ya think?). I haven’t so much stopped as limited my meat eating. In the past two weeks, I’ve gone from eating meat with dinner every night, to eating a total of three meals with meat—not including rendered bacon fat for sauteing (exceptions must be made you know.)

I’ve been eating a lot of squash. It’s probably the most satisfying non-meat food for me besides beans. That may not sound like a compliment, but trust me, it is. I love squash. I even love it enough to spend many dangerous minutes peeling and hacking it into pieces with a very sharp knife. It’s almost rewarding to spend so much energy in order to make roasted squash. Almost.

You see, spaghetti squash—which actually does flippin’ taste like a lighter, sweeter version of spaghetti!!!—isn’t rewarding to make. It’s a pain in the ass. The damn thing is too large to fit into one roasting pan to roast, you need two. And you can’t roast it on a baking sheet because you need to put water in the bottom of the pan while roasting. The water burns down and you’re left with two big, dirty roasting pans. And your back hurts from that damn car accident two months ago. And then—if you’re following this recipe, and you really should—you need to dirty a large skillet to saute the cooked squash with butter and chives. When you finally get to the table you try a bite and, even though your mouth is smiling, you feel like crying. Because it’s so god-damn good that you know you’ll be making this again and again. You eat the whole damn bowlful, half-happy, half-depressed. And when you’re finished, you have the urge to go out and buy another squash and do it all over again. But you’d be damned if it’s rewarding.

Chived Spaghetti Squash

makes a lot//adapted from Emeril

1 spaghetti squash, anywhere from 2 1/2 to 5 pounds
3 tablespoons butter
3-4 tablespoons finely chopped chives
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Using a sharp knife, cut the squash in half lengthwise and place, cut side down, in a baking dish (or two). Add enough water to come 1/2-inch up the sides of the baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes, until the squash is easily pierced with a paring knife. Turn squash over and cover with foil again and continue to cook another 15 minutes, until the squash is very tender. Remove from the oven, uncover, and allow to cool slightly. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and discard. Using a fork, gently pull the strands of squash away from the peel and place the squash strands into a mixing bowl.

Heat a skillet. Add the butter, spaghetti squash, chives, salt and pepper and toss thoroughly but gently to heat and combine. Serve immediately or cover and keep warm until ready to serve.

Simplicity in a Pound Cake

Simple, buttery, sweet. Recipes with these criteria have been popping up around the blog-(and magazine)o-sphere recently. Molly made a Busy-Day cake. Claudia jazzed it up a bit. I was already drooling over the prospect of a simple, buttery, plain cake when Saveur’s March issue sat down on my doorstep. The words, in bold block-lettering stamped on top of the word Saveur, said “How to Bake the World’s Best Pound Cake.” It was the butter issue. I got goosebumps.

Usually, if a dessert is not chocolate, it doesn’t exist to me. Normally, I wouldn’t even notice a piece of pound cake if it were shoved right under my nose, never mind bake my own. But of course, this is why food magazines (and blogs) are so popular—they make you do things you’d never imagined doing. Like, I never would have paired tomatoes with coconut milk if I hadn’t seen it so beautifully photographed in the very same magazine months before. Saveur has a way with me, making me cook things even if I am 100% percent sure that I won’t like it beforehand (I’m always wronged.) And this time! Even though I’ve never tasted a pound cake I liked before (sadly, I’ve tasted a lot of pound cake) I was bombarded with such lovely posts and pictures and magazine articles that I threw caution to the wind and got my beater a-beatin’.

Of course, I learned that I do like pound cake. At least this pound cake. It probably helps that this pound cake is made with 12 ounces of butter. It’s moist. It’s buttery. It’s sweet. And… it is simple. It’s something you can make on a weekday. And then you can take it in to work the next day, and in your most stressed out and harried moment, shove a piece into your mouth and feel all-better. Simplicity in a pound cake.

Pound Cake

serves 10//from Saveur Magazine Issue #109

My cake didn’t have the familiar browned crust like a normal pound cake because I was focused on having it as moist as possible and took it out a bit early. I was happy with the results, but do as you prefer. I also made it in small (4-in) bundt and cake pans, though I’m not posting my adaptations because you might as well make the big cake—you’ll want it to stick around.

Also, I saw on Serious Eats that Ed Levine left out the almond extract. To me, that’s blasphemy! That almond flavor is critical to pound-cakey-goodness. But, ahh, to each his own. (He does, to his credit and my renewed admiration, suggest draping bacon slices over the cake.)

12 oz. butter plus more for the pan, at room temperature
2 tbsp. plus 3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1⁄2 tsp. fine salt
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure almond extract
1 tsp. pure lemon extract
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature

Heat oven to 325°. Generously grease a light-colored 10″ tube pan with butter. Add 2 tbsp. flour; turn the pan to coat it evenly with flour, tap out any excess, and set aside. (The inside of the pan should be smoothly and evenly coated with butter and flour, with no clumps or gaps.)

Using a sieve set over a bowl, sift together remaining flour, baking powder, and salt. Repeat 2 more times. In a measuring vessel with a pourable spout, combine milk and the almond, lemon, and vanilla extracts. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, cream butter at medium-low speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar, 1⁄4 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and beat until satiny smooth, about 3 minutes.

Add 1 egg at a time to the butter mixture, beating for 15 seconds before adding another, and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternately add the flour and milk mixtures in 3 batches, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down sides of the bowl; beat just until the batter is smooth and silky but no more.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and firmly tap on a counter to allow batter to settle evenly. Bake until light golden and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out moist but clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on a rack for 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rack; let cool completely before slicing.

Back with a Pot-Roasted Chicken

I knew I couldn’t stay away too long. As soon as I told you all I’d be taking a little blog-vacation, my computer started to seduce me. Every time I passed by, on my way to dilly-dally about nothing (that’s what vacations are supposed to be like, right?), my computer would reach out with it’s cute little mouse begging to be fondled. Click me, it whispered demurely.

You all didn’t help. Everytime I caved and skulked over to check out the internets, you all were posting new, delicious, inspiring dishes. The nerve! I yelled, Don’t they realize I’m trying to RELAX!?! How does one sit around, lolly-gagging, while everyone is being so productive?

Well, I couldn’t take it anymore. I cajoled my little laptop into taking me back, promising never to ignore her again. Then I got into the kitchen.

Ann (who’s just about my favorite blogger out there) from A Chicken in Every Granny Cart, posted about this pot-roasted chicken last week. It hit me as the perfect way to bust my blues; a whole chicken is one of the most satisfying foods for me to cook. And you can really get rid of all your pent-up aggression while you rip the thing apart—I’m not very good at carving the chicken, ripping instead and therefore not taking pictures of it afterwards! What’s more, a pot-roasted chicken, cooked with vegetables that you can serve as a side dish, is that kind of I-need-easy-right-now-because-I’m-afraid-my-life-is-falling-apart meal that sounds oh, so right.

To be honest, though, this isn’t my favorite method of roasting chicken. Don’t get me wrong, the chicken is fabulous—succulent, crisp-skinned, well-flavored. It’s the vegetables that aren’t my favorite. They’re lovely, but I usually prefer browned veggies with my roast chicken. That or mashed potatoes. Made with a lot of butter. Damn you, diet!

I’m posting Ann’s recipe below with the few adaptations that I made—I used green peas instead of beans because that’s what I had on hand. Ann’s recipe is adapted from Izzy’s Mama. Go check out both their sites if you know what’s good for that tummy of yours!

Pot-Roasted Chicken

adapted from Ann’s Pot-Roasted Chicken

  • 1 medium Chicken, rinsed
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • a dozen cloves of Garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 Cauliflower, cut into florettes
  • fresh Sage, Rosemary and Tarragon, washed
  • 1 large lemon, quartered
  • Dry Vermouth
  • Sherry Vinegar
  • about 1 tbsp room temperature Butter with a clove or two of pressed Garlic worked into it
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 bag frozen petite pea & pearl onion mix (or a bag of anything that you’d like to go with your chicken.)
  • 1 bag frozen corn

Heat the oven to 400°F.

Toss the onions, garlic, 1 lemon quarter and all the cauliflower into your largest oven-proof dutch oven. Add a few chopped sage leaves and the leaves off of a few sprigs of rosemary. Pour over a very large glug of dry vermouth and a wee dash of sherry vinegar.

Add rest of the lemon and a handful each of the tarragon, sage, rosemary and one of the lemon halves to the chicken’s cavity. Rub the garlic butter all over the chicken and under the skin if you can. Season very liberally with salt and pepper. Place the chicken into the dutch oven on top of the vegetables. Pour over a glug of olive oil. Put the lid on the dutch oven and transfer to the oven.

Roast, covered for 1 hour.

After an hour, carefully remove the dutch oven from the oven, and then carefully remove the lid from the dutch oven. Add peas and corn and stir around as much as you can. Place the dutch oven back into the oven and allow to roast uncovered for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted into the deepest part of the chicken (near the thigh) send only clear juices to the surface (if your chicken is exceptionally large, it may need a few minutes longer). Remove chicken and carve (or rip!) Transfer the veggies to a bowl (transferring with or without the liquid) and serve with rice or polenta.

 

A Short Hiatus

I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately. My back isn’t totally better. I haven’t lost weight as quickly as I thought I would. I’ve changed my diet pretty dramatically and I’m in the midst of creating new meals and entering a whole new food-terrain. There’s a few tweaks I need to make on this new blog design.

In short, I need a break. It will probably only be a few days. I just need to get myself, my apartment, my recipe-box, my life organized. I’m sure it’ll be a snap—haha.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the coolest strawberry I’ve ever seen.

Winter Ratatouille

One of my favorite late-summer dishes is ratatouille. It helps to keep your spirits warm as fall begins to creep in and it’s outstandly satisfying to make. You chop and chop and chop, throwing everything into a big pot to swim together, and an hour or so later the flavors have melded to become an out-of-this-world delicious meal. And it’s healthy. If that ain’t perfect, I don’t know what is (a triple chocolate cookie, maybe?)

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about ratatouille lately (if you couldn’t tell.) I’ve been jonesing for it more than the berries and peaches of summer. I been so friggin’ upset that I have to wait for ratatoutille (because, god forbid, I will not eat out of season tomatoes) that it totally clouded my brain and I couldn’t think of anything else. And then when I was flipping through my new cookbook, a lightbulb popped over one recipe. A pot of winter vegetables, slowly stewed in some fat—a winter ratatouille!

It’s made with just about every winter vegetable you can find. Like a ratatouille, you cook most of the vegetables (cut in similar sizes) together in a pot for a relatively long amount of time, and near the end of cooking you add in potatoes (instead of tomatoes.) In place of the olive oil, I cooked the vegetables in some bacon fat and beef broth. You could use butter and vegetable broth to make it vegetarian.

If you like cabbage and brussels sprouts, you need to try this. If you don’t like cabbage, you need to try this. If you are a human who consumes food, you need to try this. It’s delicious, hearty, filling, and super healthy. It’s now in my recipe box under the label “miracle food.”

It’s certainly a meal on it’s own, but serve it with sausages if you want something more. Make sure to put out good, grainy mustard, horseradish, and butter on the table so everyone can add what they want to their plates. Left-overs are even better than the first try.

Winter Ratatouille

serves plenty//from Everyone Eats Well in Belgium

  • 4 oz bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dices
  • 4 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 leeks, white parts only, well-rinsed and thickly sliced
  • 1 head Savoy cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices
  • 4 turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 2 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable broth
  • Bouquet garni: 5 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf, tied together
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 lb red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-in cubes
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley

Fry the bacon until crisp in a large enameled dutch oven over medium heat. When crisp, remove to a plate with a slotted spoon. Add onions, leeks, cabbage, carrots, turnips, and brussels sprouts to bacon fat. Cook until soft, about 12 minutes. Stir the veggies throughout and don’t let them brown. Add the broth, bouquet garni, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cover and cook 30 minutes.

Add potatoes and bacon into pot. Cover and leave lid slightly ajar. Continue cooking until the potatoes and done and the liquid is almost all evaporated, 15 to 25 minutes. Discard bouquet garni. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir together with a wooden spoon, sprinkle with parsley. Serve it to anyone who’s chilly. Or hungry.