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A Non-resolution

How the Hive came to be

I don’t do resolutions. More accurately, I don’t do New Year resolutions. The date seems rather arbitrary and expectations for a fresh calendar are already too high. In years past I have done birthday resolutions for MY new year, and starting a blog has been on the preliminary list many times, but has never made the final cut.

Why is this year different? Because 2016. Because we moved across the country and I had, in the three years since we last moved across the country, forgotten how thoroughly taxing that is, because the entire celebrity population of my childhood died, because global politics is playing out on Twitter now and the world has stopped making sense. I needed a fresh approach, but the idea wasn’t meant to be a blog.

I decided to challenge myself to try fresh ideas in the kitchen, one new recipe a week for a year. Unless we go on vacation. Or I’m sick. Or the kids are sick. Or I forget or we get bogged down in leftovers. I finally settled on an AVERAGE of one recipe per week. 52 recipes in 365 days. I originally thought I’d use Instagram to post shots of my dishes and use the caption for the family’s reviews. I’d even decided to tag them #fiftytwoin2017. For accountability, I shared my plan on Facebook. The response was encouraging but as friends started asking me to share the recipes, to get them out of their rotating menus and culinary comfort zones, it got bigger than Instagram and Facebook. I couldn’t bring myself to post a multi-paragraph status update, and certainly not a weekly one. This project needed its own space. So the blog, in it’s own way, made the cut this year.

15871689_10154975034694090_4822533122631135580_nHere’s a sneak peek.

12&13/52 A Tale of Two Banana Breads

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Hello, my name is Melissa, and I have a banana problem.

Bananas are pretty widely recognized as a family-friendly food. They’re sweet and nutritious and soft enough for even the toothless little ones to enjoy. For parents, they come in their own biodegradable wrappers and leave no container left to be transported home. I enjoy them in smoothies or alone after a workout, and Wombat will occasionally take one in his lunch when reminded that we have them. Our boys, however, will consume them in only one way: baked into a sugar-laced dessert going undercover under the moniker “banana bread”, and Peanut will only eat that if it contains chocolate chips.

The thing is, I routinely forget that my family doesn’t rapidly devour bananas. I buy them regularly, extra when they’re on sale, and nobody eats them. Which brings me to the 13 (!) bananas in my freezer. I need to use them because we also like to use the freezer for storing not bananas, and that’s becoming impossible.

While sifting through my Pinterest boards for banana-consuming recipes, I came across one I had pinned ages ago for Coconut Banana Bread with Lime Glaze. I had probably put off making it way back when because Wombat hates coconut, Peanut hates coconut, and Meatball wasn’t eating enough to keep me from consuming an entire loaf of bread alone. Meatball has been living up to his nickname lately and I was curious to see if Wombat loves lime more than he hates coconut (he doesn’t, more on that later). I made this recipe pretty much as written with the exception of the sweetened coconut, which I did not have. I happily substituted unsweetened coconut since I often find banana bread to be cloyingly sweet, and this already has the ripe bananas PLUS a cup of sugar for sweetness (PLUS glaze).

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Coconut Banana Bread with Lime Glaze (12 servings) from Cooking Light. Notes in bold, as always. 

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas) it was 4 bananas for me
  • 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt I used low-fat greek style. It’s what I had.
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum We didn’t have dark rum so I used spiced rum. 
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flaked sweetened coconut I used unsweetened coconut.
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon flaked sweetened coconut Unsweetened again.
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice If you use lemon, you can’t call it Coconut Banana Bread with Lime Glaze.
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.

  2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. If you’re reading this, odds are you’ve interacted with dry ingredients at least once in your life and didn’t need this spelled out for you.  Combine flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Or this little stirring tidbit. I also stirred in the coconut here to prevent overmixing later.

  3. Place granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, yogurt, rum, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until moist. Stir in 1/2 cup coconut. With the coconut incorporated into the dry ingredients, I saved some extra stirring here. Overmixing is the enemy of a tender quick bread. Spoon batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon coconut. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Combine powdered sugar and juice, stirring with a whisk; drizzle over warm bread. Cool completely on wire rack.

     

Meatball loved this bread. He calls it “Glaze Bread” and saves the sweet lime top for last. I  also loved this bread. It was delicious as a snack or breakfast. There ends the family’s love for this bread. Wombat smelled the lime, dug in, then looked at me like a wounded animal and said accusingly (with his mouth full), “You didn’t tell me about the coconut.” So I went back to the drawing board, eliminating the coconut and upping the lime. I added zest to both the bread and the glaze and added juice to the bread. Knowing the coconut also provided a textural element to the bread, I though about adding nuts, but the only suitable nut for lime in my mind is macadamia, and we didn’t have those, so I decided to go for a poppyseed-type addition: chia seeds. I added 2 tablespoons but would definitely use more, probably a full quarter cup, next time. Bonus nutrition points there, too!

 Glazed Lime Banana Bread with Chia

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds (can be up to doubled)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (3-4 bananas)
  • 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • Juice and zest of 1 lime plus rum to make 3 tablespoons of liquid
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • zest of 1 lime 

    Preheat oven to 350°.

    Combine flour, baking soda, salt and chia seeds.

    Beat sugar and butter together until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, yogurt, lime juice and zest, rum, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until moist. Spoon batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Combine powdered sugar, zest, and juice, stirring with a whisk; drizzle over warm bread. Cool completely on wire rack.

     

This one was a winner all around (even without chocolate chips!), though Wombat said he would have liked walnuts in it (That’s something he’s going to have to make for himself). That didn’t stop him from making a sad face the day he came home from work and the kids had finished the loaf. Meatball still saved the glaze for last.

Update: I was so proud of myself for using up several bananas for this entry, I felt like I was on the podium for the Adulting Olympics. A week later, while making room for some tomato sauce, I found SEVEN more bananas in the back of the freezer, which meant I had a dozen bananas still stored (sad trombone sound). At publication (two cakes and a loaf of bread later), we are down to four bananas in the freezer. And one in the fruit bowl. It’s past ripe and will be in the freezer before dinner.

 

 

11/52 Irish Soda Bread Muffins

20170317_135057On Friday morning, St Patrick’s Day, Peanut and Meatball were all over the place. On the average morning, they race downstairs, find me at the kitchen table and immediately fight over who gets to put in his breakfast order first (not that they need to order, they eat the EXACT same thing every morning), but Friday, they were opening doors and looking under chairs and Mommy was confused. They were searching for evidence of a leprechaun.

When did leprechauns start harassing us at home?

When I was a kid, St Patricks Day was when we wore green. Full stop. Maybe we got shamrock stickers on a good year. In the *mumble mumble* decades since then, SOMEONE (I’m looking at you, Pinterest) has decided that childhood can’t have enough magic and now the leprechaun comes into our homes and keeps Mommies up at night trying to outdo each other. Somehow, I had NO IDEA, but was able to scrape one together pretty quickly. Fortunately, Peanut had put on a blue shirt and Meatball wasn’t even dressed yet, so I sent them up to change and get dressed while I frantically shook some green food coloring into the partial gallon of milk in the fridge. A recent windstorm helped convince them that before turning our milk green, the leprechaun also threw one of our patio chairs into the woods. They ran with it and reasoned that he couldn’t get in at night, got mad and messed up the furniture, then snuck in that morning when Wombat let the dog out. St Patty’s Day was saved, but seriously, WHY IS THIS A THING NOW? Also, Peanut wouldn’t drink the green milk, in case the leprechaun was trying to poison us. His exact quote: “I’m not sure the magic is safe for people to drink.” So, thanks, leprechaun (still looking at you, Pinterest).

Before we cooked our corned beef and cabbage, Meatball helped me make an accompaniment, Irish Soda Bread Muffins. I’ve made soda bread most years, the typical americanized version with caraway and currants in a round pan. I’ve tried a few recipes, and they’ve all been similar in flavor and dense, scone-like texture. Because data-mining algorithms are incredible, this muffin recipe from King Arthur Flour popped up in the ad bar of my Facebook feed Thursday night. I had planned to stop at the grocery Friday morning anyway, so adding currants to my list was a no-brainer.

Currants do not exist in Leonardtown, Maryland.

There are two groceries near the gym, so Meatball and I went shopping right after my workout. Two groceries and a liquor store (for Guinness, because priorities) later, still currant-less, I was lightheaded, grumpy, and eyeing the McDonald’s drive-thru, so we gave up on the quest for currants and used golden raisins instead. I chopped them up so they’d be distributed more like the smaller currants, and Friday was the first time either boy has happily consumed a baked item containing dried fruit of any kind! In fact, the entire batch was gone before lunch on Sunday, and only lasted that long because we wouldn’t let them eat 3 muffins each on Saturday. 8 thumbs up; forgot to get a yum scale reading from Peanut. These are much lighter in texture (like typical muffins) than my previous soda breads, and they also didn’t dry out as quickly. The recipe makes 12 muffins, which is a manageable quantity. Many recipes fill two 9″ pans; I’ve thrown out surplus soda bread more than once.

My notes are in bold as always. This recipe was pretty straightforward and like all King Arthur Recipes, clear and concise, so I didn’t have much to add. If you go to the website, you can get the ingredient list by weight as well (which is what I use, because it’s more precise and eliminates having to wash measuring cups).

Irish Soda Bread Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour It doesn’t have to be King Arthur, though that’s what I have used exclusively for years, and it’s pretty widely available.
  • 3/4 cup King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder I use aluminum-free baking powder.
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups currants (first choice) or raisins Golden raisins for us, the only dried fruit everyone will reliably eat.
  • 1/2 to 2 teaspoons caraway seeds, to taste I used only a teaspoon this time, but will use 2 teaspoons next go-round.
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream I didn’t have quite as much buttermilk on hand as I thought, so I augmented with yogurt.
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted; or 1/3 cup vegetable oil I don’t know why you’d not use butter where it’s an option. 
  • sparkling white sugar, for topping Sparkling white sugar is very pretty and makes a nice glittery crust atop the muffins, but table sugar would also work, though the crust will be finer and more subtle. Raw sugar is another option, with the coarseness of the sparkling sugar but not as, well, sparkly.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a standard muffin pan; or line with papers, and grease the papers. I never greased muffin papers before reading it as an instruction in the Bread Bible. It really does make a difference in removing the papers from finished muffins. Completely worth the extra few seconds to do it. Rainbow muffin papers aren’t required, but Meatball thought they would be nice for St Patrick’s Day (I had forgotten we even had them. He’s such a good little pantry forager.)
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, currants or raisins, and caraway seeds.

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    Mixing dry ingredients is Meatball’s jam.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk (or equivalent) and melted butter (or equivalent).
  4. Quickly and gently combine the dry and wet ingredients; honestly, this won’t take more than a few stirs with a bowl scraper or large spoon. As soon as everything is evenly moistened, quit; further stirring will cause the muffins to be tough. Overmixing danger is real, but it’s worth doing one more turn along the bottom of the bowl. What’s worse than overmixed batter? A pocket of completely dry flour.
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, filling the cups about 3/4 full; the stiff batter will look mounded in the cups. I used my 1/3(ish) cup disher and overfilling the disher just slightly was the perfect amount for each muffin. Top with sparkling white sugar, if desired.
  6. Bake the muffins for 20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove them from the oven. Tip the muffins in the pan, so their bottoms don’t get soggy. This means pop them up and set them still in the tin on their edges to let the steam escape. They’ll be screaming hot, so if you’ve not yet developed asbestos-tipped baker’s fingers, use a skewer or thin spatula to lift them. fullsizeoutput_2b3cWait 5 minutes, then transfer the muffins to a rack to cool. Serve them plain, or with butter and/or jam. We enjoyed ours with Irish butter. I’d love to say I bought it special for the occasion, but we just eat (copious amounts of) Irish butter around here.fullsizeoutput_2b3d

 

 

10/52 Ohio Lemon Pi(e)

fullsizeoutput_2b323.14 (159…) is significant when you are a proud member of the geek tribe and married to their king. When I told Wombat I was making a pie for Pi Day, March 14 (yesterday), he asked me what time? The correct answer is 1:59. Because geometry.

Finding a new recipe for Pi Day was a challenge because I’ve made a few pies in my day. Every Thanksgiving I make a pumpkin pie (Wombat’s favorite – I think I have 3 different pumpkin pies in my repertoire now) and then in years when we’ve had many guests (our record is 22), I’ve made a second pie, and I never repeat a second pie. We’ve had chocolate cream, chocolate espresso pecan, apple cider cream, classic apple, Marcus Samuelsson’s Black-Bottom Peanut Pie (OMG), buttermilk chess pie, and I think lemon meringue one year. In season, I like to make blueberry pie or pre-make the filling to enjoy when blueberries aren’t as plentiful, but March is not a great time to find seasonal fruit. I went to an old standby, The Joy of Cooking (Wombat calls it The Tome), looking for inspiration. The Ohio Lemon Pie jumped out at me, primarily because the first 24 of my undisclosed number of years on this earth were spent in Ohio and I had NEVER heard of it. The reason became clear: without a mandolin slicer and a food processor, this pie would be prohibitively labor intensive. I did not own either of these things until well into my 27th year, so, boom.

This pie is intensely lemony. Like lemon drop candy plus lemon marmalade plus lemon curd with lemon juice and limoncello lemony. I used a standby butter pastry crust and the rich flavor and flaky texture really contrast the dense, tart, lemoniness of the filling. No whipped cream, ice cream, or other accoutrements are necessary. The filling contains sliced whole lemons, peel, pith, and all, and I must admit the “no waste” idea appealed to me. What surprised me was that the pith, which I expected to be tough and bitter, wasn’t unpleasant, as it softened nicely after 24 hours of macerating in sugar and the lemons’ own juice. The membrane between the segments, however, remained as tough as ever, was nearly impossible to slice through, and made for some messy plates. Making this again, I would slice and macerate the lemons per the recipe, then spin the whole lot in the food processor to break up the membrane a bit. I’m curious to try this modified method with other citrus fruits, maybe a lemon-orange combination, lime, or even pink grapefruit. I did not use the crust recipe from Joy, but am excited that this pie gives me an opportunity to share the best crust recipe I’ve ever used and the only one I ever will use again.

5 thumbs up for this one. The boys liked the crust (little butter fiends) so one up from each of them, but I think the texture of the filling threw them both a bit, and it was too tart and lemony for Peanut (Meatball eats lemons straight, so no tartness issues with him). Wombat gave it two thumbs up, and it gets one from me, primarily because the original method made plating it a huge pain and eating it a minor one.

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Not pretty. Good thing I’m not superficial. 

The flavor, however, was unique and delicious and maybe I had two slices for second breakfast this morning. I taught a class at the gym last evening and I get pre-class jitters, so I didn’t eat much yesterday. This means that today (and any day after I teach a later class), I pretty much rummage mouth-first through the kitchen like a shark-raccoon. Fortunately for my waistline and blood sugar, we don’t always have fresh pie sitting around. The recipe says to bring it to room temperature before serving and/or eating, but I prefer it cold, or maybe I’m just impatient.

Ohio Lemon Pie (Recipe abridged from The Joy of Cooking, my notations in bold)

Prepare:

Flaky Pastry Dough or Deluxe Butter Flaky Pastry Dough See the end of the recipe for the best pie dough recipe ever ever. 

Roll half the dough into a 13-inch round, fit it into a 9-inch pie pan and trim the overhanging dough to 3/4 inch all around. Refrigerate. Roll the other half into a 12-inch round for the tip crust and refrigerate it. I don’t know what your fridge situation is like but I do not have this kind of real estate for storing flat, delicate dough. I made the crust the day (almost the moment) I baked the pie. Grate the zest from:

2 large or medium lemons My lemons were medium and I totally spaced on this step, so the zest just went in still attached to the lemon.

Slice the lemons paper thin, removing the seeds as you do so. Mine were more manila-folder thin, maybe even cereal box cardboard thin. In a glass or stainless-steel bowl or ceramic or plastic, just don’t use anything that will corrode because lemons are crazy acidic combine the lemon slices and grated zest (or not) with:

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Before macerating
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
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24 hours later

Cover and stand at room temperature for 2-24 hours, stirring occasionally. The longer the lemons macerate, the better. I gave mine the full 24 hours and stirred them maybe 4 or 5 times. Stirring is a great time to catch and remove any seeds missed during slicing.

I started my crust a couple of hours before I was ready to bake. Okay, I started the crust about an hour before I had to pickup Meatball from preschool and then rolled out and chilled the bottom crust before moving on to this step: Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425. Whisk until frothy:

  • 4 large eggs

Whisk in:

  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

If you plan to process the lemon mixture, do it now. Stir the lemon mixture into the egg mixture. It took quite a bit of stirring to make sure the slices and sugar were evenly distributed. Pour the filling into the bottom crust and level with the back of a spoon. Brush the overhanging crust with cold water. Cover with the top crust, trim (didn’t trim, I like a big crust and more importantly so do the boys) and crimp or flute the edge I use the (very clean) knuckles of my index fingers to flute the edge. 20170314_124408Cut steam vents in the top crust (evenly distributed and other than that it doesn’t matter where. I put one in the middle because I knew I’d have to test doneness there) and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 20-30 minutes more . Mine took the full 30. Let cool completely on a rack.

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Can you imagine trimming (and trashing) any of that gorgeous buttery crust?

If you have a lab-type dog, secure the pie in the microwave or elsewhere out of reach. The pie can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days but let it warm to room temperature before serving. Or don’t.

Foolproof Double-Crust Pie Dough (From Cook’s Illustrated The Science of Good Cooking)

I keep a bottle of vodka in my freezer exclusively for pie crust. Here’s a quick shakedown of the science behind it. Gluten gives baked goods structure. In pizza crust, this quality of chewiness is desirable but it makes cakes and pie crusts tough, not tender. Gluten needs water to develop. Minimizing water helps to reduce gluten development, but a dry dough can be impossible to manipulate. Vodka provides moisture for handling but minimal water, so gluten doesn’t form as readily, and the alcohol cooks off without contributing any flavor whatsoever. I assume this is also why the recipe includes shortening, which contains no water, whereas butter is 16-17% water.

The recipe cautions (and I concur) that this can not be successfully made without a food processor.

Halving this recipe will make a single pie shell.

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Move the crust from the counter by rolling it gently around the rolling pin, then unroll it right into the pan.
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces and chilled
  • 8 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup vodka, chilled
  • 1/4 cup ice water
  1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, and salt together in food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. Scatter butter and shortening over top and continue to process until incorporated and mixture begins to form uneven clumps with no remaining floury bits, about 15 seconds.
  2. Scrape down bowl and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup flour per dough and pulse until mixture has broken up into pieces and is evenly distributed around bowl, 4 to 6 pulses. The dough will look like wet playground sand. There will be larger clumps, smaller clumps, and tiny bits. Don’t over process it!
  3. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Sprinkle vodka and ice water over mixture. I hold back some of the water in this step and usually don’t need all of it. For this pie I had a tablespoon leftover. Stir and press the dough together, using stiff rubber spatula, until dough sticks together.
  4. Divide dough into to even pieces. Turn each piece of dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into a 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for 1 hour. Before rolling out, let it sit on the counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes. (Dough can be wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated for up to two days or frozen for up to one month. Thaw completely before rolling out.) For holidays when I know I’ll be busy as heck in the kitchen, I always make pie crusts in advance.

A Day Without a Woman

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 – My husband’s Day Without a Woman is a drive to the airport, a flight to Vegas, and the beginning of an annual boys’ weekend. An educated and intelligent, capable man, he has apparently misinterpreted the point of today. The trip was planned months ago and I am figuring out when I’m going to cash in my own weekend away, but my zen vanished when he asked to have the last cup of coffee before he embarked on his vacation. He lives still because he cooked all weekend and we are still basking in delicious leftovers (Arroz con Pollo and Skillet Calzone).

Wombat (not what his mother named him; you may have noticed I don’t use my family’s real names) wasn’t much of a cook when we met, but early in our relationship he challenged me to a bet (I don’t remember what the bet even was, probably something about sports because he was extremely confident), and the loser had to cook dinner for the winner and watch the movie of his/her choice. I brought over Mary Poppins and he made me chicken Cordon Bleu, lemon asparagus, and Bananas Foster. Turns out we both won because that meal was the beginning of his culinary interest, and now at least two weekends a month, he is working on some new recipe he found in a magazine or online. He has come light years from the guy who left me a voicemail at work wondering where the grocery keeps the lemon zest (“I got lemon peel, lemon pepper, and then a whole regular lemon just in case.”)

As a (mostly) stay at home mom, I haven’t the luxury of taking today off (especially under the circumstances), and with Wednesday being my day with the most kid-free time, abstaining from economic stimulation wasn’t going to happen either. Kids have to eat and we were out of the following this morning: milk, apples, bagels, broccoli, and Frosted Mini Wheats. These are THE foods the boys will reliably eat. If we were also out of butter and baby carrots, starvation would soon follow. I dropped Meatball at preschool and hit two groceries (regular grocery and warehouse store) and spent an undisclosed amount of money on beautiful produce (berries were on sale! so was spinach!) along with the staples on my list. Then I returned home and lovingly shelved and stored all the healthy victuals before digging through the freezer and helping myself to more than a serving of Samoas (I support all women, including future women). I believe it was Julia Child who said “All things in moderation, including moderation” and even if it wasn’t, it’s a damn good way to live.

We are going to have leftovers one last time tonight, and the next two evenings aren’t going to be conducive to experimentation in the kitchen. Do not fret, you are getting a recipe this week! It’s just not a NEW recipe, not to me at least. For at least 3 years now, I have been corning my own beef for St Patrick’s Day. It brines for 10 days and really does blow commercial corned beef out of the water. This year I’m only brining for 9 days because my brisket this year is smaller than in years past and also I forgot. All the time is in the waiting, and there is little additional work, so why not give it a try? I’d lecture here on historical authenticity and cultural preservation, but this isn’t Irish food. Corned beef and cabbage is an American invention, along with what we call Soda Bread. So let’s keep the “ish” in Irish!

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Clockwise from the left: juniper, ginger (duh), cloves, cinnamon, and (obviously) allspice and mustard seeds

Alton Brown (my husband’s original culinary muse, aside from me of course) published this recipe in Good Eats 3 and it can also be found here.

Corned Beef, for Corned Beef and Cabbage

Ingredients
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons saltpeter Optional and I’ve never used it. It’s primary function is to make the meat pink. I can live without that, especially if it means I don’t have to buy something I know I’ll only use once a year.
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 8 whole allspice berries
  • 12 whole juniper berries
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 pounds ice
  • 1 4-5 pound beef brisket trimmed I’ve always used grass-fed beef for this recipe as we buy a quarter or a side annually and have a brisket on hand. I can’t imagine that the flavor would be much different with conventional beef, especially after 10 days in brine. This year’s brisket is much smaller and I’m quite concerned that we won’t have enough leftovers for the accompanying hash recipe, which is heaven.
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
Instructions

Place the water into a large 6 to 8 quart stockpot along with salt, sugar, saltpeter, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves and ginger. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the ice. Stir until the ice has melted. If necessary, place the brine into the refrigerator until it reaches a temperature of 45 degrees F. Once it has cooled, place the brisket in a 2-gallon zip top bag and add the brine. I have never seen 2 gallon zip-top bags at any market in three states. I have used oven bags in past years but this year I am halving the recipe for my smaller brisket and using a 1 gallon bag. Seal and lay flat inside a container because you do NOT want brine all over the fridge if your bag springs a leak, cover and place in the refrigerator for 10 days. Check daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged and stir the brine. I flip the bag and wiggle it a bit to mix and distribute the brine.

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Let the brining begin!

After 10 days, remove from the brine and rinse well under cool water. Place the brisket into a pot just large enough to hold the meat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cover with water by 1-inch. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender. Remove from the pot and thinly slice across the grain.

Tune in next week for Corned Beef and Cabbage. St Patty’s Day is on a Friday, so we even get a dispensation from the Pope this year!

 

9/52 Thai Noodles with Cinnamon and Shrimp

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It’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and for Catholics it is also a day of fasting (limiting food intake) and abstinence (no red meat, poultry or alcohol). Our family is what I would call “Cathol-ish”. We are not regular churchgoers, haven’t been since the Extended Deployment and Two Manhattan Christmas of 2013 (a different story for another post), but we do make it on the major holidays. (When my husband was quizzing Peanut on fire safety for Cub Scouts, he asked “What’s something we do twice a year?”  Peanut answered enthusiastically “Go to church!” Survey says: Change smoke detector batteries. We gave him partial credit.) The boys go to vacation Bible school every summer and we say grace before dinner every night. We do aim to observe Lenten traditions every year to prepare for Easter (because Peeps and the Resurrection). We didn’t (and won’t) make it to mass today but I did call my husband at work and remind him he can’t eat the leftover Hemingway burger he took in for lunch and haven’t forgotten to abstain from meat myself (yet). That plus the shrimp for dinner (which I did not enjoy with a glass of wine) and the angst I’m having over what to give up is a significant step up from our standard religious effort, and isn’t that mindfulness ultimately the point of Lent? Now let’s get on to the food before this religion talk goes from endearingly honest to irreverently controversial.

Another Nigella recipe here. She writes her recipes with charming and vivid descriptions and anecdotes that make it impossible to not want to try them. This one has been on my radar for a while, but I was in danger of making this blog all about Nigella there for a bit. As it stands now, 3/9 recipes so far are from Simply Nigella. That’s still pretty heavy for a single publication but, dang, she’s just so amazing (I will admit as I transcribe these recipes, I find her comma usage excessive. She’s more than likely correct, but still)! If you want to just go ahead and buy the book, you’d be wise to do so. (I am not compensated for any product recommendations or reviews. I just like telling people what I think about stuff.)

The dish was a hit, and pretty quick to assemble (faster than 30 minutes in only ONE POT!) 7 thumbs up for this one from the family, Meatball offering a single thumb of dissent because he liked the sauce on the shrimp, but not the noodles. His approval of sauce in any form is a huge leap, though, so taking that into consideration, I’m willing to declare this a unanimous win. Peanut rated it 2,026 yums on a scale where pizza (his favorite meal) is 3,000 yums, and completely cleaned his plate while continually declaring how delicious it was. Full disclosure, cinnamon is the predominant flavor. If you don’t care for cinnamon or take issue with flavors you associate with “sweet” in savory dishes, this one’s not for you.

As always, the recipe follows with my notes boldface. 

Thai Noodles with Cinnamon and Shrimp (Serves 2)

I doubled this recipe to serve the four of us with 2 smaller servings of leftovers. Quantities below are the original recipe for two.

  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped “Roughly chopped” is my favorite preparation for garlic, which can become rather tedious when you get into directions like “minced”, “sliced”, and “finely chopped”.
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks Easier than you would think, since most of the cutting goes with the grain of the ginger.
  • 1 star anise
  • 1/2 long or 1 short stick cinnamon, broken into shards

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    Leafy celery stems. Easy to find if you know where to look!
  • 2-3 leafy stems at the top of 1 celery stalk, stems cut into short lengths, leaves roughly chopped The preface to the recipe explains that this is a geographically necessary substitute for Chinese celery. Buy leafier celery from the grocery and pull off the little branches with leaves on them, or use the leafy stalks near the heart.
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce I assume this is the same thing as Tamari. It’s what I used with dark soy sauce nowhere to be found (and by nowhere, I mean the one grocery I checked)
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper Normally, I would be a snob about this and insist it be freshly ground, but Nigella herself says to use the pre-ground stuff as that’s what the original chef used. Who am I to argue with authenticity?
  • 7 tablespoons cold water If you’re doubling, it’s 7 ounces.
  • 1 teaspoon chicken broth concentrate
  • 1 tablespoon ketjap manis, or 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce mixed with 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar I confess I didn’t even try to find ketjap manis. There is one grocery store in this county that even has a chance of carrying it, and it was just too far out of the way today. If you have an Asian market near you (lucky!), you’ll probably be able to get it. That said, if this is the only thing you’ll in which you’ll use it, why not use staple ingredients instead?
  • 10 raw shell-off jumbo shrimp, thawed if frozen I was at the warehouse store and the jumbo shrimp was farmed, the wild Gulf shrimp were large. I’m a source snob (sort of. I’ll happily shop at a big box store or the warehouse club but be picky about what I buy there) so I bought the wild shrimp and just weighed out a pound, which is four servings according to the package.
  • 3 ounces mung bean (glass) noodles or rice vermicelli, soaked and drained as per package instructions One package is 5.5 ounces and I learned my lesson on rice noodle quantity making the pho, so I used the slightly smaller amount.
  • fat pinch ground cinnamon I am guessing that two fat pinches is about 1/8 teaspoon.
  • fat pinch ground cloves Ditto.

On a high heat, heat the oil in a large wok. We do not own a wok. It’s a “would be nice to have” but having lived this long without one, I think we’ll continue to do so. We do have a deep, curve-sided saucepan that works well in a wok’s stead. You could use any skillet here, I think. Add the garlic, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, and the sliced leafy stems of celery, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

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Our “not a wok”

Stir in both soy sauces and leave to simmer for 30 seconds, then stir in the oyster sauce and ground pepper. I added the oyster sauce with the soy sauces because I got distracted. Mom problems. Still worked out.

Add the water, followed by the chicken broth concentrate and the ketjap manis (or the mixture of dark soy sauce with dark brown sugar), stir until everything’s well combined, and bring to a boil. It will boil almost instantly so have the shrimp ready.

Now add the shrimp, immersing them in the liquid. Simmer until the shrimp are cooked through. My shrimp being smaller, this didn’t take long at all. 4 minutes, maybe? 

Finally, add the drained noodles and stir well – I find a couple of pasta forks, one in each hand, best for this – so that everything is combined, and most of the dark liquid is absorbed. If we have pasta forks, we call them something else. I used a pair of tongs and they worked well for both stirring the noodles and serving the dish. Add the pinches of ground cinnamon and cloves, stir again, and if you’re not serving straight from the wok, decant into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the reserved chopped celery leaves. Save yourself (or in my case your spouse) some cleanup and serve it right from the pan. Also, if you’re serving children, pick out the bits of cinnamon and start anise left behind. It’s tree bark and not very tasty, and I’m not sure how well the body digests it. 

Cool leftovers, then cover and refrigerate within 2 hours of making. Will keep for up to 2 days. Delicious cold. I can’t verify how these taste cold but I have a hard time imagining them being anything short of delicious.

 

7&8/52 Honey Sage Bourbon Cocktail & Candied Ginger Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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Not a meal. Not saying it couldn’t be. There’s fruit in it.

Susie Homemaker I am not. I’m not particularly tidy. I avoid cleaning, which means I let things go until crisis point (eating off orphaned plastic container lids and going sockless) or we have company arriving. I enjoy cooking and baking, but cuisine is one of the first priorities to go when adulting gets to be overwhelming. Any military wife will tell you that popcorn or cereal can be a meal (ANY meal) during deployment or any other service member absence (it’s never JUST a deployment). I like to think I have perfected the art of lazy feeding when my husband is gone and the three of us (plus dog) are left to our own devices. My crowning achievement was the invention of “Big Bowl of Food”, where, writhing in the throes of a back injury, I desperately assembled a lunch of snack items (crackers, raisins, nuts, Cheerios, fruit snacks?, pretzels) in a – you guessed it – big bowl and plopped it on the coffee table with two cups of milk and let the boys have at it. It’s become one of my most requested creations.

In fourteen days, this house has seen three injuries above the neck (all on the same kid, looking into having him fitted for a helmet), three days of fever (other kid), and mild flu-like symptoms (Mommy). Only the dog remains unscathed. Meals these past two weeks have been of the lazy variety. Store-bought rotisserie chicken with noodles and steam-in-the-bag broccoli for three nights, a standby meatball recipe that lasted until no one ever wants to see a meatball again (especially Meatball, who doesn’t care for them in the first place), and teriyaki chicken have pretty much seen us through, augmented with a couple of trips through the Chik-fil-A drive-thru. *Bonus recipe for teriyaki chicken: Pour one bottle Soy Vey Teriyaki sauce into slow cooker. Add 4-5 skinless chicken thighs (boned or not, doesn’t matter), cook on low for 4 hours. Serve with rice.* I’m patting myself on the back for not resorting to Big Bowl of Food and celebrating with the cocktail I had wanted to make when I did the Maple Bourbon Rosemary Cocktail.

Honey Sage Winter Bourbon Cocktail

As usual, my edits are in bold.

Honey Winter Bourbon Cocktail with Honey Sage Syrup No need to say honey twice here, honey. Winter Bourbon Cocktail with Honey Sage Syrup or Honey Sage Winter Bourbon Cocktail.

Honey Sage Syrup I halved this recipe knowing I barely had enough Bourbon for one cocktail

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 10-12 Fresh Sage Leaves

Cocktail

  • 2 ounces Bourbon Normally, I prefer Buffalo Trace for cocktails but it is extraordinarily difficult to find in Southern Maryland. I found it ONCE in our local booze-selling grocery but had just bought some Makers Mark and couldn’t bring myself to buy more Bourbon and now I’m kicking myself. 
  • 1 orange peel
  • 1 fresh sage leaf
  • 3 Tbsp honey sage syrup
  • Servings: 3 Nope. Three teetotaling 85 pound gymnasts, maybe, but these quantities make ONE decent drink. 

Instructions

Bring the water, honey, and sage to a boil in a pot over medium high heat. Reduce to
lowand simmer 3 minutes. Turn off heat and let syrup cool.
You’ll have extra syrup unless you’re mixing for a crowd. Mine is in an airtight container in the fridge.

Fill a short glass with ice. Pour bourbon and cooled syrup over ice. Twist your orange peel directly over glass until you see the oils release. Place in glass with bourbon, stir, and garnish with a fresh sage leaf.

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It really was the “Last Pass” for that bottle of Bourbon. Plane etchings adorn all of our barware. Naval Aviation wife problems.

Doing this again, I would muddle an orange slice in a shaker with the syrup and then add ice and bourbon and shake until the shaker is cold, then pour over fresh ice before adding the twist and the sage leaf. This cocktail improved as the ice diluted it and I’d rather just start there. Plus, it was a bit flat until I enhanced the orange.

This cocktail is not sweet so if you like sweeter drinks, feel free to add more honey. Eh, being almost HALF syrup makes this drink quite sweet. It’s also quite strong because the honey is the only mixer, but it certainly doesn’t need to be any sweeter. 

I’d love to try it again soon, but I used the last of our Maker’s Mark (and even had to augment with a splash of Pendleton), and I’m not sure this is worthy of the Blanton’s. Besides, I need the Blanton’s for the fast-approaching Julep Season.

I have a bit of a grocery neurosis. Whenever I come across a hard to find ingredient, it gets stuck in my head, and the next time I see that ingredient, I stock up. Like a squirrel getting ready for winter. (I’m still so mad about not buying that Buffalo Trace I saw IN NOVEMBER.) In this manner, I found myself sitting on close to a pound of candied ginger. That’s a LOT of candied ginger, even for a relatively prolific baker. So, cocktail in hand, I went to Pinterest to find a new way to use some of it up. I’d been craving cookies for a while and always have plenty of chocolate on hand (second grocery problem, I rarely leave the store without chocolate), so this recipe for Candied Ginger Sea Salt Chocolate Chunk Cookies from the Minimalist Baker caught my eye. The recipe uses sea salt chocolate, which I didn’t have on hand (but now I’ll stock up the next time I see it!) but I do have sea salt and chocolate, problem solved.

Candied Ginger and Sea Salt Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Pillowy chocolate chip cookies with tiny little flecks of homemade candied ginger and sea salt dark chocolate. I would not describe my results as “pillowy”. Tasty, certainly, but pillowy, no.
Author: Minimalist Baker
Serves: 30 cookies
Ingredients
1 cup + 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground ginger
pinch salt
1 stick butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
3/4 cup sea salt dark chocolate, chopped I used chopped dark chocolate and then added a half tsp sea salt to the dough, then sprinkled a few flakes of sea salt on each cookie
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped

CANDIED GINGER If you feel like making your own candied ginger, here’s how. That would have defeated the purpose for me, though. If you bought candied ginger, skip to the next bold text.
4-5 small-medium pieces fresh ginger
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Instructions
To candy ginger, peel and thinly slice fresh ginger, then add to a saucepan with equal parts water and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
Next, drain and place ginger on a plate or other flat surface to dry, preferably overnight but at least 5-6 hours. Lastly, toss in white sugar.

Let’s get down to business.
To make the cookies, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cream butter and sugars together. Then add egg, vanilla and mix again.
Add dry ingredients a little at a time, mixing as you go. Lastly, fold in chocolate chunks and chopped candied ginger.
Scoop into rounded 1 Tbsp. balls and place on cookie sheet. Here’s where I put a few flakes of San Juan Island Sea Salt on each cookie. I’m partial to this brand but unless you have a connection to the Puget Sound, it’s hard to find. Any sea salt will do. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until set in the middle – they should hardly be brown. I will try chilling the scooped dough next time. my cookies came out flatter than I wanted them. Still delicious, but not very pretty. Also, in this manner, you can scoop and FREEZE the dough then store it in a sealed bag in the freezer and bake the cookies in single serve batches!fullsizeoutput_2b29
Leave on the tray for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Store in an air-tight container or bag for up to 4 days. Alternatively, place in freezer to store longer. These did not last 4 days. Storage was not a problem. 6 thumbs up because two of our thumbs were on a business trip and missed out.

 

6/52 Super Ro-Tel

received_10155081685519090Everyone can thank my friend Nikki for this recipe. I never planned to count this one, just make it for the family because I earned it this past weekend (which included, in no particular order, blood, sweat, AND tears). In a text, I sent Nikki this picture with a message something like “How many times have I yelled at the kids today? Queso dip many times.” She has small (ADORABLE) kids and I never expect a quick reply but this one was immediate: “That’s for the blog, yes?” Soooooo, here you go.

Having grown up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, caring who wins the Super Bowl is not something that I have ever experienced. What I have always known, however, is that Super Bowl Sunday is the great American excuse to eat all the junk food that “we don’t keep in our house.” I’ve never had an alcohol hangover on Super Bowl Monday, but food hangovers reach back to my childhood. Something my mom always made was a Velvet-based dip I always knew as “Ro-Tel”. At some point I learned that this food is actually known as queso dip or any number of names and that Ro-Tel is simply the brand of one of the two ingredients in my mom’s recipe: Mexican Velveeta and … boom.

I’ve toyed with the method over the years, using plain Velveeta when unable to find the Mexican variety (which contains hot peppers), draining the Ro-Tel for a thicker dip, adjusting the block/can ratio, but I never added to it.

Until now.

I found an intriguing recipe for Queso Fundido in a magazine (Cook’s Country, not surprisingly) that used REAL CHEESE instead of pasteurized processed cheese food products. Reading on, I also discovered that it required a tedious choreography of grating, seeding, dicing, chopping, and stirring, and my enthusiasm deflated. However, the promise of a better “Ro-Tel” dip that also included Chorizo was enough to make me consider a compromise.

The Ro-Tel would sub in for a great deal of the chopping, especially the part where gloves are recommended. I already had chorizo (I’m an impulse shopper, the ingredients I have on hand would astound you) and had purchased the Ro-Tel and Velveeta with plans to make mom’s standard dip. I wanted to add some real cheese for a more robust cheese flavor and had (like I almost always do) some shredded sharp cheddar cheese in the fridge. The recipe in Cook’s tossed shredded cheese with cornstarch before incorporating it into the dip. I assumed this was to keep the cheese from clumping, so I tossed a few pinches in with my cheddar before adding it. I suspect the cornstarch had an added benefit of absorbing some of the extra water in the Ro-Tel, as the final dip was much thicker than the original. It was wonderfully oozy rather than runny.

So, here’s the recipe as near as I can remember it. I wasn’t measuring, but I did weigh the chorizo so that I can quantify.

  • 1 16 ounce block Velveeta Our local market didn’t have Mexican Velveeta. It doesn’t have much in the way of standard groceries actually, but it’s one of the few groceries in the county that is licensed to sell alcohol AND the closest market to our house because God wants us to be happy. 
  • 1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes and chilis. Just the regular stuff, not the mild or lime or whatever. I buy the only kind they made in the 80s when I first started eating it. 
  • 12 ounces chorizo
  • about a cup or maybe less (definitely not more) shredded sharp cheddar cheese From the bag, like nature intended.
  • a few pinches of cornstarch One pinch was not enough, I think I ended up using 3 or 4? Enough to lightly coat the cheese.

Remove the casings from the chorizo. I used kitchen scissors. This is the hardest and grossest part of this dish. Brown the chorizo in a medium saucepan, making sure to crumble it into small pieces. Spoon the chorizo onto a paper towel lined plate and wipe out the pot.

Return pot to heat. Dump the Rot-Tel (with all the liquid) into the pot and scrape up any chorizo goodness from the bottom.

Cut the Velveeta into several pieces and add to the pot. Stir occasionally until Velveeta is almost melted.

Toss cheddar with corn starch until lightly and evenly coated. Add to the pot and stir until melted.

Return chorizo to the pot and stir.

Enjoy!

I’d love to try this with the Mexican Velveeta or maybe pepper jack in place of the cheddar. If you make any adjustments, tell me about them!