Orange-Scented Molasses Cookies

There is an ice storm passing through and every shape outside from earth to sky–only grey–a heavy, wet, chilling shade of grey. Every once in awhile, a neighbor burdened with the task of catching the downtown bus, walks cautiously past my kitchen window, skidding, catching himself at the last minute. I’m so lucky that I get to be home today and having cancelled a couple of appointments, here is where I shall stay.

One of my favorite issues of Cook’s Illustrated magazine is one that I happened to pick up while in line checking out at the grocery store 5 years ago. It’s the 2012 Holiday Baking issue and I’ve referenced it often (read: pages are flour-dusted with pen-scratched notes in the margins) from buttermilk biscuits, Christmas morning cinnamon buns and to these very addictive chewy gingerbread cookies that while baking, fill my kitchen with the fragrance and aroma of a more pleasant winter’s eve–cinnamon, cloves and orange.

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar PLUS 2/3 cup for dipping
  • 3 teaspoons grated orange zest (2 teaspoons for dipping; 1 teaspoon for cookies)
  • 2 1/4 cup (11 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine, freshly ground pepper
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced into 12 pieces, softened but still cool
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (measure in a liquid measuring cup) light or dark molasses (not blackstrap–too strong)

Move the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Then, in the little bowl that came with your food processor, that if you, like me, haven’t used before, process 2/3 cup granulated sugar with 2 teaspoons grated orange zest until a lovely and fragrant pale orange (10 seconds ought to do it). Next pour sugar into an 8- or 9-inch cake pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda (as molasses has a bit of acidity to it, it needs a bit of baking soda, an alkalai, to react with it and provide lift) salt, and spices together until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter for a 20 seconds or so, then add 1/3 cup granulated sugar, dark brown sugar and 1 teaspoon grated orange zest and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Reduce speed to medium-low and add egg yolk and vanilla. Increase speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds.

Reduce speed to medium-low and add molasses beating until fully incorporated (20 seconds), scraping bottom and sides of bowl once with a rubber spatula. Reduce speed to lowest setting and add flour mixture slowly, mixing until just combined, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl again, once.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and give the dough a final stir with the rubber spatula, making sure to really get to the bottom of the bowl. Dough will be soft.

Scoop and form 1 1/2-inch balls (using a tablespoon as a guide may help), dropping 6 at a time into the cake pan with the sugar/orange zest mixture. Toss balls in sugar to coat and place about 2 inches apart on the prepared sheet. (I spaced 3 across and 4 down–my pans are 17″x 12″).  Bake only one pan at a time for about 10 minutes (cookies won’t bake evenly otherwise), turning the pan once half-way through baking. 

Do not over bake. Cookies are done even though the centers are still soft and in between the cracks appears to look raw. Cool cookies on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

 

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Roasted Butternut Squash soup with pear, ginger & jalapeño

The first time I made this soup it was Fall 2008 but chances are pretty good that it was several years before that when I clipped the recipe from Country Living magazine.  This soup reminds me of long days in our first home with a baby or two. Of stroller walks on colorful tree-lined streets to Whole Foods Market–all of us bundled against the crisp air.

When what I was hoping for was a long stretch of nap so I could make this soup and have it on the table for dinner –whatever time that could be. When the sound of a train whistle in the distance announced that the husband would be rounding our corner at any moment, hungry and tired, carrying the scent of a lower Manhattan autumn day. Of Penn Station roasted nuts and subway steam pushing up through rusty sidewalk grates.

These days I am inclined to take my bowlful of soup outside, along with my long quilted winter coat, a heavy blanket and wool mittens and sit on the front porch glad for the twilight and the chill against my cheeks.

  • 1 large butternut squash or 2 small ones (3-4 pounds total)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion (1 large onion)
  • 1 chopped shallot (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 fresh jalapeño, seeded and chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 11/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into chunks (about 2 cups: I used Bartlett)
  • 6 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (leaves only)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and place seeds up on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place in a 400° F oven. Add about a 1/4 cup of water to the pan and roast until tender, until easily pierced with a fork. Should take 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Remove the seeds with a spoon. Scoop out the flesh, leaving behind the peel, and mash coarsely. At this point you may refrigerate the squash overnight and continue making the soup the next day.

In a Dutch oven or 6-quart saucepan, heat oil and add onion, shallot, ginger, jalapeño, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until onion is soft and begins to turn light brown (10 minutes or so). Add pears and cook another 5 minutes. Measure 3 cups of mashed squash and add to the Dutch oven and cook another 5 minutes.

Stir in the stock, honey and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Purée in batches in a blender, food processor or use an immersion blender–way less work and mess–and return to the pot. Stir in cream and keep warm. Do not boil.

 

 

 

Sunday’s Caramel Tart

This morning I’m up at 5 to see the husband and Auggie off on a long drive north for a day of championship mountain bike racing. As soon as I hear the truck pull out of the driveway, I pour a cup of coffee and take the caramel tart I made yesterday out of the refrigerator.

It was late last night (know that these days “late” for me means somewhere around 9 pm) when the tart had cooled enough to be put in the fridge for at least a 2-hour chill. By that time I was tucked in and fast asleep.

When the Hubs saw the pre-baked tart shell he said, “Is that for apples?” When I answered No, that it would be filled with caramel. He whined, “Caramel?”

Yes Dear. Caramel. Dorie Greenspan’s from her book, Baking Chez Moi. And with that, he was back in the living room watching the Badger football game. He was going to be okay.

So this morning, alone, hours from daylight, I peel back the layers of Saran wrap, quietly cut a slice and enjoy every smooth mouthful all along considering this a very good first breakfast (no need to set a good example–there no signs of Fritz or Harriet stirring in their beds at this point).

It tastes as it should (I am encouraged), a rich caramel filling uncomplicated in its most basic buttery-ness. The shortbread crust is pleasantly sweet with good crunch and somewhat forgiving in that, by choosing to piece the dough together in the pan rather than rolling it out, I’m sure I overworked it a bit.

The first time I made the caramel for this dessert, I forgot to add the warm cream at the end. This soon became a clumpy mess (alarmingly so) when I attempted to add the caramel mixture (minus the cream) to the bowl of creamed-together sugar and eggs. I had to start over which wasn’t too bad–well having to get dried caramel off of the pan, and off the spatula and whisk was a pain in the ass–but then it was only a matter of boiling sugar, water and a few drops of lemon juice to get things rolling again.

One more misstep ensued. In my haste to get this into the oven and get dinner started, I forgot that this recipe calls for a 9-inch tart pan and I have an 8-inch. Because I overfilled the pan, the baking time increased by almost twice as much,  which resulted in a slightly browned top (not the autumnal sunset color I was hoping for). At least I remembered to place the tart on a parchment-lined baking sheet otherwise I’d be subjecting my family to the assaulting stink of burnt sugar for a long, long time.

Still Dorie’s caramel tart, of which I adapted not a single thing, tastes divine as it should. A dollop of chantilly cream and a few shavings of bittersweet chocolate on top solves the less-than-perfect aesthetic issue. I would serve this smoldering dessert to dinner guests without apology.

If you’d like the recipe, feel free to leave me a message in the comments. I’d love to share it with you.

Epicuriously yours,

Kathy

 

#MadLunchSquad

Last month I announced on Facebook that I was hoping to gather interested friends to have lunch with me at a newly located restaurant in Madison.  I made a reservation for five and in no time I had received confirmation from four individuals allowing me to easily fulfill the reservation. Ruth Reichl, the award-winning author, one-time New York Times restaurant critic and the last editor in chief of Gourmet Magazine, promised me in an interview I conducted with her a couple of years ago that foodies find foodies.  I feel it’s time I find mine.

What’s great about this group is that its purpose is to be fluid and ever-evolving, quite possibly never the same group twice. I announce the restaurant on my FB page and friends can decide if they’re interested in that particular menu of the month. There is so much diversity in Madison’s food scene that there is sure to be a restaurant offering for everyone interested in going out for lunch and meeting new friends.

That’s what happened last month at Madison RED, a favorite sushi restaurant. Although I knew all the women sitting around the table, few of them knew each other. Before we even ordered our rolls we had come to be fast friends and actually came up with a name for ourselves. We are Madison’s Lunch Squad.

Because I couldn’t help but take a few notes, I thought I’d share with you my impression of the new space.

Farewell to RED Sushi, the cozy raw joint of King Street and Hello to the lady in red–Madison RED Dine Lounge, now on West Washington Avenue. Dressed to the nines in red, black and gold; draped with sparkling stainless chandeliers, the new restaurant looks as if it has matured from what was once an intimate locale just off the capital square.

The bar now is an expression of sophistication and good taste, sweeping through the room like the train of an elegant evening gown, adorned with intimate booths cradling smartly-dressed guests. Chopsticks pirouette over creative rolls and sashimi, seared filet mignon and halibut. On a recent lunch date with friends, we each enjoyed the two-roll lunch special for $13. A toothsome favorite was the tropic bintoro roll (see above)—spicy, buttery albacore tuna, sweet tempura-battered mango, cuddled with smooth avocado.

Both raw and cooked as well as vegetarian rolls are offered. Whichever rolls you choose, consider getting the pork bun as an appetizer and the sweetly seasoned seaweed salad with crunchy cucumber slices involved in your dining daydream.

See you this month at a yet to be disclosed location!

#Madlunchsquad

Rosé, you make me blush

Summer for me means time on our deck, looking out over the vegetable garden, the flower bed and the lawn, green, but for the brown divots leading up to our kids’ soccer net. This holiday weekend, I plan on spending an evening or two leaning back in my chair, watching the bats dive for mosquitoes in the twilight and ducking soccer balls all while sipping a cool glass of rosé to the soundtrack of Frank Sinatra.

I recently learned a bit about this delightfully crisp and chill wine, so very pretty to look at. According to the article “Everything’s Coming Up Rosé” in the June issue of Food & Wine magazine, author Ray Isle, tells us not to think too deeply about this summery wine, but to enjoy it thoroughly. My favorite quote from Isle is “(If, at a party, someone starts talking to you about the raspberry nuances and subtle spice notes of the rosé you’re drinking, you’re officially allowed to push him or her into the pool.)”

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Provence is where rosé calls home, but, lucky for us, rosé can be pleasantly and inexpensively produced just about everywhere. Here’s why, according again to Isle: “Producers simply need to pick grapes on the early side (to keep acidity high and alcohol low) and allow minimal skin contact during fermentation (hence the pink hue), and that’s most of the rosé in the world.”

This weekend (beginning tonight) I’ll be opening a bottle of the “Blushing Rose” a local American semi-sweet rosé from Wollersheim Winery of Wisconsin. Made from the Seyval Blanc and Marechal Foch grapes of New York, this wine wants to you desire a picnic basket of cold fried chicken, your favorite cheese, Rhubarb Blueberry Mint Kissed Jam and a loaf of bread.

Epicureously yours,

Kathy

Apricot Pie and Ruth Reichl

Dear Friends,

Last June I interviewed writer, chef, cookbook author, past restaurant critic for The New York Times, and past editor-in-chief of the sorely missed Gourmet magazine, Ruth Reichl (http://www.channel3000.com/madison-magazine/dining-drink/meeting-ruth-reichl/33385840). I believe I promised to only take 40 minutes of her time. At the end of those agreed upon minutes, she offered to continue our conversation as we had gotten on the subject of fresh apricots and how they signal the beginning of summer and how now it was time to bake them into a pie.

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Oh just slice them in half, Reichl began, remove their pits, but leave the skin on and lay them in a pie crust. Make a streusel topping, pour it over them and bake.

Just like that?  Voila?

But how do I make a streusel topping I wondered later when reviewing my notes. How long should the pie bake for?

IMG_8412

Spring came and went, summer too, fall, winter–all without a trace of apricot pie. And then, not too long ago, Reichl actually re-posted a recipe for her apricot pie on her blog: http://ruthreichl.com/ and it happens to also appear in her book, Comfort Me With Apples, which although I’ve read, I missed. I made it and my baking repertoire has since expanded to include this method for just about any stone fruits coming into their season this summer.

And it couldn’t be easier..

  • 2 pounds of apricots (Trust me, get more. When ripe, they are irresistible eaten out-of-hand.)
  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • pinch of salt
  • grating of fresh nutmeg

 

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Roll out your pie crust, or use the frozen kind (Hey, it’s summer and life should be easy, right?). Place crust in a 9-inch pie plate, then pop it into the freezer for 15-30 minutes. Remove from the freezer. Using your fingers, break the apricots in half (this is rustic living, y’all), remove pits, and lay them down all snug-like. 

On the stove top, over medium-low heat, melt the butter, then combine the brown sugar, flour, salt and nutmeg. Spoon this all over the apricots (Oh my…is right).

Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 375° and bake for another hour or so, until the fruit is bubbling and the top is nicely browned. Remove pie and allow to cool for at least an hour.

Serve with fresh cream drizzled on top.

By the way, in the summer 2016 issue of Saveur magazine which just arrived in the mail yesterday, there is an encouraging article (Sweet Slice of Summer) about making pies as a way of preserving the bounty of the summer harvest. Authors Mitchell Davis and Laurent Gras give such nurturing instructions as “A good rule of thumb when making pie dough: Stop working it sooner than you think.”

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Epicureously yours,

Kathy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luscious Lemon Bombshell Cakes

The husband loves this cake. Of course he does, at the end of the day, you’ll wind up zesting and juicing around a dozen lemons. I was only experimenting with this one. I thought for sure he would reject the pucker of it all, so when he said, “This is my favorite lemon cake.” I couldn’t believe it. He’s right (don’t tell him I said so). This cake is delicious. It’s buxom–the Mae West of dessert.

Before we begin, I need to ask you: Do you have it in you to zest and juice, while muttering to yourself, “This is too much lemon!” “This better taste good–all this friggin’ zesting and juicing”?

Are you still in? Then “getcha getcha lips wet, cuz it’s time to have Pep. On your mark, get set, go, let me go, let me shoop…” (A little Salt ‘n’ Pepa rhyme for you.)

First you’ll notice 1/3 cup of zest. What? That’s too much. Can’t be right. Next up is the full cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Is she out of her mind? She wants me to stir it into the batter at the end? That’s too much liquid. It won’t incorporate. It can’t!

Stay with me, Grasshopper. That’s just the cake. Then there’s the lemon soaking syrup and boiling it for an extra 5 minutes does indeed turn it a glorious shade of gold. And I’m going to ask you to poke holes in the still-warm cake and spoon this syrup over the top, soaking the cake, not once, but twice. No mas! you’ll cry out.

The cake is done once the icing (more fresh lemon juice and zest) is on the cake.

adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup grated lemon zest (from 4-5 large lemons)
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (from 5-6 large lemons)

For the lemon soaking syrup

  • 3/4  cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (another 5 lemons or so)

For the lemon icing

  • 2 cups confectioner sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Before we do anything else, let’s take out our buttermilk and unsalted butter and bring to room temperature.

I made these into mini bundt cakes, but feel free to use two 9×5 inch loaf pans instead. Butter them and lightly dust them with flour. Preheat the oven to 350°.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and sea salt; set aside. In a large measuring cup or a small bowl, stir together the buttermilk and vanilla.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl, if using a hand mixer), cream the butter and granulated sugar for 7-10 minutes, until pale in color and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating just until each is incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each egg.

Add the flour mixture alternating with the buttermilk mixture in 3 additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in the lemon zest and lemon juice.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops with a spatula. Tap the loaf pans firmly, but carefully (I still have pumpkin pie filling stains on my ceiling from Thanksgiving) on the table to remove any air bubbles from the batter.

Bake for 50 minutes to an hour. My mini bundt cakes took approximately 12-17 minutes to bake. Always stay near the kitchen and begin checking as soon as you smell something delicious baking.

Poke the cake with a toothpick. If it comes out clean (a few moist crumbs clinging to it is ideal) then the cakes are done. Cool the loaves in the pans for about 10 minutes (any longer and they will steam) then release them onto a cooling rack.

Make the lemon soaking syrup in a small pan on top of the stove. Combine the granulated sugar and the fresh lemon juice and cook over low heat while stirring often. Once the sugar dissolves, continue cooking until the syrup turns a deep golden yellow (and it will) in about 5 minutes.

When the loaves are cool enough to handle, place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Poke holes in the cake using either a fork, or if you have a wooden skewer on hand, use that. Pour the lemon soaking syrup all over the tops of the cakes. Repeat until the cakes are completely moistened. Let the loaves rest for at least 10 minutes so the syrup is absorbed.

To make the lemon icing, combine all but the juice at first into a small bowl. Stir until nicely blended together. Next slowly add enough of the lemon juice to make it smooth and creamy (I used 3-4 Tablespoons only). Use a spoon to drizzle the glaze over the tops of the loaves, allowing it to drip down over the sides.

A sprinkling of lemon zest over the top is a nice touch. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The loaves will keep wrapped in clear wrap at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Shoop, shoop ba-doop.

 

 

 

 

Perfect vanilla cake with best chocolate frosting

This is the one my family loves. This recipe has brought me peace of mind at last. It’s the reason I’ve called off the search for the perfect vanilla cake. I’ve found it. This cake, paired with this chocolate frosting, is the cake of my childhood dreams. This is the one, my friends. This is the one.

And the timing is just perfect. Over here at The Little Blue Apron, we are celebrating four years of sharing recipes and living a handcrafted, delicious life. Thank you, thank you! to all our followers. I can’t think of a better way to look back on the last four years than with a cold glass of milk and a slice of this cake! I can’t wait to offer you more vintage cake and classic cocktail recipes as well as basic French cooking techniques in the weeks, months and years ahead!

Golden Vanilla Cake

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder *
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, soft **
  • 1 1/4 cups milk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs

* Test your baking powder. In Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking, a neat little paperback book by Julia Child meant to be used as a quick reference, I learned to stir a teaspoon of baking powder into 1/2 cup of hot water. Says Julia, “If it doesn’t bubble up in a lively way, throw it out.”

**By the way, soft means soft. Not just room temperature, but seriously soft.

Take the butter out of the refrigerator first and cut it into chunks.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly butter (use your fingers!)  and flour two 9″ round cake pans.

In the bowl of a stand mixer whisk (by hand) together the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt.

Add the butter and beat (using the paddle attachment) at low speed until the mixture looks sandy.

Combine the vanilla and milk and add all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.

Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.

With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds (until incorporated). Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides.

Repeat the above steps with the remaining eggs, adding each one at a time.

After the fourth and last egg is added, scrape the bottom and sides once more, then beat at medium-high speed for an additional 30 seconds.

Pour the batter into the cake pans (I use a scale to weigh each pan after filling them, trying to get them as close to even as I can).

Bake about 25-27 minutes. I always begin testing after about 18 minutes or so (this is also around the time when I first begin to smell cake in the air). The cake is done when a toothpick inserted an inch from the middle comes out clean, when it’s a golden brown and just beginning to pull away from the edge of the pan.

Remove the cakes from the oven and place it on a rack to cool for 5 minutes before removing them from the pans. Left in the pans any longer and the cakes will begin to sweat and toughen.

Best Chocolate Frosting

  • 1 3/4 cups unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder or 1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee)*
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted (this means, measure 2 cups then sift)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

*http://www.thekitchn.com/pantry-basics-what-is-espresso-41586

Take the butter out of the refrigerator, cut into chunks to soften.

Bring the cream to a gentle simmer on the stove.

Sift the cocoa, 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar and espresso powder (or instant espresso coffee), into a bowl.

Whisk the warmed cream into the cocoa mixture.

At first the mixture will look grainy but keep on going, about a minute longer until it becomes smooth and silky.

You’ll see the lumps disappear as the sugar dissolves and the cocoa hydrates. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Place the butter, salt and 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla (30 seconds).

With the mixer running on low speed, add the cocoa mixture a spoonful at a time until it’s all incorporated. Thoroughly scrape the sides and bottom of bowl, then beat at medium speed for one more minute.

Fill and frost cake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Braising Winter Vegetables

Here’s what I learned this week. Short and Sweet. Those winter root vegetables. Over it? We still have some time you know until tender sweet greens begin to show up at the farmers’ market. I’ve done my fair share of roasting parsnips, beets, carrots and potatoes these past few cold months. But now I know something more. Braising isn’t just for meat. It turns out vegetables take quite nicely to the low and slow method.

I came across an article in The Washington Post  written by Molly Stevens author of the cookbook: All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking. And I believe in her method and I’m an advocate of the four things she says every good braiser needs to know about this art form.

Just about any vegetable can be braised. Stevens stays away from summer squash because of the mushy results. Earlier this week I braised a bunch of beet greens, escarole and a couple of carrots together and the flavor was outstanding.

Four is the magic number here. Here are Stevens’ four parts to braising:

  1. there’s the vegetable (s), main ingredient
  2. liquid, a small amount
  3. seasonings
  4. fat in the form of butter, bacon fat, olive oil, etc.

I would actually add one more: time. How much time have you got? Two hours? Leave the vegetables in large chunks. Twenty minutes? Cut them smaller. Just keep whatever size you’ve decided on uniform throughout all the vegetables going into your pot.

Actually, I think there’s a sixth factor: A covered pot.

Here’s what I did. First, I gave a rough chop to a giant-sized head of escarole (which braises down to very little in the end, by the way). Then I gently sauteed a shallot and a few cloves of garlic in about two tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil. I did not let the garlic brown.

Then into the pot with the garlic, shallot (seasonings) and the fat (olive oil and butter) went the greens and two carrots (the main ingredients)–I chopped these small–I did not have two hours.

Next, I added way too much chicken broth (store-bought)–the liquid. If I had just added enough at the beginning to cover the bottom of the pot that would’ve been perfect. I would then continue to add a little more at a time as it evaporated. However, the resulting soupiness was easily fixed. At the end, I removed the lid, turned the heat up high and let it all bubble away. I stayed right there at the stove watching it the whole time.

That’s the idea, I believe. Like cooking risotto. A little bit of liquid at a time. Let it almost all evaporate (without putting your vegetables in danger of scorching) before you add a little bit more, then a little bit more.

Keep the pot covered and when the vegetables come to the desired consistency, take the pot off the heat and add a little bit more butter or a drizzle of olive oil. Finally, a thrifty pour of balsamic makes it all so very nice.

 

 

Grandma Gert’s Irish Soda Bread

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! We began the day with green milk and Irish soda bread for breakfast and will be wrapping up what’s left of the holiday with frozen pizza. It’s almost 6 pm out here in the Midwest. The sun is still shining. The skies are blue and filled with the promise of spring (50°– still a bit chilly for me, but I’ll take it!).

I grew up in a town that celebrates St. Patty’s Day with a big parade down Main Street and pubs bulging with people wearing shades of green. Just about every year, following church, my family would take our place along the parade route and wait…and wait…for the first sirens to scream or the shots to blast a patriotic gun salute.

One year when I was a kid, my grandparents took me to the parade. We nabbed a great sunny spot on the corner across the street from my elementary school at the time. Bag pipes began to blare as men in kilts came marching by. Over the music, I shouted to my grandmother, “What do they wear under their kilts?” Before Grandma Gert could get out her best guess, I dropped to an army crawl position and tried as best as I could to take a peak.

Grandma told that story over and over again every year around this time–she even told it to my own children. Her reminiscing always ended with a generous laugh, that to this day I can still hear.

This is her Irish soda bread. There’s not a lick of Irish in any of us–Gert included, yet she embraced this holiday like she embraced every occasion that would gather us all around the table. She told me she had gotten the recipe from an Irish woman who lived in her building when she and my grandfather were first married. I know she’d love that I’m still making it, thinking of her all the while.

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 1/3 cup buttermilk

1 egg yolk

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Whisk to combine flour, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender or two butter knives in a scissoring, criss-cross motion, cut in the butter.

Add raisins, mix well.

Gradually add buttermilk, mixing together until you have a soft (and slightly sticky dough). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, 1 minute only.

Shape into two rounds loaves and place each on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten each loaf slightly and score an “X” across the top of each.

Beat egg yolk with a teaspoon of cold water, then brush the top of each loaf with the egg mixture.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes until nicely browned.