Quick Spring Dinner: Stir-fried Noodles with Ramps & Eggs

and roasted cauliflower and fish cake (aka surimi aka imitation crab)

This is the kind of quick, simple cooking I rarely blog about because it doesn’t involve any advance research and usually happens at the end of a busy day when I’m too hungry to bother with pictures. But I was excited about my first ramps of the season and pleased enough with how the meal turned out that I decided this might be worth sharing.

Ramps are wild onions (or leeks) that grow across North America from South Carolina to Quebec in the early spring. Like morels, they’ve acquired a special status in part because they’re generally perceived as tasty and in part because they aren’t cultivated commercially, and thus can be difficult to come by. Unless, of course, you know how to forage for them, which is especially common in Appalachia and the Great Smoky Mountains. All of which gives ramps a sort of split personality: they’re prized by fancy urban restaurants because they’re the epitome of the “fresh, local, seasonal” aesthetic—they’re only available for a short time every year and too delicate to transport far or store for very long. But they’re wild and free and used extensively in some of the poorest regions of the country, where their short growing season is celebrated at the kinds of middle America heritage festivals whose attractions might include an RV rally or an outhouse race.

two bunches, $4 at Eastern Market in Detroit

If you happen to get your hands on some, you can use them the way you’d use any green/spring onion. Unlike commercially-cultivated leeks, their green tops are tender enough to eat. I decided to  freeze the ones from these bunches for the next time I make stock because I love the flavor of leeks in soup.

As for the rest, I minced the white parts of the ramps to sauté in bacon fat along with some garlic and ginger while boiling a few handfuls of udon noodles. Spaghetti would have worked, too. I left the slender burgundy stalks whole and added them in later, once the garlic and white parts had started to soften.

kind of similar to how I might cook garlic scapes

Then I tossed in some chopped, roasted cauliflower left over from dinner a few nights earlier, and when the noodles were done, I drained them and added them to the frying pan along with a splash of soy sauce. Meanwhile, I threw a couple of eggs in the same pot I cooked the noodles in and let them boil for 5 minutes (so the yolks would still be just a little custardy in the middle) while I stirred the noodles until they were evenly coated. Added a package of fish cake and stirred some more, just until that was heated through—if I wanted to get fancy, I might have used a can of real crab instead. I'm really not sure if this is more Chez Panisse or RV Rally. Maybe somewhere in between?

Garnished with the eggs and some chives from a friend’s garden, as seen above. Kind of like a cross between Vietnamese garlic noodles and udon soup—the noodles were studded with bits of the sautéed ramps & other vegetables, full of funky garlicky flavor, with slightly-sweet bits of fish cake and the creamy semi-hard boiled eggs. In retrospect, some kind of bitter greens would have made a nice addition, but it was pretty delicious as is.

Pear Upside-Down Almond Cake (Gluten-Free)

an attempt at a spiral a ring with smaller pieces in the middle

All upside-down cakes are essentially the same: you start by lining the pan with sugar and pieces of fruit. The batter goes on top, and after it’s baked and cooled, you hold your breath and turn it over. If it doesn’t stick to the pan or fall apart, the fruit on the bottom of the pan, which will have caramelized in the oven, should form a beautiful topping. No additional assembly or decoration necessary.

Pineapple is the American favorite, often with maraschino cherries tucked into the center of the rings. The French classic tarte tatin usually uses apples. I found myself with a glut of overripe pears again, so I thought I’d give those a try. I also wanted to keep it celiac-friendly, so I was delighted to find this recipe which uses ground almonds in place of any grain flours.From the original recipe at Epicurious

Flourless almond cake is apparently a specialty of several regions in Spain—I found it attributed to Galicia (in the northwest corner), Majorca (an island in the Mediterranean off the southeast coast), and Navarre (which borders France). It was likely created by Jews as a Passover dessert, as it’s free of both dairy and flour; the only ingredients are almonds, eggs, sugar, lemon zest, and (sometimes) cinnamon. Pastry shops near the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia now sell it year-round, dusted with powdered sugar except for a Santiago cross stenciled in the center. At cafes and restaurants on Majorca, home to over 4 million almond trees, the same cake is served with a scoop of dairy-free almond ice cream, which is described as being so light and pure in flavor it’s almost more like a sorbet. In Navarre, it’s typically topped with apricot jam.

Although the pears break with Spanish tradition, I think they complement the recipe well. They add a welcome bit of additional sweetness without overwhelming the delicate combination of almond, lemon, and cinnamon. The caramel also adds moisture and richness, without which it might seem a bit plain. And if you’re not keeping kosher, a generous helping of cream whipped with vanilla or an orange liqueur is a fine substitute for the ice cream.

Only a 1/4 cup of caramel for each cake, but the pear juices also caramelize and seep into the cake; also, a recipe that doubles with no problems

Recipe: Pear Upside-Down Almond Cake (adapted from Gabby’s Gluten-Free and Bon Appetit)

basic caramel, which I opted for instead of the brown sugar versions which seem to use 4x as much sugar and can be grainyIngredients:

For the topping:

  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 2 T. water
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1-2 large pears

For the cake:

  • 150 g. almond meal (1 1/4 cups; or 1 1/3 cups blanched, slivered almonds finely ground in a food processor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • pinch of salt

Extras: more butter for greasing pan, parchment paper, whipped cream or ice cream to serve

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Generously butter a 9”  cake pan and line with parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the pan.

my grocery store only carries that horrible "If You Care" brand, so my parchment is unbleached; I don't care about the color, but I hate supporting such a passive-aggressive brand name washing down the sides of the pan. you could probably skip this step if you add a tablespoon of corn syrup, which also prevents crystallization

2. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Put some more water in another bowl with a pastry brush. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir the sugar mixture until it dissolves. Continue cooking without stirring for 8-10 minutes or until it begins to darken. Use the pastry brush to wash down the sides of the pan with water periodically to prevent crystallization. Once it begins to color, swirl the pan so the caramel cooks evenly, and pull it off the heat once it’s a medium amber. Add the butter, which will bubble and foam, stir until combined and immediately pour into the prepared cake pan. If it wants to harden and won’t spread evenly, put the pan in the oven as it preheats for 5-10 minutes.

just beginning to color coating the bottom of the pans, doesn't have to be perfectly even

3. Core the pears and cut them into 1/8” slices. Arrange them in a single layer on top of the caramel.

spiral on the left, concentric circles on the right

4. Combine the egg yolks and sugar and beat until they’re pale and lemony. Add the almond meal, lemon zest, cinnamon, extract if using, and salt and stir until combined.

yolks and sugar, first combinedthis is how much they lighten with beating: no color correction!

5. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the yolk mixture in 3 parts. After each addition of whites, fold just until nearly combined—there will be some streaks of egg white remaining.  addition #1 all egg whites mixed in--you can still see a few faint streaks of white

6. Pour the batter into the pan, spreading so the surface is even.

7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the edges and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

 in the pansdone--the structure of the cake is pretty firm once it's cooked

8. Let cool completely in the pan. When ready to unmold, place a plate upside down on top of the pan and invert. Shake to make sure the cake has released and remove the pan.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Buttercream, St. Patrick’s Day, and Racism

A most astonishing thing
Seventy years have I lived;

(Hurrah for the flowers of Spring
For Spring is here again.)
                                  -WB Yeats

Apparently I only make cupcakes with booze in them.

A Missed Opportunity…

car bomb ingredients; kaluha has been dropped from most people's version. image from Sgt Mac's BarA friend sent me this recipe and actually offered to pay me to make it (as if that would be necessary). Even though I didn’t take him up on the cash, the offer somehow short-circuited my typical urge to tweak. I felt like I was “on assignment,” so it wasn’t until I was dusting the tops with cocoa powder and watching the caramel sauce cool that I realized I’d missed an opportunity to make another cocktail in cupcake form. If only I’d thought of it sooner, I could have come up with some kind of Irish Cream element, and these could have been Car Bomb Cupcakes.

An Irish Cream fudge or custard filling? Or maybe I could have added Bailey’s to the frosting along with the whisky, so the topping would mimic the shot traditionally dropped into the Guinness. Of course I would not have been the first person to come up with this idea.

…to Offend Someone?

Maybe it’s better that I didn’t go that route, though. Apparently some people find the “car bomb” name offensive because it seems to celebrate the violent tactics used by the IRA. The Connecticut bartender who claims to have invented the drink initially called his Bailey’s, Kaluha, and Jameson shot the “Grandfather” in honor of the “many grandfathers in Irish history.” It became known as the “IRA” because of the way Bailey’s bubbles up when you add whisky to it.* From there, it was a short conceptual leap to “car bomb” when he dropped it in a glass of Guinness on St. Patrick’s day in 1979.

No longer available, unclear if that's due to complaints or not. I’m sure Charles B. Oat meant no disrespect, he was just celebrating the holiday commemorating the death of the sainted Catholic Bishop who supposedly converted many Irish pagans by using shamrocks to illustrate the holy trinity the way most Americans do: with copious amounts of alcohol. Of course, that upsets some people, too, as seen in the recent controversy over American Apparel’s St. Patrick’s Day-themed merchandise, including shirts reading: “Kiss Me, I’m Drunk. Or Irish. Or Whatever.”   

The lack of malice doesn’t automatically exonerate American Apparel or the many people who will spend this Saturday drinking too many car bombs or green Budweiser. But I think the people who claim that American St. Patrick’s day celebrations perpetuate a hurtful “Drunken Paddy” stereotype or otherwise show disrespect for Irish people might be mistaken about how “Irish” anyone really thinks green beer and “car bombs” are. Sure, contemporary St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are inevitably mired in the complex history of racial politics and European imperialism. The fact that lots of Americans are really over-eager to identify with the one (now-) white ethnic group they know of that experienced overt racism and colonization is kind of bizarre and yet totally understandable. But the idea that it’s racist seems to imply that the widespread practice of wearing green while participating in an otherwise-unextraordinary early Spring bacchanalia actually bears some relationship to how people really think about or act towards Irish people.

The American Apparel shirt doesn’t mock Irish people so much as it mocks people who pretend to be Irish once a year while drinking until they do something stupid. It’s only offensive if you think there really is something characteristically Irish about drinking to excess. Similarly, the name “car bomb” is only offensive if you think there really is something uniquely Irish about vehicle-borne explosives or dropping Baileys in Guinness and chugging it before it curdles. I think the “Irishness” being performed and celebrated on March 17 bears about as much relation to Irishness as eating at Olive Garden has to Italianness. The American enthusiasm for consuming vast quantities of beer and breadsticks in the name of celebrating an ethnic heritage—whether their own or someone else’s—seems pretty innocent to me.**

Disclaimer: the lepruchan on the bottle is not meant to represent all Irish people or all people named Steve who have nieces and/or nephews, nor to imply that all Irish people or Uncles Steve wear green suits habitually or drink or even *like* Stout beer brewed in the style associated with Ireland, although it's not exclusive to Ireland, nor should it imply that they like any other kind of beer or alcholic beverages much, or at least not any more than anyone else does. Back to the subject of cupcakes after the jump…

*Does this actually happen? Why would whisky added to a liqueur that’s basically just a blend of cream and whisky with a few other flavorings bubble?

**On the other hand, I also tend to think that if someone tells you something you’re doing offends them, you should probably consider stopping it. I’m looking at you, University of Illinois fans who won’t let go of the Chief. On the other other hand, if there’s a clear and obvious distinction between offensive practices that perpetuate racial or ethnic stereotypes and hurt people’s feelings and inoffensive ones that benignly reference or perhaps even positively celebrate invented identities and traditions, I don’t know what it is.

Boo, Crystallized CaramelThey were reasonably pretty before the drizzle. Alas.

Instead of something Irish Cream-related, the third element in the original recipe I followed was a brown sugar caramel. Unfortunately, it crystallized and got clumpy before it was cool enough to drizzle. I followed the recipe exactly, even though I had misgivings, knowing how finicky caramel can be. But the recipe didn’t mention washing the sides of the pot with water or making sure you stop stirring at some point, and the brown sugar made it hard to go by visual cues. So, if you want a smooth, pretty amber drizzle instead of something vaguely excremental, I’d try another recipe—perhaps this one if you wanted to keep it vegan. The agave nectar probably works like the corn syrup that helps prevent crystallization in many normal recipes. Or you could amp up the Irish Whisky flavor by subbing that for the bourbon in a recipe like this.

Verdict

Honestly, these basically tasted like chocolate cupcakes with super-sweet vanilla buttercream. The flavor of the stout in the cake part came through a little, but the whiskey barely at all. So although they certainly sound like they’re in the spirit of the coming holiday, their “Irishness” might require some explanation, a bit like a bad Halloween costume. If I make them again, I’ll frost them with a meringe-based buttercream flavored with Irish Cream and drizzle them with a different caramel recipe, probably spiked with Irish whiskey. And maybe I’ll call them “Grandfather bomb cupcakes.” 

Recipe: Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Whiskey Buttercream (from Chef Chloe)

Ingredients:

with no extended butter-creaming or egg-beating, this is one of the easiest cupcake recipes I've ever madeCupcakes
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup stout beer (I used Short’s Uncle Steve’s Irish Stout)
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
ButtercreamJameson or Powers or whatever your favorite Irish whisky is would also work fine here
  • 1 cup shortening or margarine, at room temperature (vegan if desired)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 to 5 tablespoons milk (vegan if desired)
  • 3 to 4 teaspoons Irish whiskey
Caramel
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup margarine (vegan if desired, like Earth Balance)
  • 4 teaspoons milk (vegan if desired)

Method:

For the cupcakes:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and line regular cupcake pans with 14-16 liners (I used 14 as called for, but they overflowed the cups a bit and then sank, so I would do 16 next time.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the stout, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Batter may be lumpy—that’s okay. Don’t over-mix or you’ll get too much gluten development and they’ll be tough and/or they’ll be flat because you deflated some of the leavening that begins as soon as the baking soda mixes with the liquid and acid.

3. Fill the lined cupcake tins between half and two-thirds full. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it. Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting.

slightly fallen. probably means the cups were filled too full.

For the buttercream:

1. Beat the shortening or margarine (or other solid fat at room temperature) until smooth. Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time and mix until combined. Add the milk 1 Tablespoon at at time until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Add the whiskey, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you achieve the desired taste. Beat on high for 2 more minutes until very light and fluffy.

2. If your cupcakes also fell, you can level the top with frosting if desired. To decorate with a soft-serve style swirl, transfer the frosting to a piping bag or zip-top bag with a corner snipped off, and pipe in a spiral, starting on the outside edge and working towards the center.

3. Dust the top with cocoa powder if desired—I put about a teaspoon of cocoa in a fine mesh sieve and then hold the sieve over the frosted cupcakes and tap the side of the basket with the spoon.

It's possible that I undercooked or overcooked the caramel? Based on this recipe,it's impossible to tell. Really, just don't use this part of this recipe, please.For the (gritty, crystallized) caramel:

1. Combine the brown sugar, margarine, and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until it  comes together.

2. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for 1-2 more minutes, until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat.

3. Let cool slightly and transfer to a ziptop bag and drizzle over the cupcakes.

Sourdough-risen Cheesy Garlic Monkey Bread

the pieces in the middle don't pull apart quite as easily in the savory version because the cheese and herbs bake in more easily than sugar

This is loosely adapted from my friend Linda’s recipe for sourdough-risen cinnamon rolls. When she sent it to me, she mentioned that she’s been using it to make monkey bread because it has a higher goo: dough ratio than the rolls. With that in mind, I’m not sure I’ll ever make the roll version.

What’s With the Silly Name?

For the uninitiated, monkey bread is a pull-apart loaf usually made by pinching off pieces of dough and rolling them in something or other—often butter and cinnamon-sugar, or sometimes a caramel sauce. Raisins and pecans optional. Whatever the coating, you toss all the balls in a pan and as they rise and bake, they come together into a coherent whole. However, the coating prevents them from becoming a completely solid mass, so you can pull the pieces off by hand. You could also slice it, and then you’ll get pieces that are marbled with the coating. But I’ve never seen it served that way. As far as I’m concerned, the entire raison d’etre of monkey bread is how the form seems to dictate the method of consumption: the bubbly exterior practically begs you to tear pieces off, each one coated in flavor.

There are apparently a few theories on the origin of the “monkey bread” name. According to the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (via the Food Timeline), some people claim that it’s named after the monkey puzzle tree (Arucaria araucana). Based on pictures of the tree, that seems plausible—although I’m not sure if the name would have been a reference to the bark, which has deep irregular ridges that do kind of resemble lumps of dough baked together, or because of the interwoven pattern of scale-like leaves, or because of its spherical cones, which might resemble the balls of dough.

monkey puzzle bark monkey puzzle leaves monkey puzzle cones

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan offered another explanation when she provided the recipe to the kitchen staff to prepare for holiday visitors to the White House in 1982: “’Because when you make it, you have to monkey around with it.”

The third possibility is that it’s a reference to the way people consume the bread, not how you prepare it. . From a 2003 New York Times article that accompanied a reprint of Nancy Reagan’s recipe: “Since monkeys are known for gleefully pulling at, well, everything, it makes sense that an audience-participation loaf should be called monkey bread. Formed of balls of dough and baked in a ring mold, monkey bread emerges as golden puffs that are irresistible to both hand and eye. The idea is that you pick it apart like a bunch of . . . that it’s more fun than a barrel of. . . . You get the idea.”

just out of the oven the first piece snagged

  More fun than a barrel of garlic-covered monkeys!

Variations

I was a little surprised to see that Reagan’s recipe and the “original” attributed to actress and cookbook author ZaSu Pitts and Ann King, her African-American cook, are both just a rich, buttery yeast dough cut into pieces coated in more butter and baked. No cinnamon-sugar. No raisins or pecans. Reagan actually calls for hers to be served with jam, which is totally antithetical to the sticky-sweet version I’m most familiar with, which often starts with refrigerated biscuit dough coated in so much butter and sugar that once it’s done, it resembles a giant sticky bun.

But I guess if the essence of monkey bread is that you pull it apart by hand and eat it, there’s no rule saying it has to have cinnamon-sugar goo on it. I decided to try a savory version kind of like this recipe by Sharon123 from Food.com. I reduced the sugar in Linda’s recipe and added some cheese and herbs. Then, I rolled the balls in melted butter mixed with minced garlic and then dipped each one in a mixture of parmesan and herbs.

set-up: dough, garlic butter, topping layer one in the dish

A few other modifications: Linda usually makes a sponge for the first rise, Sandor Katz-style, which is basically all the dough ingredients except about half the flour. You let that sit for 6-8 hours and then add the rest of the flour, knead, and let it rise for another 2-4 hours before shaping, rising again, and baking. Her recipe also calls for 2 cups of water and approximately 2x the other ingredients (3 beaten eggs, about 9 cups of flour total, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup oil). I decided to skip the sponge step and mix all the flour in at the beginning, and I made a smaller amount so it would fit in one pan—I used a large souffle dish, but a 10” bundt or tube pan would probably work just as well or better. Also, instead of giving it a good, long knead, I just kind of smooshed it around in the bowl a bit until it came together as a dough. So basically, this is a much lazier version.

Making a sponge would probably give you more flavor (including a more pronounced sourdough flavor if you wanted it, although you could neutralize that with some baking soda if desired), and kneading the finished dough would give you a more even crumb and perhaps a fluffier rise. But even without all that, it’s still homemade bread coated in delicious, flavorful stuff—hard to go wrong. One change I’ll make next time is to pull out my tube pan or bundt pan—the soufflé dish worked all right, but the very middle was a little dense and doughy and I think having more surface area would help with that as well as providing more toasty golden brown edge pieces.

Recipe: Sourdough-risen Garlic Parmesan Monkey Bread (adapted from Linda Wan and Sharon123 on Food.com)

Ingredients:

Dough:

  • 2 cups refreshed 100%-hydration sourdough starter (see note below to substitute packaged yeast)dough ingredients--I didn't have quite enough cheddar and gouda, so I used some parmesan in the dough as well
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4-5 cups bread flour
  • 3 Tablespoons oil or melted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar, honey, or other sweetener
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 8 oz. grated sharp cheese, like cheddar, asiago, or aged gouda
  • 1 Tablespoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)

Garlic Butter:everything just mixed together, no-knead style

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup grated hard cheese, like parmesan or romano
  • 2 Tablespoons dried parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

To substitute packaged yeast: increase the water to 1 3/4 cups, heat it to 110 F, dissolve 2 packages or 4 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast (regular or rapid-rise) in the warm water along with the sugar and let sit for 10 minutes before adding the remaining dough ingredients. Increase the flour to 5 1/2-6 1/2 cups.

Method:

1. Combine the dough ingredients and stir just until mixed. Cover and let rise for 8-24 hours (1-2 hours if using packaged yeast). The longer you let it rise, the more sour it will taste. If you want to neutralize the sourdough flavor, you can add baking soda—start with 1/2 teaspoon and add more as necessary.

2. Melt the butter and add the minced garlic, and combine the topping ingredients in a separate bowl. Pinch off walnut-sized balls of dough and roll between your palms, roll them in the melted butter, dip in the parmesan mixture and place parmesan-side up in a large tube pan, bundt pan, soufflé dish, or other baking dish.

topping-side up in the dish a big bowl of monkey balls

3. Let rise for another 2-8 hours (1 hour if using packaged yeast) or until nearly doubled in size. I only let it rise for about 3 hours, but would have let it go for 6-8 if I’d had the time, which would have also helped with the dense & doughy center issue.

4. Preheat the oven to 350F at least 20 minutes before baking, and bake until the internal temperature is 190F. Start checking after 45 minutes. A soufflé dish will take longer than the bundt/tube pan—perhaps as long as 75 minutes.

Serve warm, if possible.

Is Paula Deen’s Food Less Healthy? Intrepid NYTimes Journalist Finds Out!

Or not really, but publishes the article anyway!

Glenn Collins of the NYTimes asks:

After the hue and cry following Paula Deen’s announcement that she has Type 2 diabetes and would become a paid spokeswoman for a drug company, a question nags: Is the food that emerges from her kitchen really less healthy than the cuisine from other restaurants?

So he had a meal from Deen’s restaurant (fried chicken, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese, which he calls “reasonably sized”) and a dish from an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village (sausage and peppers with polenta, which he calls “hardly cuisine minceur”) sent to Certified Laboratories in Plainview, NY for nutritional analysis.

image  imageimage

On the one hand, he seems to realize how pointless this is, admitting that the comparison was “unscientific and arbitrary.” Turns out the fried chicken meal has more than 2x as many calories and grams of fat, but less than a third as much “sugar” (unclear what that measures—sucrose? glucose? fructose? lactose? all of the above?) of the sausage and polenta. No word on total carbs. Is there a lesson to be drawn from this “subjective test,” he asks? (Which is also wrong: the problem is not that it’s “subjective”—the nutritional analysis is objective, all right. The problem is that it’s completely meaningless because he made no attempt to control any of the variables.)

Well, lovers of both Deen and Frankies are hereby advised to consider moderation and not look to Ms. Deen for enlightenment.

Many things about this article confuse me. Why not compare a meal from Lady & Sons to a comparable meal at another restaurant: i.e. find another fried chicken, mac & chs, and collard greens plate? Why not do an analysis of the nutritional breakdown of several of her recipes compared to other people’s versions? Or try to figure out the average nutritional content of a Lady & Sons meal and compare it to FDA recommendations? All of those methods would still have limitations, but at least you’d be comparing oranges and oranges.

I think the most head-scratching word in the entire article is the “hereby” in the above quote.

What information presented here makes the case for moderation—and moderation in what? The sausage and polenta dish has 347 calories and 15 grams of fat, which is probably less of both of those things than I eat for breakfast most days. And Deen’s fried chicken dinner comes in at only 830 calories, which is less than most of Subway’s $5 Footlongs (tuna salad on 9-grain wheat without cheese or extra sauce has a total of 930 calories; turkey breast on Italian with regular mayonnaise and no cheese has 860 calories; the meatball marinara on Italian Herbs & Cheese with no extra cheese or sauce has 1050). Neither of them seem particularly excessive to me; in fact, I’m pretty sure eating just the polenta dish for dinner would leave me feeling hungry. Perhaps Frankie’s is the kind of place where most people order multiple courses?

Has anyone has ever turned to Paula Deen for medical or nutritional advice? As even she noted when she made the announcement that she has Type 2 Diabetes on the Today Show, she’s a cook, not a doctor. I’m not impressed with her decision to use her diagnosis as an opportunity to profit by acting as a spokesperson for pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, who make the diabetes drug Victoza she claims to be taking. Fortunately, based on some preliminary reactions, most ad executives and consumers aren’t loving it either. And I’m really not sure what information in this article is supposed to have any bearing on Deen as a source of “enlightenment.” Actually, she might actually be able to provide some great insight about building a food brand, being dissed by Anthony Bourdain, partnering with ethically suspect corporations, getting them to donate food to charity, and mugging terrifyingly for the camera.

image image image  image

At least the article refrains from blaming Deen for her diabetes, the way so many others have in the wake of her announcement. As if anyone knows how she eats on a day to day basis anyhow or the relationship between diet, weight, and diabetes was simple and universally agreed-upon. But I understand the tendency to moralize about health. In some ways, this article is much more mysterious. If you’re going to go to the trouble and cost of having nutritional analysis done to try to figure out if Paula Deen’s food is really “worse” than anyone else’s, why not do it in a way that would actually enable you to reach something approximating a conclusion?

Garlic Naan: Smoke Yourself Out of Your Kitchen, Deliciously

hey, January is a great time for your annual smoke detector test, right?

Naan Without a Tandoor

As I’ve written about before, the closest I’ve gotten to recreating the kind of bubbly, poufy flatbread you get at Indian restaurants is by cooking it on cast iron preheated on the stovetop as hot as it will possibly go. That gives you the charred surface and pale, pillowy edges. Oven baking turns the same dough into pita—too done all over, but not blackened anywhere.

The downside is that if you get your cast iron hot enough to cook naan and then brush it with ghee or oil, which you must do to prevent the dough from sticking, you’re going to generate a lot of smoke. So unless you have a miraculous kitchen fan or really like eating in smoky rooms, you might want to save this for a potluck or dinner party that someone else is hosting.

It’s pretty quick once you get cooking, especially if you have a griddle or two pots so you can cook two pieces at a time. The thirty seconds each piece takes to cook on one side is just long enough to roll out the next piece. In less than ten minutes, you can have the whole batch done and be out the door. And hopefully by the time you get home, the smoke will have cleared.

Pouf!

Recipe: Garlic Naan (adapted from All Recipes and my sourdough naan recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 1 package (.25 ounce, about 2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry or instant yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (follow temperature directions on the yeast package)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk or yogurt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (I would double or triple this next time—the garlic flavor was pretty subtle)
  • 1/4 cup oil or melted butter
  • 1 t. kalonji/nigella/black onion seeds (optional)

Method:

1. Dissolve the yeast and 1 Tablespoon of the sugar in the water and let stand until frothy (5-10 minutes). If it doesn’t get frothy, the yeast is dead or your water was too hot and you should start over with new yeast.

just after dissolving the sugar and yeast in water after 10 minutes

2. Whisk together 3 cups of the flour with the salt and baking soda. Add that mixture and the rest of the sugar, the milk or yogurt, egg, garlic, and nigella seeds to the proofed yeast and stir until combined. Add as much flour as necessary to make a smooth dough that you can knead without it sticking to you too much.

3. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes—as with pizza, you need a lot of gluten to make the dough stretchy enough to roll out thinly without tearing.

4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turn to coat the entire surface in oil, and let rise at least an hour or until doubled in size (you can leave it for much longer if you want—probably up to 24 hours—or refrigerate it for up to a week at this stage; just let it come to room temperature before baking).

just after kneading about 3 hours later--it probably looked like this an hour later too, but I had 3 hours of other stuff to do before I got back to it.

5. Preheat something cast-iron or stone with at flat surface at least 10” in diameter on your stovetop (a skillet, pot, baking stone, etc.) on the hottest setting. Meanwhile, pinch off portions of dough about the size of an egg and roll into smooth rounds (you should have between 12 and 16).

okay, maybe a little bigger than a chicken egg. think duck egg. they'll shrink up a bit after rolling them up, and they'll be delicious whether they look like perfect circles or the state of west virginia

6. One at a time, roll each ball into a circle approximately 1/4” thick, brush the cast iron surface with oil or melted butter/lard/ghee, and place the circle of dough on the grill. Let it cook until deeply browned (anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes depending on how hot your cooking surface is). Brush the raw side with more melted butter or oil, flip it over, and cook for another 30 seconds to 3 minutes, or until it’s cooked through.

New Year’s Eve 2012

Happy last year of the Mayan calendar! Here’s how I welcomed it: 

punch and jello shots just barely visible in the upper left corner

How the spread looked around 8pm

not pictured: meatballs, hummus, and quinoa-blackeyed pea bundles, all of which were delicious, but none of which I made so I can't tell you/link you to the recipe

Cheese Balls Three Ways: Cheddar-Cranberry, Roquefort-Shallot-Walnut, and Herbed Goat Cheese
Sourdough-risen Baguette
Sourdough-risen No-Knead Bread
Crudités
Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with Parmeggiano & Almonds
Deviled Eggs with Caviar
Shrimp Cocktail
Cheddar-Ale Gougères
Mini Crab Cakes with Cilantro-Lime Ailoi 
Candied Cranberries
Dulce de Leche Crisps
Chocolate-covered Strawberries
Champagne Jell-O Shots with Raspberries
Dark Chocolate Truffles rolled in Coconut or Spiced Nut Crumble
Spiced Nuts
Admiral’s Punch

Mostly crudites and cheese balls left.

How it looked around 2am

Everything linked above was a repeat. New things I would make again: the mini-crab cakes, the champagne Jell-O shots, and the cheddar-ale gougères. All three were easy, delicious, and gone by the end of the night. Things I probably won’t make again: the dulce de leche crisps, which were kind of boring—neither sweet nor salty enough to be interesting, the truffles, because the nut butter made them a little grainy, and the cocktail sauce, which was exactly like cocktail sauce out of a bottle so why bother? Nothing else exceeded or fell short of expectations. Cheese balls are cheese balls. Caviar deviled eggs are caviar deviled eggs. Details on all of it after the jump.

Cheese Balls Three Ways (from Martha Stewart)

I think swiss cheese with rosemary rolled in crushed potato chips might be pretty good. Or a pimento cheese version with american + pimentos, rolled in...I don't know, maybe pecans?

These are tasty, pretty, and super simple: all three use the same cream cheese base and then you just fold in the different cheeses and roll them in different coatings. They’re also infinitely adaptable and can be made a few days in advance. Don’t like blue cheese and walnuts? How about pepper jack and pecans? Hate cheddar? Try swiss. Vehemently opposed to fruit and cheese combinations? Sundried tomatoes would be just as festive as the craisins. The one thing I might do in the future is halve everything: 3 lbs of cheese ball is a little much, even for a pretty big gathering. 

Candied Cranberries (from the Boston Examiner)

I keep thinking these would be a good garnish for something, but I'm not sure what...maybe some kind of custard? Eggnog creme brulee?Last year, I cooked the simple syrup to the hard ball stage, and the cranberries were almost impossible to extract and separate. This year, I followed the instructions exactly and they were much easier, but retained a lot more tartness & bitterness. I loved them anyway, but not everyone will. If you want them sweeter, you might try cooking the syrup to thread stage (230-235 F) before letting it cool and adding the berries.

Dulce de Leche Crisps (from Food and Wine)

I think unless "a grown-up twist" means "with booze in it," it's probably a bad thing.

Food and Wine described these as a “a grown-up twist on the classic Rice Krispies Treats,” which I guess is accurate in so far as adulthood is generally harder and less enjoyable. The rice gets toasted and combined with dulce de leche and sliced almonds, shaped into little mounds, sprinkled with salt and more dulce de leche, and baked. I think the main problem is they’re not quite sweet enough to provide a good counterpoint to the salt and just end up kind of “meh.” It’s possible that a drizzle of chocolate, a handful of butterscotch chips, and/or a pre-sweetened cereal would improve them, although those are probably all ways of regressing back to a less grown-up treat. Maybe the lesson here is that Rice Krispies, unlike cheddars and wine, don’t get better with age.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries (from The Food Network)

This was another one of the things we had a lot of leftovers of. It's possible I should have only made 1 lb of strawberries.

You don’t really need a recipe for this: melt some chocolate, dip strawberries in it. But the link above is useful for providing guidelines about how much chocolate to melt. I added some shortening because it prevents the chocolate from blooming without the fuss of perfect tempering and doesn’t change the taste/texture all that much. I also used a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off for drizzling, which is especially useful for the white chocolate which doesn’t really get runny enough to drizzle even when melted.

Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with Parmeggiano & Almonds

pro-tip: use not-thick-cut bacon

After trying these with chorizo, goat cheese, blue cheese, parmeggiano matchsticks, marcona almonds, and parmeggiano+almonds together, I think my favorite filling is still the first one I tried: chorizo. But they’re all pretty good. This year, I made the mistake of buying bacon that was too nice—really thick and gorgeously smoky, but it kept splitting as I tried to wrap the dates. Normal, not-thick, not specially-smoked bacon or proscuitto is the way to go.

Deviled Eggs with Caviar (from The Splendid Table)

we always have to have something with caviar, even though by "caviar" I usually mean cheap, frozen capelin roe

I added a few tablespoons of Dijon to these because eggs just don’t taste “deviled” to me without any mustard. You could probably use all sour cream or all Greek yogurt instead of a combination. The idea of sour cream + dill + caviar combo seemed vaguely Baltic to me, but they basically just tasted like deviled eggs with caviar. Good, but nothing all that special.

Shrimp Cocktail (from Smitten Kitchen)

ice in the bowl kept these nice and chilly all night I roughly followed poaching method described by Smitten Kitchen—simmered the shrimp shells and strained them out to make a stock, and then added a hefty glug of white wine, a dozen or so peppercorns, some tarragon and thyme and a lot of salt and sugar. Brought it all to a boil, threw the shrimp in, took it off the heat and covered it, let it sit for 8 minutes. Simple, tasty, but as mentioned above: the homemade cocktail sauce is not different or better than the prepared kind.

Champagne Jell-O Shots with Raspberries (aka “Champagne gelée” per Saveur, Epicurious, and Martha Stewart)

You could also use an 8x8 or 9x13 and just cut them into "shots"

These were definitely one of the highlights of the evening. I didn’t really follow any of the recipes linked above, although they provided the inspiration. Instead, I sprinkled two envelopes of plain gelatin over 2 cups of champagne and let it soak for 5 minutes while I boiled 1 cup of champagne with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup Elderberry cordial. I stirred the hot champagne syrup into the bowl with the soaked gelatin, stirred until the gelatin dissolved and then poured it into mini-muffin tins and plopped a raspberry in each one. I chilled them for about an hour. To unmold them, I set the mini-muffin pan in a shallow baking sheet filled with lukewarm water for 30-45 seconds and then inverted the pan over another baking sheet lined with plastic wrap. I had to shake it a little, but they popped out pretty easily.

I was really hoping some bubbles would get trapped in the gelatin, but no such luck—the champagne fizzed up when I sprinkled the gelatin over it and the boiled stuff also released all its gasses long before chilling. Based on this article, I think you’d have to add some champagne at the very end. Blumenthal dissolves the gelatin in about 2 1/2 oz champagne + 3 1/2 oz liqueur and then adds the rest of the champagne directly to the molds. So I think next time I’ll try dissolving the sugar in 1/2 cup champagne + 1/4 cup Elderberry cordial (or another liqueur), sprinkling the gelatin over 1/2 cup champagne, stirring those two together and letting them cool to room temp, and then pouring in the remaining 2 cups of champagne just before pouring it into the molds.  

Cheddar-Ale Gougères (from 101 Cookbooks)

gougeres are kind of like un-filled cream puffs, and might be tasty filled with something like a Greek or mayonnaise-based salad

I took Heidi’s advice to make these in advance up to the baking step and then freeze them—worked perfectly. They still puffed up like magic in the oven. I under-baked them slightly, so a few of them collapsed just a bit and they were a little doughy inside but still tasty. Like the cheese balls, you can flavor these however you like—any kind of cheese/herb liquid will work. I used a chocolate ale, sharp cheddar, and thyme. Maybe next time, I’ll try gruyere, white wine, and rosemary.

Mini Crab Cakes with Cilantro-Lime Ailoi (from Always Order Dessert)

I think these were my favorite

Easy, delicious bite-sized crabcakes that don’t have to be deep-fried and are tasty even at room temperature. Can be baked in advance and held at room temp or re-warmed just before people show up.

Dark Chocolate Truffles (adapted from a Gourmet recipe)

in retrospect, I should have made a truffle yin-yang. my thirteen-year-old self is disappointed in me for failing to realize that at the time.

These were just okay. I used cashew butter in place of the almond butter, but neither that nor the dulce de leche came through much. So they just tasted like chocolate and the coatings, which wasn’t bad or anything, just nothing special. Plus, the centers weren’t nearly as smooth as traditional ganache-filled truffles. Instead of rolling them in cocoa powder, I did half in white chocolate with shredded coconut and half in dark chocolate with spiced nuts and chopped sliced almonds—the latter of which was great, and I would do again. I know I’m kind of doing the: “this recipe is mediocre. I didn’t follow it at all” thing, but I don’t think following it exactly would have yielded significantly better results.

So, there you have it: a merrily excessive farewell to the old and hello to the new. Wishing everyone a 2012 precisely as productive, pleasurable, meaningful, irreverent, nourishing, exciting, and relaxing as you want it to be.

Holy Crap, it’s Christmas! Cookies Part II: Soft Molasses Cookies

warm spiced cookies + a $5 bottle of blanc de blancs (thanks trader joe!) = enough holiday spirit to finally get around to decorating the tree

The Lovechild of a Gingerbread Man and a Snickerdoodle

Most of my Christmas standards are things I make because other people like them or because they’re my grandma’s recipes. In some ways, isn’t Christmas really all about grandmas? These are the one exception. They’re the cookies I make because I like them.

you could use cinnamon sugar if you want, but there's plenty of cinnamon in the dough and with the molasses making the dough darker, I'm not sure it would have much of a visual effectTexturally, they’re almost identical to snickerdoodles—they have the same ratio of butter : sugar : flour :  eggs and they’re also rolled in sugar before baking, so the outside gets crackly and has a little crunch. But flavor-wise, they’re all gingerbread: molasses and cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger and cloves. You can imagine how they smell as they bake.

The best part about these cookies is that if you don’t over-bake them, they turn out amazingly soft. And they stay that way even after they cool, even if you don’t store them in a perfectly airtight container, even if you want to make them a week before Christmas and savor them until New Year’s Day. I think it must be because of the little bit of oil in the dough. It does make them a little more prone to falling apart, but I think that’s a small price to pay for enduring just-out-of-the-oven softness.

If you like the kind of gingerbread that bites back, you might want to double all the spices. I think they’re  perfect as is: as much butter as you can possibly get into a cookie without it melting into a puddle of goo (which they occasionally do anyway, as you can see at approximately 3 o’clock in the picture above), just enough molasses and spices to be festive without getting too overbearing, and a little sparkle from the sugary coating. They’re also the easiest part of this year’s pared-down cookie assortment.

I don't know why they look so much darker here than above. Same cookies, I swear. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Recipe: Soft Molasses Cookies (from JoyofBaking.com)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flourI would not use blackstrap molasses. Also, whatever kind of measuring device you use, spray it with non-stick cooking spray first and you'll save yourself a lot of fuss.
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon regular)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons neutral cooking oil (I used peanut)
  • 1/3 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup white sugar (for rolling)

Method:

1. Whisk the dry ingredients together (flour, soda, salt, & spices).

2. Cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes with a stand or hand mixer, 5-10 minutes arm power).

3. Add the oil, molasses, egg, and vanilla to the butter mixture and beat until fully incorporated.

4. Add the flour mixture and stir just until fully incorporated.butter and brown sugar, beaten until light and fluffy

5. Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to a week.

6. Preheat the oven to 375 and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

7. Put the white sugar in a bowl. Shape the cookies by pinching off pieces of dough about the size of a walnut, rolling them between your palms until they form smooth balls, and coating them in the sugar.

8. Using something with a flat bottom, like a drinking glass, flatten the balls slightly.

squish. also, this glass wants scotch.

9. Bake for 9-10 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are crinkled but barely dry. They will look a little underdone.

10. Let them cool on the pans for about 10 minutes and then remove them to a cooling rack or paper towels to cool completely. Store any that don’t get eaten immediately in an airtight container.

Holy Crap, it’s Christmas! Cookies Part I: Date-Nut Pinwheels

making with the holiday smells

Christmas kind of snuck up on me this year. Normally, I’d be at least a week into a meticulously worked-out plan to make a dozen different edible gifts and send them all over the country. It started in high school, when I’d bake a dozen kinds of cookies, carefully selected to represent a balance of chocolate/fruit/nuts/mint and a variety of shapes and colors and textures. Last year, I got excited about giving people mulled wine kits with little cheesecloth bags of mulling spices and made four different kinds of chocolate-covered buttercreams. This year, it wasn’t until a week before the holiday that I had the sudden realization that if I didn’t make cookies right now, I would not be making any Christmas cookies at all this year. 

The upside of having to pare my usual holiday efforts down to a bare minimum is that it made me discover what my traditions are—the recipes that have become my “standards,” the things I absolutely have to make in order to feel like the holidays are happening. So instead of scouring the internet for new ideas or comparing half a dozen different recipes to find the common denominator, this year I’m relying on tried-and-true favorites, a combination of inherited recipes and new favorites discovered somewhere along the way:

Why Date-Nut Pinwheels Make the Cut

I actually stirred the nuts in at the end rather than cooking them in the jam to retain a little more crunchMy grandmother made these every year at Christmas: a rich sugar cookie dough filled with a mixture of dates and walnuts or pecans, simmered with sugar and water until they’re like a thick jam. The cookie dough calls for half brown sugar and half white sugar, so it has just a hint of warm molasses flavor. It also calls for half butter and half shortening, so the texture is in between soft and crispy. Normally, I like cookies baked just until they’re barely done and gooey in the middle when they’re hot. But one of my uncles likes these almost “overdone,” and in this case, I think he’s onto something. The date mixture keeps them soft in the middle, but the edges get crisp and the deeper color represents more caramelization and the slightly-nutty flavor of browned butter.

You could use all butter, which will result in a slightly flatter and crisper cookie (due to the water content in the butter), or all shortening/lard, which will result in a slightly softer and puffier cookie without the buttery flavor. I like the flavor and texture you get by using half and half.

They’re not quite as simple as a drop cookie, but also not really designed to impress anyone. The logs are never quite perfectly circular and the ends are always a little wonky. I was never a big fan as a kid, but I’ve gotten increasingly fond of them. They seem to symbolize the caring labor of holiday baking. They’re something you make because they’re someone’s favorite, because they’re familiar, because your grandma made them, not to show off. And although the combination of butter, dates, and pecans may not be inventive or aspirational, it’s still pretty delicious. they're kinda decorative, in a homely way

Recipe: Date-Nut Pinwheelsabout this much dates (makes approximately 5 dozen)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter (8 T.), softened 
  • 1/2 cup shortening or lard
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar (divided)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 cups. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 1/2 cups dates, pitted and chopped you don't have to dice them too small, because they'll mostly dissolve into paste; you could probably use pre-chopped dates coated in flour, too--the flour might make the paste a little thicker, but you could just add more water if necessary
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Method:

1. Chop up the dates and nuts and place them in a saucepan with the water and 1/2 cup sugar. Simmer gently over medium heat until the mixture is thick, like jam. Let cool, and add water if necessary to make it a spreadable consistency. This step can be done in advance, just refrigerate it and then let it come back to room temperature before assembling the cookies.

2. Blend together the butter, shortening/lard, and sugars until light and fluffy (I use a stand mixer, but an electric whisk or some vigorous arm power would work too). Add the eggs and vanilla and continue whisking until well combined.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Add that to the butter mixture and stir until just combined.

3. Divide the dough into 3 equal sections, and roll each one in to a log about 1.5-2” in diameter. Cover them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

4. Roll each log into a rectangle between 1/4” and 1/2” inch thick—I do this directly on the same piece of plastic wrap I originally wrapped it in. Spread a third of the cooled (not cold) filling evenly over the surface, leaving 1/2” plain on one of the long ends and roll it up jelly-roll style, starting from the opposite long end. The plastic wrap can help you roll.

I let the size of the plastic wrap guide the size of my rectangle, exact dimensions are not important

Repeat with the remaining 2 logs of dough, re-wrap them in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour or up to a week. Or double-wrap them and freeze for up to 3 months. 

5. Preheat the oven to 400F. Slice the chilled rolls into 1/4”-1/2” thick pieces using a serrated knife and place at least 2” apart on ungreased baking sheets (lined with parchment paper if desired). Bake for 10-12 minutes or until a little brown around the edges. Turn your baking sheets halfway through if your oven is uneven.

the dough is soft, so I find it easier to get the logs in and out of the fridge on a baking sheet as with all slice & bake cookies, you can keep a log in the fridge or freezer for short-notice treats anytime.

6. Let cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes, and then remove to wire racks or paper towels. When completely cooled, store in an airtight container.

Sauerkraut-braised Kielbasa with Cabbage and Potatoes

the cabbage & potatoes alone wouldn't be a terrible meal, either, especially with a hunk of brown bread and butter 

My friend Voxphoto gave me some tasty homemade sauerkraut, which reminded me of the kielbasa appetizer recipe from Sarita Ciatti that we included in the wedding cookbook. The only two ingredients in the appetizer are kielbasa and sauerkraut—you slice the kielbasa thinly, fry it until it’s crisp, refrigerate it overnight, and then spread it in a pan on top of a bunch of drained, rinsed sauerkraut and bake it until the whole mess gets sweet and tender and starts caramelizing around the edges. So. Good.

before the sauerkraut softens and sweetens and the beer cooks down

But I’m not entertaining much these days. Not really cooking much either. Working 60+ hours a week will do that to you. So I decided to look for something similar that would be a little less “party” and a little more “something resembling a meal you can make a lot of on Sunday and eat all week.”

Combining elements from half a dozen other recipes, this is what I came up with—it’s basically a stovetop version of the appetizer served alongside stewed cabbage and potatoes. The kielbasa got some beer and brown sugar and the cabbage stew also has carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, some herbs and mushroom bouillon. All of that is probably optional, but if you’re only going to cook once a week, might as well pull out the bay leaves, right?

Turned out pretty tasty, and pretty cheap, too, even if you don’t get your sauerkraut for free.

after, see all those caramelly brown sauerkraut bits?

Recipe: Sauerkraut-braised Kielbasa with Cabbage and Potatoes

  • the non-kielbasa part1-2 lbs kielbasa 
  • 1 cup sauerkraut (rinsed if you prefer to minimize the sourness)
  • 1 cup beer, wine, or cider (I used Bell’s Christmas Ale, the only sign of the holidays I don’t resent seeing before Thanksgiving)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons sugar (preferably brown)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons butter, rendered bacon fat, or neutral cooking oil
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 1 large onion
  • about half a head of cabbage
  • 1/4 lb. carrots
  • 2 pounds of waxy potatoes
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried
  • a handful of fresh sage leaves or 1 tsp. rubbed
  • ~4 cups water, stock, and/or bouillon (you could also add an ounce of dried porcinis soaked in hot water and minced, along with the water)
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Slice the kielbasa thinly and fry in a single layer in a skillet until brown and crispy around the edges. (This is the first and key step in the appetizer version. The next steps: refrigerate the kielbasa overnight, rinse a 12 oz. can of sauerkraut and spread it on the bottom of a casserole dish. Put the refrigerated kielbasa on top of the sauerkraut and bake for about an hour at 350F. Unbelievably delicious, and I could eat a bowl of it like a meal so I’m not 100% sure why I thought the rest of this was necessary, but anyhow:)

2. Add enough sauerkraut to cover pan in a thin layer and about a cup of beer, wine, or cider (alcoholic or not), 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar to cut the sourness, and turn the heat down low and braise for 1-2 hours.

3. Meanwhile, heat the fat in a large pot.

4. Roughly chop the onion, shred the cabbage, mince the garlic, and peel or scrub the potatoes and cut them into 2-3” chunks.

5. Sweat the onion and garlic in the fat until the translucent and starting to color.

6. Add the cabbage, potatoes, bay leaves, thyme, sage, water or stock and bouillon if using. something about a big pot of potatoes and cabbage feels very "peasant," even though who knows if any peasants ever ate anything like it and if they did, they definitely didn't boil it with mushroom bouillon all soft, but not dissolving.

7. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer and cook until tender (about an hour).

8. Keep an eye on the kielbasa and add more liquid if necessary to prevent it from burning.

9. When the cabbage and potatoes are tender, drain (if desired, or you could leave it kind of soupy) and add the salt and pepper.

10. Mix it all together. Or serve the braised kilebasa on top of the cabbage and potatoes.

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