Archive | March, 2012

Being green

21 Mar

I can tell I’m starting to become an adult.  I know that in the U.S. they say you become an adult when you turn 18, but let’s be real.  The first few years of adulthood happen to line up with the “college years” for a whole slew of people.  Not that I’m speaking from experience here, but I would say that, in many cases, there isn’t much that’s grown-up about the college years.  Sure, you have to feed yourself and do your own laundry and pay rent, but besides that?  Irresponsible choices galore.  Not that I’m speaking from experience…

Anyway, I can tell that I’m growing up because my idea of a fun St. Paddy’s day this year was focused on food rather than booze.  I donned my best 1950’s Irish housewife outfit and hit the grocery stores for corned beef, cabbage, soda bread, and Guinness (hey, I said it wasn’t focused on booze, not that it was booze free)!

Fat woman with light skin and short brown hair, wearing a pink headscarf, green dress and green cardigan. She is wide eyed and covering her mouth with her hands. Her fingernails are painted green.

Despite being named Margaret and having a brother named Cullen (two pretty darn Irish names), I don’t feel very in touch with my Irish heritage.  Or any heritage, for that matter.  I guess that’s the price you pay for being a western European mutt.  Recently, I was wondering if previous generations of my family have distanced themselves from these identities due to the negative connotations that have historically been associated with them.  We’re mostly Irish and German, after all.  Have any insight, Mom?

Anyway, I’ve decided that there’s no time like the present to try to get in touch with those roots and there’s no better way to get in touch with a culture than through food.

Cabbage is a big deal to both the Irish and German, so my eyes lit up a little bit when I saw the recipe World’s Best Braised Green Cabbage in Molly Stevens’ book “All About Braising.”  I guess this dish is technically Italian (what with the balsamic vinegar) but it went perfectly with our corned beef.  Actually, it didn’t go perfectly with our corned beef; it blew our store bought beef out of the water!

On a side note, have you ever heard of Chef Molly Stevens?  I recently heard an interview with her on The Splendid Table and immediately put her cookbooks on hold at the library.  So far, Nate and I have made four of her recipes and they have all been stellar.  I’d never heard of her before so I figured I would spread the word in case you’re in the same boat.

The only negative of this recipe is that the cooking time is over two hours, so plan ahead.  It’s worth it!

Braised cabbage in a blue cast iron casserole

Best Braised Green Cabbage I’ve Ever Had

Vegetarianized straight from Molly Stevens’ All About Braising, check it oooout

Ingredients:

  • 2lb cabbage
  • 1 onion, sliced into large slices
  • 1 carrot, chopped into rounds
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. vegetable stock, divided
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • Hot pepper flakes (to taste)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Lightly oil a large baking pan or casserole (I used our 3 quart cast iron casserole). Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and slice into eight wedges.  Add to the pan or casserole in a single layer.  Sprinkle the onion and carrot over the top, then drizzle with the olive oil and 1/4 c. vegetable oil.  Season with salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes.  Cover (with aluminum foil or lid) and put into the oven.

After two hours, remove the pan from the oven.  Increase the oven heat to 400 degrees.  Turn the pieces of cabbage over.  Add the balsamic vinegar and, if things are looking dry, the remaining vegetable stock.  Return the pan to the oven and let cook, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, until the cabbage starts to brown.

Braised green cabbage in a blue cast iron casserole

Molly says that this could serve 6-8, but it was so good it only served four at our house.  It ain’t pretty, but appearances aren’t everything, right?  Especially when something is this delicious!

Probably not perfect pie crust

19 Mar

March 14th was Pi Day!  3.14, get it?  I love pie but don’t take the time to make it very often.  Nate and I had just picked up some frozen organic blackberries to stock the freezer with; what better way to use them than in a pie?

As I was looking online, I found a number of pie crust recipes that claimed to be the “perfect pie crust.”  I’m not sure how there can be so many different perfect pie crust recipes.  You would think that some of them would only be “amazing” or “wonderful,” but not quite perfect.

But I digress.

I had been eying the Pioneer Woman’s pie crust recipe for a while because it’s supposed to be super flaky, a trait that I most enjoy in my crust.  The key is a tablespoon of white vinegar, which you aren’t able to taste in the final product.  I had intended to follow the PW recipe to the letter but it’s a shortening crust.  We didn’t have any shortening in the house, but we did have a pound of organic unsalted butter in the freezer that I snapped up while it was on sale.

So, I searched out found a perfect all-butter crust recipe on Simply Recipes.  This recipe suggested smooshing the dough (this is a technical cooking term ala Meggie) on your counter to achieve maximum flakiness.  I was feeling lazy so I couldn’t help but think, what if I just replace a tablespoon of water with a tablespoon of vinegar instead?

Blackberry pie with lattice crust

Thus, the crust for this pie was adapted from these two “perfect” pie crust recipes.  Because of that, you could probably consider it to be double perfect, although realistically it’s probably not really perfect but merely wonderful and amazing.

For the filling, I mostly followed this recipe for blackberry pie.  I added extra lemon zest and juice because we like things tart around here and used vanilla extract instead of almond.

Slice of blackberry pie with lattice top

This was my first attempt at a lattice pie crust and I’m quite pleased with myself and the results.  We drizzled a little good half-and-half over the pie, but vanilla ice cream or whipped cream would be, well… perfect!

Banh mi, baguettes, and me

13 Mar

Banh mi sandwich (baguette with tofu, mushrooms, pickled carrots and diakon radish, cucumber, and cilantro)

Banh mi sandwich (baguette with tofu, mushrooms, pickled carrots and diakon radish, cucumber, and cilantro)

Only people who know me incredibly well know that I can be a perfectionist.  I try my best to hide it with cloak of nonchalance but sometimes people still get a peek.

Probably the main way that my perfectionism comes out is that I have the hardest time challenging myself.  One time I won a Guitar Hero contest at a bar in the medium level bracket.  I got 100% on a song I’d never even heard before.  (I won a rubik’s cube and about 20 minutes worth of bragging rights.)  I’m so ready for a harder level that it’s borderline pathetic but I just can’t bring myself to make the leap!

Basically, I have the hardest time bringing myself to do something that I might be mediocre or even (*gasp*) fail at.  I’d rather not attempt something than risk the possibility of failing at it.

For a while, it’s been time for me to take the next step in my bread-making.  It’s been time for me to tackle the world-renowned baguette.

Two freshly baked baguettes in a metal baguette pan

The first time I tried my hand at making baguettes, I tried the technique in the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book that I won’t stop talking about. (It was even recommended to a caller by Lynn Rosetto Kasper on this week’s episode of The Splendid Table, so it must be good!)  They recommend rolling some refrigerator dough out into a 2-inch wide tube, letting it rise for 25 minutes, and then baking it on a preheated baking stone.

Well, I tried this technique but I don’t have any photos of the results.  I don’t have any photos because, quite frankly, the baguettes were awful!  They were horribly lumpy and misshapen and far too flat.  To top it all off, they had neither the crunchy crust nor the soft interior that baguettes are known for.

What was that I said again about how I feel about failing?

Thankfully, this is one kitchen mishap that can be avoided with the proper tool.  A baguette pan.

Freshly baked baguette in a metal baguette pan

We received this baguette pan from Nate’s uncle Mark as a wedding gift.  It’s non-stick, perforated and it will cook up the crustiest, tastiest baguettes you’ve ever made (although I confess that in my case that’s not saying much).  What I especially love about this pan is that you proof and bake in the same pan; there’s no need to make a complicated transfer and clean up is easy (just remember to hand-wash it)!

My baguettes still aren’t the prettiest things ever.  They’re still a little knobby and misshapen, or as Nate said “funky and chunky.” I prefer to think of them as “rustic.”  Whatever their looks may be, they definitely taste like winners.

So then what do you do once you have fresh, homemade baguettes?  You partake in the current culinary craze and make banh mi.

Banh mi sandwich (baguette with tofu, mushrooms, pickled carrots and diakon radish, cucumber, and cilantro)

Everyone is always ragging on colonialism (myself included) but banh mi and other fusion foods are, I believe, concrete examples that there are some benefits to imperialism and globalization.  The combination of French baguette and Vietnamese fillings is awesome; if you haven’t had banh mi before, there is no time like the present to remedy that.

The banh mi you see here is a homemade baguette topped with mayo, sauteed mushrooms and onions, grilled marinated tofu, pickled carrot and daikon radish, plus chopped fresh cucumber, cilantro, and jalapenos.  Don’t worry, it sounds like way more work than it actually is!  That said, there is a lot of chopping so this recipe may be one to make with a cooking buddy if you aren’t super speedy with a knife.

Stack of grilled, marinated tofu and piles of chopped cilantro, cucumber and jalapenos.

Both the pickled carrots and daikon and the sauteed mushrooms and onions were made using a banh mi recipe from my lovely and hilarious friend Caroline.  We added grilled tofu to her recipe because we were hungry.  For the tofu, we grilled it in a grill pan on high heat after marinating a few large slices in a mixture of rice vinegar, Sriracha hot sauce, brown sugar, and light and dark soy sauce.  If, like us, you have left-over fillings, you can cook up a little jasmine rice and, wham-bam, you have a perfect lunch (or two) for the next day.

The coolest thing about this recipe is that you don’t even realize that it’s vegetarian.  If you leave off the mayo (or use a vegan product instead), this would be a very satisfying vegan meal.

Banh mi sandwich (baguette with tofu, mushrooms, pickled carrots and diakon radish, cucumber, and cilantro)

Actually, I take that back.  The coolest thing about this recipe is how freaking good it is.  Feel free to add extra Sriracha to taste (Nate certainly did)!