porridge with cinnamon and brown sugar

Remember the scene in Beauty and the Beast where Belle and Beast (what’s his name, anyway? Surely Belle doesn’t go through their married lives calling him Beast) are eating together? And Beast is completely barbaric? And they meet in the middle? And both eat sloppy white stuff politely from the bowl without a utensil?

Man. I can’t seem to get away from that movie, can I?

The sloppy white stuff they’re eating is actually porridge. Yep, Goldilocks ate porridge. Yep, Beast and Belle ate porridge. Yep, there’s even a Grimm Fairy Tale called Sweet Porridge. Maybe it’s seen all over the make-believe world because it’s very humble, very homey, very simple, and very nutritious. Most of the time, porridge is simply made with cooked oats (they have so much soluble fiber, which actually soaks up water and helps us feel fuller longer, and is proven to lower cholesterol), although other grains can also be used. It’s like an oatmeal, but it’s served hot with cold milk or cream poured over the top, creating a striking and satisfying temperature difference.

I used steel-cut oats in my porridge recipe. They’re a traditional porridge ingredient and contain the whole grain, so it has all the good fiber-rich bran and germs (basically the embryo of the seed). Who knew Beast and Belle were so healthy?

porridge with cinnamon and brown sugar
4 cups water
1 cup steel-cut oats
pinch of salt
milk or cream
ground cinnamon
brown sugar

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Slowly whisk the oats into the boiling water to prevent any clumps. Add the salt and reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
Serve hot in a bowl with a small pour of milk over the top, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a few pinches of brown sugar. You can add other ingredients if you’d like, like dried or fresh fruits or vanilla extract or granola.

See you guys next week! We’re off to Disney World!


popped corn

Popcorn is weird. C’mon, you know it’s weird, y’all. One minute it’ll hand you a ticket to the dental chair and the next it’s light and fluffy like a cloud. But despite its weirdness, it’s good. Real good. And to all you people with braces out there, way sorry that I’m posting on something that you can’t have. I remember those days; however, I don’t think I actually ever followed the rules. Perhaps that’s why I had to wear them for half my life. Ahem.

I’m going to admit something to you. After I popped this corn, I felt like a hero. I guess it just seemed like magic. The corn’s just sittin’ there and then BAM (I was gonna say POP!, but really? A little expected.)! all the sudden the pan is filled with little white pieces of accomplishment. It almost felt like I had done something that had never been discovered. I think I laughed and squealed and jumped a little. I was alone in the house, if you’re asking. And the plain, hot popped corn is so delicious. And you think, “…but. That. It? This was. And now it’s? And now I’m?” When popping corn in the microwave, you just can’t see it happen. Even those stove-top containers are covered in foil. So, I suggest if you have a pan with a glass lid, USE IT. You’ll be able to see the whole process and it’ll turn you into a six-year-old watching the Mr. Knozit show.

I learned how to make beautiful, perfect popped corn from this site.

popped corn
3 tbsp canola oil, or an oil with a high smoke point
1/3 cup popcorn kernels

Heat the oil in a 3 quart saucepan on medium-high heat. Put 3 or 4 popcorn kernels into the oil and cover the pan. When the kernels pop, add the rest of the popcorn kernels in an even layer. Cover, remove from heat, and count 30 seconds (this method first heats the oil to the right temperature and waiting 30 seconds brings all of the other kernels to a near-popping temperature so that when they are put back on the heat, they all pop at about the same time).
Return the pan to the heat. The popcorn should begin popping soon and all at once. Once the popping starts in earnest, gently shake the pan by moving it back and forth over the burner. Try to keep the lid slightly ajar to let the steam from the popcorn release (the popcorn will be drier and crisper). Once the popping slows to several seconds between pops, remove the pan from the heat, remove the lid, and dump the popcorn immediately into a wide bowl.

At this point, you can add butter or salt or other neat toppings if you’d like, but honestly, I think it’s so delicious just straight-up. Yep, straight-up popcorn. And you know I’m going to say it. With this method, you don’t have to guess. It’s just corn and oil. No dyes. No fake butter. No hydrogenated oils. Just super-fun and super-cute (can I say that?) bite-sized, healthy snacks. Got kids? They’ll love it. Got adults? They’ll love it, too. And that popping is the perfect improv beat to choreograph a short kitchen dance.

whole wheat flatbread with caramelized leeks and bacon

I was racking my brain last week for recipes that involved an unfamiliar (to me) food item. Leeks kept throwing themselves at my thought life. Not that they’re some sort of crop that grows on the moon or in a remote village or that they’re so incredibly rare and sought after that they’re five-hundred dollars an ounce. No, no, they’re simpler than that, almost mysterious, but very beautiful. You see ’em in the store all the time. Tiny white stalky-like part on the bottom with mile-high leaves that look absolutely inedible. So simple, yet so intimidating to me because I had no idea what to do with them. But this week it was time to take a chance. Alright, exquisite-looking version of an onion, you’re coming home with me.

Once I had the bunch of leeks, I felt empowered. I had gotten over my leek hump and, actually, they’re not intimidating at all. They’re bright, fun to cut, and right now (yes, you guessed it) they are in season in the good ol’ Carolinas. Check, check, and check. Oh, and in this dish, they’re paired with bacon. Double check.

This flatbread is not really a pizza. It has no cheese, no sauce. It’s more like a crunchy, flavored slice of bread. You could eat it alone or alongside soup or a salad.

whole wheat flatbread with caramelized leeks and bacon
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon active yeast
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

4 strips minimally processed bacon
2 tablespoons butter
1 bunch leeks, white and pale green part only, thinly sliced, and well-rinsed
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar

To make the dough for the flatbread, start by dissolving the yeast in a bowl with the warm water. Let stand for 2 minutes. Put the flour on a smooth work surface and make a well in the center. Slowly add the yeast water, olive oil, and salt until the flour absorbs the liquid. Knead until the mixture becomes a dough consistency. You may need to add quite a bit of flour to keep everything from sticking. Divide the dough in half and place each half in a separate, floured bowl. Cover with a warm, damp cloth and let rise at room temperature for at least an hour. The dough should double in size. You will only use one half of the dough in this recipe. I froze the second dough, but you could cut the dough ingredients in half if you’d like.

While the dough is rising, make the topping. In a Dutch oven, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and chop into small pieces when cool enough to handle. Set aside. Add the butter to the grease and allow it to melt. Add the sliced leeks, salt, and brown sugar and stir to combine. Over medium-low heat, let the leeks cook, stirring occasionally, until they are translucent, brown, and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 400º. To assemble the flatbread, remove one of the doughs from the bowl and punch it down on a floured work surface. Pull and flatten the dough until it’s very thin, but is without any holes. Evenly sprinkle the leeks and reserved chopped bacon over the dough. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. On a baking sheet, bake the flatbread for 15 minutes or until the dough is crispy.

“So, what’s up with whole wheat flour?”

Well, it’s basically what it sounds like. Whole wheat flour is made with the whole grain (ding! health food buzzword) and during the process of actually making the flour, the outer coating called the bran (ding!) and the germ (ding! Dang, another health food buzzword. We must be on to something here) is left, unlike refined, bleached flour. The bran has lots of fiber and the germ, which is basically the grain kernel’s embryo, has lots of nutrients. And whole grains lead to more consistent energy levels in your body, better digestion, and can perhaps help you feel fuller longer.

Lesson over, go eat some flatbread!

roasted root vegetables

This past week I trekked on down to the local farmers’ market looking for inspiration or something that screamed, “Cook me. Cook me.” I guess I’ve been in a food funk, not that I haven’t wanted to cook or that food did something offensive or unjustifiable to make me say, “I’m appalled, I will eat you no longer.”, but my appetite has been quite boringly blah. I’ve been craving toast. And plain rice. And really thin soups. And pie. Wait, pie? Yeah, my body wants summery fruits like blueberries and strawberries and other things that grow when it’s a million degrees outside.

But enough is enough! No more of this nonsense. Self, you know you wait all year for the wintry goods South Carolina has to offer and you will take advantage of it. No talking back. That’s where the market comes in. It’s filled with tons of in-season, organic produce and friendly, down-to-earth farmers, and lots of stuff for winter cooking motivation, like root veggies. Root vegetables are called root vegetables because, well, they’re roots. They grow in the dirt. They’re the edible, underground part of a plant. They’re neat! Chillin’ down in the ground, gettin’ all cozy while the rest of the world freezes above it, the strong ones that survive the winter. Not that we have much of one around these parts, but, you know.

I chose to roast a combination of sweet potatoes, turnips, beets, and carrots. The carrots I found at the market were wild. They’re called purple haze carrots and have the same normal carrot color on the inside, but are surrounded by a dark purple colored outside. They taste slightly sweeter than your standard carrot and are good for freaking people out.

You know what else? Before this, I’ve never really had beets before! Or turnips! Well, I technically did have beets once, pickled, served alongside cheesecake at Junior’s in Brooklyn, but really? Cheesecake and beets? Let’s just say, cheesecake was gone. Beet bowl remained full. So, don’t be scared. I think they have a bad reputation as being grossly healthy, but you know what happens after these guys hang out in the oven for a while? They get caramelized and really sweet, like little bite-sized…like little bite-sized…well, like little bite-sized sweet vegetables. That’s all I’ve got.

roasted root vegetables
1 sweet potato
1 turnip
1 bunch beets
1 bunch carrots
several tablespoons of olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375º. Peel the vegetables and wash thoroughly. Cut them so they’re all about the same size (for even baking) and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss them around with your hands until evenly coated. Roast for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and can be pierced with a fork.

Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica. I’m sorry. I had to do it.

turkey with lemon-sage butter

It’s almost Christmas! Butttttt in the meantime, let’s talk about blog contests! Blog contests, you say? Oh, yes. Blog contests. You see, Stonyfield and Organic Valley are hosting a national organic food blogger contest and, somehow, they picked me as a finalist! I would absolutely LOVE you forever if you would vote for me! I’ll love ya, anyway, but I’d really love it if you could vote.

Here are the rules: Click on the link below and enter your e-mail address under “Your Email” and click “Vote Now.” You can only vote once a day, but if you have multiple e-mail addresses, by all means, use them all! Voting is over January 31st and every day and every vote does count! Lordy, this has turned into RocktheVote2012.

Here is the link: http://celebratewithorganic.com/vote/3

Phew, love you guys. Now! Onto the cooking.

So, like I said, it’s almost Christmas! We had a little gathering here in the tiny Columbia kitchen for Christmas, with a miniature feast and a festive gift exchange and, of course, plenty of music and random dancing. I also made my first, dum dum dee dum, turkey! Yes! It’s true. I’ve roasted plenty of whole chickens, but turkeys are so durn big that I’ve never done it for just my husband and myself. I mean, we eat, we certainly do EAT, but…again. Turkeys are just so durn big. But this time it was CHRISTMAS. And CHRISTMAS is just about as good an excuse as any other time, including Thanksgiving, for anything that is good and plentiful. The bird turned out well! Thank you for your concern and awe. Smile.

This is a classic roasted turkey recipe from Bon Appétit. The page in my magazine that has this recipe printed on it is absolutely covered in splattered butter. And I see some more butter. Butter. Butter. Turkey juice. And oh, yes, more butter. I’m sure you have guessed that this recipe is already going to be GLORIOUS based on my dried up magazine page.

turkey with lemon-sage butter
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus 1/2 stick, melted, for basting
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh sage
2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
1 tsp paprika
1 12-14 lb hormone-free, all-natural turkey, patted dry
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, quartered

Set a rack inside a large, heavy roasting pan. Mash 1 stick butter, sage (I also added a bit of thyme because I was a little short on sage, heh, note the picture), lemon zest, and paprika in a bowl to combine.
Starting at neck end of turkey (Oh, make sure all of those goodies are taken out of the cavity of the turkey. I did that for the first time, too! It really wasn’t so bad. I’m a wuss.), loosen the skin of the breast by gently sliding your fingers underneath. Work half of lemon-sage butter under skin. Loosen skin around legs and thighs; work remaining lemon-sage butter under skin. Season turkey inside and out with salt and pepper and stuff with lemons. Transfer turkey, breast side down, to prepared pan and refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.
Let turkey stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375º. Pour hot water into pan to a depth of 1/4″. Roast turkey, basting occasionally, with remaining 1/2 stick melted butter, for 1 hour. Using paper towels, flip turkey; roast, basting occasionally, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 165º, 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours longer. Transfer to a platter. Let rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.

Ahh, Christmas! I can’t contain my excitement. Eat some turkey! Hug your family! Love your neighbor! Give your all! And celebrate all the good goodness in your life! Since it’s Christmas, let’s be glad, even if your life’s been bad!

Again, Merry Christmas, y’all. Thanks for voting. Thanks for reading.

mommy’s ranch dressing

I’m writing this post in the passenger seat of a vehicle that’s in a caravan on the way to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains for a celebration of Christmas. That has nothing to do with this post, really. Just wanted to let y’all know.

But aren’t y’all excited about Christmas? Geez. I am. I’m still a child, though. I guess I should finally admit to the world that I still watch cartoons and jump up and down when I’m excited and absolutely adore musicals, sing-a-longs, and anything else that has a singing character in it. The other night my dog slept on my side of the bed while I slept under the Christmas tree because it was too beautiful to leave. Charlie Brown makes me cry. The Grinch warms my heart. And y’all know baby Jesus was the cutest baby ever.

This recipe isn’t really a Christmas recipe by tradition, but you know what people serve at parties? Crudités (I can picture people jumping up from their chairs, “Crew dytes?” It’s really just a fancy French word for raw veggies and dip, pronounced crew-deh-tay). And you know what holiday hosts lots of parties? Christmas. So, there ya go.

I kind of grew up with my mom making this ranch dressing and every time she did I remember being so impressed. I guess when I was seven I thought there were trees that had ranch dressing siphoned out of them like maple trees. Who knows. But this stuff is delicious. She used to make this, like, 16 layer salad with tons of random things in it and it was topped with her ranch dressing. It was the bomb. Mother, if you are reading, make this salad? Hmm?

And, man, y’all know I love making stuff that’s chemical free for our little ol’ bodies.

mommy’s ranch dressing
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
~1 cup mayonnaise
~1/2 cup sour cream
pinch of salt
pinch of white pepper
pinch of onion powder
buttermilk, to desired consistency

Mince the garlic clove and sprinkle a little salt over the top. Mash the garlic and salt together with a fork until well combined. Put in a bowl with the chopped parsley and chives.
Add the mayonnaise, sour cream, pepper, and a little more salt. Mix together.
Add as much buttermilk as you’d like. If you like your dressing thicker, just add a little. If you like it thin, add a little more. Keep tasting it along the way and adjust the flavors based on what you think it needs. Keep in the fridge in a jar (and remember that spices will get stronger as they sit).

That’s it! You’re done! The thing about this dressing is that everything in it is crazy adjustable to personal taste. Don’t like as much mayo? Psh, add less. Want more garlic? Add it. I almost listed the ingredients as “some of this” or “some of that.” You can even get crazy, people. Add hot sauce, or other spices, or whatever your heart fancies. And then, dadgummit, get some raw veggies and crudité it up!

Update on the trip: we’re currently driving up a mountain near Asheville, my husband’s ears are popping, my brother-in-law and his fiancé are sleeping, and we’re listening to the glorious sounds of a very She & Him Christmas. Really, was there ever a more beautiful place than the mountains? I’m in love with them. Thank you, Jesus, for a beautiful earth.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

no recipe post

Hello, friends. Heh…heh. I’m walking away slowly as I picture you all chasing me with flaming brooms and red-hot pokers and small boulders.

Where have I been?

Heh, well, you see, I’ve, well…it’s this way. AGAIN. My sister got married! Whoop whoop. And, y’all, I made seven cakes for the event. Yep! She wanted lots of different kinds. It took several days and, actually, not a lot of stress, but very little sleep. It was REALLY fun, baking for hours and hours and rushing the cakes around to random refrigerators in Columbia, and having my husband carry me around in the back of his parents’ SUV while I pretended to be Duff, carefully carrying cakes for someone more important than the president, listening to Christmas music and getting arm cramps. No, seriously, it WAS SUPER fun. I’ll have to post recipes and pictures later after I upload them all.

In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of my husband and me making Saturday morning breakfast.

beef pie with sweet potato topping

I will not start this post by blabbing on about my obsession with Gordon Ramsay. But…it may happen somewhere in the middle. Warning. Hehh. Eh.

This recipe of Gordon’s is one of my husband’s favorites. Every time I ask him what he wants for dinner, he says, “Sweet potato pie.”, which, to most people, means something sweet, a dessert, a pumpkin pie alternative. But I know him well enough to decode his husband language to mean Beef Pie with Sweet Potato Topping. Actually, to be honest, I made a few changes to Gordon’s recipe. Oh my gosh! No! Please put the knives down. I promise it’s not blasphemy. Let me explain. Some of the things in his recipe I simply just don’t have available right around me. Gordon’s dish is called Venison Pie with Sweet Potato topping from his book Healthy Appetite. Now, I’ve known some people from down here in the South who have had fathers and uncles and cousins (who are technically only friends) who hunt and freeze 20 freezers full of meat and they eat it all year long and try to give it away to their friends as party favors (“Ya want sum meat?”), but my family doesn’t really…hunt. So, for me, Gordon’s venison pie is easier as beef pie.

I’m going to list the recipe here in the post with my small little adaptations that I made. I have Gordon’s exact recipe, so if you’d like to see it or use it, I will gladly tell ya all about it. Oh? Is this where my blab about my Gordon Ramsay obsession comes in? Okay. Okay. I’ll be brief. Basically, Gordon is the king of kitchens. It’s not that he can simply cook (and if that’s all he did, it’d be enough), but he knows management, sanitation, every culinary skill or rule ever invented, and when something is slightly off or even slightly on. That’s all I will say, but because I said this, just know that you can trust any recipe he gives to the world.

Oh, and sweet potatoes are totally in season right now.

beef pie with sweet potato topping
beef pie:
1 1/3 lb all natural beef for stew
sea salt and black pepper
3 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
3 to 4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 rosemary sprig, leaves only
2/3 cup red wine
2 3/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 lb red potatoes

sweet potato topping:
1 lb sweet potatoes
2/3 lb red potatoes
3 tbsp butter
1/3 cup white cheddar cheese
2 egg yolks

Season the flour with salt and pepper and use to coat the beef. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large Dutch oven and brown the meat in batches until evenly browned, about 2 minutes each side. Transfer to a bowl.
Add the onions and carrots to the pot with a little more oil and stir over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes until colored. Add the rosemary and cook for a minute. Pour in the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze. Bubble until reduced right down.
Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Return the beef, with any juices released, to the pot. Partially cover with a lid and gently braise for 40 to 50 minutes until the beef is tender, giving the mixture a stir every once in a while.
About 15 minutes before the beef will be ready, slice the 1/2 lb of red potatoes into 1/2-inch thick circles (I peeled my potatoes, but you can certainly leave the skins on if you’d like). Season with salt and pepper and cook in a little olive oil in a wide, nonstick skillet until golden brown on both sides. Add to the beef pot to finish cooking. Once the potatoes and beef are tender, remove the pot from the heat and let cool slightly.

For the topping, peel all the potatoes and cut into 2-inch chunks. Cook in a pan of salted water for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and return to the pan. Mash potatoes with a potato masher. While still hot, add the butter, cheese, and salt and pepper. Mix well to combine. Cool slightly, then mix in the egg yolks.

Time out: Gordon’s recipe calls for double Gloucester cheese. The reason Gloucester cheese is Gloucester cheese is because it’s made with milk from cows who live in Gloucestershire, England. As you may assume, it’s not exactly around these parts very often. Double Gloucester typically has a stronger flavor than single and is usually larger. Have you ever seen those crazies chasin’ that huge roll of cheese down that hill? Yeah, that’s double Gloucester. Yeah, I’d chase that cheese too if I lived there. Check it out. (Y’all. They’re never gonna catch that cheese. Just sayin’.)

Heat the oven to 425º. Tip the beef mixture into a large pie dish or shallow cast-iron pan and top with the mash. Rough up the surface with a fork. Bake for 20 minutes until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbling around the sides. Grind over some pepper and serve.

This is like shepherd’s pie to the max. The wine gives it a crazy, deep taste and everything else is like the comforting ingredients you already know in beef stew. So, enjoy the brilliantness of it, the autumness of it, and the curl-up-date-night-movie-night-warmingness of it.
I keep walking into the kitchen and picking the potatoes out of the casserole dish, looking over my shoulders to see if anyone is watching me. Pretty soon it’s going to be beef pie with no sort of topping. Y’all know where my heart lies.

rocco’s pesto genovese

The first time I remember having pesto was at this fabulous place in Little Italy in NYC. I don’t think I knew what I was ordering, but basil and pine nuts didn’t sound repulsing, so I trusted the menu (c’mon. I was 19 and just realizing that I enjoyed food and didn’t have to simply ingest it). When the penne arrived lightly tossed in, not really a sauce, but more of a crushed combination of simple ingredients, I remember being hit with the smell of fresh basil and garlic. It was so delicate, yet so chock-full of flavor at the same time. Rather than being mushed together to paste-like consistency, it was prepared in a way where you could almost taste each ingredient separately. There’s the parmesan. There’s the olive oil. There’s the garlic. It was addicting.

The husband and I were watching the Cooking Channel several weeks ago when David Rocco’s Dolce Vita was on. First of all, can I just say how I love that he walks around outside and makes things on random benches and tree stumps? A little unrealistic for me right now, but it’s still beautiful. Also a little unrealistic for me right now: that I can pronounce Genovese. Big whoop. I pretend I’m saying it right by giving it a little Italian accent. But that doesn’t matter. The word Genovese comes from a city in Italy called Genoa, which is where pesto originated. And David Rocco creates this pesto with its tradition in mind. I will never use a food processor to make pesto again. He hand chops each ingredient, leaving a rustic, chunky, flavorful accompaniment to pasta, etc. This pesto reminds me of my NYC pasta (and, oh my, how that’s a good thing).

rocco’s pesto genovese
bunch fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup pine nuts, crushed
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
generous pinch of salt
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Using a sharp knife, finely chop basil, garlic, and nuts (pine nuts are traditional, but you really can use any type of nut and make a great pesto) on a cutting board. Put chopped ingredients in a jar. Add the parmigiano cheese, salt, and 1/2 cup olive oil and mix well. Top it off with the remaining extra-virgin olive oil. Taste and adjust it to your liking.
Pesto is traditionally served with pasta, bruschetta, or fish.

So, people, put down the food processors and get to choppin’. It really is easier (the husband will have less dishes to wash, heh…) and makes for a much simpler, more traditional Italian pesto. Thank you, Little Italy chef in NYC, thank you, David Rocco, and thank you, Italians for sticking to what you know and doing it beautifully and timelessly.