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.

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.

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.

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.