CSA Spring Greens Overload Part 1: Escarole, White Bean, and Andouille Pizza

We’re back! Our schedule this year with Ted commuting to Columbia and me working to keep us afloat left us feeling a bit less inspired in the kitchen; we were more focused on “let’s shop for what’s cheap and quick to make” than on having fun in the kitchen. Now that school has ended, and SUMMER VEGGIES ARE BACK!!, I’m reinvigorated and excited to cook.

Since we are home for the summer for the first time ever, we joined a local CSA through Stoneledge Farm. We are three weeks in, and as expected, we have been inundated by greens! Now, I’m all for enjoying a giant salad here and there, but it was clear that if we were going to get through this overload, we were going to have to get creative, stat. To me, that’s one of the greatest points of a CSA: not having a choice in the produce each week, and being forced to think on my feet and try out some new things!

Our first CSA delivery, including six different types of greens!

Our first CSA delivery, including six different types of greens!

One of the greens in our first delivery was escarole. I have made soups and stews with escarole before, usually also involving white beans and sausage, but with the weather finally improving, we were itching to do some outdoor cooking instead of hover over a hot pot all afternoon. So, we thought, why not put it on a pizza? Better yet, why not grill that pizza?

Let’s backtrack for a minute to the inspiration for the grilled pizza. Over Memorial Day Weekend, we helped a friend to prepare endless amounts of spring veggie-filled delicacies including the two pizzas below.

MDW Pizza: chorizo, grilled broccolini, red onion, fresh ricotta, parmesan

MDW Pizza: chorizo, grilled broccolini, red onion, fresh ricotta, Parmesan

Photo May 24, 7 09 39 PM

MDW Pizza: spring garlic, speck, fresh ricotta, Parmesan

That weekend was certainly one of experimentation when it came to making the grilled pizzas. We determined that putting a pizza stone on the grill to heat up before cooking the pizza, as recommended by a few sources, actually made the surface far too hot to allow the top of the crust to cook before the bottom burnt. We also determined that the best process for even cooking was to start the dough for a minute on the heat, flip it for a bit to crisp the top a bit, then flip it back over and add the toppings while the dough was on the heat.

So, with that experience, we endeavored to make our own. Unfortunately, it was rainy and we don’t have great tools for flipping pizza on the grill. That said, with some creative intervention (putting the grilled pizza under the broiler for a few minutes to make sure the top was fully cooked), the finished product was delicious!

A note about dough: When Matt made his pizzas, he used Michael Ruhlman’s Bread App; I would highly recommend making your own dough instead of buying it pre-made as we did for our pizza. The Trader Joe’s dough didn’t crisp and bubble up as much as the homemade version, and was too springy.

Escarole, White Bean, and Andouille Pizza

Escarole, White Bean, and Andouille Pizza

Escarole, White Bean, and Andouille Grilled Pizza

Serves: 4

Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 head escarole, washed and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • red pepper flakes
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound pizza dough
  • 1 small can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 link andouille sausage, sliced into rounds
  • 1 cup (or more) ricotta cheese, thinned with some milk and seasoned to taste with salt and pepper
  • grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

1. Cook escarole: saute garlic in 2 tbsp EVOO over medium heat for two minutes. Add escarole to pan with a few shakes of red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Using tongs, toss escarole so it is evenly coated in oil. Add a few tablespoons of water to the pan, and cover the pan for 3-5 minutes. Remove cover, and continue to saute until water is evaporated and escarole is very wilted.

2. Make crusts: Form dough into one or two balls, then flatten to 1/4 or 1/2 inch thick (the thinner the better). Brush the dough with oil and season with kosher salt.

3. Cook pizza: Prepare grill to medium heat. Place dough on heat for about a minute, until bubbles begin to form on the top. Flip dough briefly to crisp top a bit. Flip the dough once again. Work quickly to top the pizza with ricotta, escarole, andouille, beans, and parmesan (remove from heat to do this if necessary). Close the lid and grill for about 2 more minutes, until cheeses melt, toppings warm through, and bottom of crust is browned but not burnt.

 

Mexican Beef Tacos with Sweet Potato

Throughout the past several years, my mom has had some fun filling our Christmas stockings with silly cooking-related items; a pig-shaped ice cream scoop, cow-shaped creamer, and most recently, recipe dice. They are kind of kitschy, but for times when there’s just no cohesive meal in sight, they are pretty handy! So, we tried them out on Sunday, and ended up with these ingredients among others in the roll:

Recipe Dice roll of the day

Recipe Dice roll of the day

Avocado, lime, cumin… screams Mexican, right? Maybe tacos? I thought so too. Maybe the sweet potato is a bit odd for tacos, but I thought it might make a nice addition to some spicy meat. So, taco night it was! I imagined tacos with flavorful braised shredded beef, avocado, cilantro, lime, and roasted sweet potatoes. I took a look around, and as it turns out, Tyler Florence had a similar idea before we did! We followed his recipe for the shredded beef pretty closely; we used eye-round roast instead, and cooked it in the slow cooker until it was tender enough to shred. We simplified the guacamole, left out the salsa, added roasted sweet potatoes, and served them up. Wow were they good! A little too juicy, perhaps… we left the shredded beef in the braising liquid, and would definitely change that next time.

Completed beef tacos with sweet potato, avocado, lettuce, cilantro, and lime

Completed beef tacos with sweet potato, avocado, lettuce, cilantro, and lime

Mexican Beef Tacos with Sweet Potato

Serves 4-6

Time: 2-3 hours including braising and roasting; 15 minutes active

Ingredients:

  • One recipe shredded beef (we used eye round instead of shoulder)
  • One sweet potato, cut in 1″ cubes and roasted with salt and pepper
  • One avocado, mashed with lime juice and salt
  • Shredded iceberg lettuce
  • fresh cilantro
  • small corn tortillas (3-4 per person; double up if meat is too juicy)
  • extra lime for serving

Assembly:

Before serving, heat a dry pan over medium heat. Heat tortillas in the pan for 15-30 seconds per side, until they get a bit toasty.

To assemble tacos, spread some avocado on each tortilla. Next, add some of the shredded beef, then sweet potatoes. Finally, top with iceberg and cilantro. Serve with extra lime, if desired. Enjoy!

The Gremlin in my Fridge: First Adventures in Sourdough

This Christmas, we achieved a new step in our quest to DIY everything we eat. In addition to owning a sausage stuffer, deli slicer, smoker boxes, and canning tools among other DIY supplies, we now are the proud parents of a sourdough starter. When I opened the box on Christmas, my mother-in-law said, “Your starter is in a canister in the fridge. I fed it on December 20th, so you’ll need to feed it again on December 27th,” to which my brother-in-law responded, “What is it? A gremlin?” While we laughed at the absurdity of the comment in the moment, since we brought it home, I really have felt like a temperamental, spoiled little creature has taken up residence in my fridge. Here, a synopsis of what it means to take on sourdough, and my first two creations.

While it is possible to create your own sourdough starter, I still find it a bit frightening to mess with naturally occurring yeasts and other little critters (hence I haven’t fermented my own pickles yet). So, buying one as my M.I.L. did from somewhere like King Arthur Flour is a good start.

Once you have the starter, King Arthur recommends “feeding” it once a week. This entails taking it out of the fridge, removing all but 4 ounces (more on this later), adding 4 ounces each flour and water, and allowing to sit at room temp for 2-4 hours. Once it is bubbly and saying, “I’m alive!”, it goes back in the fridge for another week, and the process continues until you want to use it to bake.

Now, I figured that once I wanted to bake a loaf of bread, I just needed to take out the starter, mix the ingredients, let it rest a bit, and get to baking. Unfortunately, this is NOT the case. Instead, the cold, sleepy starter needs several feedings to be sure it has the power to leaven bread. So, it takes 8-12 hours just to be sure it is ready to go. Yikes, I was starting to realize that this was not a hobby for a working girl. Luckily, vacation is the perfect time to experiment. So, I got to feeding my little gremlin, and started my recipes the next day.

I decided to try to kill two birds with one stone. There are several recipes that use “unfed” starter, basically the stuff that you would throw away to prevent your fridge from overflowing with starter each time you feed it. It seems like such a waste to toss the extra starter, so I decided to make pretzels. Unfortunately, the recipe on King Arthur Flour’s site include several ingredients I didn’t have. Who keeps dry milk and malt powder on hand, and isn’t my starter supposed to leaven bread without yeast? That’s what I thought at least. I’m realizing that this whole baking business takes a lot more forethought that I had expected.

Anyway, I found a recipe for whole wheat sourdough pretzels with four simple ingredients. I followed the recipe to a T (the dough rested for 12 hours overnight to make them extra tangy), and was really quite happy with the result! These little guys were dense and hearty; perhaps they could be a bit crispier on the outside, and I might try a mix of whole wheat and AP flour to allow them to a bit lighter. But the sourdough flavor definitely came through, and dipped in either mustard or marinara sauce, they were great!

Need to work a bit on the shape of the pretzels (especially the ends!), but not bad for the first shot!

Need to work a bit on the shape of the pretzels (especially the ends!), but not bad for the first shot!

Now for the main event: the bread!  Boy did it take a while! All said, from the time I took the starter out of the fridge to the time the bread was baked took three days. Because I didn’t have yeast, I decided to make an extra tangy loaf. This bread gets both its tang and its leavening power from resting for an extra long time – four hours at room temp, overnight in the fridge (I left it for two; hey, my schedule can only be SO dictated by this thing!), another five hours at room temp once mixed with more ingredients, and a final two hours once shaped in loaves. FINALLY, after an excruciating wait, the bread baked at 425 for 30 long minutes, and was READY!

Crispy outside, warm, soft, tangy inside. Perfect!

Crispy outside, warm, soft, tangy inside. Perfect!

It took all my willpower to allow the bread to cool for a few minutes before digging in. But when I did, oh boy. It was perfect.

Photo Jan 05, 6 09 21 PM

In the end, was the long wait worth it? YES. Producing this amazing bread in my own kitchen was certainly worth it. In the future, I will need to figure out how to time the whole process while also working. Also, I’d like to try getting the oven a bit steamy before the bread goes in to see if I can get a more shiny, crisp crust.

So, while the gremlin in my fridge sure is a needy little bugger, I suppose I’ll continue to indulge it as long as it allows me to make delicious treats like these!

Kale and Honeycrisp Salad with Lemon Yogurt Dressing

Two days in a row – I guess this means I’m back at it, right?! It turns out, having a husband back in graduate school full time will leave a girl with a bit of downtime at night. I’ve actually been taking pictures and writing recipes all summer, so maybe eventually I’ll catch up, but for now it’s current stuff!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m psyched that we have entered this beautiful time of year when the farmers markets are overflowing with produce, both summer and fall favorites. Perhaps my favorite part about the transition to fall: honeycrisp apples! When we got married two years ago, a friend actually “rented an apple tree” for us, and we received a box with about 90 apples which we enjoyed throughout fall and into winter. Unfortunately, this did not become an annual occurrence, so we savor the honeycrisps while we can get them.

A while ago I pinned a recipe for a kale and honeycrisp salad, and decided this was the perfect week to give it a shot! Usually I make a lemon parmesan dressing for kale salads, but this time around I decided to try a lemon yogurt dressing to serve with the salad instead, and it was fantastic! This is simple and delicious (especially if you are someone who keeps a big container of plain yogurt on hand for breakfast!), and absolutely something you should try this fall!

Kale and honeycrisp salad, served with rosemary rubbed roast beef

Kale and honeycrisp salad, served with rosemary rubbed roast beef

Kale and Honeycrisp Salad with Lemon Yogurt Dressing

Time: 5 minutes active, 20 or so minutes passive

Serves: 2-4 (it depends how big the head of kale is!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 head kale, washed, ribs removed, and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 honeycrisp apple, cut into matchsticks (mix with some lemon if cutting in advance to prevent browning)
  • juice and zest from half a lemon
  • 1-2 tablespoons EVOO
  • 3-4 tablespoons plan yogurt (I used nonfat; any variation will do)
  • 1/2 tablespoon honey dijon mustard, or equal parts dijon mustard and honey
  • several pinches salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1. Mix together dressing ingredients. Add about an equal amount of EVOO for the amount of juice you squeeze from half a lemon. The amount of yogurt you use should be about equal to the amount of lemon + evoo, perhaps a touch more. Add honey mustard, salt, and pepper. You should be able to taste the lemon, yet the yogurt should cut the acidity and it should be a bit sweet.

2. Stir dressing into kale about 20 minutes before you are ready to serve the kale. I like to use my hands to rub the leaves a bit as I’m mixing in the dressing; you want the acid in the lemon and the yogurt to start breaking down the kale leaves so they get more tender.

3. When ready to serve, mix apple in with the kale. This would be delicious topped with some candied or roasted nuts as well! Enjoy!

[If you're interested in the roast beef... we used a 4 pound eye roast (dinner plus lunches for the week!); seasoned it liberally with a mix of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and dried rosemary; seared it on all sides; then roasted at 325 degrees for about an hour and 15 minutes, until a thermometer read about 130 degrees; let it rest for at least 10 minutes before carving]

Summer Corn and Shitake Risotto with Grilled Scallops

Yikes! It’s been almost four months since our last post! Between a house fire, working away for the summer, and settling back into the school year, we’ve been a bit busy! But, we’re still cooking, and finally have the chance to sit and blog for a bit. This recipe is definitely worth it!

This past weekend was the first taste of fall we’ve had. I feel bittersweet about it; I’m definitely a summer girl, yet if I have to be back at work, I can be happy to throw on a sweatshirt and breathe in some fresh, crisp air. Similarly, while I can’t get enough juicy tomatoes and sugar sweet corn, I also love cooking with warm, filling fall flavors. So for this first fall-like weekend, we decided to make a dish that made use of some wonderful summer produce, but was also more filling and earthy than our usual summer dishes. We started with this recipe for roasted corn, wild mushroom, and spinach risotto, and tweeked it quite a bit to make better use of time and money. We hit the New Canaan farmers market, my favorite in the area, and stocked up on corn, leeks, and spinach, then grabbed some shitakes from a local grocery store. We grabbed some frozen homemade stock from the freezer, and headed for my parents’ house, where I suspected I’d find copious amounts of arborio rice and parmesan cheese on hand; I was right!

The process outlined in the above recipe was time consuming and complicated; while I’m sure it turns out a delicious product, we knew we could make something equally delicious with less time and a simpler method. By sauteing the corn and wild mushrooms together before adding it to the risotto, we were able to get a similar caramelization that would have come from roasting, yet the process was quicker. After sauteing the veggies, we followed the classic risotto method to cook our leeks and rice, then added the spinach, corn, and mushrooms at the end along with the cheese. The end product was a great combination of fresh yet hearty, exactly what we were seeking! We added some grilled scallops to finish the dish, which complimented the risotto beautifully!

Photo Sep 14, 8 44 45 PM

Summer Corn and Shitake Risotto with Grilled Scallops

Time: About 40 minutes

Servings: 4 large dinner portions

Ingredients:

  • 2-4 tbsp butter, divided
  • 2-4 tbsp EVOO, divided
  • 4 ears corn, removed from cob
  • 1/2 pound shitakes, stems removed and sliced thin
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 3 medium leeks, halved, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup dry white wine (we used Chardonnay)
  • 6 cups chicken stock or broth (homemade if possible)
  • 2 cups roughly chopped fresh spinach (optional)
  • 1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chopped scallions or chives for garnish
  • 1 1/2 pounds sea scallops (4-5 per person)
  • Vegetable oil

Directions:

1.  In a large skillet, melt about 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp EVOO over medium high heat. Sauté mushroom and corn with a few pinches of salt and pepper, stirring every 2-3 minutes, for about 15 minutes. The corn should begin to caramelize and the mushrooms should lose their moisture and begin to brown. Add more evoo if it begins to burn or seems too dry. Just before they are finished, stir in fresh thyme. Taste to be sure seasoning is right (and because this part alone is delicious).

Sauteed corn and mushrooms with thyme, ready for the risotto!

2. Heat stock in a 4 quart sauce pan; bring to a boil then reduce to simmer

3. In a medium to large sauté pan, heat another tablespoon each of butter and oil over medium heat. Once butter is melted, add leeks and sauté until they soften.  Season leeks with salt and pepper.

4. Add rice and sauté, stirring frequently, for 3-5 minutes until it smells fragrant and begins to toast

5. Now comes the fun part of risotto making! Deglaze with wine and stir rice every thirty seconds or so until wine is almost absorbed.

6. Add stock two ladlefuls at a time, stirring thoroughly every minute or so (the more you stir, the creamier your risotto will be). Add more stock as soon as the previous addition is just about absorbed. Continue the process for about 20 minutes, until rice is tender but not mushy.

7. Just before the last bit of stock is full absorbed, add spinach (if using) and stir until it is incorporated and wilted.

8. Once rice is tender, stir in reserved corn and mushroom mixture, then stir in cheese. The mushrooms will absorb some liquid, so if rice appears too dry, add more stock! Finish with 2 tablespoons of butter for an optional glutinous yet luxurious finish.  Taste and reseason if necessary. Garnish with chives or scallions before serving.

9. Now onto the scallops. Since risotto requires constant tending, it’s easiest if another person can be in charge of grilling scallops, unless you are using a grill pan or grill grate on your stove. Grilling scallops is simple: brush both sides with oil, season lightly with salt and pepper, and grill over medium heat for 2-3 minutes per side. Be sure to oil the grill grate as well so they don’t stick. If your scallops are big enough to put directly on the grill, go for it; otherwise you can skewer them and cook them like kabobs (we’ve done both). If scallops are done before the risotto, keep them in a 150-200 degree oven until ready to plate.

Spring Kale Panzanella with Grilled Shrimp

This post is more about sharing a great recipe as it is than about giving any great insight into creative adaptations. The recipe from a new favorite cooking blog, Love and Lemons, was amazing as written! I never would have thought to combine kale, fennel, and white beans in anything other than a stew, and certainly would never have thought of these flavors in a panzanella (bread salad); I’m glad she thought of it instead!

Allowing the salad to sit in the dressing for a while is essential, both to break down the kale and to soften up the stale bread. I combined the veggies with half the dressing and let that sit for about an hour and a half, then added the rest of the dressing and bread, and let that sit for another 30 minutes or so. Also, be sure to add the toasted pignolis; they gave the perfect pop of nuttiness in an otherwise earthy salad. The only changes I made were using ricotta salata instead of feta, simply because I love the saltiness and texture, and omitting the peas (although I planned on using edamame, then forgot to buy them….).

For the grilled shrimp, we used jumbo shrimp in the shell brined for 15 minutes in a salt water solution, a method for roasting suggested by Cooks Illustrated. After brining, we tossed them with some essence we made earlier in the week, then grilled them on our grill pan over indirect heat on a hot grill. We cooked them while grilling dinner the day before, shelled them, and refrigerated them overnight. They were a great texture and slightly spicy; a perfect pairing for the lemony salad!

Spring kale panzanella with grilled shrimp

Spring kale panzanella with grilled shrimp

Veggie BBQ: Portobello burgers with grilled brussels sprouts and pickled radishes

I know. That last part surprised you a bit, right? The idea of serving brussels sprouts with radishes of any kind, let alone pickled radishes, never would have crossed my mind in a million years. So it’s a good thing that it crossed the mind of the chef at Jack the Horse Tavern in Brooklyn Heights instead, where Ted and I had dinner on Saturday night. I’m telling you, I don’t rave about brussels sprouts all that often, but those were the best brussels sprouts I’ve ever had. So, we decided to give them a shot our own way.

I made some pickled radishes using my pickling book, Canning for a New Generation. They were a bit tart – next time I’ll probably add some more sugar, and perhaps some garlic or onions – but a great match for our grilled sprouts.

My radish pickles: radishes, vinegar, water, mustard, fennel, and peppercorns. The pink color is just from the skins!

My radish pickles: radishes, vinegar, water, mustard, fennel, and peppercorns. The pink color is just from the skins!

Wondering about how to grill brussels sprouts? Alton Brown suggests putting them on a skewer, which I’m sure is delicious, but we were looking to mimic the flavors of roasted sprouts. Ted recently picked up a mesh fry pan for the grill from the Williams Sonoma outlet; it was the perfect thing to use. He kept them over indirect heat for 10 minutes or so, and they turned out great. Once they were off the grill, I tossed them with some of the radishes and about a tablespoon of melted butter. They were great!

Grill-roasted brussels sprouts with pickled radishes

Grill-roasted brussels sprouts with pickled radishes

Now for the portobello burgers. These are so simple, and so great! Remove the stems and gills from some portobellos, marinate them in some olive oil and balsamic vinegar for 10-15 minutes, sprinkle them with seasoning (we used some homemade “essence“), and grill them over medium high heat. We asked the cheese monger at Fairway for a suggestion; he said that Etorki is a great cheese for melting, and he was right. It was a bit expensive ($6 for a quarter pound), but a great addition to an otherwise CHEAP dinner ($9 for the whole two-person meal without the cheese!).

The whole veggie-tastic BBQ dinner: portobello burgers, grilled corn, and brussels sprouts with pickled radishes

The whole veggie-tastic BBQ dinner: portobello burgers, grilled corn, and brussels sprouts with pickled radishes

Ingredients

For brussels sprouts and pickled radishes:

  • 3/4 pounds brussels sprouts, ends removed, halved, and outer leaves removed
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/4 cup pickled radishes
  • 1-2 tbsp melted butter

For portobello burgers:

  • 2 large portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed
  • 2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or more)
  • olive oil
  • 1 tbsp essence
  • Several thin slices Etorki cheese (or any other soft melting cheese)
  • one handful greens (we used a mix of arugula and spinach)
  • whole wheat buns, carefully grilled

Second Annual St. Patty’s wth the Parkers

One of our favorite parties last year was our St. Patrick’s Day feast. At that time, we still lived in our 550 square foot apartment in Manhattan, had to clean our brine bucket in the bathtub, and had shifts of people in and out throughout the day so guests could actually sit down. While our living situation has changed greatly, the general idea of this party has (and will, for years to come) stayed the same: home-made corned beef is incredible, and should be shared with as many people as possible! This year, we followed the same exact corned beef recipe we used last year – we’re not quite ready to screw around with brines yet – but we tried a whole bunch of new recipes for accompaniments. Enjoy!

Snacks and Side Dishes

I wanted to take traditional Irish ingredients and transform them into snacks and side-dishes that were a little more excited than plain old boiled vegetables. Potato leek soup shooters and apple raisin cole slaw were no-brainers, as was Irish soda bread, but I started to run out of ideas after that. So, I ventured into the realm of green snacks. Turns out, edamame hummus is delicious! I also made hot spinach artichoke dip for the first time. I altered Alton Brown’s recipe significantly by using two boxes of frozen spinach, two cans of artichoke hearts, reducing the amounts of cream cheese, mayo, and sour cream, and increasing the garlic powder, chili flakes, and Parmesan. I also topped the dip with extra cheese and threw it under the broiler for a few minutes before serving. The best part: I split the dip into two dishes, and saved one for late-night snacking.

I made two loaves of Irish soda bread, one with caraway seeds and one without. This recipe was so simple, and yielded a crusty bread with a moist inside. No wonder 99% of people on Epicurious would make it again!

I made two loaves of Irish soda bread, one with caraway seeds and one without. This recipe was so simple, and yielded a crusty bread with a moist inside. No wonder 99% of people on Epicurious would make it again!

Edamame hummus

This creamy, zesty edamame hummus was a hit!

Using the food processor to shred the carrots and apples in this recipe was key. I made the slaw several hours before the party, which allowed the flavors to come together.

Using the food processor to shred the carrots and apples in this recipe was key. I made the slaw several hours before the party, which allowed the flavors to come together.

At first, the potato leek soup seemed a bit simple. But, topped with lemon creme fraiche, homemade bacon bits, and chives, the soup was divine!

At first, the potato leek soup seemed a bit simple. But, topped with lemon creme fraiche, homemade bacon bits, and chives, the soup was divine!

Corned Beef Sandwiches

Once again, corned beef sandwiches were the main event. We set up an assembly-line for people to make their own sandwiches. Guests chose white or wheat bread, homemade Guinness mustard or maple mustard, swiss cheese, and of course, corned beef. Some people added cole slaw directly onto the sandwiches, too. Then the sandwiches were sprayed with olive oil and pressed in the panini press. Yum!

This Guinness mustard had a much different - and easier - process than the caraway mustard Ted made last year. I added some honey to sweeten it up a bit. The end product was strong, but a great accompaniment to the corned beef.

This Guinness mustard had a much different – and easier – process than the caraway mustard Ted made last year. I added some honey to sweeten it up a bit. The end product was strong, but a great accompaniment to the corned beef.

I didn't get a picture of the completed sandwiches, but check out the color of that corned beef! We'll never buy pre-made corned beef after experiencing this!

I didn’t get a picture of the completed sandwiches, but check out the color of that corned beef! We’ll never buy pre-made corned beef after experiencing this!

Dessert

A St. Patrick’s Day party isn’t complete without Irish Car Bombs. This year, nobody made real car-bombs, but I made brownies that incorporated all of the ingredients. For these car-bomb brownies, the brownie base contained Guinness (along with 12 ounces of chocolate), a middle cream-cheese layer has Irish cream (I used Carolans), and the whole mess is topped with a Jameson ganache. They were sinful. I would definitely make these again, but next time I would amp up the Irish Cream in the middle layer and the whiskey in the ganache. Those who know me and my sweet tooth well might be shocked, but I would also cut down the amount of ganache by half.

Guinness brownie, irish cream filling, and whiskey ganache - who could object to that?!

Guinness brownie, Irish cream filling, and whiskey ganache – who could object to that?!

Leftovers Round One: Corned Beef Hash

What better thing to do with leftover corned beef than make corned beef hash? Especially after a late night? We combined ideas from Alton Brown and Bon Appetit:

1. Saute about a cup of diced red peppers with a cup of diced onions in a large skillet until soft. Add a clove of minced garlic, saute for one more minute, and remove from the heat.

2. Scramble two eggs in a large bowl. Add diced corned beef, diced cooked potatoes, the pepper mixture, a half teaspoon of dried thyme, and salt and pepper.

3. Melt a tablespoon of butter in the skillet. Add corned beef mixture and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, pressing down occasionally with a spatula, until a crusty brown bottom layer forms. Turn the hash with the spatula, and cook for another 4-5 minutes.

*Note: A cast-iron skillet would be preferable for this recipe. Ours is currently out of commission, but we’ll get it up and running soon! The second day we made it, we used a non-stick pan, which enabled a better crust to form without having most of it get stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Corned Beef Hash - the perfect "day after" brunch

Corned Beef Hash – the perfect “day after” brunch

Leftovers Round Two: Corned Beef and Cabbage Soup

Ok, I know this one sounds weird, but we could only enjoy corned beef hash for so many days before needing another option, and we certainly weren’t going to let the last bit of our corned beef go to waste. We thought about just making a big batch of hash and freezing it, but that didn’t solve the problem of Thursday night dinner and weekend lunches. I did a quick search for “leftover corned beef” and came across this recipe for corned beef and cabbage soup. I used that as a jumping off point, and winged a recipe:

1. Saute about a cup and a half of mire poix – carrots, onion, and celery – until translucent. Add a tablespoon of chopped garlic.

2. Add a 28 ounce can of whole plum tomatoes, drained and crushed by hand.

3. Add a cup of pearl barley, two bay leaves, and two tablespoons of pickling spice packaged in cheese cloth and twine.

4. Add several (3-4) cups of shredded cabbage.

5. Add 6-8 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 35 minutes.

6. Add 1-2 cups of finely diced corned beef. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes, until barley is soft and flavors come together. Season with salt, pepper, and a few pinches of ground allspice, ground ginger, and ground coriander, to intensify the “pickled” flavor.

7. Serve with parsley.

*Next time, I might try replacing some of the barley with diced potatoes

Corned Beef and Cabbage Soup - sounds weird, but turned out to be a delicious and comforting meal!

Corned Beef and Cabbage Soup – sounds weird, but turned out to be a delicious and comforting meal!

Maple Cured Applewood (or Cherrywood) Smoked Bacon

Some day we'll have a deli-slicer...

Dear Santa, Please send a deli-slicer

There comes a time in a man’s life when he achieves something so sublime, so perfectly delicious, that he wonders how he could ever achieve more. That time came for me about a month ago, when I first rendered up a slice of this homemade bacon. The melting fat swathed the smoke and the maple cure in a succulent, sinfully good bite. And then yesterday, I improved on it with a better cut of belly. Wow.

God I’ve loved this charcuterie stuff: sausage, corned beef, brined roasts. Now I’ve worked myself up to smoking and drying (I’ll post sometime about homemade pancetta and smoked turkey breast). Ruhlman and Poclyn have really opened up a new world to me.

For this bacon, the pork belly cures in the refrigerator for a week. It actually gives off so much liquid in the first 24 hours that it becomes more of a brine. 12-24 hours before smoking, it comes out of the brine, is rinsed, and goes back in the fridge to dry out in the open.

Here’s the pork-belly, ready for smoking:

Photo Feb 16, 12 45 08 PM

Smoking on the kettle grill isn’t nearly so difficult as I’d expected. Heather started me off with some pre-portioned little foil packages of wood chips that one could just soak, drain, poke holes in the bottom, and lay directly on the ashen coals; yesterday was my first experiment with the smoker box. The trick is to get the grill down to about 180-220 degrees–which take a along while–and then to keep it there. Here are a couple pics of my setup:

Photo Feb 16, 1 03 31 PM Photo Feb 16, 1 05 04 PM

On the left: note the smoker-box on the grate above the coals, and the foil tray of water (for humidity) beneath the grate.

On the right: note my thermometer setup. I’m proud of this one! both cords are threaded up through the dome vent. One probe measures the ambient temperature inside the dome (though the built-in dome thermometer gets it about right) and another’s inserted in the pork belly.

It’s important not to rush the smoking with too high a temperature. The smoke will be acrid. You’re shooting eventually for 150 degrees internal temperature on the pork belly. But lesson learned here: it doesn’t have to go the entire way on the grill. After an hour or two, it will have plenty smoke, and you can transfer it to a 200 degree oven to finish. This will spare you the annoyance of periodically lighting new coals, allowing them to burn down outside the grill, and figuring out how to transfer them into the grill without getting ashes all over your pork belly. 

Here’s what the finished belly looks like, bathed in glorious golden sunlight:

Photo Jan 06, 3 27 03 PM

That’s the first belly I did, which wasn’t a great cut of meat. Shopping tip: for this purpose, don’t settle for a belly that still has the ribs intact. Look for a piece that has roughly equal layers of meat and fat.

After smoking, the skin is removed from the meat:

Photo Feb 16, 5 25 26 PM

The skin should just kind of peel off. You might not even need a knife

Then slice, and you’re good to go! Your bacon is already fully cooked, but don’t be a fool: render up that delicious fat and get yourself some crispy bacon. I find that this is one of the very few things in life that a microwave is best for.

We’re back! And cooking up some winter comfort…

Last week my dad informed me that we hadn’t blogged since Thanksgiving. Oops! Time really got away from us. Of course we’ve still been cooking, just haven’t had the chance to get it all down in print. Anyway, a snow day and a delayed opening courtesy of winter storm Nemo have given me some time to get back to it. First up: chili!

I love cooking chili. Over the past few years, we’ve had great success with turkey chili, beef chili, and veggie chili. What’s not to love about any sort of chili? It is filling, warming, comforting, and fairly easy to pull together. So, when we decided last minute to invite some friends in the area over for a post-Nemo gathering, chili was our first choice. I figured this was a good opportunity to share some recipes that we’ve enjoyed, as well as some personal touches.

I’ve made Emeril’s vegetarian chili several times, and it is always a hit, even for bona-fide carnivores. The best thing about this recipe (and any chili recipe, really) is that it can be flexible based on what you have on hand. This time around, I used frozen corn, crimini mushrooms instead of portabellas, diced canned tomatoes instead of fresh, and substituted a can of black beans for red beans. I also added a tablespoon or so of ground coriander, some oregano, and a few teaspoons of cocoa powder – sounds crazy, but adds a great depth to chili. I also cooked it for an hour or more, rather than the recommended 20, to help it reduce and come together.

Yesterday we also made a beef chili. We tried Bobby Flay’s beef and black bean chili with several adjustments. First of all, we used ground beef instead of cubes. I know some chili experts would argue with this choice, but time was not on our side yesterday. Next time we’ll chop up a whole brisket for chili, but for this purpose, ground worked just fine. I recommend browning it very carefully before moving on to the second step, so as to avoid excess liquid from entering the picture later on. Other changes: jalepenos instead of chipotles, regular chili powder, diced tomatoes instead of pureed, and a lighter Irish Red Ale instead of “dark beer.”  I added coriander and cocoa powder to this chili as well. Despite a few shortcuts, after a few hours of reducing, it was excellent!

After dinner, we had a bit of each chili leftover, so we combined them. We had this new hybrid chili for dinner tonight, and it was excellent!

Photo Feb 10, 7 27 54 PM

Beef and veggie chili, served with cheddar, corn, and scallion cornbread

We didn’t make a turkey chili this time around, but when we do, we like Emeril’s two-bean turkey chili. I especially like the depth that the spices in his “essence” bring to the show.

Finally, no chili dinner is complete without cornbread. This time around we tried corn, cheddar, and scallion cornbread. Although it doesn’t have great reviews on Epicurious, we thought it was quite good. I must admit preferring skillet cornbread like this one. Unfortunately, our cast-iron skillet has had an unfortunate run-in with some rust… so, until we take care of that, a baking sheet will have to do!

If this post has done anything, hopefully it has inspired you to be creative, play around with recipes, and enjoy some chili soon!