Posts Tagged With: carrots

a perfect 30th birthday, and a perfect field pea soup

I love a good birthday cake, especially the carrot cake we got from Big City Bread for my 30th birthday party a couple of weeks ago:

thanks to Micah’s mom for the candles and to my friend Alice for the lovely photo!

The folks at Big City were super nice, by the way, and offered to let me sample several tasty cakes before picking one. But when they sliced me off that first little sliver of this cream-cheese-and-carrot decadence, that was all the convincing I needed.

I received some very thoughtful presents, too.

The best gift, of course, was a fantastic gathering of friends and family at our house for my birthday party, complete with food and booze and some cheesy 80s music to commemorate the decade of my birth.

From my sweet, sweet husband: a clean house, two four-packs of my very favorite fancy beers (Wild Heaven Invocation and Ode to Mercy), lots of yummy birthday pizza from Transmetropolitan (including the best combo ever, bacon + artichoke hearts), and a classy date at Five and Ten the night after my birthday.

Money from the folks (always appreciated), a lovely bottle of Malbec from Dave and Kim, hand-drawn pictures and a birthday card from my niece Lilly, and a gift certificate to Avid Bookshop (yay!) from her uncle Jason.

From Eric and Jinny, a bottle of chamomile grappa (perfect for sipping after a swanky date-night dinner), and from my good friend Amy, a very pretty tea set with a mint-green teapot, two mugs, and packages of green tea and cookies.

Scratch-off lottery tickets (not winners–oh well!) and cute sticky notes from some school pals, plus a pretty handmade necklace from my fourth grade Froggy Friend!

I’ve got a pretty dang sweet crew of friends and family, if I do say so myself! What a perfect birthday.

So imagine my surprise when I returned to school the following Monday to find one more present waiting for me on my desk, a pink gift bag from my friend Leigh, with a note that read: “I’ve picked some field peas from my garden (purple-hull/crowder). If anyone knows what to do with these, it’s you! :)”

My birthday had already been wonderful, which made these pretty peas the proverbial icing on the cake:

I don’t mean to brag, y’all, but I think this is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken, ever

I spent last Saturday morning sipping coffee, baking muffins, and shelling those pretty little peas:

they’re lovely without their shells, too

Then it was time to come up with a recipe. I winged it, as usual, having never made soup with fresh field peas before, and let me tell you guys–the results were nothing short of spectacular.

not the prettiest photo I’ve ever posted, but I think you still might be able to tell that this soup was
packed with veggies, full of flavor, and perfect with a hunk of toasted homemade sourdough

What’s in it:

  • 1/2 cup diced bacon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 6-8 big cabbage leaves, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup freshly shelled field peas
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (smoked, if you have it)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3-4 cups stock or broth (I used pork)
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 4 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the bacon in a big saucepan over medium heat and cook until it starts to crisp and the fat has rendered out.
  • Add the garlic, onion, and carrots, and saute for about 5 minutes or until they start to get tender.
  • Stir in the cabbage, field peas, marjoram, paprika, and lemon zest. Mix until everything’s coated with the bacon fat and seasonings. (At this point, things are going to smell really, really good.)
  • Pour in the stock or broth, add the vinegar and bay leaves, and bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.
  • Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until until the peas are cooked through and the veggies are falling-apart tender.

This hearty soup makes a meal for 2 or 3 with sourdough toast, buttermilk biscuits, or hunks of warm homemade cornbread.

Make the portions a little smaller and you’ll have the perfect starter for a Southern-style feast of summer veggies and crispy fried chicken.

And when you slurp up your first spoonful of this savory soup, you’ll swear it must be your birthday (even if it’s not).

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supper tonight – 5.29.12 – beet & carrot salad, couscous with lentils (plus a quick lunch with the leftovers)

Root vegetables.

They’re kind of amazing, if you think about it.

All you see above ground are stems and greens. Sometimes tasty, sometimes bitter. Sometimes edible, sometimes poisonous.

Who in our hunter-gatherer ancestry first mined the hidden gems that flourish underground? Who was first curious enough to discover that some plants have wiry tendrils for roots, while others stand on concealed, crisp, bulging nuggets of stored nourishment? Who was first brave or hungry or reckless or stupid enough to unearth and eat one of these mysterious fruits from the earth, willing to risk sickness or death for the sake of a strange thing that might–or might not–be food?

It’s easy to scout your garden for the perkiest basil leaves, the fluffiest fennel fronds, the plumpest strawberries, the tenderest figs.

But until you part the earth to release its buried root treasures, you won’t know whether your carrots are pretty and slender like a maiden’s fingers or knobby and hooked like a witch’s claws. You won’t know what shape your potatoes or yams have taken until they’re out of the soil and in your palm.

(You can estimate size, of course–pretty accurately, even–based on when you planted those veggies and what above-ground signals they’ve transmitted. But really, you will never know for sure until you hold those secrets in your hand.)

Here’s the other thing about root vegetables: you’ve got to work for them.

Fresh herbs? Snip a few sprigs as you need them. Fruit and berries? Pluck ’em from the bush and enjoy. Quick, easy.

But with roots, the magic happens under the soil, and you can’t see it or hold it or taste it until you dig it up, unearth it, get a little grit and grime under your fingernails. Brave the worms and grubs and bugs, brave the mess, brave the unknown.

Carrots and beets? Prepare to get dirty. Prepare to scrub. Prepare for food that doesn’t really look like food at first, not until you’ve shined it up and shown the beauty underneath.

And once you’ve unearthed these treasures, please, do let them shine.

the (mostly) unadorned beauty of roots

Our salad, enjoyed warm, was simple: roasted beets and carrots tossed with crumbled feta and fresh parsley, drizzled with a cumin vinaigrette. The recipe comes from our favorite cookbook, Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South, which I know I’ve written about plenty already. But it’s our favorite, so it’s hard not to cook from it as often as we do. 🙂

What’s in it (the cumin vinaigrette):

  • 1 teaspoon grainy mustard
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (another wine vinegar would probably work well)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (Hugh toasts and grinds whole seeds, which we didn’t have–I’m sure this would add even more flavor)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Whisk together the mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, and cumin.
  • Gradually whisk in the olive oil, then the mint.
  • Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

This makes about 3/4 cup of dressing, so you will have extra leftover after you make the salad. You won’t mind, though, because it makes a great dressing for other salads or a crisp cabbage slaw (which I’ll tell you more about in another post).

What’s in it (the salad):

  • 1/2 pound carrots, left whole or halved if they’re very small, or cut up if they’re larger
  • 1/2 pound beets, halved or quartered if they’re very small, or cut up if they’re larger
  • a little olive oil, salt, and pepper
  • 2-3 ounces crumbled feta
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons cumin vinaigrette

Step-by-step:

  • Get a pot of salted water boiling on the stove.
  • Add the carrots, boil for 1 minute, then remove to a bowl to cool.
  • Add the beets and boil until they’re just tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain the beets and allow them to cool for a few minutes.
  • Preheat your oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Toss the carrots in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, then spread them out on one side of the baking sheet.
  • Do the same to the beets, then spread them out on the other side of the baking sheet.
  • Roast for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and slightly browned.
  • Let the vegetables cool for a few minutes.
  • In one bowl, toss the carrots with the feta, half of the parsley, and about a tablespoon of the vinaigrette.
  • In another bowl, toss the beets with the rest of the parsley and another tablespoon of the vinaigrette.
  • Add carrots to your plates first, then top with the beets and a little more of the vinaigrette.

We followed these instructions exactly, but if you don’t mind your beets bleeding a little on the rest of your salad, you could certainly mix them with the carrots on the roasting pan or when you toss the veggies with the vinaigrette at the end. This is probably what we’ll do next time.

The amount of salad this made could easily have been a light lunch for two or sides/starters for four. We were pretty hungry, so we added lentils and couscous to the meal to make it a little heartier, plus a bottle of white wine, because…well, why not?

the whole meal, with Micah waiting patiently in the background

The flavors in our mugs of lentils and couscous paired perfectly with the salad, so I’ll share how I made them, too.

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry lentils
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon dehydrated minced onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup dry couscous
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add the lentils and stir around for a few minutes to coat them with the oil.
  • Add the tomato paste, diced tomato, orange zest, minced onion, and spices. Stir to incorporate.
  • Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.
  • Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are just tender.
  • Add the couscous. Bring to a boil again, then reduce the heat to very low and cover the pot. Let stand for about 15 minutes.
  • Uncover the pot, stir in the vinegar and white wine, then season with salt and pepper to taste. If you have more liquid then you’d like, you can simmer and reduce for a few minutes.

The orange zest, balsamic vinegar, and white wine brightened up the smoky, earthy flavors of the lentils and paprika, and the Mediterranean-inspired seasonings meshed beautifully with that colorful beet and carrot salad.

Really, the only problem with our lentil and couscous dish was that we made too much. If we’d eaten no salads, or much smaller salads, we would have had plenty of beans and starch for a main course–about 3-1/2 cups. But with our substantial vegetable dish, this was just too much to finish in one meal, so about a third of it went into the refrigerator as leftovers.

I love eating leftovers just as they are, especially if they were good the first time around (as this definitely was). But I also love experimenting with ways to transform old leftovers into something new and different, so of course that’s what I decided to do on Sunday for lunch. 🙂

similar flavors, completely different texture and form

What’s in it:

  • about 1-1/2 cups leftover couscous and lentils
  • 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs (I used panko because that’s what I had in the pantry)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup mixed Greek olives, finely chopped (or you could try subbing capers or a ready-made tapenade)

Step-by-step:

  • Use your hands to smoosh together the leftover couscous-lentil mixture, breadcrumbs, and egg (kind of like making a burger).
  • Divide the mixture into fourths and form into patties.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the patties to your pan and cook for about 4 minutes per side or until they’re nicely browned and firm.
  • Top with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of olives.

Wow. These came out better than I could’ve hoped or expected.

Of course I knew they ought to taste pretty good since we had enjoyed the original dish so much, but I worried about the texture. Needlessly, because the outsides of these couscous lentil cakes were nice and crisp, while the insides were moist and flavorful. Combined with the creamy, tangy yogurt and the salty, briny olives, this lunch was even better than the leftovers that inspired it.

So good, in fact, that I know we’ll have to cook up these little cakes again the next time we make a batch of that splendid root vegetable salad.

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muffins for Monday – 5.12.12 – carrot zucchini

He moved too quickly. I couldn’t warn him. By the time I realized what he was doing, it was too late.

His teeth sank into the warm muffin.

I waited.

He didn’t gag, didn’t choke, didn’t make a face, didn’t spit it out.

In fact, he gobbled up the whole thing and washed it down with a glass of milk.

Who? My stepdad, Chuck, whose favorite foods include steak, ice cream, Mountain Dew, and Oreo O’s cereal.

What? A whole-wheat muffin packed full of oats, nuts, and…da da DUM!–vegetables.

If you knew Chuck, you would realize how much this doesn’t make sense. At all. At least 47 different laws of nature were defied when that fresh breakfast bread entered his digestive system without being rejected and hastily ejected.

Granted, when Chuck snatched that fresh-from-the-oven muffin from my cooling rack last Saturday morning, he didn’t know at first what he was eating. He was hungry, needed breakfast, saw a muffin. It was only on closer inspection that he noticed this particular muffin “had, like, sticks and twigs in it.”

And so it was that a veggie-filled whole-wheat muffin worked a miracle. Chuck ate something healthy. And liked it.

(And I’ll bet you’ll like it, too!)

the muffin that made the miracle

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 ounces finely chopped walnuts
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1 cup grated zucchini

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F and get a 12-cup muffin pan ready.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and nuts.
  • In a large bowl, beat the two eggs. Add the yogurt and vanilla and beat until smooth.
  • Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, then fold in the carrots and zucchini until just combined. (The batter will be pretty thick–this is okay. The veggies will release more moisture as they cook.)
  • Divide the mixture between the 12 muffin cups and bake for about 20 minutes.
  • Let cool and enjoy!

Based on a recipe from Marcus Samuelson’s website, these veggie-flecked miracle muffins were warm, moist, and delicious.

My mom loved them, too, by the way–but this was much less of a surprise as she’s always been a pretty healthy eater. 🙂

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supper tonight – 4.18.12 – carrots & green beans with lo mein noodles

Today was one of those days.

The steady patter of pouring rain on our bedroom window’s metal awning at 6:00am made getting out of bed hard. A headache–not agonizing, but just enough to notice–made it a little harder.

(Even without rain or pains, our bed is much too comfy-cozy to tear away from, especially when it’s still dark out.)

Trudging to school through downpour and puddles didn’t help (though at least I had my umbrella and galoshes).

Forgetting to take Tylenol before I went to school kind of stunk, too. Especially when I discovered I didn’t have a travel-sized bottle of meds in my bag after all.

The 3:00-4:00 meeting after school that lasted until 5:10? Icing on the cake.

An hour-long trip to Best Buy (still in the rain) for a type of camcorder-to-computer adapter cable that apparently doesn’t exist? Sprinkles, I suppose.

So when I got home after 6:00 and we still had to cook dinner, what I really wanted to do was call in for pizza. Or Chinese takeout. Or pretty much anything that would require no effort.

But, of course, there were the green beans.

When I made all that Ethiopian food last week, I had one recipe that called for 3/4 of a cup of fresh green beans. The only packages at Earth Fare contained well over twice that. I was left with a bunch of leftover green beans, and fresh ones don’t keep for very long. These were really starting to get past their prime a day or two ago, but last night we decided to use the also-almost-too-far-gone mushrooms instead. And the green beans waited another day. So tonight…well, it was time.

Also in our refrigerator was a zip-top baggie of fresh lo mein noodles. No, we didn’t make these. We got them from a pretty damn awesome Asian Grocery called Fook’s Foods. Why does this place rock our socks off? Well, for starters, they sell delicious one-pound blocks of nice, firm bulk tofu for 89¢. Plus spicy, tangy kimchi by the pound. And really good ramen noodles (not an oxymoron). And sometimes, freshly caught shrimp or crabs from the Georgia coast. And, as evidenced by our supper tonight, deliciously fresh lo mein noodles that cook up in about 5 minutes.

Chopping a few veggies and whisking together a quick sauce yielded a pretty tasty noodle bowl that brightened our rainy day:

And in the background, chopsticks. Why not?

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • about 1/2 pound fresh green beans, ends trimmed
  • 2 cups stock or broth, divided into 1-1/2 and 1/2 cup measures (we had beef in the fridge, but use your favorite)
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • juice from one lime
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sriracha (spicy chili paste)
  • 1 pound fresh lo mein (or use your favorite packaged Asian noodles)
  • fresh cilantro for garnish

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the garlic, ginger, and onion, and saute until translucent.
  • Add the carrots, green beans, and 1-1/2 cups of stock.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover for 10 minutes or until your carrots and green beans are nice and tender.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, soy sauce, lime juice, sriracha, and remaining 1/2 cup of stock.
  • While the vegetables cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for your lo mein. Fresh will cook to in 4-5 minutes, but if you used packaged noodles, just follow the instructions on the box.
  • When the vegetables are finished, add the sauce mixture and stir to incorporate. If it seems thin, turn your heat back up to medium for a few minutes to reduce it a bit.
  • When the noodles are finished, drain them in a colander and run cool water over them to stop the cooking and keep them from sticking.
  • Add the noodles to your skillet of vegetables and sauce; then, toss it all together and cook for about one more minute to reheat the noodles.
  • Serve into four bowls. (In our case, two were portable containers with lids for lunch tomorrow.) Top with fresh cilantro.

We’ve made better stir-fry dishes before (usually involving cubes of Fook’s Foods tofu, pan-fried in the style of our local vegetarian mecca, The Grit). But for how easy this was to prepare, it was pretty darn tasty, and just the kind of warm, hearty comfort-food pick-me-up I needed after a long, soggy day.

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date night dinner – 4.7.12 – stuffed dates, beef stew over polenta, and a third wheel

Before I came along, Micah and his best friend Eric were pretty much inseparable. They played tennis and video games together, ate together, and even occasionally slept on Micah’s futon together. Purely platonic, I assure you, but these guys are close.

Eric met his wife Jinny in the summer of 2006, the same summer Micah met me, so the four of us have shared many a double date. But sometimes, one of us won’t be around to hang out, so 75% of our foursome ends up on a three-person date night.

Jinny had to work last Saturday evening, so you could say Eric was the third wheel for our date night dinner. But I’d like to counter that when Micah and Eric get together, their bromance wields a power so strong that I am most definitely the spare somebody in the room. And this doesn’t hurt my feelings at all, because who am I to stand in the way of true love? 🙂

Plus, the meal we were planning for that particular dinner was going to make plenty more than we could eat anyway, so why not share the bounty with a good friend?

sweet, salty, smoky, crunchy, yummy

Our pre-dinner snackie: celery and manchego stuffed dates, inspired by a dish at one of our favorite fancy restaurants, The National. We can’t really afford to eat at this upscale eatery as often as we’d like, but when I found some nice looking dates at Daily Groceries, and then we spotted some manchego in the cheese case at Shiraz last weekend, we knew we had to try to replicate our favorite National appetizer.

What’s in it:

  • 8 pitted dates
  • about 1.5-2 ounces. aged manchego cheese (you could sub sharp white cheddar with good results)
  • 1 small stalk of celery
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • smoked paprika, salt, and pepper for sprinkling

Step-by-step:

  • Slice the dates almost in half lengthwise so that they’re still attached on one side (kind of like you would a hoagie roll for a submarine sandwich).
  • Cut the cheese into 8 sticks that are about the same length as your dates and about 1/4″ thick.
  • Cut the celery into 8 sticks about the same size as the cheese.
  • Stuff each date with a piece of celery and a piece of cheese.
  • Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with smoked paprika (a little goes a long way), salt, and black pepper.

Our taste buds suitably tickled, it was time for the main event: a beef, carrot, and sweet potato stew that had simmered all afternoon, served over creamy polenta:

Warm and hearty, perfect for sharing with the one you love (and his best friend).

This was one of those magic one-dish concoctions where I winged it and hoped for the best, and it didn’t suck. In fact, it was pretty freaking amazing, maybe even better as leftovers for lunch later in the week.

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound beef stew meat (you could probably also use this recipe to make a delicious pot roast or short ribs)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup strong brewed coffee or espresso
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced
  • zest from one lemon, one lime, and one orange
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Generously season the beef with salt and pepper, then brown on all sides. Remove to a bowl or plate.
  • Add the onions and garlic to the skillet and saute until translucent and lightly browned.
  • Return the beef  to the pot (plus any delicious juices that might have dripped from it). Immediately add the red wine and stir to scrape up any brown bits.
  • Add everything else! Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  • At this point, you could simmer the stew on the stove at low heat OR stick it in a 300°F oven for several hours until the beef and veggies are tender.
  • We wanted our stew to be thicker than this turned out, so Micah used a slotted spoon to scoop the meat and vegetables into a covered serving dish, left the cooking liquid in the Dutch oven, and reduced the sauce until it was nice and thick, more like a gravy. Then we stirred it back into the dish of meat and veggies.
  • Serve over your favorite starch–polenta, grits, rice, mashed potatoes, pasta, gnocchi….gotta love those carbs!–and top with some chopped fresh cilantro.
  • Enjoy with the rest of that bottle of red wine!

This will come out seasoned kind of like a good pot of chili, dark and smoky from the chipotle and coffee and cocoa, but brightened up by the tomatoes and citrus zest. The beef was falling-apart-moist and juicy, and the carrots and sweet potatoes were sweet and tender.

Next time you end up being the third wheel, share a meal like this with the sweethearts and I guarantee you’ll all be feeling the love. 🙂

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date night dinner – 3.30.12 – steak ‘n’ taters

The weather here in Georgia has been unseasonably warm lately.

It’s been dang hot! Like, mid-80s in early March hot. Shorts and flip-flops hot. Summer hot. (Except that now, summer will probably be keep-your-babies-and-elderly-indoors-for-the-love-of-God hot.)

Hot weather makes me want to do several things:

  • Shave my legs (which Micah can tell you I’m not so diligent about in the winter)
  • Sip mojitos (but, of course, we have no rum or mint or limes in the house…)
  • Eat dinner outside (because the AC is on in here, and that makes me cold!)

Hot weather also makes Micah want to do several things:

  • Turn on the AC and complain about how hot it is
  • Drink beer (though he’s pretty good at that one year-round)
  • GRILL

Yep. I married a sweet, sensitive musician type, but he’s definitely a manly man at heart. When we started discussing what protein from the freezer we might want to defrost for date night, his first statement+question was: “I wanna grill something. Steak or pork chops?”

I let him pick, and he chose the steaks. Two big, beautiful 1-pound T-bone steaks from our pals at Moonshine Meats. They’d been in the freezer for a little while because we generally don’t eat steak very often, so when several packs of them come in our CSA box, it usually takes us a few months to get through them all.

These steaks were real purty. Nice T-bone shape, intense blood-red color, thick strip of white fat around the edges (which I don’t eat, but it does seem to make the surrounding meat nice and juicy, so I don’t usually trim it until after it’s cooked).

Then there was the smell. I haven’t gone around sniffing raw beef all my life, and honestly, I never noticed my ground chuck or rib-eye ever having much of a odor (which I guess I’ve always taken as a good sign). But somehow, all the beef and pork that we get from Moonshine Meats has this intoxicatingly gorgeous aroma. It smells…well, meaty. A touch grassy, too, like you can smell the farm where that cow or pig lazily grazed before becoming your dinner. And when you eat this stuff, that meaty, grassy, farmy scent becomes a meaty, grassy, farmy taste, too. It’s a magical experience.

I didn’t mean for this blog post to be an unpaid advertisement for Moonshine Meats, but it’s hard not to gush.

Anyway, that mouth-watering steak scent burst from the vacuum-sealed package as soon as Micah slit it open last night.

And then…

We checked the hourly forecast, and it called for rain.

Not grilling weather.

Poor Micah.

Undaunted, he decided to bring the party inside and pan-sear those shapely T-bones in a big cast-iron skillet.

(If you ever do this, by the way, please flip on the vent hood above your stove, turn on your ceiling fans, and open all your windows and exterior doors before those steaks hit the smoking-hot pan. Because those suckers are going to smoke. A lot. And while this magical Maillard reaction creates a satisfyingly crunchy, caramelized char on the outside of your steak, it also makes your house as hazy as the inside of a hookah den.)

Meanwhile, I whipped up a couple of sides: mashed potatoes (because steak ‘n’ taters is one of those classic combinations that’s hard to beat, and I had some milk and a bit of Gruyere that needed using), plus some balsamic-glazed carrots and Brussels sprouts (because even in a meat-and-potatoes meal, I like to enjoy some veggies, too).

A stick-to-your-ribs steak-'n'-taters feast.

You’ll see that, with the exception of salt and pepper, our recipes all call for five or fewer ingredients. No fancy cooking techniques, either. And no disasters! In fact, except for the lung-smothering smoke that filled our kitchen, this was one of the most stress-free date-night dinners we’ve cooked in a while.

What’s in it:

  • Steaks (adapted from Bobby Flay):
    • Two T-bone steaks
    • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
    • Salt and pepper
  • Taters:
    • 2 pounds potatoes
    • 2 cups milk
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • Shredded Gruyere (we only had 1 ounce, but would’ve added more if we’d had it)
    • Salt and pepper
  • Veggies (adapted from Epicurious.com):
    • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts
    • 1/2 pound carrots
    • 1/4 small red onion
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
    • Salt and pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Start with the steaks: Remove your steaks from their packaging and let them warm up to room temperature while you are prepping the vegetables. Why? ‘Cause Bobby Flay says so.

* * * * *

  • Turn your attention to the taters: Cut your potatoes into small cubes. They don’t have to be beautiful since you’re going to mash them, but small, evenly-sized pieces will cook more quickly and evenly. (Also, I leave the peels on my taters because I like them.)
  • Dump the potatoes into a big-ish saucepan. Pour in the milk. If the liquid level is low, add water until it’s about even with the top layer of potatoes, and then add a good sprinkle of salt.
  • Heat this pan on a back burner on medium heat until it’s almost boiling. (Don’t let it boil unless you want to curdle your milk!) Reduce to a low simmer and let the potatoes cook while you’re working on everything else. (Ours were done in about 20-30 minutes.)

* * * * *

  • Now, start the veggies: Heat two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet on low heat for your veggies.
  • Slice your carrots and cut your Brussels sprouts. For a normal-sized Brussels sprout, this will probably be halved or quartered. Ours were crazy-huge end-of-season behemoths, so we cut them into eighths.
  • Finely chop your onion. Add it to the butter in the skillet and turn the heat up to medium.
  • When the onion is translucent, add the carrots and Brussels sprouts. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until they get some color on them.
  • Add 1/3 cup water to the skillet of veggies, cover, reduce to medium-low, and let cook for about 10 minutes.

* * * * *

  • Steak time! While the veggies cook, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in another large skillet on high heat. Pat the steaks dry and season them with plenty of salt and pepper on both sides.
  • Your skillet will start smoking. When it does, add the steaks and reduce the heat to medium-high. Sear for 3-4 minutes per side if you like your steaks medium rare like we do. (If you like your steak more done than this, move it to a 450ºF oven for a few more minutes afterwards. But I’m telling you, you’re missing out!)
  • Remove the finished steaks to a plate and cover with foil. They’ll rest for about 10 minutes while you finish up the taters and veggies.

* * * * *

  • Veggies: Remove the cover from your skillet of veggies, turn the heat back up to medium, and add the balsamic vinegar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has been absorbed and the vegetables look glazed and shiny. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Taters: Take the pot off the heat. Mash the taters in the milk with one of these:

'Cause I prefer my taters
smashed 'n' chunky.
(image from overstock.com)

  • Add two tablespoons butter and the shredded cheese to your mashed potatoes and stir until they’re all melted in. Add salt and pepper to your liking.
  • Put it all on a plate and eat! (We enjoyed all of this with a bottle of Chianti. Mmm.)

While my body is still fatigued from our school’s spring book fair, and while my lungs are still recovering from a pollen-filled week and our smoke-filled kitchen, my taste-buds and belly were completely pleased with this delicious meal.

One note about portions: this dinner procedure resulted in 2 giant steaks, 3-4 servings of veggies, and 6 good-sized heaps of mashed potatoes. So you may want to take that into account if you try this out–unless you like random leftover veggies as much as we do. 🙂

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

supper tonight – 3.25.12 – kitchen disaster + leftovers mashup = not too bad after all…

If you’ve been keeping up, you know these two things about me by now:

  1. I’m a walking disaster in the kitchen.
  2. I absolutely must use up every last little bit of anything leftover in my refrigerator.

Yes, I’m a Depression-era housewife scavenging scraps in a minefield. Nothing gets thrown away if I can help it, but I just might die in an explosion one day.

So tonight, for supper, Micah and I had an interesting challenge. Our leftovers included a big hunk of ham steak and some Branston pickle from the ploughman’s platter I enjoyed at the Royal Peasant Friday night, about two cups of potlikker (the last of it, unfortunately), and four cornmeal pancakes from last Sunday’s breakfast.

Yeah, about those pancakes….they were a disaster.

Here’s what happened: while looking for cornmeal pancake recipes a few weeks ago, I came across two that I really wanted to make. One from Hillbilly Housewife, which turned out quite tasty, and one from Mark Bittman in the New York Times, which I didn’t get around to trying until last Sunday.

I didn’t have pine nuts and didn’t want vanilla (in case we might use leftovers in some savory dish later)–but otherwise, I followed Mr. Bittman’s directions exactly, because he’s kind of a smart dude who knows what he’s talking about.

Where did I go wrong? I have no idea. But somehow, when I got to the step where Mark Bittman’s batter was described as “spreadable but still thick,” my batter was a watery, soupy mess. I retraced my steps, double-checked my measurements…and I still can’t tell you what my mistake was.

Skeptically optimistic, I tried spooning a bit of my runny batter on the griddle. It spread super thin and bubbled like cornmeal lava. Undaunted, I let my test pancake cook for about five minutes (thinking that the longer side of Bittman’s “3-5 minutes” would probably serve me best).

After five minutes, I decided to check and see if my pancake’s underside was golden brown like Bittman said it would be. I can’t tell you whether it was golden brown or not, because my pancake turner did not succeed in flipping this little disc of cornmeal. Instead, I ended up with a strange, mushy polenta nugget, which tasted very good when I finally gave up on cooking it, but was most definitely not a pancake.

The batter is too thin, I decided….so I added more cornmeal.

Too much, apparently, because my end product tasted fine, but it was dense like a sope, not fluffy like a pancake. Copious amounts of maple syrup were needed, and the cakes were still pretty heavy and dry.

The recipe ended up making 12 pancakes, so the extras went into the fridge.

(There’s something so demoralizing about having leftovers of something you didn’t enjoy the first time around…especially if you’re neurotic about using those leftovers whether you like them or not….)

Fast forward to tonight, when I saw those stupid corn pucks taunting me from their little square plastic container in the fridge: Betcha can’t make us into a delicious dinner!

Armed with my potlikker (the elixir of the gods), and a few other quality ingredients, I set out to turn last week’s kitchen disaster into some kind of edible supper.

corn pucks + ham + Branston pickle + carrots + mushrooms + potlikker = not too shabby

What’s in it:

  • 4 leftover cornmeal pancakes
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • about 4.5 ounces of ham, cubed
  • 3 small carrots, sliced on the bias
  • 1/4 pound mushrooms
  • 2 cups potlikker (you could sub your favorite broth/stock)
  • 1 tablespoon Branston pickle (you could sub a different tangy relish or chutney)

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 350°F. Wrap the pancakes in foil and throw the packet in the oven for about 10-15 minutes.
  • While the corn cakes warm, heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat.
  • Add the diced ham and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the carrots and mushrooms and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the potlikker and Branston pickle. Simmer and reduce until your potlikker broth is good and thick and syrupy.
  • Put two pancakes on each plate and top with the mixture from your skillet.

The verdict? Dodged another mine tonight. No explosions. It really wasnt bad at all. The sauce was sweet, salty, tangy, smoky; the mushrooms and ham, hearty and savory; the carrots, sweet and tender. It was almost enough to redeem those disastrous pancakes. 🙂

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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