Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mexican Thanksgiving, and I didn't even cook a thing!

I have the Best, Friends. Ever.


Anyone who knows me understands that my favorite day of the year is the day that I get to throw a monster-sized dinner party that is an ethnic interpretation of Thanksgiving Dinner. It's always the sunday before Thanksgiving. This year, with having a kitchen that's torn apart, less furniture than normal, and a cross-state move to Richmond just five days later, I couldn't pull it off. Being a realist is hard.

I was really devastated about this. Tradition is tradition. And while I'm always up for change, some things, like "Thanksgiving with Friends" remains sacred.

Luckily, my kind-hearted and thoughtful besties in DC knew this and made sure Thanksgiving with Friends happened in spite of the circumstances. They told me to arrive at 4:00 p.m. ready for a walking tour and suggested I bring a camera. "Sweet!! A scavenger hunt!!" is what I thought.

However, when I walked into Nancy's apartment an entire Mexican thanksgiving spread awaited. There were appetizers (an herbed goat cheese, guacamole, homemade pita chips, crudites, veggie quesadillas), Sangria, and a beautiful table complete with menus and chili pepper floral display. I was beyond touched.

We ate:

Ensalada Yucatan (greens with avocado, grapefruit and a ginger/coriander dressing that I implore Meredith to post here)

A Jalepeno Cornbread Pudding

Roasted Turkey Enchiladas

Slow-cooked black beans over corn and cilantro rice

Shrimp Gazpacho

Spicy Chipotle Sweet Potatoes


Not only did I roll out the door warm, glowing and satisfied; I was inspired. And as a group we decided that Thanksgiving with Friends would go on next year. Perhaps it would happen another weekend, but it will always happen.

Ladies, thank you for making my last week in DC so special and memorable. I love you dearly.

I can take not one ounce of credit for these sweet potatoes. But major props to La Nance for turning out a miracle of texture and flavor for even people who don't generally like sweet potatoes (me, included).
Chipotle Sweet Potato Potatoes

2 cups heavy cream (oohhh, so THAT's how they were so delish)
2 red jalapeno peppers
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato sauce
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced 1/8-inch thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In small bowl, mix finely diced jalapenos, chili powder, vinegar and tomato sauceWhisk together cream and chipotle mixture until smooth. In a 9 by 9-inch casserole dish, arrange the potatoes in even layers. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the cream mixture and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, cream, and salt and pepper to form 10 layers.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hortopita- For Sober People Only

Saveur's August/September issue was all about Greece and it's diverse regional culinary heritage. I read it cover to cover for a month straight as a bed time story. The articles read like fairytales: exciting, exotic, heart-warming. They didn't just feature recipes. They featured someone's YaYa collecting wild nettles in the springtime and fisherman chasing giant octupuses on cerulean sea. I was inspired to empty my piggy bank to see if there was enough for a plane ticket to Lemnos immedietly. Alas, I would have to settle for bringing Greece to me.

One recipe in particular caught my eye as a challenge: a pie of greens with phyllo dough made from scratch! You can make phyllo from scratch? And the recipe calls for VODKA and SODA? I was so giddy with the prospect of my new project that I went out, bought all of the necessary furnishments for hortopita and chopped my way through the afternoon in anticipation of a Sunday full of culinary domination. I was going to rule that phyllo dough. I was going to whip it into shape. To celebrate, I poured myself a little vodka/soda cocktail and headed out with friends for a Saturday night.

The next morning found me asking “What. The. Hell. Happened?” Is that pizza crust from me? Did I make macaroni and cheese at some point? Did I DRUNK TWEET? I wanted an aspirin and a bagel. And my mommy. And there was just no way I was about to embark on a Greek journey of making paper-thin sheets of pastry in a manner that required me to open the vodka bottle. I hightailed it (ok, maybe I walked very slowly) to Whole Foods and purchased a large Vitamin Water and frozen phyllo. Had I not chopped and prepped everything the day before, I would have spent the rest of the day on the couch watching the entire Batman series.

Here's a link to Saveur's instructions for making homemade phyllo, you sober show-off, you.

If you enjoy the bittersweet chew of kale or chard, you'll love this recipe. It's essentially the same as spinach spanakopita, but with a deeper, earthier flavor and more fibrous texture. It's a lovely autumn counterpart to the springy bright spinach version. I left the ribs on the chard to impart a surprising crunch in a few of the pockets. Oh, and I didn't have the correct pan for hortopita, so I wrapped them up just like spanakopita.

A word on the fat: Saveur's version calls for only olive oil. But I doubted the ability of the olive oil to gloss the outside of the pastry with that caramel-brown buttery crunch. Plus, I love butter. So I used olive oil on the first three sheets of phyllo and butter on the outside of the wrapped-up pastry. They browned beautifully, but the filling seemed lighter.

2 tablespoons olive oil plus approximately 1/2 cup for brushing on the dough
2 tablespoons melted non-salted butter
8 scallions, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. mixture of swiss chard and/or rainbow kale
12 ounces greek feta, crumbled
salt and pepper
1 cup each:
  • fresh dill
  • fresh mint
  • fresh parsley

Give the phyllo several hours to thaw. Keep it in the box until you are ready to use it. When you take it out, carefully unroll and cover it with a damp towel at all times you aren't using it.

Mince garlic and scallions and set aside. Wash, drain and chop chard/kale. I put about a cup of the chard/kale into a food processor for a fine texture and left the rest roughly chopped. Wash drain and food process the dill, mint and parsley together.

Heat the 2 tablesoons of olive oil in a large skillet until hot. Saute the garlic and scallions until transluscent, then turn down the heat. Add all of the chard/kale and saute until completely wilted (you might have to add a few tablespoons water now and then and cover the skillet). Shut off the heat. Add in the fresh herbs, salt and fresh ground pepper and stir it all together to let the ambient heat of the greens invite the herbs to mingle their flavors. Let cool for 15 minutes, then add the crumbled feta. Let it cool to room temperature.

Lay one sheet of phyllo on the counter and brush it with olive oil. Lay another sheet on that and brush again with olive oil. Repeat until you have 4 sheets of phyllo. Brush the top of the final sheet with butter and cut into 4 strips. At the top of each strip, place about 1.5 tablespoons filling. Take the outermost corner of the strip and fold it diagonally over the dollop of filling. Continue folding diagonally. Here's an excellent illustration. When done folding, brush the outside of the triangle with melted butter.

At this point, you can put the pockets on a cookie sheet so they aren't touching and put them in the freezer. When they're totally frozen through, layer them in a tupperware and separate the layers with wax paper. They freeze beautifully and I take them out 2 or three at a time to stick in the oven for dinner.

If you're ready to make them, heat the oven to 350. Lay them on a cookie sheet and let them bake for about 15 minutes. Flip them over and let them bake another 10 or until nicely browned on each side. They will be HOT in the take care (and patience) when biting in.

Someday, I'll be sure to make phyllo from scratch. Obviously, I'll celebrate with the vodka and soda after the deed is done. Oops.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Oh! Hi!Geesh, where did the month go to? I'm mystified by the date on my calendar. October 28 you say? Did I sleep through October?
NO! I've been busy planning a big life change. Nay, a HUGE life change. People: I'm moving out of DC.

Two months ago I fell into an interview for a position at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond (yes! That's where Eric lives!) Last week they offered me the job. I'm over the moon about this transition....except the whole part about leaving DC. Leave my friends?! Leave my Whole Foods? Leave my YOGA STUDIO?? I'm really panicking about that one. Leave the familiarity of a home you've had for 5+ years?

Everyone seems to be doing it. Macheesmo is going to Denver. Iflipforfood just moved to LA. Those DC Food Blogger Happy Hours are shrinking.
Happily, there's lots of advantages in moving to a smaller city. Richmond is going to support a ton of interests I've got that I can't cultivate in DC. I've had an extremely challenging time getting into a community garden in DC and participating in the DC "Fair". And the farmer's markets are gorgeous, but ghastly expensive. In Richmond I plan to buy a bike (with a basket!), take part in community gardening, join a CSA, follow this truck regularly, and join in on a whole new food blogging community.

I'm so pleased that I got the call for the job when I was home in Buffalo with family. In our family, there's always a bottle of champagne chilling in the fridge so its never to early to mix it with OJ and have a mimosa. What do you eat with mimosas? Why, eggs of course.
The Polish hens have just started laying. Actually, I was around to witness Daisy's First Egg on October 24, 2010. Have you ever heard the old adage about the chicken not knowing where to lay their egg in reference to a restless person? Well Daisy (the white one in the photos) had the same problem. She woke up Sunday morning in a panic. She ran back and forth across the yard, crowed and cackled, balked and brooded, ran up to us as if to say "help!! Something's happening to me! I don't know what it is!!" She got in an out of her roost about 43 times until, magically, Daisy became a woman. She laid an egg. More champagne.

Now, I know how she felt. My completely comfortable nest is about to be taken apart. My feathers are going to get a little ruffled. My life is going to feel a little panick-y, a little strange in the midst of transition. But soon I'll have a nest somewhere else that I get to share with someone else...even if that means flying my DC coop. Because birds of a feather flock together. But I wonder whose going to rule the roost? HA! OK! I'm done.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Little Debbie, Little Debbie

Since I was in 7th grade I've had a vision of opening a bakery. The concept has evolved through the years but I think I've finally shed light on the right idea: a kitschy, campy coffee shop filled with board games and 70's-era knick-knacks with homemade versions of Little Debbie snacks behind the counter. Obviously there might be a few IP issues to work out between Debbie and I, but I couldn't imagine a better job than one where I get to wear 70's aprons to work EVERY DAY. It would be a fabulous excuse to get a pair of cat-eye glasses, wear a beehive and shamlessly play Joni Mitchell and Curtis Mayfield over the sound system. That sounds like the Best. Job. Ever.

Do you know how many people in the world just LOVE Little Debbie Snacks? My favorite as a kid was the Strawberry Jelly Roll. I had a boyfriend in college who could eat Christmas Tree Cakes morning, noon and night (and he sang a little song that went with his method of eating them branch by branch). Our favorite older backyard neighbors would slyly slip us treats of Nutty Bars when we raked their leaves. And who doesn't love a Swiss Cake Roll? Deb's motto is "Unwrap a Smile". I cannot argue with such a positive slogan about the power of baked goods.

But I've got a score to settle with Debbie.

Before I was actually aware of "high fructose corn syrup" or other red dye #42-type ingredients, I never had a problem eating one of those big marshmallow coconut Snowballs, or an Oatmeal Creme Pie, or a Ding-Dong for crying out loud! Those things were GOOD. But now we are all more conscious about the risks of putting preservative-laced, mass-produced packaged foods in our mouths. I understand that those ingredients are necessary for any type of factory-made, processed snack that has to travel umpteen miles from the factory floor to your grocery shelf. It isn't her fault. But in the process Little Debbie loses a lot of of innocence.

Still, I love the all-American image she represents. So why not recreate Little Debbie at home where I can control what goes into the dessert?

I decided to start with the iconic Chocolate Cupcake with the white piping on top in honor of my colleague Helen who was leaving our office for a new, awesome job in the historic house of her dreams. In thinking about the perfect dessert to honor Helen, who loves chocolate, I wanted something that would represent a down-home, midwestern picture of simplistic joy. This is what Helen exudes and thus, her departing dessert had to be representative of her sparkling personality.

Before I get to the actual recipe, I must admit that this is a bit of an undertaking. But I promise its a LOT of fun to get into the process and the techniques are pretty simple and versitile. Above you see a sharp knife going into the center of a cupcake. I made an "x" cut all the way down into each cake so the cream filling met less resistance when piped in (below).

This cake is from Smitten Kitchen's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake, which she adapted from Sky High: Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes. The batter may give you pause because its so liquidy. I put it into a plastic water pitcher so I could pour it into the cups evenly.

Cake: yield about 26 cupcakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Pour into cupcake liners. Bake for about 19-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let them cool completely.

While the cakes are baking, make your ganache. This is an AWESOME recipe and very versitile. As you let it cool it comes to a bunch of different textures.

Ganache: yield about 3 cups ganache
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp corn syrup
*You can double this recipe if you intend to fill and frost a layer cake.

Into a heavy 2 quart saucepan measure the chocolate chips and heavy cream. Stir constantly while the chips melt and the mixture becomes homogenous. Let it come to a mild simmer and continue stirring for about 5-7 minutes to let it thicken, scraping the bottom consistantly. When thick, pour it into a mixing bowl and stir in 1 tsp. corn syrup. Let it cool, giving it a stir every 10 minutes or so in the beginning, and every 30 minutes or so after awhile. The stiring part is key. If you forget, it will cool into a BRICK. Stiring it keeps it light.

For this recipe I used the ganache for a glaze on top (at about the 2.5 hour cooling mark) and then put the fully cooled ganache (about 5 to 6 hours cooled) into a pastry bag to make the swirls you can see on top of some of the cupcakes. You can also use this fully cooled ganache as a smooth frosting that makes great glossy swoops on a birthday cake by letting it cool the full 6 hours and then giving it a good beating with a wooden spoon to put a little air in it before spreading onto a cake.

Filling: yield about 2 cups filling
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

Put all ingredients into a clean, dry mixing bowl. Use electric beaters (handheld works best) to whip the cream. When it is VERY stiff, like almost to the point you think it might turn to butter- stop. It has to be very thick to hold up in the cupcake.

*If you can find Rich's non-dairy RichWhip topping at your grocery store ( I couldn't) I recommend trying that. It's already sweetened and holds up well in the cupcake.

White frosting for piping: yield about 1/3 cup
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablspoon butter, soft and at room temperature

Whip these ingredients with handheld beaters until they come together. You might need a little more or a little less milk to get it to a place where it feels very stable. Put into pastry bag with standard lettering tip.

For assembly:
So after your cupcakes have cooled, stick them in the fridge for an hour or freezer for 30 minutes to firm up because they are soft and fudgy and will fall apart otherwise. Take out of the freezer and use a super sharp knife to make an "X" all the way to the bottom in the center. Wipe the knife clean after each cupcake. Fill with the cream filling by gently inserting a pastry bag with the cream as far down into the cupcake as possible without creating a giant crater. Fill it further than you think is necessary. It WILL plump up the cupcake.

Dip the tops into the cooled ganache that is still liquid-y. I actually gave them two dips into the ganache and refrigerated between dips. The second dip is optional.

Refrigerate again so the ganache cools and smooths. Some of your cupcakes might still have a crater impression in the center. It's ok: just put more chocolate on them! Decorate as you see fit (see my photos below). I put the completely cooled ganache into a pastry bag with a large tip to make swirls of chocolate over the craters. Pipe the Little Debbie squiggley onto any cupcake that is smooth enough to do so.

I'm completely inspired by the classic, kitschy snacks out there that I want to modernize and purify. I've got BIG PLANS people. There are grand Twinkie dreams in our near future :)

Anybody out there want to invest in my 70's bake shop? You'll get to wear an apron too. Pinkie swear.

Monday, September 27, 2010

101 Things to do with Apples

When I graduated from college in 2003 we were still very close to 9/11. In fact it was just a few months earlier that we invaded Iraq and President Bush (with still somewhat popular ratings) had made a national call to service. He challenged youth to serve their nation in whatever way felt compelling to them. I, with no idea what to do next with my life, answered. I applied for AmeriCorps and was placed in the National Civilian Community Corps for a period of 10 months which is how I first came to know Washington, DC.

NCCC is a team-based, residential program that serves 5 key areas: Education, Environment, Public Safety, and Disaster Relief and.......We trained for a month on a campus in Anacostia and then were placed on teams of 9 or 10 people, according to our skills. My team and I fell in love with one another. We bickered, we argued, we beat one another up, and we fell asleep snuggling. We traveled in a stinky 12 passenger van all over the east coast serving in project after project. Our very first “spike” (as travel projects were called) was in West Virginia building a walking trail and educating West Virginia’s most obese county (Putnam) on health and wellness. I totally understood why this county would have a high obesity rating. They had Tudor’s Biscuit World.

Oh dear, how I miss it. Tudor’s is a fast food chain that sells BISCUITS. Honestly, before that fateful day in October 2003, I had never had a biscuit. My family never made them. So, like Hansel and Gretel in a gingerbread house, I dove in. We all did. Here we are: 10 of us generally thin and fit people educating the masses about making healthy food choices while secretly gorging on all the things that contribute to obesity in the first place. Principle among the fattening agents: biscuits and apple butter. I must have gained 6 pounds on that spike.

I’ve not been back to Tudor’s since then, but this fall, due to an amazing find of a Foley Food mill for TWO BUCKS in a thrift store, I decided to revisit what was once an obsession. I mean, I’ve grown up, right? I know how to restrain myself, right?
The first step to making apple butter is to make applesauce. We went back to Homestead Farms to pick a ridiculous amount of apples. There is something very childlike and innocent about applesauce. Unadorned and sweetened little, its mother nature’s most soothing carbohydrate. At the bottom of this entry you'll find the necessary instructions for making applesauce and applebutter. But first I'd like to get on a soapbox about why this is a worthwhile venture. I have a few reasons.

Reason #1: Applesauce is a family-friendly recipe. First, you can teach your child about canning. Which teaches them about following instructions. And also teaches them about a heritage. Which brings you family members together in a kitchen. And allows you to relive fun family memories when you pull jars out of the cabinet months later. And, your child begins a process of recognizing where food comes from. Hopefully they'll wonder the same thing about Doritos someday down the road....
Reason #2: its economical. 30 pounds of apples is basically all it takes as long as you've invested in the jars. We got about 15 pint jars of apple sauce or butter out of $1.49 a pound apples. See how much it costs to purchase 15 jars of boutique organic apple butter at a store.

Reason #3: it planet-friendly. Seriously. Aside from replacing lids every year, the jars are filled, used, washed and re-used next year. There is no waste. That is a priceless investment.

So, to make applesauce (and then applebutter):

As always, wash jars, lids and rings in high heat and dry thoroughly. Keep your jars warm for the applesauce. I started by peeling my apples because I wasn't completely confident in Homestead's organic rating although technically you don't have to peel your apples. The peels will get worked out in the food mill. So peel, core and cut apples into chunks and put in a big kettle on the stove (5-8 quarts). We needed two 8 quart kettles. To each kettle add about 3/4 cup water and 1/4 cup white or cider vinegar. Let them simmer until really soft and mushy, at least for an hour. When you think they won't get any mushier, set your food mill up over a bowl and push the apples through.

At this stage of the game, you're essentially done. I didn't add any sugar, but I did add about 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. Half of the applesauce went into jars and the other half went into a slow cooker where I added a half cup of brown sugar, half cup white sugar, and two more teaspoons of cinnamon (to about 10 cups of sapplesauce). Then I set the slow cooker on medium for eight hours. One recipe suggested 5, another said 12. By 7 hours I thought it had reached a nice shade of brown. Truth be told, the applebutter could have used more sugar. But I couldn't bring myself to do it.
The applesauce was processed right at the time it was jarred for 15 minutes. The applebutter also got 15 minutes submerged in the canner in boiling water. HOWEVER, applebutter and applesauce freeze really, really well. So if you have room in the freezer, skip the whole canning thing.

We also made apple pie that night. But by 2:00am, I wasn't churning out the best pies in the world. Another story, another day.

So the moral of today's posting is: hit the orchard. Take your family. Create a tradition and teach your kids to be mindful of where their food is coming from. Those experiences truly made me who I am today and I wouldn't trade any of it for a $3.49 jar of grocery store applesauce.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Exercise your voting rights

Hi all! Today is the actual start of the food blogger COMPETITION! Voting opens at noon EST, so don't forget to click on the link to my profile on the right of this page and VOTE FOR ME! You'll have to create an account with Foodbuzz if you don't already have one, but you'll appreciate that you did for joining such a warm, spirited and open community is most definately worth your time.

If I make it to the next round I'll need your help and suggestions for making a dish from a more exotic cuisine. What's the most exotic dish from another culture that you've ever had?


Thursday, September 16, 2010

"I Wanna Live with a Cinnamon Girrrl"...

So sings Neil Young. Listen to Neil. He knows best.

When you turn 21, most kids get things like savings bonds. Or liquor. Or their first suit. Me? I got expensive cinnamon and a professional 9x13 pan for cinnamon rolls. And a shot of Luksusowa vodka, of course. In our Polish farm family, that meant "I confer upon you the responsibilities of a head-of-household woman. Go forth, have many babies, fatten them on cinnamon rolls". Well 8 years later, still no babies. But someday when they arrive, I'll be ready for them.

I hadn't made cinnamon buns in awhile, but two things prompted me to hop to it. First, Eric begged. Second, Aunt Linda gifted me with some King Arthur SAF Red Instant yeast and I wanted to take it for a spin. I wish I'd taken a photo of the sponge because HOLY MAN the yeast was a MONSTER. I was afraid that if I stuck my hand in the bowl, it would eat off my fingertips. After a lifetime of Fleishmanns in the packet, this changed my world.

Look at that happy dough! It was smooth as a baby's bottom and very elastic. I used King Arthur Flour too. I think we can safely say that I'm a snooty King Arthur convert now.

Fun fact: did you know that the majority of the cinnamon available in the US is not actually real cinnamon? If you go to the supermarket and purchase a bottle of "cinnamon", its most likely cassia, a cousin of cinnamon with a stronger flavor and much broader geographic region of cultivation. Basically, its more plentiful and therefore cheaper. True Cinnamon is generally marked as Ceylon Cinnamon, (name for the place of its origin in Sri Lanka). It's sweeter and milder. Read more about the history of cinnamon/cassia here. You can find Ceylon Cinnamon in the US through Penzey's but honestly, you might find it boring and mild since our American taste-buds are used to the strong flavor of cassia. I use Penzey's Vietnamese "cinnamon", a kick-butt potent and fragrant spice.

I'll get to the recipe below, but check out the method for cutting the log of dough. Yes, that's dental floss. Be sure to get plain dental floss. Unless you like to freshen your breath while eating cinnamon buns.

This dough log is just ooooozing butter, sugar and cinnamon. Sometimes its hard to restrain your boyfriend from licking the end of the log.

And here is where we reveal the secret waistline killer: pecan rolls. So the cinnamon roll dough makes either plain buns or pecan buns. The whole recipe generally fits into a 9x13 pan, so I separated it into two 8x8 pans for some variety.

These guys rise twice. Remember this when 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night rolls around and you get the brilliant idea to make cinnamon buns, like I did. Don't plan on getting to bed until 2 am. The good news is that when they are through with their second rise, you can cover with plastic wrap and stick them in the fridge. If you stir from your slumber early the next morning, go take them out of the fridge and set them on the counter to come to room temperature and set the oven to pre-heat. Go back to bed for an hour (or more).

Parysek Family Cinnamon Rolls:

Recipe by my Grams

2 packages dry yeast (if you use a big canister of yeast, each packet holds 2 and 1/4 teaspoons) dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 cups milk
1 cup water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup Sugar plus 3 tablespoons
1/2 cup butter plus 2 tablespoons
1/4 cup "lard" (because my grandma often renders her own. You can use Crisco's with non-hydrogenated oil shortening if you don't have any pigs nearby. Some grocery stores will indeed carry lard, though).
3 eggs
About 7 cups white flour (it was a humid day, I needed an extra 3/4 cup)
Raisins or nuts (optional)
Cinnamon, as much as you like
Confectioner's sugar and milk if you want a glaze

Dissolve your yeast in water. If you want to make it grow, add 1/2 tsp of sugar to get a nice sponge. Set aside. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a kitchen aid mixer (or just a large bowl) combine butter (does not have to be softened) sugar and lard. In a saucepan heat the milk and water until very warm but not boiling. Add nutmeg and salt to milk mixture. Stir and allow salt to dissolve, then pour the milk mixture into the butter/sugar/lard bowl mixing bowl. Stir and then let cool to at least 115 degrees. When cooled, add the yeast sponge and hook it up to your dough hook on your mixer. Add the eggs and flour alternatively, ending with flour when you have a cohesive, sticky mass.

Dump it onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth (8-10 minutes). It should still be a little tacky and could absorb more flour, but you don't want to dry out the dough. Put it back in the mixing bowl and cover with a towel to let it rise in a warm place for at least an hour or until doubled. Check it often if you try the Super-Monster Yeast. Mine spilled over the top of the bowl within 40 mintues.

Roll it out flat on a floured work surface. Melt your extra 2-3 tablespoons of butter in the microwave and spread it over the dough. Sprinkle with 2-3 tablspoons sugar and as much cinnamon as you wish. This is a good time to add raisins or chopped nuts. Roll it up like a jelly roll. Use dental floss to cut it into about 2.5 inch slices and place them in a well-greased pan. Smoosh them in good and let rise a second time for at least an hour. Bake immedietly or refrigerate overnight.

My Grams says to bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes. That's too hot for my oven and they brown too quickly, so I stick with 350 for 35 to 40 min.

If you want to make the pecan rolls (and I'm pretty sure you do), melt 1/4 cup butter with 1/4 cup milk in a saucepan. Add 1 cup packed brown sugar and cook slowly for five minutes until simmering and thickened. Pour into the bottom of an already greased pan and sprinkle with whole or chopped pecans. Place the rolls on top of that and follow the rest of the steps by letting it rise a second time.

Those with wild sweet tooths can make a glaze out of confectioner's sugar and milk or soymilk to drizzle over the top of the sweet rolls. OMG YUM!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Giardiniera is for Lovers

I write this blog not because I love food, but because I love people. Sometimes with the fast pace of our modern and disconnected lifestyles, we forget to talk about what we are eating and why we choose to eat it. Food is powerful; the most powerful form of currency we’ve got. And when we share it and the unique traditions that we associate with our food, we’re forming and transforming and negotiating relationships. I would suspect that 99% of the talented people who participate in Foodbuzz and other food-related communities do so out of their love for sharing stories more than the actual food they write about. That’s what makes our meals, menus and stories so gosh-darn special.

Tales from the Fruit Cellar is unique because I always feature the people at the heart of the recipe and the relationships and heritages that are bound by what we perceive to be our individual food culture. I love to instigate a discourse about why we step into our kitchens in the first place and I hold myself responsible for acting as a virtual scribe to record the conversations. I'm eager to bring people back to a tradition-based food system, regardless of how the individual defines "tradition". I love to celebrate the fact that we all define tradition in myriad ways.

I generally power up my computer to write not because I’m so worked up about a recipe, but because I can’t wait to tell you about the people that have become inextricably linked with that recipe. Today, I’ve got a love story for you.

Eric and I met in 2008 on the island of St. John in the Caribbean. He was from Indianapolis, I from DC. We didn’t want anything to do with long distance. A few months later, we were heavy in the throes of a Long. Distance. Relationship. Sigh.

For those of you who would rather eat worms that get involved with someone who lives over 50 miles away, I’m here to tell you: long distance really isn’t all that terrible. When you’ve got a full and busy life, it’s actually quite nice to set aside chunks of time to spend 100% focused on one another. It’s exciting to fly back and forth and discover a new town you wouldn’t have found otherwise. Especially when that town has Goose the Market.

Eric and I fell in love over a sandwich. Seriously. You know how its way more enjoyable to eat a hot fudge sundae with someone who oohs and ahhs over it as loudly as you? Well foodies about the globe know what I mean when I say that falling in love with a person feels much more punch drunk when your time with that person is punctuated by fabulous food you’re equally smitten with. For us, that was the Batali sandwich. Oh my goodness…I can’t even write about it without feeling wispy nostalgia tear at my heart.

Goose the Market, in Indianapolis, is like a souk for the modern Midwest urban explorer. Filling a brightly colored store-front in a newly reclaimed part of the city, Goose opened in 2008 and knocked the pants right off the Indy food scene. Would you like to join a Bacon of the Month club? At Goose, you can. Need to find blue-ribbon local cheeses? They’ve got it. Hungry for gelato? Hit it up. But under no circumstances should you ever leave the market without a Batali.

A Batali is actually a simple sandwich, but the combination of flavors and the integrity of the meats make it outstanding. It's coppa, soppressata, capocolla, sharp provolone, tomato preserves, pickled red onion, hot giardiniera, mayo and lettuce on crusty bread.

So here we are: Eric and I, deep in that early intoxication phase of love, when he takes me to the newly opened Goose and we share a Batali. It was like our eyes were opened to what sandwiches were always meant to be. I'm entirely serious when I say it was a religious experience. We went back the next day for another Batali. I started picking them up on the way to the airport for my lunch in DC the next day (it NEVER made it to lunchtime). When Eric would eat one without me, I always knew it. My sixth-Batali sense would ring in my ears. He would admit to it, full of shame. I couldn't ever judge him. If I could, I'd eat them all the time as well.

The next thing you know it’s a once a month occurrence where I’m running to find my new love at the baggage claim at Reagan airport, giving him a quick kiss hello and saying “where’s my sandwich??” Tourists in DC would watch us, thinking that I must not eaten for days with the way I am ravenously tearing into a sandwich at baggage claim. Eric watches with a little frustration that I’m paying no attention to my freshly arrived boyfriend, but with a little pride too. “That’s my girl”, he thinks. “Can I have a bite?” he says. We share a greasy, spicy kiss and the Batali is gone in under 5 minutes.

Eric and I now live just two hours apart: he in school at VCU in Richmond, me still in DC. When he arrived in Richmond this past winter, I wrote a love letter to Goose, imploring them to share the secret of the Batali with me. Graciously, they shared their recipes and we attempted our first recreation of the Batali in Richmond. The issue is that while our recreation came out mostly alright, we used a jarred Giardiniera that seemed to have no spice or sass. I spent a few sleepless nights wondering what went wrong before deciding that the Giardiniera is what left our homemade Batali lacking. So we said "let's try again, but make the Giardiniera ourselves".

Like many of my recipes, this one is a classic, banal item that you probably buy in a jar at the grocery store. But the secret is that its unfailingly simple to make at home where you have more control over what you put in the jar. Use organics and quality vinegar or oil; I promise you’ll be glad you did. We used a lot of super extra hot peppers, again from Clagett Farm, and we tried both the oil method and the vinegar method to see which we preferred. The answer is: I like to mix a tablespoon out of the oil jar and a tablespoon out of the vinegar jar!

Hot Giardiniera

About 1.5 pounds mixed hot peppers (jalepenos are perfect, we used green chilies too)
2 red or green bell peppers cut into strips

3 stalks celery, sliced thinly

3 carrots, sliced thinly

2 cups cauliflower cut into mini florets

1 whole garlic clove for each jar (cleaned)

1 cup good quality green olives, sliced (we used garlic marinated ones off the olive bar at Whole Foods)

1/2 cup kosher canning salt

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon pepper corns

1/2 tablespoon hot pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

Olive oil for your oil-packed jars

White distilled vinegar and sugar for your vinegar jars

Cut all of the veggies to the size and shape you prefer. I left the seeds in half of the peppers since we like them hot. Toss all of the cut veggies in a large bowl with the kosher salt EXCEPT the olives. Add enough water to just cover the veggies. Cover and let sit in the salt bath in the fridge overnight or for at least 12 hours.

The next day drain and rinse really, really well. I irrigated the whole bowl for a good 30 minutes, swishing and draining in fresh water. Let drain well.

Toss the veggies with the olives and the oregano, hot pepper flakes, fennel seeds and peppercorns. Drop a whole garlic clove into the bottom of each jar and pack the jars with veggies. Cover with olive oil and give it a lid.

If you prefer to use vinegar, simmer 1 cup white vinegar with 1/4 cup sugar. When all dissolved, pour the hot vinegar over the veggies in the jar. Some recipes claim you can mix the vinegar and oil but it seems the vinegar and oil separates anyways.

I didn't process the Giardineira, so it's got to be kept in the fridge. However, you can process the vinegar ones for 15 minutes in a canner and give away very colorful holiday gifts.

We haven't re-made the sandwiches yet, but I'm gearing up to make the onions and tomato preserves. Undoubtedly, the act of making a Batali will make me think fondly of my now-seasoned relationship and our first sparks of love. When you think back to your favorite recipe, who are the people that make it special for you?