almost-inaugural loaf.

I like carbs.  Bread, specifically.  Then cake.  Pasta next, then maybe potatoes.

I realize this does not make me unique.

My mother was never one to worry about weight or body shame when my sister and I were kids (she saved that for after college, at least in my case.)  But the one food thing I remember from childhood?  My mother’s constant battle against my deep, deep love of bread.

I would take each slice in a sandwich loaf, roll it into a ball, and snack on a dozen while I watched Julia Child and tried to figure out what “mirepoix” meant.  After school?  All the Little Debbie Zebra Cakes I could eat!  (left unattended, that often meant a box).  I liked vegetables  and cheese and meat and other things, but bread.  Bread was my thing.  That and eating an entire pound of gingersnaps, given the chance.

Sadly, I am an adult now and responsible for my food choices.  And I still love bread.  I’ve never met a breadbasket, a Harris Teeter display, or a potato roll I didn’t love.  Adulthood means self policing though, and as anyone who knows me will tell you, I have little willpower when it comes to food.  After a lengthy course of physical therapy for a broken (again) foot, my physical therapist asked me why it was so important to me that I be able to run (apparently years of on-again, off-again injury meant running in a way that didn’t cause me to re-injure myself was going to be difficult at the very least).  “Are you training for something?” she asked.

“Dinner,” I replied.  “I really, really, really like pasta.”

This is a long-winded way of saying I have stumbled upon a solution.  I’ve been told it is time-consuming, overly complicated and more than a little stupid, but it works for me.

I make it.

I haven’t quite been able to give up pasta yet, but as far as bread?  (And other things: ice cream.  Tacos.  Brownies.  Cake.  Macaroni and cheese.  Are you sensing a very gluten-y pattern?)  I don’t keep it in the house, aside from picking up a loaf of french bread for impromptu dinner parties (and the occasional bottle-of-wine-and-cheese-and-bread-omg-life-today night.)  And if I am determined to have bread, be it muffins, cornbread, or sandwich bread-I make it.

For the most part, this has meant brunchy brioches and kerala parotha with lentils, or flour tortillas for taco night.  But today, I decided to make a loaf of bread, because I am currently unemployed, and more importantly, I wanted a really delicious grilled cheese without having to leave the house (and consequently, put on pants).  I made these rolls for Thanksgiving, and all I could think about was how delicious they would be, brushed with butter and bookending melted cheese.

Molasses Oatmeal Bread
Yield: a single 2 lb loaf*
adapted from Food52

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (use a packet.  that extra 1/4 teaspoon is fine, promise)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/4 cup warm water (It should feel warm, not hot. Don’t kill the yeast!)
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup rolled oats (NOT INSTANT)
1/2 cup unsalted butter cut into cubes
2 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 1/2-2 cups all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water with a pinch of sugar or a squirt of honey. Let stand until bubbly. Heat milk and butter in a small pot until butter is almost melted.  Turn off the heat and let it cool to warm while the butter finishes melting.

Once cool, add to the bowl of a stand mixer, along with the sugar, molasses, oats, and salt.  Blend with the paddle attachment until it’s well mixed.  Add the egg and mix well.  By this point, the mixture should be cool enough for you to add the egg and yeast with out scrambling or killing anything.  If it’s more than lukewarm, mix a little longer until it cools.  Add the egg and yeast mixture and mix well.

Switch to the dough hook, and add in the whole wheat flour and 1-1/2 cups of the all-purpose flour.  Knead with the dough hook until well mixed.  The dough should be sticky, but flat (as in not shiny).  That’s what the last half cup of flour is for- add as much of it as you need until you have a sticky matte dough.

Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl. Turn to coat and cover with plastic wrap.  At this point, you can let it rise on the counter in a warm place (as I did when I made it into rolls) or put it in the fridge for anywhere from of two hours to overnight- whatever works. On the counter, it won’t quite double, and in the fridge, it will rise very little. I find it doesn’t make much of a difference

If you’re starting with chilled dough, let it warm up to just short of room temp. If you’re using the counter dough, proceed. Turn out the dough onto a counter (you may need flour, you may not, depending on how sticky it is.

Knead a few times, and then flatten into a vaguely rectangular shape, with the short end about as long as your loaf pan. Roll the dough like a jelly roll, pinch the seams closed, then place seam side down into an ungreased loaf pan (I used nonstick). Cover with plastic wrap and let it proof in a warm place until it’s almost doubled.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 miutes. Internal temperature should be 190. Turn out of the pan and cool on a wire rack completely before slicing, although I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.

It is divine in grilled cheese, and with salted butter. Or, you know, both.

*-it’s roughly 2 pounds, but I didn’t think to weigh it until after I had eaten half of it, so extrapolation for the win. Sorry not sorry.

even a broken clock is right twice a day

Among my friends, it is an article of faith that there are two restaurants in my general neighborhood where you can expect (at best) indifferent service.  One is much worse than the other, with servers who seem openly hostile to the idea of exchanging money for goods (food) and services (someone else making the food and bringing it to me)- sort of a “how dare you walk in here an expect me to answer your questions about the menu AND take your order AND bring you a beer.  THE NERVE!” vibe.  I once contemplated walking out of a tab there (it was 2 drinks) after waiting for 20 minutes (I timed) at an empty bar with the bartender ignoring my attempts to first secure another drink, and then simply to cash out.

The other teeters on tolerable.  It’s in a good location, has a commitment to cleanly produced food, and is part of a locally owned mini-chain.  But.  As a former server myself, I am willing to let a lot of things slide, but agressive indifference towards customers is not one of them.  As such, I pretty much never patronize this particular restaurant.

I found myself with a group there for brunch last winter though, because I like to think myself too considerate to force my restaurant jihads on other people, or at least on other people I don’t know well.  A more attentive server could have increased the check considerably, but ours seemed uninterested in serving us more than a perfunctory round of bloody marys.

I digress.  The point of all this is that at this infernal restaurant, I happened upon one of my most favorite dishes in all of DC.  It’s right up there with the crabcake pasta from Afterwords and the black cod at Rasika. It is neither glamourous nor particularly complicated, but it is goddamn tasty, and until that moment, completely new to me.

A burger.

On a salad.

I know, I know, I’m sure that’s not earth shattering to most of you out there, but cut me some slack.  I’ve been far too concerned with finding the perfect burger bun to realize it could ever be anything other than a sandwich.   I have a long and storied history with chopped salads- with bacon, with chicken, with beans.  With beef even, in the form of leftover steak.  But never, ever a burger.

This salad changed all that.  It has all the best parts of a burger, with all the textural complexity and bright colors (my favorite part!) of a good chopped salad.  It’s (perhaps), healthier than a burger, but it’s also far more filling, with much less meat.  The most important part is to dice or chop everything to roughly the same size.  And feel free to alter- I hate tomatoes, but they’d be a great addition.  So would corn, pickled onions, cucumber, or whatever else you have languishing in the produce drawer.  I’ve been known to cook enough meat for several of these salads at once, but it’s also a good way to use up all those leftovers from summer barbecues.  You know, if it ever gets warm again.

Burger Salad

4 oz burger (I like beef, but whatever floats your boat, cooked to your desired doneness/leftovers), room temp

1 head romaine lettuce, end discarded, chopped (or a bag of mesclun)

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 can chickpeas, rinsed

1 carrot, diced

2 oz cheese (feta, pepper jack, cheddar- whatever), diced in 1/2 in cubes

ranch dressing (please, make it from scratch, it’s not hard)

Worcestershire sauce

1. Assemble all ingredients in a large bowl and toss

2. Crumble cooked burger on top

3. Pour over dressing (go with half what you think you’ll need- trust me) and toss

4. Season to taste with worcester sauce and pepper.  Eat immediately,

on tartines

arugula, mozz and turkey "tartine"

tartine with turkey, arugula, and mozzarella

Oh, the tartine.

What’s that?  You don’t know what a tartine is?  Well!

A tartine is french for I can’t be bothered to write an actual blog post, so I’m going to toss some stuff on bread and come up with a fancy name for it an open faced sandwich.

The internet abounds with recipes for tartines.  Let me make it simple for you.  Step 1: Get good bread.  Step 2: Slice in half. Step 3: Put (a) good thing(s) on bread.  Step 4: Eat.    Tartines, my darlings, are not complicated things.  Traditionally, they are quite literally bread and something on it.

Which brings us to the present.  We don’t need recipes for tartines.  I promise we don’t.  So please internet, stop.  I get it.  You can talk all about the pleasure of superlative ingredients, simply combined.  I can get behind that.  But let’s not pretend, mkay?

As for me, I put a lid on my tartine and ate a sandwich for dinner, like a good American.

cherry pork loin roast and pea cake

I did it.  I found my new. favorite. cherry. recipe.  I love this so much I’m not even sad about pitting a pound and a half of cherries by hand.  I’m not mad that Jamelle got a better picture of it than I did.  I’m not sad about the accidentally leaving the charcoal out in the rain because we had so much fun I forgot about it.  Or that I had planned to make another side.  Or that my kohlrabi went all squidgy and refused to become slaw.  I’m not mad about any of it.  Because this was delicious.  Made even tastier by the bevy of lovely people who descended upon my house to try it.

And dessert!  You might know I have a thing for peas.  So when Google Reader presented me with a pea cake, I pretty much have to attempt it.  It’s kind of a given.

I’m not sure I’ll recreate.  But it was tasty enough.  And the most magnificent shade of green.

desert island kit

Light blogging (I know, you can’t even tell) because I’m out of town for my sister’s graduation (finally).  My family rented a beach house, and let me tell you, it is awful. Furniture straight out of 1982. Fridge literally duct taped together. 1 broken eye on the stove, another that takes approximately 30 minutes to reach medium low heat. My mother and I harbor the sneaking suspicion that it usually gets used as a frat house. But I digress. It is beachside, and it is not my house. So I’ll stop complaining.

But it got me thinking.  My family does a beach trip every year, and because my mother is the way she is, she always brings what I call her desert island essentials:

– 2 dishtowels
– a decent chef’s knife + paring knife
– salt and pepper grinders
– oregano and basil or italian seasoning, cumin, garlic, cinnamon
– olive oil
– Texas Pete

I’d add a flexible cutting board and a whisk to that.  Thoughts?

macaroni and cheese, barley lentil stew

I’m not going to count last night’s dinner as part of my 40 for 40, as both things are riffs on recipes I’ve made several times before.  Lolo came over, needing to dispose of a lot of heavy cream and cheese, and I was immediately reminded of Sauveur’s Southern-Style macaroni and cheese, mostly because when my fridge crapped out (the first time), I needed a good way to use up a lot of the dairy in a hurry.  This recipe hits on all the big ones- heavy cream, half and half, sour cream, cheese, and eggs added for good measure.  It is the macaroni and cheese I remember from foil pans in church basements, the kind of food that people bring over after a funeral.

It is decidedly different from my (and my mother’s version) – al dente noodles swimming in a luxuriously creamy custard, dotted with pockets of cheese.  Lactards (I use the term with endearment!) in the audience, avert your eyes!  My recipe is more of a traditional casserole, denser, peppery, and despite copious amounts of butter, whole milk (really, is there any other kind?) and cheese, healthier than the Sauveur version.  That version is especially adaptable last night I used smoked Gruyère and aged cheddar (that’s what Lolo provided), and added milk to the half and half, as I only had about a third of the required amount.  And, because I am me, I forgot the flour.  Oops.

The second recipe was a barley and lentil stew.  Late one night last week, I decided to get rid of all the sundry bags in my cabinet and organize things in mason jars- lentils, oats, beans…and barley, leftover from a fourth of July party two years ago.  I’ve recently traded my rolled oats for steel-cut oats, and have been exploring the bulk bins at my store with a little more interest.  I always have lentils around, as they cook faster than beans, and can be salad or stew or dal or anything, really.  I paired this with pork meatballs from the kitchn, and the meatballs contributed something that led Lolo to remark “the ginger in this is great!”

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40 in 40

Growing up in the Episcopal church, Lent was always a time not only to give something up,but to take something on.  I’m still not sure how religious I am, but I do keep with a lot of those Episcopal traditions, because I like them and they remind me of my childhood.

To that end, I like to think of Lent as less of a religious holiday, but more as sort of a redo of my new year’s resolutions.  I have a deep sense of disappointment whenever I fail in my Lenten resolutions, despite usually blowing the new year’s resolutions to smithereens by January 12th.  And, as I’m sure many of you have noticed, if you do something consistently for 40 days, it’s pretty easy for it to become a habit.

So I’ve decided to make two big resolutions.  First of all, I will be posting here, once a day, Monday through Friday.  I miss blogging, I miss the 10 of you that read this blog, and I miss writing.  With any luck, the habit will stick.  Secondly, I am flexing my cooking muscles and making 40 different dishes in 40 days.  My day job has gone from batshit insane to moderately insane, so most of my cooking will happen on the weekends and the recipes will be spread out during the week.  But, like my crazy idea to do 12 days of cookies, I hope it’ll make me a better cook.


Into the breach…