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,

sherbet punch and hostessing tips

In my family, almost all of us are born in March, June and December.

Seems like everyone else I know is born in October.

Which brings me to my nemesis, sherbet punch.

My friend SJ had a (in her words) “non-important” birthday this past Saturday.  She didn’t want to make a big deal, because it wasn’t a nice round number, and frankly, I think she was a little apprehensive about the number anyway.  However, thanks in large part to my mother and overly festive family, I do not believe in such things as “non-important” birthdays.  Every birthday is cause for celebration, much like a random Tuesday is the perfect time for champagne and popcorn for dinner.  Life is short, might as well enjoy it.  Besides, who looks back and says “man, I wish I hadn’t thrown/gone to that great party”?  NO ONE.

So, I berated talked SJ into letting me throw a party for her.

Happy Birthday napkin

She had one request: sherbet punch.

I hate sherbet punch.  It is sweet and dairy filled and gross and seems like the last possible thing you’d want to mix with alcohol.  What’s wrong with sangria?  Isn’t that fruit punch for grownups?  So, I did what I always do.  I asked the twitters and e-mailed some friends and asked the Kitchn and did all those things at a late enough date that I was basically left to my own devices.  Oh, and did I mention that the punch had to be gluten-free?  Because it did.

My Saturday schedule is always a bit hectic.  I am either completely exhausted by Friday evening, or am not exhausted and stay out too late.  I have to be at the market by 7:45am Saturday (I can push it to 8:10 if I stop here for coffee for Sarah, my stand coworker).  I’m home by a little before 2:00, assuming I don’t make any stops.  This past Saturday, that left me with 4 hours to shower, shop, and get the party and myself together.  To top it off, in a fit of inspiration, we had decided on a vaguely mid-century theme- think 50’s bridge club gathering for hors d’oeuvres.

Between the time constraints and my constant pathological need to entertain, I’ve learned a few things about hostessing, and I thought I’d share:

1) Get dressed.  30 minutes before go time, shower and put your outfit on- shoes, makeup, the whole nine.  It is far more festive to cook in a party dress than in gross jeans and t-shirt flecked with apple butter.  Also, you are wearing a party dress, so WEAR AN APRON.

2) Don’t kill yourself, chances are no one will notice.  I am insane and make everything from scratch.  I will happily cater to your most esoteric requests. That makes this rule is hard for me to stick to, but you should learn from my neurosis.  For this party, I only “made” the sherbet punch.  I bought cheese (the remainders bin at Whole Foods is the best friend of every cheese tray ever), pulled out some pickled pears and pickled tomatoes I’d made earlier, and bought some gluten-free crackers, vegetables, and hummus.

3) Accept help.  Another one that’s hard for me to deal with.  Saturday I completely forgot to pick up charcuterie, so when someone asked if he could bring anything, I texted back “OMG YES PLEASE.”  Problem solved

4) Disposable is okay, sort of.  I am trying to banish paper from my house.  No paper towels, no napkins, nothing.  This is dumb.  I bought small appetizer plates and festive napkins, and did not have to do dishes later (see #2).  Will I do that for a sit down dinner?  Probably not.  But every now and then, it’s okay.

5) Have a good roommate.  Mine has Thursdays off (no class, no work), and so cleaned the house in a fit of procrastination.  If that doesn’t work for you, sweep, wipe off the table, and use candles.  No one will be able to tell you haven’t cleaned the glass on that mirror in 3 months.

sherbet punch

photo: DCBenji

And now, what I bet you’ve all been waiting for…SJ’s Not Gross Sherbet Punch!

SJ’s Birthday Sherbet Punch
Serves….12?  depends on how well your friends play the part of “lush”

  • 1 container Edy’s (you can use another, but it might not be gluten-free) berry sherbet
  • 2 750 mL bottles of the DRIEST champagne/cava/prosecco/sparkling wine you can find
  • 1 cup of vodka (gluten-free note: most processing removes all the gluten, but you can go with something distilled from grapes or corn if you’re not comfortable with that.)
  • 1/2- 1 cup of lemon juice (I imagine other citrus would work, but this is what I had)
  • 1/2 lime, halved and thinly sliced
  • handful of raspberries, fresh or frozen

1) Combine sherbet, champers, and vodka in a punchbowl.  Be careful, it will foam.  Add the vodka and lemon juice to taste.

2) Stir well (AND CAREFULLY).  Once you’re done, the punch will separate into three layers- dark pink juice at the bottom, mystery light pink mixed layer, and then a layer of white/pale pink foam on the top.

3) Scatter the raspberries over the punch, then carefully place lime slices on the foam- if you’ve mixed correctly, they’ll stay suspended on the top and look pretty.

4) Yell at your friends not to muss your creation, and ladle FROM THE MIDDLE ONLY PLEASE.  Serve with a slice of lime in each glass.  Marvel at your domesticity and the fact that you now own a punchbowl.

5) Smile smugly as the birthday girl keeps gushing “it’s so PRETTY!”

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.

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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leaving well enough alone

I can’t leave well enough alone.  I like to tinker.  And test.  And obsess over a single recipe for months on in, until I perfect it, and then I move on to agonizing over something else.

Shrimp and grits.  My grandfather is from Charleston, so I grew up assuming that everyone had some variation of grits, meat, and eggs for breakfast.  Fried fish, bacon, sausage, ham steak, pork chop, steak, shrimp, crab, whatever.  We had it for dinner Saturday night, and saw it again next to grits Sunday morning.  You can imagine my surprise during college, when I discovered more than half of my friends had no idea what grits were.  The horror!

On to brunch.  Inspired by some prodding and this post from Joy the Baker, I decided to make shrimp and grits this Sunday for brunch.  This is where I stop and make my pitch for sustainable seafood.  I will save the soapbox for later, but suffice to say, the Monterrey Bay Aquarium has a great guide to what you should and should not be buying.  So after two farmers markets and my second grocery store of the day,  I found some delightful Gulf shrimp, and brought a pound and a half home.  Coupled with some saffron (thanks to my sister, who brought it back from her trip to France), it made for an extra divine Sunday brunch.

This is a bit of a synthesis of 2 recipes, the aforementioned Joy the Baker, and this Grits casserole.  I made a version without pork, a version just vegetables, and another with all the bacon porky goodness I could muster.  I’m pleased for a first attempt, but there is work to be done here.

Shrimp and Grits, adapted from Joy the Baker and Serious Eats

2 cups of water
2 cups of whole milk
2 cups of grits
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup asiago cheese
1/4 cup cheddar cheese

4 bell peppers, minced
1.5 lbs shrimp, cleaned
1/4 cup champagne, cava, or prosecco
4-6 slices fresh bacon
salt
pepper
1 scallion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Combine the water and milk in a saucepan, bring to a simmer.  Whisk in grits, and cook, uncovered on low heat, until creamy, about 20 minutes.  Be sure to whisk often, as there is nothing worse than lumpy grits.  After the grits have finished cooking, throw in the cheeses and butter.  Salt to taste.  Keep warm on low heat (or in today’s case, a crockpot next to the dining table.)

Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a pan until crispy.  Remove the bacon and set aside.  Drain off half the remaining fat and toss in the peppers and scallions, garlic, and spices.  Saute until soft, then add in bubbly and shrimp.  Cook on high heat until shrimp is done and wine has almost completely reduced.  Crumble bacon in with the shrimp, and serve over grits.

sophomore slump

I have a confession.  I don’t much like fruit based desserts.  If I’m going to be sucking down sugar, I don’t want any fruit involved.  Give me chocolate, give me ice cream, give me things that did not come from a tree.  Except pecans.  In pie.  With bourbon.  And maybe Key limes.

But I digress.  We are in the throes of peach season, including my personal favorite- white peaches.  I like things that are not the color they’re supposed to be (or at least the way they were in my kindergarten books)- golden raspberries, blue potatoesred okra, yellow tomatoes….

Back to the cobbler.  Well, slump really.  Not a buckle.  Or a crisp, or a grunt.  A slump.  What’s the difference?

I’m not sure myself.  I think it depends on what your grandmother tells you, because grandmothers are experts in such things.  According to mine, a cobbler is a biscuit-like topping, a slump is a little more cakey, a buckle is essentially fruit in cake, and a crisp is like a cobbler, but crunchier.

As for the recipe, I started out with this one, by Ellie at Vintage Victuals, and went from there.  Many thanks to Brock for the bourbon and vanilla suggestions (and for confirming my cardamom obsession).  Cobbler it was not, but those peaches!  Can’t go wrong with that.

Peach Slump, adapted from Vintage Victuals

6-8 medium sized white peaches, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar + 3/4 cup sugar
bourbon (up to 1/4 cup, depending on how juicy the peaches are)
1 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
zest from one lemon (I used a normal one, but I bet a meyer lemon would be divine)

1 stick unsalted butter

3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine the peaches with a hefty splash of bourbon (I used Jim Beam, a little less than a 1/4 cup).  Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds, add to the peaches along with the cardamom. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of sugar over the top, add the lemon zest, give ’em a quick stir and set aside.  (Stick the vanilla bean in some sugar and make your own vanilla sugar)

Heat the oven to 350.  While it is heating, place the stick of butter in a 9×13 pan and let it melt.  While it’s melting, mix remaining ingredients.  Once the butter has melted, take the pan out of the oven, and pour the batter in.  Do.  Not.  Spread.  Dump the peach mixture on top, and gently spread it towards the edges.

Bake until golden brown and puffy, about 40 minutes.