Sunday, December 16, 2012

slow cooker korean short ribs

I'm not sure if you've ever tried to photograph meat before, but it's a little trickier than a selection of gleaming seasonal produce.  It's downright unappetizing.  But I persevered!  Because this recipe is absolutely delicious.  I've been working on it for several months to find the right technique for the perfect texture and flavor without too much work.  

And maybe if you could smell the slow-cooking beef in gingery, spicy-sweet marinade, it would look a little better.  I'm not deterred from sharing this recipe with you, and I've included a few meat photos to help demonstrate the process.  And some red pepper flakes. 

In cold weather, nothing beats a really easy hot meal.  This one is in inspired by delicious Korean bbq flavors, but modified for an American kitchen.  I hope you love this recipe.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

chocolate pecan bourbon tart

I love putting a twist on a classic dish, especially classic comfort food.  In the South, pecan pie is everywhere at the holidays.  It's sweet and nutty and delicious.  A good crust is a bonus.  But how to make it better?  Chocolate and bourbon in a shortbread crust.

This version of pecan pie is prepared in a tart pan.  The crust is almost cookie-like, but it doesn't compete with the gooey filling.  And the presentation is gorgeous.  I promise it's an update on the classic that everyone will love.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

butternut squash soup with ginger

Butternut squash soup is kind of the reason I started a food blog.  There are similar recipes everywhere, but the best preparation I've found is very simple and has a secret key ingredient:  fresh ginger.

I used to make this soup for my grandmother, Mimi, and she would go crazy over it.  I often serve it as a weeknight dinner or weekend lunch in colder months.  

You already know my feelings about roasting vegetables, and there's nothing new here.  Roasting cubes of butternut squash makes it tender and slightly sweet without adding a bit of sugar.  And you won't lose any nutrition to a pot of water that took forever to boil (on my stove, anyway).

The fresh ginger sets this recipe apart from others I've tried.  I store fresh ginger root in freezer until I'm ready to use it.  I think Rachael Ray taught me that.  When I'm ready, I cut off (most of) the peel and use a fine grater to grate the ginger-- still frozen-- right in to whatever I'm making.  It's so much easier to grate when it's frozen that way. You can use 1 teaspoon of ground ginger instead, but it's not the same.

I make this soup the same way every time; and I can't think of a thing that would make it better.  The recipe follows.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

mini pot pies with leeks and mushrooms

I love pot pie.  Until I made these miniature versions (which, by the way, afford endless possibilities for fillings), Kevin was pretty sure he did not.  Something about cafeteria versions with frozen peas had turned him off to pot pie nearly permanently.  But a buttery, flaky, super savory, handheld version won him over.  What's not to love?

This filling is full of flavor from leeks melted into butter, tiny chunks of potato, thyme, and sauteed mushrooms.  Since I was already a fan, it's safe to say this is the best pot pie I've ever had.  You can make a version with chicken by using diced yellow onion, carrots, and some shredded rotisserie chicken.  Try Giada's broccoli and cheddar filling, or Ina's indulgent lobster filling.  Heck, you can even add frozen peas if that's your thing.

The body of this recipe is a homemade, part-whole wheat crust that puffs just a little, but you certainly use store-bought pie crust if you prefer.  Either way, the technique is the same: roll out the dough until it's quite thin, cut into circles, press into greased muffin tins.  Fill with your favorite version of the savory filling and bake until they are golden. They are a crowd-pleaser in miniature and absolutely delicious hot or at room temperature.  And they are pretty darn cute.

For the filling, the guiding principle is using the same 1:1 ratio of butter to flour to make a perfect roux.  From there, the possibilities are endless.  I created this filling with mild leeks, rich mushrooms, and hearty potato.  And lots of butter of course.  The recipe follows.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

vegan pumpkin pecan bread

"Love people.  Cook them tasty food."

I didn't think a bumper sticker could capture my life philosophy, but there it is.  I spotted it on a Prius at the grocery store buying a can of pumpkin for this recipe.  (The beauty of it, as with many vegan recipes, is that you probably have almost everything you need in your pantry already.)

I love cooking for the people I love.  And I have a dear, dear friend who loves all things pumpkin.  She's not vegan, but she can't eat soy or dairy because her little 4-month-old is likely allergic.  All the more reason to share a delicious bread that she can enjoy this season (her favorite season).   She also, coincidentally, introduced me to Penzey's Spices, which I suspect is the source of that darling sticker that will likely be finding a home on my car's bumper soon.


Now, I know some folks on a dairy-free diet can eat eggs and butter, but I don't know the rules on that, so I'm playing it safe and leaving out all animal products (= vegan).  This recipe for pumpkin pecan bread is totally vegan, fat free, and plenty tasty.  And it's very adaptable if you prefer to leave out the pecans, replace them with walnuts, or substitute chocolate chips (for heaven's sake, yes, do it). 

Here's another thing I've learned from practicing recipes intended for restricted diets.  Vegan baking is perfect for baking with kids.  There's no cross-contamination or raw egg to worry about.  It's easy, it's healthy, and it's fun.  I think everyone will enjoy this seasonal recipe that's friendly for all ages.  Happy Halloween. The recipe follows.

Friday, October 26, 2012

chocolate chip peanut butter banana cake

This is a cake for the kid in all of us.  It's loaded with goodies.

Too many goodies, actually.  (If I could blame my post-blog launch weight gain on any one recipe, it would be this one.)  So, friends, I've been working on a lighter version of this recipe with some fun substitutes that I've noted below.  I think you'll enjoy it either way.  For the fearless, there's also the full-fat, no-apologies version that is, frankly, gorgeous and delicious and worth every calorie.  Bikini season is over.  Indulge.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

spicy roasted cauliflower

It's a sneaky trick making cauliflower delicious.  And like the best magic tricks, the secret is actually a very simple technique.

Let me let you in on this.  Roasting cauliflower, like roasting just about anything, makes it so much better.  And, if you've never tried it, you won't believe how easy it is.  

The most important part of this technique is to roast the vegetables in the oven at a high temperature, which allows the natural sugars in vegetables to concentrate and become sweeter.  You can see evidence of this process on the outside of the veggies when they just start to caramelize and brown.  If the temperature is too low, the vegetables will really just steam (i.e., be bored to death and turn mushy and bland as a result).  Roasting works beautifully on cauliflower, root vegetables, or asparagus or broccoli (topped with a little parmesan cheese or squeeze of lemon).

So there you have it.  The recipe for spicy roasted cauliflower follows.

Monday, October 8, 2012

deborah madison's hearty lentil soup

It got cold outside, fast.  The fall recipes are out in full force now.  My pantry is stocked.  My heavy-bottomed pots, skillets, dutch ovens, and slow cooker are all seasoned and ready to go.

Deborah Madison's lentil soup recipe is a healthy, hearty dish for cold and rainy weather.  I learned it from my mom, so I'm sharing her (slightly altered) version here.  It's filling, it's cheap, it's delicious, and (since it's basically all vegetables) it suits nearly everyone's dietary needs and wants.


(Did I mention it has very few calories? But shh, you'd never know.)  The recipe follows.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

slow cooker thai pork sandwiches

I think I have just begun to scratch the surface of the wonderful ways to serve this thai-inspired, slow cooker pork recipe.  Its original--and probably best--purpose is to replicate the world's best pork sandwich.

For readers and neighbors in central North Carolina, I hope you've ventured out to my favorite food destination: the Saxapahaw General Store.  You might have read about it in The New York Times recently.  Nestled on the Haw River in our state's piedmont region, the town of Saxapahaw is at once farmer-friendly, tourist-friendly, kid-friendly, and foodie-friendly.  The old gas station is now a restaurant serving creative, locally sourced, mouth-watering food with out-of-this-world specials.  Don't even look at the regular menu or you will never decide.  Stick with Chef Jeff's specials on the chalkboard, friends.  They post pictures of it regularly on their Facebook page.

In the building next door, the General Store's friends and affiliates have expanded with a pub and restaurant called The Eddy, serving local beers and yummy dishes in the same style.  The Eddy offers great outdoor seating overlooking the Haw River.  You might hear music from around the corner at the lively Haw River Ballroom, which fills a renovated mill building with guests every weekend.

I can't tell you how cool this place is.  If you're like me, you'll plop down at a table with a (locally brewed) Mother Earth Endless River Kolsch and a (locally raised) short rib sandwich on housemade foccacia, only to realize (by eavesdropping of course) that the table next to you seats farmers from Cane Creek farm (who raised that short rib!).  I guess that's why the journalists call it "the middle of somewhere."

It's worth the drive.  The Saxapahaw General Store makes the best sandwiches on earth.  One of my favorites is a pork sandwich with spicy mayo, pickles, basil, and cilantro.  This is my version made at home, and it's perfect for game days, picnics, or dinners on the deck.  Unattended in the slow cooker, the pork cooks until it falls apart in a slightly sweet and spicy coconut broth.  Because the  recipe makes tons of leftovers, you could also serve it as a traditional main dish with rice and sauteed veggies.  The recipe follows.

Monday, September 24, 2012

stuffed acorn squash

Happy fall!

In honor of the crisper weather, football (hello, NFL network!), and open windows at our house, I've made my first fall-inspired dish of the season:  acorn squash stuffed with wild rice, manchego cheese, and zesty cured Spanish chorizo.  The autumn colors are beautiful and the flavors are rich and savory.  If you're a vegetarian, you could substitute chopped nuts and dried cranberries for the chorizo.  My family also makes a tasty, sweeter stuffed squash with applesauce, walnuts, and raisins, too.  But first, a word about chorizo.

I love chorizo of all types. And I want to love acorn squash.  So I brought them together to see if one could improve upon the other.  It worked!  I often cook with Mexican chorizo, which is a spicy fresh sausage that must be cooked and crumbled before it is served.  By contrast, Spanish chorizo is cured and loaded with spices like paprika, which gives it a deep red color.  You might find it on a cheese and charcuterie plate once in a while-- since it's cured, it can be eaten without cooking, and has a darker color and harder texture than the crumbly stuff.  You can find Spanish chorizo in most supermarkets in the deli or fancy cheese department.

The concept of this dish is so simple that the variations seem endless.  Try the vegetarian idea above (nuts and cranberries) with feta instead of manchego, or do a version with cooked and crumbled Mexican chorizo and cheddar.  In our neck of the woods, the football is on, the blankets are out, and we're enjoying a super-savory stuffed squash or two.   The recipe follows.

Monday, September 17, 2012

chocolate stout cupcakes

My favorite secret ingredient in baking is sour cream.  My new second favorite? Beer. 

I made these cupcakes for the first time several years ago, before I really liked dark beer.  They are a festive celebration cupcake that suits birthdays, game days, and potlucks.  (Some of you may remember their debut at Kevin's 30th birthday party-turned-food-festival-for-50 at our house, but if you're new to them, be assured they are a crowd pleaser!)

This recipe makes an incredibly moist, chocolatey cake that is almost black in color from the beer. But it's not bitter or overwhelming.  You would never suspect that stout beer is the secret ingredient.  The beer has the same effect of adding coffee in some sweet recipes: it intensifies the color and chocolate flavor. And it is delicious.


If you're not a brew aficionado, you can certainly stick with Guiness or whatever stout is on the shelves.  But if you're a fan of stouts and porters, feel free to experiment with your favorites and the subtle differences in flavor.  I used the Highland Brewing Company Black Mocha Stout to pay homage to our recent trip to Asheville, where the brewery is located.  You could use any favorite stout, or even other sweet dark beers, such as the Vanilla Porter (from Breckenridge in Colorado). Why not make a batch with each and let your guests decide which is their favorite?  You'll have 5 beers from your six-pack left over, after all, so you might as well invite some friends.  (Or 50!)

Without a doubt, this recipe makes some of the moistest, chocolatiest cupcakes you've ever made.   Crack open a beer and give it a try.