Sunday, January 22, 2012

Game Day Grub

As anyone who knows me or who has read this blog for awhile understands, I absolutely hate sports! But my roommate has become a passionate NFL fan, and we have come to an amicable truce which involves her getting to watch her game(s) on Sunday while I amuse myself with tasty experiments in the kitchen. Today, while she rooted for/fretted over the Patriots and then the Giants (aren't you impressed that I know that much? tee hee), I got it in my head to make Cincinnati-style, five-way chili. To make it easier on myself while I juggled three ongoing games of "Words with Friends," I started the chili on the stovetop, but then let it simmer away all day in the crock pot. Man, was it delicious! And even though the weather was in the 20's today, and I could finally turn off the kitchen tap that had been trickling for two days, the chili was very warm and comforting on a winter's day.  This one's a keeper, folks.

Cincinnati-Style Five-Way Chili
(Source: adapted from

1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups water
2 cups crushed tomatoes (I used one can of diced, spicy red pepper flavor)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 whole bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground celery
1 teaspoon salt

2 cans drained beans (I used chili beans and dark red kidneys), optional
cooked spaghetti, optional
shredded cheese, optional
chopped onions, optional

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef with the diced onions. Once the meat is nearly brown and the onions are tender, add the minced garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Add the meat mixture and everything else (excepts the optional toppings, of course) to the crock pot, and cook on low for eight hours or high for four. About 30 minutes before you serve, fish out the bay leaf and add the two cans of beans, if using.

To serve, pile some spaghetti on the plate, top with the chili, then shredded cheese and onions.

The Cincinnati "Skyline" Chili Ordering Code

1-way: just the chili
2-way: chili served over spaghetti
3-way: chili, spaghetti, and grated cheddar cheese
4-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, and onions
5-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions, and beans
All "ways" is served with oyster crackers.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Umami Cafe Revisited

On my never-ending quest to find and prepare the ultimate macaroni and cheese recipe, I thought I might backtrack a bit and make the official Umami Cafe truffled mac and cheese from Chef John Pratt, instead of my knock-off version. Now, for those who want a very thick and gooey pasta, this might not be the one for you. But I LOVE it! It's so very flavorful, and the texture is lighter--not on calories, mind you--but because it doesn't have any binders or thickeners like flour or eggs. It's simply reduced cream, shallots and garlic sauteed with white wine, and cheese. As you might infer, there are a lot of separate steps to this recipe, so it's a little involved. Not that any of it is hard to do, but it might be best saved for a weekend project.

Umami Cafe's Truffled Macaroni and Cheese
(Source: adapted from John Pratt, Umami Cafe)

1 lb. elbow macaroni
2 cups heavy cream
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced (I used 4!)
1 cup dry white wine (Pinot Grigio--I used Chardonnay)
2 oz. black truffle butter (I only used a generous teaspoon)
1 tablespoon black truffle oil (I omitted this)
1 1/2 cups Fontina cheese, shredded (or 1 cup Fontina, 1/2 cup smoked Gouda)
salt and pepper, to taste

panko crumbs or in a pinch, bread crumbs (I used one cup crumbs plus 4 tablespoons melted butter which I browned in a saute pan until the crumbs just started to color)

Cook pasta in salted (don’t be shy with the salt) boiling water until tender but not mushy. Drain and empty out on sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Reserve.

Reduce cream in non-reactive sauce pan. Bring heavy cream to just boiling, reduce heat to low setting and simmer for 30 minutes or reduced to half. Reserve.

In non-reactive sauce pan, sauté shallots and garlic in a tablespoon or two of butter until soft but not browned. Add white wine and simmer until wine is almost gone. Add reduced cream and bring just to simmer, then add grated cheese and whisk to incorporate. Add truffle butter and oil (if using), then salt and pepper to taste.

Combine pasta and sauce. Transfer to a casserole dish and top with the buttered panko crumbs. Place casserole in a 350 degree oven to bake until crumbs are golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Garnish with a few drops truffle oil and minced chives.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bean Salad for the Budget-Conscious

I oftentimes find myself ogling little overpriced containers of interesting deli salads at the grocery store, but before I pay five dollars for a cup of marinated edamame, I usually convince myself to put it down, walk away, and make something cheaper and better myself. Here is the salad I made at home, though I used lima beans instead of edamame because the store I was shopping at didn't carry them. Oh well. This was just as good--so colorful and flavorful!

Baby Lima Bean, Corn, and Black Bean Salad 

1 (14 oz?) bag frozen baby lima beans, cooked (acc. to package instructions), rinsed/cooled, drained
1 can seasoned black beans, drained
1 cup corn relish (preferably, homemade!)
1/2 large sweet onion, finely chopped
1/2 orange bell pepper, finely chopped
2 small tomatoes, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground celery
1/4 (up to 1/3) cup Italian dressing of your choice
1 teaspoon habanero hot sauce, or to taste
squeeze of lime juice
pinch salt (to taste)
1/2 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped

Combine all ingredients and chill for a couple/few hours (better yet, overnight) before serving.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

South of the Border Pork and Beans for the Icy North

I had been considering making a Cuban black bean soup in the crock pot with some of my dwindling supply of precious Rancho Gordo beans. But then I was shopping at Sam's Club on Sunday, and I found this interesting product (under the brand name High Plains Farms), a hickory-seasoned, marinated pork shoulder that you can roast in its own plastic bag in the oven. So I surmised that maybe these two things could be deliciously combined.

Now, I did not cook the roast in its bag, because I wanted the meat to flavor the beans. And since beans take SO much longer to cook than the roast, I started the beans on low overnight, added the pork the next day, and cooked it slowly until dinner time. Then I shredded the pork (which was tender, juicy, and very flavorful, by the way--shout out to High Plains Farms!), and fashioned some FABULOUS Cuban black bean and pork tostadas. MUY BUENO!

Crock Pot Cuban-Style Black Beans and Pork

1 lb. dry black beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
a few hot chilies (to taste), de-veined, seeded, and chopped
(I used one long hot and one Fresno, and the heat level was about "medium")
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground celery
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chicken soup base
1 tablespoon beef soup base
1 quart water
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes (I used a roasted garlic & onion variety)
3-4 lb. seasoned pork roast* (or marinate in a homemade mojo)

Soak the dried black beans covered with cold water for 7-8 hours, then drain. In a large skillet, heat olive oil and saute the onion and peppers until tender. Add the minced garlic and cook another minute or two.

Add the soaked beans, sauteed veggies, vinegar, spices, soup bases, and water to the crock pot. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. (If there is too much liquid at this point, scoop some out before proceeding.)

Add the (drained) can of diced tomatoes to the beans, and then tuck in the pork roast. Cook for another 6-8 hours on low until the pork is tender enough to be shredded.

Serve tostada-style with shredded cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, guacamole and/or sour cream, and salsa or hot sauce. A squeeze of fresh lime and some chopped cilantro would not be unwelcome either.

*As I stated above, I used a pre-marinated pork roast that I found at Sam's Club the other day. But of course, you can marinate a plain pork shoulder overnight in the mojo of your choice if you prefer.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Annnnnnnnd...back to the DEEP FREEZE!

This picture of the foot of my bed leads me to believe that the Mayan calendar may be right after all. Usually, one of the dogs pictured is trying to, um, molest this poor kitty, and the other dog loves to chase and attempt to kill the good-natured feline. But I suppose these cold winters make for strange bedfellows!  As for their human (cue the sarcasm), oh, how I love having to stay up all night, stoking the fire and keeping the kitchen tap a-tricklin'...winter fun in the North Country!

When the weather is this brutal, and you don't have a pile of furry friends to snuggle with, your only hope for survival is SOUP.  Last night, when it was zero degrees with a wind chill of 13 below, my roomie and I found ourselves in desperate need of a midnight snack. Cyd wanted grilled cheese, so I obliged her, and I also whipped up a quick semi-homemade cream of tomato soup for dunking. It was SO good and super-easy!

Semi-Homemade Cream of Tomato Soup

1 can Campbell's Tomato Bisque
1 can diced tomatoes (with spicy red pepper*)
1/2 cup half-n-half
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon drief thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
*If you use regular or Italian tomatoes, you might want a few shakes of hot sauce or a squirt of sriracha.

Heat, mix with stick blender if you like it smoother (as I do), and devour.

This afternoon, while the thermometer was registering a balmy two degrees ABOVE, I ventured out to the grocery store for supplies, figuring that the cold might keep the crowds at bay (wrong--we're a tough lot in these parts). When I got home, I spent some time in the kitchen, working on one of my culinary experiments while my roomie watched her NFL playoffs (blech). Here's what I came up with: a rich, flavorful, creamy and meaty-tasting VEGAN mushroom soup! If you made some health-related resolutions for New Year's, this one's for you. And even if you didn't, this one might fool even the most passionate carnivore among you. What I can promise is that it will definitely warm your cockles (whatever those girls even have them?) when it's -9 with a wind chill of sixteen below, as it is right now as I'm writing this blog post. BRRRRR!!!

Mushroom Ginger Miso Soup

In a five-quart stock pot, saute until tender in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil:
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 large red pepper, seeds and veins removed, coarsely chopped (or use 1/2 large sweet pepper plus a couple/few hot peppers if you like it spicy as I do)
1 lb. white or brown mushrooms, sliced

Add 2 quarts vegetable stock and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Blend with stick blender until smooth. (You could strain it at this point if you want it very smooth, but I like the texture and the fiber, so I didn't.)

In another pan, saute slowly until tender in a generous tablespoon of olive oil:
8 oz. "exotic" mushrooms (oyster, chanterelle, shiitake, what have you--up to a pound, if you can afford them)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons freshly-grated ginger

Deglaze the saute pan with the juice of one lemon (lime juice might be even better!). Add this mixture to the blended soup along with two teaspoons Thai fish sauce (optional, if you don't care if it's vegan or not), two tablespoons of miso*, and--if you didn't use any hot peppers in the initial saute--perhaps a squirt of sriracha hot sauce, to taste. Check the seasoning, and garnish with cilantro leaves and sliced scallions before serving.

*If you prefer to keep the priobiotic goodness of the miso intact (heat kills the good bacteria), you could just add a teaspoon or two to each bowl before serving. I pulled the finished soup off the heat, let it cool off a bit, then added the miso to the whole batch. But then I killed the good yeasty-beasties upon reheating, so maybe leaving the miso out until right before serving would have been a better plan. But I can tell you this: the soup is even better on day two or three, whether the miso is still alive or not!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Easter January!

I'm either loathe to leave the holidays behind, or I'm already thinking ahead to Easter...or perhaps it's just because they had a good sale on leftover hams after Christmas. Whatever the reason, I made a delicious small, half ham in the crock pot today, and in another stunning double crock pot maneuver, a yummy hash brown casserole on the side.

There's not much of a recipe for the ham. I just put a shallow layer of brown sugar on the bottom of the crock pot, then the ham (cut side down), then a can of crushed pineapple, and another good sprinkling of brown sugar on the top of the ham. Then you cook on low for 7-8 hours (though I did mine on high for four hours today because I got a late start). Easy peasy!

Crock Pot Hash Brown Casserole

32 oz. bag frozen hash browns, thawed
1/2 onion, minced (or go crazy and use the whole onion if you like)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 cups shredded cheese (I used smoked Gouda and extra-sharp cheddar)
1 can cream of mushroom with roasted garlic soup
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
few shakes of hot sauce

Mix everything together. Add to a sprayed crock pot. Cook on high for two hours, then turn it down to low for another two.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Thanksgiving/Christmas Turkey Re-Gifted

I ran across this awesome-sounding recipe before Thanksgiving on Huffington Post for re-gifting your leftover holiday turkey, but we ended up eating all of our leftovers for sandwiches and to make my very favorite turkey and wild rice soup, so I never got around to trying it. But at the grocery store the other day, I noticed that they were selling deli-roasted turkey breasts (like they do whole chickens), and two of them had been discounted for quick sale at $3.50 apiece. So I snapped two of them up, froze one, and used the other to make THIS fabulous dish: Turkey Puffs with Cranberry-Pinot Sauce. I believe the ingredient that takes it over the top is the chive and onion cream cheese. SO YUMMY! Don't wait for a major turkey holiday to try this one.

Turkey Puffs with Cranberry-Pinot Sauce
(Source: Taste of Home)

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
8 oz. mushrooms (I used a gourmet mix of oyster, shiitake, and baby bella), chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 package (17.3 ounces) frozen puff pastry, thawed
8 ounces thinly sliced cooked turkey (I used about 1/2 cup for each of 4 puffs=2 cups)
1/2 cup spreadable chive and onion cream cheese
1 egg, beaten

1 cup chicken broth
1 cup dry red wine or additional chicken broth (I used Pinot Noir--the original recipe called for Cabernet)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup jellied cranberry sauce (I used my homemade "Cranberry Strumpet" with whole cranberries)

1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and saute the onions and the mushrooms until tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the chicken broth, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper. Bring to a boil and cook until liquid is evaporated. Cool completely.
3. On a lightly floured surface, unfold puff pastry. Roll each sheet into a 12-in. x 10-in. rectangle; cut each into 2 pieces. Transfer to a lined baking sheet. Spoon mushroom mixture onto each pastry; top with turkey and cream cheese.
4. Lightly brush pastry edges with water. Bring long sides over filling, pinching seams and ends to seal. Turn pastries seam side down. Cut small slits into pastry. Brush tops with egg. Bake at 400° for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
5. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the broth, wine and vinegar. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid is reduced by half. Stir in cranberry sauce until melted. Serve with pastries.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

The Flitting Anglican Priest Cake

I was messing around on Facebook as I so often do, and there was a picture of something called a "preacher cake" on the sidebar. I was curious, and so I clicked on it. In the comments under the recipe, some people hazard some guesses as to the unusual name. My favorite was, "This cake is so sinfully good, you'll have to see the preacher after you eat it!" Ha ha. But the most probably origin of the name is that it's so quick and easy to make, that you can have it in the oven by the time the preacher comes in for a visit.

As I perused the recipe--with lots of pineapple in it--it reminded me of a hummingbird cake, but without any banana. Also, oddly, the recipe didn't call for any kind of fat, and some reviewers remarked that it was rather dense, even chewy. A further internet searched yielded a few preacher cake recipes that were identical, but did include up to a cup(!) of butter.  I had two overripe bananas eyeballin' me on the counter, so I decided to morph the preacher cake and the hummingbird cake, prompting my clever friend, Jay, to entitle my creation, "The Flitting Anglican Priest Cake." LOL!

With cakes like this one (think carrot cake and such), I like the texture that vegetable oil gives, so I thought I'd swap that for butter. And although a cream cheese frosting would be expected here, I thought it might be interesting to use the buttermilk glaze from my favorite tea cake recipe, which would give it a buttery and tangy finish.

So this may be some sort of Franken-Cake, but I think it turned out very moist and very flavorful (better on day two, in fact), plus, it was so fast and easy to make! Next time, I might try it in a bundt pan, or it would make two nice loaves--one to keep and one to share, perhaps with your favorite man or woman of the cloth. :-)

The Flitting Anglican Priest Cake

2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained (I like to puree this)
3 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, toasted, cooled, and chopped (walnuts are fine, too)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar, oil, vanilla, bananas, and pineapple. Add eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly mixed.

Sift the dry ingredients together, if you can be bothered. If the priest is already flitting up the driveway, just throw the dry stuff into the batter and mix until just combined. Add the toasted nuts and blend one more time.

Pour into in a 9 x 13 Pyrex baking dish (or a large bundt pan, or two loaf pans) that has been sprayed with flour-added cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes. Check for doneness with a skewer.

For the glaze:
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) butter
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, combine the buttermilk, sugar, butter and baking soda. Bring to a full boil (watch out—it will foam up!), and then turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Using a bamboo skewer, poke the warm cake all over with small holes. Spoon all of the glaze evenly over the cake (I prefer to use a pastry brush for a more even application), then let it cool completely on a wire rack. You may also choose to gild the lily (like those fancy ecumenical vestments!) with your favorite cream cheese frosting instead of the buttermilk glaze if you prefer.

Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator. Yield: 12 large pieces

Friday, January 06, 2012


There is a cute little store in our tiny 'Burgh that sells Tibetan accessories, and last spring, I heard that they had opened a restaurant next to the gift shop. I don't know what took me so long to get down there to eat, but now that I have, I'm kicking myself for not going sooner and frequently! Longtime readers of this blog know that I rarely have anything complimentary to report about the food in this town--to say that there is a dearth of good eats in this area is quite the understatement. But Himalaya Restaurant is a jewel hidden in plain sight...right in downtown Plattsburgh!

The decor is colorful and enchanting, and the ambiance is serene. But it's all about the FOOD! It's actually three restaurants in one, featuring Tibetan, Bhutamese, and Nepali cuisines. They make everything from scratch, and you can really taste it! I had lunch there with three friends the other day, and everything we had was simply SCRUMPTIOUS!

This is what my friend, June, and I both had for lunch, a soup eaten before the Tibetan New Year/Losar celebration called Bhanktuk or Guthuk. It has little handmade dumplings not unlike German spaetzle or Italian gnocchi.

This is called Emma Dasi or Ema Datsi (Bhutanese): Sauteed peppers garnished with tomatoes, onions and fresh cheese. It tasted somewhere between a mild curry and the best cream of tomato soup you've ever had!

These are Momo (Tibetan dumplings--coarsely chopped meat, onions, and cilantro encased in flour dough and steamed) served with a spicy cabbage salad.

I think this is called Shapta (Tibetan): Sliced pieces of meat (chicken pictured here) sauteed with green peppers, onions, tomato, ginger and garlic, served with Drobuk, which is bread made from a steamed flour dough.

I loved everything I tasted, but I especially enjoyed the Ema Datsi. I was thinking about ordering that the next time I went to Himalaya (perhaps as soon as this weekend when my roommate can go with me!).  But the problem is, I don't really care for green peppers, and the dish was replete with them. Moreover, in my reading about this national dish of Bhutan, I learned that it is usually made with hot peppers and is quite fiery in nature, though the one served at the restaurant was very mild (a nod to our wimpy North Country palate, no doubt). So I started to conceive a vision of how I might make my own version at home using various chilies, such as Cubanelle (1), long hot (3), Fresno (4), and jalapeno (1).

I think I came up with something that is very delicious, but also about blew my head off! So the recipe admittedly needs tweaking. It needs a better balance of sweet to hot peppers (I used all hot peppers this time), and it also need something more...tomatoey. Himalaya's Ema Datsi is redder in color and has a more pronounced tomato flavor. Perhaps a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste? I'll play around with it in future iterations. Meanwhile, this is damn good stuff, and if you don't have access to Bhutanese cuisine in your town, then you should try making some yourself.

Edit: Before I put away the leftovers, I reheated the curry and added a tablespoon of double-concentrated tomato paste and some more chicken stock to thin it to a desirable consistency. That was what it needed! So next time, I think I'll add a small can of tomato paste and up to one additional cup of chicken (or vegetable) stock.

Ema Datsi (Bhutanese Curry with Chilies and Cheese)
(Source: adapted from a recipe on

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 cups (1/2 to 3/4 lb.) peppers, seeded and chopped (I suggest half sweet, half hot)
1 large onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable)
1 1/2 cups tomatoes, coarsely chopped (I used about 10 Campari tomatoes)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1/2 pound Haloumi cheese*, cut into small cubes
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream or yogurt, optional
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and saute the peppers and onions for about five minutes or until they just start to color. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat slightly, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and garlic and bring back to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes are melting into the liquid and the garlic has softened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in a nonstick skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil and fry the cubes of cheese until golden brown on both sides. Turn off the heat, and set aside. When the curry is done simmering, stir in the cheese cubes, the cream or yogurt, and the cilantro leaves. Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for another 10 minutes.

Serve with Bhutanese red rice (if you can find it) or brown basmati is also delicious with this spicy curry.

*The traditional cheese used in this dish is called churpi, and it is made from yak's milk and then dried until hard. It's very long-lasting, and its main quality is that it is non-melting. Since churpi is apparently an acquired taste (and not available outside of Bhutan, methinks), the recipe for ema datsi requires a domestic substitution.

You could try a dry farmer's cheese or a feta--or even make your own paneer. But I like haloumi, famous for its ability to be grilled without melting. Instead of stewing the cheese, I decided to fry the chunks, and then add them to the curry at the end. The browning gave them a savory/meaty/umami flavor that was delicious in this dish. I highly recommend Haloumi as your substitute cheese.

Monday, January 02, 2012

My Crock Pot is Already Hoppin' in the New Year!

Check out the Hoppin' John I made in my crock pot for our New Year's Day dinner yesterday. (The picture to the left is what it looked like when it was a little over half way done cooking, before I fished out the ham hocks and added the greens and andouille. See other photo below.)

It was DELISH, and I hope it will bring health, wealth, and happiness in 2012 as tradition predicts. :-)


Crock Pot Hoppin' John

1 lb. dried blackeyed peas (I used Rancho Gordo Snow Caps here)
2 tablespoons olive oil (up to 1/4 cup)
2 medium onions, diced
2 large stalks celery, diced
1 large green pepper, seeded and diced
2 medium carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
pinch of cayenne, to taste
4 cups chicken broth (up to 6 cups--enough to cover)
1 (10.5-ounce) can Rotel tomatoes with chilies
2 smoked ham hocks
1/2 pound collard greens or kale, chopped
1 pound andouille or smoked sausage, sliced

Served over steamed rice (white or brown, as you prefer).

You should start by soaking the beans overnight, but if you don't have time, bring them to hard boil for ten minutes, turn off the heat, cover, and let soak in the water for an hour, then drain, and continue with the recipe.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, celery, green pepper, and carrots over medium heat until the onions are translucent (about 10 minutes). Add the minced garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaves, and cayenne, and cook for another minute or two.

Add the soaked or parcooked beans to the crock pot along with the sauteed veggies, chicken broth, Rotel tomatoes, and ham hocks. Cook on low for 8-12 hours or until beans are tender. Fish out the ham hocks and cool until you can handle them. Pull off any bits of ham, shred, and add back to the pot. Chop the greens and add them and the smoked sausage pieces to the pot. Cook on high for another 30 minutes before serving over steamed or dirty rice.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Year's Eve and the Return of the Levain Cookies

Instead of hanging at home in my p.j.'s and watching an Indiana Jones movie marathon or some such, I actually had New Year's Eve plans this year! Nothing fancy, just a board game night with friends, which is about my speed. I asked my friend, June, what I should bring, and she said to bring whatever I liked. And what I like is the Levain Copycat Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies of blessed memory. I have been meaning to bring that recipe back out, dust it off, and tweak it a bit, and this seemed the perfect opportunity.

My first change was increase the proportion of brown to white sugar to get more of a caramel flavor. Second, I thought I might try reducing the amount of flour and adding a tablespoon of corn starch for a more tender cookie. Also, I added a little extra leavening, and lastly, more chocolate chips for my chocoholic friends.  The other adaptations had to do with how I handled the dough.

I made the dough the night before, scooped the cookies, then wrapped the trays in plastic wrap and chilled them overnight to ripen the dough, fully saturate the dry ingredients, and mature the flavors. And before baking, I actually froze the unbaked cookies for a couple of hours to help achieve slightly underbaked middles, which is Levain's hallmark.

I took the trays to the party and baked them over there so that guests could enjoy the cookies warm from the oven, another Levain signature characteristic. Everyone went ga-ga for them, and the hostess wouldn't even let me take the second tray of (unbaked) cookies home--she confiscated them before I could get out the door! They were just that good. So without further ado, I will let the ball drop on the world's best chocolate chip cookies.

Levain-Style Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies 2.0

2 sticks cold butter, cubed
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 3/4 cups bread flour (you heard me--bread flour!)
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups good quality semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (I only put this many chocolate chips in when I'm making them for others--I personally prefer just 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled, and broken into large pieces (toasting the nuts first makes all the difference--trust me on this)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream together butter and sugars until well blended and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time and beat until well incorporated.

2. Add flour, corn starch, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and mix until just combined. Gently fold in chocolate chips/chunks and nuts.

3. Transfer dough to clean work surface and gently mix dough by hand to ensure even distribution of ingredients. Using a regular cookie scoop, portion out onto parchment or Silpat. (This will make approximately 4 oz. cookies. Levain's are 6 ounces.) You want tall, shaggy haystacks--do not flatten!

4. This step is not strictly necessary, but I like to cover the trays with plastic and refrigerate overnight to develop flavor. Better yet, freeze them until they are very cold and firm (but not completely frozen) before baking.

5. Bake in the preheated oven 13-18 minutes (depending on how gooey you like the interior and whether the dough was chilled/frozen ahead of time) until very lightly browned, taking care not to overbake. Let cool on tray for 10 minutes, then completely on a wire rack. Store what you don’t immediately eat in an airtight container.

*These are best eaten warm out of the oven. If they last until the next day, freshen them in the microwave for 5-10 seconds.

Yield: 20 cookies (using a muffin scoop)