Think about your favorite fancy restaurant. Yeah, that one. My bet is that right now they are serving some form of Brussels spouts: roasted, fried, crispy, whatever. By themselves or with bacon, pancetta, sesame, etc.
This is how you make it at home. Just as phenomenal, trust me. I love Brussels sprouts—they are like tiny cabbages, but somehow more flavorful and interesting. They grow in little funny burls on a stalk!
I apparently really like roasting things. Not even just apparently; it’s true. It’s so easy! You just need lots of patience, and a little planning ahead so you don’t get hangry. And to not mind when your kitchen gets all warm (another reason to appreciate the colder weather).
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts (1/2lb is good for 2 appetizer servings)
Bacon (about 1/4lb with that amount)
Apple cider vinegar
Cut the Brussels sprouts into quarters and place in a roasting pan (I used an 8×8 because that’s what I have. Extra could go in a pie dish, if you don’t have other dishes (I’ve been roasting a lot of squash in pie pans lately)). Cut bacon into small pieces and scatter throughout the Brussels sprouts.
Bake at around 350ºF for a long time, at least 45 minutes, stirring every now and then. They should get browned, crispy, and sizzlely, and the bacon will let go of some of its fat to mix with the sprouts.
Remove from oven and dress with just a tiny dash of apple cider vinegar and a bit of salt—stir it in, it’ll sizzle around in the hot pan. Plate and serve.
I made about the amount specified and ate 2/3 for dinner, planning to save the rest for tomorrow. Then I came home in the evening where it was still sitting out. It somehow disappeared—I didn’t mean to, it just happened. No regrets.
Disclaimer: it is not my birthday, and I didn’t make this recently. My birthday is in August (August 5, in case any of you want to send me fun kitchen supplies next year) but it’s taken me a while to share it with you. Apologies. This post is also a bit different from my usual repertoire of vegetable-based dishes, so this will not be catering to some of you. However, birthdays are a special occasion and they deserve chocolate. In cake form.
You need to be prepared for this. For one, it requires quite a lot of ingredients. I had to save up my eggs (I get 6/week with my CSA) to have enough (although in retrospect I should’ve just bought another 6-pack that week). And buy more butter. And sugar. And cocoa. And chocolate.
But let me tell you, it’s worth it. This cake is amazing. As in, the best cake you will ever eat, ever. The cake is rich yet fluffy, chocolately and complex. And the frosting is pure luxury: smooth, luscious, deeply chocolate and altogether absolutely incredible.
You sold yet?
I’ve made this cake every year for my birthday since I can remember. Used to be we’d have it for my mother’s birthday and my sister’s as well (my dad always had German chocolate) but now that we’re all grown up and out of the house, I make it by myself. Sometimes people find it sad that I make my own birthday cake, but it’s my favorite part about my birthday. Somehow, even living alone, it always finds a way to disappear (and happens to be a good way to make friends).
Have I mentioned chocolate? Let me tell you about it briefly. You see, chocolate is one of those products that doesn’t grow in Maine. I think we’ve been over this already. Discovered in the Americas way back when, now most of it is grown in Western Africa. As part of the legacy of colonialism (which I could go on about for a long time—I studied abroad in Cameroon), raw cacao beans are produced in these mostly developing countries and shipped over to Europe, where they make the finished product, and get to keep almost all the profits. Not ideal. Fortunately there are some chocolate companies that are “Bean-to-Bar” in Africa, meaning the Africans actually get to keep some of the profits of their labor (what a novelty), such as Madecasse, although of course it’s also wicked expensive. I confess, most of my baking is done with Ghiradelli chocolate, which is delicious but has no mention (that I could find) of sustainability or fair trade practices. It is one of those quandaries of trying to live conscientiously in the developed world and one that I attempt to justify by eating it a little less and recognizing it as the luxury it is. Please do as your budget and conscious allows, but remember that there are people across the world trying to make a living from this product, and they deserve to be paid for their labor.
Anyway, as long as we are enjoying luxury we may as well make it the best it can possibly be. The frosting is something we played with for years before getting right. This is the best frosting in the world, I kid you not. An Italian buttercream, you first make a rich yellow custard, then beat in butter, powdered sugar, and melted chocolate to get the silky, sumptuous smooth chocolate topping, which really you could eat by itself for dessert—it is not horridly sweet like many frostings. We had been making a normal chocolate buttercream for a long time, but it was too sweet and always turned out a little grainy. Finally we saw this recipe in the February (=chocolate) issue of Gourmet magazine one year, and gave it a try. Too much butter (=too rich and not the right texture) and not enough chocolate flavor (milk chocolate? Really?). But, after several adjustments to get both the best flavor and the right amount for our three-layer cake, we succeeded in creating the perfect frosting for the perfect cake.
Who is Bonnie? We don’t know—my mom got the recipe from the boyfriend of a co-worker in a lab she worked in after college. If you are Bonnie and this is your cake recipe, thank you.
This recipe is in the baking book that my mother and I created and printed for family. We are sharing it because we believe in sharing good things. Feel free to do the same. Love you, Mogs!
For the cake:
1 cup unsweetened cocoa (I use Dutch-process)
2 cups boiling water
2 ¾ cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
1 cup soft butter
2 ¾ cups sugar (use half brown sugar for a more caramel taste)
1 ½ tsp vanilla
For the frosting:
1 cup whole milk
4 large egg yolks (freeze the whites for a later date)
1 T plus 1 tsp flour
½ and 1 cup confectioners sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup butter
5 oz bittersweet chocolate
3 oz unsweetened chocolate
The cake: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease, then parchment (cut out rounds), grease again and flour 3 9-inch round cake pans (if you don’t have metal ones, the aluminum one-use ones you can buy at the grocery store work fine. Just grease and flour, no need for parchment. I even reuse them, many times over (don’t have real ones)).
Mix the cocoa and boiling water together until cocoa is dissolved. Cool.
Sift together flour, soda, salt, and powder and set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Beat in the eggs one by one. Add the vanilla. Carefully beat in the flour mixture alternately with the cocoa liquid, adding the flour mixture in 3 parts and the cocoa mixture in two. Do not overbeat.
Pour evenly into the 3 prepared pans. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. You will need to check the cake frequently at the end, so it doesn’t become dry (dry cakes are the worst). Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to remove the cake and cool on individual racks (as you can see, I only have two cooling racks, so I used the broiler pan. Made sure it was clean first, worry not).
For the frosting: Heat milk in microwave or in heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot.
Whisk together yolks, flour, ½ cup sugar, salt in a medium saucepan, then add hot milk in a stream, whisking (this tempers the yolks so they will not curdle).
Bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking.Reduce heat and simmer, whisking, 2 minutes (mixture will be very thick), then transfer to a mixing bowl.Cover surface of custard with plastic wrapand cool to room temperature, about 45 minutes.
Melt chocolates, either on top of a double-boiler or in the microwave, and cool.
Add vanilla and remaining cup of sugar to cooled custard and beat with clean beaters at moderate speed until combined well, then increase speed to medium-high and beat in softened butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, until smooth.Add melted chocolates and beat until combined well and fluffy.
Assembly: Place first cake layer onto cake platter by placing your hand on top of the cake on the rack and quickly and confidently flipping the cake onto the platter. Spread with about 1/4 of the frosting. Repeat with the next two layers; with the final layer, spread the final quarter of frosting onto the sides of the cake to cover.
Decorate as desired: swirl the frosting, or smooth it and add other decorations with a frosting tip. I’ve taken cake decorating classes (Wilton) and it can be fun, but I think it’s a little classier to have the same color and some neat shells on the side or something. Not as easy to write “Happy Birthday” on it though.
Enjoy! This is a cake that is best the 2nd or even 3rd day, when the flavors have had a chance to meld. And make sure you cut it properly! This is a very forceful pet peeve of mine. I don’t get angry very easily but man if you cut a piece of cake in other than an exact radius from the middle, messing up the careful ratio of moistness from the edge, I will yell and scream and utter all variety of curses at you until you apologize profusely and perhaps even offer to buy ingredients to make a new cake. There was a video cycling around a while back about the mathematical way to cut a cake and boy is he ever the most wrong. Seriously, buddy, it messes up the whole ratio of frosting, you start with the best middle moist piece (very selfish) but then you’ll end up with a bunch of dry cake with too much sugary frosting, which is actually fondant, because no way can you push a real, tasty cake together and even put a rubber band around it like that. He clearly has never ever had a good piece of cake, poor man (the guy in the video is really just demonstrating a method that someone else came up with, but still).
Good cake will stay moist for days, as long as you cover it properly, and if you are really worried about it you can put a piece of wax paper on the cut side.
Someday I’ll take a video of how I eat a piece of cake, which is very specific as well (designed to get the same ratio of frosting on each bite), but too difficult to describe. Besides, this post is long enough.
Do yourself a favor and go buy yourself a squash. Any variety. Roast it until soft and then some, cut side down in plenty of butter so it gets all caramelly. Wait til it cools, a bit anyway, then eat it.
I have made a personal goal to get tired of squash this season. I foresee eating squash almost every day. Those of you who are thinking this will not be difficult don’t know how much I like squash. We shall see.
However, this post is not about squash. This post is about making do with what you have and enjoying it tremendously.
My summer CSA concluded last week. Fear not, I have signed up for a winter share as well. Sad as this may be, I was gone over the weekend and so I ended up having a bunch of extra veggies that needing using up even more than usual, namely some arugula and mesclun that was beginning to turn yellow. The worst. I also had some tomatoes from a co-worker’s garden a long while ago that she picked green, and they finally became ripe on my countertop, and were even starting to get a little wrinkly. Read: required roasting.
The other part of this story is that I made soup yesterday (veggies + lentils; good but nothing exciting) and what it really needed was some cheese biscuits, and fortuitously I also had some cheese that needed to be eaten. So, cheese biscuits it was. But I didn’t want the soup for dinner again tonight because I had it for lunch, so I plan to enjoy it with biscuits tomorrow at work lunch again, toasting the biscuits in the toaster oven.
That still left dinner tonight. Arugula + cheese biscuits + roasted tomatoes? Sure, why not? Throw on a little mustard-apple cider vinegar vinaigrette and you are good to go.
It turned into almost a fancy, vegetarian BLT. Except that it feels a little insulting to call it that, like you substituted bacon and let’s face it, substitutes for bacon are just not as good as the real thing. This particular sandwich (to use the term lightly) was in no need whatsoever of bacon. The cheese in the biscuits left enough salty crispness, the arugula and the mustard provided a nice sharp note, and the tomatoes were sweet and flavorful.
Thinking about it later, I realized that some of my most satisfying meals, and culinary adventures, have been figuring out what to do with ingredients on hand, rather than planning ahead of time. Not that all of those always work out either, I think I’m conflating ideas that really are entirely independent. But it’s a nice thought anyway.
Really, I just want that to be true because it meshes with the idea of letting something else (i.e. the land/soil, which translates to your CSA box) dictate what you eat. I was reminded of this notion again today while catching up on the latest (and second ever) episode of Gastropod, a new podcast about the history and science of food (= win). The short of it is that ecosystems produce more than a single product, and a good chef will learn how to use all the pieces of that ecosystem in a cuisine. Not exactly relevant to what I was doing today, but something to aspire to, anyway. I do pretty well—butter, yogurt, flour, cheese (not this time but often) can all be local ingredients.
8 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces and chilled/frozen
2 1/2 cups flour (including 1 cup whole wheat if you want)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup cheese (I used Jarlsburg; cheddar works well)
1 1/8 cups yogurt or buttermilk (I had to thin my yogurt with a little milk)
Preheat oven to 425ºF.
Mix together the dry ingredients. Add butter and cheese and squish the butter around briefly with your fingers so there aren’t any huge pieces (nothing larger than a pea is the general rule, although you could go a little bigger for this). You can also do this in a food processor, if you have one. Add the yogurt and mix until dough forms together. You can knead it BRIEFLY (i.e. as little as possible) to catch in the excess flour if need be.
Pat into about 3/4 inch thick round. Cut out circles with a cookie cutter or other round object of an appropriate size (I used a wine glass). You can make whatever size you want. Arrange on a baking sheet, with room to expand, and bake for around 20 minutes, until crisp and golden. (My oven started smoking at this point. I’m not sure if it was due to the biscuits or the tomatoes or something else, but always a little unsettling.) Remove from baking sheet and onto a cooling rack/into your stomach. Eat the first one with a little extra butter (if you feel like being excessive, in a good way. I love butter) or some honey or just hot and steaming without accoutrement.
You don’t need a recipe for roasted tomatoes or mustard vinaigrette do you? Well, fine: roast the tomatoes. (Done.) For the vinaigrette, spoon out some mustard into your salad bowl, sprinkle on a little vinegar, mix, then add a little olive oil. (Done.)
Put them all together (or not! This is excellent deconstructed. And has the benefit of not making the biscuits soggy) and mangez-vous.
(I also roasted a gorgeous purple cauliflower I picked up on the way home because I haven’t had cauliflower ALL SUMMER and it’s amazing and fantastic roasted with a little oil and salt. And garlic, which I forgot this time around but won’t again. Before and after roasting pics below.)
On an unrelated note, I used to think life was about being happy but I came across this article from the Atlantic the other day and I’m not so sure that’s true. Do you have meaning in your life? Are you happy?
Then, if you need an easy meal to get to started, try a grain bowl (from the New York Times)! Which is similar to many meals that I cook.
For flavor inspiration, check out this spice chart to pair spices from different cuisines (although thanks for telling me what cajun seasoning, or garum masala, or curry powder, consist of. Not. Oh, well).
However, you may be of the mood to instead vanquish the copious amounts of potatoes spilling out of your kitchen cupboard, and would like to pair them with delicious delicate leeks that are a traditional accompaniment (“Eat my leek!” was always one of my favorite of the Shakespeare insult playing cards I had a while ago (Henry V, Act 5, Scene 1), indicating that the person will have to retract their words. The internet also says it has something to do with Welsh heritage, although I am certainly not an expert. Despite the Bard’s influence, I assure you there is nothing shameful about eating leeks, they are rather amazing—like a mild, soft onion).
Potato leek soup is fantastically easy and shockingly delicious. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should. Then add other stuff (cheese, bacon, etc.) when you get bored.
If you don’t want soup, make it into mashed potatoes and leeks by draining the water (save for another use!), adding a little butter and milk (or cream), and mashing.
The rutabagas make it nice and golden here (this is a mix). You can peel the potatoes if you want, but I can’t be bothered. If you care about having it smooth, go for it. But I kind of like the rustic approach.
Potato leek soup
1 lb potatoes (red, gold, whatever), or a combination of potatoes and other roots (rutabaga, turnips)
3 leeks, or 2 larger ones
5-6 cups of water
Salt and pepper
To prepare the leeks, peel off one layer, then slice off a good chunk of each green part, washing underneath. You should end up with clean, mostly white slices.
Chop the potatoes into chunks and thinly slice the leeks. If you use other roots, like rutabagas, chop them smaller than the potatoes, since they take longer to cook. Melt butter in a pan and sauté the leeks and potatoes for a few minutes, until leeks are aromatic and a little soft, then add water (the amount depends on how thick you like your soup; you can always add more later if you like, but also make sure there’s enough to cover the potatoes). Bring to a boil, and simmer for at least 10 minutes, or until potatoes are soft. For soup, mash against the side of the bowl, or pull out your immersion blender and blend it all until smooth if you want it that way (I didn’t). Add salt and pepper to taste, garnish with a little cheese if you like, and serve.
Mashed, this is also good with melted cheese (I suggest cheddar) mixed in.
I must admit, I’d never done anything with Concord grapes before now.
I think maybe they don’t exist in Montana, or at least I never came in contact with them there. Not that they are particularly easy to find in Maine—I didn’t really look for them at the farmer’s market, but I don’t remember seeing them. But someone in the office brought a bunch in, so I took them home, hoping the Internet could help.
Turns out the Internet is correct about Concord grapes, and that is that they take FOREVER to seed. Especially in the large quantity that I had. I had been warned and thus was mentally prepared, so I listened to about 5 episodes of Radiolab and called a couple friends and it really wasn’t too bad, but you must also be ready.
I found a couple recipes for focaccia, and one for pie (which I made later), and then later made a grape-apple crisp, which I am currently enjoying A LOT. But I decided to start with muffins, based on the recipe from In Jennie’s Kitchen.
Her recipe is a bit odd for muffins, honestly—it’s more like a scone recipe, cutting in cold butter, no eggs. I decided to add an egg to keep it moist longer and made a few other substitutions (brown for white sugar, yogurt instead of milk and therefore more soda and less powder, to balance the acidity). And I think they turned out quite well, thank you, not too sweet and with little sour juicy patches where the grapes are hiding.
Concord grape muffins
2 cups flour (I used 1.5 white, .5 whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
1 cup yogurt, as much whey (the liquid) as possible; you can stir in a little water to thin it if necessary
Or, 1 cup milk; use more baking powder and less soda
A splash of vanilla
8 oz seeded concord grapes
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Butter 12 muffin tins. If you want smaller muffins, you may need a few more—or do what I did, and bake the extra batter in a bowl.
Mix together the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter so there are small (pea-sized) pieces. Stir together yogurt, vanilla, and egg, then add to the dry ingredients, mixing just until the flour is moist. Finally, fold in the seeded grapes, including skins.
Separate batter into the muffin tins, filling most of the way. Like I said, you may have a little extra; put it in a buttered bowl or small dish and bake it alongside the muffins.
Bake for around 20 minutes, until you get a clean toothpick and the tops are golden. Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then gently slip a knife around the edge of each muffin to loosen it, popping them out of the pans.
Enjoy warm, with extra butter if you’d like, and a nice cup of tea.
Chop them up and roast them (hot oven, with a little olive oil, for at least 20 minutes. Throw in a few whole cloves of garlic too).
This can be done while you are roasting other things. I like to use my oven for more than one thing when it’s on: a pie and root vegetables, crisp and squash, muffins and tomatoes… it saves energy and prevents you from steaming up your house all the time. Also, everything takes time to cook, so it means you have fewer moments hanging around waiting to open your oven. Do be careful not to open the oven door too much when you have a few things in there, though—I’ve heard it loses 10º every time the door opens.
Anyway, back to the tomatoes. (Almost)
After roasting, make some rice. This is another thing that can be done ahead of time. In fact, as a person living alone, I highly recommend making either a large pot of rice, or beans, or lentils, or some combination of the above, at the start of your week. They provide a platform for all your awesome veggies and something to fall back on should you feel less than inspired, or just crunched by time, later in the week. You can do other things to help yourself out during the week—roast a chicken, make granola, bake some bread—this could take up your whole Sunday if you let it. I’ve been getting up early on weekends (habit) and find it’s a good time to do some baking. Then the rest of the day is free to enjoy).
Boil a pot of water and blanch some kale. While you’re at it, blanch a few more of the excess of veggies you got in your CSA and stick them (labeled) in your freezer. If you still have room in there. Grind up the kale (no stems) with a little olive oil.
When you are ready for dinner/office lunch/breakfast (? whatever), throw together rice-roasted tomatoes+garlic-chopped kale-a little pecorino, warm up briefly if necessary, and NOM. I recommend brown rice, it’s got more of a nuttier flavor that adds actually quite a bit to this dish. Honestly it surprised me how much I enjoyed this dinner. All about the tomatoes.
I may have discovered the cure for the common cold.
The trick is to add about 5 times as many hot peppers to a dish as you are supposed to. It makes eating into a sweaty workout, except that your nose runs instead of your feet. But it has the benefit of clearing sinuses and expunging that blocked bubble feeling in your head, to a point that I felt like I had taken… something stronger.
I find myself looking forward to fall, in part because it provides more of an excuse to do some real cooking. Summer is awesome for all the fresh produce, but most of the time I want to eat it cool, juicy, raw, right off the vine/bush/tree/etc. Not that I didn’t have some fun cooking adventures this summer. And I like fall for other reasons too—the color and smell of turning leaves, the cool air, the warmth of bright orange squash and pumpkins.
This dish has the good fortune to take advantage of both summer ingredients and fall weather. I am sure that it is in no way “authentic”; I combined a couple different recipes, as usual, but essentially threw together a bunch of ingredients, spices, and chiles (honestly I didn’t even know what kinds of chiles I had before dicing them and throwing them in the pot). But for 95% Maine ingredients (everything but the olive oil), I think this Southwest classic worked pretty well.
I got the idea for chile verde from this recipe in Saveur, and when I got a cold last week I decided I needed it. Unfortunately I didn’t have any tomatillos on hand, which is why the verde turned into rojo. Worked just fine, although I imagine it would also be quite delicious with tomatillos.
Note on portions: this made enough for about 2 1/2 large bowls/servings. Good for just me, but make more if you want to share (recommended—spicy adventures are fun with a companion. But maybe hold back any extra chiles, unless you want whoever you are with to see you with tears and sweat streaming down your face).
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp coriander
3-4 cloves garlic
1 sweet pepper
1 Anaheim pepper1 serrano chile1 jalapeño
more chiles, proportional to how much you like sweating or how bad your cold is
2 cups tomatillos, or tomatoes, chopped
Maybe 1/3 lb pork shoulder or chops, cubed
2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable), or water
Cilantro, avocado, and lime, for garnish
Prep all the ingredients first: dice the veggies, mince the garlic and chiles. Add the spices to a big saucepan and cook for about a minute, until fragrant, then add the oil, onions, and garlic and sauté for a bit. Throw in the sweet peppers and chiles (don’t stand over it too much after adding the chiles—it might sting your eyes) and sauté until soft. Finally, add the tomatoes and simmer.
Meanwhile, if you have another pan, salt and pepper the pork, then brown it in a little oil. Once browned on all sides, pour in the stock and deglaze the pan (scrape up all the brown bits at the bottom of the pan). If you don’t have another pan, wait until the veggies are soft, take them out and put them on the side, then cook the pork.
Pour some of the stock into the veggies (or just add the veggies back to the pot, and take out the pork as you can), and put in your handy immersion blender to purée some of the tomatoes. Some chunks are okay, but it should be pretty puréed—this is what gives the chile body (alternatively, take some out and put it in a blender if you do not have a hand blender).
Add the pork back in and simmer with the lid on for at least 30 minutes, until pork is tender. If there is too much liquid, take the lid off for a bit.
Scoop into a large bowl, let it cool for a few minutes, then squeeze in a little lime and garnish with cilantro and avocado. Have some bread and napkins on hand, and enjoy.
Other recipes suggest roasting the Anaheim peppers (and maybe others) before adding them. And obviously using tomatillos. You could also make a roux or a corn roux (corn flour and oil) and mix it in at the end to thicken the chile. And if you are of the total vegetarian disposition, omit the pork and it’ll turn into spicy tomato soup.
Eating this the next day was actually rather more of a pleasure because I could actually taste it, in addition to feeling the effects of the chile (one’s sense of taste is not improved by a cold). I assure you that the flavors are good, even when not overwhelmed by heat.