Roasted Beet Crostini

I watched the first four seasons of Sex and the City in my best friend’s basement in high school.

We would set the TV to something innocuous, but believable, and shut off the DVD player as quickly as possible when somebody came down the stairs.

It was fascinating to us, the life of 30-something single women. And it seriously warped my sense of how women that age lived.

Not because of the whole women as sex symbols thing, or even the fantastic notion of large, rent-controlled New York City apartments being available to once-a-week columnists. Those fights have been nauseatingly overplayed and I won’t subject you to them here.

Mostly, it made me think that adult women have wardrobes containing endless cocktail dresses and matching pajama sets.

Please tell me that I’m not alone in not owning even one matching pajama set.

I’m older now. I know better than to judge myself based on movies and HBO dramas, but sometimes I still feel like I’m doing it all wrong.

When Jason said was going to be gone for a Saturday night to help a friend move, my inner slave to Sex and the City had visions of a girls’ night where we all sat around gossiping about our love lives and sipping from martini glasses.

Instead, I made beets and watched at least four consecutive episodes of The Big Bang Theory. Jason hates both. Alone, it was my chance to indulge in the things I usually give up in the name of compromise and not subjecting somebody to my love of controversial root vegetables and (not controversial) CBS sitcoms.

Plus, beets leave everything stained pink and that’s kind of girly, right?

If you do decide to make a girls’ night of it — matching pajama sets or not — these crostini make great appetizers that can be completely prepped in advance. And that seems like something fashion-forward women on TV would do, right?

Roasted Beet Crostini
Very slightly adapted from Eating Well
I was drawn to these crostini because they use all parts of the beet — bulb, stem and leaves. Knowing that, I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised that they were, um, beety. They taste like you are eating beets on top of beets on top of bread. Because, well, you are. After eating the first couple, I stirred some red pepper flakes into the beet and goat cheese spread to add a little umph, and I’ve written the recipe with that included. I think lemongrass, ginger or grated lemon zest might also do the trick, but haven’t tried any of those.

1 bunch beets, greens attached
1 baguette, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
6 ounces goat cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced or chopped
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (red wine or balsamic would work)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I admit, I eyeballed this, so not sure on exact measurement)

Preheat over to 400 degrees.

Trim leaves and stems from beets, and set aside. Place beets in a baking dish (no need to peel beets first) and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Mine were small and only took 45 minutes. Eating well has its cooking time go all the way up to 1 1/2 hours, but I’m not sure where they got their softball sized beets. The beets will be ready when you can easily prick them with a knife or fork. When finished, uncover and let cool.

Wash and chop reserved stems and leaves, keeping them separate. Don’t worry about getting them dry, the water that is clinging to the leaves will help them cook in the pan.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped stems and cook, stirring occassionally, until tender. Again, Eating Well’s wacky cook times say this can be done in 3 minutes. It took me more like six or seven. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to one minute. (EW says 15 seconds here! Have you ever cooked anything in 15 seconds?) If you want to jazz this up more, you can add additional red pepper flakes/ginger/lemon at this step, too.

Add the chopped greens and cook, stirring occassionally, until tender and liquid has evaporated, about 6-8 minutes.

While this is cooking, set your broiler to low and spread crostini slices on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with about a tablespoon of olive oil and broil until brown (flip to brown each side).

Peel the cooled beets (the peel will easily slip off with your fingers) and cut in half, or quartered if you have really large beets. Put about a cup of the beets into your food processor with the goat cheese and red pepper flakes and process until smooth.

Spread the goat cheese mixture on each crostini and top with greens.

Posted in Appetizers, Sides, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sandy’s Mulled Wine Toddy

It’s Monday afternoon. I’m home from work early, standing next to a cooler containing these items: beer, milk, bacon, haddock. You know, all the essentials.

Like thousands along the East Coast, Hurricane Sandy has decided we can do without power for a little while. As a trade for getting out of work early, I’m okay with it.

Yesterday as weatherman everywhere warned of the dangers of the impending “Frankenstorm,” people rushed to buy generators and bottled water and candles. I bought white wine and checked my liquor cabinet for brandy.

And so I bring you my official drink of Hurricane Sandy. The white wine makes it fairly light, while the spices and initial heat of the drink take that chill off. The brandy finishes the job, warming you to the core.

Mulled Wine Toddy
Adapted from Food 52 based on what spices I had at home

1 bottle dry white wine (I used Riesling, but use whatever you have on hand. It’s a hurricane!)
1 piece star anise
5 whole cloves
2 sticks cinnamon
4 whole allspice berries
3-4 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup pear brandy

Put wine, spices and honey (start with 3 tablespoons, you can always add more) in a medium saucepan. Heat over a medium flame until it just begins to simmer, stirring occasionally.

Let mull for about 10 minutes (the original recipe instructs to wait 15-20, I couldn’t). Add more honey if needed.

Turn the heat back on, heating the wine mixture until warm.

Turn off the heat, stir in the brandy and serve. Theoretically this should go in four mugs. I say, that depends on the size of your mug.

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Whole Wheat Porter Bread

Recently I asked a friend is she thought I was crazy because I was actually looking forward to the dead of winter. Not gaze-at-Christmas-lights-in-light-falling-snow winter. I’m looking forward to put-on-long-underwear-to-get-the-mail winter.

This isn’t because I have some sick wish for cold-weather misery. I don’t. I live in Maine. I can’t ski. My car is old enough to have its own driver’s license and all its problems that I call “quirky” in the summer (it’s 80 degrees and my back windows just fell down, how charming and refreshing) become serious freaking problems in the winter (it’s -65 degrees and my mother-effing back windows just fell down and now I have a half inch of snow in my back seat).*

She said she thinks I’m crazy, by the way. But I’m still standing by my reasons. I want my weekends back — specifically my Sundays. During the summer there’s just so much darn pressure to use up every minute doing something active and Facebook picture worthy.

The truth of the matter is, I just want to bake bread. I just want to take an entire afternoon, put in a load of laundry, turn on a podcast of This American Life, and bake some gosh darn bread.

Well folks, we’re just about there. There’s still hikes to go on, and apples that need to be picked, and leaves that need to be peeped, but the return of football has officially made lazy Sundays acceptable.

So bread is back. Hallelujah. But lest you don’t want to miss out on the aforementioned mandatory fall activities, I have some transition bread for you. All the warm bread smelling goodness, without being tied down by a double yeast rise.

It’s made with wheat flour so you feel good about it and it makes a hearty accompaniment to soup or stew. But also did you see that part about the beer? Porter, specifically, my most favorite of all the beers. And because it has beer in it, it goes with football. So if we want to get technical about it, baking this bread should probably be added to those mandatory fall activities.

Whole Wheat Porter Bread
As written from King Arthur Flour

I received this recipe in hard-copy form from a friend’s mom. I Googled around to try to find a link for you, but there wasn’t anything on the official website. However, it has been reposted on some other message boards.

Also, go with a porter that you would otherwise want to drink. First off, because then you can buy a six-pack and be like “Oh yeah, well I had to buy all this beer” and just drink the others while watching football. Second, you can really taste the porter here. I haven’t tried it, but I can reasonably guess that a stout would also work wonderfully. 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup packed brown sugar (I used light, but I think dark would work, too)
1 (12 fluid ounce) bottle of porter beer

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan with butter or cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine all your dry ingredients. Then, pour in the beer. It will foam because of the baking powder. That’s science.

Stir until a stiff batter is formed. King Arthur said I might need my hands. I got through it with a wooden spoon.

Scape batter into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Like other batter breads, you can test this by inserting a toothpick into the center of the loaf and checking to see if it comes out clean.

King Arthur also told me to let it cool before slicing. Yeah right.

*Jason rightfully pointed out that he has since fixed the back-window issue on my car. He fixes things for me and reads my blog. I’m thinking about keeping him.

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Granola Bars, Rescued

So I have this friend. She’s awesome. She taught me how to not go crazy at an entry-level newspaper job. When I was 23, she let me crash on her couch for two weeks when an apartment rental fell through. She helped me change “In Your Eyes” into an ode to cheese fries. She became the subject of a Missed Connection of Craig’s List by simply walking her dogs. I’m jealous to this day.

For our entire friendship, we pretty much celebrated every milestone the way most 20-somethings do. For small things — happy hour. For big things, like when she got engaged — a giant, almost novelty-sized bottle of champagne that we drank while blasting Thriller.

And this summer she had a baby — the most beautiful, squishy, sweet-smelling baby you’ve ever seen. It was a major BFD.

For obvious reasons, I didn’t think novelty-sized booze was the way to go. But while the new parents were spending the next days/months/years of their lives pouring all their love to this little human (and doing so at unnatural hours of the night), I wanted them to know that somebody was thinking of them, too.

So I made food. A lot of food. Food that they could freeze and pop in the oven when that was the extent of dinner planning they could muster. Food that would fill their bellies full of health and nutrients and energy and love. And the pièce de résistance — food that could do all that with only one spare hand.

Granola bars. Homemade ones. Oh all the mommy bloggers would be so proud. They would stand up and cheer. They would shower me with honorary Mom Blogger awards like universities hand out honorary degrees to important people who never paid them tuition.

I took photos. I thought of all the ways I would tell you about the wonderful thing I did. Then, I took the browned beauties out of the oven and realized…I forgot the sugar. I prayed it wouldn’t matter, just make them less sweet. I pretended like these things don’t matter in baking.

Then I tried to cut them and they crumbled. No matter how hard I pressed them into the pan and tried again, they crumbled more and more and more. I stomped. I pouted. I told Jason he could eat the “crappy granola” on yogurt if he wanted because they were positively unpresentable.

The next day, less cranky, I Googled, and thought, and Googled some more and realized that these could be fixed with the help of some honey, a little more butter, and a cupcake pan.

They came out perfectly — still chewy, the blandness of the sugar-free granola replaced by sweetness of the honey.

In fact, I think I liked them more. Next time I’ll remember to add the sugar–but only half–and toss the ingredients with a good dose of honey and butter and press them into adorable individual servings. And I’ll remember that hubris followed by tantrums really don’t have any consequences because these babies still turned out great.

Granola Bars
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

As you can probably judge by the photos, I made a massive amount of these — quadrupling the original recipe. I have, however, written the recipe here to reflect the more normal amount.

Despite my failure, don’t be afraid: this recipe is flexible. I put peanut butter in mine, but you don’t have to. I used dried apricots, sliced almonds, unsweetened coconut, dried cranberries, and golden raisins. Keep the total amount the same and use whatever you want (even chocolate chips, you know you want to).

1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup oat flour (if you don’t have it, you can grind the oats in a food processor, or I think wheat flour would also work here)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups fixins (dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips)
1/3 cup peanut butter/almond butter/other nut butter (or not)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter (or spray with cooking spray) a muffin tin.

In a large bowl, stir together oats, sugar, flour, salt cinnamon, and dried fruit and nuts. In another bowl, thoroughly mix the peanut butter, vanilla, butter, honey and water.

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until evenly moistened (it will still be crumbly).

Press the mixture into the individual muffin cups, filling about halfway up. Really press that stuff in there. You can use a spoon to get around the edges. It also helps to put a piece of plastic wrap over the top and you can press the back of it.

Bake about 20 minutes, or until brown around the edges and slightly brown on top. Cool completely in the pan, on a cooling rack.

Once cool, slide a knife around the edges and gently pop them out. If they seem too crumbly, pop the pan in the fridge for about a half hour.

Store wrapped in plastic or in tupperware or just in your belly.

Posted in Breakfast, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Organizing the Bounty

Earlier this summer, I found myself in a pickle. Not one of those wiggly, slightly neon pickle slices that Jason pulled off his Sonic burger and flung out his car window, only to have pickle and mayonnaise splattered across his window. This was more like those artisan pickles–made by a Brooklyn hipster using some 100-year-old fermentation process–that I hear are having a moment.

A good pickle.

I had too many vegetables. The garden was threatening to become carnivorous and eat the dog. I swear I heard the CSA workers laugh when I buckled under the weight of the 75 tomatoes that came in my share that week. And still, I thought it a good idea to go to the Farmer’s Market (“just to look!”).

It became overwhelming. I had no plan for any of this stuff so at the end of each workday I would find myself digging through the mountain of produce, desperately trying to find a meal that would use the maximum amount of vegetables. And inevitably, things would be forgotten and go bad. Really good things. Like beet greens and peaches and fresh-picked blackberries.

So I took the advice of a couple of guys who are consistently two years ahead of me in their culinary discoveries and made myself a vegetable list using a chalkboard I already had hanging in the kitchen.

First, it made me realize how many vegetables I had, and that I probably should put the Farmer’s Market on hold for a few weeks if I couldn’t show a little restraint.

Second, the number of rotting vegetables in my fridge greatly decreased because with the board I could remember they were there, and to use them.

And third, somehow just seeing this list of produce on my wall made planning dinner so much less stressful. I could look at it and mentally check off ingredients I was going to use that night.

And as a bonus, these types of lists are irresistable for friends of boyfriends/husbands/roommates — leading to some interesting additions to the list.

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Toasted Coconut & Pecan Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

True story: when I was a kid, I used to wonder to myself if chocolate chips cookies could be made without chocolate chips. When choosing my fresh-out-of-oven cookie, I would examine them all thoroughly and purposefully choose the one with the fewest chocolate chips.

I liked things simple. Still do. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean I like these things bland. I just wanted to savor the best of something without extra ingredients getting in the way.

So the fact that I even considered making cookies that would prompt a title this long is completely out of character. Lucky for me, I was smack-dab in the middle of the four-day weekend and I decided to get a leetle crazy.

These cookies, though, oh man, these cookies were meant to be. I’m pretty sure I’ll only toast coconut and pecans as a pair now because the nutty sweetness that ensued was something special. I also may or may not have declared brown butter as “basically one of my favorite foods.”

I don’t take it back. It is. I’ve considering putting it in oatmeal. Is that wrong?

And yes, even the chocolate chips — the little morsels I used to eat around — have a perfect place here. The bitterness of dark chocolate is essential to balancing the richness of the butter and meatiness of the pecans and coconut.

These bad boys have depth.

So go ahead, shove that bathing suit into the back of your drawer and get your brown butter on.

Toasted Coconut & Pecan Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Joy the Baker, who adapted hers from a stellar chocolate chip cookie recipe by Smitten Kitchen (this is like a delicious game of food blogging telephone)

The only significant changes I made to this one was the addition of pecans and balancing out the ratio of add-ins to nearly 1:1:1.

Joy said that she got about 2 dozen cookies out of this recipe. I got north of 30. I win. 

1 cup (2 sticks) of butter
1` cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon of salt (I was going for a slightly noticeable salty taste. If you’d rather not, use 1/2 teaspoon)
1 large whole egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup shredded coconut (I greatly prefer unsweetened, but sweetened will work)
1/2 cup pecans
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a small baking sheet (or the one you plan to use later for your cookies if you want to save dishes) with parchment paper. Spread the coconut and pecans on the baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 6 minutes. They will be done when the coconut is a light brown color (think a lightly toasted marshmallow) and you start wondering if you can bottle the scent. Let cool in a small bowl.

Brown that butter! Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. It will melt, then foam, then pop, then turn into an awesome brown color and tiny bits of brown awesomeness will form on the bottom of the pan. At this point, you will start fantasizing about how good that cookie dough is going to taste on a spoon, hovering over the sink. Don’t get lost in your fantasy. Take the butter off the heat and pour into a bowl so it doesn’t burn in the hot pan.

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat both sugars and brown butter (slightly cooled at this point) on medium speed for about 2 minutes.

Add the egg and egg yolk and continue beating for another 2 minutes. At this point, the batter should be smooth. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Slowly add the dry ingredients while beating on low speed. No need to go crazy with this, everything just needs to be mixed together. Add the coconut, pecans and chocolate chips and mix with a spatula until evenly distributed.

Spoon about tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Don’t worry about flattening them, they’ll do their thing in the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the edges are slightly golden, but the middle is still soft. Let cool for a few minutes out of the oven on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack. If the rack gets crowded, eat more cookies.

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Roasted Green Cabbage Wedges

This is cheating. I’m not even going to try to deny it. It’s lazy blogging and even lazier cooking.

It’s not even a recipe. It’s a technique, I suppose, but only if that technique is roasting. Have you heard of it? Roasting? Did you know people do it with vegetables sometimes?

So yes, okay, there is nothing original about this. Except that I’ve had two heads of green cabbage sitting in my fridge for longer than I care to admit, and when I saw that I could prepare them this way it blew my mind. Maybe that’s just me, but on the off-chance that it isn’t, I thought I would share.

Previously, I thought of green cabbage in three forms: coleslaw, cabbage salad, and that mushy, limp stuff I sometimes see paired with pork. The first two aren’t bad, but not exactly original. The latter I won’t touch.

But this roasted cabbage, it’s something else. Somehow cooking the wedges in a 450 degree oven transforms the normally tough core to butter. It’s mild, slightly sweet and actually creamy. I don’t know how this happens, but I’m not going to question it. Meanwhile, the edges char just enough to add a crispy bite and smokey contrast. A squirt of lemon juice makes it sing.

We ate this with salmon and loved every bite. I think it would go equally well with, well anything. And I know we’re three months out, but I love the idea of serving this in lieu of a salad for Thanksgiving. It takes no work, costs next to nothing, can be roasted while the turkey rests, and I think it would be a welcome change from the afterthought that is often the Thanksgiving side salad.

Roasted Green Cabbage Wedges
Introduced to me by, who else, Martha Stewart
Like I said previously, this is not a recipe as much as it is a technique or an idea. So I’m writing it as such.

Cut a small head of green cabbage into about six wedges. It helps if they are about the same size so they will cook at the same rate. Most importantly keep the core intact. Don’t go getting all confident wielding that kitchen knife and slice it off before reading through the directions. It keeps the wedge together and you don’t want to miss out on that buttery magic.

Spread out wedges on a baking sheet. Be careful not to crowd them or they will steam rather than roast.

Drizzle wedges with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Squirt with fresh lemon juice before serving.

Posted in Sides, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments