Savory Upside Down White Bean Tart

The vegan child was hungry and the grocery store was too far away on a Friday night. Although we have lots of up-all-night markets I … just … didn’t … want … to … go. It was FRIDAY, the end of the work week, and ok ok ok I was being lazy so I had to rely on the staples and the overlooked “that doesn’t sound good” food we had on hand. But laziness inspires creativity and I was d-e-t-e-r-m-i-n-e-d not to leave this house.

 And I didn’t. Oh snap.

 So here’s what you need for a savory, filling, easy meal inspired by my companion, Sloth. For my vegetarian and omnivore friends, please see the Veg & Omni ingredients list. I only give alternates instead of the entire list.

 

 Kitchen Items:

4 quart casserole dish

Medium mixing bowls

Food processor, blender, pastry blender, or fine mesh sieve

Your favorite vegetable-chopping knife

A couple of spoons for mixing

 

 Topping:

1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin mix (Or use 1 c. cornmeal and 1 tsp. baking powder)

2 Tbsp. your favorite oil

¾ c. unflavored almond milk

¼ c. tofu, pureed (If you don’t have a food processor or blender, puree by pushing through a fine mesh sieve or use a pastry blender. It won’t be as smooth but it’s really not going to matter for this recipe.

1 Tbsp. fresh chives, optional

 

 Savory white bean filling:

1-1/2 c. cooked white beans, with ¼ c.(ish) of the cooking juice

4 Roma tomatoes, chopped or sliced (These are going in the food processor if you have one so don’t knock yourself out unless you’re food-processor-free.)

¼ c. water

¼ c. salsa (You can make your own but Sloth said to use the jarred stuff in the fridge.)

1 c. cooked jasmine rice, white or brown

¼ of a sweet onion, chopped small

1/8 c. to ¼ c. nutritional yeast IF YOU HAVE IT. If you don’t, no biggie. This gives it a cheesier flavor and aroma without adding cheese. It doesn’t contribute to the matter of cooking since it’s deactivated, although it is a very healthy add-in. It is a complete protein and full of B vitamins. 

1/3 c. frozen corn

3 – 6 Tbsp taco seasoning, depending on how spicy you are (You can make your own … but I? No. Lazy.)

 

 Alternate Topping Ingredients for Veg & Omni:

Instead of ¾ c. almond milk, use ¾ c. regular milk plus 1 Tbsp of your favorite syrup; and although it’s my favorite syrup, chocolate probably won’t work here. Try for a maple-esque flavor. Or use molasses.

Instead of tofu puree, use 1 egg

 

Alternate Filling Ingredients for Veg & Omni:

Instead of 1/8 to ¼ c. nutritional yeast, use grated cheese. Sharp cheddar would be great. Cottage would be incredible.

If I weren’t so lazy, I’d tell you how to make taco seasoning and salsa. Heck, I’d even tell you how to make cottage cheese. But another day. Maybe you can experiment and tell me YOUR favorite taco seasoning and salsa recipes! That would make my life easier and I would be eternally grateful. 

This recipe is already super-easy to make, but it’s even easier if you use convenience ingredients like canned corn (drained), canned beans (kind of drained), canned tomatoes (not drained at all), and instant rice (put it in uncooked, and cut the measure down ½ cup so that when it cooks and expands it doesn’t dry out your filling).

If you make the topping with cornmeal and baking soda instead of a boxed mix, make it as runny as pancake batter so that it doesn’t overcook the topping and undercook the filling. Because I have food texture issues I prefer to use the Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix rather than cornmeal because it’s not as gritty. The premade stuff has more sodium and preservatives than the stuff you make at home but I’m in my late forties and am so full of preservatives by now that it’s probably the glue that’s holding me together. I highly recommend it.

 Here are the directions for this dish the way I made it. If you change up the ingredients you may have to tweak the cooking time a little bit. Just keep an eye on it and you’ll be fine!

 Preheat your oven to 325. Kind of low, yes, but you want the cornbread topping to have time to cook and the chili to have time to heat through and soften those onions.

 Topping:

  • Pour all ingredients into a medium-sized bowl. Mix well, set aside. The batter will probably be slightly lumpy. Don’t try to stir all the lumps out because it will make your topping too dry. All you have to do is get the biggest lumps out so you don’t bite into a dusty cornmeal ball. 

 White bean filling:

  • After you chop up the tomatoes in the food processor (make them as fine or as chunky as you like), add the water in the chimney thingie and process a little more until the water is incorporated.
  • Pour the tomatoes in a mixing bowl and add everything else, and mix until all ingredients are evenly distributed.
  • Cheese option: you can either incorporate the cheese throughout the chili OR you can use it as a layer on top of the chili. (Note that if you are using nutritional yeast, leaving it as a layer on top of the filling would probably be gross. Mix it in.)

 Put it all together it spells YUMMY!

  • Put the chili in the casserole dish.
  • Pour the cornbread batter over the top, and use the back of a spoon or a spatula to make it cover all the chili.
  • Put it in the oven and bake for 1 hour, or until the topping is golden and makes a sound if you tap it. “Bloop” is  sound too, but if you hear “bloop” you probably need to cook it a little longer until is says “tap, tap, tap.” Lava topping hurts when you eat it. My oven is temperamental and sometimes it takes longer, and sometimes it takes less time, so I am not sure of an exact cooking time. To be on the safe side, check on it periodically starting around 45 minutes.
  • If you are using the vegetarian / omnivore version of this recipe, when the crust is nice and brown and sturdy, rub it with butter and let it cook another minute or so. You will be very glad you did. (I didn’t, since it was for the vegan child, and it was still dang fab.)

 This seems like a lot of writing and instructing for something that was so easy to make, or maybe I’m just ridiculously verbose. This savory upside down tart really is a simple thing to make. I made it Friday after a day at work and a long commute, and the only time it made me cry was when I wept for joy at the flavor. (Yeah, not really, but I love the exaggeration.) The pairing of the sweet topping and the spicy white bean mixture is nothing short of delightful.

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Carly Beth’s Pasta Primavera with Avocado Spinach Salsa Verde

My sweet daughter is a new vegan … well … “mostly a vegan” she says, because she doesn’t often cook for herself, vegan cooking is new to me, and I don’t always have the ingredients, time, or desire to cook vegan dishes, especially after a long day at work, and double-especially since my carnivore son won’t touch a vegetable that doesn’t come in French-fry form. I don’t make my daughter eat meat but I do like to make life easy on myself, using the same pot of rice to make easy, separate meals for them. It’s not hard to do: I throw veg in the steamer for her, and dump a can of black beans in a pot to warm; and for him I broil a piece of chicken or beef, make a little milk gravy, and voila! Meals! And let’s get real: sometimes the day was so long and I am so tired, all I want to do is make eggs or quiche. An hour and a half one-way commute can take a lot out of a person. (Yeah, my college major wasn’t the most marketable so let that be a lesson to you.)

But a family cannot live on easy meals alone. The flavors get boring. So I have to cook now and then. Really cook. It was a lot easier, or so I thought until becoming more aware of different ingredients and different methods, to cook with meat and dairy. There are lots more things to do with them to adjust flavors and textures, and it was WAY easier to make quick meals with them. But what can you do when the most kind-hearted daughter in the world decides to be a vegan after learning more about how food animals are treated? I tell you what you can do: learn a new way of preparing meals. Before I agreed to this lifestyle change, however, I looked up dietary requirements for teenage girls and was pleasantly surprised how easy it is to get plant-based protein and calcium.

A few months and a lot of tempeh, quinoa, and beans into this change, the book Oh She Glows showed up in my Amazon feed. The cover was gorgeous so I investigated it because sometimes I do judge a book by its cover, especially recipe books. Until getting my hands on this book, vegan cooking (to me) left a lot to be desired. As one of my neighbors so aptly put it, “Vegan meals equal nasty.” Not so with Angela Liddon’s book! We (ok, I) made lots of these recipes and haven’t yet found a stinker in any of them. With words like “creamy” and “cheesy” and “smooth” Angela Liddon transformed my thoughts about vegan cooking into thoughts about how easy it would be to create my own vegan recipes. This recipe is a direct result of Angela Liddon’s inspirational book.

 

Sauce:

2 ripe avocados

2 c. packed fresh spinach

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (or ½ Tbsp any other kind of vinegar and ½ Tbsp water); can increase to 2 Tbsp of vinegar or vinegar-plus-water if you like the taste

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped fine (or up to 1 tsp garlic powder)

½ tsp fine grain sea salt (Thank you, Angela Liddon, for alerting me to the existence of this stuff!),  optional

Several twists of fresh-milled pepper (or ¼ tsp black pepper), optional

 

Vegetable Topping:

½ sweet onion, rustic chopped (or hell, chop it how you like it)

3 c. fresh broccoli crowns

5 – 6 medium sized carrots, peeled and chopped into 1 inch-ish pieces, the fatter ends chopped into 1 inch-ish pieces and then sliced in half length-wise

Asparagus stalks (I used about 10), woody ends trimmed, the rest chopped into 1 inch-ish pieces (some were longer, some were shorter – I’m not a neat cook)

1 c. mushroom slices (whatever kind you prefer)

½ red bell pepper, chopped into ½ – ¼ inch-ish pieces, set aside in fridge

No-salt seasoning, optional

 

Pasta:

Whatever you like, enough for 2 – 4 people. You already know how to cook it.

 

Directions:

  • Split the avocados, seed, and squeeze them into your food processor. If you squeeze them in while the peel is still on, it keeps your hands from getting overly messy. Discard the peel.
  • Process the avocados until they are kind of mashed up in there. Then add the spinach and the balsamic vinegar. Process a little bit, open the processor, stir the spinach and mash it down into the avocado, so that it all gets chopped up.
  • Once the avocado, spinach, and vinegar mixture is smooth, open the processor again and add the salt, pepper, and garlic. Process this for 30 seconds or so, or until you feel the flavors are evenly distributed.
  • With the processor running, slowly drizzle the olive oil in from the “chimney” thingie on the food processor. Once all the olive oil is in, process 20 – 30 seconds more so that the oil is distributed.
  • Set aside.
  • Put the carrots and broccoli on to boil. Add only enough water to semi-cover the vegetables. You don’t want to drown them (unless you want mushy veg, and if you do, cool. Cover and boil the hell out of them). Boil for about 4 minutes to have them crunchy but not hard / not soft. Drain and set aside.
  • While boiling the carrots and broccoli, pour a tablespoon of your favorite oil in a frying pan. Throw in the chopped onions, and mushrooms, and cook for about two minutes, then add the asparagus pieces. Of course you’re going to have to stir these things every now and then to avoid burning, but I usually don’t add that step to recipes. Maybe I should. Here it is.
  • Chop the broccoli crowns until they are in bite-size pieces (or don’t) and add the broccoli and carrots to the frying pan. Cook until everything is warmed through. Stir, stir, stir. I added a liberal amount of no-salt seasoning and stirred that around really well. It made a big difference in taste.
  • While the other stuff is happening, or afterward if you don’t like juggling lots of kitchen activities, boil some pasta. I used whole wheat but discovered that my daughter is really put off by the texture, so next time I’ll use a spinach fettuccine or something. Use what you have or what you like best. This will really be no good if you don’t like the noodles.
  • Once the noodles are done, drain them.

Now for the assembly. I prefer my sauces rather thick but if you find that you would prefer this sauce to be thinner, add some water to the avocado spinach verde sauce and process until it’s distributed. I’d use ¼ c. of liquid at first, and then maybe just little splashes until it’s as thin as you want it. If you do add more liquid, don’t forget to taste and season the sauce. Then again, maybe you prefer bland. If so, never mind me.

Put good layer of pasta in the bottom of your bowl. Scoop on some sauce, and if you leave the sauce thick, use a spoon to mash it across the width of your spaghetti heap. Add another layer of pasta, another layer of sauce, and then add the cooked veg. My bowls only had enough room for these two layers but you can do as many as you want.

To finish off the dish and to make it look all pretty I sprinkled on some of the red bell pepper that was set aside in the fridge and then a made a cute little dollop of avocado spinach verde sauce on the top. If you thin out your sauce you’re not going to be able to dollop unless you set a dollopable portion aside! If you want to go vegetarian instead of vegan, blop on a big fat spoonful of sour cream.

And there you have it. And the best thing is that you can add, remove, or totally change this recipe to your taste. All these ingredients are optional. If you don’t like broccoli, substitute something else. Same goes for any / all of it. Don’t like vinegar? Use lemon juice (or some other acidic liquid to keep your avocado sauce from turning brown too quickly). Play with it! Make it your own!

This recipe makes two generous, three smaller, or four very small portions. You will probably have avocado sauce left over, you lucky devil, so use that savory yumminess in a thrown-together veggie roll-up for lunch the next day. And really, you could just as easily convert this recipe into a veg burrito. Just omit the pasta step. Or don’t. I bet pasta is a pretty dang good substitute for rice.

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Chocolate Chess Pie: Easy, cheap, decadent southern dessert

It can be difficult to cook without a car.

The car is at the shop for a few days and a lot of dollars – she’s getting to be an old lady and these visits are becoming more frequent – so we have to make do with the stock in the larder for now. My husband is game to go marketing if only I would … or could … tell him what ingredients I need, and sometimes I do have a list, but when he is preparing to dash out the door and asks what I need to fix supper I inevitably draw a blank. I’m more of a muller than an action-packed off-the-cuff thinker. So, since Monday, I shrug and mumble “don’t know, whatever you want is fine” which means a LOT of hamburger and packages of hotdogs, although I’ve made a couple of leftover meat & cheese quiches and “Oh, look what I have!” casseroles. It’s been fun, quite frankly, although we are definitely going to need restocked soon. My husband’s Jeep isn’t the best for carrying groceries, but my old lady is just perfect for the job.

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HF works second shift. That means everything I need to do out of the house has to be done by noon. It also means that if the kids or I have a craving after lunch we either have to walk a few miles to the store (not in this weather), suffer, or … mull. And I do love the mulling. I had a rare sweet craving tonight, and because it is an unusual event I don’t keep serious baking items on hand – HF and the kids are fine with Sheetz doughnuts and name brand candy bars. Ah, but of course on an evening with no transportation the Sweet Fairy strikes with a vengeance. There had to be dessert and it had to be tonight, bare baking cupboards be damned. There was no question that some form of sweet was happening but it was going to have to be light on ingredients.

Not only was there a good, easy, cheap dessert to make, it is also one of the richest most decadent southern treat there is – chocolate chess pie. If you’ve never had a slice, be ready with a cold glass of milk. If you aren’t nearly chocolate-nauseous after a piece of it your recipe has gone awry. And texture! Ohhh, let’s talk about all the texture wonders in this one pie: crunchy top, gooey center, and a flavor so chocolatey it’ll cure your craving in one bite (but happily there will be many more bites waiting). It’s not a fluffy pie, or even particularly pretty, but for those of you in the know … you’ll recognize this as one of the treatiest treats of all time.

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 Ingredients:

1 9” unbaked pie crust (if frozen, thaw; if refrigerated, let it sit out for at least 15 minutes before using)

1 – 1-1/2 c. sugar (depending on your taste – the recipe works if you stay within those measures)

¼ c. – 6 Tbsp cocoa (depending on how dark chocolatey you are)

2 eggs

4-1/2 – 5 oz. evaporated milk (use 4 -1/2 oz. if you used only 1 c. sugar, 5 oz. if you used more)

4 Tbsp melted butter

1 tsp vanilla

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In medium bowl, mix together by hand the sugar and the cocoa until the ingredients are a uniform brown color.

3. Crack the eggs into the sugar and cocoa mixture and mix well with spoon. This will form a wet stiff base. Do not skip this step. Do not add other wet ingredients before doing this!

4. In a small bowl, mix evaporated milk, melted butter, and vanilla. Mix well.

5. Add milk mixture to sugar, cocoa, and egg mixture. Mix well with a spoon for 2 minutes. This is not a delicate recipe and it needs mixed longer than we typically mix ingredients. This helps the texture turn out like it should.

6. Pour filling into pie shell. Bake 25 minutes (if using the small measures) or up to 35 minutes (if using larger measures) or until the filling is set in the middle. The knife test works well with this pie, although it is a shame to mess up the lovely crusty crunchy top!

7. Let cool at least 40 minutes prior to serving. The filling will be too lava-like if you don’t wait.

There you have it! An incredible southern dessert out of very few ingredients! I hope you enjoy the pie and I hope you save me a piece!

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Savory cheese & chive quiche

A couple of months ago, after reading a list of ideas for quick and cheap kitchen makeovers on Alana Chernila’s blog “Eating from the Ground Up”, I realized that my wood and bamboo cooking utensils needed conditioned, some of them so far beyond dry they were on to parched cracking and splintering. In the past I threw these pieces away, unaware of how easily they could be fixed and oblivious to the utter Zen of bringing them back into a state of usefulness. All it takes is food grade wax and a little time.

The pictures of rounded bricks of amber beeswax wrapped in brown crinkly paper were irresistably pretty but trying to locate a block at local stores proved fruitless (I prefer to buy local). The Internet is loaded with beeswax sellers but the shipping prices tend to cost more than the product. We are a one-income family, and despite the intense desire to possess my own beautiful wax brick I couldn’t justify the cost. But oy. I really really really wanted to wax the wood (sounds dirty, huh?). And because I really really really wanted to do it, I eventually found a perfect substitute in a tube of John Boos Board and Block Cream, a mixture of food grade mineral oil and beeswax, and it shipped for free. Problem solved.

The package arrived close to suppertime on the day my son had dance so I put off the task for “a day or two.” And, as typical, the next day was too hectic, and the day after that was too busy, the next day was overscheduled … and the poor dehydrated wood spoons and spatulas were forgotten, wasting away in the drawer under the cooktop. My little bit of counter space was frenetic with holiday cooking and candy making and the little tube of magical elixir got buried in the holiday rubble. The morning after Christmas, though, unable to tolerate the visual kitchen cacophony for one more second, I put everything away and re-found the forgotten board cream, not realizing it was missing until then.

Bing!

After a cup of coffee and many lingering glances, I hand-slathered each piece of cookware with board cream. After they were dried and buffed, the texture was luxurious beyond expectation. The process was so pleasurable that I took an unhurried inventory of the pantry, cabinets, and fridge to decide on what kind of cooking joy could match this moment; and the only thing that could possibly match the magnitude of self-indulgery (don’t use that word in Scrabble) was … QUICHE!

Our little backyard flock gives us a few fresh eggs per week during the dark months and about two dozen eggs a week when the days are longer. Always having fresh eggs is a delight even though the cost of feed probably exceeds output. The biggest payoff is in watching their silly chicken antics (yeah, we don’t have cable and are pretty easily entertained) and the darling way they rid the yard of scary things and bitey things and gross things (bugs, spiders, and the occasional little snake).

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But let’s get back to the day in the kitchen! Like the freshly oiled and waxed woodenware, quiche is silky, smooth, rich, and it was a nice follow-up the chore that was a meander in spoony serenity. The sensuous feel of the utensils and the contentment of making (and eating!) quiche chased the rainy day out of the house. Quiche doesn’t ask for much – just a few ingredients based solely on your mood. It’s a very forgiving dish. I opted to keep it simple in flavor just because going minimalist seemed fitting.

Cheese chive quiche

 

Savory cheese & chive quiche

Uncooked pie crust for 9” pie

6 eggs

3 over-heaping Tbsp sour cream + milk to make ½ c.

¾ c. buttermilk (regular milk works fine if you don’t have buttermilk)

3 c. grated cheese (I used 1-1/2 c. cheddar and 1-1/2 c. Swiss)

3-1/2 Tbsp flour

½ tsp kosher salt

¼ tsp ground black pepper

4 Tbsp (or to taste) snipped tops of green onions or 2 tsp dried chives, optional

Instructions:

1. Bring all ingredients to room temp

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

3. Press crust into 9” pie plate.

4. Combine sour cream and milk mixture with buttermilk or sour cream / milk mixture and mix well. Fabulous tool for the job: sauce whisk.

5. Add eggs, salt, pepper and flour to milk / sour cream mixture. Mix till combined well. Fabulous tool for the job: spring whisk.

6. Add cheese and green onion tops or dried chives. Stir till evenly distributed.

7. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until middle is set and the top is golden brown. Since this recipe contains an abundance of cheese, the knife test doesn’t work well. When you shake the pie plate there should be no lava-like bobble.

Notes and suggestions:

1. Fat free milk and buttermilk seem to work just fine with this recipe, probably owing to the fat in the cheese (I do not buy fat free cheese). Reduced fat sour cream also works well.

2. If you don’t like green onions or chives you can try different savory ingredients, like mushrooms pieces and well-drained chopped olives. Adding ingredients may affect cooking time.

3. Using 3 cups of nothing but cheddar may make your quiche very oily. If you use cheddar, consider pairing it with Swiss or finely-grated parmesan.

4. While it’s in the oven, the filling in the middle of the quiche may be lower than that on the sides. This is fine. The filling will level as it cools.

There you have it! Simple fine ingredients combining to make a savory decadent meal couldn’t be much easier or more satisfying to make. Quiche is inexpensive, quick to bring together, and pretty difficult to mess up. It’s a versatile meal that can stand by itself or paired with soup and crostini, spinach salad, fruit salad, or a full-flavored meat like ham.

Thank you, Ladies, for the main ingredient. The next time you molt I’ll lay off the FrankenHen jokes.

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Accidental cornbread: One delicious oops

The bustle of the holiday is over for this household. New Years is ahead but Christmas is the most active and exciting period of merriment for our preteens. It was fun but man I’m glad it’s done! There are decorations to take down (which I dread) but thankfully it doesn’t have to be done right now. Nope, not today. Today is for easing up, for taking a slow, comfy, casual coast downhill; and when I think of slow, comfy, and casual, I think of the richness and the flavors of southern food. Nothing says “don’t hurry” like a pot of pinto beans cooked with honest-to-God ham hock, and a pan of so-heavy-you-wonder-if-you-did-something-wrong cornbread.

Oh yes you did something wrong. But sometimes wrong is the only right there is.

And then there’s even wronger that turns out even righter if you’re lucky or if you only have enough cooking wit to be halfway dangerous. I’m not saying I’m smart or possessed of good fortune but the pan of blogging-inspirational cornbread worked. It was one mistake after another, pure kismet mixed with a smidgen of autodidact kitchen edge-oo-macation keeping it from turning into a disaster, which it certainly could have without realizing the potential for wasteful ruination of simple fine ingredients, and without the oven hovering (hovenering?). I was determined. And, dearest readers, determination can sometimes compensate for a lack of good sense.

What started this whole mess was a joyful collection of leftover ingredients from the riptide of Christmas cooking. When such an eclectic gathering amasses in the kitchen it’s a shame to let it go bad. Waste buttermilk and cheese? Not in this house, not even a little bit.

I really wanted Mexican cornbread but didn’t have jalepenos although there was some leftover hot sauce from the many batches of holiday Brunswick stew. I also happened to have white cornmeal on hand which I prefer to yellow because it’s usually a little less sweet and because southeasterners are supposed to prefer white cornmeal to yellow, and who am I to buck a tradition? (Well … I am usually one of the first contrarians to veer off the established path but that’s a story for another time. In this case, according to regional laws of cornmeal preference, I remain true to time-honored roots.) It seemed like the perfect crave-taming set-up.

There were no recipes that used exactly the ingredients I wanted to use which meant I either had to compromise or come up with my own recipe. Since my 2012 resolution was to be more stubborn (yeah, not really – stubbornness is a personal time-honored tradition) it seemed better to create than to settle. Here’s the recipe with dire warnings attached. DO try this at home but DO be vigilant when it comes to the actual baking. That is where disaster can strike if you dare to blink.

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 Accidental Cornbread

2 c. cornmeal (yellow or white, your preference)

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

1-1/4 c. buttermilk plus ¼ to ½ c. more

1-1/4 c. corn (about a can, if you’re not using fresh) – do NOT use creamed corn!

1 c. cheese

2 eggs

6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1 – 2 Tbsp hot sauce (optional)

Oil spray or greasing agent for pan(s)

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. In a large bowl, combine cornmeal, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Mix well and set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk 1-1/4 c. buttermilk and both eggs until well-mixed. Set aside.

4. Put corn in a container somewhat larger than one in which the corn will fit (a 2-cup measuring cup works great). If you are using canned corn, drain the liquid off the corn first.

5. Pour buttermilk over corn until it just fills the crevices between the corn pieces. Do not use one more drop of buttermilk than it takes to be level with the top of the corn in your container. (It won’t hurt to use slightly less, in fact.)

6. Add corn and buttermilk to buttermilk and egg mixture. Add in melted butter, cheese, and hot sauce and mix well.

7. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients and stir until just well-mixed. Mixing with a spatula is probably your best bet.

Let’s take a quick break, have some tea, and talk for a minute. We have some options here. You can either make one really thick luscious cake of cornbread (pictured) or you can make two somewhat smaller cakes. It’s totally up to you. Making the two smaller ones will be far less treacherous. The working accident, for me, occurred at this point because I chose to make just one cake. Be wary but fear not: I’m taking most of the guesswork out of it for you. It’s no longer an accident! Making the over-full one will require some watching and testing but when it’s done it’s a wow!

IF you choose to make the two smaller loaves, here are the instructions:

1. Spray two 8” cake rounds with cooking spray and divide the batter evenly between them.

2. Cook in your preheated 400 degree oven for 12 – 15 minutes, or until a knife or cake tester inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean.

3. Ta da! You’re done!

IF you instead choose to make the one gigantic cake, continue on, Brave Soul. Bon fortune and godspeed. This is a messy procedure that should only be attempted by the true extreme devil-may-care foodie adventurer.

1. Spray ONE 9” cake round with cooking spray and pour cornbread batter in. The batter should be about 1/4″ from the top of the pan. If you have excess batter, you can cook it in a dry non-stick frying pan, or in a frying pan with a spray of oil, and make yourself a little pre-cornbread cake treat.

2. With the oven rack at the halfway spot, place the cake round in the oven and with a baking stone or some other hearty pan on the bottom rack to catch the stuff that drips down. It will drip. A lot. These drippings will make you happy to be alive.

3. Cook for 15 minutes. Do not cringe when you hear the sizzle of the batter drippings hitting your stone. The drippings are divine, and you are going to (carefully) reach in to get them. Be excited!

4. Turn the oven temp down to 350. This is a great time to carefully move the top and bottom racks into position to allow you to scrape or scoop the dripped cornbread onto a plate. Be sure to keep the cake round over the drip pan. This dripped stuff is now cooked, and tasting it will give you a hint of what is to come. Be sure to have a good hold on the counter when you take a bite – swooning is entirely probable.

5. Put the pans back into position (keeping the drip pan where it is for now). Set the timer for 20 minutes. At the end of the 20 minutes, you can probably remove the drip pan. You can tell if you can move the drip pan by shaking the cake round. It should have lost most of its glop character.

6. Loosely cover the top of the cake in foil. Set the timer for 20 – 25 minutes. At the end of that time, test the cake for doneness by inserting a cake tester or butter knife near the center. If it comes out clean, it’s done. The top of your cake should be dark golden and the middle should be moist and light. If the cake doesn’t test as done, cook in 5-minute increments until the testing utensil comes out clean. When done, cool for 5 minutes, cut into 8 pie-like wedges.

And there you have it: simple fine ingredients to make one filling suppertime indulgence. If you want to send your crew into decadence overdrive, rub a little salted butter over the top of the still-warm cake before serving.

Coffee liqueur: Holly jolly cheer

Don’t you love the festivity of the holidays? Isn’t it fun being out in the crowds, choosing and wrapping just the right presents and putting them under the tree, watching (or maybe taking part in) parades, and hosting and attending parties? But if I may be frank with you, before one more person comes over to our little corner with the mistletoe, there are moments that I close my eyes and try to wish the holidays away. The frenetic pace occasionally gets a little heavy.

Every magazine and major website reminds us to take care of ourselves during the days of Fa La La. But who can turn off the phone, TV, and computer for an hour every day with the big days looming? And do I really want to chew / infuse / drink / otherwise ingest special relaxing herbs? The idea of a hot bath sounds nice but I’d soak for about 30 seconds before feeling uncomfortably selfish. Those holiday de-stress tips, all of them, are surely helpful. If you actually do them. But as it is with New Year’s resolutions, the follow-through can be difficult despite the best of festive intentions.

Happily, there is a solution that is guaranteed to make you smile, not (just) because I’m talking about alcohol but also because homemade liqueur doubles as a gift with a high coolness factor. Although this recipe isn’t cheap to make – the addition of commercial chocolate liqueur makes this recipe somewhat pricy (but oh so worth it) – it is nevertheless a worthwhile treat. To lessen the sticker shock you can make your own chocolate liqueur if you have the time (it takes about a week).

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Coffee Liqueur

1 c. water

¾ c. cheap(!!) vodka (a 750 ml bottle will make this recipe, as written, three times)

½ c. brown sugar

½ c. white sugar

4 Tbsp (2 oz.) chocolate liqueur (the larger measure on a jigger)

2 Tbsp + 1 tsp instant espresso

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher and stir until the sugars and the espresso are dissolved. Draw off a little of the mixture and taste it. If you need to add anything to make it sweeter or give it more coffee flavor, add it now, stir well, and taste again. When the mix is right, place a funnel in the mouth of a clean bottle (I prefer using something with a clamp stopper, like a Grolsh Beer bottle) and pour your fresh-made liqueur in the bottle. Store in a cool dark place. This liqueur is usable right away, and it also ages well. Shake well before each use.

One quick note: This makes a liqueur that is extremely sweet. Although liqueurs are typically very sweet you can back off the sugars a little bit and add additional espresso. What’s the Simple Fine mantra? If it doesn’t pass the taste test, add ingredients (or rework the recipe) until it suits you!

Yield: approx 2 cups. This recipe can be doubled, tripled, infinitupled!

Until next time, dear friends. Salud!

Slow-cooked Brunswick stew

Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the midst of one of the finest southern seasons and I don’t mean the holidays. I am talking about time for Brunswick stew. We here in the southeast love good barbecue (although I’m sure we could debate which US region makes the best) and we also love its well-known associate, Brunswick stew. Pulled pork sandwiches and hot Brunswick stew go together like Adam & Eve – a mixture of solid and sinful – and we are quite emotional about this. Grown lumberjacks and burly truck drivers have been known to weep for joy and gratitude over the first bowl of the season.

The reason for this outpouring of affection (other than its hot-dang deliciousness) may be due to its short-term supply. Brunswick stew is served only from about the beginning of October until the very start of springtime. Sit down at your favorite barbecue joint and order a cup in March and you’re pressing your luck. Try to get a bowl in April and you’re just stuck. You can’t beg, borrow, or steal it.

But you can make it. In fact, you can make it while you sleep or watch TV or go to work. Warm up your Crock Pots, folks. We’re going to do something so decadent and so simple that Santa’s putting you on his naughty list.

If this is the first time you’ve heard of Brunswick stew, let’s chat for a minute so that you understand what kind of treasure chest we are about to smash open. Brunswick stew is expensive to buy, priced at about $4 for a small cup and $6 for a (still small) bowl. The reason it costs so much is because roasting and barbecuing a whole shoulder takes a lot of time.

~looking left, looking right, dropping her voice to a conspiratorial level~

But you and I aren’t going to be out at the barbecue pit all day using a sauce mop on a spitted pig. Not only that, our cost per serving is minute compared to what you pay at a restaurant.

The origin of Brunswick stew is shrouded in deep dark southern foodie mystery. Some people (especially those who live in Brunswick, Georgia) insist it came from Brunswick, Georgia. Other people (especially those who live in Brunswick, Virginia) claim it came from Brunswick, Virginia. And still others (who don’t live in either place but who love a good historical yarn) like to believe it came from Germany and was the favorite of Queen Victoria. But we don’t care where it came from: we just want to eat it!

This recipe has a lot going for it, especially at the holidays. It’s cheap, it’s easy to make, and people love it which makes it a great gift idea. Buy a few plastic pint jars and some tea towels and you’ve got an adorable present that people will be still be talking about next year. Come on to the workshop – I’ll show you.

Tools you need to make this recipe as written: 6 qt. Crock Pot, meat board, sharp knife, cooking spoon. If you don’t have a slow cooker, stay with me to the very end and I will show you how to make it in regular cooking pots. : )

Brunswick Stew

28 oz. crushed tomatoes *

28 oz. (approx) chicken broth plus more in reserve (a 32 oz. box container is perfect – you might not use all of it)

¼ c. barbecue sauce (plus more to taste)

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. hot sauce (or a sprinkling of cayenne if you prefer) plus more to taste

¼ tsp. pepper

3 lb pork shoulder **

9 oz. bag of frozen lima beans (precook to al dente if using fresh)

9 oz. bag frozen peas (precook to al dente if using fresh)

9 oz. bag frozen corn (does not need precooked if using fresh)

4 medium-sized red potatoes, peeled and diced *** (does not need precooked)

1 Tbsp corn starch (plus 1 Tbsp in reserve, if needed)

* I did not have crushed tomatoes this time. I used a can of whole tomatoes and used my fingers to squish them.. I could have tossed the tomatoes in the food processor until they were indeed crushed but I didn’t feel like dragging out or cleaning the equipment for such a small task. As with many recipes, this recipe is versatile – substitute what you have if you don’t have what the ingredients list calls for!

** Let’s talk about that pork shoulder. IF you are lucky enough to live in a town with a butcher shop, the butcher shop might cut three pounds of pork shoulder for you (if you’re double-lucky). If you do not have a butcher shop in your town, or if your butcher will not cut three pounds off a shoulder (pork shoulders huge things and some butchers are loathe to piece them out), a 3 lb. Boston butt will do.

*** If you don’t have red potatoes you can substitute any non-sweet potato. I use red potatoes because they stay firm. Other potatoes may become mushy after 8 – 10 hours of cooking.

1. Pour crushed tomatoes, approx 28 oz of the chicken broth (measure it by using the tomato can), barbecue sauce, hot sauce or cayenne, salt, and pepper in the crock and stir until evenly mixed.

2. Cut off the large outer layer of fat that will probably outline at least one side of your meat. Once the fat is removed, cut the meat into good fist-sized chunks, removing the larger bits of fat as you cut (you can remove the inner layers of fat easily once the meat is cooked). Put the cuts of meat in the crock and stir them in the tomato mixture.

3. Add the frozen vegetables and stir them into the tomato and meat mixture until they are well-coated. It will seem like there’s not enough sauce for the vegetables to cook, but the frozen vegetables will create some extra juice from thawing. If you can’t stir the frozen vegetables due to frozen clumping, drizzle a little of the reserved chicken broth on top to help break the vegetables apart.

4. Set your Crock Pot to low. Mine has a choice of 8 hours or 10 hours. It does not matter which you choose. Do not choose a high setting – the meat needs time to break down so that you can easily shred it.

5. Once the stew has cooked for 8 – 10 hours, use a slotted spoon to pull out the meat pieces. Put them on your meat board or on a plate and mash the pieces with a spoon or fork. The meat should be very soft and should come apart with no problem. If there is excess fat in the meat that was resistant to removal when the meat was raw, you can pull it out now.

6. Return the meat to the crock. Stir.

7. The liquid in your mixture is probably kind of thin. If you like it like that, great! You’re done! If you prefer a thicker, stew-like liquid, use a small measuring cup pressed down along the side of the crock (to avoid scooping out large scoops of vegetables) and draw off ¼ c. to ½ c. of the hot stew liquid. Add 1 Tbsp. cornstarch and mix until smooth. Add this mixture to the crock and stir the stew until the cornstarch mixture is well-distributed. The color of your stew will change slightly. WARNING: ADDING CORNSTARCH DIRECTLY TO THE CROCK, WITHOUT FIRST MIXING IT SMOOTH IN A SMALL AMOUNT OF LIQUID, WILL RESULT IN DOUGHY LUMPS!

8. Now for the best part: taste it. Is your stew a little too bland? If so, add a little more of the flavoring agents (barbecue sauce, chicken broth, hot sauce).

Yield: 6 quarts

Freezes well

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This recipe makes a darling gift when a pint container is wrapped in a tea towel and secured with a safety pin and ribbon. If you are not in the position to give individual gifts, however, you can serve this at a holiday get-together. A gallon of sweet southern tea and some good heavy cornbread will feed a small army and is very inexpensive per individual serving.

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If your slow cooker holds less than 6 quarts, reduce the recipe (keeping the ratios the same) to make an amount that will fit.

No slow cooker? No problem. Prepare the raw meat as above, then put the meat pieces in a pan, cover the meat with water, add a cube or two of bouillon, and bring to a boil (when the meat is finished cooking you can use the liquid in place of the chicken broth). Reduce heat, cover and simmer for a couple of hours,or until the meat is so tender that it shreds with slight pressure from a fork or spoon. Shred all the meat and combine it with the rest of the ingredients in a large pot. Let the completed mixture simmer, covered, for at least an hour or until the vegetables are soft, stirring regularly. You may have to add liquid so be sure to compensate for flavor by alternately adding broth, barbecue sauce, and (if desired) hot sauce. Cool stew to room temp and refrigerate, letting the flavors mingle overnight. When you warm it up, it will be just as delicious as the slow-cooked stew.