Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I am a sucker for impulse buys. If you put something shiny in a checkout line, I am immediately drawn to it. Also, when trying out a new product or receiving a free makeover at the mall, I will invariably purchase whatever someone is selling. This got so bad in fact that during college I bought 2 bartending kits through shady companies. The first one I purchased willingly with the promise that it would make me an expert bartender and I would earn loads of cash working in DC bars. Never mind that I was 18, and no restaurant in their right mind would ever hire an 18 year old to sling drinks. I actually still have some pieces from that original bartending kit –so for me that was 20 bucks well spent.
It was really the second bartending kit I inadvertently bought, that makes my college friends tease me to this day. When I say inadvertently, I mean that I was unaware I was purchasing said kit while it was happening. Once again applying to bartending jobs through our college newspaper, I was on the phone with a representative from a company called something like Bartenders Today. Mid-conversation he asked me what the expiration date on my credit card was, “Well, I don’t know. Let me check.” Don’t worry, I figured out what he was up to once he asked me what the credit card number was, but I felt by that time it was too late. Thus I had purchased my second completely worthless bartending kit.
By now, I am sure you are shaking your head in disbelief and wondering if you can sell me Brooklyn Bridge – perhaps, but only after you make it shiny and tell me it’s a bargain (and that it could potentially lead to a bartending job). I think this affliction is due to imposed restraint at impulse buys as a child. While my mom was checking out at the grocery store, my sisters and I would stand by the candy and toy vending machines on the way out deciding what we wanted. When my mom came by with the cart we began to make our case about why it was necessary to pay 50 cents for sticky green slime. She never fell for it.

What I didn’t realize, was that she was making her own impulse buys at the checkout line! Yes, that’s right mom, I am telling your secret to the world! You love grocery store checkout cookbooks. Don’t be ashamed, we all think about it from time to time, and I admire your spontaneity for snatching off the rack and tossing it onto the pile of groceries on the conveyor belt. We have so many of those paperback brand name product cookbooks at home they are like a shrine to all things Kraft.
When I moved out, my mom pawned some of these off on me. Probably just to clear space for the newest editions, but regardless of her motives, I now have a handful of these on my own shelf. I have flipped through these from time to time, and occasionally stumble upon a good recipe. When deciding what I should make for this week’s post, I was looking though the M&M’s baking cookbook and found a recipe that caught my eye. I happened to have a giant bag of M&M’s left over from a conference, as well as one almost rotten banana, so why not.

Banana Pecan Oatmeal Cookies with M&M’s
as adapted from M&M Baking Cookbook 1996
I was a bit dubious of the outcome for these cookies, while reading the recipe. But, with a few minor tweaks, the cookies came out wonderfully. Plus, with the addition of oats, banana and whole wheat flour, these cookies are almost good for you.

½ c butter, softened
½ c margarine or vegetable shortening
1 ¼ c light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
1 medium mashed banana (about ½ c)
2 ¼ c white whole wheat flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt
1 ½ c. old fashioned oats (I used Thick Cut oats)
1 c chopped pecans
1 ¼ c M&M’s

Preheat oven to 350°. In a bowl cream together butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in egg and banana and mix until combined. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda and spices. Gradually mix in dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Stir in oats and pecans until combined, then fold in M&M’s.

Place onto ungreased (or parchment paper lined) baking sheets by large dinner spoon, keeping about 1” apart. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the edges are lightly golden, but the rest of the cookie is still fairly soft. Remove to wire racks and cool. Store in an airtight container or plastic bag. Makes about 2 dozen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Crack an Egg Over It

This is my solution to making a good meal a little bit better. Do you have left over French fries from last night’s trivia at the bar? Crack an egg over it for breakfast. Do you have some almost stale bread you want to use up? Crack an egg over it for a snack. This advice also holds true if you plan on participating in Mischief Night, or if you are not fond of someone – crack an egg over it.
Personally, I am new to the wonders of a runny egg yolk. But I have fallen for it, hard. I used to watch my dad eat sunny side up eggs and think, ‘gross.’ Aactually I still kind of think that. It’s the runny whites that freak me out. So an over easy egg, or a poached egg is perfect for me. But come on, who really poaches eggs for non-special occasions? Therefore, we are left with the over easy egg.

When you ‘crack an egg’ over something I like to pretend it’s a lighter version of hollandaise. Sprinkle some lemon juice over it and wham! a quick and dirty version of something that should be consumed in moderation. I know, I know, eggs are sometimes good for us and sometimes not, but I choose the former and thus think it is perfectly acceptable to consume eggs for dinner.
This week, I have had eggs twice for dinner so far. I find that it encourages me to cook when I am dining alone. And it does not leave me with a mountain of dishes to wash afterwards. Sauté or roast something and then crack an egg over it = dinner. Originally, I was going to write about roasted Brussels sprouts for you, but then I thought no, I will expound the glories of egg over Brussels sprouts. And that my friends, is what this is.
Roasted Brussels sprouts are life changing. They do not smell like cabbage, they are not soggy bites of punishment. No, they are nutty and crunchy and lovely. I converted some members of my family this past Thanksgiving with roasted Brussels sprouts, so I recommend that you try it too. And if you are feeling a bit hungry or are dining alone I stand by my statement to ‘crack and egg over it.’

Roasted Brussels sprouts and potatoes with an egg

½ pound Brussels sprouts
1 c small potatoes (or cut to same size as Brussels sprouts)
½ small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Lemon Juice
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375°. Cut the bottoms off the Brussels sprouts and halve (quarter if they are large). Combine with potatoes, onion and garlic on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toss with olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast for 30-40 minutes, turning occasionally until the potatoes are cooked through. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

In a small frying pan, heat a small amount of oil, to coat the bottom. Crack an egg into the pan, and sprinkle yolk with salt and pepper. Once the edges are nicely set (about a minute) flip the egg over. Cook for another 30 seconds.

To Serve, spoon some of the Brussels sprout and potato mixture onto a plate, top with the egg and serve. Any leftover potatoes and Brussels sprouts are equally good the next day for lunch, with or without the egg.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Luck O' The Brine

Tomorrow everyone will be Irish, and everyone will request a kiss for this fact. You can use this holiday as an excuse to fill up on whiskey, stout and green beer. But, if you were like me, you would look forward to March 17th as the one day a year when you get homemade corned beef. Just like turkey on Thanksgiving, this was the only day out of the whole year we got to eat scary pink beef. And it was delicious.
I love the way corned beef shreds off of a fork, and the dry little bits get soft so quickly when doused with its cooking liquid. Even though I typically hated steaks and beef as a child, corned beef never seemed like the same thing. It was wonderful. Since then, I still look forward to corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day although this year we had it a few days before, so I could share with you.

I can’t remember exactly when the first time I made it was, but I think it was for the bar I worked at just after college. The owner typically offered corned beef wrapped in cabbage rolls for this heavily trafficked bar day. But I was aghast at this – wrapped in cabbage leaves is NOT how I ate it. I’m sure you can do it this way, but my limited knowledge of Irish food traditions does not agree.
I offered to take the corned beef home and cook it for her to sell on St. Patrick’s Day. Of course I don’t know how the health department would feel about such an offer, but she took it quickly. That first year, I made two 5-7 pound briskets for lunch. When we offered the corned beef to regulars, they politely turned it down. Until, that is, they heard that I had made it. Then they politely accepted. But it was when someone asked for a second order that I knew it was good.
I will try not to brag here (It’ll be hard, but I’ll try), that corned beef was good. The next year I offered to do the same thing, cook the corned beef the night before and then sell it at the bar. However, that year, the assistant manager didn’t trust me. He made his own corned beef, and we competed against one another over orders. I won. I’m not saying that my version is so fantastic, but it’s pretty darn good. I treat it like a sauerbraten, so that there is more flavor in the braising liquid. I also think that cooking it for an extremely long time is best. There, those are the secrets – sauerbraten and time. I think those might just be the secrets to the meaning of life, but I’ll get back to you on that one.

This year, I wanted to try and corn the beef myself. Not that I have anything against the pre-corned beef in the grocery store. Like I said, the scary pink is one of the pros for me when it comes to corned beef. But I thought, why not, let’s get corny. (I couldn’t help myself there, I apologize.) In looking at various cookbooks – all of them recommend buying pre-corned beef. So I went to the web, and discovered that a week to 10 days is preferable in corning beef. I had given myself 2 ½ days. Once again, I turned to sauerbraten to solve my dilemma.
The results were pretty good, and I know that tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, so asking you to corn your own beef is a bit cruel. So I will share that part of the recipe as well as what to do to cook a store bought corned beef. So buy some Irish stout, or get some food coloring and a cheap beer and toast to all things Irish!


Homemade Corned Beef
The brine makes more than you will need, simply scoop out and use as many of the spices as you can. And use whatever liquid you need.

For the Brine
1 2-4 pound beef brisket
2 quarts water
1 cup salt (preferably Kosher)
½ cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
4 all spice berries
8 juniper berries
1 tsp. mustard seeds
¼ tsp. coriander seeds
10 black peppercorns
¼ cup white wine vinegar

For the Corned Beef
2 large carrots, cut in 1” pieces
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 medium celery stalks, cut in 1” pieces
1small head of cabbage, cut into 1/8’s
2 cups brining liquid (spices strained out)
1 cup beef stock (plus more if needed)
Pre-brined beef
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp. mustard seeds
¼ tsp. coriander seeds
2 all spice berries
¼ tsp. fennel seeds
4 black peppercorns
Salt to taste

For the brine – combine all the ingredients for the brine together in a large pot and bring just to a boil. Be sure salt and brown sugar have dissolved completely. Cool as quickly as you can (I like to stick the pot outside to cool it off), you can add about a tray’s worth of ice to help.

Once cool, place beef into a re-sealable bag, or into a doubled up roasting bag. Pour brine over the meat, and be sure the meat is completely covered. Place bag into a bowl or pot (in case of leakage) and place in the refrigerator for 2-3 days (more if you have planned ahead).

To cook the corned beef – place all the vegetables, half of the cabbage and the spices into a crock pot or Dutch oven. Carefully remove the beef from the brine and add to the pot. Add brining liquid and beef stock so that the vegetables and most of the beef. Stir to mix the spices throughout. To cook in a crockpot, set to medium high, and let cook for 10+ hours. 2 hours before serving, turn the heat down to low. An hour before serving, add the remaining cabbage.

To cook the corned beef in a dutch oven, set your oven to 300°. Place dutch oven, with the lid on in the middle of the oven for 6+ hours. I prefer to do this over-night if a) you are comfortable sleeping while your oven is on and b) you plan on eating the corned beef for lunch. Again, add the remaining cabbage about an hour prior to serving, and turn the oven down to 250°.

Serve with potatoes of some kind.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pass the Peas

I try to always have peas in my freezer. This seems like a boring statement, but I find that peas can add dimension to a lot of different dishes. When I am taking leftovers for lunch at work, I like to add peas to my Tupperware. If I’ve run out of vegetables, peas are an easy go-to to have on hand.
This past year was the first time I had ever grown fresh peas, and I am pretty sure, one of the first times I ever ate fresh peas. They were phenomenal. I even tried to keep on little pea pod in the refrigerator as a friendly reminder of spring. But Joe saw the little shriveled yellowing thing and asked to throw it out. I reluctantly agreed. I wasn’t planning on eating it; I just liked looking at it in the fridge.

Hello pea pod! Only a few more months until I plant you again. Then you can have fresh pea pod friends in the fridge again!

But until fresh peas are growing up the chain link fence in the backyard, frozen peas will have to do. And as far as frozen vegetables go, peas are pretty good. Plus peas, butter, salt and pepper make a pretty decent snack.
Although I am not here to extoll the value of a bag of frozen peas to you. I am here to share a recipe. Pea Pesto. Yes, I know the term pesto has been bandied about more than we want, but it sounds sexier then puree, or mash so I am sticking to it. For the purposes of this recipe, let’s assume that a pesto is a basic formula of green + nut + garlic + parmesan cheese + olive oil. You can add salt and pepper, as well as lemon juice or other acid. But these are optional. If you want to make it vegan, omit the cheese and try using a different oily nut like cashews.
So with this basic formula, anything green can be made into a “pesto” of sorts. I have had a very nice spinach pesto a friend made once, as well as other herbal and nut themed ones. However, this pea pesto is easy, cheap and a good recipe to keep on hand. It’s a great pantry recipe, as you probably have most of the ingredients on hand. Feel free to play around with the type of nuts, and any herbs you may want to add.

Pea Pesto
As adapted from Gourmet July 2007

I tried to keep this as basic as possible, but I think the pine nuts and parmesan cheese really help keep the flavor closer to an original pesto. You can make this as thick or thin as you like with the addition of more olive oil. If you keep it thicker, it makes a great spread on crostini.

1 16oz. bag frozen peas, defrosted
½ c pine nuts
2 large garlic cloves (more or less to taste)
¼ c grated parmesan cheese
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tb olive oil (or more to thin)
Salt and pepper to taste

1 lb. whole grain pasta, such as penne

Combine peas, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor or blender. Begin to puree. Add cheese, lemon juice and 1 Tb of olive oil. Continue to blend, adding more olive oil as needed to reach desired constituency. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and cook pasta according to directions. Reserve ¼ c. pasta water, and drain pasta. Place the pesto and ¼ c. water into the warm pot and toss with the pasta. Serve with more grated cheese and little drizzle of olive oil.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Pound of Prosciutto

I bought a pound of prosciutto this weekend. It was a lot more than I had expected. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, it just means that Joe and I needed to consume our fair share of prosciutto. This is a task I am ready and willing to tackle.
I actually have a special relationship with prosciutto. When we first moved here to Maine, I was desperately seeking any form of employment. An opportunity came along for me to be a “demonstrator” at a cheese shop where I would give out free samples of prosciutto and parmesan cheese. It was not my greatest moment and not exactly what my college degree was in, but it did pay.
This event was sponsored by the EU, or at least so I was told. I had to do a 45 minute telephone training prior to handing out samples. Since we didn’t have a land-line at the house we were renting, I sat in Joe’s office and repeated out loud “Prosciutto di Parma” and “Parmesano Reggiano” rolling my r’s and using my best Italian accent. I did learn a little about both items that I did not know before, so all in all it was a win-win.
The cheese shop was a fantastic little place in southern Maine, tons of artisanal products, but the best part was that the owner wore a t-shirt that said “Cheese Wiz” on it. For two days I stood at a tiny little table and cut pieces of prosciutto and parmesan, speared them with toothpicks and handed them out to patrons at the shop. At the end of my two days, I promptly spent all the money I had earned on a selection of other meats and cheeses at the store.
This weekend’s prosciutto procurement was not as fancy (I had a coupon okay!) and not nearly as tasty. Although cured meat is cured meat, and by golly we were going to use it. After wrapping spears of asparagus in prosciutto and baking them, I had about a half a pound left. There was always the possibility of wrapping the meat around my finger and eating it like I used to with fruit roll-ups but I thought I might try something a bit classier than that.
A friend of mine makes a frittata that is great warm or cold and can handle a good deal of cured Italian meats in it. In fact I am a little crazy for this frittata. I told Joe approximately 10 times while eating how much I liked it. It’s inexpensive and filling, looks very fancy and is very mobile for the likes of picnics and such.
Hodge’s Frittata
Cold left over pasta is perfect here. If you don’t have any lying around, boil some up the night before you plan to make this. I think it holds its own better against the egg this way. You can add more vegetables to this, and adjust the amount of meat to suit your tastes.

¼ lb. cooked whole wheat spaghetti (cold)
2 Tb. Onion, diced
1 large handful greens such as spinach, arugula or baby broccoli rabe (what you see in the photos above)
1 Tb olive oil
5 large eggs
8 slices prosciutto (or more), cut in ribbons
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°. Sauté the onion in olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan. Add greens and sauté until barely wilted. Remove from pan and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs together with a little water, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Place ½ of the cold spaghetti in the bottom of the frying pan over medium heat, sprinkle with greens and onion mixture and the prosciutto. Add the remaining half of the spaghetti and pour eggs all over the spaghetti. With the back of a spoon, press spaghetti down to make sure the egg comes up all the way to the top. (It does not have to cover the spaghetti but it should touch everything in the pan.)

Continue to cook the frittata on the stove top for about 3 minutes, until the sides are cooked. Then place in oven and bake until the center is set another 15 -20 minutes. To serve, loosen with a spatula and slip out of pan onto a plate of cutting board. Let cool a few moments and slice. Or let cool completely and refrigerate.