Monthly Archives: February 2009

smoky goodness


looking around for something to compliment a slowly smoked sunday brisket,  I came across these super smoky beans that caught my eye, not to mention teased my palate. plus i had just about everything i needed already on hand, with the exception of the barbeque sauce. we often make our own, but i was feeling lazy so went and picked up some stubb’s barbeque sauce at the corner store. lucky us, living in texas. we LOVE barbeque. we even had our wedding catered by the salt lick.

it starts off with freshly cooked beans. use canned if you must, but the toothsome-ness of  homemade really makes this dish. you can read about the virtue of making homemade beans and get a primer on quick-soaking and cooking beans here.


the next step requires the services of small can that packs a big wallop: chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. these are red jalapenos that have been smoked and packed in the spiciest, smokiest, sweetest tomatoey sauce that you can imagine.


add in some other goodies and the whole mess gets popped in the oven for about an hour. it should look a little soupy when it goes in, like the picture below, or else it’ll end up too dry in the end. there were only a few of us eating, so i halved the recipe and still had enough for the meal and 3-4 lunches.


hot & smoky baked beans (adapted from bon appetit)

3-4 bacon slices, finely chopped (we used our own! will be posting soon!)

1 1/2 cups onion, finely chopped

1 1/4 cups your favorite barbecue sauce

3/4 cup dark beer-i used saint arnold winter stout

1/4 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1-2 minced canned chipotle chilies, depending on your taste*

5-6 cups (1 lb dry) fresh cooked  great northern or other white beans (or 4  -16 ounce canned beans, rinsed and drained)

*be careful– for half of this recipe, i used one pepper and a bit of the sauce from the can of peppers and one taster proclaimed it as “a little too hot”.


preheat oven to 350°F. cook bacon and onion in large skillet over medium heat until crisp. add next 7 ingredients to bowl and whisk to blend. whisk in chipotle chilies, depending on spiciness desired. stir in beans. transfer bean mixture to 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Bake uncovered until liquid bubbles and thickens slightly, about 1 hour. Cool 10 minutes.

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Filed under beans, side dish

le bon temps roulait!


yes, the good times rolled at our house over the weekend. i know, mardi gras isn’t really until tuesday, but since it always falls on a school night, and we since we had a few birthdays to celebrate, we chose saturday night to make some seafood gumbo and get our mardi gras on!

getting the holy trinity ready ( i used an orange bell pepper instead of green) :


gumbo can be quite an undertaking if you don’t enlist the help of friends. thankfully, Dr. Mark assisted by making the shrimp stock and some other goodies ahead of time. you could also use the method below for making the  stock.

this story now becomes the saga of the roux and how i won. it’s like a fairy tale, really. the first roux was too light. the second one was too dark (like burned!). the third one was just right. i had never made gumbo before, but i had made a roux–i just don’t know how i got into this mess. i highly recommend that you do this part before having a glass of gruet sparking rose the way i did. the pictures could be better but hey, it was me or the roux and i was in it to win it.

very blonde roux:


golden roux:


and darker still:


i took just a bit darker before adding the veggies and stock, but i could not get a shot of it without burning it (believe me i tried).


susan, the birthday girl waiting in line for her gumbo (that’s Dr. Mark on the right).


seafood gumbo (adapted from poppy tooker, self-described new orleans food activist)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup flour

2 gumbo crabs*

3 lbs. shrimp

1 onion, chopped

1 bellpepper, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 lb okra, sliced 1/4″

1 leek (white and light green part only) sliced into 1/4″ rings

oil for frying okra and leeks

1 – 16 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

2 quarts shrimp stock

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

3 thinly sliced green onions

salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce to taste 

* because i did not have access to gumbo crabs, i used a lb of fresh lump crab meat.

option to make shrimp stock: peel shrimp and combine peels, onion skins and tops in a stock pot. cover with water and boil for 10 minutes. strain and reserve. 

fry okra and leeks in very hot oil until lightly browned. you can bread them before frying like we did, if you like. allow to drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. set aside.

on a low to medium flame, make a dark roux with the flour and butter, stirring almost constantly with a wooden spoon, cooking until golden brown. Add onions, stirring together until the roux darkens to a milk chocolate brown. be careful not to burn the roux. you will know immediately if this happens–it is very pungent. do not use if you burn, the whole soup will taste burned. start over and be patient–it is a learned skill! add celery and bell pepper and garlic and saute for a few minutes, stirring frequently. 

 add the gumbo crabs (if using), tomatoes, herbs and the shrimp stock. simmer 45 minutes or longer, adding water to thin if thickens up too much. 

ten minutes before serving add shrimp and lump crab meat (if using) and green onions. taste to correct seasonings, adding salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce. ladle over steamed rice and top with fried okra and leeks.

and then there was cake…



Filed under seafood, soup



if you are not a meat eater, you may want to sit this one out. i am one of those that think not much can’t be improved without the addition of bacon. a few weeks back, a few of us went in on an entire pork belly from our local farmer’s market source, richardson farms. they are friendly folks and their meat is local and hormone and antibiotic-free!

fat side up (no skin, which i guess in retrospect would have made for some pretty good cracklin’s):


and the other side:


we portioned it out:


as far as our portion, we have decided to make bacon (insert joke here) and pancetta. i will update you over the next few weeks to let you know how it’s all progressing.

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lighten up!



i was looking for something a little lighter after a last weekend’s valentine sweet-fest. i searched for a recipe with some items i had on hand; lentils, fresh marjoram, a handful of tiny and beautiful purple carrots from the farmer’s market. after a minute or two, i came across this recipe for lentil salad by alice waters. and since i was making a meal of it, i tossed in a few extras. it all added up to a much heartier winter salad that i thoroughly enjoyed. i hope you do too.

look how cute these carrots are!



be sure not to overcook your lentils–they can get mushy. you want them to be a bit al dente, like pasta, because they will continue to cook for a few minutes more while they are marinating in the vinaigrette. next time i might add a little baby spinach for color and allow it to wilt into the lentils after cooking. i topped the salad with some crumbled goat cheese and ate it while it was still warm-perfect for a cool night.



lentil salad (adapted from the art of simple food by alice waters)

1 cup lentils (French green lentils or black Beluga lentils are the best varieties to use for lentil salads because they have lots of flavor and they hold their shape when cooked.)

1/2 a small onion, left intact

i bay leaf

1 tablespoon red wine, sherry or balsamic vinegar
Fresh-ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped parsley

a big handful of small carrots (try to buy with tops still attached-they seem to remain more flavorful-or from the farmer’s market).

1 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram

a few glugs of olive oil

3 ounces fresh, crumbled goat cheese

a few tablespoons toasted walnuts


preheat the oven 400 degrees. trim carrots and drizzle with a few glugs of olive oil, the marjoram, salt and pepper. roast for about 20 minutes in a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with sides until crisp tender and sweet. set aside. (you can toast the walnuts at the same time if you need to on a separate cookie sheet but check on them every few minutes so they don’t burn-they should only take about 5 minutes, just until they’re fragrant).

while the carrots are roasting, sort and rinse the lentils. cover with water by 3 inches, add bay leaf and half an onion and bring to a boil. turn down to a simmer and cook until tender all the way through (adding more water if necessary), about 20-25 minutes. drain and place in a large bowl.

toss the lentils with the red wine vinegar, salt, and fresh-ground black pepper. let sit for 5 minutes. taste and add more salt and vinegar if needed. add the extra-virgin olive oil, roasted carrots and parsley. stir to combine. 

top with fresh, crumbled goat cheese and toasted walnuts.

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be mine, bubba


i get all girly this time of year. suddenly pink and red are my favorite colors again, i heart hearts, and i make cupcakes. love is in the air. i’m not referring to the commercial-boxed candy-outrageously expensive flowers kind of love. but the sweet, homemade, and special kind that can only come from time spent making someone feel loved (see above photo, which really needs no explaining). this not only made me and everyone else who drove by smile, but i bet bubba felt pretty good about it, too.


i think it’s time to make some cupcakes, don’t you? i decided to try my hand at those perfectly retro beauties, red velvets. after you see how much food coloring is in them, you might cringe. but then, like me, you’ll probably eat them anyway. so bad yet….so good. i made them, then gave them away to everyone i knew. give ’em a try and spread the love.

red velvet cupcakes (adapted from “the confetti cakes cookbook” by elisa strauss)

try these with a glass of sparkling from these folks–it’s all good!

3½ cups cake flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
1½ teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
2¼ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) red food coloring*
1½ teaspoons  real vanilla extract
1¼ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2½ teaspoons white vinegar.

1. preheat oven to 350 degrees. place cupcake liners in muffin pans.

2. whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.

3. place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. beat in eggs one at a time. with machine on low, VERY slowly add red food coloring. (take care: it may splash.) add vanilla. add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.

4. place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. beat for 10 seconds. this is super fun science-experiment cooking stuff!

5. fill cupcake liners about 1/2-1/3 full, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 18 to 25 minutes. rotate pans 1/2 way through cooking (this is a good habit to get into while baking anything–it allows for anyone’s oven to provide even heat and doneness). let cool in pans for a few minutes. then remove from pans and cool completely before frosting.

* yes–it is a shocking amount of food coloring. i started to read the ingredients on the food color label, then decided not to so i could enjoy them. i have heard of other methods of getting the red hue (beets, strawberries) but i believe none are as effective.

yield: 30-35 cupcakes (or 3 cake layers).


cream cheese frosting

1 stick unsalted butter (12 TBSP), room temperature

1 block cream cheese (8ounces), room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2-3 cups powdered sugar

beat cream cheese and butter in a bowl with a hand mixer until fully combined, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl as needed. add vanilla. slowly add powdered sugar, about 1/2 at a time until desired sweetness. i highly recommend that you do NOT dump all the sugar in at once–it becomes too sweet (yes, there such a thing) fast. this is the cool thing about making your own food–you can control the quality of your ingredients and season or sweeten how you like! i ended up using about 2  1/2 cups to mine.

pre-baking (yes–they really are that red!):


and post-baking:



Filed under cake, desserts

sunday dinner in winter



what do you do with some freshly made turkey stock and the meat that is poached along with it?  why make turkey and dumplings, of course. what a perfect way to spend a sunday in winter–such homey aromas coming from the kitchen.


i was careful to read up on dumplings before i actually tried them and, although the first batch was a little heavy and dense, the second batch came out wonderfully soft and pillowy. there seem to be a few secrets to good dumplings: do not over mix the batter, do not overcook, and under no circumstances should you open the lid of the pot after they are added–they are to steam, not boil!


here are the little beauties just added to the pot at a brisk simmer just before closing the lid (had to work fast to avoid breaking rule #3).


this really did not take long at all. i would recommend, however that you make the stock and shred the turkey or chicken the day before, unless you are a weirdo like me and like to spend hours on end in the kitchen.


turkey (or chicken) & dumplings (adapted from simply recipes)



  • 5-6 cups turkey or chicken stock (preferably homemade)
  • 2 cups cooked, shredded turkey or chicken 
  • 3 celery stalks, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 6 boiling onions (smaller than regular onions, larger than pearl onions), peeled and halved (i used a regular spanish onion, cut into wedges)
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 6 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme (i used fresh)
  • 2 Tbsp dry sherry or vermouth (optional) (i did not use the booze)
  • 1 Tbsp of heavy cream (optional)
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
  • ground black or white pepper


  • 2 cups cake flour (can sub all-purpose flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh herb leaves such as parsley, chives, and tarragon (optional)

sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. add chopped fresh herbs-i had parsley on hand, so that’s what i used.  add melted butter and milk to the dry ingredients. gently mix with a spoon until mixture just comes together. (note: do not overmix! or your dumplings will turn out too dense.) set aside.
heat butter in large heavy bottomed stock pot.  whisk in flour and thyme; cook, whisking constantly, until flour turns golden, 1 to 2 minutes. whisking constantly, gradually add sherry or vermouth, then slowly add the reserved 5 or 6 cups of chicken stock; simmer until mixture thickens slightly, 2 to 3 minutes. stir in the vegetables, simmer for 5 minutes. stir in chicken and cream; return to a brisk simmer. add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

drop dumpling batter into the simmering stew by teaspoonfuls, over the surface of the stew. cover and simmer until dumplings are cooked through, about 10-12 minutes. once you have covered the pan, do not uncover while the dumplings are cooking! in order for them to be light and fluffy, they must steam, not boil. uncovering the pan releases the steam. if after 10-12 minutes they are still not cooked through (use a toothpick or skewer to test) cover pan again, and cook for another few minutes.

gently stir in peas and parsley. ladle portions of meat, sauce, vegetables, and dumplings into soup plates and serve immediately.

serves 4-6

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Filed under soups & stews

yes, soup for you!


 we have had some absolutely gorgeous ‘winter’ days here in texas lately. somewhere between 65-75 degrees and sunny constitutes a near perfect day in my book. although we don’t have as many of those here as my days in california, i do love them more than because they are now precious and few. with this sunny and clear weather, we also have some pretty chilly nights, hovering somewhere just above freezing. the first culinary thought that comes to mind during this time of year is a big batch of homemade soup. i love making soup and pasta e fagioli (literally ‘pasta and beans’) is one of my faves.

learning how to make soup is more of a method than a following a recipe. you can make a soup thicker by cooking it down without a lid, pureeing a portion of the ingredients in a blender, food processor or by hand, or adding a ‘slurry’ of flour mixed with water. and you can thin a soup by just adding some more water or stock back into the pot. you can make soup out of just about anything; veggies, meat, beans. the most important thing is to just use the freshest and best ingredients you can afford. and when you combine that with a few do-ahead activities (such as making your own stock and beans), the results are phenomenal.


i did hear the collective groan with the mention of these (supposedly) labor- intensive jobs, but in reality, the stock takes about 30 minutes–make it on the weekend and keep in freezer in 1-2 cup portions–and the beans took just just over 2 hours, mostly inactive and i made them the day before. after picking through 1lb of dried great northern beans to get rid of any rocks or old shriveled up beans, i covered them in cold water and used the quick soak method of preparing them to cook. then i covered them with fresh water and cooked them without a lid after adding 1/2 a chopped onion and a few bay leaves.

this what your beans look like after you cook them for about 45 minutes-1 hour:


 get your ‘porky trinity’  ready (onion, garlic, bacon):


i also added a bit of celery and sauteed it all in the bacon fat which had been rendered. if you watch anne burrell on the food network, she’ll tell you what we’ve all known for years, that “brown food is good food”. so true, and so this pot of goodness stayed on low to medium heat about 5 more minutes before the tomato paste and stock were added. 


add your homemade stock like this:


 then you will add the remaining ingredients over the next 10-15 minutes. with some do-ahead prep all told you’ve been in the kitchen for less than 45 minutes.


pasta e fagioli (adapted from gourmet)

serves 2-4



  • 2 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 small rib of celery, chopped fine
  • 1 carrot, sliced thin
  • 1  1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 cups fresh cooked white beans or 1-16 oz can white beans rinsed and drained
  • 2-3 TBSP tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup tubetti or other small tubular pasta, like shells or elbows
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
  • freshly grated Parmesan and good quality olive oil as an accompaniment


in an unheated heavy saucepan cook the bacon over low-medium heat, stirring, until it is crisp-the cold pan and low heat will allow all the fat to render off the meat–i.e. melt and flavor the rest of your dish. pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat, and in the remaining fat cook the onion and the garlic and celery, stirring, until softened. add the tomato paste and stir for about 1 minute, then add the carrot and the broth and simmer the mixture, covered, for 5 minutes. in a bowl mash 1/3 cup of the beans, stir them into the bacon mixture with the remaining whole beans, and simmer the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. stir in the tubetti, simmer the soup, covered, for 10 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente, and if desired thin the soup with water. check pot every few minutes and add water or broth as needed-you don’t want it to run out and scorch your dinner. let the soup stand off the heat, covered, for 5 minutes, stir in the parsley, and serve the soup in bowls sprinkled with the parmesan and drizzled with some of your best olive oil.


yesterday was rocket’s birthday. he slept through most of it, but did manage to get a few treats down, however.




Filed under soup