Plain & Fancy

Can you guess who ate what?

Your choices are:

Boston Irish-american guy: plain or fancy?

New Hampshire raised country girl: plain or fancy?

Boston Irish guy = plain & New Hampshire country girl = fancy

Did you guess right?

I am always trying to encourage new things at dinner time but this was just a little too exotic…

fancy sauce

I picked up this fancy little can of sauce at the new, fancy “not-so-little” Italian grocery store/food emporium that recently opened at the Prudential mall in Boston. I am sure you know the one I mean. Google it.

Without giving it a direct plug I will say that I could go there everyday for a year and still not try everything they have stocked in the 55,000 square feet of Italian goodness!

Maybe next time I will get the plain stuff for Mr. fancy Boston guy!

 

 

 

Living Simply

I had to take a long break from Cabinet Stew recently to attend to my mother who was ill and recently passed away. I have returned from this sad hiatus with a renewed respect for my time left on this earth and an appreciation for living more simply.

My mother was a 40 year vegetarian and a general health enthusiast. She never felt the need to “clutter” her plate with complicated ingredients, bold spices or fancy preparations. She felt nature was best left untouched as much as possible. At the same time she never passed up the chance to try something new, leading us as a family, to one “off the beaten path” bakery to another. By ten years of age I already knew where to get the best spanakopita (greek spinach pie) in my hometown.

My father in contrast was a man who appreciated a sausage as another might appreciate a vintage car or rare wine. He was a connassuier of hot dog carts, hash browns and strangely, fresh radishes. (which he ate like candy from a bowl in front of the TV)

Having observed both of them my whole life, I shaped my own eating habits around a combination of them. I love bold flavors and never pass up a good hot dog. I think nostalgically of my father when I eat radishes. However I don’t think twice about having a meal that doesn’t contain meat – in fact I don’t even recognize it as a “vegetarian” meal – its just simply a meal. I never met a vegetable or fruit I don’t like. And of course I have to seek out the most obscure local joints to try something new.

Today I salute my mother and her simple tastes.

simple-breakfast

Toast spread with Ricotta di Pecora (raw sheep milk ricotta) – topped with maple syrup and Honey Dew melon.

 

 

 

 

Christmas Mash-Up

Mashed potatoes are not my specialty. They are more than just “not my specialty” – they are my arch nemesis! I just can’t seem to master them. They usually come out gluey or lumpy or both all at the same time!

I think making mashed potatoes are a lesson in patience (which I am short on) and require some amount of technical ability.  You need to put the peeled (patience needed) potatoes into the big pot of cold water and bring it all up to boil together (more patience) for the potatoes to cook evenly. You really should warm up whatever dairy product you are adding – milk, cream etc. Don’t over mash and make sure you season liberally.

For Christmas lunch – I decided to be patient with my mashed potatoes and I was rewarded with lovely, creamy, perfect mashed potatoes!

And then I added a few things…

Some roasted garlic cloves. Some grated Parmesan cheese…Some chopped spinach. Yup, chopped spinach. I thought the chopped spinach would be a fun “mash-up.” Like having creamed spinach and garlic mashed altogether.

While my mother and I thought it was tasty, my husband did not!  Weird because cooked spinach is one of the few veggies he really likes and he likes mashed potatoes very much. So what’s not to love about mixing the two?

Ingredient list to fill a 9×13 baking dish

5 lbs Yukon gold potatoes – peeled and cut into similar sized pieces.

3-6 large garlic cloves – roasted and mashed

1 box of chopped spinach ( 9 oz +/-) defrosted and squeezed of excess water.

1/2 stick salted butter

1 cup whole milk – warmed

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1 tb “Better Life Foods” Depot spice ( or more to taste)

Ground black pepper and additional salt to taste

Easy-Fancy Potatoes

Hasselback Potatoes are the perfect blend of  “easy but looks fancy!”

What are they? Basically they are baked potatoes that have been sliced in a decorative manner. They were a Swedish invention at the “Hasselbacken Hotel” in Stockholm, where they are called “hasselbackspotatis,” back in the 1700s.

I decided to test these out as a possible Thanksgiving dish. We were always more of a baked potato family than a mashed family so a twist on the family standard seemed like a good idea. I washed and sliced some potatoes, poured melted butter and seasoning over them as the many internet recipes suggest and baked them in a high oven ( 450!!!) for 50 mins. They were easy and they look impressive, but I think next time I will slice and bake them with just a bit of oil rubbed onto the potatoes and at a slightly lower heat. I will save the butter-garlic-topping for when they come out of the oven because I noticed that garlic pieces burned unless you conscientiously tuck each one into a slice – who has time for that on thanksgiving!

Here is a look at my “test drive”

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Bean Practice

I had a hankering for homemade baked beans and I couldn’t remember the last time I had made them. I checked online and saw that my original baked bean posting was back in September 2010 and after that only one other posting in August 2011. (during hurricane Irene – I should really not wait so long to make baked beans!)

So here we are in 2016 with another hurricane (Matthew) pummeling the country and me working to perfect a very traditional baked bean. The last batches were not too traditional. So this time I stuck to tradition. I ended up making 3 batches (!!!) over the course of a week.

Batch 1: I used a red kidney bean – that’s the bean I had used the last couple of times – but I must have bought some extra giant size and I was out of practice in general so my husband pronounced these “ok, but not great and why are the beans so big?”

Batch 2: My mom heard I was making baked beans and was dying for some so I made a vegetarian & onion free version for her and used a smaller pink bean. I soaked them overnight but was too lazy to do the boil-in-water step but did cook them extra long in the slow-cooker . She pronounced them “delicious, but maybe they could be just a tiny bit more tender.”

Batch 3: I again used the small pink bean and soaked them overnight. This time I boiled them in fresh water for about 10 minutes before cooking them overnight in the slow cooker. I kept them vegetarian and used onion. I am dropping some off at my boss’s house. Hopefully he will pronounce them “an excellent baked bean.”

here is how we like to eat them around here…

baked-beans-supper

Cajun spiced-rubbed steak, corn bread, sliced tomatoes and traditional baked beans

 

The Recipe:

I used approx. 2 lbs (2 small bags) of small pink dried beans, soaked overnight, boiled for 10 minutes in fresh water (no salt) and drained. Place in a sprayed slow-cooker for easy clean up.

Whisk together:

1 6-ounce can of tomato paste

1 cup light brown sugar – barely (lightly) packed

1/3 cup dark molasses

1/2 tablespoon of dry mustard

1/4 cup ketchup

2 cups very hot water

1 tb of ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups small diced white onion (instead of onion this could also be 4 whole garlic cloves thrown in the slow cooker and fished out later – I tried that in one of my versions.)

Taste the mix and adjust as desired. Remember the flavors will deepen in the pot, but this is a chance to get the general “sweet and tangy-ness” right. Add this mixture to the beans in your slow cooker. Stir well. At this point I like to add 1 more cup of hot water to make sure there is enough “juice” as I cooked these on high, overnight. (or about 8-10 hours) The water level should just be “peeking” out from the beans not actually covering the beans. Use +/- water on that final cup of hot water to achieve the right level. Stir maybe twice during the cooking and scrap the sides down.

TIP: When they are done – tender, smelling good, looking good, tasting good – stir in a 1/2 cup of good quality maple syrup. (I like a dark amber from Vermont.) Add a couple pinches of salt. The syrup at the end gives the beans a warm, sweet undertone. I don’t add it in the beginning because I think the delicate flavor gets lost in all that cooking. (believe me I tried that in the first two batches.)

Patty Pan

Such a funny, odd name.  What is a “patty pan” anyway? I mean I know it’s a type of squash but that must be named after something? My husband thought maybe it was an another name for a cupcake-like thing. A quick search of the inter-webs told me that  “The name “pattypan” derives from “a pan for baking a patty”. Its French name, pâtisson, derives from a Provençal word for a cake made in a scalloped mould.”

I may have styled this photo just a tiny bit :)

I may have styled this photo                         …just a tiny bit 🙂

The husband was pretty close to right on this one. Yup, a wife has actually admitted in writing that her husband was right! (just this one time)

I bought a couple of Patty pan’s from the farmer’s market at the Brimfield antique show this past week, along with a variety of summer squash called “Zephyr” along with some tiny little potatoes, Cipollini onions, some beautiful tomatoes, a few tomatillos and some tasty golden raspberries. No trip to the farmer’s market is complete without some corn on the cob, so I picked some up!

And of course since I was there to shop antiques – there was a small side table purchased!

The Patty Pans are small but mighty. They can be sliced or stuffed.

patty-pan-with-cupI sliced up mine along with most of my other farmer market finds and spread them all out on sheet pan with olive oil  and spices and roasted them . This is a great way to cook them easily, all at once. Later they can be arranged on a platter for a meal, snacking or sandwiches.

 

Interested in Brimfield? it happens 3 times a year near Sturbridge Massachusetts – here’s a link for more info and here is some pictures I took….

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Who Needs A Ring Anyway!

Or maybe I am just cranky that I couldn’t keep my fresh pineapple rings as rings!

I tried to make the quintessential pineapple upside down cake- all pretty with perfect rings, but when the first one broke apart I knew I would have to just embrace the pineapple “chunks”  instead.

pineapple upside down cake 1

I choose the 9×12 baking dish size purely because that was the only dish I had that matched one of the baking choices on the back of the box cake instructions. Yep…I used a box cake mix. I did cut up a fresh pineapple and used real butter and brown sugar. I also added a splash of vanilla to the cake mix. That counts as “homemade” right?

It always better to let someone else do what they do best, like say my friend “Betty” – she is a great baker – so I can focus on what I do best…EAT!

cake piece

Author’s Tips

Spray the baking dish liberally with baking spray first.

1 stick softened, salted butter and 3/4 cup (lightly pack) dark brown sugar make the most amazing base to place the pineapple on. Just smear it together right in the baking dish and spread evenly as possible across bottom of the dish.

A light dusting of ground cinnamon over the pineapple chunks (rings) nestled in the sugar/butter mix goes a long way towards adding flavor.

No need to get a mixer out for that box cake mix- just follow box directions for adding water,oil, eggs and whisk it by hand for a minute or two till smooth and pour over the top.

Pro-tip: rotate the dish 1/2 way thru baking time for a nice even cake.

Mandatory to let the cake cool a solid 15 minutes before turning it out (upside down) on a pretty platter or simple wooden board. It will still be smoking hot (all the sugar-fruit holds the heat!) so let it cool just a few minutes longer before cutting the pieces.