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Guys, I know: this blog is dead. Lame!

But good news! I made another one. Or, rather, a whole new site, with a dot-com and everything!

blairthornburgh.com

I’m still going to write plenty about food, so don’t worry. Other stuff too! Check it out, subscribe if you’d like, and do keep in touch. Me, I’m going to get a snack.

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Among the Great Revelations you can have in college, one of my personal favorites is that soup doesn’t have to come from a can.

Also, only wash colors in cold water. Just in case you were wondering.

Anyway, it’s cold out and soup is what you want. Chilis, stews, and so forth are all great, but for lunches I’m a big fan of puréed soups. They’re also ridiculously easy, which is a plus. The basic methodology is something like cook an onion, add spices and/or garlic, throw in some cubed vegetables and enough stock to cover, simmer, purée. Voilà: soup.

I found this recipe browsing online and happened to have all (well, most of) the ingredients. Since I’m the sort of person that apparently doesn’t mind taking an hour to make lunch, I came home, thawed some homemade stock, and did battle with an acorn squash. Half an hour or so later: soup. Again, voilà.

And this soup is crazily good. Sometimes puréed soups are flat and taste like liquid mashed potatoes, but this as turmeric and ginger and sweetness from the apple and yet it still goes well with sharp cheddar on toast (because what is soup without a sandwich?)

The photos don’t do it justice. You’ll just have to make it and see.

Winter Squash and Apple Soup
adapted from Saveur
serves 4 or so

  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. ginger, minced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tart apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 acorn squash, seeded, peeled, and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

 In a large stockpot or dutch oven, heat the oil and cook the onion until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add spices, salt and pepper to taste, apples, squash, and stock. Bring to a boil; cook, covered, on medium heat, until squash and apples are tender, about 15 minutes.

Purée with an immersion blender or (carefully) in batches in a standard blender. 

(If you find it hard to peel the acorn squash, cut it into sections following its natural curves, then peel each section individually).

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Rituals are important, especially about food. Doing the same thing over and over again is how you learn to get better.

Case in point: making bread. I didn’t know how to make bread when I first showed up for a Shabbat dinner at my friends’ house, which showed in my blobby and pale no-knead loaf. But I practiced from then on, every Friday. Loaf after loaf after loaf. I bought more flours, bulk yeast, cookbooks, and a baking stone. I’ve done pitas andpain de campagne and whole-wheat flax and red wine and cheese. A lot sucked. A lot were good.

I’m not Jewish, and even though one of my hostesses is, the religiosity of the event is more symbolic than anything (we do sing the prayer, when we remember). The three girls cook a variety of meals—elaborate to simple, but always delicious—we drink (too much) wine, and I bring bread. It’s simple, but in its own oddball way, it’s kind of sacred too—like any ritual worth doing.

Enough schmaltz. The bread! Challah is a sweet, eggy loaf traditionally served on Fridays, dipped in a little salt. It’s soft and delicious and makes wonderful French toast the day after. I’ve made various permutations of it (no-knead, whole-grain, raisin-studded and turban-shaped) but I think this is my favorite recipe so far. I used honey instead of the sugar in the recipe, because…I was out of sugar. But I like the taste of honey better anyway, so there. The secret to the dark crust is two egg washes: one before the final rest, and one right before baking.

My braiding skills leave much to be desired, but like I said…practice, practice, practice.

Challah Bread
adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
makes two loaves

  • 18 oz (4 cups) bread flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/3 tsp. instant yeast
  • 3/4 c. room temperature water
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 egg whites, whisked until frothy, for egg wash
  • Sesame or poppy seeds (or both!) for sprinkling 

Whisk together flour, salt, and yeast. In a separate bowl, mix together water, eggs, yolks, honey, and oil. Stir wet ingredients into dry until they form a ball, adding a little extra water if needed.

Turn the ball onto a clean counter and knead for 10 minutes, until dough is springy (alternatively, knead in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment for 6 minutes on medium-low speed). Lightly oil a large bowl. Shape the dough into a ball, turn it on all sides to get it coated with oil, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let ferment on the counter for 1 hour.

After one hour, remove the dough and knead it lightly for 2 minutes to degas. Shape into a ball, return to the bowl, cover, and let rise for another hour, or until doubled in size.

Remove dough from bowl and, using a dough scraper, divide into six equal portions (a scale is handy for this). Shape each into a ball, and let rest on the counter, covered by a clean dishtowel, for 10 minutes.

Roll each ball into a long strand. Braid three strands into a loaf, starting in the middle and pinching the ends closed. Repeat with remaining strands. Transfer loaves to a parchment (or silpat) lined baking sheet and brush with egg wash. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for an hour (or slightly longer) until about 1 1/2 times original size.

Preheat oven to 350º. Brush loaves with egg wash again, and sprinkle with seeds, if using. Bake for 20 minutes on middle rack, then rotate sheet for even baking. Bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until richly golden brown. Remove from sheets to cool on rack for at least an hour before slicing and eating.

Shabbat shaloam!

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There are two things in your kitchen you’re probably not using enough: your broiler (we’ll get back to this one) and your freezer. If all you’re doing is keeping vegetables and pizzas and ice cubes in there, you’re missing out. For one thing, you can freeze tons of little odds and ends to reuse later (ex: tomato paste and chilis en adobo, because who ever uses a whole can?) in plastic bags. You can make double batches of things (applesauce, bolognese) and have fallback plans for weeknight dinners.

I’ll stop before I get too weird and hints-from-Heloise-y and cut to the chase: not only can you make your freezer into a frozen treasure trove of bakeable-to-order desserts, but you absolutely should.

Flash-freezing is a dead simple technique. Put unbaked things on baking sheet, freeze until firm. Pop into plastic bag, squeeze out most of the air, and save for when the need strikes. Baked goods I have successfully frozen thus far include scones, biscuits, hand pies (recipe forthcoming), and, of course, cookies. When the time comes to bake them, just follow the recipe, possibly adding a little baking time to account for dechilling.

These particular cookies were from a huuuuuge double batch I made for a choir snack a few weeks ago. After baking four full sheets, I decided the rest were destined for cryogenics and froze them. Since then, homemade cookies have never been more than 10 minutes away, especially when I use my ultimate cheater’s method: baking in the toaster oven.

One last word of advice: underbake these guys. They’re really the best when they don’t get too hard.

Molasses Spice Cookies
adapted from The Best Recipe
makes ~20 cookies

  • 2 1/4 c. AP flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. unsulphured molasses 

Preheat oven to 375º. Whisk together flour, salt, and spices. In an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugars until fluffy, around 3 minutes or so. Scrape down bowl with a rubber spatula and beat in egg, vanilla, and molasses. Scrape bowl again.

Add dry ingredients and beat (carefully!) on low speed until just combined. Form dough into 1 1/2 inch balls and place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 11 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking time, and cool on sheets for 2 minutes before removing to racks. To freeze, place cookie sheet in freezer until dough has hardened, then remove dough balls to plastic bag. Bake as before, right from the freezer, possibly adding a minute or two to baking time if needed.

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I want to brag about this chicken soup so much. It is the from-scratchiest soup I have ever made. I simmered my own stock, I repurposed a home roasted chicken, I scrubbed every last little potato more or less free of dirt. Everything in this bowl grew up in this state, too (except, okay, the onion), and I for one think that makes the process a little more alchemical and craftsmanlike.

I won’t try to bore you as a quote-unquote locavore, but I will tell you that the more you do from scratch, the better your soup will taste. I’m pretty sure that’s scientific fact.

I’ve long hoarded the bones of chicken dinners past and tops of carrots and ends of onions in a bag in the freezer, but this is the first time I actually dug it out, dumped some water in the crock pot, and made stock. Surprise: it’s not hard! Actual surprise: homemade stock really does taste better than canned, even without MSG. It’s magic. Homemade stock will change your life. 

But enough hyperbole. Go make soup. You’ll see!

Simple Chicken Soup
serves 4

to make stock (optional):

  • 1 chicken carcass, or an assortment of bones, preferably with a little meat left
  • 1-2 onions, quartered
  • 1-2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 bay leaves (optional) 

Place ingredients in a slow cooker and fill 3/4 of the way full with water. Cook on HIGH for 4-5 hours. Strain stock through mesh strainer or cheese cloth, and discard bay leaves. Use immediately for soup or freeze for later (takeout containers are great for this).

to make soup:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3-4 large carrots, cut into chunks
  • 1 quart small potatoes, scrubbed (I think I had fingerlings, but I’m not sure. Alternatively, use quartered new potatoes)
  • 2 cups, or so, cooked chicken meat, roughly chopped (I used half a roasted chicken left over from the week before)
  • 1 quart chicken stock or broth
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 2 tsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat oil over medium meat. Add shallot and onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add carrots and cook an additional five minutes, until carrots begin to soften, then add potatoes, chicken, stock, thyme, and Parmesan.

Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and let simmer, partially covered, for 20-25 minutes, or until potatoes are tender but not mushy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Happy Halloweekend!

Confession: although I count Halloween as my probably-favorite holiday, my feelings about the associated food are decidedly “meh.” I’m not a huge candy freak. Sugary stuff makes me jittery, and lots of chocolates “might contain” peanuts. And while I like a good cupcake or cake truffle as much as the next girl, I found myself wanting to do a savory Halloween.

Weird? Perhaps, but also tasty.

Traditional (if there is such a thing when it comes to Halloween) “witches’ fingers” are some kind of shortbread cookie (or, if you’re Martha Stewart, a fearsome yeasted-then-boiled dough to rival bagel-making in its complexity) with the crowning trompe-l’oeil of a blanched almond fingernail.

Sigh. The fingernails are key! And what other foods are fingernail-shaped, even?

I happened to have made pumpkin soup from a real pumpkin the other day (it’s almost as easy as opening a can, I swear!) and roasted the seeds, as you do, and, well, bingo. 

The recipe I’ve cobbled together is kind of a spicy cheese straw/cracker with, ah, curry-roasted pumpkin seeds (I would have flavored them differently, had I thought ahead). Having sampled a few as they came out of the oven, I can say that for once, my baking improvisation was a success.

Novelty food or not, they’re good. And if all goes according to plan, I’ll have another neato spooky recipe to post soon…

Cheesy, Spicy, Nut-Free Witches’ Fingers
makes about two baking sheets’ worth

  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 4 tbsp. butter, cubed and slightly cold
  • 3/4 cup AP flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter, unless you’re a salt fiend)
  • 1 tbsp. milk or half and half
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds 

Preheat oven to 350º.

Pulse cheese, butter, flour, pepper, and salt in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk and process until mixture forms a cohesive-ish ball. (Alternatively: cut in butter and cheese with pastry blender, knives, or fingers until mixture forms large crumbs, stir in milk with wooden spoon).

Dust countertop with flour and roll out half the dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knive, cut into finger-sized strips. Transfer to parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet. Press seeds into one end of strips (mush the sides up over the seed, as it will puff right off otherwise) and taper into finger-shape. Using a sharp knife, cut three “knuckle” lines in the middle of each finger.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until just golden at the edges. Cool on sheet on a rack.

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Oops. I packed my bags, came back to school and, despite loading my pantries and kicking into High Cooking Gear, I didn’t post anything. Fail me. The reason is part laziness and part (mostly) that I can’t take good pictures. It embarrasses me! They are all blown-out or too-dark and I feel like I’ve got to edit the bejeezus out of them to make them presentable.

But I’m over it. Or, rather, I’m going to work through it. Photography, like cooking, is a practice: you do it by doing it, and then you get better. Besides, I think my friends are getting tired of hearing me wax rhapsodic about fresh-picked apples and grass-fed stewing beef and the jar of lard (!) I picked up at the Farmers’ Market, and this can be my outlet for my weird, threefold need to create.

So, here we are again. This is a humble meal, and not one I intended to make, even. After spending Saturday and Sunday preparing a modest-but-hefty spread for brunch (mini quiches, roast potatoes, and pumpkin cinnamon rolls with maple cream cheese frosting—oof!) I didn’t anticipate wanting to eat for, well, the rest of forever. But then 8 PM rolled around and, shockingly, I was hungry.

Polenta (aka cornmeal) makes a great base for a chunky tomato sauce. If you’re like me and never bother buying pasta (and always have cornmeal on hand for bread-baking), it’s perfect, and accommodates way more cheese and butter, besides. The meat is from my new CSA share, which means it was sold to me by a really friendly farmer and was delicious.

Okay, so cook this. Practice, practice, practice.

Polenta with Tomato-Sausage Sauce
adapted from The New Best Recipe
serves 4 

For the sauce:

  • 1 lb. Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
  • Splash of red wine (about 1/4 cup)
  • Red pepper flakes (optional)

For the polenta:

  • 1 cup medium-grind cornmeal (don’t use the Quaker stuff; it’s too fine. Bob’s Red Mill makes a good one)
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and brown the sausage until no trace of pink remains. Add diced onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, wine, and pepper flakes, if using, and simmer until thickened, 20-25 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make the polenta. Whisk the cornmeal into the simmering water and cook, stirring constantly, over low heat, until thick, 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and cheese. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon sauce onto bowls of polenta and top with more cheese, if you want. Polenta keeps well in the fridge, so make enough for leftovers.

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I really wanted to make something with apples, because in my mind it’s the middle of fall already. Did the fact that it was 75 and humid today stop me? OF COURSE NOT.

I was already making chili, which involves beer (if you’re doing it right) so with the leftover half-bottle I elected to make beer bread…muffins. With apples. Oh, and cheddar cheese. Because why do anything halfway?

I am not going to lie to you: these did not turn out the way I expected. As a poor craftsman, I’m going to blame not my tools but my materials, and also assure you that if you do things the right way everything will turn out buttery and delicious. So fear not.

First, don’t use a Tripel as your beer of choice. It’s just too bitter, especially with the whole wheat flour. Second, don’t just pick a random aged cheddar at the gourmet grocer because you think it will be good. Actively seek out a sharp one, age be damned. Third, make sure you’re not running low on butter, because this recipes needs you not to skimp.

And use some nice apples. But those are easy to find these days.

The final product needed sharper cheese and more butter, but they were certainly edible, and I highly recommend you make some. Beer bread is an awesomely simple thing and will literally find its way into any mealtime (just try not to eat it when you roll out of bed).

Apple-Cheddar Beer Bread Muffins
makes one dozen

  • 1 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour (or use all AP)
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 (12 oz) bottle beer, preferably a Lager
  • 3 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled, plus additional for topping
  • 1 medium to large apple, cored and diced
  • 3/4 cup sharp cheddar, shredded

Preheat oven to 375º and place rack in middle. Grease a muffin tin (or, alternatively, use a loaf pan).

Whisk together flours and baking powder, then mix in beer and butter until just combined and no dry streaks remain. Fold in apple pieces and cheese.

Portion batter into muffin tin (no liners needed!) or loaf pan and top with additional melted butter (about 1 tablespoon more). Bake for 25 minutes (for muffins) or 50-60 minutes (for loaf) until golden brown & a tester comes out clean.

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Hello.

I know. Oh God, it’s been forever. I’m one of those losers who creates things and then abandons them. This is me asking for forgiveness.

I’ve been cooking more since I got home. Well, eating, mostly, but conventionally in polite society they make you fry the damn steak before scarfing it down. So. There’s been a little recipe experimentation here and there, some hits (discovery: roasted fruit with white meat is awesome), some misses (other discovery: we have working smoke detectors in this house!), but mostly, I’ve been learning stuff. I can finally make a hunk of meat in a pan (see above) and grill a pizza, and oven-bake ribs, and I made a peach pie with a crust so flaky I actually stopped to admire each bite as I pulled it apart with my fork.

But I didn’t feel like being a voyeur of my food, and it rained so much that there was hardly any daylight anyway, so no pictures were taken and nothing was written up. Yet now, in the waning days of summer, I return! With a recipe involving tomatoes! And biscuit topping! Are you intrigued yet? Good. Because it’s about thyme.


No joke. As I prodded the internet for tomato cobbler recipes, I discovered that what I really wanted in mine was 1. cheese and 2. thyme. Martha Stewart wanted me to caramelize onions (ugh, no time) and use Gruyère (ugh, no $$). Mark Bittman wanted a half-and-half mixture of flour and cornmeal (say wha?)

So I patched together my own creation. It’s got cheddar (I used some fancy local raw milk stuff which I highly recommend you do. It’s half the price of Gruyère but still awesome). It’s got butter and cream. It’s got these groovy little cherry tomatoes my dad’s coworker brought us. It’s hot and a little sweet and goes well with flank steak (but then, what doesn’t). And there’s thyme.

Bake one and watch summer melt into fall. It’s a process, but it’s graceful, I promise.

Tomato Cobbler
serves 4 generously

  • 2 pints or so cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 stick cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (may need a tablespoon or two more)
  • 3/4 cup grated cheddar or Gruyère
  •  1-2 tbsp. fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 375º and butter a medium-sized baking dish or 8x8 pan. Toss tomatoes with cornstarch and set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter using a pastry blender, two knives or forks, or your fingers (just rub it in) until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Stir in cheese and thyme, then add heavy cream and mix with a fork until mixture comes together into a dough, adding extra cream if the mixture looks dry.

Pour tomato mixture into baking dish and spoon biscuit dough on top, leaving a little space in between blobs to let steam escape. Bake on middle rack for 45-50 minutes, or until tomatoes are bubbly and topping is golden brown. Let cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Way back when I worked on the farm (okay, a year ago), the best thing about the job was decidedly the communal lunches. The farmers and interns took turns cooking, and damned if there wasn’t an awesome spread every single day. Having farm-fresh produce doesn’t hurt, of course, but farmers are also secretly very good cooks. Even with a few dietary restrictions (no nuts for me, no gluten for one of the farmers), they turned out some incredible things. Including my first experience with homemade onion rings.

These are as close as I could come a year later with storebought, rather than fresh, onions, and baking, rather than frying. But still. Delicious. You don’t get that sleeve-of-breading-and-slithery-little-onion effect as with deep fried guys—it’s more like a caramelized onion with a little batter on it. Perfection. You can make a batch while someone else (like your dad, ha ha!) grills some meat product and steal the show from the main course.

Or you can just make a snack. Either way.

Oven Baked Onion Rings
adapted from The Bitten Word
makes…a bunch 

  • 2 sweet (vidalia) onions, sliced and separated into rings
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs (I used whole wheat, for whatever reason)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup AP flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dash cayenne
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 450º. In a bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg, flour, and cayenne. Dip onions in batter mixture, then dredge in breadcrumbs. Keep onions on a plate while oven heats, and repeat until all slices are battered.

Pour oil onto rimmed baking sheet, place in oven for 2 minutes. Remove sheet and tilt to coat. Place onions on sheet and bake 8 minutes. Turn onions over and bake another 8 minutes or until golden brown and smelling awesome.