Ice Bound Part I: The Care Package
We are ice bound here, ice bound and sick. It does not make for a good combination, especially because my husband is one of those adults who sees snow/ice days as a nuisance. I am the opposite, which means we are at odds—I always think we should make hot chocolate and watch movies while he talks about needing to be left alone so he can try to get some of the work done that he would have gotten done had he gone into work. And we are extra at odds since we are both completely congested. C’est la vie.
Anyway, I have a cousin who is much younger than me (now I am dating myself) who just started college, and I have been meaning to put together a care package for her for a while now.So Alex and I spent yesterday making granola and chocolate dipped chocolate shortbread to send her (hopefully it will not melt; it is after all February and it is only going to central Virginia).Thanks to the weather it won’t leave until tomorrow, but I chose items that have a good shelf life, although afterwards I realized that I should have omitted the wheat germ from the granola for this reason.Oh well. Maybe the congestion has permeated my brain. Maybe? Oh yeah, probably.
I should give you one warning about the granola (and maybe it is as good a time as any to divulge something about me in general and my recipes): I have a MASSIVE sweet tooth. Totally incorrigible—and defiant too I might add. I am extremely annoyed by food writing that treats preferring the sweet (and salty for that matter) as common, mundane, bourgeois, whereas something can be very sour or bitter and it is sophisticated. I actually love sour—sour and sweet are my 2 favorite flavors, but they are just individual preferences. Anyway, I do have a sweet tooth and I definitely prefer my granola sweet. If it is too much sugar for you, just reduce the brown sugar or reduce some of the liquid and replace it with either oil or a tart, sugar-free applesauce. The same goes for any of my recipes—if it sounds like too much sugar for your tastes, hold back until you see if you need it. I promise you that is what I do with anything bitter!
4 cups thick, old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup barley flakes
1 cup oat bran
⅓ cup wheat germ
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup pecan pieces
⅓ – ¾ cup brown sugar (light or dark)
3 T neutral vegetable oil
1 ½ t vanilla
1 t kosher salt
⅓ cup maple syrup
⅓ cup honey
Cinnamon for sprinkling on the granola after it bakes and ½ teaspoon vanilla sugar for sprinkling on the granola after to help it crisp
I am fairly new to homemade granola but it is obvious almost immediately that granola is very flexible. If you see something you don’t like, simply remove it from the list. If you want to add some other grain, sesame seeds or shredded coconut, go for it. Dried fruit and chocolate chips should be added after it cooks.
Place the racks in the top and bottom thirds of your oven. Preheat to 300 F.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.I like using my hands.
Whisk the wet ingredients together in a smaller bowl. Pour them over the dry ingredients—I do this in stages, just in case my ratio of wet to dry is such that I do not need quite all of the wet mixture. I then mix with a large spatula, making sure that all of the dry granola becomes coated in the wet mixture (but it should not be gloppy wet).
Spread the granola out over 2 half sheet pans (cookie sheets which have rims). Bake at 300 F (I keep it low because of the wheat germ) for 40-60 minutes, until golden brown. Check the granola every 15 minutes, rotating the pans and turning, mixing and re-spreading the granola, in order to ensure that it toasts evenly. When it is done, sprinkle a tiny bit of vanilla sugar and several shakes of cinnamon over the granola and then mix it up to distribute the cinnamon. Let it cool completely on the pan, at which point it will become crunchy. Place in an airtight container—if you plan on it being around for a while, store in the refrigerator or freezer. I honestly have not experimented enough to know when wheat germ will turn rancid (or the nuts for that matter).
Double Chocolate Shortbread
Adapted from: Carole Walter’s Cookies
This recipe makes quite a lot—but because shortbread has such a wonderful shelf life, I like to make a lot and spread the wealth among friends and family.
2 ½ cups AP flour, spooned in and leveled
1 cup white rice flour, spooned in and leveled
1 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder, spooned in and leveled
½ t salt
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 ⅓ cups superfine sugar
2 t vanilla extract
10 oz good quality semi or bitter sweet chocolate (at least 60% cacao)
2 t neutral tasting vegetable oil
Position the shelf in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 300 F. You will need 2 cookie sheets and one of them must be a half baking sheet with rim (13 X 18, or a smidge smaller would work as well).
Sift the flours, cocoa powder and salt together 3 times. Set aside.
Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a large bowl with a hand mixer or a wooden spoon). Cream the butter for 1-1 ½ minutes on medium low speed, until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar over 2 minutes. Mix for an additional 1½ minutes. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.
Add the sifted flour mixture and stir very slowly, pulsing in the beginning to avoid coating yourself in flour and cocoa powder. Only stir until the dough starts to come together in a shaggy ball. Then dump the dough onto a clean work surface. Bring it together with your hands and knead it, just enough to totally blend the ingredients and form a smooth, somewhat putty-like dough. Do not overwork. (And in case any of you ever wondered how much I want out of my rental kitchen–check out that hideous turquoise/green counter top!!!)
Press the dough into the rimmed baking sheet. Get it as even as possible—although between you and me I rarely manage to get my shortbread perfectly even. You can use a toothpick to determine if it is even but I just don’t care enough if some of my shortbread is a little thicker than others. Plus when you have a toddler helping you (she LOVES to push shortbread into the pan) you can only get so particular.
Place the shortbread into the oven and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until set on top. Then take it out and let it rest for 5 minutes. Using a dough scraper or a pizza cutter, cut the shortbread in a gridlike pattern set to the size of cookies you want—mine are rarely the same. I have some fat rectangles and some thin—so far no one eating it has ever complained. Return to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes.Place the baking sheet side by side with the second baking sheet.Carefully, using a turner or a dough scraper, lift up a row of cookies along one edge and move them to the other sheet.The first row is the hardest.Gradually remove half of the cookies to the other sheet, and then make sure that both sets of cookies are now spaced out on the 2 pans.Using oven mitts, move the oven racks to the upper and bottom thirds of your oven.Put the cookie sheets back into the oven for 10 minutes, to crisp and dry the individual shortbread pieces.
Place a cooling rack over wax paper (or some other means of keeping the counter clean, if you care—I just wiped mine up afterwards).Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes before transferring to the cooling rack.
In the meantime, chop and melt the 10 oz of chocolate in a microwave safe bowl by microwaving at 50% power in 30 second increments. When it is melted, whisk it with the 2 teaspoons of oil.
While the cookies are still tepid, dip the tops of the shortbread into the chocolate and replace onto the cooling rack to set and finish cooling.
When the cookies have finished setting they can be stored inbetween layers of wax or parchment paper in an airtight container for at least 3 weeks.
Ice Bound Part II: The Soup That Almost Wasn’t
I woke up this morning craving something Mexican and full of corn tortillas. I pulled out some of my Rick Bayless cookbooks—he is absolutely my go-to for tortilla casserole ideas. He has a recipe that caught my eye for chilaquiles made with a black bean sauce, so I figured I would start there. I did not have any defrosted chicken stock and I did not want to cook my beans in a storebought stock because I was worried the sodium would toughen the beans (is that an old wives’ tale? I don’t even know, but I am not going to risk it on my mail ordered Rancho Gordo beans!), so instead I hauled out some beer. Well I will tell you I have made beans with beer gazillions of times and so I have no idea what happened but the beans came out tasting like the inside of hangover mouth! Ugh! Every time I tasted it I got bitter beer face!
So a little fiddling and tasting and adding and whirring later and I had actually created an amazing black bean soup. Not really sure why it got so much better (the tomatoes? the pureeing?)—this is how I cook a lot and the reason I have trouble writing down my recipes. The casserole went out the window, although I am thinking of cooking down the soup and using it as a sauce in a tortilla casserole since I never got my tortillas. The really yummy thing about this soup is that it tasted like it had bacon in it. So much so that I was tempted to throw crumbled bacon on top of it, but I was virtuous and resisted. The whole family loved this soup—and John had also tasted it earlier and agreed with my assessment of it. So it was truly a complete rescue job.
Laura’s Accidental Smoky Black Bean Soup
1 lbs dried black beans (I used Rancho Gordo Valentine Beans, chosen by Alex and very appropriate for this week)
4 bottles lager (I used Corona)
4 cups of water
1 large onions, roughly chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, smashed
1 T roasty lard (neutral vegetable oil can be subbed with some but not great loss in flavor)
2 (or more if you can take the heat) dried chipotle peppers
Salt to taste (I used kosher, sea salt would work well here also)
1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade or low sodium
1 28 oz can and 1 15 oz can of fire roasted tomatoes (whole or crushed)
1 or more chipotles in adobo (if you want more smoky flavor but less heat, instead of adding more than 1 chipotle, add sweet smoked Spanish paprika in addition to it, ½ – 1 teaspoon)
1 ½ t cumin
¼ t allspice
shredded cheddar and Monterey jack for garnish
sour cream for garnish
Bring the first 7 ingredients to a boil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Let it boil for 5 minutes, and then reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cook until the beans are tender. This is a soup that can afford to sit on the stove cooking, so I recommend you start early enough to give the beans time to cook.
When the beans are tender (anywhere from 2 hours on), add salt to taste and the chicken stock.Remove the lid and let simmer strongly for 30-45 minutes.
Remove the dried chipotle peppers and add the fire roasted tomatoes and the chipotle in adobo. Using either an immersion blender (my tool of choice) or a blender, puree the soup. How pureed you want it is up to you—when it comes to bean soups I always prefer a rustic, chunky puree. Return the now pureed soup to a simmer and add the cumin and allspice.
Let simmer for 30 minutes or longer.I think mine simmered for 1 hour at this point.Whether you simmer it strongly or softly, covered or uncovered, depends on how thick you want the soup.For a thinner consistency, cover the soup and simmer on a low heat.For a thicken soup, remove the lid and simmer more briskly (although keep an eye on it such that it does not become too thick and stir occasionally to keep anything from burning on the bottom on the higher heat).
Serve garnished with shredded cheese, sour cream, and, if you have them handy, green onions and cilantro.