Category Archives: Baked items

Mama’s baked beans

IMG_6038

I’ve been eating my mama’s baked beans every summer since I can remember. Laced with ketchup, bacon, diced celery and onion, never was there a more perfect partner for Dad’s barbecue chicken thighs (or really anything grilled).

“So how did you come up with these?” I asked Mom a few weeks ago when I finally got around to learning how to make them.

“It’s your mom’s recipe,” Dad replied, smiling proudly.

“No, I think I got it mostly off the Great Northern beans can,” Mom deadpanned.

IMG_6034

This prompted a somewhat lengthy discussion of recipes from a jar/can/box, which Mom and I agree have become far too underrated among the younger generation of foodies. The truth is, big brands have big test kitchen budgets, meaning any recipe you get from a can or jar has likely been tested extensively and should be reliable.

Not only that, but this is one of few recipes in the world I would truly consider fool-proof. There’s very little prep and no pre-cooking required. Everything goes into one dish and it bakes for about 45 minutes until the beans are bubbling and the bacon is crisp. If you want more bacon, add more. If you like it sweeter, bump up the brown sugar. If you prefer thicker baked beans, cut back on the ketchup. In other words, don’t overthink this one. It’s kind of a non-recipe.

Happy 4th, guys. <3

Mama’s (Great Northern’s) baked beans

Ingredients

    2 cans Great Northern white beans
    1/2 cup finely chopped white onion (about 1/2 a medium onion)
    1/4 cup finely chopped celery (about 1 large stalk)
    1/2 cup ketchup
    1/4 cup brown sugar
    Black pepper, to taste
    3 strips smoked bacon, cut into lardons

Method: Preheat the oven to 375F. Empty the contents of both cans into an 8″ by 8″ baking dish. Add the onion, celery, ketchup, brown sugar and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir to combine.

Top the beans with the bacon pieces, and slide the dish into the oven. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes until the beans are bubbling and the bacon is crisp and golden brown.

IMG_6022

Remove from the oven and let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.

IMG_6033

4 Comments

Filed under Baked items, Side Dishes

A Recipe Hall of Mirrors

IMG_1179

Sometimes recipe blogging is a little absurd. Take this recipe I’ve just poached, I mean posted.

Somewhere, many years ago, someone nicknamed Gran perfected a recipe for Easy Little Bread. Her granddaughter Natalie Oldfield published the recipe in a cookbook, which was then purchased by food blogger Heidi Swanson, who made it, photographed it, and rewrote the recipe for publication on her blog. Then I read the recipe on Heidi’s blog, and in turn, made, photographed and rewrote it yet again for publication on my blog.

Maybe the fact that I’m posting this recipe makes me unoriginal or even a thief, but the truth is, I love this bread. I’ve probably made it 20 times since I first saw the recipe in 2011. It tastes like something I probably ate growing up. It’s easy to make, and it is delicious plain or smeared with butter and raspberry jam.

I guess that’s where the absurdity of blogging and reblogging old recipes gets overshadowed by the beauty of sharing. For Gran, it was as simple as making this bread for her family. For Natalie, it was a desire to preserve that lovely family recipe (and many others) in a cookbook. For Heidi, it was a love of collecting interesting cookbooks like Natalie’s and sharing that find with her loyal followers–which no doubt helped sales of the book in turn.

And for me, it’s a love–nay, a compulsion–for sharing the stories behind the recipes I find, because food is a huge part of who I am.

Whether you create a recipe yourself, watch your grandmother make it a hundred times first, or find it online and fall in love with it–it evolves a little each time you make it as you inject more of your own preferences and little flourishes. Eventually, it becomes part of who you are, until you pass it on to someone else, and allow them the chance to make it until it becomes their own. And so on.

I’m not sure who the very first person to make Easy Little Bread was, but I’m sure glad it came into my life. And now I can’t help myself but to share it with you.

IMG_1938

Easy little bread ³
originally adapted from Gran’s Kitchen

    1 1/4 cups warm water
    2 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
    1 tablespoon honey
    1 cup unbleached AP flour
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
    1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
    2 tablespoons melted butter

Method: In a medium bowl, sprinkle the yeast onto the warm water and stir until the yeast dissolves. Whisk in the honey and set aside for a few minutes, until the yeast blooms and swells a bit, about 10 minutes.

IMG_1165

In a large bowl, mix the flours, oats, and salt in a large bowl. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir very well.

Brush an 8-cup loaf pan or 8-by-8-inch baking dish with the melted butter. Turn the dough into the dish (spreading into an even layer if necessary), and cover with a clean, slightly damp cloth. Set in a warm place to rise for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle.

Bake the bread for 35-40 minutes, until golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan. Finish briefly under the broiler for a golden brown finish on top.

IMG_3698

Remove from the oven, and turn the bread out of the pan quickly. Let it cool on a rack so it doesn’t steam in the pan. Serve warm, smeared with butter and your favorite jam.

4 Comments

Filed under Baked items, Vegetarian

Priorities

IMG_2818

Sean and I are having new backsplash installed in the kitchen in a couple weeks. When I told my good friend and borderline DIY addict Katie I was planning to hire someone to do it, she responded: “You’re not doing it yourself? We can do it together! It will be so easy!”

So I thought I’d humor her and half-heartedly read a few articles about installing tile. Predictably, at the first mention of “wet saw,” I called Sean into the room. “Do you have the number for that handyman your dad uses?” I asked.

Sorry, Katie.

This got me thinking about priorities. In much the same way that Katie derives inexplicable joy from the prospect of installing crown molding, stripping and painting old doors or making window screens, I rarely shy away from absurdly labor-intensive kitchen projects. I love to tackle a good 8-hour pot pie with scratch-made crust and scratch-made bechamel sauce filled with vegetables and chicken that were all precooked in separate pots. I’ve also been known to stay up all night on Thanksgiving Eve to make gougeres, bacon-wrapped breadsticks and spiced nuts, and to take personal days to make two-day Sunday gravy.

But do I think it’s worth it to turn my kitchen upside down for days on end while I attempt (then likely fail and end up hiring someone) to install a couple of tiles? Nope. I’m not that kind of DIYer.

That said, this Alsace onion tart likely qualifies as Absurdly Time-Consuming. Homemade pastry crust (that is baked twice even before it gets a filling) is filled to the brim with slow-caramelized onions; rendered bacon; and a heavenly blend of crème fraîche, eggs and nutmeg. Add in the final bake, plus all the chilling and cooling at various stages, and the thing will take you no less than six hours to make. But, oh, is it worth it.

IMG_2825

Alsace onion tart
adapted from Gourmet magazine, serves 6

Pastry

    2 cups AP flour
    1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
    1/4 cup vegetable shortening
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    4 to 5 tablespoons ice water

Filling

    4 bacon slices, cut into 1/8-inch-wide strips
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter
    2 pounds yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced crosswise
    Salt and black pepper, to taste
    1 cup crème fraîche
    4 large eggs
    1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Pastry: Pulse together flour, butter, shortening and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender in a food processor, just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle evenly with 4 tablespoons ice water and pulse in the processor until incorporated. Don’t overmix the dough, or it will become tough.

Turn out the mixture onto a lightly floured surface, and gently knead three or four times until it comes together. Gather the dough together with a pastry scraper and press it into a ball, then flatten the ball into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 14-inch round and fit it into the tart pan. Trim the excess dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold the overhang over the pastry and press against the side to reinforce the edge.

Lightly prick the bottom with a fork and chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Position an oven rack in the middle and preheat the oven to 400F.

Line the chilled shell with foil and fill with pie weights (dried beans work well). Bake until pastry is set and pale golden along rim, 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weights and bake shell until golden all over, 10 to 15 minutes more. Transfer to a rack. (Leave the oven on.)

IMG_2805

Filling: Cook the bacon in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the bacon with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Pour off about half the bacon fat. Turn the heat down to medium low. Add the butter, onions, salt and pepper to the skillet, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are very soft and pale golden, about 30 minutes. Note: Whenever the onions start to look a little dry (i.e. like they might start to brown too fast), stir in a few tablespoons of water. Add the bacon back in, then remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool for 10 minutes.

IMG_2798

Whisk together the crème fraîche, eggs, nutmeg, about 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large bowl, then stir in the onions and bacon.

IMG_2808

Pour the filling into the cooled tart shell, spreading the onions evenly, and bake until the filling is set (not jiggly in the middle) and the top is golden, 25 to 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

2 Comments

Filed under Baked items

Serious Biscuits (and my fear of buttermilk)

IMG_2769

Ever since I got my hands on the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, I have been wanting to make these biscuits. The only problem is, I have a slight aversion to purchasing buttermilk because I am never resourceful/ambitious/Southern enough to use the whole container. I always have one, very specific recipe in mind when I buy it. I don’t know where little culinary hang-ups like this come from, but they usually result in questionably old buttermilk going down the drain.

Anyway, back to the cookbook and the biscuits. The book offers an enticing sampling of the beautiful, big products coming out of the Seattle bakery that could fit in your pocket. Many of them I would truthfully fly to Seattle to buy at the bakery rather than attempt at home (read: the English muffins–well done, Lottie + Doof). But I generally find biscuit recipes to be irresistible, particularly when they involve butter applied in two forms.

IMG_2782

What I loved most about this recipe was that co-author Shelley Lance bothers to tell you things like why you should cut them into squares rather than circles (no scraps to reroll), and that the biscuits would make great vehicles for a delectable range of sandwiches, like sausage and egg or salmon with herb cream cheese. This allows your mind to wander through the possibilities beyond just stuffing your face with a few biscuits as you’re pulling them out of the oven. There’s a good chance I’ll just shovel in most of this batch plain (or with a smear of strawberry jam), but I like to hope I have a little more self-control than that.

IMG_2768

Serious Biscuits
from the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, makes 20 2 1/2-inch biscuits

    1 pound 14 ounces (5 1/2 cups) AP flour, plus a bit more for dusting
    2 tablespoons baking powder
    2 teaspoons baking soda
    2 tablespoons kosher salt
    12 ounces (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice (keep in fridge until ready to use)
    24 ounces (3 cups) cold buttermilk
    2-3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, for brushing

Method: Preheat the oven to 475F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until combined. Add the chilled butter cubes to the bowl, and with your fingers or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture starts to resemble wet sand and the butter chunks are the size of peas.

IMG_2758

Pour in the cold buttermilk and mix with a rubber spatula until everything is just combined. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead four or five times until the dough has a smooth surface area on top. Don’t overmix. Shape the dough into a rough rectangle shape, then pat it out to about 3/4-inch thickness. Use a knife or metal bench scraper to cut the rectangle into 2 1/2-inch squares. Note: Lightly dust the knife with flour to prevent sticking. You should end up with about 20 biscuits.

IMG_2760

Place the biscuits about an inch apart on baking sheets, and brush the tops with the melted butter. Bake the biscuits for 14 to 16 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the biscuits are golden brown on top. Remove them from the oven and cool on wire racks for a few minutes before serving.

11 Comments

Filed under Baked items, Kitchen basics

One bright tart

IMG_4580

The weather in Chicago has been unforgivably bad in March and April. Last week, it rained every day and barely crawled out of the 40s. Then on Sunday the sun came out and the temperature reached almost 70. Everybody in the city was outside. So what did I do that day? I made this tart. (Yes, I also took a long walk with the Mister and the Peanut. But I really wanted to make this tart.)
IMG_4568

IMG_4598

As with any baked thing that contains a liquidy filling set with just a couple of eggs, I fretted. I must have peeked at it every 30 seconds or so after minute 25 in the oven. I may have even cracked the oven door once or twice to prod at the middle to see if it was still jiggly. The tart took longer in my oven than the recipe called for, just over 30 minutes instead of 25. But the end product was a gorgeous blend of crisp, crumbly pate brisee tart shell; spongy, not-too-sweet ricotta filling; and crunchy, toasted almond topping.

IMG_4563

I added “lemon” to the recipe title (originally called ricotta and honey tart), since it feels a bit like an injustice to the lemons not to do so. The zest of four whole lemons goes into this recipe, divided equally between the crust and filling. It perfumes the tart with citrus-scented essential oils, giving it a wonderfully bright, springy flavor that’s not at all sour, since the juice is left out.

IMG_4597

Ricotta, lemon and honey tart
from Chow.com
Crust

    8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
    1/4 cup granulated sugar
    1 tablespoon loosely packed, finely grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
    1/4 teaspoon fine salt
    1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

Filling

    1 pound ricotta cheese, drained overnight (Place the ricotta in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and weigh it down with a heavy object.)
    2 large eggs
    1/2 cup clover honey
    1 tablespoon loosely packed, finely grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Prepare the tart shell:
Preheat the oven to 350F, and arrange a rack in the middle. Place the melted butter, sugar, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl and stir until combined. Add the flour and mix just until a soft dough forms.

IMG_4567

Evenly arrange small pieces of the dough over the bottom of a 9-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom. Using your fingers, press the dough to form an even layer over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, flouring your fingers as needed. Cover the tart shell with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Take out the chilled shell and prick it all over with a fork. Bake it for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Prepare the filling:
Place the drained ricotta, eggs, honey, zest and cinnamon in a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Blend, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl often with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is smooth and combined, about 1 minute.

IMG_4572

Pour the filling into the warm tart shell, smoothing the top if needed, and evenly sprinkle the almonds over top.

IMG_4578

Bake until the center of the tart is just set, about 30 minutes. Cool the tart completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Makes 8 to 12 slices, depending on how large you like ‘em. This tart is superb with a cup of coffee, but my mother-in-law thinks it also would be delicious with a glass of chilled moscato. Can’t say I disagree with that idea.

5 Comments

Filed under Baked items, Dessert

White Irish soda bread

IMG_4461

I know I’m a little late for St. Patrick’s Day with this recipe, but this bread is something you should make year-round. It’s not your typical overly sweet, white Irish soda bread that requires gobs of butter to be palatable. It’s a dense bread that gets a slight tang and roundness from a heavy dose of buttermilk. It bakes at a fairly high temp, which gives it a thick, dark, craggy crust. Of course, it would be almost sacrilegious to have soda bread without at least a little Kerrygold Irish butter (a smear of jam is great too, if you like).

I got this recipe from the owners of the Milestone House Bed & Breakfast in Dingle, Ireland. When I taste it, I am briefly transported back to Michael and Barbara’s warm dining room in their lovely yellow house on a blustery hill overlooking Dingle Town.

Milestone House HDR02 Small

IMG_8641

IMG_2215

IMG_8803

Dingle has that quintessential Ireland look to it. Rolling green hills; rocky, frothy beaches; inviting, quirky little pubs that double as cobbler shops or hardware stores during the day. It feels like time moves slower there, and people enjoy every day. I’m not sure when I’ll go back, but in the meantime, I’ll settle for a few big slices of Milestone soda bread with extra butter.

IMG_1898

Milestone white Irish soda bread

    1 pound unbleached white (AP) flour
    1 level teaspoon salt
    1 level teaspoon baking soda
    14 fluid ounces buttermilk

Method: Preheat the oven to 475F.

Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, and pour in all the buttermilk.

IMG_1880

Using a strong fork, stir in the mixture from the center out, lifting the fork to introduce air to the mixture.

IMG_4451

When the dough comes together enough to handle it, turn it out onto a floured surface. Bring it together, handling it as little as possible. Cut a deep cross on the loaf and use the fork or your hands to “fluff” it up a bit.

IMG_1887

Bake for about 45 minutes, until dark brown on the outside and baked all the way through. It should sound hollow when you tap the underside.

Allow the bread to cool on a wire rack or upside down on the counter.

As Michael and Barbara like to say, “These breads take practice! And they never look the same twice!”

IMG_4459

4 Comments

Filed under Baked items, Travel