White Bean Cassoulet & Cornbread

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I’m gearing up this week to fly out to Chicago, and then D.C., for a super fun weekend with two of my best, oldest friends.  So I haven’t had much time the past week or two for writing…although that’s not to say I haven’t been cooking!  In fact, a new special friend and I have just started cooking together recently, and last night he happened to come over on one of my days off, which means I got to consciously do my grocery shopping with a meal half-in-mind.

It also means I got to pick up this little gem of an artichoke, which was on sale and from California!  I’ve never cooked an artichoke before, but Alice Waters made it sound pretty easy, so we ate it as the after-dinner course, dipped in butter melted with garlic and thyme, and a few toasted slices of this week’s bread: jalapeno cheese.

It’s been awhile since I’ve made cornbread, and I had the perfect little end nub of a jalapeno left to add just the right amount of zing to it.  Alice Waters is my guide for anything simple-bakey, like cornbread or pancakes.

This is a super quick one to whip up, simply stirring together all of the following in a mixing bowl: 

  • 3/4 cup finely ground cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Once that’s mixed, stir in 1 egg, 1 cup of milk, 1/4 of a fresh jalepeno (diced), and 4 tablespoons melted butter.  Pour the batter into a loaf pan or pyrex, and bake at 450 for 20-25 minutes.

I actually like to bake the cornbread until it’s almost done, and then ten minutes before taking it out, melt a little pot of butter, honey, and salt together (use my single-serving Turkish coffee pot, perfect for melting stovetop and then pouring), and drizzle it over the top and let it caramelize during the last ten minutes of baking.

And for the evening’s main event, I made a white bean cassoulet.  Maybe it’s not totally fair to call it a cassoulet, because I think the crowning feature of that dish is the baked breadcrumb topping, which this was conspicuously lacking, but all the other elements were there.  

I started some white beans soaking this morning, and cooked them for about half an hour while I chopped all my veggies, to soften them up.  I had bought an Italian sausage at New Seasons for the occasion, which I froze for an hour or two before I started cooking so that I could slice it into perfect little thin discs more easily.
I started by cooking the sausage in the big pan I was planning on using, then setting them aside but leaving the grease in the pan to use in sauteeing the following: 1 diced shallot, 2 carrots and 4 stalks of celery, both cut in pretty big chunks, a bay leaf, and some chopped fresh thyme.

After about 15 minutes I added the sausage, the cooked white beans (which initially began as 1/2 cup of dried beans), and about 3/4 of a large can of plum tomatoes, which I broke apart with my hands and added with the sauce they came in.  
Then I added a few inches of water, and about a tablespoon of vegetarian Better Than Bullion (I think the real-deal chicken stock here would have been a little too rich, with the sausage and all), kept it on medium-high heat, and let it all reduce down for about half an hour.

Super delicious, and enough left over for both our lunches!

Peanut Butter Cookies

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I’m not much of a baker.  Well, aside from the weekly bread baking, that is.  But I’m not much of a baker of sweet things like cakes and muffins and pastries, so these are usually recipes that I end up skimming over, owing a token glance just to see if there’s anything unusual enough to warrant a surprise performance at a potluck or dinner party, but usually abandoning for the heartier meal components.  

But for some reason this week I really started craving a peanut butter cookie, like a really chewy dense one.  And really, if you have the basic fixings of a kitchen, you always have ingredients on hand for cookies, right?

This recipe, slightly adapted from The Craftinomicon, was just the ticket.  I will point out here that I’m a total non-traditional cookie baker.  I know there are scientific and chemical reasons for mixing the wet and dry ingredients separately, and for using mixers and creaming butter and sugar in a specific way.  But I don’t have patience for either of these, and I don’t like baking enough to invest in any sort of appliance or method to accommodate this.  But as luck would have it, it worked out anyway.
Instead of using a mixer or a spoon, I just use my hands to incorporate all the ingredients together, which works like a charm as long as you remember to take all the lids off your containers and open up your flour bags first.  This is also the reason there are no pictures of the mixing process.

To begin with, I mixed 3/4 cup butter with 3/4 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup white sugar.  Once these were thoroughly combined, I added 1 cup of Adam’s crunchy peanut butter, 2 eggs, and 1.5 teaspoons vanilla.

Like I said, I’m not a two-bowl kind of girl, so into this same bowl, I directly added 2 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon each of baking soda and baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and commenced phase two of mixing.

As luck would have it, I had this fantastic little baggie of trail mix in my cupboard, that was intended to be sustenance for a snowy hike the other morning at Breitenbush Hot Springs, but we never made our way through it, and so into the mix I added the perfect combination of dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and chocolate.

I made little balls out of the dough, gave them the compulsory peanut-butter-cross-hatch, and baked at 350 for 15 minutes.  They turned out perfect!  This also made a gargantuan amount of dough, so after baking the first 12, I kept the remaining dough in the fridge, perhaps to be baked Thursday morning and brought fresh to whatever St. Patrick’s Day festivities await…
Note the vacant spot.  I’m still trying to remember not to eat the food before I take pictures of it.  Ha!

Thai Steak Salad

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This is one of my favorite make-ahead dishes for the week, a huge Thai noodle salad with some yummy protein and a crunchy vegetable — so easy to make ahead of time, en masse, and the dressing for it just makes the meal even tangier and sweeter the longer you let it marinate.

I rarely actually use steak as I think you traditionally find when you order this at a restaurant, but every once in awhile a nice looking cut of meat goes on sale at New Seasons and I like to snatch it up even if I don’t have immediate plans for it (let’s be honest, I totally don’t know how to cook meat, other than in stew) and freeze it until inspiration strikes.

Which it did last week during an intense craving for this salad.  After letting the meat defrost, I marinated it for about an hour in the following:

  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, minced

In the meantime, I made the dressing for the salad.  First I chopped two cloves of garlic, and mashed that together with about 1/3 of a chopped fresh jalapeno, with my mortar and pestle.  To this, I added 2 tablespoons each of fish sauce and lime juice (sometimes I have fresh limes on hand, but if not, bottled Nellie & Joe’s always does the trick), and stirred in 1 tablespoon of sugar.

The only crunchy veggie I had on hand was some green cabbage (an extra carrot would have been ideal, to grate in for some color, but no luck), so I shredded that and added it to a big bowl with some cooked thin Chinese egg noodles.

I cooked the steak in a frying pan until it was cooked all the way through, then poured the rest of the marinade in and let that reduce until it had caramelized nicely all over the surface of the meat.  Then I chopped it up in little strips so it looked authentic, and tossed it in!