The Yam

The holidays encapsulate many things, perhaps a unique meaning for each person. To explain simply for myself what the holidays are, I would choose one word: family. Of all the holidays, I would choose Thanksgiving to be my favorite. The crisp, damp air; leaves descending like snow, the spicy scent of the air, the wafting scents of baked goods and the delight of warming yourself with hot liquid and steaming victuals: the very season in which it sits is divine. There is also the heart behind the day itself: Simply to be grateful, and we are all in need of more of that.

There was the first holiday in my known recollection, when my dad burned the turkey but insisted we consume the blackened, dry, bland meat anyway because wasting food would not be heard of. There was the one of 2008, which was a doozy. My mother declared frustration and gave up the stress and expectations in lieu of take-n-bake pizza and litre upon litre of cold, fizzy pop. In 2012, I hosted at my apartment when both of my roommates were out of town. My entire family crammed into the tiny space and the menu was a hodge-podge of recipes that I had chosen based upon the advice of my siblings and included horseradish cheddar mashed potatoes and tarte tatin. Delicious, but…compatible? That’s still up for debate. That year, there were also Sweet Potatoes with Bourbon Maple Glaze, which my mother raved about and said they were the best she had ever had. I felt good about them, although not as good as I could feel, so I made notes about the recipe and changed it accordingly, but failed to test it.

This year, I made the revised addition and served it and it was still appreciated by yet more people. This may become a staple in the holiday arsenal, for this year I loved it too. I’m glad I gave these another chance, and maybe you should give them a first one. You should know that the sauce is not so strong that it overpowers the flavor of the yams themselves, but it is strong enough to be a delicious compliment to the natural sweetness and stay far away from the zone of “cloying”. The bitterness of the coffee pairs exceptionally well with the maple syrup and because the yams are roasted in butter, you get some buttery familiarity of the traditional “yam casserole” but without any of the traditional dreadfulness.

You still have a chance to make them; after all, in December, every day is a cause for celebration. And if you’re not as sentimental as I, there is always still Christmas, and perhaps, if my praise of this recipe is in any way influential, you can make these for that. (My brother, in fact, asked me to make them again for Christmas at the dinner table tonight.)

yams

Glazed Yams with Coffee and Maple

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups strong, hot coffee
7 tablespoons pure grade a maple syrup
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons rye whiskey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large yams (orange fleshed sweet potatoes)
extra virgin olive oil, as needed
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
In a small sauce pot, combine coffee, maple syrup and sugar. Bring to a boil, cook for 5 minutes and reduce to a simmer. Add the rye whiskey, butter and salt. Simmer over medium-low heat for 45 minutes, until the sauce is reduced by about 2/3 (the final amount of sauce should be about 3/4 cup). The sauce should coat a spoon, but remain sauce-like as it cools.

Meanwhile, slice the yams about 1/4 inch thick. In a large casserole dish, drizzle the sliced yams with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper (add oil if needed). Stir until well coated, roast at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the yams are fork tender, checking throughout and adding time if needed.

When the yams are cooked, remove them from the oven and pour the sauce over. Stir gently but well until all yams are evenly coated. Serve warm, not hot.

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Brownies

It is foggy, it is damp, cold and cloudy.

It is still Autumn, but winter draws nearer, as winters do.

As the season is creeping in, I can’t help but begin to hibernate. I find myself staring out my window incessantly, exclaiming at the beauty of the world outside, but aware of the cold and the wind I sit, huddled in knits and blankets and doing happy indoor things, like crocheting and reading.

I bake.

Yesterday, I baked brownies. The recipe that I used is soft and fudgy in the middle, the very center dark and gooey. The top bakes into a crackly thin crust, and is sprinkled with flaked kosher salt. I have loved salty-sweet baked goods for several years. I found this recipe for the first time in 2008, shortly after it was published on that website, and I have consistently made these brownies more than once a year since then. They are a staple. When I have friends to my house for a dinner, movies or games, I bake them. I bake them to take to parties, and I bring them to church gatherings. People are always surprised by them, because while I think people have grown rather accustomed to salty/sweet movement that first boomed several years ago, I don’t think they see it much on brownies. Of all the brownie recipes I’ve seen, this is the only one that contains salt as a topping; of course, I haven’t searched high and low for salted brownie recipes, but I have baked many brownies in my day.

After making the recipe several times, I edited a few things about it, simply a matter of personal tastes. I now have what I believe to be a near perfect brownie recipe, or at the very least I can inform you that it will definitely fulfill a craving for chocolate. It is also remarkably simple. Perhaps you can make it for thanksgiving or christmas, or maybe just because you have a chocolatey feeling and want something filling on a cold evening. These brownies will not disappoint.

salty brownies

Salted Fudge Brownies with Winter Spices

Ingredients:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed into 1″ pieces

2 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cup sugar

1 cup all purpose flour

3 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon Diamond Kosher Salt

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350º, and prepare a 9″ by 9″ pan by lining it  with foil and lightly buttering the foil, including the sides.

Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan. When the butter is completely melted and steaming, add the finely chopped chocolate. Stir with a silicone spatula until the chocolate is melted. When the mixture is combined and smooth, turn the burner off, but leave the pan on the warm stove.

In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder and sugar. Whisk until the cocoa has no remaining lumps. Add the flour, whisk to combine.

In another, small bowl, crack the eggs. Add the vanilla and whisk until the eggs are lightly beaten. Add the chocolate mixture and whisk.

Create a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour the liquid ingredients into the center and use a silicone spatula to fold the batter together, until all are fully mixed and there are no dry streaks in the batter.

Transfer the batter to the prepared, foil lined pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until set in the center, 30-40 minutes. Allow the brownies to cool in the pan for 40 minutes before taking them out of the pan. After this time, to remove the brownies from the pan, lift the foil from two parallel edges (as handles). Peel the foil away from the edges and slice the brownies into squares.

Eat with a glass of milk.

Notes:
*When melting chocolate with butter, I always melt the butter first. The heat from the butter will almost always melt finely chopped chocolate and it will ease itself into silkiness with just a few long stirs. I have burned too much chocolate to not be wary of placing it over heat! Exercise great caution with melting chocolate in the microwave, and make sure you have a good knowledge of any stove you are melting chocolate on. Chocolate can be expensive and wasting it is nearly tragic. 

Autumn Means Soup

Oh, I made a soup.

it turned out!

It turned up…I almost had to say to this particular soup “turn down for what?”

This soup, in fact, and the act of making it, was kind of a big deal. Last year was hectic and I was all in a flurry. I didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy and relish in Autumn or do many “Autumn-y things.” This included missing out on beloved soup and pie making and any holiday decorating. Looking back, I’m sad I missed all of these things, but I am understanding of myself as well. This year, however, I have been downright cherishing the season. October and November are my favorite months of the year, and it has been of the utmost importance to me simply to enjoy them. I feel as though every day I am raving about the beauty I see all around me, and reveling in the colors, flavors and scents of Autumn.

Two soups I made this weekend to do just that, but this is the one that gets featured because it was remarkably simple and heartily delicious:

tuscan-bean-soup-0141

Rustic White Bean Soup
Served 2 people for 2 meals

Ingredients: 
2 cups white beans, soaked overnight (not sure the variety. white beans sitting in a jar, belonging to my roommate that she kindly let me use.)
2 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large carrot, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 stalk celery, diced
3 slices applewood smoked bacon, thinly sliced into 1/4″ strips
2 sprigs sage, whole OR 1 1/2 tsp dried sage leaves
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Drain the beans of about half of their soaking liquid. Pour them into a heated, medium sized, heavy bottomed pot. Cover with water by about three inches. Bring to a boil. Return to a simmer and cook until they are mostly tender, but still a bit firm (al dente). I carelessly didn’t time this, but experience and the internet tell me  that this process should take anywhere between 45 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes. While they are cooking, check them every 20 minutes or so and add more liquid as needed. When you add the beans to the soup, you want the amount of liquid to be soupy, whatever that means to you. I trust you know how you like soup to be, and can judge the liquid amount accordingly.

When the beans are about 2o minutes from being finished, in another medium sized, heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat, pour the olive oil. When the oil has thinned and you begin to see a rippling effect in the oil over the surface of the pan, add the onion and the garlic. Stir periodically for about three minutes. When the onions are translucent and both are very fragrant, but have no caramelization, they are ready to meet the carrot and celery. Stir them in, cook for three minutes. Add the bacon now, and stir until it is opaque and cooked through. The beans should be ready at this point. Add them with their cooking liquid and continue to cook them until they are tender. Add more water as needed to adjust the consistency to your preference. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you have used sprigs of sage, remove the sprigs now. Serve hot, with crusty bread.

Notes:
I will tell you here that I love my garlic press. I use it almost every time I cook. It is the one tool in the kitchen (aside from the necessary ones) that I use most often and adore. I don’t honestly think I could do without it, and if you don’t have one, I encourage you to buy one. Another note about garlic here is that peeling those tiny cloves can be quite easy. Simply place the cloves on the cutting board in a row. Lay your knife blade horizontally over them, so the flat side is up and the blade is facing away from you. Press down firmly with your hand until you hear a “pop”. Lift up your knife, wet your fingertips under a running tap, and easily remove the peels.

About white beans: I believe the white beans I used were navy beans, though I can’t be sure. When you are using dried beans, if they have expired, they may never cook to the tender point you desire them to be for eating. Ensure that your beans have been purchased within the last 6 months to a year and soak them for at least 8 hours before attempting to cook with them. (You can cheat by using the quick soaking method, linked above in the recipe, but it won’t be as effective with older beans.) I feel hypocritical telling you this because I never soak my beans…I always cook them from dry…and I always wish I had soaked them. It’s an uphill battle, folks.

Oh, and another thing: with simple soups containing either beans or vegetables, I use water, never stock or broth. I learned this in culinary school, and after testing out various methods, this is the one I stand by. The reason for this is that the water provides a clear, clean background for these more mild flavors to shine through, rather than “muddying” up the flavor with muddled veggie scraps. I can control the amount of salt, seasoning and aromatics by doing this as well. I love the concentrated flavor of cooking liquid used for dry beans, so water is perfect for this soup. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I really do love it. 

Garnish with rosemary or sage leaves if you’ve got them and if you’d really like to, you can fry up some additional bacon to crumble over the top for added tastiness. 

Happy soup making! Don’t let the season go by without making plenty of soups. Portland’s seasonal ingredients are perfect for it.