Cooking

Year Round Recipes: Irish Onion Soup

Is there a more aromatically alluring allium than this?

Besides garlic, is there a more aromatically alluring allium than this?

With free time finally returning to my schedule, I decided to spend an afternoon finding a soul- and palate-satisfying recipe to replace the drab peanut butter and jelly sandwiches which have accompanied me to work over the past six months. And, despite the hot and sticky weather that’s been plaguing central PA recently, I found myself craving the sweet, historic tang of French onion soup. French onion has always been a favorite of mine, as it so exquisitely satisfies my love for root vegetables, melted cheese, and recipes designed by the ancient Greeks.

Although France didn’t quite exist when onion soups first debuted on the world stage, the use of fried/caramelized onions in soups eventually spread to the Anglo-Saxon and Gallic regions of pre-modern Europe, where they quickly became incorporated into the working-man’s repertoire of hearty, inexpensive sops. It’s important to note that a sop is far more than an apparent misspelling of “soup;” and, it is, in fact, an entirely different dish altogether! While the star attraction of a soup is the liquid and what’s incorporated into it, the whole point of a sop is the large hunk of (usually) crusty bread that gets plopped right in the center of a bowl of broth (which then “sops” up the soup!). The sop tradition carried through European time and space to eventually influence the great French chefs cuisiniers of the 17 century, who expertly combined their unmatched onion broths with large chunks of toasted French bread and inspired countless generations of future chefs to do the same.

Now, you may be wondering why I’m going on about French onion soup when we’re actually making Irish onion soup. And my answer to that is that we are, in fact, continuing the tradition of French onion, but with a slightly modern twist. Thanks to the ingenuity of The Beeroness, I’ve been inspired to try swapping out the white wine usually simmered into a classic French onion soup with a dark stout. Since the original onion soups of antiquity were concocted by the working class, this slight alteration seemed more fitting (and delicious!) than irreverent. So, let’s dig in!

Irish Onion Soup Recipe

 

Stout and onions: a surprisingly perfect combination.

Stout and onions: a surprisingly perfect combination.

Ingredients

  • 6 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 pounds of white onions (about 3 medium sized onions)
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 12 ounce bottle of stout
  • 2 cups stock (beef or vegetable)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • French bread or croutons
  • 1 cup of shredded or sliced cheese (Gruyère is traditional, but a wide variety of easily melted cheeses will work)

Directions

  1. Peel and slice your onions into thin, 1/4″ rings.
  2. In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat and then add the onions, brown sugar, and salt. Mix well and let simmer for at least 50 minutes to 1 hour (trust me, the longer you let your onions cook, the sweeter and more caramelized they’ll be in the end). Stir onions every occasionally to ensure that they cook evenly without burning.
  3. When the onions have caramelized, stir in 1/2 cup of the stout and let simmer over medium heat until the beer dissipates and the pot is nearly dry.
  4. Pour in the remaining beer, stock, and black pepper. Return to a simmer and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
  5. Turn on your oven’s broiler; ladle the soup into oven-safe crocks; and top each crock with some French bread and cheese.
  6. Place prepared crocks under the broiler just until the cheese has melted.
  7. Serve and enjoy a modern twist on some delicious history!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this week’s kitchen excavation! I hope you’ll stop by next time as we dig into the breadier side of French cuisine!

Keep digging!
~Nate

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Categories: Cooking, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spring Recipes: Coleslaw

The time of the leafy greens is upon us!

The time of the leafy greens is upon us!

With our season of seemingly eternal winter coming to an end, the time has finally arrived to celebrate the classic cool-weather crops! Leafy greens like kale, chard, spinach, and cabbage are finally hitting their stride, what with deep freeze of winter past and the intense, leaf-wilting heat of summer still a month or two away. And, with the dawn of warmer weather, it’s hard to find a more enjoyable time to fire up the grill and enjoy the hamburgers, pulled pork, and other soul-satisfying entrees that seem so oddly out of place in the dead of winter. So, with the simultaneous burgeoning of cold crops and picnic foods, I can think of no better time of year to whip up the classic Dutch salad (or sandwich ingredient) coleslaw!

Literally translating to “cabbage salad” from the Dutch “koolsla,” coleslaw is a creamy, often vinegared amalgam of sliced cabbage and, quite honestly, whatever other veggies (or fruits!) you may have on hand. While coleslaw’s key component, mayonnaise, was only invented in the 1800’s, shredded cabbage salads have been eaten since the age of ancient Rome, some 2000 years ago! So, whether you prefer your coleslaw creamy and modern, or vinegary and archaic, this classic salad makes a perfect pairing with any of your favorite warm weather foods! So, let’s dig in!

Coleslaw Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 medium head of cabbage
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk (I used soy)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery seed

Directions

  1. Peel and shred the carrot, and finely chop the head of cabbage. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, milk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, and celery seed until smooth and creamy. Pour in the shredded carrot and chopped celery, and stir until the vegetables are fully coated in the mayo mixture.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight so that the cabbage can fully absorb the flavors of the dressing.
  4. After refrigerating, serve cold with a dusting of freshly ground pepper or on your favorite spring/summer sandwich! Enjoy!

 

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this kitchen excavation! I hope to see you next time for another taste of history’s cumulative cookbook!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Cooking, History, Spring Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

St. Patrick’s Day Recipe: Colcannon

With the stresses of a tranquil life disturbed finally falling away, I’m once again taking time to savor the simple pleasures of life. Fleeting moments with friends and family have become increasingly more cherished as my free time is consumed by long days at work. With tomorrow marking a great Irish holiday honoring the life and service of Saint Patrick (through typically less-than-saintly celebration), I’ve been pondering the tenacity and fortitude displayed by the natives of the Emerald Isle. Now I could never equate my comparatively luxurious living conditions to the working class of the Irish and their ancient Celtic ancestors, but I cannot help sharing in their affinity for creating and appreciating beauty in simplicity.

Potatoes: the humble base for many an Irish dish

Potatoes: the humble base for many an Irish dish

This past week, I had the privilege of preparing and sharing one of the creations of the pragmatically aesthetic people of pre-industrial Ireland: colcannon. As potatoes arrived in Europe in the 16th century, Ireland quickly took to the tuber simply as a means of staving off starvation. But, when Irish cooks combined mashed potatoes with their native leafy crops (like kale and cabbage, the use of which dates back to the ancient Celts), the lowly spud was transformed into a cultural dish worth celebrating. In fact, as the recipe for colcannon spread to England and the continent, it was widely regarded as a dish fit for the upper class, a far cry from its original audience. So today, on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, I would like to pass this wonderful example of Irish culinary prowess onto you! The recipe I’ve been using relies primarily on cabbage and onions, but if you would like to throw in some kale, garlic, or even beans, these variations would all fit in with the traditional definition of Irish colcannon! And don’t be afraid to add in some of your own local and cultural ingredients: the basic process of this dish provides a wonderful backdrop to illuminate your own culinary surroundings!

Let’s dig in!

Colcannon Recipe

Cabbage and onion: the unsung heroes of this classic Irish dish

Cabbage and onion: the unsung heroes of this classic Irish dish

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pounds of potatoes peeled and cubed (about 8 medium potatoes)
  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 1/2 head of chopped cabbage
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used soy)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place your cubed potatoes in a medium or large saucepan and cover with water. Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender enough to offer no resistance when a knife is inserted. When potatoes are finished cooking, drain and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat until both sides are evenly brown and crisp. Save the drippings in the skillet, and place cooked bacon on a paper towel to dry. Crumble dried bacon and set aside.
  3. In the bacon drippings, sauté the cabbage and onion until soft and lightly brown.
  4. In a large bowl (or the original saucepan), mash the potatoes with the milk until smooth. Fold in the bacon, cabbage, and onion and season with salt and pepper to your liking.
  5. Top with butter and enjoy a taste of true Irish cooking!

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As always, thanks for stopping by! I hope you have a wonderful day celebrating Irish culture and heritage, and I hope to see you next time as we unearth another recipe from humanity’s communal cupboard!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Cooking, History, Holiday Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Year Round Recipes: Rice Pudding

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been reminded in subtle (and less-than-subtle) ways that sometimes, life can be unpredictable, unrelenting, and holistically draining. And, as much as we like to think that we’re strong enough to handle life’s challenges alone, it’s become incredibly clear to me that it’s not innately incorrect to need to rely on others and outside forces to weather life’s storms. And, while I still feel that I’m in the middle of one of these maelstroms, I thought I’d share a rather simple recipe that I’ve long held as a satisfying balm for the soul. Oddly in line with my youthful associations with the dish, rice pudding originated in several ancient civilizations in the Middle East and Asia as a medicinal, not culinary recipe. Designed to treat digestive ailments in people of all ages, rice pudding has a long and storied history as a catch-all cure for the stomach, the alleged “seat of the soul” for some ancient religions and philosophies. So, whether your stomach or your soul is in need of some old-world healing, I can’t suggest this recipe for rice pudding any higher. Just be careful: once you make one bowl of this enlightening dish, you might soon find yourself readying another sooner than you think!

Let’s dig in!

Rice Pudding Recipe

 

Rice: soothing stomachs and souls for millennia!

Rice: soothing stomachs and souls for millennia!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup medium or short grain rice (make sure your rice isn’t the traditional long grain variety-only the medium and short grain rice will “melt” down to that smooth and creamy consistency)
  • 2 cups milk (I used soy)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2/3 cup raisins [Optional]
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Stir in the 3/4 cup of rice and reduce the heat to low. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the milk, the sugar, and salt. Turn the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 15 – 20 minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy.
  3. Mix in the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, the beaten egg, and the optional raisins. Keep cooking for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla until combined.
  5. Enjoy warm or cool, with a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg for even more soul-satisfying flavor!

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As always, thanks for stopping by! I hope to see you next time as we excavate another of the world’s greatest culinary creations!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Cooking, Dessert, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Year Round Recipes: Russian Black Rye Bread

While I’m not a particularly avid sports fan, I’ve always held a certain fascination for the Olympic games, as they stand as a multicultural link between our modern world and the games’ mythical origins over 2700 years ago. And what I love the most about our modern Olympic ritual is the transportation of the games to a different country for each biannual incarnation. As the spotlight of the games moves across the globe, we are allowed a unique opportunity to stop, examine, and celebrate the culture and history of countries outside of our own. With the games being in Russia this year, I have been relishing the chance to take a moment and discover for myself the cultural heritage of this year’s Olympic hosts. Because of my fascination with culinary history, I have been particularly excited to try out some of Russia’s traditional cuisine, especially since my knowledge of Russian delicacies really begins and ends with caviar and vodka. Today, then, I thought we’d dig right into the heart of Russia’s rich culinary past with a culinary form that embodies the stark duality of historic Russia: suffering and triumph.

Deep, dark, and dense: Russian Black Rye Bread is as functional as it is flavorful!

Deep, dark, and dense: Russian Black Bread is as functional as it is flavorful!

Just like any other ancient civilization, Russia’s food history seems to begin with the humble loaf of bread. However, what makes Russia’s bready origins unique is the rye grain native to eastern Europe which has allowed the Russian people to triumph over the adversity of their country’s climate. Producing a denser, darker, more flavorful and healthful loaf than traditional wheat grains, rye bread (also known as “black bread” due its dark brown color) allowed the Russian people to avoid starvation in the harsher periods of their tumultuous history. As the rye bread has followed the Russian people into modernity, it has grown to represent the overcoming of incredible difficulty, and the prosperity that can be found after hardship. So, while our cultural eye is fixed on Russia for the Olympic games, let’s take a moment to break the bread that has allowed the Russian culture to flourish into the modern age!

Russian Black Rye Bread Recipe

7. Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for 3 - 5 minutes. Keep adding rye flour if the dough is too sticky to work with

The key to perfect Russian black bread lies in hearty, dark rye flour

Ingredients

  • 1 1/ cups warm water (100 – 110 F / 37 – 43 C)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 Tablespoons molasses
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 cups rye flour
  • 3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder [This is a modern addition to the recipe to deepen the color of the bread, and is completely optional]
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons caraway seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Directions

  1. Mix the molasses and yeast into the warm water, and let the yeast proof for 10 minutes, or until the top of the liquid becomes foamy. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the bread flour and 1 1/2 cups of the rye flour. Stir in the [optional] cocoa powder, brown sugar, salt, caraway seed, and fennel seed.
  3. Pour the yeast mixture, melted butter, and apple cider vinegar into the large mixing bowl and stir until the ingredients combine to form a rough dough.
  4. Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for 3 – 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. If your dough is wet and difficult to work with, knead in additional rye flour in 1/2 cup increments until the dough is only lightly sticky.
  5. Transfer the kneaded dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean cloth, place in a warm spot, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
  6. After the dough has risen, punch it down and divide into two equal pieces. Roll the pieces into loaf shapes, and place each in a 9 x 5 inch, greased loaf pan. Cover the pans with a clean, floured cloth and let rise again for 30 minutes.
  7. Cook the loaves in a 400 F / 200 C oven for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches an internal temperature of between 180 – 190 F /82 – 87 C.
  8. Remove the finished loaves from the pans and let cool completely on a wire rack.
  9. Slice, toast, and enjoy this piece of Russian history with a healthy topping of butter and caviar, a nice sharp cheese, or your favorite sandwich toppings!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this week’s recipe! I hope to see you again on Sunday for another taste of cultural cuisine!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, Cooking, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Year Round Recipes: Crêpes

If you’re from the Eastern US, or have been following the weather for this corner of the world, you’ll know that this week was fraught with an uncharacteristically devastating series of snow and ice storms. During this meteorological event, my typical love for the forest that surrounds our neighborhood was turned to dread, as heavy, ice-laden branches and trees exploded to the ground for much of the past week, taking homes, cars, and power with them. So, if you noticed the lack of activity from the blog on Wednesday, that was due to the dark, chilled state of our home as we weathered yet another display of winter’s power.

The crêpe: not just a thin pancake!

The crêpe: not just a thin pancake!

But! Power has returned, the roads are at last safe to traverse, and I’m still in the mood for a little French cuisine (my previous French excavations can be found here and here)! Even though the roads have been cleared for a day or two by this point, I still haven’t made it to the store since last week; so, I thought we’d dig up the crêpe, a 12th century French staple that can be made with only a few, basic ingredients typically found in every kitchen! The original crêpe would have been (and still is) made from buckwheat flour (you can check out an excellent buckwheat crêpe recipe here from Buckwheat for your health), which produces a savory dish that makes the perfect foundation for any meal of the day. However, with my pantry devoid of buckwheat flour, we’ll be looking at the sweeter version of the crêpe, made from basic all-purpose wheat flour to conjure a canvas fit for the most decadently simple dessert or breakfast! I happened to have a slightly dodgy apple still rolling around in the fridge, so I’ll show you how to make a quick and easy spiced apple topping to fill your crêpes with; but, keep in mind that this French classic can be paired with anything you have on hand! Peanut butter, ice cream, fruit preserves, you name it, the crêpe can enhance it! And, what better way to surprise that special someone this Valentine’s day than with a homemade breakfast straight out of romantic 12th century France? Without further ado, let’s dig in!

Crêpe Recipe

Just a few simple ingredients combine to create a 900 year old masterpiece of French cuisine.

Just a few simple ingredients combine to create a 900 year old masterpiece of French cuisine.

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used soy)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, water, sugar, butter, and vanilla extract.
  2. Add the flour and salt, and stir thoroughly to remove any large lumps (you want as smooth a batter as possible).
  3. Place a greased frying pan over medium high heat, then pour or ladle about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan. Rotate the pan to ensure that the batter is evenly distributed and covers the entire bottom of the pan.
  4. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes, or until the bottom of the crêpe has turned light brown. Flip over the crêpe and repeat.
  5. Top with your favorite fillings, roll, and serve with a dusting of powdered sugar! To make a quick and easy apple cinnamon filling, keep reading below the pictures!

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A flavor heralding from the warmer days of autumn!

A flavor heralding from the warmer days of autumn!

Ingredients for Apple Cinnamon Filling

  • 1 apple, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 Tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 Tablespoon butter

Directions for Filling

  1. In a small bowl, toss the apples with the sugar and spices until coated.
  2. Place butter in a small frying pan and melt over medium high heat. Add the coated apples to the pan and fry for about 5 minutes, or until the apples become soft.
  3. Top your hot, fresh crêpes with a spoonful of apples and enjoy!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this week’s recipe! If the weather cooperates this week, I’ll see you again this Wednesday!

Stay warm, and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Breakfast, Cooking, Dessert, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Year Round Recipes: Brioche

Since the invention of cooking, an invisible, yet incredibly impactful war has been fought over the nature of the craft. And, whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably already taken a side in this particular culinary skirmish. I speak, of course, of the veritable tug-of-war that exists between the scientific and artistic viewpoints that so many of us take when regarding the preparation of our meals. In the scientific camp (the faction I once fought valiantly to defend), strict classifications, exact measures, and precise cooking times decide the quality of a recipe. For the artistic gourmands, seasoning by taste, not measurement; cooking until “it looks right;” and creative deviation from the cookbook are strong influences in the baking process. Since I’ve recently been relying on older recipes that hail from a time before standardized measurements (e.g. where the directive “add nutmeg, but not too much” is not uncommon), I’ve reluctantly pulled myself away from the scientific mentality and have begun artistically experimenting with my cooking. And, while this has resulted in mixed levels of success, I thought I’d take the time to celebrate the best of both camps with this week’s international bread recipe!

The art of brioche

The art of brioche

Hailing from the Norman civilization in the 15th century, brioche has spent much of its 600 year lifespan torn between science and art. Being a proudly French creation, a land which has long prized the exactness of its world-altering cuisine, brioche was born and raised in the scientific method. As France and brioche evolved, and the appreciation for butter grew, marketplace bakers gradually perfected their flour-to-butter ratios to fit their shoppers’ exact expectations. For the wealthy, flour and butter were measured at a 3:2 ratio, and for the average eater, a 4:1 ratio was implemented (For the curious, that measures out to between 1/2 – 3 pounds of butter per batch of brioche!). However, after the mathematics of brioche were complete, the artistry of the piece began to shine. Because of its leavening and lack of sugar, brioche appears to be a typical variant on bread; however, the high butter content, flakiness, and density pushes brioche towards pastry. Landing in the murky middle ground of the viennoiserie (a scientific classification for leavened baked goods that are nigh-impossible to classify) the creative decision of what to do with a brioche loaf is left up to the consumer. Because of its undefinable propensities, the brioche makes a beautifully rich canvas for the most artistic of eaters. A perfect companion to both to sweet preserves and savory spreads, brioche brings something to the table for everyone to enjoy!

For our recipe today, you’ll find a few modifications for the modern kitchen (mainly, we won’t be using pounds of butter). But, you should note that the process for making brioche still follows the recipes of old, meaning that the process is not complex, but it does take time. Brioche must sit overnight to be workable, so keep this in mind before you bake a loaf or two! Now, with our caveats out of the way, let’s dig in!

Brioche Loaf Recipe

Makes 1 9×5 inch loaf

Flaky, rich, and simply perfect for the scientific artist in all of us!

Flaky, rich, and simply perfect for the scientific artist in all of us!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (about half of one packet)
  • 1/4 cup warm water (100 F / 37 C)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon cold water

Directions

  1. In a small container, combine the yeast and warm water and let proof for 10 minutes, or until the yeast begins looking foamy.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture and two whole eggs. Stir to form a rough dough.
  3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 – 10 minutes.
  4. Flatten the dough and spread one third of the softened butter over the dough. Fold the dough and knead thoroughly for 2-3 minutes to fully incorporate the butter (this step will be messy, but so very worth it!). Let the dough rest for 5 – 7 minutes, and then repeat this process two more times to knead in all of the butter.
  5. Place the completed dough in a greased bowl, and roll the dough to coat it in oil. Cover with plastic wrap to hold in the dough’s moisture, and place in a warm location for 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
  6. Punch down the risen dough, cover again with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 6 hours.
  7. After chilling overnight, turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes to warm the dough slightly. Form the dough into a loaf and place in a greased 9×5 bread pan. Cover with greased plastic wrap, place in a warm spot, and let rise for 1 more hour.
  8. While your brioche is rising, preheat your oven to 400 F / 205 C. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and cold water to make an egg wash. Set aside.
  9. After the dough has risen in the pan, brush liberally with the egg wash and bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until the dough takes on a deep golden color.
  10. Once the brioche is finished cooking, remove from the oven and leave in the pan for 10 minutes to cool. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving.
  11. Enjoy the buttery perfection that is brioche: an exquisite blend of history, science, and art!

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Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, Cooking, Dessert, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Year Round Recipes: Flour Tortillas

With what is being called an “arctic hurricane” currently dropping our temperatures to around -20 F (-29 C) today, I wasn’t feeling too inclined to go grocery shopping, despite the larders being quite lacking in recipe-making essentials. So, scrapping my original plans for this week, I, with a veritable forager’s mentality, took to the cupboards to uncover what ingredients might still remain. Amidst the remnants of near-empty butter containers, dwindling yeast stores, and a less-than-impressive cache of dried fruit, I did find a long forgotten stick of vegetable shortening, a sack of unbleached flour, and a fresh can of baking powder, that modern yeast-replacer. With these spare, yet limitless, ingredients in hand, and hungry for something warm and filling, I grabbed a skillet to try my hand at an ancient North American staple: tortillas!

Stemming from the great agricultural revolution of 15,000 – 10,000 BCE, corn tortillas are the product of North American mankind’s first attempts at true cooking. Before the power of yeast could be harnessed, flatbreads like tortillas ruled the agrarian diet. Now, because of our own cultural shifts, many of us in the United States have replaced corn/maize flour with wheat flour, a possibility first introduced by the Spanish colonizers in the 16th century. So today, we’ll be looking at how to make flour tortillas, instead of the traditional corn. Another modern adjustment to the traditional tortilla recipe that I was forced to make today involves the use of vegetable shortening. In a traditional tortilla, lard would be the ingredient of choice, but, with lard being an ingredient I don’t typically stock in my kitchen, I was forced to switch to shortening. Because I’m not a tortilla purist, I feel perfectly fine advising you to use whatever lard-replacement you have on hand (even butter could work in a pinch)!

Flour Tortillas Recipe

 

A dozen delicious tortillas, just waiting to be rolled!

A dozen delicious tortillas, just waiting to be rolled!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or white whole wheat)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon lard/shortening
  • 3/4 cup water

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Using your hands, mix the lard/ shortening into the flour mixture until evenly distributed (keep mixing until no large chunks remain).
  3. Stir the water into the flour until it forms a sticky dough. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and need for 2-4 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, springy, and only slightly sticky.
  4. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Using a floured rolling pin, flatten each ball as thinly as possible.
  5. Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook each tortilla until the underside is crisp and bubbly, flip over and continue cooking until crisp.
  6. Place your finished tortillas in a clean, warm dishtowel, or in a tortilla warmer, to hold until the entire batch is finished cooking.
  7. Serve hot or cool with any toppings you have on hand! These tortillas are wonderful for tacos, beans, or quesadillas, and can be used for sweeter recipes as well (I’m currently enjoying them topped with cinnamon sugar)!

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As always, thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop by next Tuesday for another international bread recipe that’s perfect in any kitchen!

Stay warm and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, Cooking, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

New Year Recipes: Lucky Ham and Lentil Soup

From humanity’s first steps into civilization to our post-postmodern cultures, we have always been a people fascinated by time. Today, it seems a simple fact of life that we inhabit a planet suspended in a near-infinite vastness which orbits a flaming orb of molten fusion whose light and heat radiation grants us the day/night and seasonal cycles we take for granted. However, for our ancient ancestors, who were without a longstanding, scientific record of the nature of the cosmos, these cycles were anything but certain. As religion and faith wove into human existence, supernatural meaning was attributed to the shifting sun. For many cultures, the sun became a god or entity who was continually fighting for his survival. In the spring and summer months, the sun was the unbridled champion of the sky, ruling with long days and short nights; but, as winter approached, the sun began to falter and the night again grew strong. After the winter solstice passed, celebrations at the end of December (many on December 25th) shook the ancient world as the sun remained victorious for another cycle.

As modern people, we tend to look at our ancestor’s end-of-year beliefs as uninformed foolishness which have no place in our rational world. But, as the new year grows closer, we seem to, if only by accidental tradition, slip back into the superstitions and festivals of our ancestors in order to instill luck in the coming year. In many modern cultures, coins are given as gifts (or baked into breads) at New Year feasts as a way of bestowing the spirit of fortune on those we love. In some circles, cooked turkey or fowl fly the revelers towards a better year. Other cultures heartily disagree with this belief, as birds “scratch backwards” to find food, a sure sign of hard times for the new year. Instead, it is believed that pigs are the true guardians of good luck (whether real or pretend, like the marzipan pigs of Germany), as they “root forward” to better pastures. And finally, lentils of any variety (particularly black eyed peas in America’s southern states) are said to inspire good luck and fortune because of their round coin-like appearance, signifying the completion of the old year and the fortune of the next. Because my background lies in several of these traditions, I thought it only appropriate to share one of my family’s favorite soup recipes that’s as delicious as is it lucky!

Lucky Ham and Lentil Soup

Cold weather veggies: a perfect addition to a soup full of luck and flavor!

Cold weather veggies: a perfect addition to a soup full of luck and flavor!

Ingredients

  •  Leftover chopped ham and ham hock (this is a great way to use any leftover ham from Christmas!)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 chopped celery stalks
  • 4 chopped carrots
  • 4 medium potatoes, chopped (optional)
  • 1 pound of lentils/beans
  • 12 ounces of diced, canned tomatoes
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 teaspoons ham soup base
  • 32-64 ounces of chicken stock (2 cartons)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Soak lentils in 2 quarts of water overnight to rehydrate. Drain thoroughly after the lentils have soaked.
  2. Mix ham soup base and hot water together and pour into a large stock pot. Add in the onion, celery, carrots, potatoes, lentils, tomatoes, and ham Muddle or smash some of the beans to fully release their flavor.
  3. Pour in 32 ounces of chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cover and continue boiling for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to keep the soup from sticking to the pot. If the soup begins to look dry, gradually add in more of the chicken stock.
  4. After the soup has boiled for an hour, remove the ham bone and cut off any meat still attached. Chop this meat into small cubes and return to the pot.
  5. Reduce the heat to a simmer for 2 – 3 hours and occasionally sip to taste. You can also move the soup to a crock pot/slow cooker for this step.
  6. When the soup is at your preferred consistency, season to taste and enjoy a bowl of lucky lentil soup!

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As always, thanks for stopping by the dig! Be sure to stop back in on Tuesday for another recipe unearthed specifically for the New Year!

Happy holidays and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Cooking, History, Odds and Ends, Winter Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Year Round Recipes: Chinese Tea Eggs

‘Tis the Season for Tea Eggs

Chinese Tea Eggs: Intricately beautiful cuisine that's stunningly simple to make yourself!

Chinese Tea Eggs: Intricately beautiful cuisine that’s stunningly simple to make yourself!

For all that I love about my hometown’s culture and history, I have always been slightly underwhelmed by our region’s lack of multicultural cuisine (besides that of continental Europe, of course). Because of this, I’ve always jumped at the opportunity to try recreating classic dishes from cultures that haven’t influenced our corner of the world quite as strongly as some. One such dish, the Chinese Tea Egg, has since become a sort of Christmas-time tradition for me, even though the ingredients are readily available year round, and true tea eggs from China are likely served by street vendors every night of the year. However, the blend of warming tea and spices that subtly sink into the eggs speak strongly to me of winter cooking, and for the past few years, that just happens to be when I feel drawn to making my annual batch of tea eggs. And, when paired with freshly toasted sesame seeds, these eggs make a stunning side dish for any Christmas dinner!

Chinese Tea Eggs with Toasted Sesame Seeds

Ingredients

  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons of black tea leaves (roughly 4 bags of tea)
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice
  • Sesame Seeds (white or black)

Directions

  1. Place eggs in a large pot and cover with cold water. Heat until the water begins to boil. Reduce heat to medium-high and allow to simmer for 12 minutes.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and remove the eggs from the pot. Using a spoon, carefully crack the shell of each egg to produce a veined, spiderweb of cracks across the eggs.
  3. Stir the tea, salt, and five spice into the cooking water and return the cracked eggs to the pot. Cover the pot and let the eggs simmer for 1 hour.
  4. After simmering for an hour, remove the pot from the heat and let cool for 30 minutes.
  5. Peel one egg to check the color of the eggs. If they are dark enough for you, remove all eggs from the water; if the lines on the egg are quite light, allow the eggs to sit in the liquid for additional time.
  6. When your eggs have finished soaking and you are ready to serve, quickly toast the sesame seeds in a large frying pan over medium heat for 1-3 minutes. This will allow the seeds to release their true, nutty flavor and aroma, which adds an extra dimension of flavor to your tea eggs.
  7. Enjoy your tea eggs whole or quartered with a sprinkling of toasted sesame!

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Categories: Cooking, Odds and Ends, Winter Recipes, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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