On Carbo Loading (Or, Why Reason Does Not Equal Logic)

Today I registered for the Brooklyn Half Marathon. Yesterday I entered the lottery for the New York City Marathon. Given the serious training regimens races of this caliber require, it is only sensible that today I share with you a recipe for mushroom lasagne. And before my attempt at athletic prowess lead you to think that this is some sort of health recipe consisting of little more than fresh organic mushrooms, low-sodium tomato sauce, and gluten-free noodles, note that this recipe contains not two or three but, indeed, five different kinds of cheese. And, let’s be honest, that’s not even making mention of the butter and whole milk.

Mushroom Lasagna Slice

I could reason that at the least, such a decadent recipe might be good for carbo loading, but, if we’re continuing with this honesty streak, we know that any of the benefits of the lasagne noodles are negated by the pure fat they are swimming in. If running 26.2 miles won’t hurt your bowels, I’m pretty sure all this dairy might (at least, if you have even a whiff of lactose intolerance). Logically, this should be the last thing I am tempted to eat while training, and, yet…

I’ve been telling myself that now is the time to run these various races because of some recent medical adventures that have left me feeling like now is the time to get started on some of these bucket list items. Lest I panic anyone, I am perfectly healthy and not facing any sort of impending peril. And yet, one week with a few too many doctor’s appointments (even though they didn’t indicate anything wrong) have left me feeling like the time is neigh. Logical? No. Reasonable? I’d like to think so. And what does this have to do with mushroom lasagne and running? Well, if I can’t convince myself the recipe is good for me while training, I can at least reason that I’ll have earned it after the race.

Mushroom Lasagna Section

Mushroom Lasagne

Adapted from Plenty

Makes 6-8 servings

1 1/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1 3/4 cups warm water

11 tablespoons unsalted butter (separated into two portions of 5 1/2 tablespoons)

2 pounds mushrooms, sliced (a mix is best)

1 tablespoon thyme leaves

2 tablespoons tarragon, chopped

4 tablespoons parsley, chopped

salt and pepper

1 shallot, chopped

1/2 cup flour

2 1/3 cup whole milk

13 ounces ricotta

1 egg

5 ounces feta, crumbled

6 ounces Gruyere, grated

1 pound dried lasagne

5 ounces mozzarella, grated

1/2 cup Parmesan, grated

Mushroom Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the dried porcini and water in a bowl for 5 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, making sure to get out as much liquid as possible. Save the liquid for later in the recipe.

Melt 5 1/2 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the thyme, dried mushrooms, and fresh mushrooms. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it looks like the fresh mushrooms have started releasing some of their liquid. Take the pot off the heat and the the tarragon, parsley, and salt and pepper to season. Set aside in a bowl.

Using the same pan you used to cook the mushrooms, make the béchamel. Melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook for a minute. Add the flour and stir constantly for about 2 minutes, until the mixture turns to a paste but does not change color. Add the milk and the reserved mushroom liquid slowly, whisking with each addition. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and whisk until the mixture is boiling. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the sauce starts to become thick, and then remove from heat. This should take about 8 minutes.

Bechamel

In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta and egg, and add 3 tablespoons of the sauce you just made. Add the feta. Add the remaining Gruyere to the béchamel.

Being careful so that they do not stick together, pour boiling water over the lasagne noodles. Soak for 2 minutes, then remove and dry on a cheesecloth or tea towel.

Mushroom Lasagna

Prepare a 10 by 14 inch dish to assemble the lasagne. Pour one fifth of the béchamel on the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of lasagne noodles. Add one quarter of the ricotta mix on top, and then one quarter of the mushrooms, and then one quarter of the mozzarella. Repeat again, beginning with the béchamel, until you have used up all of the components. Finish with a layer of a noodles covered with béchamel. Finally, sprinkle the parmesan on top, cover the dish loosely with foil, and bake for 50 minutes. Remove the foil when there are 10 minutes left in the cooking time to allow the cheese to brown. The dish is ready when the cheese is golden and the sauce is bubbling at the sides. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Brown Butter Snickerdoodles

Some New Year’s resolutions are about improving upon things we do already, while others are about trying something altogether new. Sure, we want to get back on top of flossing, but we also want to bungee jump off a cliff, and somehow it makes sense to put these two things on the same list. I, personally, aim to finally pet a llama this year, but this being a cooking blog and all, let’s save that story for another day.

Snickerdoodles

And while my cooking goals for 2015 don’t involve large and furry animals, they still run a pretty wide spectrum. I plan to use my new fancy schmancy immersion blender to make all the creamy and velvety smooth soups I’ve dreamed of for years, and I’d like to start making some fancier cakes for special occasions. I’ll compete in at least one cooking competition so I don’t completely lose my mass cooking mojo while in grad school, and maybe even write a blog post during the semester. Throw in the requisite attempt at healthy cooking, and my 2015 resolutions are complete.

Cinnamon Sugar Bowls

And some cookies were actually made before the new year, so none of the above applies.

Brown ButterBrown Butter Snickerdoodles

Adapted from Baked Elements

Makes about 20-30 cookies

2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter

2 3/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons cinnamon, separated

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 tablespoon milk

3/4 cup and 3 tablespoons sugar, separated

2/3 cup light brown sugar

All Together

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, swirling it occasionally. Do this until the butter turns nut brown, which will take 7 to 10 minutes. Pour the butter in a stand mixer and beat on medium-low speed for 6 or so minutes to cool the butter.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and salt.

Flour Spice Everything Nice

In a separate bowl, lightly whisk together the eggs and milk.

Add the 3/4 cup of sugar and the brown sugar to the butter and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Turn the speed to low, scrape down the bowl, and add the egg mixture. Once the egg is incorporated, add the flour mixture in three batches, and mix just until the mixture comes together. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 5 hours, and up to a day.

Sugar Butter

Once ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Use your hands to roll the dough into ping pong ball sized balls, roll in the sugar and cinnamon, and place on the baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart from each other. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating half way through the bake time. The cookies are ready when they have cracked and the breaks look like they have set.

Cool the cookies. They will keep for a few days in an airtight container.

Snickerdoodle

The Best Chili in the World: Beef, Beer, Bacon

Did I ever tell you about that time I won honorable mention for best barbecue flavor at South‘s chili competition? This site has no lack of chili recipes–perhaps why I have waited almost a year since I received the honor to post this recipe to the site. Or maybe it has something to do with typing up what may seem like an excessive list of ingredients. I assure you, I would be remiss to exclude any of them. And for most of the ingredients, all you have to do is throw them in a slow cooker. But enough making excuses for myself and for this recipe–it takes a little elbow grease and the finished product will be the best reward for a little hard work you have ever tasted.

Chili

While this is certainly the best chili I have ever had, I am also fairly confident in saying this is the best beef brisket I have ever made. (Or at least I think that is what it means when Harry keeps sneaking more bites of beef when he thinks I am not looking.) So, feel free to skip the chili recipe and go the brisket sandwich route instead. Better yet, make a double batch of brisket: one for the slow cooker and one for you.

Browned Beef

Beef Beef

Triple B Chili (Beef, Beer, Bacon) 

Makes a big slow-cooker full

For the beef chuck:

2 teaspoons canola oil

3.5 pounds beef chuck

salt and pepper

4 onions, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

2-4 beers, preferably lager

For the chili:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large white onion

6 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons chipotle in adobo, finely sliced

11/2 jalapenos, finely diced

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons brown sugar

3/4 tablespoon dried oregano

1/4 cup chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 28 ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes, chopped coarsely with juices

1/2 tablespoon tomato paste

1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1 12 ounce bottle of amber or brown beer

6 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked and chopped

2 15 ounce cans of kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Beef MeatFirst, make the beef chuck. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Prepare the beef chuck by patting it dry and rubbing it generously with salt and pepper. Heat the canola oil over high heat in a heavy saucepan. Add the meat, and brown each side well. This should take about two minutes per side. Once all sides are browned, remove from the heat.

Reduce the heat to medium, and add the onion and garlic. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the onions have softened. Add 2 bottles of the beer and the meat. If the meat is not mostly submerged, add more beer until it is.

Browning Onions

Place in the oven and cook for 2-3 hours, until the meat separates easily from the bone. Remove the meat from the pot, and let it cool until you can handle it with your hands. Use a fork or your hands to shred the meat. Put meat aside while you prepare the rest of the chili.

Boiling Beef

To prepare the chili, heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, until onions have softened and slightly browned. Add the chipotles and jalapeño and cook for another 4 minutes.

Place the onion mixture, shredded beef, and all ingredients other than the bacon and kidney beans in a slow cooker. Stir well. Cook on high for 5 hours. Add the kidney beans and bacon, and cook with the top removed for another 30 minutes.

Beef

Serve with sour cream, cheddar cheese, avocado, red onions, avocado, fresh cilantro, tortilla chips, victory, and all the other makings of a great bowl of chili.

Being Judged

Soup Double Hitter: Tomato Soup and Coconut Sweet Potato Bisque

What this post lacks in exposition, it makes up for in recipes. I bring you the soup double-hitter: a simple but creamy and rich tomato soup, and a more complex and also creamy but dairy-free coconut sweet potato bisque. Both are delightfully easy to make, pair great with salad and cheese sandwiches, and bring comfort on these (finally) cold winter days.

 Tomato Soup SandwichBisque and Salad

Tomato Soup

Adapted from Tupelo Honey Cafe

Makes 4-6 servings

24 ounce can crushed tomatoes

3 cups water

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 bay leaf

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3/4 cup heavy cream

Tomato Soup

Place the tomatoes, water, tomato paste, bay leaf, sugar, and salt in a heavy saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, reeducate heat to medium, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the soup thickens and can lightly coat a spoon. Add the pepper and cream and cook for about 4 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Tomato Soup and Sandwich

Sweet Potato Bisque

Coconut Sweet Potato Bisque

Adapted from Tupelo Honey Cafe

Makes 4-6 servings

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced

4 cups and 3 teaspoons water

14 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon maple syrup

3 teaspoons sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon pumpkin spice

4 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Sweet Potatoes

Combine the sweet potatoes and 4 cups of the water in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Reduce the heat to medium and use a potato masher to break up the potatoes. Add the coconut milk, sugar, honey, maple syrup, salt, pepper, and pumpkin spice, stir, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the soup begins to thicken. Combine the cornstarch and 3 teaspoons of the water in a small bowl to form a thick paste. Add the paste and cayenne pepper to the soup and stir and cook for about 5 minutes, until the soup coats the back of a wooden spoon. Use a hand blender to blend the soup until smooth.

Creamy Soup

Cranberry Pecan Pie

Are fruit desserts nobler than chocolate desserts? Do fruit sugar laden desserts actually need to be healthier than cocoa and sugar laden desserts for them not to be fattening, or in this magical and festive time of year, is it enough to just believe? Whatever the case may be, after a holiday feast of butter- salt- and cream-stuffed foods, a fruit dessert is at least more palatable than a chocolate dessert. Even in my own household, rich foods have their limits.

Cranberry Pecan Pie

And so long as we are cutting down on the creamy richness of holiday desserts, why not cut down on the sweetness, and increase the odds that your dinner guests are actually able to finish a whole serving of their dessert? Enter the cranberry pecan pie. It is tart and toasty, not heavy, but still complex and flavorful. And did I mention how beautiful it is?

Pretty Pie

So while there may not be many holidays left this year, with all of this health benefits outlined above, why not make it to nutritiously ring in the new year?

Filling and Topping

Cranberry Pecan Pie

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For Crust:

1 1/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1/3 cup cold water

For Cranberry Filling:

5 cups cranberries

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

pinch of salt

zest of 1/2 clementine

For Topping:

3/4 cup rolled oats

3/4 cup pecans

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Cranberries

For the crust, combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and use a pastry blender or your fingers to distribute the butter in the flour mixture until the butter is pea-sized. Pour in most of the water, and use a metal spoon to mix until the dough starts to come together. If it looks too dry, add the remaining water. Form the dough into a ball, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours. When ready to make the pie, roll out the dough and fit into a standard 9 inch pie pan. Place pie pan with dough in oven until the filling and topping are ready.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

For the filling, combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat and stir occasionally. It should take about 7 minutes for the cranberries to start bursting. It will take another 7 minutes or so for the filing to become loose. When the filling is loose but the cranberries are still holding their shape, pour them into a bowl to cool while you make the topping.

Cranberry Filled

To make the topping, place the oats in a food processor and process until they are a powder. Add the pecans and pulse until they are finely ground. Add the sugars, cinnamon, and salt until well-combined. Finally, add the butter and pulse a few times until the mixture comes together.

Topping

To assemble, pour the filling into the pie crust, and then sprinkle the topping evenly over the filling. Use aluminum foil to cover the exposed pie crust. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil, and bake for an additional 10-25 minutes, until the filling begins to bubble through the topping slightly.

Pecans

Serve with whipped cream, ice cream, and/or holiday cheer!

Cranberry Pecan Pie Slice