Butter: Not Just For Peanuts

At a christmas party last year I was rampaging my way through a cheese plate when I stumbled upon a strange orange spread. It wasn’t a cheese from the looks of it, but it wasn’t any kind of jam either. Just what was this mysterious orange mush?

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There was only one way to find I out. I grabbed my trusty crostini and began an investigation.

It turns out that this miraculous substance was Carrot Butter. A magical substance that was rich but not too heavy, sweet but savory in the way only a caramelized vegetable can be. I ate almost all of it. I was too pleased with the carrot butter to be concerned with social disgrace.

So now, over a year later, with the Super Bowl looming, and inventive dip thereby a necessity, I decided to make my own. I reached out to the original creator, my culinary sensei Pam Saindon, for the recipe.

It turns out the secret to crafting rich carrot butter is nishime, a Japanese method of cooking vegetables. The object of nishime is to cook the vegetables through without them losing their form, and in the process you want lots of water to condense into the vegetables. I set out to master the japanese technique, and make some damn good carrots.

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I began by chopping my carrots to a reasonable size (in retrospect I should have chopped them smaller). I then piled them up in a sauce pan with enough water to almost cover them (in hindsight this was too much water). I started simmering them, hoping to cook all the water off, or into, the carrots.

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Meanwhile, I sautéed a red onion until it was clear, but not too soft. Once the carrots started to soften a bit, I threw these onions into the pan.

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My problem at this point was that I had too much water. As I understand Nishime, your water should be constantly simmering off, and you should keep adding just a little bit until the carrots are soft. By contrast, I was making onion and carrot soup, and my carrots were getting more than a little mushy.

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I dutifully waited until all the water had boiled off. The carrots were somewhat richer, and a lot softer, but not like they should have been. This is one of those recipes I will have to make a few times to get right.

Undaunted by my underwhelming carrots and onions, I took them to the food processor, where I pureed them with olive oil, salt and dill.

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The result, thought not quite the rich butter I was looking for, was quite delicious. Carrots have such great flavor and so much natural sweetness that even a little onion, olive oil and salt can make them a force to be reckoned with.

So thats the story of how I turned a bushel of carrots into a dip worthy of my Super Bowl table. It will be a nice light offset to my  Cam Newton sized portion of sour cream and potato chips.

Do the Splits

The banana split is a simple concept — cut a banana in half, place three scoops of ice cream on top, give each scoop a topping, then whip cream, nuts, and a cherry. It gives delicious ice cream the solid, fruity backbone that we all silently cry out for. It’s a truly excellent dessert.

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The true success of this dessert lies in the fact that it’s simple to explain but endlessly customizable. The flavors of ice cream, the toppings, and the arrangement are all subject to heated debate when I order a split. (Usually this debate arises because I am ordering with another person. You see, banana splits are a huge commitment when taken on by one man, but when you split the split, its the perfect amount of ice cream.)

I have a go to three ice cream flavors that I like to see on all of my banana splits — Chocolate, Strawberry, Coffee Bean. I like to get the sweet and light with the strawberry, the rich with the chocolate, and an aromatic middle ground with the coffee.

The toppings I go back and forth on. I almost always put hot fudge on the strawberry — it’s the classic combo. On chocolate I tend to go fruity, with a raspberry or cherry topping. On the coffee, it’s caramel or bittersweet. In the future I plan on ordering extra nuts, because I never feel like I get quite enough crunch.

But this is the beauty of the banana split. Like any work of art, it can mean whatever you want it to mean. It can be any combination of flavors you can dream up. It has as many potential permutations as the Rubiks cube (don’t fact check that).

One bite of will inevitably leave you…. with an ear splitting grin.

 

Oatstanding Breakfast

There’s no other way to put it: oatmeal is a legendary breakfast. Convenient, cheap, healthy, and delectable, it gets top marks in every category of breakfast satisfaction.

Oatmeal is the Tim Duncan of breakfasts: inauspicious, consistent, and an all time great.

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Bathed in morning light, this oatmeal is almost gorgeous enough to distract you from that filthy window.

I’ve recently had an oatmeal resurgence in my own life, and I’m planning on making it my standard breakfast. It’s warm and tasty on a winter morning, and packs a Cassius Clay  level punch of fiber. My personal recipe calls for a liberal does of fresh berries atop the oats, which adds much needed texture diversity and an enormous amount of antioxidants (I have no idea what antioxidants do to my body, but I’m pretty sure it’s awesome).

It’s a simple recipe — cook the oats as instructed on your oatmeal container. Then put in a bowl with toppings:

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An array of oatmeal additions.

Really there’s not a lot more to say. You just have no reason not to be eating oatmeal.

And because the lighting in my kitchen was amazing, another picture of everyone’s favorite hot breakfast cereal.

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Oatmeal ft Rustic Wood and Wholesome Feeling Of Joy

If You Give A Mom Some Beans

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If you give a mom some beans…

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…she’ll want some polenta to go with them.

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And when she sees the polenta, she’ll need to sauté some peppers and onions.

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And when she piles the peppers and onions onto her dish, she’ll look for some cheese.

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And when she’s added the cheese, she’ll want to sneak in a few scallions.

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And when her son eats her meal, which is absolutely scrumptious, and free of charge…

 

 

he’ll decide not to leave the house until age 34.

 

The Trials and Tribulations of Eggs Benedict

Monday morning I awoke with the joy and vigor of a much younger man. The reason for this excitement, of course, was culinary. I intended to make an Eggs Benedict.

However, our dreams don’t always come true in the way we hope. 90 minutes later I emerged from the kitchen a changed man, holding something sort of like an Eggs Benedict. Here’s how it went down:

Step 1: The English Muffin

Everyone knows a good english muffin is the beginning of any good eggs benny. And this is where things started to go wrong. I accidentally purchased gluten free english muffins. So instead of a delightful British crumpet, I was faced with a hellish brick that had been brown rice perhaps a century ago. It was clear I would need to look elsewhere for my Benedict foundation. I shed a few tears for what might have been and started making biscuits.

Sadly, the biscuits were no better. I used the recipe on the side of a box of sourdough pancake and waffle mix (which apparently can also be made into a biscuit) and proceeded to manhandle my biscuit dough. The resulting biscuits were depressing, dusty little hockey pucks.

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A plate of very underwhelming biscuits in strange forced perspective.

At this point I had two failed circular breads and little hope. I decided I would go with a low carb benny, and moved onto the eggs.

Step 2: The Eggs

Following this brilliant guide by Jacques Pépin to poaching eggs, I managed to make some very pleasing poached eggs. I added salt and vinegar to my boiling water and got an excellent vortex swirling in the middle of a large deep saucepan. The eggs dropped in the middle took on an excellent shape and cooked perfectly.

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An egg begins it’s journey toward poach-dom.

Just like the video, I placed my eggs in ice water after they were done cooking. This worked brilliantly and I was able to reheat them later without sacrificing the right poached egg consistency. For someone who cooks as slowly as I do, having my eggs preserved in cold water was especially helpful.

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Ice baths — not just for NFL stars.

With my eggs set aside. I was ready for the real battle.

Step #3: Hollandaise

Hollandaise, when done right, is a substance I treasure similarly to oxygen and water. Notice my emphasis on “done right”. Anyone who has had an Eggs Benedict has enjoyed the wonders of hollandaise sauce, but it is a truly difficult beast. It’s a mixture of egg yolk and lemon juice that must be slowly whipped in with melted butter over low heat. If anything is done incorrectly, the hollandaise will break. And if it breaks, instead of fluffy heavenly brunch sauce, you get soupy scrambled egg yolks in a pool of butter.

Guess which one I got?

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Sadness

Alas my hollandaise was a disaster. I made a second attempt at a recipe that used a blender, and got marginally better results, but that sauce also broke after being left out at room temperature for ten minutes.

Clearly today was not my day, but I vowed to return and conquer hollandaise sauce in the future.  In the meantime, I still needed to make myself some sort of breakfast.

Step 4: The Pragmatic Solution 

I had a large quantity of vegetables I had previously roasted (roasted vegetables are a brilliant and easy snack) in my fridge. I saw the opportunity to make a quick vegetable hash like dish that would be the perfect base for my poached egg, so into the pan they went.

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Caution: veggies at play.

I sautéed some spinach to layer under the vegetables and piled them up on the plate. I warmed up my poached eggs in hot water for one minute to get them ready for prime time and they went on top of my vegetable pile. Finally I added just a dash of the less broken hollandaise — an echo from a more innocent time.

It wasn’t a Benedict. But it was breakfast.

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It was pretty tasty, and I’m quite pleased with how my poached eggs are coming along. However, the rest of the meal was anything but a success. Fortunately, we learn from our mistakes. A few more cracks at hollandaise and I hope I can construct a breakfast classic.