Buttermilk Spice Cake with Pear Compote

As our days stretch longer and the first signs of crocus and chives finally appear in the garden I find myself in the mood for cake. This is hard to explain since cake is not often on my list of cravings; however, the same phenomenon occurred last year so it must be the coming of spring! When I saw this recipe for a buttermilk spice cake with pear compote in Bon Appetite I immediately folded down the page. A simple spice cake, fragrant from star anise and topped with a dollop of crème fraîche and warm pears, it sounded spectacular.

A weekend visit from my mother was the perfect reason to bake a cake, so I pulled out my mixer and went to work. The cake was simple to create, requiring only about an hour from start to finish (including the 30 minute cooking time).

Making the Buttermilk Spice Cakes

Once baked you have a humble round cake that only needs a light dusting of powdered sugar before serving. The pear sauce comes together while the cake is baking melding into lightly sweetened fruit compote. Mixing black pepper, ginger, allspice, and star anise creates a wonderful background note of warm spice which made the cake interesting without stealing the show and overpowering the pears. On the plate all three elements- cake, pear compote, and crème fraîche, blend together into a supremely satisfying dessert. The flavor deepens on the second day, making a leftover slice the perfect accompaniment to your morning coffee or a finale to your weeknight dinner. I would make it to share with guests or even just for one; this is humble comfort food at its best- warm, soft, creamy and sweet.

Buttermilk Spice Cake with Pear Compote

Buttermilk Spice Cake with Pear Compote and Crème Fraîche (Printable Recipe)
Minimally Adapted from Bon Appetite, March 2010, Recipe by Daniel Patterson
Serves 8-10

Pear Compote
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Large pinch of salt
3 Bosc pears (about 1 1/2 pounds total), peeled, quartered, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Buttermilk Spice Cake
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch (yes this seems unusual, but it works)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon (scant) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground whole star anise*
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 3-inch piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lime peel
3/4 cup buttermilk
Powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups crème fraîche

9 inch cake pan with 2 inch sides


Pear Compote
Place a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Mix in the sugar, lim
e juice, and salt, stirring until the sugar is beginning to liquefy. Add the pears to the pan and stir to coat them with the sugar mixture. Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pears are just tender. Pour the pear mixture into a heat-proof bowl, cover and chill until ready to use. (You can make the pears up to 24 hours ahead of time.)

Buttermilk Spice Cake
Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle. Butter and flour the cake pan. Using the exterior bottom of the pan as your guide, trace a circle to match the pan diameter on parchment paper. Cut out the circle and trim if necessary until it fits tightly inside the bottom of the cake pan. Place the parchment round inside the cake pan.

Using a medium size bowl, sift together the: flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, ginger, black pepper, and ground star anise.

In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter until it is fluffy. Slowly add the sugar, beating until the mixture is smooth. Next beat in eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is well blended before adding the next one. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the batter and add in the lime peel, beating the batter again to blend them in. Beat in flour mixture in 4 additions alternating each time with buttermilk in 3 additions, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Once the all of the ingredients are incorporated into the batter, scrape it into the prepared cake pan.

Place the cake batter into the oven, and cook until the top begins to turn a golden color and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Set the pan on a cooling rack. Let cool, then cover and store at room temperature until ready to serve. The cake can be made 1 day ahead.

To serve the cake, run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake. Turn the cake out onto a rack or plate, and peel off the parchment circle. Turn the cake right side up onto a platter. Sift powdered sugar onto the top, and slice it into wedges. Serve each piece with a side of pear compote and a dollop of crème fraîche on top.

*You can grind whole star anise pods in a spice mill and then strain them through a very fine sieve to isolate the powder. (Don’t use the big bits in the cake.)



Peach Ginger Muffins

Whenever I encounter a new or unusual ingredient at a local grocery store I show my true food geek colors and become exuberantly excited with all the possibilities. (If you remember my enthusiasm over a lone baby bok choy, then this will come as no surprise.) What I did not know, was that some of my food geekiness has rubbed off onto Mr. B. One day he came home from work, first having stopped by the store to pick up a few things for dinner. When he set the grocery bags on the counter he was grinning and I thought, “Oh great, he bought ice cream again.” But instead of pulling out a pint, he fished around in the bags and pulled out a container of crystalized ginger chips. “Look what I found!” he exclaimed.

Crystallized Ginger Chips

Opening the container I found it full of tiny crystallized ginger chips, each coated with a light dusting of sugar and starch. I quickly shared Mr. B’s excitement. If you have ever tried to cut crystallized ginger into tiny pieces then you know how challenging it is to keep the ginger from forming a sticky mashed mess on your cutting board and knife. Attempts to coat the knife, cutting surface, and ginger with sugar only helps a little to separate the chunks. I usually end up tossing the clumps in sugar and then trying to break them up with my fingers while scattering the ginger into my baking bowl. Using a mechanized process to achieve superior individual chips of crystallized ginger makes so much sense. This is one instance where technology really can help achieve superior results.
After sharing in his excitement, I asked Mr. B what we should make with his find. He quickly suggested ginger peach muffins. Having learned in the past not to mess with Mr. B’s creative genius, I decided to dive right in and make the muffins.

Peach Ginger Muffins

Peach Ginger Muffins

The muffin batter comes together easily, with just a quick mix of dry ingredients, wet ingredients, and then folding them all together. As I sprinkled in the ginger chips I was happy to see that they remained in individual bits throughout the batter, ensuring a little ginger in each muffin. A cinnamon sugar crumble topping with chopped pecans and a few more ginger bits tops off the muffins, adding a delightful crunch to contrast the softly sweet crumb below.

Peach Ginger Muffins

The finished muffins were sweeter than our traditional muffin fare, but we enjoyed them so much that they quickly disappeared for breakfast, snacks, and even after dinner. I mailed a few muffins to my pecan-hating father who polished them off in no time flat (and decided that pecan toppings are not too bad after all). If you like a tasty ginger peach muffin, or share Mr. B’s excitement for all things ginger then find some ginger chips and turn on the oven!
*Disclaimer – Mr. B bought the ginger chips himself and the Ginger People have no idea who we are.*
Peach Ginger Muffins (Printable Recipe)
Makes 24
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter melted
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 medium peaches peeled, diced (about 2 cups) (I used thawed frozen peaches)
1/4 cup ginger chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1/8 cup ginger chips
2/3 cup brown sugar packed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons melted butter
*If you have any leftover topping it is excellent on oatmeal.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 24 muffin cups with paper muffin liners.
Make the Topping
In a small bowl, mix together the chopped pecans, ginger chips, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and melted butter. The mixture should form loose clumps. Set aside.
Make the Muffins
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt until well combined.
In a separate medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, milk, eggs, and vanilla, until all ingredients are combined.
Pour half of the wet ingredients into the large bowl of dry ingredients, and stir gently to combine. Add the rest of the wet ingredients, and mix as little as possible to just combine. Next, gently fold in the peaches and ginger chips, stirring just until all dry ingredients are moistened and the ginger is distributed throughout the batter.
Pour the batter into the muffin cups, until each muffin cup is 2/3rds full. Sprinkle the topping evenly across the muffins. Bake muffins for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the pan and let cool on a wire rack.



Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Minneapolis is a unique urban environment. Towering steel structures boast clean lines exuding a strength and sleekness that reflect the city’s Nordic roots. Streets are clean and filled with people who embody Midwestern friendliness despite the modern city surroundings. Outdoor sculpture gardens, renowned theaters, and my favorite Irish pub, make Minneapolis a fun place to visit.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Yet beneath the streets of this pristine city lies a dark and unusual place. The walls are red, black ravens hang from the ceiling and the curious art of Ralph Stedman is everywhere you look. A sign by the door explains it all: Hell’s Kitchen. Their motto is “Damn Good Food” which comes from serving real food carefully prepared from scratch. Whenever Mr. B and I find ourselves in Minneapolis we manage to pull ourselves out of bed in time to enjoy breakfast at Hell’s Kitchen (which can be quite a feat after a nightcap at the aforementioned Irish pub). Deciding what to order is always a challenge. Having tried the maple glazed bison sausage, huevos rancheros of the gods, and a wild rice porridge with hazelnuts, we can attest that this place indeed serves d@mn good food. There is one menu item that we can never resist- lemon ricotta hotcakes. Impossibly fluffy, creamy, and bursting with lemon flavor these pancakes are nothing short of heavenly (sorry). For years we’ve exclaimed “We have to make these at home!”

Making Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

When a container of soft ricotta and a box of Meyer lemons met in my fridge the time had come to bring a little bit of hell into our kitchen. I was thrilled to find the original recipe available online. The pancakes require more work than traditional Saturday morning recipes. You whip egg whites into stiff peaks, then slowly fold egg yolks, butter, and the remaining ingredients into the batter a bit at a time. However the finished result is well worth the extra effort. Towering stacks of lemony cakes boast a unique spongy texture due to the addition of ricotta. A dusting of powdered sugar and a scattering of fresh fruit tops off pancakes so good you may even decide to serve them for dinner instead of breakfast. One forkful and you’ll agree- this is d@mn good food.
Lemon Ricotta Pancakes (Printable Recipe)
Makes 16 cakes
Note: Allow 4 hours or up to 3 days for the batter to chill in the fridge before making the pancakes. This will firm up the butter and keep the pancakes from spreading out too much in the pan.
6 egg whites
9 egg yolks
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
4 Tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest (Use Meyer or regular lemons)
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Unsalted butter, melted (for the skillet)
Fresh berries
Warm maple syrup
Powdered sugar
Using a stand mixer or hand mixer fitted with a wire whisk attachment, pour egg whites into a stainless steel bowl. Whisk the whites on high speed until they form stiff peaks. Once peaks are formed, reduce the speed to low.
Add the egg yolks one at a time to the whites, beating after each addition. Then slowly add 1/3 cup melted butter. Continue to whisk on low speed until the ingredients are well combined.
Turn off the mixer and add the sugar, ricotta, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Whisk for 1 minute at medium speed, then reduce the speed to low. Slowly add the flour. Mix to combine the flour for about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to eliminate any remaining dry spots. Mix again at medium speed for about 1 minute until everything is just combined.
Place the batter in the fridge for 4 hours or up to 3 days.
When ready to cook, place a large skillet or griddle over medium high heat. Brush the cooking surface with melted butter and pour the batter into the skillet in 1/4 cup portions. Leave about 2 inches between the batter to allow for spreading. Cook the pancakes until bubbles appear on the surface and the underside is a golden brown, about 5 minutes. (These will take a bit longer to cook than traditional pancakes, so be patient.) Flip the pancakes and cook for another 2-3 minutes until the other side is golden brown. Transfer the pancakes to a warm plate, and repeat until all of the batter is used up.
Garnish the hot pancakes with powdered sugar, fresh berries, melted butter, and warm syrup. Serve immediately.



Spearmint Experiment

After his wildly successful batch of blackberry sage tea ice cream, Mr. B decided he wanted to continue experimenting with tea flavored desserts. Rummaging through our drawer of teas, he pulled out a big bag of loose-leaf spearmint tea. Hey! Let’s make a mint chocolate chip ice cream, he declared. Um…okay, I replied, but, I think there is a difference between spearmint and peppermint. It might not taste the same in ice cream. Mr. B was undeterred. I like spearmint tea, he replied. I bet it will make a great ice cream. I said, well, I do have a bag of dark chocolate chunks that would be good, and I really love mint chocolate chip ice cream. Let’s give it a try. Thus began our spearmint experiment.

We followed the blackberry sage tea recipe, swapping in the spearmint and adding chocolate chunks to the churning ice cream at the very end. The result was an ice cream the color of aged linen with a strong minty aroma. As I placed the first spoonful in my mouth, the top of my palate felt like it shot up two feet. It had that cold and airy feeling you get after chewing two sticks of spearmint gum at the same time. Tingling slightly my nasal cavities opened up and I could practically feel a mint breeze coming out of my eye-sockets. I looked at Mr. B and said, “Whoa, spearmint is definitely not a substitute for peppermint!”

The ice cream was not bad, per se, but it was definitely weird. I had a hard time getting over the thought that I was eating mint gum ice cream. Some people really dig that kind of thing, but for me it brings to mind bubblegum ice cream, which I detested as a kid. I was always afraid that I would accidentally choke on a gum ball, and ended up gagging my way through the cone, vowing never to order bubblegum ice cream again. The spearmint ice cream (thankfully) didn’t trigger a gag reflex, but it was still a strange way to end a meal. That being said, there is a time and place for everything, and if I were serving a garlic laden dinner, or needed a small palate cleanser between courses, spearmint ice cream may be an amusing and interesting choice. However if you are looking for a classic mint chocolate chip ice cream, learn from our spearmint experiment and go straight for the peppermint extract.

Spearmint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (Printable Recipe)
Makes 1 Quart

1 cup whole milk
2 cups cream
3/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 cup spearmint tea
1/2 cup chocolate chips/chunks

Place a small pot with lid over medium heat. Warm up the milk, 1 cup of cream, sugar, and tea leaves, until the liquid is steaming but not bubbling. Stir to make sure the sugar is dissolved, turn off the heat, and cover the pot with a lid. Let the mixture steep at room temperature for 1 hour. Place the remaining 1 cup of cream in a medium bowl, with a fine mesh strainer on top. Pour the steeped liquid through the strainer into the bowl with the cream. Discard the tea leaves in the strainer. Stir the liquid mixture until well combined, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then chill for 4 hours or overnight. After the liquid is chilled through, freeze the ice cream according to the manufacturer’s instructions. About 5 minutes before the ice cream is finished churning, add in the chocolate chips. Continue to churn until finished.



Preserved Lemon Risotto

Blog-checking lines: The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.
When this month’s Daring Kitchen challenge turned out to be a homemade risotto, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. While February’s Mezze Feast was indeed a feast (and a memorable one) I was ready for something a bit easier. The requirements were simply to make a homemade stock and then use it to create a creamy risotto. I turned to my standby vegetable stock recipe, which only requires an hour of simmering. Mr. B located a bottle of full bodied white wine (most of which didn’t make it into the pan!) Then I pulled out a jar of preserved lemons and a hunk of goat cheese, to create a tangy and mouthwatering dish. Preserved lemons have a unique flavor that brings a briny salty edge to recipes. When combined with soft goat cheese, acidic wine, and starchy arborio rice the preserved flavor melded into a marvelous creamy risotto. Highlighted by bright lemon notes this preserved lemon risotto would pair beautifully with fish or pork.

Making Preserved Lemon Risotto

Often people speak of risotto with an edge of fear in their voice. I don’t know if it is the lengthy time spent at the stove stirring, or the challenge in achieving a desired texture, but for many cooks risotto is akin to soufflés- scary. I initially approached risotto with this fear intact though after many successful dinners (including our favorite magical morel risotto) I realized this: It’s just rice. Overcooked, undercooked, sticky, runny, it doesn’t matter- with enough wine and cheese no one will be complaining. Yes, achieving your ideal risotto will create mouthfuls of euphoria, but in the meantime, failures are pretty darn tasty too. So get in there and give it a try!

Preserved Lemon Risotto-5

Preserved Lemon Risotto (Printable Recipe)
Serves 4-6 (As a side dish)
Adapted from the Australian Masterchef Cookbook and The Cookbook Moorish
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 small Onion, diced
1 cup Risotto rice (Arborio, Vialone Nano, or Carnaroli)
1/2 cup White wine
2 3/4 cups Chicken or vegetable stock, gently simmering in a small pot
1 Preserved lemon, peel only, finely diced*
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
3 Tablespoons Goat cheese, softened at room temperature
Place a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add oil and butter. When the butter begins to foam add the diced onion. Sauté for four minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add rice, and stir for a few minutes, until the grains are coated with oil and begin to turn opaque. Pour the wine into the skillet and let it bubble away until evaporated.
Working with about 1/4 cup of liquid at a time, add the hot stock into the pan. Stir after each addition until the liquid is mostly absorbed before adding more stock. Continue this process until only 1/4 cup of stock remains to be added and the rice is cooked through, about 18-20 minutes. Stir in the preserved lemon peel and Parmesan cheese. Add the remaining stock and when it is almost absorbed stir in the goat cheese. Taste the risotto, and adjust the salt if necessary. Serve warm with additional Parmesan grated on top if desired.
*Note- Preserved lemon peel can be very salty. If you are using a heavily salted stock, you may want to rinse the peel off before dicing. Also, wait to salt the risotto until after the lemon has been added.



Salmon in a Meyer Lemon Wine Broth

One of the joys in writing about food is the need to constantly try new recipes, flavors, and ingredients. I find it great fun to taste a wide variety of things and it seems as if we never eat the same meal twice. Yet sometimes a dish has a way of circling back around and either through craving or luck it appears to delight the palate once again. One year ago, I wrote about poached salmon with dijon cream sauce. Bright, creamy, lemony, and sweet- the flavors of this dish were so delightful I found myself layering lemons on top of salmon for the rest of 2009.

Making Salmon in a Meyer Lemon Wine Broth

This recipe is really just a variation on the original but with more wine, no cream, and a hint of fennel instead of dijon. After these tweaks, the salmon took on a fabulous new dimension that called for a second post. Supported by a sauce built from buttery chardonnay and sweet meyer lemons, fresh salmon reaches a clarity of flavor that will make you think it was pulled from the ocean only hours before it hit your plate. Requiring just 15 minutes to prepare, it may be my simplest salmon recipe yet. If you are a lover of fresh fish and lemons, this recipe needs to go in your back pocket!

Salmon Poached in a Meyer Lemon Wine Broth (Printable Recipe)
Serves 2 (generously)

1 lb fresh wild-caught Salmon
3 T Olive oil
3 Shallots, diced (about 1/2 cup)
2 cloves Garlic, diced
4 sprigs Thyme
4 Fennel fronds (cut from the top of a fennel bulb)
2 Meyer lemons, very thinly sliced, seeds removed (use regular lemons if Meyers are not in season)
1 1/2 cups Chardonnay
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cold butter

Place a large skillet with lid over medium heat. Add olive oil, shallots, and garlic to the pan. Saute for 2 minutes. Next add the thyme sprigs to the pan. Lay the salmon on top of the thyme, and then layer the lemon slices and fennel fronds on top of the salmon. Pour the Chardonnay around the fish, and cover the skillet with a lid.

Simmer salmon for 8 minutes or until cooked through. Remove salmon, fennel fronds, and lemon slices from the broth, pressing any liquid out of the lemon slices into the pan. Cover the salmon with a piece of foil to keep it warm. Bring the liquid  back to a simmer to reduce by half. Once reduced, turn of the heat, add salt, and whisk in butter. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning as needed.

To serve, place a portion of the salmon topped with lemon slices on a plate, and drizzle the sauce on top.



Zinfandel Pot Roast with Glazed Carrots and Parsnips

Pot roast is one of those iconic American dishes that conjures up images of Sunday dinners, kids with neatly combed hair, and platters of green beans and mashed potatoes passed happily around the table. Like most cultural ideals, pot roast seems like it should be easy to achieve, reaching perfection every time. You just throw a hunk of beef in a pan, glug in a bit of wine, and throw it in the oven to simmer for hours while you play parcheesi with the kids. Right?

Not quite. For some reason, the simple dishes that I expect to be able to make with my eyes closed, the recipes that should be in my red-blooded American DNA, are often the most challenging. Perhaps it is the expectation of success that leads me to lose focus. Unlike cheesecakes, or potstickers, or homemade baguettes, which cause me to roll up my sleeves, put on my game face, and call in the reinforcements (Mr. B); pot roasts bring out a laissez-faire attitude of ‘easy’ that never ends well. After several disappointing bouts of ‘winging it’, resulting in dry, under seasoned, and frankly boring pot roasts, I finally decided to turn on my brain and look to the expert in all things braised, Molly Stevens.

Making Zinfandel Pot Roast with Glazed Carrots and Parsnips

I have mentioned All About Braising before. It is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. Molly brings exacting detail and clear processes to the art of braising- always with spectacular results. Following her instructions for a Zinfandel Pot Roast is akin to finding a short-cut home after driving the same route for many years. It is so new, so easy, and it has been here all along! Her pot roast fills the house with warm beefy aromas during a lazy afternoon. The flavors are superb, fancy enough to share with company yet familiar enough to enjoy with close friends. Moist, fork tender, and perfectly paired with glazed carrots and parsnips, this recipe will quickly become your favorite route to a perfect Sunday dinner. Now, if only I knew how to play parcheesi…

Zinfandel Pot Roast with Glazed Carrots and Parsnips (Printable Recipe)
Adapted From: All About Braising by Molly Stevens
Serves 6-8


1 boneless beef chuck (about 3½ pounds), tied with kitchen string
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 piece celery, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 cup Zinfandel or other robust dry red wine
1 cup beef, veal or chicken broth
3 large 3-to-4-inch leafy fresh sage sprigs
2 to 3 leafy Italian parsley sprigs
8 to 10 black peppercorns

Parchment paper, cut to match the diameter of the dutch oven, with 2″ extra around the edges.

Glazed carrots and Parsnips (Recipe Below)

Brown the meat
Preheat oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the bottom third. Season beef on all sides with salt and pepper. Place a large Dutch oven or other heavy 5-quart pot over medium heat, add oil. When the oil is hot, add beef and brown on all sides, turning with tongs, about 18 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove beef and set it aside on a large plate to catch juices. If there are any large charred bits in the pan, remove them with a damp paper towel or the tongs. Do not remove the ‘fond’ or layer of small bits stuck to the b
ottom of the pan.

Cook the Aromatics and Braising Liquid
Return the pot to medium-high heat and add onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Pour in wine and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release caramelized juices. Increase the heat to high, and boil the liquid to reduce it by about a third, about 6 minutes. Add broth, return liquid to a boil and cook until again reduced by about a third, another 5 minutes. Next, return the beef to the pot and add sage, parsley and peppercorns. Cover the pan with a piece of parchment paper that is slightly larger than the top of the pan, pressing down so it nearly touches the meat and the edges of the paper overhang the pot by about an inch. Set lid in place, securing the parchment paper.

Transfer the pot to the rack in the oven and braise, maintaining a gentle simmer. After about 15 minutes raise the lid and check that the liquid isn’t simmering too vigorously. If the liquid is bubbling too hard, lower the heat by 10 to 15 degrees. Turn the beef roast once halfway through braising, cooking for at least 3 hours or until fork tender. (Be careful when opening lid to turn meat — the steam is very hot.)

Finish the Roast
Remove the pot from oven. Carefully lift beef out with tongs, set it on a carving surface and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine mesh sieve into a saucepan, pressing down on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Let braising liquid sit for a few minutes to cool slightly, then spoon off fat with a large spoon. Set aside ½ cup braising liquid for cooking the Glazed Parsnips and Carrots.

Make the Sauce
Heat the remaining reserved cooking liquid over medium-high heat. Boil the liquid for a couple of minutes to concentrate the flavor. (The juices will not be thick.) Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Remove strings from roast and cut meat across the grain into thick slices. Serve with vegetables and juices on the side.

Glazed Carrots and Parsnips

¾ pound carrots, peeled
¾ pound parsnips, peeled
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup braising liquid from Zinfandel Pot Roast (above)
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
Pinch of sugar
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage
2 Tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

While the beef roast is braising, cut the carrots and parsnips into sticks by first cutting crosswise in half. Cut thicker tops lengthwise into quarters and thinner tips in half, then cut into sticks about 3 inches by ½ inch. Set aside.

When the beef roast is finished cooking, and is resting covered on a cutting board, cook the carrots and parsnips.

Place a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and butter to the pan. When hot, add the carrots and parsnips and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are lightly glazed and browned in spots. Add reserved ½ cup braising liquid to the pan. Reduce heat and simmer partially covered 6 to 8 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender but not mushy. Remove the lid and bring the liquid back to a boil. Add the vinegar, sugar, sage and parsley. Cook about 1 minute or until liquid is reduced to a glaze. Serve immediately alongside slices of the beef roast and sauce.



Winter Toasted Couscous Salad

You may have noticed from the appearance of summery cocktails and berry pies, my taste buds are pulling for an early spring. Today may be the first day in three months that our temperature has reached 40 degrees and I’m celebrating by not wearing a wool sweater. (Hooray for cotton!) Spring calls for salads and a return to fresh produce. Yet our snow covered ground is still sleeping, pushing me to be creative with winter produce for a little while longer.
This winter toasted couscous salad was inspired by a salad served in the deli at Whole Foods. We enjoyed our container of salad so much that I peeled off the ingredient list and stuck it in my purse with every intention of recreating it at home the next week. Ha. I don’t know about you, but my purse is something of a bottomless pit. When looking for the checkbook, Mr. B usually just hands me the purse and asks if I can find it. The thought of digging through the dark depths with his bare hands is more than he can handle. So it should come as no surprise that the ingredient list languished for far too long in the black hole I carry around each day.

Making the Winter Toasted Couscous Salad

Once the list was unearthed and I assembled a riff on the salad, I kicked myself for waiting until winter has almost waned to make it. The combination of soft nutty couscous, savory fennel, and sweet cranberries creates a hearty and delicious dish. Steaming the couscous keeps the grains fluffy and prevents clumping, giving the salad a lovely texture. Served hot or cold, this toasted couscous salad will invigorate your taste buds if they are tired of winter flavors and help hold you over until spring.

Winter Toasted Couscous Salad
(Printable Recipe)
Serves 6
2 cups Couscous
3 cups Water, plus additional
1 medium Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2″ chunks (about 4 cups)
2 T Olive Oil
1 Fennel Bulb, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
4 large Shallots, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
1 cup Dried Cranberries
1 cup Black Currants
3/4 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup Sherry Vinegar
1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
2 teaspoons Sugar
1 Tablespoon Salt
1 1/2 teaspoons Black Pepper
1 teaspoon Sage
1 teaspoon Parsley
Place butternut squash in a medium pot over high heat and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until squash is tender, about 10 minutes. Once squash is finished cooking, drain the excess liquid.
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a pot or kettle. While the water is coming to a boil, add couscous to a large dry pan (with no oil or liquid) and stir until the couscous become aromatic and begins to turn a light brown color. Once the couscous starts to turn light brown, turn off the heat. Place the couscous into a large casserole pan and pour 3 cups of boiling water over the couscous. Stir to make sure the couscous is evenly moistened, then immediately cover the casserole with a lid or plastic wrap. Let the couscous steam for 10 minutes without disturbing the cover. After 10 minutes, remove the cover and fluff the couscous with a fork.
Place a large skillet (you can use the same one you toasted the couscous in) over medium heat. Add olive oil, fennel, and shallots. Saute until the vegetables are soft and translucent, about 8 minutes.
Mix all of the dressing ingredients together, then drizzle over the hot couscous. Stir with a fork until the dressing is evenly distributed. Add the fennel and onion mixture, along with the butternut squash, dried cranberries, and black currants to the couscous. Mix everything together gently, taste and adjust salt and pepper as necessary. Serve hot or cold.



Mai Tai with Blood Orange and Coconut Rum

How can you feel like you’ve spent three hours in the tropics without leaving the house? Why, throw an indoor beach party of course! Come check out my guest post at The Daring Kitchen for more recipes, crazy party ideas, and music that will kick the winter blues far away.
Continued after the jump »




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