Easy Baked French Toast

Hello gang! Ready for some delicious baked French toast? I do like to think of us as a gang, by the way: we, the writers of this madcap screed, and you, our wonderful readers. Not a particularly effectual gang, I have to admit. It’s not a gang to strike fear in the hearts of our … Read more

Butternut Squash Polenta

Butternut Squash Polenta

Somehow polenta has gotten the reputation of being difficult to cook. That you have to stand over it and stir and stir, and if you stop for even one moment, your lovely silky cornmeal will turn into a brick of yellow concrete. To that I say “pshaw!” [Matt says: I don’t know where she gets these expressions, I really don’t.]

The truth is, make sure the liquid (which could be water, milk, broth or a combination) is hot, and whisk the polenta in slowly, making sure it doesn’t clump. Once it’s all mixed in, you can cover the pot and just stir it every ten minutes or so, and it will be perfect and ready to serve in 30 to 40 minutes.

This recipe, which was inspired by Melissa Clark, has grated butternut squash in it, which gives it a lovely vegetal sweetness. We used it to make Polenta With Sausage and Onion, but it would be great for any dish that you would have polenta with. I’ve changed the recipe slightly because I like using coarse rather than finely ground polenta. I also added a little milk to the liquid, increased the amount of squash and decreased the butter.

Don’t use quick-cooking polenta for this. Not just because it doesn’t taste the same, but it also won’t give the squash the time it needs to cook.

Nerd Tips:
  • Avoid de-germinated cornmeal (the germ has been removed to increase its shelf life), as it’s not a whole grain. We really love Wild Hive Farm‘s Polenta but use any long-cooking brand you like.
  • Traditional polenta is made with water but you could substitute a portion with broth or milk if you want a richer flavor.
  • We sometimes add mascarpone which makes it especially creamy and rich.
  • Leftover Polenta will solidify into the shape of the container in which you store it. You can slice or cube it and then roast, grill, or pan-fry it. To make it creamy again, warm it slowly over low heat with a little broth, milk, or water, and stir. It won’t be quite as creamy as it was originally, but it should still be pourable.

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Classic Tomato Soup

Classic Tomato Soup
Easy, Delicious Homemade Tomato Soup

Recently I had one of those nights when I came home late and exhausted and all I wanted to do was flop down on the couch and watch something fun on TV (current obsessions: House of Cards, True Detective, Ripper Street, The Americans and don’t even call me on Sunday nights once Game of Thrones is back BECAUSE I WILL NOT ANSWER THE PHONE).

Those are the nights when I want to cook something fast and easy, and I don’t want to have to make a special trip to the store to get ingredients. I looked in the pantry and thought “Yes! You can do this, Clifton. Find something in there to make that doesn’t suck!” Well, I’ll tell you this. A warm bowl of homemade classic tomato soup does not suck.

Until tomato season comes round again (it’s hard to remember a time when the yard wasn’t basically permafrost), big cans of good tomatoes are a perfect pantry standby. You can make this classic tomato soup with either crushed or whole plum tomatoes, if you don’t mind crushing them with your hands. Some of you might quite enjoy doing that, I don’t know, that’s your business. Either way, you will want a stick blender to finish the job.

NOTE: If you’re feeling extra-fancy, make a little grilled cheese sandwich to go alongside your masterpiece. I, of course, was far too lazy even for that and just spread some goat cheese on a cracker and sprinkled some black pepper and scallions over it. Oh,  and some chopped radishes on the side because they’re also red.

Easy, Delicious Tomato Soup
Goat cheese, cracked pepper and scallions

Easy, Delicious Tomato Soup

Pasta With Butternut Squash and Bacon

Pasta With Butternut Squash and BaconDown side: Polar Vortex Episode 2 (The Revenge of  Polar Vortex) will not go away and this latest storm dumped another FOOT of snow on us. We had a burst pipe, a flooded (frozen) basement and our street looks like a luge track from Sochi.

Up side: Pasta with a creamy, bacony sauce and lots of butternut squash!

Pasta With Butternut Squash and Bacon

Okay, down-side wins but since winter refuses to behave, at least make some yummy, cozy dishes while it’s still frigging freezing out.

I’ve mentioned before how much I adore butternut squash so when I saw Melissa Clark’s recipe for pasta with parsnips, I decided to adapt it.  I’ve made a few changes (other than substituting the main vegetable, obviously). I used shallots instead of leeks because I just like them and always have them on hand. I also added a little bit of garlic and chili flakes.

The result is delicious. A little smoky from the bacon, sweet from the butternut squash. Yum.

Pasta With Butternut Squash and Bacon

 Nerd Tips:
  • This recipe gives you tips on peeling and seeding a butternut squash.
  • Bacon is better for this because it’s smoked but pancetta will work as well.
  • Don’t stir the squash too much or it will turn to mush (I resisted a “squashed” joke here. You’re welcome)
  • Any short-cut pasta will work well here.

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Braised Short Ribs with Beer and Hoisin

Braised Short Ribs with Beer and Hoisin
Served with boiled fingerling potatoes and Asian Cabbage and Fennel Salad.

One of the few benefits of living in an area where terms like “polar vortex” and “snow-mageddon” are bandied about is that you have the right, nay, the duty, to pull out the crockpot or dutch oven and put something yummy in it.

(Nerdy Game of Thrones warning ahead) Seriously, it’s so cold right now, all I want to do is curl up by my squid-themed fireplace, grab my adorable direwolf puppy, and eat something delicious.

Unfortunately I don’t have a fireplace, squid-themed or regular, and my direwolf hates the cold even more than I do. But I can definitely manage the delicious part.

Short ribs are great because they’re not terribly expensive, taste amazing and are incredibly easy. The only things you need to remember are to use the right cut for the recipe you’re making and leave yourself enough time to cook them low and slow.

In fact, I’m a huge fan of making them a day ahead. They actually taste better when they’re reheated, plus it’s so much easier to de-fat the sauce when it’s cold. Win-win. The only problem with making them in advance is that on the day you cook them, your house will smell like delicious short ribs that you will have to wait to devour. Lose-lose!

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Our winter warmer — Maple-syrup Old Fashioned

Maple-syrup Old FashionedWhen it’s dark at 4.30pm, your drafty home refuses to get above 55F, and there’s ice on the INSIDE of the windows, what do you do to warm up in the evening?

You could make a big fort in the middle of your living room with every blanket you have in the house. You could rub two kittens together and bathe in the glow of their static electricity (DISCLAIMER: DOES NOT WORK WITH CHICKENS).

Or you could make these Old Fashioneds with maple syrup.

Maple-syrup Old FashionedMaple-syrup Old Fashioned

Mixologists will tell you that these are not real Old Fashioned cocktails, since they aren’t strictly made with plain sugar or simple syrup. While they’re explaining that to you, nod sagely and drink up and then demand another glass of “whatever the hell you want to call it, Poindexter”.

Emily bought me the PDT Cocktail Book and a fine Boston cocktail shaker set for Christmas (do you think she was trying to tell me something? Should I be making more cocktails? Is the answer to that question ever “no”?) which I needed to test out, and their “Benton’s Old Fashioned” was a great starting point. Now they use bacon-infused bourbon, which, delicious as it sounds, I just couldn’t put my hand on.

So use whatever whisky or bourbon you have – we’ve tried both Jack Daniels and the local Hudson Whiskey pictured in these shots. Feel free to adjust the amount of maple syrup or bitters; these are just general suggestions that work for us.

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