Sunday, December 28, 2008

Green Beans - cooked low and slow

I was invited to a New Orleans-themed Christmas Day dinner which was to feature Bloody Marys, Jambalaya, crab cakes, and Amaretto Bread Pudding – all of which were wonderful. I said “I’ll bring the vegetable – Green Beans cooked low and slow.”

Trust me – you can get these into the oven in less time then it will take you to read the rest of this post. These beans call on four skills: turning on the stove and the oven at the same time, chopping and pouring. They are not crisp, steamed green beans. They are an entirely other food: meltingly soft and sublime. Depending on how you flavor it and who you are, it will conjure up dinners you had or dinners you wish you'd had...

With 800+ cookbooks and a huge representation of works about the South, I have memories of Southern writers declaring that they would walk over hot coals for Grandma’s Green Beans. Sadly, when I set out to find directions for this iconic “Grandma made it” recipe for beans cooked overnight with a pork product, specific instructions were hard to find. Why write a recipe for something that Granny made by instinct? Querying northern and mid-western friends turned up nothing. Pals from the south had heard of it or had it in their childhood, but no one had ever made it. Standing at the bean bin in the grocery store, I did meet a woman from Kentucky who said that she used to make it with bacon grease, but because of her husband’s high cholesterol, she uses olive oil. I turned to the web.

I won’t bore you with my labors. The web was not a good source for erudite discussion of Granny’s Green Beans. With persistence, I found a wide range of differences as to the amount of liquid, the cooking time, temperature, and how tightly to cover the pot. My research ultimately turned up three Schools of Cooking Green Beans Low and Slow, each providing many opportunities for disputation among cooks and their extended families:

1. Pork Product: Ham hock? Bacon – cooked or uncooked? Bacon Grease? Some pork? Lots of pork? Just bacon grease and onion? No onion?
2. Turkey wings: My pal Eileen O’Toole, always a font of culinary advice, has a friend who uses smoked turkey wings to get the smoky flavor without the bacon fat.
3. Vegetarian: Beans, onion and diced tomatoes. What could be simpler?

You should not be surprised that I made all three, and that my dinner pals were enthusiastic tasters. First up? Vegetarian beans and tomatoes. It was in the oven overnight, and it was all I could do NOT to eat it for breakfast, thus depriving my friends of their introduction to a delightful green bean. I will make this often. My friends, who grew up with bacon, loved the bacon-only dish. I wasn’t so keen on it. Although I am a fan of crispy bacon, I found these to be thin and one-note. Smoked turkey? No one’s fave, but no one disliked it. It is, indeed, a great compromise for smoky-food-fans who keep Kosher.

Let me discourage you from considering a slow cooker. You are going to braise these beans, and their liquid needs to evaporate and concentrate just a bit. A tightly lidded slow cooker won’t do it.


1 small onion, sliced thin
1 cup of fresh peppers sliced thin (red, green, hot)
½ tsp to 1 T crushed red peppers
1 15-oz can of diced tomatoes
1 to 2 pound of green beans, trimmed to your satisfaction
Water, salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 225. In an oven-safe pan with a lid that will hold the beans, saute the onion and peppers, stirring occasionally, until you have finished trimming the beans. Add the can of tomatoes, water to cover the beans and peppers, salt, pepper and crushed red peppers. Bring the liquid to a boil. Loosely cover the pan and put it into the oven for six to 10 hours or overnight.


4 ounces of bacon, chopped fine and crisped (reserve 1T bacon fat)
1 small onion, sliced thin
1 to 2 pounds of green beans, trimmed to your satisfaction
Water, salt and pepper.

Heat the oven to 225. In an oven-safe pan with a lid that will hold the beans, crisp the bacon.
While the bacon is crisping, trim the beans. Remove the bacon and all but 1T bacon fat from the pan. Saute the onion, stirring occasionally, until you have finished trimming the beans. Add the beans and half the crisped bacon. Loosely cover the pan and put it into the oven for six to 10 hours or overnight. Sprinkle the reserved bacon over the finished dish.


1 cup (more or less) of smoked turkey wing meat
1 small onion, sliced thin
1 15-oz can of diced tomatoes
1 to 2 pounds of green beans, trimmed to your satisfaction
Crushed red pepper (1/2 tsp to 1 T – your choice)
Water, salt, pepper

Heat the oven to 225. In an oven-safe pan with a lid that will hold the beans, saute the onion and the turkey meat, stirring occasionally, until you have finished trimming the beans. Add the can of tomatoes, water to cover the beans, salt, pepper and crushed red peppers. Bring the liquid to a boil. Loosely cover the pan and put it into the oven for six to 10 hours, or overnight.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ginger Squares -- thank you, Ann Hodgman

Ann Hodgman's Beat That! is a cookbook that I return to again and again. Why? Because everything I've made from it (with the exception of some pickled shrimp which I found to be more trouble than they were worth) has been beyond excellent. And, any cookbook that was a gift from everyone's favorite JOB GODDESS Kimm Walton has to be a winner.

As the sugar and butter holidays are upon us, the very least that BakeManiacs can do is to put a modestly delusional nutritional spin on gifts from the kitchen, and I can think of few things that are better than my version of Ann's Ginger Squares. Ginger is good for you, don't-cha know?

I have doubled her recipe, added more candied and dried ginger AND grated fresh ginger, switched out lemon for lime juice and added ginger juice to the glaze. Resist the temptation to bake this in a 9x13 pan. The outside will be done long before the middle. If you ignore this advice, finish cooking the gooey unbaked middle pieces in the microwave at 10 seconds on high power until you are satisfied. This makes a ginger candy rather than a ginger bar. Not that ginger candy is a bad thing...

* A note on brown sugar: I grew up in the Washington DC area, and when I moved to Minnesota, I thought that there was something wrong with the dark brown sugar here. It is noticeably pale. However, for my first decade in the frozen north, Pale Brown Sugar was less than a Burning Issue of Our Time. I was right, though, and I now regularly return from DC with pounds of molasses-rich mahogany-colored dark brown sugar. In this recipe though, you are on your own with the brown sugar of your neighborhood. Ginger trumps all!

Ginger Squares -- a lot of them


1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar*
1 cup packed dark brown sugar *
2 large eggs
1 T vanilla
1 T grated fresh ginger
1-1/2 cup all purpose flour
8 ounces crystalized ginger slices
1 T ground ginger
1 tsp salt


4 T fresh lime juice
1 tsp grated fresh ginger juice
1 c sifted confectioners sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Butter two 9-inch square pans. If you have parchment or silicon pan liners, nothing will stick. Use them.

2. Melt the butter over medium low heat in large non-stick low-sided pan. Add the brown sugar and stir until it dissolves. This might take 10 minutes, which is why the large, low-sided pan works better than a saucepan. Use a silicon spatula if you have one, and stir very frequently or this will either boil over or burn. Remove from the heat and when it is cool enough so that the eggs won't scramble, beat in the eggs, vanilla and grated fresh ginger.

3. Process the flour, the candied and ground gingers, baking powder and salt until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir this into the butter and sugar mixture, and scrape into the prepared pans. It is a nice idea at this point to weigh the pans to make sure that they are more or less equal.

4. Bake for 30 minutes, reversing the pans halfway through the baking period. Ginger squares are baked when they bubble a bit and have a glazed look on the top.


Stir the lime and ginger juice into the confectioners sugar. Pour over the squares when they come out of the oven. Cool the pans on a rack, and cut when they are cool.

Packed between parchment or wax paper, Ginger Squares ship well.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The best and easiest party salmon - hot, cold or room temp

The very excellent cooking store and school Cooks of Crocus Hill has wonderful tools and terrific classes. In a participation class several years ago, I learned a fast, foolproof technique for roasting salmon which proves itself every time, and no matter how many pounds of salmon I serve -- there are NEVER leftovers. Because it can be served hot, cold or room temperature, it is a great item for a buffet or potluck or for any occasion that might otherwise be a train-wreck in the oven or in the kitchen at dinner time.

This is a single-skill recipe calling only for your chopping skills. It takes one visit to a kindly fishmonger who will take out the salmon's pin bones, and one trip to a well-stocked Asian food isle for dried fermented black beans. I prefer the kind that are dried with ginger bits, but I never overlook an opportunity to add ginger to anything.

This is infinitely expandable -- two pounds, five pounds, ten pounds of salmon. How many folks do you need to feed? The original recipe called for 2-1/2 pounds of salmon to feed 10 people as part of a very elaborate appetizer buffet. I have seen 30 people demolish 10 pounds of this dish as part of a large buffet dinner.

Use a very heavy duty sheet pan -- weapons grade from the restaurant supply house -- not the flimsy one from the grocery store, and line it with parchment paper. No sticking and easy cleanup.

Roasted Salmon with Black Beans, Ginger and Scallions (adapted from Cooks of Crocus Hill)
Affectionately AKA: "Slab 'O Salmon"

2-1/2 pounds of salmon
4 T dried, fermented black beans (with ginger, optional), minced
1 bunch of fresh scallions, white and green parts julienned
8 oz. fresh ginger, peeled if not young, julienned
4 oz. soy sauce
3 T plus 2 oz. Mirin (rice wine vinegar would work in a pinch)
2T sesame oil
4 T sake (Sherry is an ok substitute)
2 T sugar
1 - 2 tsp hot chili oil (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place the salmon on the parchment-lined sheet pan. Do not let it hang over the edge.
3. Cut 1/2-inch slashes every 3 inches all the way down the length of the fish.
4. Rub the minced black beans into the slashes and on the top of the fish.
5. Roast the fish for 5 minutes.
6. Remove the fish and brush with two tablespoons of the Mirin.
7. Roast until the salmon is cooked through. This will depend on your oven's true temp and the thickness of the piece of fish that you buy. Checking is a worthwhile activity.

1. Heat a large saute pan over high heat. Add the sesame oil and swirl it until it heats through. You will know when it is hot when you can smell it.
2. Remove the pan from the heat, add the scallions and ginger and the remaining ingredients (2 ounces Mirin, 4 tablespoons of sake, 2 tablespoons sugar and the optional chili oil). Keep warm in the pan.
3. When the salmon is done, remove it from the oven and pour the sauce over the fish.

SERVE: Hot, cold or room temperature. No leftovers. Ever.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Madhur Jaffrey's Garlicky Cranberry Chutney -- for Thanksgiving and beyond

In my Mother's kitchen, one Thanksgiving tradition was to find the unopened can of cranberry sauce on Friday morning -- in time for sandwiches.

Now I never forget the cranberries. In my house, garlic and ginger go with almost everything, and for years my Thanksgiving table, and any Thanksgiving table to which I've been invited has had Madhur Jaffrey's Garlicky Cranberry Chutney
. I first heard her recite it on an NPR Thanksgiving morning program and it was reproduced with Susan Stamberg's Mother-in-law's recipe on the NPR website.  It took two or three years to get it right -- that is, to get a pen and paper while she was on the radio. 

Two years ago, I tracked down the original in Jaffrey's very excellent Madhur Jaffrey's Cookbook: Easy East/West Menus for Family and Friends (1987, Harper & Row.)   This is embarrassingly easy, and everyone will ask "Why don't you make this more often?" While it will spark up your post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches, like its cousin Hot Pepper Jam, it is also a friend to cream cheese, you can use it to glaze fish or chicken, and zip it in a blender with yogurt for a dip for vegetables. Unlike Pepper Jam, however, you don't have to retrieve your canning equipment from the pantry -- you can whip this up in under half an hour.

Ginger Garlic Cranberry Sauce (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey)

A thumb-sized knob of ginger, cut in tiny tiny julienne
3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed through a garlic pressed or very finely chopped
1/2 cup very good quality cider vinegar
4 T white sugar
1/8 - 1/4 tsp very fresh cayenne (or to taste)
1 can of jellied cranberry sauce
1/2 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper

1. Combine the ginger, garlic, vinegar, sugar and cayenne in a small saucepan. Simmer until it is reduced to a syrup -- between 4 and 6 tablespoons, depending on the amount of ginger and garlic you begin with.
2. Add the cranberry sauce, salt and pepper, and let everything melt together. Simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes. 

That's it!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Potato Masher #2

When I'm not cooking, I'm painting. This is Potato Masher #2 from .

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spicy Roasted Peanuts: bet you can't eat just one! week one of my colleagues, Mike Bloyer, brought in a small bowl of peanuts -- some that he'd spared from a Spanish Class project. Move over banned substances! These Spicy Peanuts will grab your palate and grab your brain -- in a good way. Using a (surprise!) crock pot, they are easy to make. And peanuts are cheap.

Cayenne and chili powder give the nuts their heat. Thyme doesn't read as "thyme," but gives an exotic, elusive vegetal taste. The brown sugar rounds out all of the flavors. Bonus for hosts: You may freeze these nuts for a week.

(Extemely adapted from "Ragin' Cajun Pecans" from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker: 200 recipes for healthy and hearty one-pot meals that are ready when you are, Robin Robertson, Harvard Common Press, Boston 2004, p. 25.)

Michael's Spicy Roasted Peanuts

2-1/2 pounds blanched peanuts (Roasted, salted peanuts are a fine substitute)
1/4 c olive oil (any good tasting olive oil; designer oil not required)
1/2 -1 tsp cayenne
1 T fresh ground black pepper
2T chili powder (pure chili, please, not chili powder with salt)
1 T dried thyme
1/2 c brown sugar
1 T salt, plus more after roasting

1. Combine the peanuts and oil in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 15 minutes. Because my elderly-$5-in-a-garage-sale slow cookers have only exuberant “High Heat,” I used a Nesco Roaster with a “slow cooker” setting.

2. Combine the spices, sugar and salt in a small bowl. Add them to the peanuts. Stir well. Cover and cook on low for 2-1/2 hours. Stir occasionally – every 30 minutes or so.

3. After 2-1/2 hours, add an additional 2 tsp of salt. Remove the peanuts to a parchment covered baking sheet to cool.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pecan Bourbon Caramel Cake: Minnesota Justice Foundation's Official Birthday Cake

The winner, and still champion: Pecan Bourbon Caramel Cake.

Minnesota Justice Foundation Update: I have hosted a birthday party fundraiser for Minnesota Justice Foundation for the past two years, and my friends and family have generously supported a fund named in honor of my parents, Hal and Letty Gainen, who would be enthusiastic MJF supporters today. During the past year, that fund has helped MJF’s Assisted Pro Se Clinics in Greater Minnesota.

Note to non-lawyers: When you represent yourself in court, you are a “pro se” litigant. Students providing “Assisted pro se” services advise -- but do not represent -- clients.
Note to Non-Minnesotans: “Greater Minnesota” is outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro area, which, depending on who defines the metro, can be 7, 11 or 14 counties.

Each year, MJF partners with several greater Minnesota legal services agencies to run assisted pro se clinics for clients with family law issues. This year, students from all four Minnesota law schools went to White Earth Reservation, to the Shoemaker and Ziegler firm in Detroit Lakes, and to the Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota offices in Bemidji. In addition to the trip up north, a clinic was held with Central Minnesota Legal Services in Little Falls, and more clinics are planned for Mankato and Willmar later this semester. MJF understands the need for increased pro bono services in all areas of the state, and is hoping to partner with more legal services agencies and private firms willing to assist pro se clients in better understanding their cases and the court system.

And now, without further adieu, I give you
MJF’s Official Birthday Cake: Pecan Bourbon Caramel Cake!

The original idea comes from Bill Neal’s classic
Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie: 300 recipes that celebrate the glories of Southern Baking (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991). Neal’s "Pecan Cake with Caramel Icing" has light layers with what he calls “the South’s most beloved icing, caramel.” He describes the cake as the favorite of an 80-year old Southern lady who had the same birthday party and cake for her entire life. A terrific endorsement.

In early 2007, my long-suffering colleagues at the University of Minnesota Law School Career and Professional Development Center endured several versions of this cake as I searched for one that wasn’t too dry and still had pecan flavor. That cake won the first MJF Birthday Cake Smackdown, beating the beloved
Jimmy Buffett Cake (butter rum cake, Key Lime Italian Meringue and toasted coconut). However, the first Pecan Cake was more complex than I prefer for a cake that I will make often: separating and beating egg whites, and using three cake pans is too much trouble. Ultimately, Neal’s “light layers” didn’t quite work for the way I like to bake.

Problem solved
. This year I found a Pecan Pound Cake that is an easy recipe for anyone with a stand mixer and, for the caramel, a candy thermometer. (Why don’t YOU have one?) And, once again, this cake was the hands’ down winner of MJF’s Birthday Cake Smackdown, trouncing the Judith Olney Joy of Chocolate Pound Cake.
Over the top alert: If you have Spiced Pecans in your freezer, this cake will be even better.

Construct this cake in three steps:

Make a pecan pound cake
Make a bourbon syrup
Make caramel for frosting

Useful tools:

A tube pan
A sifter or strainer
A metal cooling rack
A full sheet pan to put under the rack to catch the Bourbon Syrup Drips
A silicon brush as a “Bourbon Syrup Delivery System”
A candy thermometer
A silicon spatula to spread the caramel


Adapted from Georgia Pound Cake from Dinner at Miss Lady’s: Memories and Recipes from A Southern Childhood (Luann Landon, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1999.)

3 sticks butter, room temperature

1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1 pound dark brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup whole milk, room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 325. Butter and flour a tube pan.
2. Toast the pecans while the oven pre-heats. They’ll be toasted when you can smell them. Chop them fine – but not pulverized to dust.
3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt. Purists will sift three times. Why not? If you don’t have a sifter, use a strainer. I have an electric sifter, and I swear by it.
4. Cream the butter. Add the sugars and beat at medium high speed for 5 minutes.
5. Slow the mixer and add the eggs, one at a time, beating briefly after each one. Add the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Why? So that you won’t have blobs of unmixed batter at the end.
6. Add the flour in three batches alternating with the milk. Add the pecans and beat briefly.
7. Pour into the pan. Bake for 80 minutes. It is done when a skewer comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides.
8. Cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool on a rack.
9. To cut the cake into three layers, use a serrated knife and mark the cake in thirds all around. Then, cut the cake into three lawyers. I promise that this is easier than you think, and when covered with caramel, no one will know or care if the layers aren’t mathematically perfect. Put the layers on a rack in a sheet to catch the Bourbon Syrup drips.

(adapted from Biscuits, Spoonbread)

1-1/2 cups water

1-1/2 cups white sugar
¾ cups bourbon

Boil the water and sugar for 5 minutes. Cool. Add the bourbon. Pour over the three cake layers. A silicon brush is very useful for this.

(adapted from Biscuits, Spoonbread)
4 cups brown sugar

2 cups heavy cream
1/8 tsp salt
6 T light corn syrup
12 T cold butter, cut into tablespoons

Put the brown sugar, cream, salt and corn syrup in a deep and heavy pan. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook to 240 degrees. Remove from heat and cool to 110 degrees without stirring. Add the butter 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time, beating vigorously until the caramel is a room temperature.


1. Put your cake plate in the sheet pan to catch the caramel drips.
2. Lay the bottom third of your cake onto the cake plate. If you are obsessed about tidiness, put wax paper strips under the cake to catch the drips for a clean presentation. Or, go wild and let the drips fall where they may.
3. Pour slightly less than 1/3 of the caramel on the bottom third of the cake. Spread it around.
Repeat with the second layer. Spread the remaining caramel over the top and let it drip down the sides.