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Recipes and food musings for the global home cook.

These savory little biscuits are so versatile. Enjoy them for breakfast, serve them next to a bowl of soup for lunch, or offer them as a finger food party snack. New research shows that breakfast had its best year in restaurants yet. (The Runaway Spoon)

Country ham biscuit bites with cheese

By The Runaway Spoon / 03.22.13

My love for biscuits is well documented (13 recipes on The Runaway Spoon at last count), and my love of country ham equally evident when you peruse my recipes. I have always enjoyed a warm, buttery biscuit with a slice of salty country ham tucked inside, so the next logical step seemed to be incorporating the ham directly into the biscuit. And these are heavenly morsels of Southern flavor.

Cut into small biscuits, these little rounds make a wonderful brunch bite or party snack with their cheesy filling. But they are just good biscuits, so use them how you will. Cut them large and serve with butter or gravy for breakfast, or spread a little mustard instead of butter before you melt the cheese.

I buy already ground country ham, sometimes online and sometimes I find it at local markets. If you can’t find it, grind some country ham slices in a food processor until you have a crumbly mixture, but not a paste. To add the delicious, melty center, I use thick cut sandwich slices of sharp cheddar cheese for ease, but feel free to cut slices from a block.

Country ham biscuit bites with cheese
Makes about 2 dozen 2-inch biscuits 

2-1/2 cups soft wheat flour (such as White Lily)

2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small cubes

4 ounces ground country ham

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 cup buttermilk

14 thick slices cheddar cheese

softened butter for spreading

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray two 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Shuffle the butter cubes into the flour, then crumble in the country ham. Beat on low speed until the butter and ham and mixed in and the mixture looks damp and crumbly. Add the mustard, and with the beater moving, slowly pour in the buttermilk. Beat just until the dough comes together. Knead the dough a few times in the bowl to get all the flour worked in. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to a round 1/2-inch thick. Press a 2-inch biscuit cutter into the dough and lift out. Do not twist or the biscuits won’t be as tall.  Place the biscuits tightly together in the prepared pans.

Bake the biscuits for 10 to 12 minutes or just until firm to the touch. Remove to a wire rack until they are cool enough to handle. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. When the baking pans have cooled, spray them with cooking spray again.

Use the biscuit cutter to cut rounds of cheese the same size as your biscuits. When the biscuits are cool enough to handle, carefully slice them open and spread both sides with a little soft butter. Place a piece of cheese in the center, close the biscuit up and tuck back into the baking pans. Spread a little butter on the top of the biscuits. Cover the pans tightly with foil and place back in the oven for about 5 to 8 minutes, just until the cheese is melted.

Serve immediately

To make these biscuits ahead, here are a couple of options. Freeze the dough rounds on a waxed paper lined baking sheet until hard, then transfer to zip-top bags. Bake from frozen, increasing the cooking time slightly. You can also bake the biscuits, add the butter and cheese, cover and refrigerate for several hours before the final baking, again increasing the cooking time slightly.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Fresh Tomato Buttermilk Biscuits

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Gustave Courbet, 'The Trout,' 1873, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris (Feasting on Art)

Feasting on Art: smoked trout smørrebrød and Gustave Courbet

By Feasting on Art / 03.21.13

Smørrebrød is the Danish tradition of open-face sandwiches. A dark dense bread, usually a type of rye, is toasted and topped with smoked or pickled fish and other vegetables. In this version, the smoked trout is the star and so it is essential to purchase high-quality fish.

I picked up a whole fish and carefully de-boned all of the flesh before assembling the smørrebrød. If you have any extra pickled red onions, store them in their pickling liquid in the refrigerator and consume within a week. They are great toppings for hamburgers and can be used to liven up a grilled cheese sandwich.

"The Trout" was painted during a period of time Gustave Courbet spent in the Franche-Comté region. The painting is one of several created after he served time in prison due to his participation in the 1871 Commune. Like Manet’s earlier painting Fish (Still Life), Courbet’s trout is dramatically depicted mid-flop.

"The Trout" appears to be freshly caught, gasping for breath on a riverbank and the canvas is worked with heavy and rough brushstrokes. The application of paint paired with the helplessness of the subject could suggest the frustration the Artist was experiencing at the time with the judiciary system.

Smoked trout smørrebrød

Adapted from Bon Appetit
Yield: 12 servings

1/2 red onion, sliced thinly

1/4 red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

12 slices pumpernickel bread, toasted and quartered

1 teaspoon lemon zest

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup crème fraîche

250 grams [about 1/2 lb.] smoked trout

Dill

In a small bowl, combine the red onion with the vinegar, sugar, salt, and 1/4 cup hot water. Let sit for 30 minutes

In another bowl, combine the lemon zest, black pepper, and crème fraîche. Spoon the mixture on the toasted pumpernickel bread. Add a few grams of fish and top with pickled onions.

Garnish with a bit of dill and serve.

Related post on Feasting on Art: John Olsen– BBQ Tikka Prawns

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The outsides of these cookies are a bit crispy, while the insides are chewy, gooey, and chocolately. (Eat. Run. Read.)

M&M, chocolate chip monster cookies

By Eat. Run. Read. / 03.20.13

I don’t think there’s any doubt around here that, though I may not be blue or have googley eyes, I’m a bit of a Cookie Monster myself. They’re just so good! Chewy cookies, crunchy cookies, oatey or chocolatey or sugary cookies! I like them all. And they go so well with coffee, for snack, after meals, all the time. 

And what does a cookie monster need? A monster cookie!

The Monster Cookies at Corner Bakery Café, a dangerously few short blocks from my office, are my (now ex)-co-worker Tracy’s favorites. Unlike other monster cookies, this recipe doesn't have oatmeal or raisins or nuts – they’re all about the chocolate. Chocolate chips inside, mini M&Ms outside. They taste like every chocolate chip cookie should – buttery, and chocolately, and a tiny bit salty. The outsides are a bit crispy and the insides are super-gooey-chewy.

I made these to bring to work last week and they were great! I made the dough a day in advance, refrigerated it before shaping the cookies, then I froze the shaped balls of dough overnight. That whole process isn’t necessary, that’s just how timing best worked out for me. But if you don’t have time to chill or freeze the dough, I suggest adding a 1/2 cup more flour, otherwise they may spread out too much in the oven.

Ready for some other wise words from the muppet himself? "A cookie with one bite out of it looks like a C! A round donut with a bite out of it also looks like a C!" See what I mean? We’re totally on the same page. After my marathon this Saturday it’s going to be donut time.

Monster cookies
This recipe makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies. It can easily be halved if you’re feeling like controlling your inner monster, and it’s a one-bowl recipe.

Click here for a printable recipe from Eat. Run. Read. 

Ingredients:

2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted softened butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2-1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 bag (about 2-1/2 cups) semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup mini M&Ms (I used four packages of little tubes)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray or line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Mix butter and sugars for about 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, mixing until well combined.

3. Add in flour, baking soda, and salt to bowl, and stir until combined. Mix in chocolate chips. Mix three or four times, then add chocolate chips, mixing until just combined.

4. Refrigerate dough for at least one hour, preferably a couple hours or overnight.

5. Scoop out 2-tablespoon-sized chunks of dough and use your hands to shape them into balls. Pour out M&Ms into a shallow bowl. Roll the balls in the M&Ms (I did M&Ms just on the top and sides of each ball, so not quite all the way around). 

6. (Optional) Freeze cookies overnight.

7. Place cookies on sheet, 1 to 2 inches apart (they spread a lot). 

8. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until nice and golden brown but still semi-soft in center. Remove and let cool on baking sheet for five minutes before transferring to cooling rack. 

9. Serve and enjoy! (They are best fresh out of the oven, obviously. You should eat these or freeze them in the first day or two, after that they’re still good but they dry out a bit.)

Related post on Eat. Run. Read: S'mores Cookies

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City workers tend to rice plants at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, South Korea, in June. Boxes of rice seedlings will be tended to until they are ready for harvesting. Cities all over the world are encouraging the planting of urban gardens. (Woohae Cho/Reuters/File)

Meet Ron Finley: A gansta gardner (+video)

By Kendra Nordin / 03.19.13

Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central, Los Angeles, in abandoned lots, traffic medians, and along sidewalk curbs. He sees himself as an artist of the soil, a renegade against fast food, and a visionary to inspire and involve inner city kids in hard work that pays off in a community where “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.”

Mr. Finley recently gave an inspiring TED talk (see video).

Finley says, if kids grow kale, they will eat kale.

Looks like there is some hope springing up in one of L.A.'s food deserts.

Day-old bread is transformed into a decadent breakfast bread pudding with this recipe. (The Pastry Chef's Baking)

French toast breakfast bake

By The Pastry Chef's Baking / 03.18.13

Every time I plan to make bread pudding, I buy a loaf of challah from Trader Joe's and try to "stale it" by leaving it on the counter, untouched, before I use it. The leaving on the counter part is easy. The untouched part? Not so much. 

This is actually made with the second loaf of challah I bought because the one I purchased the week prior didn't make it long enough to go into bread pudding. For this one, I didn't even stale it properly because ... well, I usually try not to lie to myself that I'm not going to eat it if it's there. 

This is a simple bread pudding recipe that you can make up the night before and just bake when you're ready. If you tend to have busy mornings but want something simple to serve the next day for a breakfast or brunch, this is a good option. If you want a little more texture, sprinkle the top with chopped, toasted pecans before baking. I wouldn't advise including it in the streusel that gets soaked as part of the custard in the bread pudding as they'll just become soggy.

French toast breakfast bake
From Cookin' Food

1 loaf day old Italian Bread or other hard white bread (I used challah)

1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted (optional)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

5 eggs

1-1/4 cups milk

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Grease an 8-by-8 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Slice the bread into 8 to 10, 1-inch wide slices. Cut each slice into approximately one inch cubes. Note: Using day old, drier bread is key here. It soaks up the wet ingredients more thoroughly than fresh bread does.

3. In a small bowl, combine nuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix well.

4. Place half of the bread cubes in a single layer in the baking pan. Sprinkle half the sugar mixture on top of bread. Place remaining bread cubes on first layer and sprinkle remaining sugar mixture on top.

5. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla. Mix well.

6. Pour egg mixture evenly over the bread mixture in baking pan. With a spatula, lightly press down on the bread to evenly coat it with the egg combination.

7. Cover pan with foil and refrigerate overnight or for at least 5 hours. (That way the bread has time to suck up the custard mixture.)

8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake pan for 20 minutes, covered. Remove foil and continue baking uncovered for 30-40 minutes longer or until top looks browned and breakfast bake looks slightly puffed.

9. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes in pan. Serve warm with maple syrup.

Related post on The Pastry Chef's Baking: Chocolate Waffles

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Peas with baked ricotta and bread crumbs from "Vegetable Literacy," by Deborah Madison. (Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton © 2013)

Cookbook review: Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

By Kendra Nordin / 03.18.13

The phrase, "eat your vegetables," has long been used by stern-looking parents desperate to make their offspring eat something besides pasta and chicken fingers. To children everywhere, "vegetables" has meant mushy, bland tasting things that stand in the way of dessert. Unfortunately, many people carry the disdain for leafy, root-y edibles far into adulthood.

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison may be the cookbook to change all of that.

"Vegetable Literacy," breaks new ground because it focuses on the relationships between the veggies that grow in your garden. Madison's theory is that if you understand these relationships, you'll find new freedom in the kitchen to mix and match flavors in away that allows zucchini, peas, squash, and so much more to harmonize their flavors instead of being treated like tolerated guests on your dinner plate.

"When we look closely at the plants we eat and begin to discern their similarities, that intelligence comes with us into the kitchen and articulates our cooking in a new way," writes Madison in the introduction to "Vegetable Literacy." "Suddenly our raw materials make sense.... Bringing plants' features into view can free us as cooks, make us unafraid to use some amaranth that's going full guns in the garden in the place of spinach, which has bolted and dried up. They are, after all, related."

The author's first clue that the world of vegetable relationships was a trove waiting to be revealed to home cooks came in the form of a second-year carrot gone to seed. The lacy umbel of its flower reminded of her parsley, fennel, cilantro, and even the wildflower Queen Anne's lace. After a little investigation, it turned out they are all members of the same plant family, and its edible members share culinary characteristics.

Madison, a leading authority on vegetarian cooking, has a wealth of knowledge and insight on how to cook vegetables in a way that tames their bitterness. Rutabagas, for instance, are a root vegetable that, in Madison's words, get "relegated to a lowly spot at knee level" in the grocery store. This tough, winter root  shaped like a fat turnip is adored by equally hardy Scandinavians and northern Europeans when paired with butter and cream. Rutabagas are actually part of the large and unruly cabbage family – full of characters ranging from the fiery to the bland – which Madison says most "nonvegetable eaters approach with dread."

Her recommendation: peel away its thick skin, boil it to bring out its innate sweetness, and treat it lavishly. Smooth it with butter and cream; enhance its mild flavor with nutmeg, parsley, thyme, caraway, rosemary, and bay leaves. Add some smokiness in the form of smoked bacon, smoked salt, or smoked paprika. Or pair it with its sweeter cousins: potatoes, turnips, carrots, and apples.

And that is just one vegetable's treatment. Madison offers up more than 300 recipes to perceive vegetables in new ways.

Once you understand their relationships, which vegetables needs coaxing from what flavors, you'll transform a riot of awkward shapes into a symphony of tastes that delight. Essentially, instead of approaching vegetables with a whip and chair like a lion tamer, you become a conductor with a carrot as your baton.

With Madison's long career in restaurants, farmers' markets, and the slow food movement, following her through "Vegetable Literacy" is a bit like trailing her through the vegetable patch, listening as she stoops to discover some new sprout poking beneath a sheltering leaf and sharing what she has learned over the years as her own garden and wisdom has matured.

Even if you cook vegetables only once a week, you'll learn something from this family tree encyclopedia told in Madison's warm tone, sprinkled with funny stories. And she isn't above disdaining vegetables either. After a beautiful purple carrot turned to brown when cooked and thereby produced a mud-colored soup, down the drain it went. Madison knows our relationship to vegetables is tricky, and she aims to ease our comfort as best she can.

With spring peeking around the corner, a recipe using spring peas is hard to resist (even if you swear you don't like peas, give these a chance!). This recipe for peas with baked ricotta and bread crumbs will make a lovely light supper for two – and maybe win over a new vegetable lover in the process.

Peas with Baked Ricotta 
and Bread Crumbs
From "Vegetable Literacy" by Deborah Madison

Olive oil

1 cup high-quality ricotta cheese, such as hand-dipped 
full-fat ricotta

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

4 teaspoons butter

2 large shallots or 1/2 small onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)

5 small sage leaves, minced (about 1-1/2 teaspoons)

1-1/2 pounds pod peas, shucked (about 1 cup)

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Chunk of Parmesan cheese, for grating

Heat the oven to 375 degree F. Lightly oil a small baking dish; a round Spanish earthenware dish about 6 inches across is perfect for this amount.

If your ricotta is wet and milky, drain it first by putting it in a colander and pressing out the excess liquid. Pack the ricotta into the dish, drizzle a little olive oil over the surface, and bake 20 minutes or until the cheese has begun to set and brown on top. Cover the surface with the bread crumbs and continue to bake until the bread crumbs are browned and crisp, another 10 minutes. (The amount of time it takes for ricotta cheese to bake until set can vary tremendously, so it may well take longer than the times given here, especially if it wasn’t drained.)

When the cheese is finished baking, heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the shallots and sage and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the peas, 1/2 cup water, and the lemon zest. Simmer until the peas are bright green and tender; the time will vary, but it should be 3 to 5 minutes. Whatever you do, don’t let them turn gray. Season with salt and a little freshly ground pepper, not too much.

Divide the ricotta between 2 plates. Spoon the peas over the cheese. Grate some Parmesan over all and enjoy while warm.

With Pasta: Cook 1 cup or so pasta shells in boiling, salted water. Drain and toss them with the peas, cooked as above, and then with the ricotta. The peas nestle in the pasta, like little green pearls.

Reprinted with permission from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

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Leftover pot roast works perfectly for this dish, but other choices could be roast chicken, roast turkey, or corned beef. (Blue Kitchen)

Beef pot roast and potato hash

By Blue Kitchen / 03.17.13

Some foods are just made for each other. A grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup; black beans and rice; apple pie and vanilla ice cream. And, of course, beef and potatoes.

These days we are not eating meat as often as we once did, trying to be more mindful of the way we live on the planet. But when we do, we still love it. And we don’t waste any of it.

The arrival in the mailbox of the annual Saveur 100 issue was the gateway to a new to me recipe that is an old American classic: hash. The Saveur 100 is always one of my favorite reading events – it’s a thrill when it arrives and a pleasure throughout the year. Saveur always talks about the coolest trends, the most amazing destinations, and of course the oh golly! examples of local favorites (“Ohio nachos”). I excavate it from our magazine mountain again and again throughout the year for inspiration or just to while away the time.

One item in this year’s 100 particularly hit a chord with me: prime rib hash from Keen’s Steakhouse in Manhattan.

I happened to make our version of this hash from basic, simple pot roast that happened to be left over from a recent wintry dinner. But this dish would be even more wonderful with out-and-out roast beef, cooled and then cubed. We took our leftover pot roast and sliced it into half-inch cubes, and that was the first step in this really rather easy to assemble dish.

Our version serves at least 4 people for a cozy weekend lunch or a comfy, casual evening of a dinner and a movie at home. Serve it with a leafy dark-green salad. For dessert, serve our gingerbread or cherry orange loaf cake, both of which you can make ahead. This hash also reheats well, good news for those of us who love tasty leftovers.

Beef pot roast and potato hash
Serves 4 generously

10 to 12 ounces leftover beef pot roast (or roast beef) cut into 1/2-inch cubes (see Kitchen Notes)

 2-1/2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes (see Kitchen Notes)

6 tablespoons chopped shallots

2 stalks celery, finely sliced crosswise

2 or 3 tablespoons ketchup

2 or 3 tablespoons sriracha (see Kitchen Notes)

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped (see Kitchen Notes)

2 teaspoons salt

freshly ground black pepper

olive oil

butter (optional)

Special Equipment: Two 12-inch skillets ovenproof to 400 degrees F. This volume of ingredients makes two skillets worth of hash.

Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks about 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch in size. Put into a pot, cover with cool water, bring to a boil and simmer until tender. Immediately drain, rinsing with cold water. Put in a big bowl. Mash the potatoes briefly and gently – you want most of the cubes to be broken down, but a bit of “cubiness” to remain. Add the cooked beef to the bowl.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In an oven-safe skillet, heat up 2 teaspoons olive oil over a medium flame. Add the shallots and celery and sauté for two minutes, until the shallots are clear and limp. Add this to the potato and beef mixture. Also add a good grating of black pepper, the salt, the fresh rosemary, ketchup, and sriracha. Mix everything together until it is pretty uniform.

To each of the two skillets, add 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil and a teaspoon of butter (which is optional, but adds a nice buttery touch) and heat to medium low. In each skillet, put half the hash mixture and spread out so it is even and uniform. Press down all around with a sturdy spatula to encourage it to form a cake. Turn up the heat a bit to medium. Sauté until the bottom begins to turn golden, about 3 or 4 minutes. Transfer the pans to the oven and bake until the top begins to brown, about 10 minutes depending on your oven (see Kitchen Notes).

You may also prepare this as an individual serving. Cut the recipe in 1/4 and prepare in a small (10-inch) ovenproof skillet. This is a hearty eater serving – very generous. When the pan emerges from the oven, flip the hash onto the serving plate so that the well-browned bottom shows. Or you may cut the recipe in half to serve two or three people, cooking it in one skillet. If you fix this in big skillets, then serve wedges of the hash straight from the pan.

Kitchen notes

Choice (of) meats. I used leftover beef pot roast. You can use pretty much any simply prepared leftover meat or fowl – roast chicken, roast turkey or, of course, corned beef.

You say potato… I used Yukon Gold because that is what we had in the fridge. Russets would also work well.

Ketchup and sriracha. If you prefer no spiciness, then omit the sriracha and replace with the same amount ketchup. Alternatively, instead of sriracha, substitute oyster sauce. Also, once you have mixed everything together, if the mix seems dry or like it needs more punch, then add another tablespoon of either sauce.

Rosemary, fresh or dried. Yes, if you do not have fresh, you may use dry, but sauté it along with the scallion and celery. Also, use about half as much. Alternatively, substitute tarragon.

Oven time. Our rental apartment oven is so fickle that I never can be sure what kind of timing I may expect –  the same gingerbread recipe, for instance, may take 28 minutes or 35 minutes. Thus my eternal reminders about oven dependability. Use an oven thermometer, if you have one, to check the temperature. Otherwise, just know your oven and/or start checking your food’s progress early and often.

Related post on Blue Kitchen: Cherry Orange Loaf Cake

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Boiled New England dinner features corned beef, carrots, potatoes, turnips, cabbage, and squash. It requires little tending and no added seasoning. (Kitchen Report)

New England boiled dinner

By Kendra Nordin / 03.16.13

Here in Boston, boiled corned beef is especially cherished by Irish Americans on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s even served every Thursday evening at Doyle’s Cafe, our local Irish pub in Jamaica Plain (movie stars and politicians love this place).

Say the words “boiled dinner” to most epicurians and you might be greeted with a grimaced face that seems to say, “Boiled? It sounds simply awful!”

In fact, boiled dinner is quite delicious. The corned beef is cooked until it melts in your mouth and the root vegetables are so tender they can be sliced with a spoon. It’s also so easy to prepare without much watching that it could be called the original slowcooker meal.

When considering this dish as a New England classic, it’s easy to see how the corned beef could have been put on to simmer early in the morning before church, and then finished up when everyone returned home for Sunday dinner.

New England boiled dinner was also a favorite dish of another famous Bostonian – Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of The Christian Science Monitor.

Her cook, Minnie Weygandt, took copious notes on what meals were served in the Eddy household to avoid repeating menus too often. But New England boiled dinner was a regular in the rotation. On April 15, 1900, she noted this dinner:

“One dinner which [Mrs. Eddy] liked so much that it almost seemed as if she hardly knew when to stop eating was boiled dinner. But that was not ordinary boiled dinner such as most of us are used to. The corned beef was put on at dawn to simmer in a great kettle. Then all kinds of vegetables were put in and this cooked and cooked until it was almost like jelly. Three Bartlett pears were added when they were to be had.

When this dish was brought to the table it was of such texture and consistency that it melted in the mouth. Custard pie was often served as dessert.

As it was quite a job to prepare and cook these boiled dinner just as Mrs. Eddy wanted them, I always saw that there was ample quantity on hand. The leftover cabbage was packed in a mold and sliced down and served cold, dressed with vinegar the next day. The vegetables and beets were made into what Mrs. Eddy called ‘flannel hash.’ She was very fond of these dishes, but the family somtimes got tired of them and fussed a bit when they saw a boiled dinner appear, thinking, I suppose, that there were going to get too much of a good thing.” (Weygandt reminiscences, p. 36-37)

When I set out to recreate New England boiled dinner, I had some trouble figuring out what “corned beef” looked like. I know you can buy corned beef hash in cans, but that’s not what I was after. The tattooed hipster store clerks at the community co-op where I shop had no clue either. I circled the store several times before I found it.

It is a huge piece of meat.

The package held about 4 pounds of brisket. I decided for my purposes, I would just make half the recipe. This also makes a good winter meal because it uses such a nice collection of root vegetables and squashes. You can swap out and add any variety of root vegetables to your liking.

I put the meat on to simmer and then got to work peeling and chopping the vegetables. Traditionally, carrots and potatoes you leave whole. And, you can leave the potato jackets on, it probably helps them to keep their form as they boil. My potatoes were naked, but they turned out fine.

The other interesting thing about this recipe is that there are no added spices or seasonings – you simply cook the vegetables in the salty broth of the meat.

Another tip: Remove the meat from your Dutch oven or large pot after it is done and keep it warm to make room for all of the vegetables as they cook in the pot. (Unless you have one of those giant over-the-fire kettles.) The recipe also says when serving to simply lay the meat on a large platter and arrange all the vegetables around it. Every morsel is so tender that you can scoop up what you want from the platter, the meat doesn’t need to be carved. I remember doing this as a child, since New England boiled dinner was one of my dad’s all-time favorite meals.

This communal approach isn’t a very “pretty” treatment to a dish that is quite homely to begin with. If you are trying to plate your meal in a way that looks attractive to your dinner guests, I suggest checking out New England boiled dinner on Simply Recipes. Elise does a nice job of styling an appetizing boiled dinner there.

Otherwise, just gather your friends ’round the table, lift your spoons, and dig in – after you say grace, of course.

New England Boiled Dinner
From “The American Heritage Cookbook”
Serves 6 to 8

4 to 5 pounds corned beef

6 carrots

6 medium potatoes

1 medium yellow turnip

1 small head green cabbage

1 small crookneck or butternut squash

Place beef in a large kettle and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, and simmer gently for 3 to 4 hours or until tender when pierced with a fork. While beef simmers, scrape carrots and leave whole; pare potatoes and leave them whole, too; pare turnip and cut in sixths; cut cabbage head in sixths; peel squash, remove seeds and membrane, and cut in large even chunks. 

The trick to cooking a good boiled dinner is to have all the vegetables down at the same time. Carrots, potatoes, and turnips take about 30 to 35 minutes to cook. The cabbage and squash will cook in 15 to 20 minutes. As you drop each batch of vegetables into the liquid, increase the heat so the broth continues to bubble. to serve, place beef in the center of a large heated platter and surround it with all the vegetables. Traditional accompaniments are freshly cooked beets dressed with vinegar, and johnnycake, with apple pie for dessert.

This post was part of the First Saturday program at The Mary Baker Eddy Library, which sponsored a month-long look at 19th-century foodways.

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Enhance the flavors of a simple Irish stew by browning the lamb first and adding crispy bacon. (The Runaway Spoon)

Saint Patrick's Day Irish stew

By The Runaway Spoon / 03.15.13

Like many traditional dishes of the British Isles, my first taste of Irish stew was in the dining hall of my college at Oxford. And it wasn’t a particularly good experience. Tough meat, watery broth, soggy vegetables. But I never gave up on the notion; I just think I liked this dish in theory more than in concept. But a warming, hearty lamb and vegetable stew is just a plain good idea, so I stuck with it.

I have read many Irish stew recipes over the years and they are all pretty simple and plain, which I think is a hallmark of Irish cuisine. And I’ve made many versions, too, but I always felt they needed a little oomph. So I’ve added some bacon for smoky saltiness and browned the meat for extra richness. Some of the impetus for sticking to the dish is that I now find beautiful pasture-raised, local lamb, and good meat makes all the difference. I love the contrast of peppery parsnips, and sweet carrots, and of course, no Irish Stew would be complete without potatoes.

Irish stew
Serves 8 
If you don’t find ready-to-use stew meat, ask the butcher counter to cube lamb shoulder or leg for you.

3 pounds lamb stew meat, in 2-inch cubes

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 pound bacon

1 large yellow onion, finely diced

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

4 cups beef broth

3 bay leaves

6 sprigs fresh thyme

2 parsnips

3 carrots

2 yellow potatoes

chopped fresh parsley to garnish

Pat the lamb cubes dry with paper towels. Mix the flour, salt and pepper together in a large zip-top bag, then drop in the lamb and shake it around to coat each cube with flour.

Cut the bacon into small pieces and place in a large (5-quart) Dutch oven. Cook over medium high heat until the bacon is crispy. Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain using a slotted spoon. Let the bacon grease cool a bit, then very carefully pour it into a glass measuring jug. Carefully wipe out the pot, cleaning out any burned bits.

Return the pot to the stove and heat 1/4 cup of the bacon grease. Remove the lamb cubes from the bag, shaking off any excess flour and cook them in the bacon grease until browned on all sides. You will need to do this in batches, removing the browned pieces to a plate. If needed, add a little more bacon grease to the pot and heat it up between batches.

When all the lamb is browned and removed from the pot, add 2 more tablespoons of bacon grease and the chopped onions and cook over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent. When the onions are soft, add 1/4 cup of water and scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cover and cook until the onions are soft and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes. Return the lamb and about 3/4 of the cooked bacon to pot. Pour in the beef broth, add the bay leaves and thyme and bring to a boil. Stir the stew well, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and cook for 1-1/2 hours.

Peel the parsnips and carrots and cut into bite-sized chunks. Add to the simmering stew. Scrub the potatoes, but do not peel, and cut into nice chunks. Add these to the stew as well, give it all a good stir, cover the pot and cook for a further 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes, carrots and parsnips are tender.

At this point, the stew can be made up to a day ahead, cooled, covered and refrigerated. Reheat over medium just until warmed through. Fish out the bay leaves and thyme stems before serving.

Serve in big bowls, topped with the remaining bacon pieces and a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Boxty (Irish Potato Cakes)

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Celebrate Pi Day with a Victorian custard pie that is smooth without being sugary. (Kitchen Report)

Pi Day: Celebrate with a vintage custard pie

By Kitchen Report / 03.14.13

Baking a pie for Pi Day (March 14, aka 3.14) may seem like a daunting task. But an easy recipe to tackle would be this simple Victorian custard pie from the late 1800s. With its short list of ingredients, not much can go wrong. I tested it last fall for the Mary Baker Eddy Library, which sponsored a month-long look at 19th-century foodways. (Mary Baker Eddy was the founder of The Christian Science Monitor.)

The first thing I noticed was how few eggs and little sugar are used in this recipe. Most contemporary custard pie recipes call for 3 to 4 eggs and at least 3/4 cups of sugar, as opposed to the old-timey 3 tablespoons in this recipe from Fannie Farmer’s “The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.” This could be for two reasons: (1) sugar was an expensive commodity in the late 1800s and (2) the American diet was much more bland than it is today.

I doubt the taste buds of our Victorian-era ancestors could tolerate our modern sugar-based diet!

The other wording I stumbled over in this recipe was “paste,” this of course meant the pie shell. And in Fannie Farmer’s cookbook there was no actual recipe for the pie shell. I can only assume that the cooking school took for granted that most home cooks knew how to mix and roll out a pie shell.

I do not, at least not by heart.

RECOMMENDED: 17 heavenly pies

My preference, of course, is to buy a premade pie shell because it’s so easy and takes no time. But for the sake of recreating the Victorian experience, I persisted to rollout my own dough. If you are a novice pie dough maker like me, be sure to mix and refrigerate your dough before preparing the filling.

The recipe also does not indicate how much to preheat the oven, nor how long the custard pie should bake. It simply says “bake in a quick oven at first.” So I preheated the oven to 400 degrees F., and then reduced it to 350 degrees F., after the rim had set, as the recipe instructs.

I have no idea how long I left it in the oven, since the instructions didn’t specify. I simply took it out when it looked done and set. Usually when I’m cooking I set my timer on the microwave and multi-task with other chores, checking my e-mail, or watching TV. That is one thing you’ll notice about late 19th-century recipes, they take for granted that the cook of the house was probably in the kitchen all day, tending to the wood or coal stove, peeling vegetables for the next meal, or planning dishes for the reminder of the week.

A custard pie may have been a quick finish to a more elaborate meal in an 19th-century household, an easy aside in a whirl of cooking and baking. In my modern kitchen, it was the main event.

The finished product was delicate and not very sweet, and I could see how it would make an appropriate dessert for a heavy meal like a New England Boiled Dinner. In fact, I found it to be so bland it was like a dressed-down quiche. I enjoyed a slice for breakfast several days in a row.

After all, pie for breakfast has long been a tradition in the Yankee kitchen, according to “The American Heritage Cookbook”: ”The custom of eating apple pie for breakfast, at which lesser men have quaked and blanched, has seemed natural, inevitable, and pleasurable to New Englanders. ‘What is pie for?’ Emerson exclaimed, and the matter was settled.”

Custard Pie
From the “Boston Cooking-School Cookbook

2 eggs 

3 tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cups milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

Few gratings nutmeg

Beat eggs slightly, add sugar, milk. Line plate with paste*, and build up a fluted rim. Strain in the mixture and sprinkle with a few gratings of nutmeg. Bake in a quick at oven at first to set the rim, decrease the heat afterwards, as eggs and milk combination need to be cooked at low temperature.

*Pastry for pie crust
From “American Heritage Cookbook”

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup shortening

2 to 3 tablespoons ice water

Sift flour and salt together in a bowl. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture looks mealy. Sprinkle water over mixture (the less water you use, the better your pastry). Mix lightly with a fork, then work the pastry with your hands until it can be formed into a ball. Chill thoroughly. Using light strokes, roll out on a floured board. Start at the center and roll toward the edge. When dough is about 1/8 inch thick, line a 9-inch pie pan, pressing pastry to bottom and sides. Refrigerate while you prepare the filling.

RECOMMENDED: 17 heavenly pies

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This post was part of the First Saturday program at The Mary Baker Eddy Library, which is sponsored a month-long look at 19th-century foodways.

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