St. Patricks Day – Corned Beef

This post was one I originally did for Foodwhirl back in 2010, but it’s still a yearly tradition for us, so I thought I’d share it here.


Corned Beef and Cabbage (or how I got lucky)

Get your minds out of the gutter.

The very first meal I ever cooked for my husband when we first started dating was corned beef and cabbage. I figure it must have been lucky, because he eventually married me – right?

I wanted to impress him, so I didn’t just go out and buy one of those pink, sodium and nitrate/nitrite infused bits of brisket with the seasoning packet inside (although I have been known to use this method on occasion). No, I actually corned the sucker myself, over a period of about a week.

Now it’s become a bit of a tradition for us – every year I cook corned beef and cabbage with potatoes for St. Patty’s day. This year, I’m sharing that tradition with all of you. This is quite a process, so bear with me. I promise the end result is totally worth it.

Oh!  And be sure to stay tuned for Part 2 – wherein I drain the brine from the meat and add the cabbage!  It’s exciting stuff, and you won’t want to miss it.  I might even cook some potatoes…. And you certainly won’t want to miss Part 3 – corned beef hash.  This is the meal that just keeps on giving!

First, for the beef – it is admittedly difficult this time of year to find a brisket that is not already trimmed, brined and packaged. With a little effort, though, you can do it. You need about 3-4 pounds of meat for this recipe. I was able to find an 8-lb brisket for about $2/lb, so I bought the whole thing. I cut it in half and froze the second portion to be used at a later date for barbecue or something (there’s really no such thing as too much meat in my house).

About a week out, prepare the brine. This version was derived from a Sara Moulton recipe, back in her Cooking Live days.


* 4 quarts water
* 1 1/2 pounds kosher salt
* 1 pound dark brown sugar
* 2 bay leaves
* 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
* 1 teaspoon dried thyme
* 10 juniper berries
* 10 crushed peppercorns
* 1 tablespoon baking soda
* 4 gallons boiling water
* 1 egg, in shell
* Salt, if needed
* Cold water to cover meat
* 1 (5 pound) beef brisket
* 5 cloves garlic

Bring first 8 ingredients to a boil and let boil for 5 minutes. Leave the brine to cool. Clean a plastic bucket and its lid with a solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda to 1 gallon boiling water. Rinse well and leave to drain dry.

To test the saltiness of the brine put egg, in shell in the cooled brine. If it doesn’t float, add enough salt until it does.

To draw off any excess blood and to help the brine penetrate, pierce the beef all over with a skewer and place meat in cold water for about 45 minutes. Remove the meat from water and place in crock or bucket. Pour the cooled brine over the brisket. Add garlic to the brine. Place a plate on top of the brisket to submerge. Place a lid or plastic wrap over container. Store in a refrigerator or dry place, at a temperature below 60 degrees. Salting time depends on the thickness of the meat. Allow 3 to 10 days for salting time for brisket.

This will sit in my fridge all week.  I’ll check it periodically, turning the meat to make sure that all sides get equal time in the brine.

Almost a Year Later….{Pretzel Bread Bowls}

I had no idea last February that I would be taking nearly a year off from this place.  It wasn’t planned, it just sort of happened.  Life got busy, and at the same time I lost the compulsion to document every meal I cooked or ate.  Every so often I’d come over here with the intention to write something, but I didn’t really have the focus or the drive to actually do it.

Meanwhile, I started working full time at a job that I have grown to truly enjoy.  I do a lot of writing there, and am allowed to be creative and somewhat autonomous, and I think that has filled the space that used to be filled by my efforts here.  Maybe.

I want to keep coming here, though, and sharing with those of you who still check in from time to time.  It may not always be recipes or food, but I’ll do my best to make it meaningful.  I’ve got lots of fun projects on the horizon in my life: I’m leading the team that’s planning a learning garden at the school I work for, I got a Vitamix for Christmas that I’m having a blast learning to use, I’m heading to Ireland with the family in April, and I’m still trying new things in the kitchen from time to time in an effort to expand and enrich my children’s food vocabulary.  So thanks for sticking around and for being patient as I try to figure out how to balance everything that’s going on.

vitamix1So, the Vitamix.  I’d been wanting one for a while, and finally bit the bullet and bought a Certified Reconditioned model.  I’ve only had it for a couple of days, but so far I LOVE IT.  Tonight I made the Harvest Cheddar Soup from the Vitamix website.  It’s crazy – the blender actually cooks the soup.  I didn’t really believe it myself until I tried it.  It’s like magic – ingredients go in cold or room temperature and come out steaming hot.  Right now I’m just trying recipes that are from the cookbook that came with it, or that are on their website.  Knowing me, though, I’m sure I’ll be making stuff up in no time.  No worries – I’ll do my best to share that stuff here.

breadbowlreadyIn the meantime, here’s something fun that I made to go along with that Harvest Cheddar soup – Whole Grain Pretzel Bread Bowls.  I used the Beer Pizza Dough recipe from my breadmaker’s cookbook as a jumping off point.

Whole Grain Pretzel Bread Bowls

yield: 6 bowls

  • 12 oz. beer
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • Egg white (for glazing)
  • Course salt

This recipe starts in the bread machine, but is baked in the oven.  If you don’t have a bread machine, you can use an electric mixer or knead by hand.


  1. Place beer, butter, sugar and  salt in the bottom of the bread machine’s loaf pan
  2. Add the flour on top.
  3. Create a small well in the center of the flour.  Add the yeast to the well
  4. Set the machine to the “dough” setting and let it do its thing (mine takes about 2 hours for kneading and two rises)
  5. When it’s done with the second rise, turn the dough out onto a floured surface.
  6. Divide the dough into six equal portions and roll them into balls
  7. Place them on a baking sheet lined with a silicone liner or greased foil
  8. Allow them to rise while you preheat the oven to 375F
  9. Brush the tops of the rolls with egg white and sprinkle them with course salt
  10. Just before baking, slash the tops of the rolls in a cross pattern using a sharp knife
  11. Bake at 375F for 25 minutes, or until tops are very brown and they sound hollow when you tap them.

breadbowlcutOnce they’ve cooled most of the way, cut the tops off using a serrated knife.  Set the top aside (it’s good for dipping in soup later).

breadbowlspoonScoop the insides out with a spoon.  I put all the bread that scraped out into a zip-top bag and put it in the freezer to use later for bread crumbs.

breadbowlreadyEt, voila! 6 individual bread bowls just waiting to be filled with Harvest Cheddar-y goodness.

breadbowlwithsoupThese would also be good as little bowls for dips, filled with chilli, cheese fondue, or just about anything else that you might like to dip bread in.  They were a big hit with my family, and are a fun way to make soup a little more interesting (you get to eat the bowl at the end!).


Once More, With Granola

We’re coming up on a long weekend.  Our school system has been generous, giving the children not only President’s Day, but the Friday prior as well.  Four whole days in a row, and we’re taking advantage of it by going on a little road trip.

Most of you probably know that traveling with children can be tricky.  Some kids are great – strap them in a booster seat, give them a book, some crayons and paper, or a movie, and they’re good to go (that’s my oldest).  Some kids, on the other hand, require a little more, shall we say, attention.  They get wiggly, antsy, bored, and, last but not least, impatient.  This can manifest itself in many ways.  In our case, our youngest expresses his displeasure by yelling, throwing toys and kicking the back of the seat in front of him.  Also, he’s not much of a car sleeper, so this behavior can go on indefinitely.  Pleasant.

Sometimes, snacks help.  Actually, most of the time, snacks help.  If he has food, he’s pretty happy.  That’s why I spent most of this morning attempting, once again, to make granola bars.

I say attempting, because I’ve tried and failed with granola bars many times.  This time around was a semi-success, which is good because we’re leaving tomorrow and I don’t have time to try, try and try again.

I wanted these to be relatively nourishing, since they will be our primary snack of choice over the long weekend.  Whole grains in the form of rolled oats and freshly ground flour, combined with unsweetened dried cherries, a very ripe banana, some raw Tupelo honey (courtesy Savannah Bee Company) and sucanat (dehydrated sugar cane), along with a relatively small amount of expeller-pressed coconut oil and some toasted cacao nibs come together to create a nutritionally-dense granola bar.

Also?  Tasty.

Banana Split Granola Bars
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 40 minutes
yield: 12 bars


  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup cacao nibs
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup sucanat
  • 1/4 cup expeller-pressed coconut oil
  • 1 very ripe banana, pureed
  • 2 cups dried cherries
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 300F and butter a 9×13-inch baking dish.  Line it with parchment paper and butter the parchment paper.
  2. Combine the oats, flour, salt, soda and cacao nibs in a large bowl.
  3. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine honey, coconut oil, sucanat, banana puree, and dried cherries.  Cook for a couple of minutes, until coconut oil has melted and sucanat has dissolved.  The cherries should also plump slightly.
  4. Remove from heat and add the vanilla to the liquid ingredients.
  5. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to combine.
  6. Press the granola mixture into the prepared pan and bake at 300F for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan.
  8. Once cooled, remove from the pan and slice into 12 bars.
  9. Enjoy!

These weren’t perfect – they still managed to fall apart somewhat when I went to slice them.  However, the flavor is really good, and the texture is nice and chewy.  The cherries, cacao nibs and bananas combine to give a flavor profile reminiscent of a banana split – sweet, tart, chocolatey – without being dessert-like.  I think they would be especially good with a cup or so of chopped nuts thrown in (I left them out because my husband might decide to try them, and he’s allergic), and maybe a touch more fat in the form of butter, peanut-butter, or just more coconut oil (I think the fat helps to bind them at room temperature).

I think these, along with some popcorn and sliced fruit, will go a long way toward taming the beast-like child on our road trip tomorrow.  Which will go an even further way toward maintaining my sanity.  And that’s a good thing.

A Rebellion in Applesauce

There’s a regression happening in food.  People are going backward instead of forward (well, unless you count folks like Ferran Adria and Grant Achatz and those of their ilk in the world of “progressive cuisine”).  We’re headed back to simpler times, using ingredients that our ancestors might have recognized.  We’re shying away from things that are created in laboratories and large factories and opting instead for things that grow in the dirt and are prepared in our own kitchens.  Its scandalous, really.  We’re bucking the system.  Such rebels.For many of us, this is the impetus for that rebellion.  As parents, we want what’s best for our kids.  We want them to be happy and healthy, we want them to succeed and to be the best “them” they can be.  These little lives?  They’re precious, absolutely priceless.  And we, as their parents, are responsible for those lives.  Why we wouldn’t want to lay the best possible foundation for them is beyond me.

Part of that is preparing the best possible food for them – and that means getting in the kitchen and cooking.  In our house, it means chopping vegetables, peeling apples, making stock from scratch and baking bread.  It means we shy away from the center aisles of the grocery store and stick to the perimeter, buying only those things that came directly from a plant or animal.  In many cases, it means taking time out of our busy schedules to go stand in line in a parking lot to pick up our pastured meat, or schlepping out to the chicken coop in the rain to get the eggs off the nest.  It takes some effort, it’s certainly not always convenient, but it’s completely worth it.

It’s apple season in Georgia right now.  We’ve got another month or so before it comes to an end, but I always feel like I have to stock up on crisp, juicy local apples while the gettin’s good.  We’ll eat a good number of them whole, as they make excellent lunch-box additions and handy afternoon snacks; the rest will be broken down and processed in some form or fashion to make them last through the winter and into spring (if, that is, we don’t gobble them all up in the first month – we do love our apples in this house).

We’ve planted three apple trees in our backyard, but they are not yet bearing fruit.  I imagine it will be another two or three years before they begin to produce in any measurable quantity.  Luckily, we live within decent driving distance of a number of apple orchards, all of which produce a nice variety of heirloom apples.If you’re looking to get started in the world of food preservation, may I suggest that you start with applesauce?  It’s one of the simplest things you can make, and it takes very little time from start to finish.  The only ingredients are apples and water (and really, some people don’t even count water as an ingredient), and the most time consuming part of the recipe is the peeling and coring of the apples.  I guess if you have one of those fancy-dancy apple peeler/corer contraptions, then even that isn’t a big deal for you.  For this batch of applesauce, I chose to use a combination of tart Winesaps and sweet Pink Ladies.  I’ve been making applesauce for almost 6 years now, and I have to say I think this is the best version I’ve ever made.  I never add sweetener to my applesauce – why would you?  Apples contain so much natural fructose, it seems like overkill to sweeten them further.  Sometimes I’ll throw a cinnamon stick in the mix, just for a little added depth, but this time around it was the definition of simplicity.  Apples.  In all their autumnal glory.  That is all.

prep time: 20 minutes
cook time: 30-45 minutes
processing time: 15 minutes


  • 24 medium-sized apples, peeled, cored and cut into large dice
  • water
  1. Add 1 inch of water to a large stock pot
  2. Add the peeled, cored and diced apples
  3. Cook over medium heat until apples have softened.  The time on this will vary, given the type of apple you use.  My Pink Ladies broke down much faster than the Winesaps did.  Keep an eye on it, you don’t want it to stick and scorch.
  4. Mash with a potato masher, or puree using a stick blender or food processor
  5. Ladle hot sauce into hot, sterilized pint jars
  6. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes

It really is that simple.  And you won’t believe how good it tastes – I promise.  It is so much better than any commercially produced  applesauce you can buy.  In fact, I purchased some natural applesauce not long ago from a well-known name brand with no added sweetener.  It tasted like nothing – it was soupy and watery, and it had absolutely no flavor.  When I tasted the batch I made yesterday, it was like a revelation.  Sweet, tart, pure apple flavor.  My youngest gobbled up the overflow in about six seconds.

It may seem silly to call this a rebellion.  I realize we’re not marching in the streets and overthrowing governments.  It’s a quiet movement, one that’s happening in homes and communities.  It’s a rebellion about education, about our health, about our children.  We’re changing the future one family at the time.  We’re telling the advertisers and the industrial food conglomerates that we don’t want them to brainwash our children, we don’t believe their hype about their chemically-laden, processed and packaged “convenience” foods.  We’re recognizing that it’s okay to spend time in the kitchen, that it’s actually necessary for the health of our families.  It’s certainly not always easy, and we’re all probably guilty of  falling prey to the occasional convenience food.  But at least we’re trying to make a difference. 

This post is part of Eating Rules October: Unprocessed challenge. 

A Rebellion in Applesauce on Punk Domestics

Nice: Salade Niçoise

Yesterday, before the sun had risen too high in the sky and pushed the temperatures into the stratosphere, I wandered down to the garden, toddler in tow.  As the 18-month old chased the chickens (bock-bocks as he calls them) in and around the cypress trees, I examined the various plants to see if any were bearing fruit.

Two of our ten tomato plants are laden with green orbs, and the two jalapeno bushes are weighted down with inch-and-a-half long pods.  The butternut squash vines are in full bloom, and many of the blossom ends are beginning to swell with the promise of delicious golden flesh.  Our infant asparagus patch has successfully gone to seed, and our cucumbers are rife with fuzzy little fingerlings.  The lacy tops of the rainbow carrots are waving in the breeze, and the melons are creeping along the ground stealthily, their little yellow flowers smiling smugly in the sun.

Continue reading “Nice: Salade Niçoise”

Grilled Angel Food Cake (fat-free, but who cares?)

She was a freshman in college: a little overweight, introverted and shy. She was excited, but a little unsure of herself in this new situation.  As an only child, she had never really shared a room with anyone else, let alone a perfect stranger.  She wasn’t even sure she really liked people all that much (sometimes, she still feels that way – true confession).  All she knew was that she was glad to be out of high school, away from all that pressure – pressure to be liked, pressure to be thin, pressure to have a boyfriend.  A new place with new people might be just the thing.

Mill at Berry College - image courtesy of

Surprisingly, she made friends relatively quickly and easily – and the friends she met in those first weeks at school are still some of her best friends today (nearly 20 years later).

She was determined to buck the trend of the dreaded “freshman-15”.  She would go to the dining hall with her new friends, but she would eat off the salad bar or order turkey sandwiches on whole-wheat bread – hold the cheese and mayo.  The fat-free trend was in full swing (this was long before the idea of “good fat” vs. “bad fat” – all fat was bad, so you should avoid it altogether).  Occasionally she would nuke a potato in the microwave in her dorm room and slather it with fat-free sour cream and butter-flavored spread.

Continue reading “Grilled Angel Food Cake (fat-free, but who cares?)”

Some Like it Hot: Fermented Chili Paste

Do you like things a little bit spicy?  I’m not sure when it happened for me, but for as long as I can remember I have liked spicy foods.  Loved them, actually – even as a child.  It was like a badge of honor if you could eat spicy foods without complaining.  And I could down some spicy foods.

I like a lot of horseradish in my cocktail sauce.  I want it to make my sinuses burn.

I like a lot of wasabi with my sushi.  I want my eyes to water and my nose to run.

I put hot sauce on a lot of things, and jalapenos are a common topping for just about anything.  When I was pregnant with both my boys I craved many different foods, but mostly it was anything that was spicy, spicy, spicy.  The spicier the better – heartburn be damned.

So when I saw this recipe for fermented chili sauceover at Nourished Kitchen I just knew I had to make it.  As much tobasco and sriracha as I go through, it seems like I should know how to make it myself.

Continue reading “Some Like it Hot: Fermented Chili Paste”