Grand gestures are showy, but quiet, small ones are sweeter.
Today is that favorite day of retailers, florists and restauranteurs everywhere, Valentine’s Day.
Here in Pennsylvania, we’ve been very fortunate here with the mildness of our winter so far – unlike those of you suffering some real damage and hardship, we’re mostly just inconvenienced and fatigued. The kind of weariness that can be soothed with a steamy, creamy cup of home-made cocoa.
I nixxed commercial hot chocolate powders a long time ago in favor of the old-fashioned, off the package Hershey’s cocoa recipe that my mom used to make. Real milk, cocoa, salt, sugar and a bit of vanilla – all things found in an average kitchen. At home, it’s not really any more work, and the results are so worth it. Once you’ve spoiled yourself, you’ll want to keep a pint jar in your fridge at all times.
But then, one day, this really lovely post from Molly at Remedial Eating stopped me in my tracks. Something I had to try ASAP. And I’m so glad I did. This is one of the nicest, sweetest DIY gift ideas around – a jar of chocolate ganache ready to spoon into heated milk for a perfectly delicious, creamy, real cup of steaming cocoa.
Hot Chocolate Base (Ganache)
Yield: 2 generous cups ganache (enough for 2 dozen+ mugs of hot cocoa)
This makes a light ganache (1:1), scoop-able straight from the fridge. For firm truffles and heartier frostings, a 2:1 chocolate:cream ratio gives greater body and intensity. FYI.
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized, if possible)
12 ounces semisweet chocolate (3 – 4 oz. bars)
Snap chocolate bars into a large, heat-proof bowl. Heat cream over medium, until the first bubble breaks, then remove from heat and pour over chocolate shards. Let sit 5 minutes, then whisk gently to combine, 1-2 minutes. Pour into jar, and refrigerate, up to 1 month.
To Make Hot Cocoa:
Heat milk (2% or whole), as much as you want, over medium heat, until steaming. (Alternatively, for one mug, microwave). Add ganache to hot milk: I use 1 heaping tablespoon per 8 ounces of milk, though there are those under my roof who argue 2 tablespoons are far superior. And no, I don’t measure. Eyeball it. Stir ganache into hot milk until dissolved, 10-15 seconds, taste, and add more, if desired. Pour into mugs, top as desired (whipped cream, marshmallows), wrap fingers ’round, and give thanks for winter.
Who am I kidding? 1-2 TBS? No way. Try 3, or even 4!
So, if you’re still struggling for not-too-big, not-too-small DIY gift ideas, here you go – you still have time. A nice jar of homemade chocolate ganache for a steamy cup of ready-made love for your beloved.
And, if heating milk sounds like too much work, there’s always spoon truffles. Spoon truffles? You know exactly what I’m talking about – no double dipping!
I’m a Pittsburgh girl, so maybe there are cultural Red-Beans-And-Rice nuances I am not getting here. Made on Monday, check. Our own Auburn Meadow Farm Classic Cajun Andouille, check, check. Slow cooked all day? Nope. This is a quicker version, because I had already cooked beans in broth waiting in my freezer for just such a day.
All you real-deal Cajun cooks? Sorry, but also, not sorry, because this is some really good, wholesome, hearty hygge for a dreary winter day.
Since COVID, people have been hoarding good culinary beans, which is sad if they are just being stashed in somebody’s bunker – the ten pound bags of pintos at Walmart do a pretty decent job of resting on a shelf. The Rancho Gordo heirloom beans offer a range of flavor and texture that those ten-year-old warehoused beans just can’t bring. And, if you are planning a garden, those Rancho Gordos are good for planting too, so save some of your favorites and give them a go for some fresh shelling beans.
But hoarders can’t kill my bean joy. If you can’t have the bean you love, which for Red Beans and Rice would have been Domingo Rojas, then love the bean you have, which happens to be Ayocote Negro. Selecting beans by texture not color is key here. The Ayocote Negros are a gorgeous, substantial, shiny, black bean, and were perfect, if not red.
This should take ten minutes of prep and a half hour to forty minutes simmering, and serves four to six. Printable recipe here.
- 1# smoked Andouille, sliced into 1/2” disks
- 2 pint containers of pre-cooked cooked beans in broth* (or 2 cans of kidney beans, drained)
- 1 TBS good cooking fat, I use lard or bacon fat*
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 green pepper seeded and chopped
- 4 ribs celery, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2-tsp to 1 TBS cayenne pepper dependent upon how hot you like yours. I omit entirely as I cook for people who don’t tolerate spices.
- 1-28 ounce can whole tomatoes in juice
- 1/2 tsp ground sage or poultry seasoning
- Smoked ham hock (optional)
- splash cider vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Mild hot sauce like Frank’s or Crystal for serving
- Cooked white rice for serving
- In a Dutch oven, melt your cooking fat over medium heat, add onion, green pepper, and celery. Sautee until softened, do not brown.
- Add garlic and andouille disks and sautee to release fragrance.
- Add the tomatoes, ham hock if using, cayenne and sage. Allow to gently simmer, allowing the flavors to develop.
- Add the beans, if you are using canned beans, strain the liquid before adding. continue to simmer to allow the beans to absorb the flavors. You don’t want to cook dry though, you are going for the texture of a thick soup. If your pot starts getting too dry, add some water (best boiled first – I use my teakettle).
- Taste and add salt, pepper, and cider vinegar to taste.
- Serve your beans with rice – this is important. It is honestly not difficult to make a perfectly cooked pot of rice. That detail makes a huge difference.
If you really want to eat like a farmer, try topping a bowl with a poached egg for breakfast . It’s even better next day.
*Some astericks here, because I am a pantry cook, and have stored in my freezer and pantry items you may not. That’s okay though, it’s not a big deal this recipe is pretty flexible.
Get these ingredients from us*:
Classic very mild smoked Andouille from our pastured pork, smoked ham hocks, Ayocote Negro beans
*Inventory subject to change without notice
What can I do today, before the rush is on, to be ready for last minute gifts, kind neighborly gestures, and unexpected visits? Make recipes for rolls of unbaked refrigerator cookies, portioned into gift-sized logs, wrapped in waxed paper, and stashed in the freezer for gifting or fresh-baked cookies in minutes..
Like many retro, forgotten ways, Icebox cookies add a simple, convenient and downright elegant trick to your pantry that will help preserve that element of snacking spontaneity we all love so much. They come in filled swirls, basic shortbread styles, with and without fruit and can be dipped in chocolate for an extra degree of fanciness.
The logs require almost no time to thaw enough to slice, arrange on a baking sheet, bake & cool. Thoughtfully wrapped with a recipe tag, they make a small and lovely gift. I like that since they have to be baked, you can save them for later, after the overload of sweets and snacks has passed.
Here are three of my current favorite recipes for Icebox cookies:
Salted Rye Cookies
- Golden Raisin Icebox Cookies – tender, crisp & rich, these are both rustic and sophisticated.
- Fruit Swirls – an extra bonus to this one is the recipe uses no processed sugar. Instead, use honey and dried fruit. They’re tender, rich and easily adaptable for a variety of flavors.
- My current obsession: Salted Rye Cookies. I love crunchy sugar crystals and was completely taken by this idea: these earthy rye rounds are rolled in a crunchy, crystal-ey mixture of coarse sugar and salt. Brilliant.
And, not just a DIY gift idea, icebox cookies are a great everyday pantry trick for anyone interested in real foods.
Fruit Swirls, no sugar. One recipe, divided into four logs, wrapped in waxed paper for gifting or baking.
Why do I love prepared snacks in my freezer?
- simple strategy for portion control – divide the dough into smaller logs and only bake what you need
- a quick, fun after school treat kids can make themselves
- something special on hand to feed unexpected visitors
- strategy to keep those overly processed commercial cookies out of your pantry
- your kid tells you at 9 pm they need to bring cookies to class tomorrow – no biggie
In these days of pandemic, old fashioned neighboring is more meaningful than ever. What sweeter way to check on your neighbors than by gifting them a thoughtful log of ready-to-bake cookies?
Some cuts of beef just are never going to be Ruth’s Chris caliber. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good, they are just something else.
A disappointing, tough, lean Delmonico makes a damn fine Chicken Fried Steak, or pepper steak. Ditching the supermarket has made me step up and learn a few things, and now I see how truly cheated we have been.
I kid you not, a well raised chicken fried steak is ten times better than an easy supermarket commodity-raised wet-aged steak. Regaining those food skills is well worth the effort, and honestly? Not even all that hard.
Restaurant style Orange Beef is an amazing treat, involving steps for dredging, frying, and otherwise giving your beef strips an amazing, crispy, tender texture, coated in rich, sticky, delicious orange-flavored sauce.
This quickie is not that. It has the flavors, but not the oil, the deep fried stickiness, the deep fry smell or fussy steps. It also doesn’t have that ethereal texture, or glaze, but being so quick, easy, delicious, healthy, and tasty, it’s exactly what a weeknight needs. Pleasing and satisfying fuel for mind and body, and a non-burger way to honor and enjoy the more complex parts of the animal.
I struggle a little with the sourcing of the frozen veggies, the Bird’s Eye I used are Conagra, which is… Conagra. But we live in the world we live in, and one battle at a time.
Makes about four servings
- 1/2 – 1 pound of some type of everyday beef steak; flank, round, sirloin tip steak, something chewier and not-too-fancy, thinly sliced across the grain and cut into 2-by-1/2-inch strips
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 tablespoons orange juice
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sake or white wine
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 tsp cooking oil (I use lard or olive)
Rub the beef strips in the baking soda, and refrigerate, approx 30 minutes.
Mix together the orange juice, soy sauce, vinegar, wine, sugar and cornstarch.
Rinse the beef strips well, pat dry on paper towels. Heat the cooking oil in a skillet, add beef strips and brown, about 4 minutes, turning to brown all sides. Remove to a plate.
Add the package of frozen stir fry veggies to the hot skillet, with 2 tablespoons water, and cover.
Simmer for about 8 – 10 minutes to allow larger pieces to cook through, then remove lid.
Allow the water to simmer away, then add the soy mixture to the skillet and simmer until thickened and nicely coating the veggies.
Return the beef strips to the mix, combine well, and serve warm, alongside rice.
Sustainably and attainably delicious, twenty minutes or less.
So tender, a little tangy, with a very gentle spice, this is one of the laziest meals ever, and everyone loves it! I didn’t even bother to thaw my quart of stock, and used pork stock because it’s what I had, and still delicous.
- 3 – 4 pund bone in beef chuck, arm, or English roast
- 1 tsp granulated garlic
- 1 tsp coarse black pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 jar pepperoncini
- 1 pint of stock – beef, pork, chicken or veg is fine
- 4 tbs butter
Combine black pepper, salt, and granulated garlic. Rub generously into the roast.
Place roast in crock pot, pour over the jar of pepperoncini with it’s juice and the quart of stock, top with the pats of butter, cover and cook on low for eight hours or so.
Remove the beef from the slow cooker, remove any fat or collagen, shred and return to the juice.
Serve as au jus sandwiches on sausage rolls topped with pepperoncini and your favorite fixings (including generous slather of butter on the bun), top salads with beef shreds and pepperoncini, or as a meat course wtih rice, mashed potatoes or cauliflower, polenta, or your favorite sides.
If you have leftover juice, do not throw it away! Freeze it for another dish calling for beef stock later – that little tang will make some fantastic fall soup!
If I was going to name one skill to master to save money and really intensify the flavors of your home cooking, it would be to deeply start exploring the juices. We throw away so much flavor and nutrition because we don’t value that extra bit of juice in the pan. Yet we will buy a separate spice or sauce to do exactly what that discarded juice will do if you would only recognize it.
Seasonal fruit is a great example of how harnessing the power and flavor of those natural peak-of-freshness juices makes your cooking extraordinary. Most recipes solve the issue of too juicy in pies and jams by cooking the fruits down, and adding thickener. But reverse that thinking, and slow down your process, and I think you will be amazed at the difference.
Got my first strawberries from the local Amish farmer a couple days ago. Plain, simple, straight-up strawberry jam may be one of my very, very favorite kitchen staples. But last year, I made this. And it’s a pretty wonderful way to celebrate that unmistakable flavor of a fresh, ripe, local strawberry in January. And a really excellent DIY gift idea, if you are inclined to think ahead that way.
- 2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced, or 1-1/2 pounds frozen strawberries, thawed
- 1-1/2 cups Simple Syrup*
- 1 fifth vodka, 80 – 100 proof
Muddle the strawberries and simply syrup with a wooden spoon in a half-gallon jar. Stir in the vodka.
Seal the jar and put it in a cool, dark cabinet until the liquid smells and tastes strongly of strawberries, about 7 days.
Strain the mixtue with a mesh strainer into a clean quart jar. Do not push on the solids to extract more liquid – it will make your Strawberrycello cloudy.
Note: If you feel your berries may have been a little overripe, and the flavor of your liquor seems a little flat, add a Tablespoon of strawberry or raspberry vinegar to restore the balance.
Seal and store in a cool, dark cabinet. Use within 1 year.
Perfect for sipping on a summer day, for spiking a cosmo, mixing with a summery white wine like Prosecco – don’t forget to chill the glass!
From the very fun book, Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits by Andrew Schloss.
Martha will show you how to make herb sugar here.