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Basic White Bread

This weekend was Dan’s 25th birthday.  I know, a big deal right?  No, you don’t think it’s a big deal?  Whatever, we’re pet and childless, we just got married, and this is the biggest birthday we’ve had to celebrate since I turned 21.  Incidentally both weekends ended with bacon, egg, and cheese croissants from City Cafe in Baltimore.  Emphasis on the bacon.

For Dan’s triumphant 25th birthday we took advantage of a wedding present from my mom’s good friends Elaine and Brenda, a stay at Baltimore’s new Hotel Monaco.  As you may know, we lived in Baltimore for quite some time, attending the Maryland Institute College of Art.  We now live in D.C., but we miss Baltimore and every square inch of that city holds a special place in our hearts.  So we spent the weekend taking in some of our favorite aspects of the Charm City.

Saturday started with cinnamon rolls and quickly phased into Dan being blindfolded.  You see, I’d been keeping the destination of our big weekend away a secret (a difficult task) for months.  So I made him wear a blindfold for the drive and doubled back a few times to throw him off.  Unfortunately for me he’s been watching too many crime shows in HD because he figured my plan out months ago.  Surprise or not we ended up at Holy Frijoles, hands down the best chimichanga I’ve ever had.  The service leaves a lot to be desired but it’s always worth it for those chimichangas.

After lunch we went to The Wine Source in Baltimore, where Dan picked out some birthday scotch.  He picked out a sampler box and a holiday blend.  Then it was onto the hotel, where we were upgraded to a suite covered in rose petals.  After such an undertaking as the Holy Frijoles chimichanga (and margarita) a nap is in order.  So we rested, watched some travel channel, enjoyed some wine and scotch.  After the hotel’s complimentary cocktail hour we had dinner at their restaurant, the B&O American Brasserie whose Chef Reidt was named one of the “Top New Chefs” in 2001.  Dinner was amazing.  So amazing that I was motivated to try both duck and creme brulee for the first time.

This morning we awoke to, well, hangovers.  We stopped by City Cafe for brunch, indulging in the aforementioned bacon, egg, and cheese croissants.  And lots and lots of coffee.  When we got home to Takoma Park today we were tired, cold, and beat.  Which meant that a trip to the grocery store and the whole “preparing for the week” thing was absolutely the last on my list.  Part of my new culinary life list is a commitment to make all of our own bread.  For a few weeks I’ve been baking this delicious white bread from the recipe book that came with our Kitchen Aid Mixer.  It’s fluffy and just a little sweet with a perfectly crunch crust.   It’s just the first step in my commitment to learning bread baking techniques, my hope is to one day make our own hangover croissants.

Basic White Bread
Source: Kitchen Aid

5 to 6 cups flour

2 tbsp dry active yeast

1/2 cup skim milk

3 tbsp sugar

2 tsp salt

3 tbsp butter

1 1/2 cups warm water

In a sauce pan melt butter in milk and sugar.  When sugar has dissolved remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Dissolve yeast in warm water in warmed mixing bowl.  Add milk mixture and 4 1/2 cups flour.  Attach bowl to your stand mixer and begin to knead on speed 2 with dough hook.

Continue to knead, adding the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time.  Knead until the dough clings to the hook, and then an additional four minutes longer, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Grease a mixing bowl and place the dough inside, turning once.  Cover and let rise in a warm spot for an hour.  Punch down and divide in half.  Roll out on a nonstick surface.  Tuck ends in and roll into a loaf shape.  Place in a greased bread pan, cover, and let rise another hour.  Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.  Turn out onto a wire rack and let cool.

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Marshmallow Meringue Sweet Potato Pie

Tonight I attended a potluck for D.C. foodbloggers at Union Row in D.C., hosted by an array of area food bloggers.  It was good times.  It was actually super different times because while Dan and I are both social people (theoretically) we’re not big on the D.C. scene, we mostly just stay cloistered in our tiny apartment eating pie.  So when we are confronted with 30-40 REAL. LIVE. HUMAN. ADULTS. we’re struck (or maybe I’m just speaking for me) with paralyzing social anxiety. Whatever, Dan is fine and I’m a dweeb.

As it is Dan and I are working on eating more seasonably and locally (see the new life list), but since some of the attendees have blogs completely dedicated to seasonal local produce and the likes, I figured my contribution better be seasonally appropriate.  Since we’re just coming off the high of the holiday and my new motto for losing the cookie weight is “fatties don’t deserve treats” I was stumped about what dessert to bring.  And then I said screw it, you’re a southern food blogger and tonight you’re representing your people.  And my people love butter.

So I opted for a sweet potato pie topped with a marshmallow meringue.  Go big or go home, right?  I chose this combination for a few reasons.  First of all, we had my (delightful) friend Julia over a few weeks ago and she was telling me that she uses this Bill Neal recipe for sweet potato pie where you whip the egg whites separately into a frenzy and then fold them in so that your pie has more fluff and height.  And I love fluff and height.  Secondly, we watched the White House Iron Chef special last weekend and the winning team did a meringue topped sweet potato tart that looked awesome.

I’m not usually one for marshmallow topped sweet potato pie but I polled Dan and the internet and the results came in overwhelmingly for the fluff.  Which leads me to my next point, which is that marshmallow fluff has to be the most disconcerting ingredient I’ve ever worked with.  It’s one of those 50’s-era things that I always envision being eaten in space.  Like Tang.  But when combined with egg whites and sugar it was just fluffy and lovely and browned in a very pretty way that made it both impossible to transport and delicious.

It did dawn on me that pie was maybe not the best dish to bring.  For one, regular size pies (as opposed to cup pies) are not finger foods.  I wasn’t aware that this was a fingerfood event beforehand, so the whole pie thing sounded like a great idea.  In reality I could have chosen a less messy dish.  I was just really tired of cookies.  Secondly, I put this in one of my favorite pie dishes, which meant that when Dan and I were ready to cloister ourselves at 9 I had to take half an uneaten pie home with us.  Great for us but this guy gave me the stink eye as we were leaving like I was being stingy with my food.  All in all, it was fun to meet some local food bloggers, get outside of our shell for once.  We even met someone that looked like Kara Thrace from BSG (geek alert)!

Marshmallow Meringue Sweet Potato Pie

For pie:

2 to 3 sweet potatoes

1 stick butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 cup cream

1 tsp vanilla

Nutmeg

Cinnamon

Ginger

Pie crust (recipe here or here)

For meringue:

4 egg whites

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 tbsp white sugar

1 7oz jar marshmallow fluff

Peel, cut, and boil the sweet potatoes so that they’re tender.  Drain and put them in a large mixing bowl.  Use a masher or fork to mash them completely, leaving no chunks.

Cube the butter and stir it into the hot potatoes.  Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the potatoes.  Set aside the whites.  Add the vanilla, spices (not cream of tartar), and brown sugar.  Stir in cream.

In a stand mixer or with a hand blender whip the egg whites and cream of tartar.  Whip until frothy.  Add white sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and whip until stiff.  Fold into potato mixture.

Spread pie crust into a dish and pour filling in.  Bake at 475 for 15 minutes and 350 for 1 hour.  Allow to cool.

When the pie is cool, start your meringue by whipping egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla.  When it’s frothy, add in sugar one tbsp at a time, until it is stiff.  Fold in the fluff.  Spread over pie.

Bake at 375 for 6 minutes, or until the peaks have browned and the meringue is firm.

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Collard Greens, for Prosperity

I joke a lot here and around the interwebs about my distain for escarole.  I’ll clarify that, as an adult, I’m actually fine with escarole.  But as a child I hated it.  It was the one food that I absolutely could not eat, the only thing I couldn’t stomach.  Until I became a vegetarian, and then there were lots of things I couldn’t stomach (including meatloaf).  I read somewhere once that kids have something like twice as many tastebuds as adults, and therefore taste everything twice as intensely,which is why children often have catastrophic aversions to certain foods.

The point of this story is that my mom’s lucky New Year’s day dish was lentil soup and escarole.  Gag.  Which is why I always preferred my dad’s lucky foods, collard greens and black eyed peas.  On New Year’s Day, greens (whether they be spinach, escarole, collards, chard, etc) are served to bring prosperity.  The greens are traditionally cooked with ham, because pork symbolizes progress.  Other common foods for ringing in the New Year are beans (prosperity), fish (good luck), and anything circular, like cakes (the year comes full circle).

This year I opted for fish and collards, skipping the ham hocks and beans because after a few batches of bean soup, I’ve been kind of beaned out lately.  And when it comes cuts of the pig, I’m not the biggest ham fan (I prefer the shoulder).  Collards cooked without ham are cooked essentially the same way, just pan roasted with water or stock, served with garlic and onions.  Because collards are a tough green pan roasting is the ideal way to cook them, low and slow for 45 minutes to an hour allows them to soften and develop flavor.

Instead of resolutions this year I’ve written my “culinary life list.”  Right now it’s 100 things, but it may grow.  It’s a list of things, all food related, that I’d like to accomplish before I kick the bucket.  Do you have a life list, culinary or not?  What’s on it?

Collard Greens

3-4 large collard leaves

1/2 white onion

2 garlic cloves

Salt & pepper

Red pepper flakes

1 tsp nutmeg

2 cups mushroom broth (or vegetable stock)

3 tbsp butter

In a medium size pan, melt butter.  Mince garlic and chop the onion, and saute both in butter until soft.  Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and red pepper.  Chop the collards into 1/2″ strips.

Add the collards a handful at a time, wilting them before you add more.  Use tongs to toss the greens with the butter and onions.  Add broth, cover.  Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes to an hour.

Uncover and allow the broth to reduce.  Serve and enjoy a year of prosperity!

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