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Posts Tagged ‘beans’

Food writing is full of stories about beans these days. And beleaguered home-sheltering cooks seem to be paying attention. I read that the California heirloom bean supplier Rancho Gordo received more than 3,000 online orders in two days last month. None of them was from me: There are always several bags of Rancho Gordo beans in my pantry. This family likes beans, especially some of Rancho Gordo’s many varieties.

That bit of news prompted me to pull out Heirloom Beans, the Rancho Gordo cookbook written by Steve Sando (who owns the company and is himself a fanatic bean cook), and look for a new bean dish to make. I found a recipe there for our very favorite bean variety, the Santa Maria Pinquito.
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I chose to ignore the tri-tip component of the recipe, both for lack of barbecuing capability and for interest in something simpler alongside the beans. Tri-tip is a sirloin cut, so I substituted a pair of big sirloin burgers, some of which we usually have in the freezer. We shape them from the delicious, freshly ground sirloin we get from Ottomanelli, our butcher. They can taste even beefier than a steak.

My half pound of Pinquitos had been soaked overnight and were ready to cook.
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I moved them to a pot with their soaking water, plus extra cold water to cover generously, and left them to simmer for an hour while I prepared their seasonings.
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When the beans were just beginning to soften, I stirred in the chopped onion and garlic, dry mustard, Spanish smoked paprika, tomato paste, salt, and pepper, and simmered for another 45 minutes, adding small amounts of hot water as needed, until they were tender.

They came out looking plain enough . . .

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. . . but Santa Maria Pinquitos are truly great beans: They hold their shape well when cooked, are richly flavorful in their own right, and are happy to absorb additional flavors from their surroundings. Which this batch certainly did. Tom, the chile maker of the household, swears by Pinquitos for his own complex concoctions. But they’re equally a pleasure to have, as we did that evening, on an everyday dinner plate alongside the bloody rare sautéed burgers.
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That may be simple cooking, but it’s fine eating, especially alongside an eight-year-old Ridge Zinfandel.

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While the dishes named in the title above are linked by “and,” I hasten to assure you they weren’t eaten together. I made them as appetizers for two of Beloved Spouse’s culinary specialties, which he’d made within a short span of days: Louisiana shrimp remoulade to eat before gumbo and Mexican melted cheese before chili.

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Tom makes terrific oyster and sausage okra gumbos, one version of which I’ve written admiringly about here. For his latest rendition, it fell to me to prepare a worthy, but not overwhelming, first course. I chose a shrimp remoulade recipe from the Junior League of New Orleans’ Plantation Cookbook. The only shrimp remoulade I’d ever made before was a very elaborate version from Galatoire’s restaurant. This one was simpler: its remoulade sauce has only 9 ingredients, compared to Galatoire’s 12.

All the ingredients went into my mini food processor, which quickly converted chopped onion, chopped scallion, pressed garlic, grainy mustard, olive oil, wine vinegar, salt, cayenne, and paprika into a nubbly sauce. That went into the refrigerator overnight to integrate and develop its flavors. The next evening, to precede our gumbo, I arranged cold boiled shrimp on beds of shredded lettuce and topped them with the sauce.
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The remoulade wasn’t bad, and it complemented the shrimp well enough, but to our taste it wasn’t truly great, either. It was very acidic. That may be my fault, because the recipe called for tarragon vinegar and what I had was my own wine vinegar, which is very concentrated. I probably should have used less of it, or thinned it a little with water. Also, there was a lot more mustard in the mix, compared to Galatoire’s version, where the sharpness of the mustard is tempered by tomato puree and ketchup. So unless and until our palates want a really pungent shrimp remoulade, I guess I’ll revert to Galatoire’s version.

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A few days later, Tom made his Santa Maria Pinquito chili. He’s always tinkering with the details of his recipe, but he always uses those small, flavorful pinquito beans that we get from Rancho Gordo. And since he’s constitutionally incapable of making a small quantity of chili, we had to invite a few chili-loving friends to come and share it with us.

I’d planned to have guacamole and chips with aperitifs in the living room, so I needed something small to serve at the table before bringing on the main attraction. I turned to Rick Bayless’s Authentic Mexican cookbook for his queso fundido con rajas y chorizo, which I’d made successfully before. A dish of melted cheese with strips of roasted poblano pepper and crumbled chorizo is fairly hefty for an appetizer, but I made only very small portions.

Working alongside the chili chef in the kitchen, I made my advance preparations for the cheese dish. I roasted, peeled, seeded, and sliced a poblano chili into strips, which I sauteed along with some sliced onion. Next I peeled, chopped, and separately sauteed Mexican chorizo. And I cut Monterey Jack cheese into ½ inch cubes.

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Near serving time I put a pan of small, empty gratin dishes in a 375° oven. When they were hot, I spread the cheese cubes in them and returned them to the oven for five minutes, until the cheese was just bubbling. I took out the pan, strewed the pepper-onion mixture and the chorizo on the cheese, and put the pan back into oven for a final five minutes.
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Served with warm flour tortillas for scooping up the melted mixture, the queso fundido was a big hit with everyone. The combination of cheese, sausage, and vegetable flavors somehow made the whole greater than the sum of its parts. I must make this simple, satisfying dish more often!
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Millecosedde

The blizzard that engulfed the East Coast a few days ago provided the perfect occasion for me to make millecosedde. This Calabrian “soup of a thousand things” is a classic down-home, depth-of-winter dish, just the kind of comforting food you want when all you can see out your windows is madly swirling snow.

I had on hand all the ingredients called for in my recipe from The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen – fortunately, since I had no intention of venturing out that day. Following my own headnote suggestion, I started by checking the odds and ends of dried beans in the pantry, aiming for color contrasts. The best candidates were Great Northern (white), Rio Zape (red pinto), and Casteluccio lentils (golden brown).

beans soaking

I’d put them on to soak the night before. (The lentils didn’t need it, but it didn’t hurt them.) In the morning I drained them and put them in a big pot with shredded Savoy cabbage; sliced carrots, celery, onions, and mushrooms; and Beloved Spouse’s best homemade broth. After they had simmered together for an hour and a half, I stirred in salt, pepper, and a healthy dose of olive oil, and cooked for another half hour.

soup cooking

The pot then sat on the back of the stove until dinner time approached. The beans had absorbed most of the liquid by then, so I had to add some water to loosen up the soup. Separately, I boiled a batch of ditalini pasta, added that to the soup pot too, and cooked it for five more minutes. Off heat, I stirred in another dose of olive oil – extravirgin, this time – let it sit for a final five minutes, and served, adding freshly ground pepper and grated pecorino cheese to each bowlful.

millecosedde

Wonderfully warming, hearty winter food. Let it snow! (And it sure did: more than two feet in Manhattan.)

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Cassoulet for Christmas

My Christmas dinner this year emphasized heartiness rather than elegance. The main course was a big pot of cassoulet with lamb, garlic sausage, and duck confit. We were going to eat as if it were frigid winter outside, despite what the thermometer had been saying.

Cassoulet

Actually, my cassoulet recipe somehow got away from me this time. That’s a seven-quart pot, and there were only four of us dining. Some time ago I’d created a small recipe, much simplified from Julia Child’s version in Mastering, Vol. I, for a cassoulet for two. All I did this time was double it, but it certainly grew! Here are the components:

ingredients

The intimidating size of the dish was mostly because of the quantity of beans, I think. Rancho Gordo says its cassoulet beans are bred from original French Tarbais stock, which is the classic cassoulet bean. When I gave them an overnight soaking two evenings before Christmas, they swelled enormously. The next day, when I cooked them with onion, bacon, pork skin, garlic, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, and clove, they “swole” even more. Sampled, they already tasted delicious. They went into the refrigerator overnight.

Also that day in advance, I cooked chunks of lamb shoulder with onion, wine, broth, tomato paste, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. That stew also reposed in the refrigerator overnight, developing its flavor.

So by Christmas Day all the heavy work had already been done, and I had only to drain the beans, put them in the big pot, stir in the lamb and its liquid, tuck in slices of French-style garlic sausage and confit duck legs, add a little of the bean soaking liquid, and put the whole thing into a 375° oven for about an hour. I also boiled little German butterball potatoes in their jackets, to serve alongside.

cassoulet 1

That array of meats and beans made hefty platefuls, almost staggeringly rich and succulent. We bravely worked our way through them and, at the end, were surprised by how much we had managed to eat. Still, there were ample leftovers to look forward to in the days ahead.

Combined with a first course of coquilles St. Jacques nantaise and followed by a cheese course, a pear sorbet and Christmas cookies, plus, of course, wines from Beloved Spouse’s collection, that cassoulet made it a merry Christmas meal indeed.

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Tom and I are back from the birding trip to Costa Rica that I mentioned in my last post. Our very modest expectations for its gastronomical aspects were right on target: The food was fresh and flavorful, but there was a very narrow range of both ingredients and preparations.

Unexpectedly, breakfast was the meal we most enjoyed. At home, our breakfasts tend to be minimal (except on Sundays), but after arising at 5 am to spend the first hours of daylight out looking at birds, the prospect of coming in to a hearty breakfast is mighty attractive. As I said last week, the rice-and-bean dish called gallo pinto is an inescapable part of a Costa Rican breakfast. Here are a few that we had:

Gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, potato cakes, sausages

Gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, potato cakes, sausages

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Fried eggs, gallo pinto, plantains, ham & cheese sandwich, potato cake

Fried eggs, gallo pinto, plantains, ham & cheese sandwich, potato cake

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Gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, bananas, beef with mushrooms

Gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, bananas, beef with mushrooms

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For lunches on the road in rustic country restaurants, we always received casado, the archetypical Costa Rican mixed plate of rice, beans, plantains, and another vegetable or salad, surrounding a piece of protein – usually a choice of fish or chicken. The fish was often trout, sometimes tilapia, both of which are extensively farmed in the fast-running streams of the rain forests. Chicken seems to be the de facto national bird of Costa Rica (which, officially, is the clay-colored thrush). Though it was always good, I came to believe that most Costa Rican chickens were born legless – a disappointment to this dark-meat fancier. Dinners at the lodges where our birding group stayed were buffet-style, with only minor day-to-day variations on the same or similar food choices. (Tom has made me swear not to serve him chicken for at least the next month.) Some examples:

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Trout, beans, rice, plantains, cabocha squash, salad

Trout, beans, rice, plantains, cabocha squash, salad

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Tilapia, rice, beans, plantain, cabocha squash, salad

Tilapia, rice, beans, plantain, cabocha squash, salad

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Chicken berast, plantains, rice, beans, tomatoes, vegetable frittata, tortilla

Chicken breast, plantains, rice, beans, tomato salad, vegetable frittata, arepa

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So, all in all, the food on our trip was sustaining rather than exciting. But exciting the birding definitely was. In one week we saw nearly 200 species, including quetzals, trogons, motmots, toucans, parrots, aracaris, oropendolas, cotingas, manakins, honeycreepers, flower-piercers, and 23 different kinds of hummingbirds. Here we are at the end of an aerial tram ride through the rain forest. Quite a change from our usual urban life!

Aerial tram 1

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Tico Breakfast

Tom and I are away this week on a birding trip to Costa Rica – a terrific little country that we like very much. Dining isn’t especially a feature on these trips, but we hope to eat some good Tico food at the lodges where our group is staying. A few days before we left home, I thought to get us into the spirit of the local cuisine with a breakfast of gallo pinto with fried eggs and tortillas.

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Tico breakfast

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Virtually the Costa Rican national dish, this tasty mixture of rice and black beans can appear at any meal in that country, morning to night. I’d never made gallo pinto before, and I’m looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with it on its home ground, so I can see how close my dish (from a recipe found on the Web) was to the real thing.

I hope to have some interesting food encounters to tell you about on my return. Pura vida!

 

 

 

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Greenwich Village CookbookThe Greenwich Village Cookbook is a repository of local culinary and cultural history. Published in 1969, it has nearly 400 recipes from 75 restaurants and coffeehouses then active in the Village, with affectionate profiles of each. Most are long gone now, but several are still in business, though the recipes from those days reflect cooking styles of half a century ago. My friends Frank and Vickie gave me a copy of the book recently, and last weekend I made them a dinner from it.

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We started with The Coach House’s Black Bean Soup Madeira. Before it closed in 1993, the Coach House had been an immensely prestigious (also elegant and expensive) restaurant on Waverley Place for over 40 years, and black bean soup was one of its signature dishes.

This was one of the most time-consuming soups I’ve ever made. I started by cooking black beans in plain water for 1½ hours. At the end of that time, I added a sauté of chopped celery, onion, and parsley lightly thickened with flour; a whole smoked pork knuckle, a hillock of chopped leeks, a bay leaf, salt, and pepper. All that simmered together for 3 hours, after which I discarded the pork knuckle and bay leaf and pureed the soup. Next was to add Madeira (I didn’t happen to have any, so I used an oloroso sherry), reheat the soup, stir in chopped hard-boiled egg, and – finally – float a thin slice of lemon on top of each bowlful.

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It was a terrific soup – subtly spicy, lush and filling.  It made very clear why the Coach House had stood so long as a bastion of fine American cooking.

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Our main course was Chicken al Charro. El Charro Español is one of the surviving restaurants from those days: It still serves traditional Spanish food in its modest basement premises on Charles Street. Tom and I used to eat there in the early ’70s, and I often ordered its chicken, so when I found the recipe in the cookbook I knew I had to try to reproduce it.

Unlike the soup, this was a fairly simple dish to make. I cut up a nice plump chicken, rubbed the pieces with a paste of crushed garlic, ground cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper, and dredged them with flour. I softened a sliced onion in olive oil, added the chicken pieces, browned them briskly, then lowered the heat, covered the pan, and let them cook until tender. Just before serving I sprinkled on some red wine and additional crushed garlic. That, along with the cooking juices in the pan, made a tiny sauce to moisten the chicken pieces.

Chicken al Charro

This was a good, lively dish. It was important to have a really flavorful chicken; I think a bland supermarket bird would’ve been overwhelmed by the spicing. The final garlic addition was fairly pungent, but it was balanced by the other seasonings. My dish didn’t fully equal my recollection of the restaurant’s long-ago version – but the warm glow of memory and nostaglia has probably gilded that particular lily. I could check it out, though: Pollo al Charro is still on the menu.

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For a small fruit dessert, I chose Oranges à l’Arabe, attributed to Casey’s, a long-defunct down-home French-New Orleans-jazz restaurant on West 10th Street. There didn’t seem to be anything very Arabian about the recipe, but it sounded attractive. I peeled four oranges, made slivers of some of the peel, and cooked the slivers in sugar syrup for 30 minutes. When the syrup was cool I stirred in dry curaçao, poured it over the sliced oranges, and put the dish in the refrigerator until needed.

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It was very simple and very refreshing – a pleasant finish for a pleasant meal in the style of the Greenwich Village of our youth.

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Here’s the report I promised, last week, on what Tom and I ate on our trip to Honduras. It’s a little disappointing: the meals were abundant and edible, but not thrilling. Most were at the lodge where we stayed, and its restaurant was heavy on choices like Eggs Benedict, French Toast, Fettuccini Alfredo, Caesar Salad, Chicken Cordon Bleu, and Rack of Lamb. Moreover, too often the menu’s reach exceeded the chef’s grasp.

However, we did manage to get some reasonable Latin American dishes. There was this Catracho Breakfast: an omelette with onions, refried beans with cheese and sour cream, sautéed plantains, avocado, and warm tortillas. (Hondurans call themselves “Catrachos.”)

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Huevos Rancheros were attractive, but much too bland for our taste. Otherwise-good Fish Tacos could have used more zip, too. Guess the kitchen was afraid to frighten off the gringos.

two dishes

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On the other hand, this Tortilla Soup was the best I’ve ever eaten. We both started several dinners with it. I couldn’t figure out what exactly was in it, but I’m going to have to try various recipes soon to see if I can recreate those flavors.

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Another extremely good starter, seemingly very simple, was a corn tamale that tasted mostly of sweet fresh corn. I ate it with such enthusiasm I completely forgot about taking a photo of it!

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The Fish of the Day was always good, once we could get the kitchen to just grill it, not serve it blackened, with garlic, or with basil. This one was a sea bass, we were told.

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I approached the Tequila Shrimp with some suspicion, but it was fine too. The shrimp were very fresh, and the sauce very good over rice, though I couldn’t really discern any tequila flavor in it.

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We had one lunch at a beachfront restaurant, where I had an excellent conch salad. You can’t see the conch very well, but there was a lot of it: tender and flavorful, with a light, creamy dressing. Tom’s lunch was a generous plate of grilled fish with a topping of sauteed onions and tomatoes, a mound of rice and black beans, and a raft of fried plantains. With that meal (and with many others, truth to tell) we drank Salva Vida, Honduras’s beer, an icy-cold bottle of which is truly a Life Saver in this tropical climate.

triple pic

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The major gastronomical disappointment of the trip was the almost complete absence of mangoes. We had many fruit plates with papayas, pineapples, and bananas, all more richly flavorful than anything we get in in this country. All along the highways were huge, gorgeous trees just dripping with ripe mangoes; some of the trails we walked were littered with fallen fruits that the birds and other animals had enjoyed, but our lodge just didn’t serve them.

By special request, we did get a few tastes, but apparently Hondurans appreciate unripe mangoes – green mangoes, they proudly announced. We just don’t understand that particular preference. Ironically, the juiciest mango we had was in the tiny fruit plate served on the airplane on our way home.  Oh, well – the sidewalk fruit stands in our neighborhood all have mangoes now, so we won’t be totally bereft.

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My trip to Paris earlier this month included a search-and-acquire mission. Autumn is the season for Coco de Paimpol beans, and I wanted some! On my last trip, in 2007 at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant Benôit, I ate a superb cassoulet made with this prized bean variety grown only in northern Brittany. Ever since, I’d looked for them in vain in the US, so I hoped to find some dried ones this year in the Paris traiteurs.

I had no luck in that regard, but the produce department in the huge, wonderful “gourmet” section of Galeries Lafayette had fresh ones in the pods. This was not really practical, but I couldn’t resist. I bought a kilo. Back in our typically tiny Parisian hotel room, Tom and I shucked them and spread them out to dry for the three days remaining in our trip.

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Every day I put fresh tissues under them to absorb their moisture, and stuffed them in a paper bag for the times when the maid would be in to do the room.

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They dried pretty well, even in the grey and drizzly weather, but I didn’t want to take a chance on the US customs confiscating them as fresh vegetables. I wrapped them as best I could and buried them in my toiletry kit for the flight home. Once back, I gave them a few more days drying on a sunny windowsill and planned the cassoulet I’d make with them.

Now, cassoulet is a great dish, but most serious recipes for it serve 8 to 12 people. My kilo of fresh beans yielded a mere 8 ounces when shucked and dried, so I needed to downsize a recipe to feed just Tom and me. Julia Child’s version in Mastering, volume I, is the recipe I use when making cassoulet for a crowd, so I started there.

Accordingly, the first thing was to cook the beans in water with chopped onion, diced, blanched bacon, an herb bouquet of garlic, parsley, thyme, clove, and bay leaf, and a 6” chunk of fresh kielbasi, which Julia allows as a substitute for saucisson à l’ail.

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The next step was to prepare the principal meats. I stewed half a pound of boneless lamb shoulder as Julia directs, with onions, tomato paste, thyme, bay leaf, white wine, and broth. In place of the recipe’s roast pork I used her alternate suggestion of roast duck: Two nights before we’d had a duck for dinner, whose legs I’d providently saved for the cassoulet.

Then all I had to do was assemble everything in the casserole and put it in the oven for about three quarters of an hour. I skipped the traditional breadcrumb crust topping, since there was ample richness in the dish without it, and just boiled a few potatoes to serve alongside.

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The Coco de Paimpol beans had plumped up beautifully in the cooking and tasted delicious, as I’d hoped – and so did everything else, including the 1998 Domaine de la Solitude Châteauneuf du Pape that Tom produced from his wine closet to accompany our modest two-person cassoulet. A memorable meal, and my Parisian mission accomplished.

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P.S.  While in Paris Tom and I also, happily, had some Coco de Paimpol beans in a restaurant. The plat du jour for our Sunday dinner at Le Petit Celadon was a roasted pork chop served on a bed of the pureed beans and surrounded by braised chanterelles. Not shabby!

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Hamburger Rolls for Superbowl

Very few things can take Tom and me away from our dining room table at dinnertime. Superbowl is one of them. Especially with the Giants playing! So the big question for last Sunday became “What can we eat on plates on our laps on the couch in front of the television?” And the answer became: Hamburgers.

Now, a good hamburger deserves a good roll, but commercial hamburger buns are pretty awful – giant puffy marshmallows with an artificial suntan pretending to be a crust. Upscale groceries’ bakery departments offer many kinds of fancy rolls that, enfolding a juicy burger, will give your palate and teeth something more to consider. But I thought it’d be a good day to fire up the oven and make my own.

The recipe I use is for mini picnic rolls, from the King Arthur flour people. I merely shape the dough into 8 good-sized rolls instead of 24 tiny ones. I like the recipe because it’s got a little cornmeal in it, a little sugar, and a little butter, making for a nice flavor and texture. (The recipe also wants a smidge of potato flour or dried potato flakes, but since my pantry doesn’t run to those, I just skip that.)

The rolls came out well, though a little larger than ideal and a little fragile (crumbs on the lap, the sofa, and the living room floor during the exciting moments of the game). This was probably because I used half again as much yeast as the recipe called for. I thought I ought to because my regular breads haven’t been rising as much as they should lately. I buy instant yeast by the pound and keep it in the freezer. I just noticed that the current package’s “best if used by” date is March 2011, so I’m pushing the envelope, even with the preservative capability of the freezing. Guess I’d better buy fresh yeast.

Anyway, we had a comforting coffee-table picnic (the urban equivalent of the tailgate party) while we struggled along with the Giants toward their glorious cliff-hanger victory. To accompany the hamburgers we’d made baked beans, potato salad, and green salad, and set out homemade bread-and-butter pickles and Tom’s famously spicy doctored ketchup. And in defiance of all those beer commercials on the tube, we drank Ridge Zinfandel and San Pellegrino.

(You can see a bit of the football game reflected in the glass at the back of the table.)

If you’re interested in these rolls, you can find the recipe on the King Arthur website.

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