Oatmeal upgrade

For a person with such a deep love for bowls of mushy, warm carbs, I sure do hate oatmeal. I hate how it doesn’t stay warm, it takes forever to eat, how bland it is even with sugar, and most of all it’s stodgy texture (thank you GBBO for teaching me that word). But as a person with a deep obsession with bowls of mushy, warm carbs, I’ve always wanted to love oatmeal and over the past couple weeks I’ve found myself determined to do so. I am happy to report: I have finally cracked the code.

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Let’s breakdown the problems:

1. It doesn’t stay warm and takes forever to eat.
Easy, eat it out of an insulated coffee mug. Who cares how long it takes to eat if it stays warm?
Alternately if you’re a crazy person like me: put a heating pad under the bowl on the kitchen table.
2. The bland flavor.
I tackled this one from a couple different angles- some innovative, some all too predictable. First, toasting the oatmeal in a pat of butter brings out it’s natural nutty flavor. Then I added coconut milk and a little red kuri squash puree, 2 teaspoons of brown sugar and yes, you guessed it- a spoonful of miso to pull it all together.
3. The stodgy texture.
Toasted oats not only taste better, but hold their shape and texture beautifully. Most oatmeal packaging will tell you to cook by mixing a 1:2 ratio grains to water. Forget you ever heard this! Oats release starch into liquid as they cook, which both thickens porridge and almost always creates a stodgy texture. Give them a little space to groove with a 1:4 ratio instead. 1/2 cup oats to 2 cups liquid. For me this was a 15 ounce can coconut milk and a splash of water. I’m sure you could use whatever kind of milk you have on hand- whole milk, oat milk, almond milk- but avoid cream, as it also creates too dense of a texture.

Toasted oatmeal and pumpkin porridge
serves two with toppings

1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 cups creamy liquid such as coconut milk or almond milk
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon red miso

1. Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium and melt the butter. Add oats and stir frequently until they are lightly brown and smell like popcorn, about four minutes.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the porridge is just thick enough to hold toppings, about 20 minutes.

How to caramelize winter squash

Is it just me, or do you have an idealized notion about what winter squash should taste like too? I always, and I mean always expect it to taste like kaddo from The Helmand in Cambridge (which I found out recently is made of pumpkin baked in literal heaps of sugar). But then I go to the store, buy an acorn squash or something, bake it and am surprised to find it taste more like dirt than sugar. Every damn Fall.

The bad news is: the flavor of a winter squash is never going to live up to the romanticized version of it in your mind without the aide of heaps of sugar.
The good news is: there are certain techniques you can use to coax the natural sugars out of a pumpkin and get it tasting less like dirt and more like a vegetable you don’t resent.

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  1. Start with a low-moisture and/or high sugar variety.
    My personal favorite is the red kuri squash, which is known for it’s dense texture and nutty flavor. You may have more luck finding one of those crazy cute and increasingly popular honeynut squash at a store like Trader Joe’s. At the farmer’s market, keep an eye out for blue hubbards, kabocha squash and peanut pumpkins (the more warts the better!). Delicata are delicious and easy to work with, but they’re actually in the same family as summer squash/zucchini and their flavor shows it. They lack that deep, rounded sweetness of a true winter squash.

  2. Old pumpkins are good pumpkins!
    In case you’ve missed one of the 200 times I’ve talked (bragged) about it, Eivind grew all the red kuri squash I’m working with this year. And one of the first things I learned about pumpkins is: they’re not good right after they’re picked! The sugars are not fully developed and they tend to be overly fibrous. Don’t be surprised if you buy two squash at the same time, roast one right away and find that the second one becomes much more caramelized when you bake it two weeks later.

  3. Use a sturdy, flat baking sheet and don’t crowd the pan.
    Surface area is key to caramelization. All the color that will develop on the flat sides of the squash will come from contact with the hot pan. It’s important that the pan sits evenly and holds heat evenly. You will still get decent color if you line the pan with parchment paper or a silpat, but the best color comes from direct squash to pan action.

  4. Put the pan in the oven while it preheats.
    This both helps the squash begin caramelizing instantly when it hits the hot pan and keeps it from sticking.

  5. Slice no thinner than 1”.
    To really have time to caramelize, you will need to bake your squash for at least 40 minutes at 400 to 425 degrees. I find that 1” slices cook through just the right amount in the time it takes for them to also get golden brown.

  6. Salt at the last minute!
    Liquid is the enemy of caramelization and if you salt any vegetable and let it sit even for five minutes, it will begin to draw out water. So here’s how this is going to play out:
    -peel your pumpkin if it’s bigger than a melon or exceptionally warty. scoop out the seeds and slice it into 1” pieces.
    -preheat the oven (with the pan inside) to 400 if your oven is reliable or up to 425 if it is not
    -when the oven come to temp, toss squash with olive oil and plenty of salt
    -turn it out onto the hot pan, making sure the cut sides are laying flat. add another drizzle of olive oil for good measure.
    -bake 20 minutes, flip, then bake 20 more minutes or until soft and golden. the cooking time will vary between squash, but generally speaking, the smaller and softer the squash, the faster it will cook. A honeynut, for example, can be halved and baked cut side-down in 20-30 minutes.

CSA week 23 Overview

After 23 weeks, I finally made it out to the farm in Smyrna to pick up my CSA basket, only I came too late in the day and my basket was already en route to Nashville. But because everyone at Bloomsbury Farm is the best, they packed me another basket and let me give input about what I wanted (yes fairytale eggplant, 1,000 times no to more sprouts). I never thought I’d say this, especially after how clingy I felt about tomatoes at the end of August, but wow, I am glad it’s not tomato season anymore. For a moment there I thought Summer would last all winter, the tomato plants would never die and I would melt! Too much of a good thing, geez.

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In the basket:

bok choy
tat soi
en choy
eggplant
sweet potatoes
turnips with their greens
a very cute lil hubbard squash

The plan:

1. Ever heard of a little recipe called steamed sweet potatoes with tahini butter? No? Well, prepare to get hooked. You’ll want to make them every time you get sweet potatoes. A steamer basket is helpful, but here’s how to DIY a steamer. I will likely throw the eggplant into the steamer too
2. Maybe you already saw this on my Thursday links, but I have ants in my pants to make Ben Mims’ pumpkin bread. He walks us through how to make our own pumpkin puree for the loaf and I think the baby hubbard squash or a red kuri squash will do nicely in place of a sugar pumpkin. It’s topped with salty, spiced, crunchy BREAD CRUMBS, which is a stroke of genius only Ben Mim’s would have. You may remember Ben Mims’ other genius recipe I was deeply obsessed with this Summer: Savory Tomato Clafoutis.
3. The bok choy is already gone, eaten steamed along with some sprouted tofu on top of Smitten Kitchen’s sesame noodles, which I make at least twice a month.
4. IT. IS. CONGEE. SEASON!!!!!!!!!!! I’m gonna stir fry the turnip greens and en choy with toasty garlic and sesame oil to go on top of congee with a soft boiled egg and hot sauce, TKO style.
5. One of my favorite recipes we made while shooting Rob Newton’s brand spankin’ new cookbook, Seeking the South, is turnip and potato pancakes with yogurt, dill and dillybeans. Maybe I’ll photograph it and share the recipe with you in the next couple days! I’ll probably skip the dillybeans, since green beans are now out of season and I still have half a jar of pickled fennel from my steak with brunost sauce dinner.
6. I saved the most generic for last. I happen to have just a little homemade tomato sauce and half a package of store-bought gnocchi lying around in the fridge. For the record, I would like you to know that I did not purchase dried gnocchi. It was here at Eivind’s house when I got here and has been sitting in the pantry ever since. I opened it out of desperation when we got back from Norway and now, here we are. It’s not…the worst thing in the world. I’m not too good to eat it. But I certainly don’t recommend you buy dried gnocchi from Trader Joe’s. ANYWAY, I will be eating it with the tomato sauce, some herbs, and the eggplant pan fried in butter.

Flap steak with brunost pan sauce and pickled fennel

Norwegians and I agree on a lot of things: salty licorice gummy fish are the best candy, humans shouldn’t work after 4pm, everyone should be quiet everywhere, mushy bowls of warm carbs are an art form, and breakfast and lunch should always include bread and cheese. Specifically: brunost.

Technically speaking, brunost isn’t a cheese at all but a by-product of cheese. It’s made by slowly cooking down and caramelizing leftover whey. Have you ever heard a more Pantry Raid thing in your life?

The flavor is mild and reminds me of brown butter. The texture is dense, creamy and a little odd, almost sticky. You either love it or you hate it. I ADORE it. Not only is it the most perfect topping for a piece of buttered bread, it melts like a dream. Norwegians like to use it to thicken stew. I have big ideas about putting it in frangipane and cheesy grits and hot chocolate, but until I have time to recipe test, here’s something a little more traditional- a pan sauce made with stock, fermented dairy and brunost. If you happen to have some juniper berries on hand to flavor this sauce, that would be very Norwegian. If not, freshly cracked black pepper is nice too.

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Flap Steak with Brunost Pan Sauce
-serves four

1 1/3 pounds flap steak
neutral oil
kosher salt
2/3 cup good stock
1T honey
60 grams grated brunost (about one cup)
a scant cup room temperature creme fraiche
1T cornstarch slurried with 2T water
fresh cracked black pepper

Pickled fennel
one medium bulb fennel
1 small shallot
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup filtered water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2T sugar
2 bay leaves
warm spices such as 8 whole cloves, 2 star anise, or a 3” cinnamon stick

1. Make the pickled fennel: slice the fennel and shallot very, very thin and place in a clean jar with bay leaves and spices. Bring vinegar, water, sugar and salt to a boil, then pour over the vegetables. Set aside to cool.
2. Make the steak: let a cast iron skillet preheat over high for at least five minutes. Pat steak dry and season with kosher salt. Add enough oil to the pan to thinly coat it. Cook steak on the first side for five minutes and on the second side for 3-4 minutes for a perfect medium to medium rare.
3. Remove steak from the pan and let it rest on a plate tented with foil. Turn the heat down to low, pour stock and honey into the pan with the steak drippings and bring to a simmer. Add the rest of the ingredients, ending with cornstarch slurry and whisk constantly until the sauce is smooth and thickened, 3-5 minutes. Add in any juices the steak has released and lots of black pepper, taste and add salt if needed. Serve immediately.