First, let's get some business out of the way: I can't take any pictures of my recipes because my house is, well, littered with broken cameras. Until I can afford to have one of them repaired (see doe-eyed "donate" button at right!), I'll just be supplementing posts with stock photos and images pillaged (gratefully and with all credit due!) from teh internets. Aside from these, you'll just have to use your imagination.
Alright, moving along. ;)
January rolled around, and I thought the world was finally taking long-awaited revenge on my appetite. The holiday season had stretched into two months of delightful, ridiculous gluttony, during which time J and I went to a pie party, helped cook up an absurd Thanksgiving feast, and gorged on truffles, pork belly, oysters, vanilla custard, wassail, and Christmas morning casserole until we resembled soft, fluffy versions of our former selves. Thankfully, the New Year arrived with all its resolve; the midwinter farmers markets finally thinned down to jam-and-onions skeletons of themselves; and a new bike and a high-impact canoe trip in the Everglades jump-started us into an exercise regimen. We have become, for this brief moment in time, carb-eschewing, push-up-doing people.
I thought it was really going to suck. I mean, I haven't really exercised since college, and my favorite food is pie. I figured within a fews weeks, we'd be another statistic: 92% of Americans either fail in their resolutions, or don't even bother to resolve anything.
Maybe it's too early to tell, I'll grant you that - but I'm totally having a great time! I feel good, I have tons of energy, I'm coming to appreciate different kinds of food a lot more. Even better, I'm somehow cooking more while eating less, in an effort to plan meals ahead. Limiting the variety of foods you eat demands creativity in preparation, too - so I'm dusting off old cookbooks (the ones hiding behind The Good Cookie and The Cake Book) and experimenting with new flavors. Also, I'm grilling like a...grill-bandit.
(Note that I have purposefully omitted that dreaded "D" word - diet. We're not some South-Beach-following calorie nazis over here or anything - just creating some new habits and taking better care of our bodies. Omitting pasta from the menu doesn't mean I don't slather my chicken in Charley Biggs' Sweet Bourbon BBQ sauce.)
But don't think I'm resisting my passion for baking! I still get to watch cakes rise and enjoy that warm vanilla smell (and perhaps lick the occasional bowl) by baking constantly - and giving away the goods! This hobby ends up benefiting everybody because it has engendered a little informal economy; cakes and pies are exchanged for fresh seafood at the fishmonger, a bike tuneup at the hardware store, and...well, I do my best to refuse the outpouring of generosity, in the form of zeppoli and calzones, offered by the local pizza place. But communities are knit and everyone is fed and happy.
What all of this means for you readers is that a) I'll be trotting out a bunch of new recipes that focus on lean meats and fresh vegetables (and the occasional whole grain) - but b) I'll still be baking pies and cakes and talking about those too. Once again, everyone benefits.
It's funny how, with some foods, I have a whole variety of preparations stored up - like Forrest Gump says, "there's shrimp kebabs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan fried, deep fried, stir fried...pineapple shrimp and lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup..." But with other, overlooked foods, there's just one standby preparation in my mental recipe folder. Pan-seared pork chops. Sauteed spinach with garlic. Green beans, boiled with a slice of bacon or a ham hock.
So now that the vegetable is less of a forgettable "side item" and more of an important part of the meal, I'm in search of a diversity of textures and flavor combinations. Here's a stellar recipe, adapted from Cook's Illustrated, for Orange-Scented Green Beans with Maple Glazed Pecans - rich, complex, sweet-salty flavors with a couple of kinds of crunch. You might not think that the candied pecans, sitting atop the beans like glossy gems, really go - but wait until you take a bite.
Orange-Scented Green Beans with Maple Glazed Pecans
- ¾ cup pecans
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 medium shallots, minced (about ½ cup)
- 1 teaspoon grated zest plus 1/3 cup juice from 1 large orange
- Pinch cayenne
- 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- 1½ pounds green beans, stem ends trimmed
- 2/3 cup chicken broth
Toast the pecans in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in 1 tablespoon butter, maple syrup, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Return to medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until nuts are dry and glossy, about 45 seconds. Transfer to plate and set aside.
Rinse out skillet. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to medium; when foaming subsides, add shallots, orange zest, and cayenne and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in flour until combined, then toss in green beans. Add chicken broth and orange juice; increase heat to medium-high, cover, and cook until beans are partly tender but still crisp at center, about 4 minutes. Uncover and cook about 4 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender and sauce has thickend slightly. Off heat, salt to taste, transfer to serving dish, sprinkle evenly with pecans, and serve.
- You might as well go ahead and double the pecan part of the recipe - you're going to eat most of them before the rest of the dish is done, and you'll be craving more to munch on the next day.
- Alternately, you could coarsely chop the pecans first, for a more evenly distributed texture.
- I liked a touch more cayenne than this recipe requires.
- Others have seasoned the finished dish with black pepper and chopped fresh sage. I felt that sage would overpower the orange essence, and preferred to let the sweet-savory, nutty-fruitiness of the dish shine all by itself.