I came out of hibernation like any other animal – groggy, aching, and ravenous. I searched through the cabinets, and raided the fridge. I pulled out anything that could possibly resemble a recipe. I found some frozen blueberries I picked last summer, a cup of sugar I managed to scrape from the bottom of my sugar jar, a couple “ends of the sticks” of butter I had in the fridge (anyone else do that?! Just me?) and one lemon that probably should have been tossed in to the compost bucket last week. I found some violet black tea I had made last spring (and by “made” I mean I threw some dried violets from by back yard in to some Earl Grey tea – pretty fancy, huh?) and added that to the pile of scavenged ingredients. I think I did a happy dance when I found that I had a full bottle of buttermilk that wasn't past its expiration date, and a jar of fluffy cake flour.
I put my apron on, dusted off my Kitchen Aid, and got to work. Making that cake felt so good. It felt like spring had finally arrived, and I was back to being myself again. What made me even happier was that the cake actually turned out good! Great even. I promise to share that recipe with you soon – when the violets here in Massachusetts are finally blooming and the snow has all melted (but if you live somewhere that has blooming violets now, pick them! Save them! Dry them and put them in a jar for later!)
It has, obviously, been a while since I last put a recipe up. I have been in a bit of a blogging rut the past few months, as you know from the post I wrote in January. It took me a while to realize what I wanted to do with this space, and how I was going to achieve those goals. Its really hard, trying to live up to your own expectations. I desperately wanted to get post after post up - putting out delicious recipes and gorgeous photos each time – but whenever I went to write or cook, it wouldn't come out. I am not really sure why. I think it's partly because we got a new puppy, and we were totally sleep deprived for a month (WHY doesn't anyone tell you that having a puppy is like having a newborn?! Oh. Wait. They did. I just chose to ignore them) but I don't think that was the whole reason for the hibernation. I think it was mostly me hiding from me. I think that over the past six months, I was so overwhelmed with trying to be “good” at blogging, that I let my own fears and insecurities get in the way. I don't want anyone to think that in these weeks that I have been absent from Bread+Barrow, that I was either uninspired or feeling a lack of creativity – because that is not the case. I am constantly inspired by my surroundings here in New England. Every time I drive to the grocery store I am filled with new ideas and images of recipes that I want to create. I guess sometimes life just gets in the way of things, and a hibernation period is necessary to regroup and rest.
After making the cake, I found a burst of energy and a deep need to get in the kitchen and make something new. I went to the farm with a mission in mind – I wanted to make red flannel hash. I found an old recipe in one of the New England cook books I had been researching. I had never heard of red flannel hash before, but the name alone intrigued me. It sounded like something lumber jacks in Maine would eat for breakfast in the chilly winter months. I found this explanation on the name from The Heart of New England website; “One [theory] is that a woman, angry with her husband, threw in his red flannels into the dinner hash. He liked it so much (and was unaware of his missing flannels) that, when she was in a better mood, the wife substituted beets the next time. Another story says this dish came into being in Vermont during the Revolutionary war when the Green Mountain Boys and Ethan Allen grew so desperately hungry that they added their red flannels in with their potatoes (although the cold nights in Vermont make this story dubious).” I really liked both explanations for the funny name, and I thought this recipe would be fitting for the end of this infinite winter we have been having. Plus – corned beef! I could try to brine something on my own – hurray!
I bought a big ol slab of beef and brought it home to brine. I was pretty nervous to plunge a piece of raw meet in some salted water, stick it in the fridge for ten days and then eat it without killing myself. I kept close tabs with Patrick – the trusty chef – who assured me that no, I would not die from eating the brined beef. I'm pretty sure the Pilgrims used recipes like this one, and hey – they all survived, right?
Brining turned out to be a pretty easy task. There are so many ways to brine something (and so many things to brine!) and I found this article very useful, being a brining newbie. I used Alton Browns recipe this time, because the man is thorough with the chemistry and I trust his scientific mind (plus the few texts and phone calls exchanged with Patrick to reassure me – I sometimes need to hear the words “don't worry, you wont die if you do this”).
In this recipe, I started with some spices, a bit of sugar and a lot of salt. Adding a bunch of water, I heated the brine until the salt and sugar were dissolved. Once dissolved, I removed the brine from the heat and add a ton of ice cubes to cool the mixture. After the ice melted and the brine was sufficiently cooled, I added the beef. I had to weigh down my beef with a small porcelain bowl to be sure that it was completely submerged in the brine. Then, it was covered and put in to the refrigerator for ten days! Yikes!
I am happy to report that after the ten days were up, the beef did not rot or smell terrible or look like a science experiment - which is definitely what I was expecting. It actually looked really great, and smelled like the spices I had put in the brine. I rinsed the beef off under cool water and discarded the brine. I used some parsnips, an onion and some garlic in my corned beef recipe. The beef went right back on to the stove in my cast iron pot (the same one it was brined in - after it was washed, of course!) with the veggies and a bunch of water. It bubbled and boiled away for a few hours, until the meat was tender and pulling apart easily.
Taking that corned beef out of the pot and gently shredding the meat was so satisfying. It was a long process, and an even longer time coming - but cooking again and feeling like my hibernation was at last coming to an end was such a relief. I felt as if I could finally open my eyes and blink in the sunlight, stretch out and shake off this snowy winter.
So I have to admit that the one food I really don't care for is the beet. Its something with the texture - its kind of, um, fleshy? I don't know how else to explain it. I feel that with my Polish heritage, I should love them - and I really want to - they are so beautiful and such a versatile root veggie - but I just can't get through it. Except this recipe. This recipe has me eating beets and not even realizing it! I basically just mom-tricked myself in to eating beets, and I feel like that is a pretty big accomplishment. The beets are chopped so tiny, and the potatoes and parsnips kind of mask the beet texture. Plus, there is bacon and that awesome corned beef in there too - so many beet-hiding flavors! Of course, if you are one of those that love love love beets, you can leave them in bigger chunks and really revel in the beet eating pleasures. Me, I leave them small, and just thank them for their beautiful red color. This hash is not only yummy, but its also really pretty. The beets give it such a pretty shade of red, and the white potatoes flecked in make it look like red flannel - perhaps the real source behind the name…perhaps.
With this new season comes new adventures and new creations. I had the pleasure of meeting Betty from Le Jus d'Orange a couple of weeks ago, and we instantly struck up a friendship. She is just as sweet as her lovely blog conveys - and such a talented cook, photographer, stylist and writer. Seriously, everything that girl puts out is spot on. Her strong Chinese heritage is such a huge influence in her culinary life, I find it completely intriguing to learn all about the different ways of cooking and fantastic ingredients I have never heard of before! On that note, I am so excited to be working with Betty in the future - collaborating on things from recipes and blog posts to workshops and dinner parties. It is going to be a lot of fun - so stay tuned.
I also have a couple of exciting post coming up for spring - Phil and I were just at Appleton Farms in Ipswich finding out all about the maple sugaring process. We learned how to gather the sap, how to boil it down to syrup and then bottling it all on site. What is even better is that I was told about how you can do it at home - all out of your home kitchen. I can't wait to share that one with you in the next few weeks - with an accompanying maple recipe of course!
So fling open those windows wide, let that sunshine and sweet air in. The hibernation season is over, we are out to play and eat, explore and adventure once again.
•For the Corned Beef•
from Alton Brown
•For the Brine•
• 2 quarts water
• 1 cup kosher salt
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons saltpeter
• 1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
• 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
• 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
• 8 whole cloves
• 8 whole allspice berries
• 12 whole juniper berries
• 2 bay leaves, crumbled
• 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
• 2 pounds ice
• 1 (4 to 5 pound) beef brisket, trimmed
•FOR THE CORNED BEEF•
• 1 onion, quartered
• 3 parsnips, coarsely chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
Place the water into a large 6 to 8 quart stockpot along with salt, sugar, saltpeter, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves and ginger. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the ice. Stir until the ice has melted. If necessary, place the brine into the refrigerator until it reaches a temperature of 45 degrees F. Once it has cooled, place the brisket in a 2-gallon zip top bag (I used my Le Cruset cast iron enamel pot) and add the brine. Seal and lay flat inside a container, cover and place in the refrigerator for 10 days. Check daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged and stir the brine.
After 10 days, remove from the brine and rinse well under cool water. Place the brisket into a pot just large enough to hold the meat, add the onion, parsnip and garlic and cover with water by 1-inch. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender. Remove from the pot and thinly slice across the grain.
•For the Red Flannel Hash•
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 onion, chopped
• 1 clove of garlic, chopped
• 3 small beets, cooked and diced
• 5 medium potatoes, cooked and diced
• 3 parsnips, cooked and chopped
• 6 pieces thick cut bacon
• 2 cups shredded cooked corned beef
• pinch of black pepper
In a cast iron skillet, saute the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent.
Add the beets, potatoes, parsnips, corned beef, bacon and a pinch of black pepper. Stir to combine, and spread evenly in the pan. Gently press the hash in to the pan to brown the bottom. Try not to stir the hash, because you want to create a nice golden crust.
Carefully with the metal spatula, lift up sections of the hash and turn over to brown the other side.
Once the hash is browned, remove from the heat. Serve hot, with a fried egg, or on its own – its delicious either way!
listening to: Nothing But a Heat Beat by Say Lou Lou (thank you Sini!)