It’s been a minute. I recognize this blog may as well be one clever sister. But, alas, I am back!
Many, many months ago I was over at a friend’s house and she was making Slow Cooker Black Bean Ragout by Deb Perelman from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Now I love black beans. Love love love. I also love a slow cooker recipe. So I decided to check it out at the library. So often, I buy a cookbook and only use one or two recipes from it. Checking it out from the library is almost like a screening process. See if I like it and if I even use it before I have to turn it back in.
I loved the cookbook. I found that the ingredients in the cookbook were ingredients I loved to cook with, but there was always a new twist on the recipe. It passed the screening process. Don’t worry. It’s not overdue at the library. I talked it up so much that my mom bought it for me as a present! Thanks Mom!
I am so overdue for talking about this cookbook that I will just list a couple of the recipes I have tried with a short description of why I love them so.
Honey and Harissa Farro Salad- The best. This salad incorporates farro, carrots, parsnips and feta with a little mint. This is my first tasting of harissa, a Tunisian hot pepper sauce that provides a great kick in a salad. Also, what I love about this recipe is that it makes me eat a vegetable that I hate. This recipe calls for one pound of parsnips. Yech! But, actually, YUM! It asks that you cut them into two inch lengths and then roast them at 400 degrees for twenty minutes. The roasting of the parsnips along with the carrots make it just the right amount of crunchy to top the salad. An added bonus is that they are great for my little baby to eat with her hands and she hates spoons!
Emmentaler on Rye with Sweet and Sour Red Onions- Love this fancy, schmancy grilled cheese. I had some friends over a few months ago and I loved serving them these sandwiches. Quick and easy, but the best part of these sandwiches are the caramelized onions. To make them I just mixed butter, balsamic vinegar, red onions and brown sugar. So delicious. This part of the recipe really makes you feel like you are eating a sandwich from a restaurant, not a thrown together one from home.
Black Bean Ragout- This is the reason I was interested in the cookbook to start with. I know Deb Perelman is known for lots of interesting vegetarian dishes and I think this is a classic example. As with all her recipes, the steps in this recipe are fairly simple. This dish is fantastic because you just throw all the ingredients in and let it cook in a slow cooker for about four hours. The black beans, onions and various spices could be enough to satisfy me, but in addition there are all sorts of sides that make this dish just a tad different from your average black bean stew. Instead of being served in a bowl it’s served on top of sliced ciabatta bread ( or french bread will do) with garlic that is rubbed on top after it is toasted in the broiler. There is also a crema to put on top which is just cumin and sour cream (or yogurt). Even though it’s just the addition of one spice, it makes the meal. The other fabulous side dish is the onions which is just sliced red onions with a tablespoon of lime juice. This adds a great balance to the sort of subdued flavors.
Golden Sheet Cake with Berry Buttercream- I made this cake for my daughter’s 1st birthday. The cake was extremely easy. A sheet pan is all you need for equipment, plus parchment paper to help get it out of pan if you want to put it on a serving plate. The frosting looks difficult, but really it’s just about getting a variety of berries and splitting the frosting in four batches. The ingredients are simple: 1 cup of confectioners sugar, 4 tablespoons of butter and about a tablespoon of berry puree. I pureed about a cup of each fruit (blueberry, raspberry and blackberries), but I knew I’d have leftover. If you decide to make this, the extra fruit is great in smoothies.
Probably the most annoying thing about making this frosting is that you have to do it in batches so expect a large load of dishes. It is actually only three batches of frosting because the blueberry batch is doubled. Once you make the blueberry frosting, you have to split it in half and add just a touch of blue dye to one. This gives you four distinct colors. Oddly enough, Deb Perelman suggests doing this because blueberries pureed actually don’t look blue, but more pinkish. Also, if you let the blueberries sit long enough after being pureed they will turn into a weird gelatin like substance. Very strange.
After I got four batches of frosting ready go to (and several, several taste tests– raspberry is by far the tastiest), then I prepared my frosting bag with a 1/4 inch frosting tip. To do all one color at once, I followed the instructions in the recipe of applying one line, and then counting over three more lines with my tip at the top of the cake. This worked fairly well, but as you can see in the picture below I sometimes allowed for too much room and sometimes didn’t allow enough. This, I am sure gets easier the more times you do it. After all the lines are done, I simply took a butter knife every inch and dragged it slightly over the top of the frosting. And that’s it! Everyone was very impressed with the cake and many people thought it was store bought, custom made! The hardest part of the entire process? Cleaning out the frosting bag after each of the four batches of frosting. However, if you are thinking of making this frosting and contemplating just using a plastic bag, I would strongly urge you to just go out and buy a nice frosting bag. The frosting in the plastic bag has a tendency of getting stuck which prompts you to push the frosting out harder and then you have a mess when it comes out in a blob on your cake. I know this because I tried doing one color of this cake with the plastic bag out of pure laziness of not wanting to wash out my bag. Now I know.
I have been told that Deb’s website is really fantastic and has tons of great recipes that aren’t in her cookbook. So, if you are inspired, check it out!