Lip Smacking Good: Boston Brown Bread

As mentioned in the previous post, when March approaches I get nostalgic. Much of this is brought on by St. Paddy’s Day, since I was raised outside of Boston.  I recall it as a hugely anticipated day-long event packed with celebrations, all culminating with aromatic corned beef, cabbage, and all the trimmings.

Another much loved food from those days is irreplaceable Boston Brown Bread, a must have accompaniment with famed Boston Baked Beans. Whenever I see a brown bread recipe, I automatically save it.  I’m not sure why I collect them, because there is nothing complicated about it:  just a basic bread using baking soda for leavener, with a combination of hearty flours like rye and wheat—and of course cornmeal.  Buttermilk is the standard liquid, and molasses is a key ingredient which supplies mild sweetness along with its signature flavor. Raisins or currants are negotiable.

Boston Brown Bread is a quirky boiled/steamed bread with a history that likely goes back centuries.  In more recent times, the practice of using a coffee can as a cooking mold has become linked with its now characteristic round shape.

I must confess until this March I had never made Boston Brown Bread.  I may have been caught up in its mystic, but the idea of boiling bread in a water bath for an hour just seemed a little too remote.

That is all pre-multi-cooker.  Now, I am so smitten by the Instant Pot’s flexibility that I seek out challenges—and what a ride it gave me this past weekend. Most certainly the IP was created for Boston Brown Bread.

This is inspired by Jasper White’s Boston Brown Bread recipe, which I have adapted to the PC.  The batter is divided between two 15 ounce pinto bean cans.  It’s a good idea not to fill the tins any more than 2/3 full to allow for rising space. Cover them with foil and secure with twine.  In 30 minutes,  the loaves are ‘baked’ and beautiful.

I will not gush, but will simply state that this is a bread worth investing in a multi-cooker.  It is just as good as I remembered!   Brown bread is great warmed in the morning, spread with butter or cream cheese.  It makes a great mid-day snack, an accompaniment to many entrees, and it is lip-smacking good as an ice cream sandwich.

Boston Brown Bread, PC

Adapted from Jasper White’s Boston Brown Bread

½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup dark rye flour
½ cup medium grind corn meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup molasses or ¼ cup molasses + 2 tablespoons apple butter
1 cup buttermilk, or a half and half combo of milk + yogurt
½ cup raisins or currants
Accessories:  2 – 15-1/2 ounce cans top and labels removed and cleaned


  1. Grease the insides of two cans with butter or baker’s spray.
  2. In multi-cooker, insert trivet and pour in about 6 cups water.  Set pot to Saute or Simmer to begin heating the water.
  3. Combine the dry ingredients with a whisk in a mixing bowl.  Stir in the liquid, then fold in the raisins.
  4. Divide the batter between the molds. It should fill molds about 2/3s full.  Secure the tops with foil and tie with twine.
  5. Place the cans into the pot, adding more water if necessary to fill ½ way up the sides of the cans.  Do not fill the pot beyond maximum capacity mark.  Set to High Pressure and cook for 30 minutes.
  6. Allow bread to rest in pot with lid sealed for 10 minutes then slowly release pressure. Test for doneness:  a skewer inserted in center should come out clean.  Transfer molds to cooling rack and remove the foil covers.  Cool for about 45 minutes before unmolding.  Yield: 2 loaves.

Post Paddy’s Day

St Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite days of the year—it’s right up there with another food day, Thanksgiving. Mid-March, my east coast roots tend to surface and the need for corned beef rages!

Of course, it wouldn’t be worth getting out of bed if I wasn’t secure in the knowledge that corned beef and cabbage were planned for later in the day.

Over the years, I’ve gotten in the habit of making more than necessary so there will be leftovers. One of the spoils of the day is the assurance that corned beef hash is also right around the corner.

Hash hardly requires a recipe. I used to grind the corned beef and vegetables in a meat grinder; later the grinder was replaced with the food processor.

Now, I simply mince up the cooked beef, chop up some of the boiled potatoes, carrots, onions—and perhaps toss in a bit of cabbage. Then, I give it a good mash to bind it all together, and drop it into a skillet, either in one mass or in separate patties, and cook until hot and crispy.

Add an egg or two and it’s a beautiful thing.

Post St. Paddy’s Day Corned Beef Hash

2 cups cooked corned beef, minced
2 cups mixture of leftover chopped potatoes, carrots and onions
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter


  1. Place the corned beef and vegetables in a mixing bowl and gently mash to form cohesive mass. There should still be plenty of texture.
  2. Heat 10-12” skillet over medium heat and form the hash into patties. Place in the pan and heat until crisp on bottom, about 5-7 minute. Turn and repeat on second side. Serve with eggs of choice. Yield: 4-6 servings.

Ultimate Kid Food, Part 2

It is all a matter of taste, and opinions on the grilled cheese sandwich are legendary.

Folks are very picky about their sandwiches and you just don’t mess with this one. What about the cheese?  Should it have Swiss or American cheese? Or do we go off the deep end and prefer blue cheese and pears?  What about mustard?  Preferences here can run deep and strong; it’s a very hot topic, indeed.

Of course, the bread is an important factor.  Here, we begin with an inoffensive Buttermilk White Bread. It’s not too soft and not too dense. It’s a good size, not too big and not too small, but large enough to trim the crust – if an issue.

For the cheese, we stay in the middle with a compromise, and go with a slice each of Swiss and American, plus a light schmear of deli mustard in between for good luck.

The bread is lightly buttered on the exterior sides only.  That is it. Grill both sides over moderately low until crispy, golden, and gooey.Tom Soup, Grilled Cheese

Enjoy with a steamy cup of tomato soup and dip away!

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

2 slices Buttermilk white bread
1 slice Swiss cheese
1 slice American cheese
½ teaspoon deli mustard
1-2 teaspoon butter


  1. Over medium low heat, preheat grill/pan.
  2.  Spread butter on 1 side of the bread slices. Place one slice, buttered side down in pan. Layer it with Swiss cheese spread with a light schmear of mustard and then the American cheese. Top with 2nd slice of bread, buttered side up.
  3. Cook until the bread is golden brown, 2-3 minutes; turn and repeat; press and turn again until crusty and cheese is melted.  Cut off the crusts if desired, and slice into fingers or triangles.  1 serving

Ultimate Kid Food

When it comes to comfort food, tomato soup definitely hits all the right spots. Call it the ultimate kid food, but the mild, sweet taste of tomatoes is inviting and incredibly soothing.

All sorts of memories come to mind with tomato soup.  On rainy or snowy days warming tomato soup will take away any chill.  Of course, the natural accompaniment would have to be a good ole grilled cheese sandwich.  What’s not to love about dipping a gooey toasted American cheese sandwich into a steamy cup of tomato soup?

Recently, I made a big pot of soup for an event that would have to hold for 2 to 3 hours.  Of course the Joy of Cooking has the right idea. Make a tomato base and add a white sauce for serious holding power. It worked like a charm.  It did not break down and stayed thick and creamy for the duration.

So if you are looking for a little comfort food, this one is for you!

P.S.  Coming up: a no-recipe-required grilled cheese sandwich as a bonus for anyone who needs one.

Tomato Soup with Basil Oil

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, chop
1 carrot, chop
2 cloves garlic, mince
½ teaspoon dried basil
28 oz. canned crushed San Marzano tomatoes
3 cups or more chicken, vegetable stock or water, divided
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¾ teaspoon salt, pepper
White Sauce
3 tablespoons butter
2-3 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 cup liquid (1 cup stock, 1/2 cup evaporated milk)
salt, white pepper, nutmeg to taste
Accompaniments:  grated Parmesan cheese, fresh basil or Basil Oil Drizzle,

1. Sauté the oil, onion, carrot, garlic and basil until soft.  Add the tomatoes and simmer 20 minutes, thinning as needed with about 1 cup stock or water. Adjust seasoning with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
2. Meanwhile, make White Sauce:  in sauce pan, melt butter over low heat.  Add flour and blend 3-4 minutes until cooked and smooth.  Slowly whisk in 1 cup stock to eliminate lumps.  Stir and simmer until thick and smooth. Add the condensed milk to the tomatoes and heat well. Season with salt, nutmeg and white pepper.
3. Puree the tomato base in blender or with an immersion blender, thin as needed with more stock or water and return to pot. Strain the white sauce into hot soup and heat well. Simmer on low heat for 5 to 10 minutes to blend flavors. Adjust seasoning.  Serve with grated Parmesan cheese, fresh basil or a drizzle of Basil Oil.   Serves 8.

Basil Oil
1 cup basil leaves
3-4 cups boiling water
cold water bath
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt

Blanch the leaves in boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove to cold water bath with slotted spoon.  Remove and blot, squeeze out water. Blend with olive oil and season with salt to taste, strain if desired.  Store in fridge. Yield: 1/2 cup.

In Your Dreams…

For those looking for a gooey chocolate dessert, here a sure fix that you can have on the table in less than 30 minutes, courtesy of the multi-cooker.

It goes by many aliases: Chocolate Lava Cake, Better than Sex Chocolate Cake, and others.  What they have in common is an inordinate amount of chocolate and butter held together with eggs and maybe a bit of binder. In other words, they have a cake-like exterior and an ooey-gooey center.

You could call this particular variation ‘conservative’.  It has a fair amount of firm, moist cake available to support the ooze that flows forth once cut into—rather than a total collapse swept up in a thick hot chocolate flood.

Although… describing it does sound pretty scintillating.

My point, this as a small, rich cake with warm ganache hidden within, rather than deftly draped over the exterior.  It is ‘suitable for all occasions’.

Either way, it’s a chocolate lover’s dream come true.

Molten Chocolate Cakes, Multi-Cooker

½ cup butter
3 eggs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup flour
Pinch salt
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Accompaniments:  powdered sugar, ice cream or sweetened whipped cream


  1. Prepare 5 quart multi-cooker or larger:  pour 1 cup water into bottom of cooker.  Place a metallic trivet or steamer insert in bottom.
  2. Place the butter in a medium microwaveable bowl and partially melt the butter on 60% power. Brush the ramekins with a coating of the butter.  Add the chocolate chips and continue to heat for 1-2 minutes. Stir every 20 seconds until mixture is melted and smooth.
  3. Sift the powdered sugar over the chocolate and whisk to blend.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly incorporated. Add the vanilla.
  5. Sift half of the flour plus a pinch of salt over the top of the mixture and fold in with a spatula.  Add the remainder of the flour and fold in just until blended.
  6. Divide the batter evenly among the 4 ramekins and place them on the trivet or steamer basket.
  7. Seal the lid and set to High Pressure for 9 minutes, with steam release knob to sealing position.
  8. When done, do a Quick Release and carefully release pressure.  When float valve is down open the lid and carefully remove the hot ramekins.  Cool briefly.
  9. To serve: invert the cakes and place bottom side up onto individual plates.  Serve warm with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, ice cream, or sweetened whipped cream and any other desired garnishes.  Yield:  4 cakes.

Gaga over Tahini

Mornings can be hectic. There are days when I am lucky to get out the door wearing matching shoes—let along eat anything.  It’s at those times in particular I know I must grab something to eat along the way—and hopefully it’s beneficial.

Here’s my latest solution to eating on the run. It’s not designed as a meal replacement; it’s a tasty energy booster with food value that keeps me going until real food surfaces.

tahini bites

These wholesome raw bites are jet fueled morsels of sweet dates, toasted oatmeal, and my current fascination, tahini.  Since I’ve gotten pretty gaga over tahini, I thought it best to do a little more research—and was amazed at its nutritional value.

Call it a seed butter, in that tahini is made from roasted sesame seeds which give it a high oil content. In a 2-tablespoon serving, this powerhouse contains 178 calories, 16 grams of fat, 6 grams carbohydrates and 5 grams of protein; with no sugar and 3 grams of fiber.

What that means, is tahini is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats known to lower harmful cholesterol levels, as well as lower the risk of heart disease and strokes. It is rich in thiamine (30% of daily requirement), magnesium (24%), phosphorous (22%), iron (14%), and calcium (12% daily requirement). Tahini’s list of benefits goes on.   It naturally helps lower blood pressure, aids in bone health and arthritic issues.

Yes, moderation is important, but in a full recipe of 20 or more Tahini Date Bites, only 1/3 cup of tahini is used. These are so satisfying that two or three sweet bites will certainly get the job done. I’m fortified, and ready to go the distance.

 Tahini Date Bites

Few ingredients and simple to make, these hold well and improve with age.  Suggested variations are noted.

1 cup Medjool dates (var include 2 Tbsp candied ginger), seed and chop well
1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1-3/4 cup oats, (var part almonds or other nuts) toasted
Finishing options
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (var pinch cinnamon)
1 tablespoon matcha tea powder
¼ cup raw coconut flakes
½ cup diced pistachio/pumpkin seed blend


  1. In a medium mixing bowl combine the dates, tahini, honey, vanilla and salt.
  2. Stir in the oats, it will be sticky.
  3. Divide into approximately 20 portions and shape into 1” rolls.
  4. Allow to chill in refrigerator for at least an hour to set.
  5. To finish, dust tops finish as desired. Yield: about 20.

Pasta Fazool: the ultimate vegetable soup

Several years ago I traveled with an Italian family, and this was one of their most requested soups.  They referred to it as Pasta Fazool, but it is also known by its traditional name, Pasta e Fagioli.

This easy, hearty dish is built on a zesty tomato based white bean soup, with plenty of fresh vegetables thrown in. Then, the ever-present pasta is added for the crowning touch.  What’s not to like?Fazool

Pasta Fazool is quite affordable to make, and great for a group. The more the merrier—just add water!  It’s perfectly delicious for vegetarians, too.  Of course, when I made it last, I went the other way. I pulled out a thick slab of ham tucked in the freezer from the holidays—a terrific addition, but not essential for this special soup.  A day ahead I tossed the ham cubes in an oil rub laced with garlic, fennel, red pepper flakes, and rosemary and set it all aside.

To get things started, beans are first simmered until near tender with crushed tomatoes flavored with onion, garlic and sage.  Either dried or canned cannellini or mayocoba beans work nicely.

To pull it all together, I briefly sautéed the seasoned ham (optional) in olive oil, and stirred in a few fresh vegetables. Next, the cooked beans are added and it’s briefly simmered to incorporate the flavors.

Lastly, escarole, kale or other hearty green is added to the pot, followed by a small pasta, such as ditalini.  It’s simmered for another 10 minutes or so, until al dente.Pasta Fazool

Top with a grating of Parmesan Reggiano and pass plenty of warm crusty bread.

 Pasta Fazool

Aka, Pasta e Fagioli

2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 onion, chop
2 cloves garlic, mince
1 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 cup dried and soaked cannellini or mayocoba beans
2 cups water or stock (approximate), divided and used as needed
1-1/2 cups ham cut into ½” chunks (optional), in herbal rub (see below)
1 carrot, diced
1 poblano chile, seed chop
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1”x2” chunk Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon each sea salt and ground pepper
1 small bunch lacinato kale, ribs removed and leaves torn into 2” pieces
1-1/2 cups ditalini pasta
Grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion until soft, then add the garlic and sage, stirring briefly. Add the crushed tomatoes, the beans, and 1 cup water.  Simmer about 1-1/2 hours. Or, using pressure cooker, set on High Pressure for 18 minutes with pressure valve set to Sealing and use Quick Release.
  2. In a fresh pot over medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté the seasoned ham for 2- 3 minutes (optional). Add the carrot, green pepper, and ½ teaspoon oregano, cook 4-5 minutes. Stir in the beans, Parmesan chunk, salt and pepper, 1 cup water, and simmer covered for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the kale to the pot and simmer for 3-4 minutes, stir occasionally, until it begins to soften. Stir in the dry pasta and simmer an additional 10 minutes until pasta is al dente. Add more water as necessary, it should be thick yet soupy.  Adjust seasoning.
  4. Serve with Parmesan cheese and plenty of crusty bread.  Serves 4-6.

For the ham rub:  marinade cubed ham 1 day ahead in: 2 cloves garlic crushed, ½ tsp fennel, ½ tsp red pepper flakes, ½ tsp rosemary, 2 tbsp olive oil, pinch sea salt.