One afternoon, on my way home from the food bank, I stopped by my friend Teresa’s house for a visit.
Teresa is a food stylist and recipe tester, also author of the beauteous blog Food on Fifth. This particular afternoon she was deep in testing mode for Relish Magazine, with a trio of recipes using chicken thighs heading her list: A sage/provolone-filled roulade, a “nonna” style baked with herbed breadcrumbs, and a lemon chicken.
“Lemon chicken?” I mused. “Does the world really need yet another lemon chicken recipe?”
“It just might,” Teresa said. “Stay and judge for yourself.”
Soon, Relish editors Jill and Candace arrived for the tasting of the testing.
We started with “nonna’s” recipe and deemed it respectable, if a bit bland. Number two, the cheese-filled roulade, was a step-up in flavor and dimension.
“I’ve saved the best for last,” said Teresa.
Enter the lemon chicken, roasted to golden, drenched in sauce. Teresa served the thighs with torn hunks of baguette, to sop up the sauce.
“You won’t want to miss any of this.”
Oh, my. The table fell quiet, followed by murmurs of approval. The chicken was succulent under its crackled skin, an intense gush of lemon sparked with garlic, oregano, and a fiery pinch of red pepper flakes. We all sopped sauce and marveled.
What had made this lemon chicken, “the best ever” ?
We examined the recipe–a simple one, at that–and decided that three elements made the difference.
1. The dish is made with the chicken thigh, which is the most flavorful (and economical!) cut. It has a higher fat content and doesn’t dry out like the breast. After you roast it (simply seasoned at this point with salt and black pepper) for 35 minutes, you pour off the fat and liquid–making it ready to accept the lemon sauce.
2. There’s a whole lot of fresh lemon juice in the recipe–figure one lemon per thigh. I add a little zest too.
3. An unexpected ingredient: Red Wine Vinegar. A couple of tablespoons is added to the olive oil-lemon juice emulsion. I’ve never seen that done before, and I believe it really amplifies the rich lemon taste.
I made a large batch of this for potluck, where it was devoured with gusto.
We named the dish Lemon Lemon Lemon Chicken. When you taste it, you get it.
LEMON LEMON LEMON CHICKEN (adapted from RELISH Magazine)
12 cleaned and trimmed chicken thighs (bone in, skin on)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Rinse chicken and pat dry. Liberally season with salt and black pepper. Place skin side up in a large baking dish or sheet pan.
Bake for 35 minutes.
Squeeze the lemons to get 1 1/2 cups juice. Zest 2 of the lemons. Whisk in the red wine vinegar, zest, minced garlic, red pepper flakes and oregano. Finally whisk in the olive oil, slowly, to create an emulsion.
After 35 minutes of baking, remove the chicken from the oven. Drain all the liquid from the pan.
Pour the lemon emulsion over the chicken. Return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes.
Serve the chicken and sauce with hunks of crusty bread for sopping.
One Sunday last spring when we were visiting our friends in Rome, we had the good fortune to accompany them on an outing to the small municipality, Pisoniano, a fifty minute drive east of the Eternal City. Their good friends had invited us to spend the day. Our host, Serge, an architect, had been born in this charming hill town. He knew everyone, and held the title as its unofficial mayor.
This particular Sunday felt magical. On this sun-filled day, the town was celebrating L’ Infiorata, or Flower Art Festival. Through the center of the main street ran a long series of “organic mosaics.” Each one was a vibrantly colored image or symbol of Christian faith created out of flower petals, stems, and seeds. Townspeople and visitors such as ourselves, families and friends, gathered to spend the afternoon enjoying the art and fellowship.
Each intricate image was connected to next, forming a brilliant carpet over the cobbles–a carpet you dared not step on! As meticulous and ephemeral as Tibetan sand paintings, each work was a collaborative effort created over thirty-six hours leading up to the festival. No doubt, there were many months in preparation.
After we spent time strolling the flower carpet sidelines, examining each tableau, astonished by the color, texture, and attention to detail, we all went to lunch at Trattoria Bacco. This was no ordinary meal, but one that had been designed by the chefs in keeping with the season and the celebration. Our multi-coursed luncheon began around 1pm and lasted for three hours!
We began our leisurely meal with a plate of antipasta: folds of prosciutto over melon, wrinkled pungent olives, a whip of ricotta, bites of radish. The pacing of service was slow and deliberate. It allowed for lively conversation–eight of us at a community dining table– and time to savor each dish.
We were able to enjoy our company and each course without feeling stuffed–well, at least, not until the end. The servers brought platters of house made ravioli cloaked in red sauce, followed by Tonnarelli alla Verdure, a Roman square-cut egg pasta tossed with seasonal green vegetables: spinach, artichoke, scallions, and small peas.
The supper’s centerpiece was a pork dish, Coscio di Maiale, a fresh ham long simmered in a wealth of garlic, bay leaf, and fennel seeds. Fresh rosemary and thyme were also in the mix, playing background roles.
The meat was sumptuous; juicy and fatty in its fragrant brown gravy. It was that trio–garlic, bay leaf and toasted fennel seeds, remarkable in combination, assertive in amount, that made the pork shine.
Inspiration! I knew that I would have to make this when I returned home.
I haven’t recreated the dish perfectly, not yet.
A fresh ham is not always available at our market, and this cut, with its bones, rich meat and layers of fat, is key to the dish. For my first try, I used a different cut, the sirloin tip. No bones, little fat. Nonetheless, the pork was delicious. And, the gravy, the result of browning then braising hunks of pork with that trio, came close to my remembrance. What a pleasure to have the connection of food, place, and memory: spending a leisurely Sunday afternoon, in the company of family and friends, at the table, doing as the Romans do.
Quantities for both pork and salad recipes are for a large group—10 to 15. With spring here at last, you might be having family and friends over to celebrate. Take time on a Sunday afternoon to relax and dine and visit.
PORK BRAISED WITH GARLIC, BAY LEAF, AND TOASTED FENNEL SEED
8 lb. boneless pork roast, such as sirloin tip
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
coarse ground black pepper
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bulb (8-10 cloves) garlic, peeled and sliced
4-5 bay leaves
4 tablespoons fennel seed, lightly toasted
sprig or 2 of rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Rub the oil all over the piece(s) of meat. Liberally season with salt and black pepper.
Heat a Dutch oven on medium. Brown the meat on all sides, rotating the piece(s) every 5 minutes. This could take 15-20 minutes.
When the meat is almost finished browning, add the sliced garlic. Continue to cook for 3 minutes, then dust the flour over the meat.
Rotate the piece(s) around in the pan, so that the flour browns a bit.
Pour in water–2-3 cups—enough to almost cover the meat. Stir, loosening up the browned bits on the bottom and sides of the pot.
Plunge in the bay leaves, fennel seed, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes.
Cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Let the pork cook, undisturbed, for 1 1/2-2 hours.
Remove the meat and let it sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing.
Increase the heat on the pot to medium high, stirring the remaining sauce, allowing it to reduce and slightly thicken.
Slice the meat and pour the sauce over it. Pour extra sauce into a gravy boat or bowl.
Delicious with roasted potatoes or rice.
Makes 12-15 servings
BEETS AND BLUE SALAD
1/2 pound spring lettuces
3 ruby beets, roasted, peeled and chilled
2 oranges or 4 clementines, peeled, sectioned, sliced
1/2 cup sliced red onion
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
Place a layer of lettuces on a platter. Slice the beets and arrange over the lettuces, followed by a ring of sliced citrus, and red onion.
Sprinkle crumbled blue cheese. Repeat the layering.
Drizzle with Sweet Heat Dressing and serve.
SWEET HEAT DRESSING
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon minced jalapeno
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup olive oil
Place all of the ingredients into a pint jar. Screw on the lid tightly and shake well. Drizzle over the salad.
It is officially Spring, and I feel certain that most of you feel the same as I do—Bring It!
This winter has felt long. Despite the emergence of hyacinths, daffodils, and profuse blooms on my weeping cherry tree, it still threatens brief yet chilling returns. Nonetheless, I am pressing on. Days grow longer, and will grow warmer.
For me, Spring is a time for ambitious things: cleaning the house, clearing the yard, churning the earth, planting. This opens the way for all fresh starts.
To this (ever-growing) list I have added a baking challenge.
I have long been curious about sourdough starter: how it works, how it needs to be maintained, what its possibilities are with breads, rolls, cakes and such. However, I’ve resisted baking with it in the past. On numerous occasions, friends have offered me a scoop of their starter, but I’ve said, “No, thanks.” It felt like too much of a commitment–one that I didn’t think I could honor over the long haul. If properly fed, stored, and used, sourdough starters can last for years and years.
My friends at Bella Nashville make remarkable wood-fired sourdough breads and pizzas using a starter that can be traced back a millennium to Napoli Italy. This one, which I purchased from King Arthur Flour, is the descendant of one that began in pre-Revolutionary War New England.
A couple of thoughts: because the starter relies on your flour, your water, your environment—your bread will taste different than someone’s in New England or Santa Fe New Mexico. It’s personal.
There’s also mounting evidence that bread baked with starter has greatly reduced gluten. It is more digestible than bread quickly made with commercial yeast and flour.
Since its arrival in my home 3 weeks ago, I’ve baked breads and sweet rolls using the starter four different times. With each batch, I’ve learned something new. And each time, the results have been better than the time before. Practice, practice.
But the upshot is this: Using the sourdough starter is fun and easy. I want to encourage you to not be daunted by the idea of it, as I was for so many years. There is not much actual labor involved in baking the bread.
Time and Forethought: that’s what is really takes.
Check out the ingredient list for the basic recipe. It is beautifully simple: flour, starter, water, salt. No additional yeast! It makes 2 loaves, (or one loaf and a batch of sweet rolls) and can be readily augmented with different flours, grains, seeds, herbs, dried fruits and the like. Maggie tells me that adding a cup of rolled oats to the dough imparts wonderful flavor—I can’t wait to do this.
For the first two tries, I used only unbleached bread flour. The following two, I made it with a combination of unbleached and whole wheat flours, and a little bit of sugar. A tablespoon of sugar seemed to balance yet enhance the tangy sour taste. The whole wheat brings more texture, interest, and nutrition to the dough, without being dense. The bread has a nice crisp crust and soft, yet sturdy structured crumb. And the flavor–Incredible!
Let’s just say that I won’t be buying bread for a while. And should I have too much bread in the house, there’s always sourdough croutons to consider, or stratas, bread puddings, and stuffings, like this one from Cooking Light with pears and sausage.
I also made sweet rolls. I rolled out the dough for one “plain” sourdough loaf into a flat rectangle and spread it with a cup of blueberry preserves.
Even better was the whole wheat combo dough, rolled out and filled with the much loved mixture of cinnamon, brown sugar, pecans, and golden raisins.
Make a loaf of bread and a breakfast treat at the same time.
EXTRA TANGY SOURDOUGH BREAD adapted from King Arthur Flour
1 cup “fed” sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
5 cups unbleached bread flour (or in variation of 3 cups unbleached bread and 2 cups whole wheat)
The day before you plan to bake:
Pour 1 cup starter into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the lukewarm water and 3 cups bread flour. Beat vigorously. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rest at cool (68-70 degrees F is best) room temperature for 4 hours. Then refrigerate overnight, or 12 hours.
The morning of the day you plan to bake:
Mix the remaining 2 cups flour (here is where I augment, depending on my desired result. 2 cups whole wheat flour yields luscious results!) in a bowl with the salt and sugar. Remove the spongy overnight-proofed dough from the refrigerator. Combine this with the mixed dry ingredients and knead into a smooth soft dough. If you are using a stand mixer with a dough hook, mix for about 10 minutes. Place into a large lightly buttered (or oiled) bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for 5 hours. The dough will be almost doubled.
Divide the dough in half and shape into loaves. Place on a baking sheet, cover, and let rise for 2-3 hours. The loaves will double in size.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Slash the tops of the loaves and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and cool on a rack.
EXTRA TANGY SWEET ROLLS
For the Cinnamon-Pecan-Raisin Filling
1 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup raw or brown sugar (such as Demerara or Turbinado)
1/2 cup raisins (I used golden raisins)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons melted butter
Place pecans, brown sugar, raisins, and cinnamon into a small mixing bowl. Pour in the melted butter and mix well.
Make the Sweet Rolls
Divide the dough (this is after it has had its 5 hour rise) into two pieces. You may want to use one piece for a loaf of bread–shape it into a loaf, cover, and set aside for its second rise.
I did not flour the work counter first–the dough was pliable not sticky. You are welcome to lightly flour your work surface, if you prefer.Roll out the remaining piece into a rectangle.
Spread the cinnamon-pecan mixture over the rectangle and roll it up into a cylinder, jelly-roll fashion. Cut into rings about 1 inch thick and place into a buttered baking pan or dish. I used a 10 inch tart pan.
Cover and allow the rolls to rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours.
Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a baking rack. Drizzle with glaze (recipe below) and serve.
For the Blueberry Filling
1 cup blueberry preserves
Liberally spread the filling across the surface of the rolled-out dough. Roll up the dough into a long cylinder. Cut into rings, about 1 inch thick and place into a buttered baking dish. I used a 10 inch tart pan.
Cover with plastic and allow the rolls to rise for 2 hours in a warm place.
Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven until golden brown–about 20 minutes. Place on a rack to cool and glaze, if you like.
Makes 16-18 rolls
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
a few tablespoons half-and-half
Place the powdered sugar, lemon juice and vanilla into a small mixing bowl. While stirring, add a few tablespoons of half-and-half until you reach a smooth pourable consistency.
Drizzle over the somewhat cooled rolls and serve.
Many years ago, I lived in Holland–a few months as an exchange student with a family, and the remaining time on my own. When I arrived in the country, I was an avowed picky eater. But that changed during my stay. I got brave, and tried new dishes. I ate foods that I had long-distained. My palate woke up. It is odd to think about now, as Dutch food is not renowned for bold flavors or innovative cuisine. It is earthy, hearty, and basic in many ways.
But that is not to say that the Dutch prefer bland food. One of the more exciting and exotic experiences can be had at the Indonesian restaurants that are dotted throughout the country. Have you heard of “Rijsttafel” or Rice Table? It is a spicy and sumptuous spread of vegetables, meats, condiments and rice brought from the culinary traditions of various Indonesian islands, once part of the Dutch East Indies.
Just as loved are the Indonesian take-out dishes. My Dutch mother was an accomplished cook, but every now and then, she would hang up her apron for an evening and let us get take-out from one of the local Indonesian cafes. Of course, we were all very thrilled whenever she made this decision. Getting takeout was considered a real once-in-a-while treat, not the constant it is in Western culture today.
I recall trying the different Satays (chicken or beef skewers) cloaked in peanut sauce, Bakso, a “mystery” meatball soup, Nasi Goreng, a savory fried rice dish flecked with pork, chicken, egg, and veggies, and Bami Goreng, its sister dish, only made with fried noodles. Nasi and Bami were my favorites.
I haven’t eaten Indonesian cuisine in a long time, let alone prepare it. My friend Teresa and her partner Wouter, a Dutchman, have talked with me about recreating a Rijsttafel—but it requires a lot of planning. All those side dishes! Someday, we’ll take the plunge.
In the meantime, I can satisfy the desire for those tastes by making my own Bami Goreng. I found the recipe in Cooking Light’s latest cookbook offering: GLOBAL KITCHEN. Written by best-selling author David Joachim, it is a vibrant assembly of the world’s tastes, ingredients, recipes, and flavor profiles that travel the globe: Toasted Guajillo and Pork Posole from South America, Vegetable Sui Mai from Canton China, Ukranian Borscht, North African Lamb and Chick Pea Tagine, Punjabi Butter Chicken with cashews, sweet coconut Lamingtons from Australia.
The photographs are gorgeous. The recipes are designed for the home cook. There’s so much to inspire your cooking and spark a weary palate.
Like most stir-frys, Bami Goreng is easy to make. What sets the dish apart is the Kecap Manis (pronounced Ket-chup, Mah-nees) seasoning the noodles, meats, and vegetables. It is thick sweet soy sauce that gets extra pizzazz from garlic and ground anise. Sometimes it is called Indonesian Ketchup. If you can’t find it, don’t worry. it couldn’t be easier to make. I’ve included that recipe below.
With its foundation of pasta, wealth of proteins, crunch of veggies, and umami taste imparted by the Kecap Manis, this simple stir-fry makes a terrific one pot meal. I relished it not for its taste alone. It conjured memories of a fun time for a young woman with a novice palate, when her Dutch mother spread out the dining table with an Indonesian take-out feast.
BAMI GORENG (INDONESIAN STIR-FRIED NOODLES)
adapted from COOKING LIGHT GLOBAL KITCHEN
3 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 ounces linguine
6 ounces boneless chicken breast or thigh, thinly sliced
4 ounces boneless pork loin chop, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
1 bundle green onions, green and white parts chopped
4 celery ribs, sliced (use leafy green tops as well)
3 tablespoons chicken broth
2 tablespoons kecap manis (recipe below)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add one tablespoon peanut oil and swirl to coat the pan. Pour in beaten eggs and swirl to form a thin omelet. Cook for 1 minute, then flip and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat. Roll or fold the omelet and cut into strips. Set aside.
Cook linguine according to package directions in lightly salted boiling water. Drain and rinse and set aside.
Heat a wok or large deep skillet over high heat. Add remaining peanut oil, swirling to coat the bottom of the pan. Add chicken, pork, and garlic; stir-fry for 1 1/2 minutes. Add napa, green onions, and celery. Stir-fry for another minute. Stir in broth, kecap manis, and soy sauce.
Add the noodles and continue to stir-fry for another 2-3 minutes, allowing the noodles to get coated and lightly brown. Fold in sliced omelet pieces. Sprinkle for a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes, if desired. Serve.
Makes 4 servings
INDONESIAN KECAP MANIS (sweet soy sauce, Indonesian “Ketchup”)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 clove finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan. Place over medium heat, and cook the mixture, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.
Cooking Light has kindly furnished me with a copy of COOKING LIGHT GLOBAL KITCHEN to give to someone. I’ve never hosted a giveaway before–but this one merits it! (And, with my own cookbook soon to be released, [ June 17th!] another giveaway could ensue!)
It’s simple–Just leave a comment below. Share a favorite global kitchen dish, if you like, or a global taste that sparks your palate.
In ten days, I’ll pick a name at random and mail you your copy. It is a beautiful book, filled with easy and enticing recipes. Thanks!
What is it?
Over the past several months, I have come across the French term on menus and recipe sites. I knew that it meant a kind of sauce, but in my years of cooking, I’d never made a gastrique. A little research dispelled some of the mystique: It is a reduction of sugar, vinegar, and a defining ingredient: be it herb, fruit or vegetable, wine, juice, or even hot sauce. You could call it sweet-and-sour, a la Francaise.
That sweet-sour sauce is more akin to a syrup. It can take on any ingredient; give it a boost. And it does so, with little effort. Sugar paired with your choice of vinegar, caramelized and slow-simmered with whatever ingredient you wish to showcase, becomes an intense tangy glaze.
Our Third Thursday Community Potluck became the happy beneficiary of my gastrique experiments. Since my co-host Gigi (who doesn’t eat fish) couldn’t attend (a first in almost 5 years!) I decided to feature steelhead. (”When it comes to food, I just don’t like the ocean,” she says.)
Steelhead trout is not salmon, although it is in the same family. Steelhead is Rainbow trout that migrates to the sea, returning to spawn in fresh water. Unlike salmon, it survives spawning. But its appearance and taste are very similar, hence steelhead is gaining in popularity. Recipes for it and salmon are interchangeable.
Before I roast the fillets, which cook quickly in a hot oven, I like to begin introducing flavor in the form of oil and spiced salt. When you brush the (cleaned and dried) fish with good olive oil and dust it with this savory mixture, you are in effect laying down the first layer of flavor.
This spiced salt rub consists of 5 ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry. You’ll combine S+P with paprika, and 2 kinds of seeds (yellow mustard and coriander) that you’ve freshly ground together.
In this fashion, you can season the fish hours before you cook it, if you like. The olive oil ready absorbs into the fillet, a sealant in a sense that also holds the spice rub in place. Refrigerate until a half hour before you want to roast it.
Meanwhile, you can make the gastriques.
I chose to make two: one with Sriracha hot sauce and one with white wine. Each has only three ingredients, but what amazing taste!
The hot sauce gastrique packed plenty of fire, that was amplified and yet tempered by the sugar and vinegar.
The white wine gastrique was almost like honey.
After the gastriques cooled, I poured them into squeeze bottles. You can really control how much and where, with a deft squirt and squiggle.
Roasted simply with the spiced salt mixture, the steelhead was very good, without question. But the intriguing overlays that the vigorous striping of gastriques brought to fish elevated it to something extraordinary–imbuing unexpected pops of sweet heat and pungency. Even served at room temperature at potluck, the dish was devoured with gusto by our group.
A new world of cooking possibilities afforded by these infused syrups! I’ve scarcely scratched the surface. I love considering gastriques using different vinegars, like sherry or red wine, married with figs, or blackberries, or even tomatoes.
In my research, I found this luscious sounding recipe for Gorgonzola stuffed Chicken Breasts with Strawberry Gastrique on Cooking Light’s website. It is still winter, but this week, there have been hints of coming spring. And, in Tennessee, that means strawberry season is soon to follow.
ROASTED STEELHEAD TROUT WITH SPICED SALT RUB, AND TWO GASTRIQUES
3 pounds boned steelhead trout fillets (or salmon)
3 tablespoons olive oil
spiced salt rub (recipe below)
Sriracha gastrique (recipe below)
white wine gastrique (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Rinse off the fish fillets and pat dry. Lay onto a baking sheet, skin side down. Brush the tops liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle with spiced salt mixture.
Roast the fillets for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and let them sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.
Place on a bed of sauteed spinach greens. Stripe the fillets with both gastriques and serve.
SPICED SALT RUB
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
Place salt, black pepper, and paprika into a small bowl.
Place yellow mustard seeds and coriander seeds into mortar, and coarsely grind them together.
Add the ground mustard and coriander seeds to the salt mixture and blend well.
1/2 cup Sriracha (or other choice of hot sauce, such as Louisiana Hot, or Tabasco)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
Place the three ingredients into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved into the mixture.
Bring to a simmer, (uncovered) stirring occasionally. Simmer until the mixture reduces by half—this could take 20 minutes.
The gastrique will deepen in color, and acquire a glazy sheen. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Makes about 3/4 cup.
WHITE WINE GASTRIQUE
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white wine
Place the three ingredients into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved into the mixture.
Bring to a simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Cook until the mixture reduces by half—-this could take 20 minutes.
The gastrique will become syrupy, with a glazy sheen. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Makes about 3/4 cup.
Creamy peanut butter, spread to the bread’s edges, a layer of blackberry jelly, capped with another slice of wheatberry bread. A quick double-cut into triangles, then a wrap and tuck into the lunchbox. Anything else? A nice piece of fruit. A cup of yogurt. Every now and then, a cookie.
But always a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
That was my morning routine, for many years, getting my daughter ready for school. I couldn’t count how many PB &Js I’d assembled of the course of her school career. But I do remember how miffed I got, when I learned that she had been making them for herself whenever she stayed with her dad. Until she said,
“But Momma, you make the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!”
I softened, of course. And I thought about the love that went into that simple lunch. Financially, we’d experienced some lean years, for sure. But, unlike many in America and around the world, I never had to worry about Not being able to provide her nourishment.
I thought about those many mornings packing lunches when I was learning about the important work of The Lunchbox Fund.
I recently learned about this organization through Nichole Gulotta of The Giving Table. In food education and activism, I place my focus locally, for the most part. But it is important to open the lens wider. Last year, mobilized by Nichole, we raised awareness about hunger and food insecurity in America, a call to action aligned with the release of the documentary, A Place at the Table.
Today, through Nichole’s initiative, our team of 100 bloggers is shining the light on childhood hunger in South Africa, where over 12 million children live in poverty. The South African government does have programs that feed 8 million of them. But that leaves 4 million with nothing. Founded in 2005, The Lunchbox Fund is dedicated to bridging that gap, providing school feeding programs for these kids who have been left out entirely. The work they are doing is changing lives. And, through our network of bloggers participating in this outreach, we can help.
Our goal, throughout this week, is to raise awareness, and raise $5000.
That money will stretch far, and provide a daily meal for 100 South African children for a year. That’s impressive bang for the buck. If you feel moved to donate, as little as $5 or $10 would make a big difference.
Do good deeds wherever you can. We are all in this together, on this beautiful planet.
Sometimes we extend our hands out into our immediate community. Other times it is our community-at-large, wide, wondrous and ever connected.
THREE HEALTHY DELICIOUS SANDWICHES TO TUCK INTO YOUR LUNCHBOX:
I ‘ve included some easy, affordable recipes, right for any lunch: Fresh Dill-Tuna Salad, Gala Apple-Golden Raisin-Peanut Butter Wrap, and Herbed Quinoa-White Cheddar-Vegetable Wrap. I encourage you to check out Cooking Light’s Ideas for the Lunch Box Brigade for other healthy and tasty ideas for packing.
FRESH DILL TUNA SALAD SANDWICH
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 heaping teaspoon fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 rib celery, diced
2 tablespoons diced red onion
1 6 ounce can of tuna, drained well
1 tablespoon toasted sliced almonds (optional)
handful lettuce leaves, cleaned and dried
whole wheat bread
In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise, Dijon, lemon juice, fresh dill, garlic, black pepper and salt.
Stir in the diced celery and red onion. Add the tuna and toss gently until well combined.
Place the lettuces on a slice of bread. Scoop on the tuna. Top with another slice. Cut and serve.
Makes 2-3 sandwiches
GALA APPLE-GOLDEN RAISIN-PEANUT BUTTER WRAP
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1/2 gala apple, thinly sliced
soft flour tortillas
Slather the tortilla with your favorite peanut butter. Place thinly sliced apples in the center. Sprinkle with golden raisins or currants.
Roll it up. Slice in half, at an angle. Wrap it and tuck it in a lunchbox.
WHITE CHEDDAR-HERBED QUINOA-VEGETABLE WRAP
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 carrot, julienned
1/2 cucumber, julienned
1/4 red bell pepper, julienned
handful of fresh spinach leaves
1 ounce white cheddar, shredded
2 tablespoons coarse grain mustard
whole wheat tortillas
Place red onion into a small bowl. Add vinegar, parsley, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stir well.
Fold in the cooked quinoa.
Spread some coarse grain mustard over the tortilla. In the center, spoon on a mound of quinoa. Place the julienned vegetables on either side of the quinoa, followed by a layer of spinach leaves. Sprinkle on the white cheddar. Roll tightly and wrap in plastic
Makes 2 generous sandwich wraps.
Yes, I realize that it has scarcely been a month since the holidays, ever a cookie fest. No matter. It is always a good time for cookies, especially ones that have noble aspects about them without sacrificing great taste.
Noble aspects, you ask? Indeed!
One recipe boasts reduced fat and sugar and the other is gluten free.
You see, I have become involved in Cookie Trials!
Today’s foray into Cookie Trials brings us Easiest Peanut Butter (remarkable, with only 4 ingredients!) and Cranberry-Orange-Oatmeal (orange zest, sour cream and egg white distinguish this batch). As the batches of both came together quickly, with minimal effort, I thought I would share them with you. Two more cookie recipes for your culinary stockpile…
We’ll start with our 4-ingredient wonder, with a confession.
I love peanut butter, but I’ve never been crazy about peanut butter cookies. The ones I had have been either too dry and crumbly. Or too sweet. And not “pea-nutty” enough.
So, I was intrigued by the idea of a peanut butter cookie made without flour. Maybe flour has been the culprit in forming my distaste. Peanut butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla—that’s all that goes into this recipe. I could imagine the peanut taste really coming through. But, how would it bake up? Would it have a good cookie texture?
The verdict: These are very good peanut butter cookies. They are crisp and a little chewy and have a rich, roasted peanut flavor.
They baked up nicely, thickly. I could have made them smaller. I used an extra-crunchy peanut butter, which fills the dough with plenty of peanut bits. A creamy peanut butter would result in a lighter batter that might spread out a bit more as it bakes.
It should go without saying, but a peanut butter cookie is only as good as the peanut butter going into it. Be sure to use your favorite.
Next up is a “lightened” Cranberry-Orange-Oatmeal cookie, its recipe taken from Cooking Light’s Cranberry-Oatmeal Bars.
The ingredient list looks long, but likely you’ve got most of the items already in your pantry. I had to run out for some sour cream.
I was excited to try this recipe; the classic oatmeal cookie ranks high in my world. So a variation on the theme is generally welcome.
The lightly beaten egg white helps bind the batter, making it a softer cookie: more airy and delicate, like a macaroon.
Orange zest and juice, paired with the sour cream, really bring this cookie to life.
The recipe calls for quick oats, (which I had) but I think you could use the regular “old fashioned” rolled oats, and actually have better results–the oats being more defining, in both taste and texture.
Verdict: overall, a delicious cookie. I like that these can be made easily into a small size–another lighter aspect of the cookie.
Small but good bites are satisfying, especially in these starker, post-holiday times.
GLUTEN FREE PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES from Southern Living
1 cup peanut butter (your choice of creamy or crunchy)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place all four ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Beat until the mixture is well-combined. Form into 1 inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, one inch apart. Flatten the tops gently with the tines of a fork.
Bake on the center rack in a 325 degree preheated oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 5–7 minutes before removing the cookies from the baking sheet.
Makes 20-24 cookies
CRANBERRY-ORANGE OATMEAL COOKIES adapted from Cooking Light
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup oats
1 1/3 cups dried cranberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons melted butter
3/4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, dried cranberries, both sugars, orange zest, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.
Beat in the sour cream, melted butter, orange juice, vanilla, and egg white.
Scoop small rounds of dough, placing them onto the parchment lined baking sheet, each an inch apart.
Bake on the center rack for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing from baking sheet.
Makes 3 dozen cookies
You never know how or from what place cooking inspiration will come. Today’s dish arose from an unexpected find: a 10 pound box of loosely packed dried guajillo chiles in our food bank’s warehouse. Whatever entity had donated the box didn’t realize that it would be considered a reject. Dried chiles offer little in the way of real food to people who don’t have a viable kitchen or the means to prepare them. Unless anyone at Second Harvest wanted them, ten pounds of dried guajillos were destined for the dumpster.
Of course, we (meaning the staff and volunteers of Second Harvest’s Culinary Arts Center) wanted them. You can’t imagine how many peppers filled the box. Thousands, I’d say! We portioned them into ziplock bags and now have a seemingly inexhaustible supply.
It set me to thinking about molés, those rich complex sauces from Oaxaca, Mexico that have layers of flavor from chiles, fruits, nuts, spices and chocolate.
With our potluck on the horizon, and a turkey breast in my freezer, I deemed it time to make Pavo con Molé—turkey mole. CAC Director Mark gave me a ziplock of chiles and wished me success.
All these many many years of cooking, and I had never made a molé. I’m not sure why. Likely I thought that it was too complicated. Likely I’ve never had a big bag of dried guajillos.
In either event, it’s a project long overdue.
I didn’t have a recipe. Research on the ‘net and some of my cookbooks turned up scads of molé recipes. I cobbled together my own version, which was gleaned from the stellar likes of Diana Kennedy, Susana Palazuelos, and Rick Bayless, tempered by what I had in my pantry.
The common threads:
–Pan-toasting the sesame seeds and spices, to bloom their flavors, before grinding. The same is true for the almonds.
–Steeping the guajillos in boiling water. I add the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and dried currants to the batch. The resulting liquid is infused with intense tastes.
–Stirring in the unsweetened chocolate at the end of the cooking process–the final bass note of flavor to the molé.
Don’t be daunted by the lengthy ingredient list. Believe me, there are molé recipes out there with lists twice as long. This mole possesses wonderful fruity heat and complexity. Its texture is lush.
The method has a few steps, but it is not difficult to make. At all. In fact, it was a pleasurable process to undertake.
In the time it takes for the turkey breast to braise in a Dutch oven, the sauce comes together, filling the kitchen with heady aromatics.
An immersion blender is a life-saver, making the puree a breeze. If you want the mole ultra-smooth, you may run it through a sieve, post-pureeing. I didn’t. I liked the minute bits of guajillo skin, which give the thick, mostly smooth sauce more character.
This makes a lot of molé—plenty to cloak the turkey, with a few cups to spare. That extra will keep up to a week in the fridge, or three months in the freezer.
At potluck, we all were over the moon about this dish, which I served with corn tortillas. Sparks of clove and cinnamon, toasted nuts, fruit and heat, bitter depth of chocolate: The tastes revealed themselves from the front to the back of the tongue, slowly, leaving a mild, contained fire in the mouth. So satisfying to eat!
We were also psychically connected in our potluck preparations. We never assign dishes, or share ahead of time what we are going to bring. And yet, asparagus salsa, Mexican rice and lentils, and black bean-corn salad all turned up on the table–fabulous molé accompaniments.
MOLE SAUCE FOR TURKEY
12-15 dried guajillo chiles
3 bay leaves
2 sticks cinnamon
1/3 cup currants or raisins
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 cup almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 bulb (about 10 cloves) garlic, minced
1-28 ounce can plum tomatoes in sauce
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped or broken into pieces
Place a kettle of water on to boil.
Break off the stems of the dried chiles and shake out the seeds. Break the chiles into pieces and place into a large bowl. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and currants (or raisins.) Pour boiling water over the ingredients to cover. Allow the chiles to rehydrate for 30 minutes.
Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and cloves. Add a teaspoon or two of the guajillo chile seeds. Toast the mixture, shaking it occasionally, for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and place into a separate bowl. Add the almonds to the skillet and toast them in similar fashion, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat.
Place cooled almonds, sesame seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds and cloves into a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse an process nuts, spices and seeds into a fine grind.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the minced garlic and continue the sauté.
Open the can of plum tomatoes and add the juice to the onion-garlic mixture. Season with salt.
Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them as well.
Discard the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks from the steeped guajillos. Pour the chiles, currants and liquid into the pot. Add the ground nuts, spices, and seeds. Stir in the 4 cups of stock.
Finally, stir in the unsweetened chocolate.
Reduce the heat to simmer and cook the mixture for 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until it is smooth and glossy. It will still have texture, and will be thick.
Makes 2 quarts molé
PREPARING THE PAVO (TURKEY)
1 turkey breast (6-8 pound)
juice from one lime
Rub the inside and exterior of the turkey breast with lime juice. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
Brown the breast on both sides in a Dutch oven set on medium heat. This will take several minutes—6-8 minutes per side. Add a cup of water (or stock.) Cover and reduce the heat to low.
Braise the bird for about an hour. When done, remove the breast and let it sit, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Remove the skin and pull the breast meat, in lobes, from the carcass.
Place a base of mole, like a thick blanket, over the surface of a serving platter.
Slice the turkey breast and place the pieces on to the blanket of sauce.
Add more sauce over the top.
Garnish with sesame seeds and slices of fresh lime, if you like.
Serves 10-12 generously
In the case of potato gnocchi, I have felt like I’m on a quest for something elusive. Once, a long time ago at a restaurant that no longer exists, I had a sumptuous plate of hand-formed dumplings, pillowy-light bites cloaked in garlicky brown butter sauce: a pleasure to eat. In the wake of that ethereal meal, I would often order potato gnocchi when I’d find it on a menu. Just as often, I would wind up disappointed. The dough was either gummy, or the restaurant had used something pre-fab, vacuum-sealed in a box, a factory line of same-shaped dumplings that cooked up rather dense and chewy. Blecch. No, thank you.
This fall, I had lunch at an eatery in downtown Franklin called Gray’s on Main. They offered a potato gnocchi dish where the dumplings were tumbled with Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and pancetta in a butter sauce. Ah! These cushions of potato had golden butter-crisp exteriors gleaned from a final spin in the skillet. That contrast made them exceptional. At last, I had found the elusive!
Before it vanished.
Their house gnocchi plate is no longer on the menu.
The solution: it’s time to learn to make them myself.
There’s an aspect of gnocchi-making that reminds me of biscuit-making. With a terse list of ingredients, it is not just the quantities of potato, flour, salt and pepper, eggs–or no eggs—that distinguishes the outcome. It’s the process–the light hand in forming the dough. Fluffy biscuits and pillowy gnocchi have this in common. You want to mix and fold the dough deftly, quickly, but not handle it too much. Overworking is what causes that unpalatable toughness.
Indeed, it a matter of practice: Learning the feel of the dough, that “right discrimination” that informs your hands and brain that, yes! this it. This has the right consistency.
The kind of potato you use is critical. Waxy reds or new potatoes won’t work. The humble Russet, boiled in its jacket, peeled and run through a ricer or food mill is The Way. Eggs or no eggs? I have found recipes espousing either. Rachel writes that the Romans prefer the dough with: sturdier in the boil and pan. Head north of The Eternal City, and gnocchi di patate are made without.
While I was mixing up the riced potatoes with flour, I could feel how an eggless dough would work. But I ultimately added the eggs.
It makes a richer dough. And, as I wanted to finish the gnocchi in the skillet–get that lovely crust—using eggs made good sense.
Divide the dough into quarters, rolling each one into a ropey length. After you cut them into little pieces, you’ll roll and press each one with a fork. My gnocchi look a little wonky, I know. No worries. They still tasted delicious. I’ll get better at forming them, with practice.
There is little doubt when they are done—the dumplings will rise to the surface after a couple of minutes in the rolling boil.
Look at these plump dumplings! At this point, they would be delectable, plunked into a red sauce. We are taking it another step:
Pan-seared in a skillet with a saute of shallots and parsnips in butter, topped with a few curls of shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano.
Elusive no more.
PAN-SEARED POTATO GNOCCHI WITH PARSNIPS
adapted from Julianna Grimes at Cooking Light
4 medium Russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 medium parsnips, peeled
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting, rolling out dough
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4-5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced shallots
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano
2 green onions, finely sliced for garnish
Place potatoes and parsnips into a large saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. After 12-15 minutes, remove the parsnips, which should be tender but still firm. Set them aside on a plate to cool.
Continue boiling the potatoes until they yield to a fork–another 15 minutes. Drain and allow the potatoes to cool. Peel them and run them through a potato ricer or food mill (with a shredder-ricer blade) into a large bowl. Season the riced potatoes with salt and black pepper.
Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and rapidly mix by hand. Add the lightly beaten eggs. Mix well to incorporate the eggs into the mixture, but do not overwork the dough–otherwise it will become dense and tough. The dough will actually have a light airy feel to it.
Dust your work table with flour. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope. If the dough becomes too sticky, dust it with a bit more flour. Cut the rope into bite-sized pieces. You may then roll each piece gently with the tines of a fork to make the distinctive indentations—but you don’t have to.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil on medium high heat. Drop the gnocchi in, a dozen or so pieces at a time. You don’t want to overcrowd them. Gently swirl them around in the boiling water so that they don’t stick to the bottom. They will cook quickly.
After a minute or so, they will rise to the surface. Allow them to cook another minute, and then scoop them out with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Place the cooked gnocchi in a large bowl.
Slice the cooled parsnips into bite size pieces.
In a large skillet set on medium heat, melt the butter. Saute the diced shallots until translucent. Add the parsnips and thyme. Continue to saute for 2-3 minutes. Remove the mixture. Increase the heat to medium high and add a layer of gnocchi to the skillet. Sear the gnocchi until they are nicely browned on one side and remove. When all of the gnocchi are browned, toss them with the parsnip-shallot mixture until well combined.
Portion into warm bowls. Sprinkle each with shaved Parmeggiano-Reggiano and sliced green onions.
Serves 4 as main dishes, 6 appetizer/first course
There’s a huge pot simmering on my stovetop, (yet to be photographed!) filled with white wine, lemons, onions, celery, assorted peppercorns and bay leaf. I call it my spicy-winey lobster bath. Later this evening, my guests and I will be plunging our lobster tails into this heady bath, which will poach them into succulence.
I’ll also make drawn butter, spiked with lemon and cayenne, and place the bowls of that decadence within easy reach for dunking the rich meat. I think the term “gilding the lily” applies here. Oh, well–it is our farewell to 2013.
This is our communal lobster pot gathering, a tradition born a few years ago when we could no longer face going out New Year’s Eve, and, serendipitously, lobster tails happened to be on sale at the market.
Here’s the basic plan: Everyone brings his/her own luxuries–crustacean, and champagne, if that’s your pleasure . In the beginning of this new tradition, I would do a seated dinner. In addition to the spicy-winey bath, I’d make the accompanying courses, which I served at a leisurely pace. In more recent years, we’ve become less formal. We share the making of different dishes and set everything out buffet style. Graze as you will.
Tonight, Heather is bringing a big salad, and a plate of fruits and cheeses. Teresa is bringing some tasty hors d’oeuvres. She’s not sure what they’ll be yet, but our food styling friend always has some terrific ideas and ingredients on hand.
To insure the most good luck possible, I am making “Hoppin’ John” risotto with kale pesto.
But what I want to quickly share with you now is a dessert. I want to end this last day of 2013, which also is this humble blog’s 200th post AND 5th Year Anniversary, with something sweet. (I know! Time. Fleeting!)
It’s a flourless chocolate torte, adapted from this Cooking Light recipe, which caught my eye for its lightness. It has a lower caloric count, yet imparts a depth of rich chocolate taste–especially if you use high quality cocoa and bittersweet chocolate, like this bar from local artisan Olive and SInclair.
Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone. I am serving it with my brandied cherries and a dollop of whipped cream. So, no, it isn’t Super Light, but it is gluten-free, and a sliver of this treat is all that you need to satisfy that one lingering need for a sweet bite, after a fine meal.
Here’s my wish to you for a very happy, healthy, creative, loving, peaceful, generous, and open-hearted new year. May it be filled with many delicious things, too.
FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE TORTE WITH BRANDIED CHERRIES
adapted from Cooking Light
1 tablespoon butter
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa, divided
6 tablespoons ground toasted almonds
4 tablespoons brewed coffee
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9″ springform pan with parchment. Coat the sides and bottom with butter and dust with 1 teaspoon (or so) cocoa.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form, but not dry. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is light and lemon colored. Then, beat in the cocoa and ground almonds.
Place the coffee and chopped bittersweet chocolate into a small saucepan set on medium heat. Stir until the chocolate is just melted.
Beat this to the egg yolk-cocoa mixture.
Fold in the egg whites.
Pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan.
Bake on the middle rack for 25-30 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool on a baking rack for 15 minutes.
Serve the cake slightly warm, topped with brandied cherries and whipped cream.
I originally made these for my friend Wendy, who love the Manhattan cocktail. She’s got the bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters, now she’s got the luscious brandied cherry to place into the drink. I kept a container to make into other things, like the sauce for this cake.
2 pounds frozen, pitted cherries
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3 whole cloves
1 cup brandy
2 ribbons orange zest
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
Fill 2 glass jars with frozen cherries, dividing them evenly.
Place sugar, cinnamon stick, brandy, orange zest, water & salt in a pan and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Let cool for 10 minutes and pour equal parts over the cherries. Let cool with the top off then cover and refrigerate.
Allow the cherries to cure for a couple of weeks–but know that they will last for several months.
BRANDIED CHERRY SAUCE
1 cup brandied cherries, drained from brandy mixture
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup brandied cherry juice
Place drained brandied cherries into a small bowl.
In a small saucepan set over medium heat, stir the cornstarch and brandied cherry juice together until the cornstarch is dissolved. Continue to stir as the mixture comes to a simmer. It will thicken and become glazy. Remove from heat, and pour over the drained brandied cherries.