Right now, I’m sure many of you are forming your Thanksgiving plans–choosing recipes, composing grocery lists, plotting your course to the Thursday feast. I am too; we’ll be driving to DC to spend the holiday with my daughter, son-in-law, and precious grandson. Plenty to be thankful for, in that one sentence alone.
We live in uneasy times. I think we always do–it’s in matters of degrees. The impact of global unrest, of violence, fear, loss and anguish has felt extreme to me of late. We all feel it, its heaviness, its power to constrict. I remind myself to keep an open mind, and even more so, an open heart. We’re all connected, part of a great family living on this planet. An open heart keeps those darker forces at bay, keeps the creative compassionate flow vital and moving between us.
Before I sign off, and wish you all love and peace, I want to share this totally retro recipe.
It’s similar to Swedish Meatballs, although there’s no nutmeg or allspice in the mix. It’s more of a Stroganoff–the meat seasoned with grainy mustard and Worcestershire. The beefy gravy is folded with sour cream. So 1960s. I can remember my mom making these, serving them in a chafer for festive gatherings with frilly toothpicks. On the flipside, I also remember the ghastly 1970s boxes of Hamburger Helper with a stroganoff version that she would simmer in a skillet for supper.
I hadn’t thought of them, these meatballs in sour cream, which, despite their “throwback” quality, are really quite delicious. I was reminded of them by a woman in a cooking class that I teach at Magdalene House. We were discussing what we could prepare for our December class, and she asked if we could make them. (potato latkes, too!)
Why not? Last week, I resurrected my recipe, jazzed the sauce with oyster mushrooms (!) and tested ’em out at our potluck. I served the stroganoff meatballs over a bed of buttered egg noodles.
Woo-hoo! Everyone went crazy, devouring every last one. “What inspired you to make them?” “My parents used to serve these at every party.” “Oh my goodness, I haven’t eaten this in years.”
The dish is hearty and potent, triggering memory, delivering comfort and taste. Well-worth bringing back—from time to time. You might like to serve a batch at a festive gathering of your own.
Here’s my wish, which is for myself, as much as for you:
As we move into the season of plenty, but also a time of rush and stress, remember to take time for yourself and your loved ones. Savor the moments together. Breathe deeply. Express gratitude. Feel joy. Be light.
3 pounds ground chuck
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons coarse grain mustard
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup fine breadcrumbs
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Using your hands, mix and mash everything together until well-incorporated. The beef mixture will feel lighter and have a glossy look when that is achieved.
Form small (as in smaller than a golf ball) meatballs (again using your hands, or a small ice cream scoop) and arrange them on baking sheets.
Place into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside while you make the sauce.
(After they cool, you could place them into freezer bags and freeze for later use.)
Makes 6 dozen meatballs
4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced
8 ounces oyster mushrooms, torn or chopped
1/2 cup cooking sherry
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 quart beef stock
1+ cup sour cream
1 bunch green onions or chives, chopped
Place large pot on medium heat and melt the butter. Saute the onion until translucent, then add the mushrooms. Saute until golden. Add the cooking sherry and stir well. Let the sherry reduce, then add the flour. Stir vigorously to coat the mushrooms and onions.Let the flour gently “cook” for about a minute. Pour in the beef stock, stirring well. Season with salt, coarse ground black pepper. The brown gravy will begin to thicken.
Add the cooked meatballs. Simmer for 5 minutes. Fold in the sour cream, making sure it melds into the gravy. Taste for seasoning. Garnish with chopped green onions or chives.
Serve over a bed of egg noodles.
Serves a crowd–15 or more guests
The Plus Element
That’s what my friend Maggie calls it. On any path to mastery, there’s always one more step.
I think that’s why I both enjoy and feel challenged by my kitchen calling.
Thirty plus years on this culinary path, and I am still learning.
Thirty plus years, and I am still excited about food.
Today’s post shares two of my most recent discoveries, and they couldn’t be more disparate.
The first took its inspiration from a meal at a new vegan-raw food eatery AVO.
The second was the product of a little pre-Thanksgiving research and experimentation.
I served both at our last potluck, to raves.
AVO (as in avocado) is Nashville’s first full service vegan raw food restaurant. (Nothing heated above 118 degrees, can you imagine?) I was beyond surprised by how delectable–and creative—it’s offerings are. No-bake sea salt chocolate “cheesecake” made from soaked cashews pureed with coconut milk, maple syrup, and bitter chocolate. Pad Thai noodles made from threads of zucchini, daikon, and kelp in a spicy almond-based sauce.
And a remarkable tabbouleh, made from pulverized cauliflower curds.
And while I’m less likely to attempt the mock cheesecake (despite its incredible, creamy mouthfeel, and rich, deep chocolate taste) the tabbouleh-style salad using cauliflower as its grain is nothing short of genius.
Finely chopped by hand, or pulsed in a food processor, the curds have the right appearance. The texture is a ready receptor for the lemony vinaigrette. The taste is convincing–bright, fresh, healthful and delicious. To the ever-growing repertoire of dishes where this species of Brassica oleracea mimics something else (like mashed potatoes, or piccata, or pizza crust…) add this recipe.
Isn’t cauliflower the versatile one?
My recipe takes the Middle Eastern mainstay, and flips it further. Instead of flat leaf parsley, I chopped a mound of tangy peppery arugula to fold in with the cauliflower. I “quick-pickled” thinly sliced red onions, for spark and color contrast. I added finely chopped broccoli. I even cooked up a batch of pearled couscous, to extend the salad for our group. (It didn’t need it.)
The second trial is the “Dry Brine.”
We are all familiar with brining–immersing a hunk of meat or poultry in a highly seasoned-salted bath for an extended, which acts as both marinade and tenderizer. I’ve brined pork roasts to my satisfaction, but my efforts with turkey have not entirely pleased me.
The flavor was there. The juiciness too. But the skin never got that same compelling crackle.
And the gravy–not that rich brown.
I attempted dry brining a turkey breast. So easy and less cumbersome. It was always a challenge to find a receptacle Large enough to hold the brine-and-bird, much less fit it into the fridge without making a sloshing mess.
Create your dry brine blend of salt, pepper, and herbs. Sprinkle all over the bird. Place into the refrigerator UNCOVERED for 24 hours. Remove the next day, thirty-minutes before roasting–let it lose some of the chill while you preheat the oven. Drain off any collected liquid at the bottom of the pan. Slip some pats of butter underneath the skin.
It’s a WOW.
Crisp browned skin, tender, juicy meat, wonderful infusion of seasonings. And this was for the breast—which can get dry. I’m looking forward to using this technique on a whole turkey for our grand Thanksgiving feast. Another step on the path.
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 small red onion, sliced very thinly
1 head cauliflower, washed and cored
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1 lime, juiced
1 head broccoli, washed and stemmed
2 cups arugula, stemmed and coarsely chopped
Quick-Pickle the Red Onions: In a separate bowl, mix the red wine vinegar, salt, black pepper, and sugar together. Add the red onions. Cover and allow the mixture to soften and pickle the onions—about 15 minutes.
Break the head of cauliflower into manageable sized pieces. Finely chop the curds and stems.
If you prefer, you may use the food processor and pulse them into fine pieces. Place into a large bowl.
Add lemon and juice. Season liberally with salt and black pepper. Pour in the olive oil and stir to coat the pieces.
Fold in the arugula.
Finely chop the broccoli. Add it to the salad.
Drain the pickled red onions and fold them into the salad as well.
Taste for seasonings and serve.
Makes 6-8 servings
DRY-BRINED AND ROASTED TURKEY BREAST
8-10 pound turkey breast
4 tablespoons butter
Poultry Dry Rub:
3 tablespoons Salt
1 tablespoon Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Rosemary
1 tablespoon Thyme
1 tablespoon Ground Sage
1 teaspoon Granulated Garlic
1/4 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
The Day Before Roasting:
Rinse the turkey breast under cold water. Pat dry. Sprinkle the rub over the entire breast, pushing some underneath the skin. Place onto a baking pan and refrigerate uncovered, overnight.
Remove the turkey breast from the refrigerator. Drain off any liquid which may have collected on the bottom of the pan. Cut the butter into small pats and slip them underneath the skin.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Place the turkey breast onto the middle rack and let it roast undisturbed (and uncovered) for 1 1/2–2 hours. Check the turkey after an hour and rotate the pan.
Ham. Sorghum. Cornmeal. A trio of decidedly Southern ingredients are at the heart of today’s post, in dishes designed to feed a crowd. It is rare that I have the occasion to bake a big ham, or a 12″ by 20″ pan of cornbread, but this month’s potluck gathering, held in partnership with Dirty Pages, was made for that.
The exhibit has been up since March 19th. Its organizers, local food writers and enthusiasts Jennifer Justus, Erin Byers Murray, and Cindy Wall wanted to do something grand, fun and fitting for the closing of this community-minded show. Partnering with my group for an expanded community potluck was brilliant.
Our April potluck, this time dubbed Dirty Pages+Third Thursday, gathered last week at our Nashville Farmers Market. More than 60 people arrived, many bearing their own favorite dirty page dish. (also present was a photographer/essayist for the New York Times. We’ll be looking for the story over Mother’s Day weekend!)
My featured Dirty Page recipe, Leola’s Cornbread, was my inspiration. Over the many years, I have respected this recipe for its versatility–and forgiving nature. Even though I’ve altered some aspects of the original, using much less sugar, and all butter instead of margarine–I have found that the ratios of cornmeal to flour to baking powder to wet ingredients to be spot-on. It always works, and tastes delicious.
I’ve seen too many cornbread recipes where there’s more flour than cornmeal, which makes no sense to me!
This batch has it all. Into the batter, I fold generous amounts of whole kernel corn, chopped jalapenos, green onions, and shredded sharp cheddar–which it readily accepts.
The whole shebang comes together quickly–mixed by hand in a large bowl. I like that part too.
Baking is a breeze. In less than 30 minutes, what emerges is a golden green-flecked slab, enriched with cheese, sparked with heat.
Accommodating, adaptable, this recipe can be cut in half for a smaller needs, baked in an ordinary 9″x13″ casserole. From my big pan, I was able to get 60 small squares, just right for our potluck crowd.
Now, onto the prize, this ham. Here are some tips for baking a sumptuous one:
When carving away the hide and excess fat, I always leave a layer, which I gently score in crisscross fashion. The fat is essential for insuring juicy meat.
In spicing, I go old school, inserting whole cloves at each intersection.
Hams love fruit and sweet, with a little pungency. In the past, I’ve coated hams in apricot mustard, or brown sugar mixed with brown mustard and spices, or cane syrup-pecan glaze.
Today’s glaze is made with apricot preserves (although peach would be terrific too–and more Southern. I happened to have apricot on hand.) melted with coarse grain mustard and sorghum.
I love the dark mineral sweetness of sorghum; it adds compelling depth to the glaze. Molasses works too, although I find it can be overpowering. Use a little less, if you must substitute.
If I’m baking a half ham (as it usually is sold in shank and butt portions) I rub a small amount of the glaze onto it before baking. For the first hour of baking, I place the ham inverted–the pink meat side down, bone end straight up, so that the scored fat on all sides is exposed. It makes for more even roasting, and juicier meat.
After an hour, I remove the ham from the oven. I slather it with the remaining glaze, and set it upright in the roasting pan to finish. During that last 30 minutes, the glaze will become shiny and charred, imparting its layered sweetness and piquancy.
APRICOT-SORGHUM GLAZED BAKED HAM
6-8 pound bone-in sugar cured ham (shank or butt portion)
whole cloves (24 or so)
1/2 cup apricot preserves (peach preserves work splendidly too)
1/2 cup coarse grain mustard
1/3 cup sorghum (you may substitute cane syrup, or molasses–use only 1/4 cup molasses)
1 cup water
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Trim the ham, removing tough outer hide pieces and any excess fat. Leave a thin layer of fat to help seal in the juices of the meat. Score the ham in crisscross fashion, cutting into, but not all the way through, that thin layer of fat. Place a clove at each intersection and place into a roasting pan.
Place a saucepan on low heat. Add the apricot preserves, coarse grain mustard, and sorghum. Stir together as the mixture warms. It will become “glazy.” Remove from heat.
Lightly brush the glaze over the ham–reserving most of the glaze for later. Pour the water into the bottom of the baking pan.
Place into the oven and bake uncovered, allowing 15 minutes per pound. (An 8 pound ham requires 2 hours bake time.)
After the ham is 75% done (after one and a half hours for the 8 pounder!) liberally coat the ham with the remaining glaze. Cook for another 30 minutes. The glaze with bubble and brown on the ham.
Allow the meat to rest at least 15 minutes before carving. The ham can be baked in advance and kept warm. It is also delicious served room temperature.
LEOLA’S INSPIRATION: CORNBREAD WITH THE WORKS
3 cups cornmeal
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups milk
1 pound butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 cups corn kernels (can use frozen or fresh)
2 jalapenos, chopped (add their seeds for extra heat)
6 green onions, chopped
12 ounces shredded sharp cheddar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Grease a large baking dish (like a hotel pan, 12″ by 20″) or two 9″ by 13″ baking dishes.
Place all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Whisk until the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt are blended.
Break the eggs into a separate bowl and lightly beat. Pour in the milk and the melted butter. Stir well.
Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour in the wet ingredients and stir just until incorporated. Do not overmix–it will toughen the bread.
Fold in the corn, jalapenos, green onions and sharp cheddar.
Pour into the prepared baking dish(es)
Place onto the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. Rotate the pan(s) after 15 minutes.
Remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into squares.
Serves a crowd! (makes 48-60 squares)
Last month, my friend Irene Emory, owner of Crossroads Cafe in Sewanee Tennessee, was planning a Chinese New Year Celebration Dinner in 8 courses, to be served Friday and Saturday evening. She needed some more hands in the kitchen. We talked, and I decided I could–for the weekend–come out of catering retirement. I packed up my favorite knives and motored south to Monteagle Mountain.
She had designed an ambitious menu: a vegetarian Eight Treasures Soup; steamed Shrimp dumplings–beguiling in their shiny almost translucent wraps; tender Pork Dumplings; Fish steamed in ginger, scallions and mirin; the ever-favorite vegetable stir-fry, Buddha’s Delight; Longevity Noodles topped with exotic mushroom-bok choy; Garlic Chive-Ginger Shrimp; Roast Duck in hoisin plum sauce, and finally, pineapple tarts with fresh fruit salad.
Irene has a fabulous gas wok stove. We could stand, side by side, each with our own huge wok to prepare our dishes. While I stir-fried vegetables, Irene simmered pork dumplings. We both prepared batches of garlic chive shrimp. The kitchen filled with heady aromatics. More wok-work: Irene made luscious bok choy. I tended to the soba noodles, in this case a quick boil then plunge into ice water: the trick to keep them from getting sticky.
There’s faucet connected to the stove. The long spigot can swing across the top, which makes refilling vessels a breeze, as water boils and evaporates. Adding a splash of water to the stir-fry created a beneficial sizzle and steam. When the cooking was complete, we could dump the water right onto the rangetop, which was at a slight angle. All the liquid disappeared down a drain. So cool!
It was fun to cook on that stove–a new experience for me. But what impressed me more was Irene’s cooking: her use of fresh garlic and ginger. Several stir-fries began with a squirt of oil and generous dollops of each ingredient, finely minced. Together, the two pungent tastes imparted this marvelous depth of flavor.
G&G, I thought. I’d put that to use.
Weather that weekend was berserk. The day was overcast, for my Friday morning drive, and a moderate 40 degrees. Most of the ice and snow from the storm earlier in the week had vanished. Things shifted later in the day. Right before our first dinner service, fat snowflakes began to cloak the mountain in white–3 inches! Late into the night, the snow turned into freezing rain.
By morning, everything was covered in a deceptive icy glaze. I hadn’t seen this since I was a child in New York—it stirred a memory of my siblings and I lacing up our ice skates, and gliding from neighboring yard to yard over ice-glazed snow.
Despite the wintery precip, both dinners proceeded as planned, with surprisingly few cancellations. Guests enjoyed all of the courses, and appreciated Irene’s gifts of mandarins and gold coins for abundance and good luck in the new year.
After a weekend of so much cooking, it was time to drive back home. On Sunday morning, the temperature had warmed again. The treacherous ice-glazed snow had melted. It was replaced by a blanket of fog, so thick I could barely see a few feet of the road in front of me. It was spooky. I drove onto the wrong highway ramp. After a panicked moment, I turned around, and got behind a big truck. I used him as my guide to descend the mountain.
Soon, the fog was above me. The world cleared. I’d be home soon, armed with new cooking inspiration.
GARLIC-GINGER PORK TENDERLOIN adapted from Cooking Light
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 pounds pork tenderloin
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup plum preserves
Place all of the ingredients, except for the pork, into a bowl. Whisk together. Place the pork into the mixture and rotate it so that the marinade coats the meat on all sides. Place the pork into a zip lock bag. Seal and refrigerate, allowing the meat to marinate for 2-4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the pork pieces from the marinade and place them onto a baking pan.
Roast for approximately 20-25 minutes. The meat will be slightly pink–do not overcook; the meat will get dry. Remove and let the meat rest 10 minutes while you prepare the glaze.
Place the hoisin and plum preserves into a small pot. Stir together for 5 minutes over medium heat.
Spoon the glaze over the cooling pork before slicing.
Makes 8 servings.
CONFETTI CASHEW RICE
2 tablespoons peanut oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 leek, washed and chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 cup red cabbage, cut into shreds
1 pound sugar snap peas, cut on the diagonal
2 cups cooked and cooled jasmine rice
1/2 cup chopped cashews
Using a wok or deep skillet:
Place on medium high heat. Add peanut oil, then the garlic and ginger. With a wooden spoon, vigorously stir the two together for 30 seconds. Add the chopped leeks and red bell peppers. Stir fry for about two minutes. Add the red onion. Continue to stir fry, pushing the cooked leeks and peppers to the side of the wok or skillet. Add the red cabbage–cook for another minute. Finally add the sugar snap peas. It’s okay to add a splash of water to the mixture.
Reduce the heat.
Fold in the rice, a cup at a time. When it is well-incorporated, remove from heat.
Fold in the chopped cashews and serve.
I don’t know too much about Korean food, but on the rare occasions that I dine on dishes like Bibimbap or Galbi Jjim at one of the homespun Korean eateries here in Nashville, I always experience this brilliant palate awakening. The spices, sugar and chili pepper heat, fermented vegetables and grilled meat hit on all the taste buds: Sweet-salty-sour-bitter-umami.
And I chide myself: Why don’t I eat here more often? Why don’t I try to cook like this?
The truth is, I tend to cook in my culture-comfort zone–which is a mish-mash of Italian-French-Southern-New American whatever! But today’s post reflects a little expansion beyond that zone.
It’s not authentic Korean, to be sure. The seasoning of the meat–soy-ginger-garlic-sesame—falls in line. Lashing it with the sweet-sour crunch of pickled red cabbage and grassy fresh cilantro fits too–although it’s much tamer than traditional Kim-chi. And, eating it wrapped in a griddled corn tortilla makes it more like Mexi-Korean fusion.
No matter. The result is simply delicious.
Kogi BBQ, a food truck in the Los Angeles area, gets the credit for originating the cleverly filled tacos over 6 years ago. It’s an idea that has caught on across the country–and inspired all manner of taco fusion treats.
My prompt started back in December, when I had purchased–and overbought– some boneless beef short rib for a big family meal. (which was a classic French preparation.) I put the extra meat into the freezer, knowing that I’d soon have the chance to use it in a different flavor profile:
Tacos inspired by Kogi, for our community potluck.
I did a little research, and put together my plan.
First: the marinade. Easy to make–what is key is allowing enough time for it to permeate the meat. Six to eight hours, if you start in the morning. A 12 hour-overnight would be even better. Don’t worry if you can’t locate an Asian pear. I used an apple that I already had! The texture and mild sweet fruit taste gets communicated into the mix.
Note: if you cannot, for whatever reason, get short rib then I recommend flank steak. These Korean-style beef tacos at Cooking Light use it to great advantage—marinated and grilled.
Next: The Sear and the Braise. It’s important to get a nice rich brown finish on the beef. The marinade goes far in that regard, caramelizing as you sear the meat. Once you’ve accomplished that, you smother the strips in deglazed juices from the pan, along with the remaining marinade.
Cover and place into a low oven and forget about the meat for the next two to three hours.
What emerges, after that time, is succulent beef, steeped in garlicky gingery tastes.
You really don’t need a knife to shred the meat for the filling–pick it apart with a fork.
Save all those braising juices, too.
I didn’t have the time needed to make Kimchi, which is about a week. Instead, I whipped up a quick pickled slaw, using red cabbage and red onion. In short order, it provided a snappy sweet-sour topping.
Finish the taco with some cilantro and a stripe of Sriracha sauce.
Gosh, these were good.
KOREAN STYLE BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIB TACOS
3 pounds boneless beef short ribs
marinade and braising mixture
1 Gala apple or Asian Pear, cored and chopped
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
3/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sesame oil
a few pinches red pepper flakes
Place the apple, onion, garlic, and ginger into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse the ingredients together.
Add the soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, water, and sesame oil. Process until smooth.
Place the meat into a non-reactive bowl or container. Pour about 1/2 of the marinade over the meat (reserving the rest for later use in the recipe.) Make sure the meat is well coated. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Cover and refrigerate–marinating overnight is best.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Place a large skillet or pot on medium heat. Add 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil.
Remove the beef from the marinade and brown the pieces a few minutes on each side.
Place the browned pieces into a shallow baking dish.
Pour remaining marinade over the beef.
Cover with aluminum foil and oven-braise for 3 hours.
When done, the meat will be juicy and fork-tender.
When the meat is cool enough to handle, break it up into small pieces for the tacos. Pour braising juices over the meat. Keep warm until ready to assemble the tacos.
Makes 2 dozen 6 inch tacos
“PICKLED RED” RED CABBAGE AND RED ONION SLAW
1/2 head red cabbage
1/2 large red onion
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Slice the cabbage as thinly as possible and place into a mixing bowl.
Slice the onion as thinly as possible and add to the cabbage.
In a separate bowl, whisk the vinegar, sugar, and salt together.
Pour over the slaw and let marinate for 20 minutes.
warm beef in braising juices
pickled red slaw
1 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves picked and coarsely chopped
24 6 inch corn tortillas
Sriracha hot sauce
Place a skillet on medium heat. Brown the tortillas on both sides–about 1 minute a side.
Spoon in the beef. Top with pickled red slaw, fresh cilantro, and a squirt of Sriracha hot sauce.
Holiday Trio: winter jewel salad with roasted shallot dressing, “stamppot,” balsamic vinegar pot roast
It is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and the last day of November. It’s overcast this afternoon, and oddly quiet in my neighborhood–perhaps the clouds have muffled the usual sounds of busy-ness. Perhaps everyone is just laying low, passing a restful time, post-feasting.
Poised as we are on the brink of December, I call this little respite the calm before the fury: Holidays, families, friends, parties and travels; trees and wreaths and lights, cooking and baking, shopping and wrapping…
Maybe it doesn’t have to be a mad dash, a stress-filled careen through the remaining 31 days of 2014. What if it’s simply fun? I’m looking for that. Fun, with an accent on simple.
In that spirit, I’ve assembled a trio of delicious dishes, for your pleasure. They fall into that simple category, to be sure, but they each share qualities that make them seem more complex, like you’d spent overwrought time on them.
But we don’t want to do that. We want to have fun.
Start with this Winter Jewel Salad, so-called because of its scatter of pomegranate seeds,that glisten like little rubies on this composed salad of mixed greens, citrus fruits, avocados and gorgonzola. As delectable as it is pretty on the holiday dinner table! I serve it with a whip of honey-roasted shallot vinaigrette on the side. Yes, there are flecks of green–fresh thyme leaves–in it. Savory-sweet.
When I lived in The Netherlands many years ago, I ate potatoes every day—like most Dutch. One of my favorite preparations was Stamppot–a boiled potato-vegetable mash. Sometimes it’s made with carrots and onions that are mashed and mixed with the “apples of the earth.” Other times, spinach or endive are folded into the puree. I could count on stamppot, in either root vegetables or bitter green version, to be hearty, tasty, and satisfying.
Recently, I made a Down-South variation of this rustic Dutch mainstay. I used Yukon gold potatoes, carrots, and onions—which follow tradition. But, I changed things up by adding parsnips–of which I’ve become very fond–and buttermilk.
I have found my favorite, a whole buttermilk from JD Country Farms in Russellville Kentucky. It is thick and luscious. It reminds me more of kefir or yogurt. I could drink it! It adds wonderful body and tang to the dish.
Last, but not least is this Beef Roast, braised to tenderness in balsamic vinegar. Back in my catering days, when I would make pot roast dinners for 50, 100, 250 people, and therefore would wield great rounds of beef, I made my “balsamic vinegar discovery.” I didn’t have any red wine on hand to flavor the meat, so I tried using the vinegar instead. I was really happy with the result. Marinated and braised into the meat, it imbued a caramel-wine sweetness, while insuring fork-tender bites. (I have since discovered the marinating power of balsamic in other dishes, such as this Grilled Balsamic Skirt Steak from Cooking Light.)
WINTER JEWEL SALAD WITH HONEY-ROASTED SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE
1/4 pound Arugula
1/4 pound Baby Spinach
Citrus Fruits: 1 grapefruit, 3 tangerines, peeled and cut into slices
1/2 pound sugar snap peas, (or asparagus spears) blanched and chilled
2 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 cup pomegranate seeds
After you gather your salad ingredients, assemble them in a large shallow (rather than deep) bowl–it is easier to compose the salad. Start with a foundation of greens, and then arrange the citrus, avocado, sugar snaps (or asparagus, cut into thirds) Add the gorgonzola crumbles.
Finish with a generous spray of pomegranate seeds, which look like pretty jewels on the salad.
Cover and chill until ready to serve. Make the vinaigrette to serve alongside.
Makes 8 servings
HONEY-ROASTED SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE
1 large shallot, roasted
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
12 tablespoons olive oil
Halve or quarter the roasted shallot and place into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT for the olive oil. Pulse until rough chopped and somewhat combined.
Process, adding the olive oil, one tablespoon at a time.
Makes one cup.
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and cut into 2″ chunks
1/2 pound carrots, scrubbed and cut into 2″ lengths
1/2 pound parsnips, scrubbed and cut into 2″ lengths
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into eighths
1 stick butter
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
1 cup buttermilk
Place all of the vegetables into a large pot. Fill with cool water to cover.
Sprinkle in a teaspoon of salt. Cover with the lid and place on medium high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the vegetables are tender—18-20 minutes.
Drain the vegetables and return them to the pot, set on low heat. Shake the pot so that any excess water will cook off. Cut up a stick of butter into the mixture. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Coarsely mash the vegetables together.
Pour in the buttermilk and continue to mash. Taste for seasonings, adjust and serve.
Makes 8-10 servings
BEEF ROAST BRAISED IN BALSAMIC
1 cup balsamic vinegar, divided
1/4 cup red wine (optional)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 pounds boneless beef chuck roast
2 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh thyme
1/4 cup all purpose flour
Make an overnight marinade for the beef:
Mix 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar with red wine, 1/4 cup olive oil, Worcestershire sauce. Stir in chopped onion and minced garlic, salt and black pepper. Place the beef into a non-reactive container and pour over the marinade. Turn the beef a few times to make sure it is well covered. Cover and refrigerate.
Heat a Dutch oven on medium. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Remove the beef from the marinade and begin browning the meat on all sides. It will take about 5 minutes a side.
Add water, about 1 1/2 cups, just enough to cover the meat. Add bay leaves and fresh thyme.
Cover and reduce the heat to low. Braise the beef for 2 hours. Uncover, flip, and continue braising for another hour.
In a small bowl, mix the remaining 3/4 balsamic vinegar with the flour to make a smooth paste.
When the beef is fork tender, remove from the Dutch oven. Discard bay lleaves and thyme. Stir in the balsamic-flour paste to the juices in the pot. Cook on low to make a thin rich gravy.
Carve the roast into thin slices, trimming any fat. Return the slices to the gravy.
Simmer. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Even though the days have been heating up, nights have ushered in a welcome cool here in Nashville. Not quite sweater or jacket weather—but soon. Autumn officially began last week, and you can sense the shift. Clear dry air, different quality of light, and just yesterday I noticed the tinge of orange and yellow on the maple trees. I’m ready.
With the onset of fall, I’ve been prompted to clean and declutter. Part of my “As above, So below” philosophy: straightening out a crammed closet, getting rid of unused stuff, doing that “deep cleaning” and organizing. When I bring order externally, it brings order within. It also sheds what I call “psychic dead weight.” Those two bundles of clothes I took to Goodwill? Ah, already I feel lighter.
You gotta keep the path clear for creativity’s flow!
And in the kitchen, I’ve been embracing the braise. Beef brisket for potluck. Cider pork shoulder for a cooking class. And today, chicken breasts in beer with apples, pears, and shallots.
The style of cooking suits not only the season, but also my temperament these busy workdays. Take a meat and brown it, building a foundation of flavor in a heavy duty Dutch oven. Cover it, and let it simmer, undisturbed, into succulence, while you go about the affairs of the day.
The beauty of this chicken dish is that, unlike big roasts, it doesn’t take hours to braise. Less than one hour, really. Inspired by a recipe on Cooking Light, I used beer as the braising liquid. I don’t drink beer, but I always seem to have a random bottle or two in my fridge, leftover from one of our potluck gatherings.
Add in shallots, coarse grain Dijon mustard, sliced apples and pears, and you have a luscious dish that makes me think of Belgian farmhouse cooking. As the beer simmers and reduces, it tenderizes the chicken. It melds with the fruit and mustard, transforming into a sauce imbued with the ale’s malt and hops.
There are a number of sides that would be excellent with this. Roasted root vegetables. Creamy polenta. Wild rice. You want an accompaniment that will capture all the savory juices.
I chose to make pearl couscous folded with chopped arugula. It is fast and easy—ten minutes of cooking—something you can throw together right before dinner. I relish the bitter edge imparted by the arugula. Use any type of green that you happen to enjoy, or have on hand.
Here’s to a new season of cooking, eating and sharing.
BEER BRAISED CHICKEN WITH APPLES AND PEARS adapted from Cooking Light
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 Chicken Breasts
3 tablespoons Coarse Grain Dijon Mustard, divided
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1 Gala apple, sliced
1 Red pear, sliced
6 ounces beer
1 tablespoon honey
Place a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil. Liberally coat the chicken breasts with coarse grain mustard, then sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place into the Dutch oven, skin side down first, and allow the chicken to brown on one side–about 5 minutes.
Flip the chicken. Add the shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add the apples and pears. Stir.
Mix the honey into the beer and pour over the chicken.
Cover and braise for 15-20 minutes. Check for doneness. Stir and scrape up any browned bits.
Place chicken on bed of couscous. Spoon over apples and pears and drench the chicken in the savory juices.
TRI-COLOR PEARL COUSCOUS with BITTER GREENS
1 cup tri-color pearl (Israeli) couscous
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped arugula, or kale, or mustards
1 tablespoon olive oil
Fill a saucepan with 1 quart water. Season with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat.
Pour in couscous and cook according to package directions–about 10 minutes.
Drain and set aside.
Put chopped greens into the saucepan. Pour cooked couscous over the greens.
Add olive oil and stir over very low heat, stirring until the green collapse and wilt in the couscous.
Divide between 2 bowls. Top with chicken, fruits, and braising juices.
We all know the trouble with the mind and memory. It isn’t always reliable. Images called up from the past can be hazy. Concepts and techniques once learned can be hard to access. Sometimes, the mind makes up things up. Or, two or three stories will meld into one.
That last memory misfire is what happened when I was trying to figure out what to make mom for her Mother’s Day lunch.
No doubt the pot of blooming sage on my front stoop was the source of inspiration, a recipe came to mind that I hadn’t made in years: Saltimbocca. Italian for “Jump into the mouth,” the traditional Roman roll of prosciutto, fresh sage and pounded veal is so quick and delicious, it can leap from skillet to mouth to satisfy hunger pronto.
Instead of preparing it with veal, I decided to make the dish with chicken breast–already a veer, albeit an acceptable one, from tradition. Early Sunday morning, I went to the market to get my ingredients. And that’s where things went further off course. There wasn’t any prosciutto, so I chose Black Forest ham. I thought I needed fontina, also not to be found–pickin’s are slim after a busy Saturday at the grocer–so I substituted muenster. I also bought cream, and hurried home.
Bill observed as I pounded the chicken breasts, arranged the slices of ham, cheese, and pretty sage, and rolled up the fillets and said, “Looks like you’re making Chicken Cordon Bleu.”
This was a remarkable statement, coming from a man who 1) doesn’t cook 2) hasn’t touched fish, meat, or fowl for over 20 years because it was True.
I realized I had fused another recipe, also unmade for years, into this one.
Today’s recipe is that faulty memory merge of two classic Old World dishes, Saltimbocca and Chicken Cordon Bleu. Maybe I should call it a happy marriage, as the result was simply delicious.
You see, true Saltimbocca has no cheese in its filling, no cream in its sauce. Roman cooks argue on the point of dredging in flour.
Cordon bleu, (which means “blue ribbon’) gained widespread popularity Stateside in the ’60s. It is anchored in Swiss, not French, cuisine. Cheese (often Gruyere) is paired with ham, rolled inside the chicken, which is dipped in egg, dusted in fine breadcrumbs, and deep-fried. Sage has no place in this dish. A cream-based sauce is often napped over the crunchy roulades.
But here’s what I like about my fusion: A melty white cheese helps to keep the chicken breast moist, and gives a cushion for the sage and ham. The seasoned flour is a touch more assertive–enhanced beyond the usual S&P, with paprika and granulated garlic. The dredging not only helps hold the roulade together (although a toothpick does the trick, too!) it adds browned bits to the skillet–which, in turn, boost the flavor of the sauce. I will also note that I am not alone in this recipe fusion—check out this appealing array of stuffed chicken breast recipes at Cooking Light.
You can see how sumptuous the juices look, deglazed in the pan with dry white wine. The small amount of flour dusted on the chicken contributes a bit to the thickening of the sauce—although the reduction of wine and small pour of cream do most of the work. More fresh chopped sage—ah, meraviglioso, merveilleux, wunderbar…
Yes, you will be happy to have this jump into your mouth.
BLUE RIBBON CHICKEN SALTIMBOCCA
1 1/4 pounds boneless chicken breast
4 slices prosciutto or thinly sliced deli ham
4 slices fontina, or muenster
8-12 fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Slice the chicken breast into thin (1/4″) scallops. Place each piece between a stretch of plastic wrap and pound to flatten and tenderize.
Arrange a slice of cheese, ham, and sage leaves on top of each chicken cutlet. Roll, and secure with a toothpick if you like.
In a small bowl, mix the flour with the seasonings: salt, black pepper, granulated garlic, paprika.
Dredge the roulades in the seasoned flour, dusting off the excess.
Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and butter. Heat and swirl together.
Place the chicken roulades in to brown, taking care not to crowd the pieces. Brown the chicken for 3 minutes and turn.
Continue browning for another 3-4 minutes. Remove the fully browned pieces and place them into a baking dish. Cover and keep warm.
Return the skillet to the burner, still set on medium, and make the sauce: (recipe follows)
WHITE WINE CREAM SAUCE
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
6 sage leaves, chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
Pour one cup of dry white wine into the skillet and stir, scraping up any browned bits from the pan. Cook and reduce the wine as you continue to deglaze the pan. When the wine is reduced by half (about 5-6 minutes) stir in the heavy cream. Add the chopped sage leaves. Taste for salt and black pepper; adjust as needed.
Pour the sauce over the roulades.
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.
Also, with beets being such a versatile vegetable for spring and fall, be sure to check out Cooking Light’s Guide to Beets for care, storage, growing, and preparation.
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.