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Nov 28, 2014
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Intelligent Content For The Food Fascinated
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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By the Book

By the Book: Ben Towill and Phil Winser’s Leek & Peekytoe Crab Gratin

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

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Full disclosure: cooking intimidates me. My culinary skills pale when compared to my family’s kitchen queens, my mother and aunts. There’s nothing better to this starving college student than visiting a relative’s house, where there are sure to be tasty, homemade dishes waiting. It’s a nice alternative to my fallback, the $6.51 large pizza around the corner. My large Italian family gathers monthly to swap stories, celebrate birthdays and cook and consume substantial amounts of food. My “honorary Nana,” Pat, has dubbed one my family’s perennial favorites “that effin’ crab dip,” as in, “Why do we always have to bring that effin’ crab dip to the party?”

Even family favorites can use an update now and then; that’s why I was excited to see a new variation on one this staple in The Fat Radish: Kitchen Diaries. Co-authors and chefs Ben Towill and Phil Winser showcase recipes featured at the NYC restaurant, The Fat Radish. While meat dishes do make appearances, vegetables and seafood steal the show in this new cookbook.

 

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The recipe was simple enough for even a hesitant college cook like me. If I could simmer leeks in a pan, I could handle this. I did find the dip a bit dry for my liking, so I added more liquid to smooth everything out. I am also a huge fan of cheese, so a few extra shreds of sharp white cheddar may have found their way into the pan. After all, when has extra cream and cheese ever been a bad thing?

 

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Overall, this dish was impeccable. The delicate crab and leeks were aromatic, and the dip was warm and filling. A drizzle of oil olive on top and a pinch of lemon were the perfect garnish – though an extra crack of black pepper on top wouldn’t hurt, either.

 

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Nana Pat may moan when she sees I brought yet another crab dip to our next family get together, but after one bite, I think she’ll be talking about that “effin’ good crab dip” for a long time.

 

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Leek & Peekytoe Crab Gratin
8 servings

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, washed and finely diced
½ cup sherry
1 cup heavy cream
1 lb. cleaned crab meat (use whatever type you like)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup breadcrumbs
½ cup coarsely grated sharp white cheddar cheese
Pinch grated nutmeg
Pinch red chili flakes
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Lemon wedges for serving
Toast for serving

• Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
• Place the butter in an ovenproof skillet set over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring now and then, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the sherry, turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook until the sherry is nearly evaporated, 5 minutes. Add the cream to the pan, turn the heat to low and simmer until the cream is slightly reduced, 5 minutes. Allow the cream mixture to cool. Stir the crab into the cooled cream mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste.
• Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs, cheese, nutmeg and chili flakes. Cover the crab mixture evenly with the breadcrumb mixture and drizzle with olive oil. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the top is golden brown and the sides are bubbling, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot with lemon wedges alongside and plenty of toast.

Have you put a twist on one of your family’s classic recipes? Tell us about it in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of The Fat Radish: Kitchen Diaries.

By the Book: Michael Ruhlman’s Thanksgiving Turkey

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

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I’m no stranger to roasting: leg of lamb, whole chickens, pot roasts, pork loins. But the one roast I’ve yet to tackle is arguably the one most Americans have made: the Thanksgiving turkey. That bird is my mom’s domain; she even has a separate roasting oven that makes an appearance once a year just for the task. So when I picked up a copy of Michael Ruhlman’s new book How to Roast, I immediately knew the recipe I was going to try. (And I hoped that, should questions arise, I could always ask Ruhlman in person at the next installment of the Sauce Celebrity Chef Series Nov. 19.)

Whereas his last cookbook, Egg, was dedicated to a single ingredient, How to Roast focuses on the versatility of a technique. He goes into great detail about what happens to different proteins while roasting at high, medium and low temperatures and explores specialty techniques like pan-roasting and spit-roasting. Compared to most cookbooks, How to Roast contains only a modest 20 recipes. However, once you’ve mastered the technique with dishes like the iconic roast chicken, rack of lamb or roasted root vegetables, you can apply it to an infinite number of proteins, veggies or even fruit.

 

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Ruhlman’s turkey recipe largely follows that of his roast chicken. Stuff the cavity with aromatics, truss the bird, coat the skin in butter and salt and roast to burnished perfection. However, a larger bird means the breast often dries out before the legs are finished cooking, relegating white meat fans (allegedly they exist) to dry, flavorless morsels. Ruhlman aims to solve this annual Thanksgiving conundrum with an unusual solution: break down the turkey halfway through cooking. He removes the legs and returns them to the roasting pan to continue roasting while the breast rests. This, he says, prevents the breast from overcooking while the legs finish. Then, the meat is carved and returned to the roasting pan to rest in a pool of hot stock, thereby ensuring juicy turkey for all.

 

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Of course, the recipe entails trussing and breaking down a 12-pound bird; thankfully, detailed illustrations show how to tackle both actions step by step. Except for one slightly mangled thigh, I kept both legs intact and returned them to the roasting pan to cook, noting how hilarious a partially carved turkey carcass looks.

 

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While the legs rested, the roasting pan took a trip to the stovetop – not for making traditional gravy but a rich stock, almost like a turkey jus. I sliced up the meat and returned it all to the pan, where Ruhlman says it can remain in a warm oven up to four hours. By this time the smell of roast turkey had filled the house, and no one was going to wait that long.

As promised, the recipe delivered juicy, succulent white meat, though the skin lacked that tasty brown crispness that develops with more time in the oven. Meanwhile, the gorgeous-looking legs seemed a tad dry, possibly from carving them from the bird without letting it rest longer than a few minutes. Still, the turkey jus added moisture and there was plenty leftover to make a fine gravy, which will be my contribution to our real Thanksgiving meal. After all, Mom has already prepped her turkey oven.

 

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Michael Ruhlman’s Thanksgiving Turkey
10 servings

1 (10- to 12-lb./4.5- to 5.5-kg.) turkey
Kosher salt
2 celery ribs, cut into large chunks
½ Spanish onion, quartered
½ lemon, halved again
1 bunch thyme (optional)
1 bunch sage (optional)
½ cup (110 g.) butter, melted
1 cup (240 ml.) dry white wine
2 cups (480 ml.) turkey or chicken stock, preferably homemade

• About 4 hours before you plan to start roasting, remove the turkey from the refrigerator, rinse it, pat it dry and let it sit at room temperature.
• Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, or 400 degrees if you have convection.
• Liberally salt the interior and jam the celery, onion, lemon and herbs (if using) into the cavity of the bird. Truss the bird as you would a chicken. Rain salt evenly all over the bird. Put the bird in a low-sided pan (or elevated on a rack in a roasting pan; you want plenty of circulation around the bird) and put it in the oven.
• Roast at that high temperature for 20 minutes. Pour the melted butter evenly over the bird and lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees, or 350 degrees for convection. Continue to roast until the breast reaches 155 degrees, 60 to 90 minutes, depending on your oven and the size of the bird, basting as you wish.
• Remove the pan from the oven. Show off the bird to your guests. Bring it back to the kitchen. Slice through the skin between the legs and breast. The breast should still be pink, but if it looks cold and raw you can return the entire bird to the oven for 10 more minutes. Put the bird on a large cutting board (preferably with a channel or a depression to hold the bird). Remove each leg at the joint connecting it to the carcass. I reserve the wings for stock the following day rather than serving them, as they’re tough and not terribly meaty.
• Pour off the fat and juices from the roasting pan (I reserve the fat to make a roux to thicken stock for gravy, and I add the juice to the gravy or stock). Return the legs to the pan and return them to the oven. Roast the legs for at least an additional 45 to 60 minutes; if you intend to leave the legs for longer than an hour, turn the oven down to 200°F (95°C) (without convection). The legs will only get better with time and can be left in the over for up to 4 additional hours; don’t worry about the breast, as it will reheat in the stock at the end.
• Remove the legs from the roasting pan. Put the pan over high heat on the stovetop. Add the wine and bring it to a simmer, scraping up the stuck-on skin and browned juices. Add the broth and bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low.
• Carve the dark meat from the drumstick and thighs and put it in the hot stock in the roasting pan. Remove each breast half from the turkey (be careful not to tear the skin.) Don’t worry if the breast is a little pink; this means it will be juicy as it finishes cooking in the hot stock. Cut the breast crosswise into ¼ to ½ inch (6 to 12 millimeter) slices. Transfer the pieces to the roasting pan with the stock. Turn the burner to high and bring the stock to a simmer. Simmer for a minute or two to ensure that everything is hot and then serve.

The finer points

Gravy
Gravy, a critical part of the Thanksgiving meal, is nothing more than rich turkey stock thickened with flour. To make turkey stock, follow the instruction for Brown Veal Stock (recipe follows), using turkey wings and necks instead of veal bones. Make the stock ahead of time – several days or even a month in advance – and store it in the freezer. To make gravy, simply saute a diced onion in butter, add flour – 1½ tablespoon per cup stock, and cook the flour till it smells like pie crust. Whisk in the cold stock until it has thickened and begins to simmer.

Stuffing
I make a turkey dressing, in effect a savory bread pudding, using plenty of turkey stock for flavor. I call it dressing rather than a stuffing because I cook it separately from the turkey. But if you want to go classical, by all means do so. My recommendation is to roast the stuffed turkey as described above (it will take an additional 30 to 60 minutes), remove the stuffing to the roasting pan with the legs and finish cooking it along with the dark meat until it’s piping hot in the center.

When all have been served
Relax and enjoy this most special of American holidays.

And be sure to save the carcass for making more stock the next day. Just follow the steps for Brown Veal Stock, only there’s no need to roast the bones, as you’ve already done it. Simply break up the carcass, cover with water, heat gently for many hours (adding the vegetables and aromatics at the very end), and then strain.

Brown Veal Stock
1 4-lb./1.8-kg. veal breast or 4-lb./1.8-kg. meaty, cartilaginous veal bones
3 large carrots, cut into large dice
1 large Spanish onion, cut into large dice (if the papery brown skin is clean, include this as well)
5 to 10 garlic cloves
¼ cup/60 g. tomato paste
2 tsp. black peppercorns, lightly crushed in a mortar or beneath a saute pan
3 bay leaves

• Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (use convection if you have it).
• Cut the veal breast into 2-by-3-inch/5-by-7.5-centimeter pieces. On a baking sheet, arrange the pieces so that there’s plenty of space between them to allow for good circulation. Roast them until they are golden brown and look like they’d be delicious to eat (and they would be), 30 to 45 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees (without convection).
• Choose a pot that will hold the meat and bones snugly in two layers and cover with about 4 inches/10 centimeters of water. Place the pot, uncovered, in the oven for 10 to 12 hours. If possible, check the water level midway through the cooking to ensure that the bones are covered. If they aren’t, add more water.
• Remove the pot from the oven. Add more water to cover the bones by a couple of inches if it has cooked down. Add the carrots, onion and garlic (saute the vegetables until caramelized first, if you wish, adding the tomato paste toward the end and cooking that as well), along with the remaining ingredients. Add more water as necessary. Bring the pot just to a simmer over high heat, reduce the heat to low (the pot should be too hot to touch but the water should not be bubbling) and cook for 1 hour.
• Strain the stock through a colander, basket strainer or chinois. (If you intend to make a remouillage, discard the vegetables and put the bone back in the pot, cover them with water and cook them again in a 200-degree oven or over low heat on top of the stove for 6 hours and add this to your stock. Strain the stock again through cloth.)
• Chill the veal stock completely and lift the fat off the surface. The stock will keep refrigerated up to 1 week or frozen up to 3 months.

Reprinted with permission from Little Brown Publishing

What’s your worst Thanksgiving disaster story? Tell us in the comments below for a chance to win a (signed!) copy of Michael Ruhlman’s How to Roast.

By the Book: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Sprouting Broccoli with Sweet Tahini

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

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I am always on the hunt for a good salad – preferably one that’s inventive and full of vegetables, because there’s nothing that leaves me hungrier than a bowlful of lettuce. So I made Yotam Ottolenghi’s Sprouting Broccoli with Sweet Tahini from his newest book, Plenty More. Make no mistake: this salad is delicious, a hearty combination of broccolini, haricot vert and snow peas with a dressing of tahini, honey, garlic and soy. There’s a heaping 1½ cups of cilantro too, which Ottolenghi says is one of his favorite ingredients (sorry, cilantro haters). The dish – especially the dressing – offers a multitude of flavors, from sweet to salty to spicy, the last thanks to raw garlic.

What I love about this book, though, is that it’s composed of vegetarian dishes for any audience. There’s something for everyone, from his tagliatelle with walnuts and lemon – an updated version of your fettuccine alfredo – to his fried upma with poached egg, a dressed-up version of the South Indian breakfast staple. (I’ll be making that next!)

 

 

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Sprouting Broccoli with Sweet Tahini
Serves 4

10½ oz./300 g. purple sprouting broccoli or 9 oz./250 g. broccolini
4 oz./120 g. haricot vert, trimmed
6½ oz./180 g. snow peas, trimmed
1 Tbsp. peanut oil
1½ cups/20 g. cilantro leaves
2½ Tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted
1 tsp. nigella seeds

For the sauce:
About 3½ Tbsp./50 g. tahini paste
About 2 Tbsp. water
1 small clove garlic, crushed
½ tsp. tamari soy sauce
1½ tsp. honey
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce along with the salt. You want the consistency to be smooth and thick but pourable, a bit like honey; add a tiny bit of extra water or tahini paste if needed and whisk well.

Trim off the broccoli leaves. If the stems are thick, cut them lengthwise in half or in quarters so you are left with long, thinner stems, similar in proportion to the haricot vert.

Bring a pot filled with plenty of unsalted water to a boil. Blanch the haricot vert for about 4 minutes, until just cooked but still retaining a bite. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the haricot vert to a colander, run under plenty of cold water, and then dry well with a tea towel. In the same water, blanch the snow peas for 2 minutes. Use the slotted spoon to remove them from the water, then refresh and dry as before. Repeat the same process with the broccoli, blanching it for 2 to 3 minutes.

Once all the vegetables are cooked and dry, mix them together in a bowl with the oil. You can now serve the salad in two ways. Mix most of the cilantro and seeds with the vegetables and pile up on a serving dish. Pour the sauce on top and finish with the remaining cilantro and seeds. Alternatively, pile the vegetables on a serving plate, dotting them with cilantro leaves and sprinkling with seeds as you go, and serve the sauce in a bowl on the side.

What’s your most creative vegetarian dish? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of Plenty More. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

By the Book: Gabrielle Hamilton’s Cod in Saffron Broth with Leeks, Potatoes and Savoy Cabbage

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

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In her memoir Blood, Bones & Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton revealed her voice as a writer: authoritative and without apology. The book became a New York Times best-seller and garnered her a James Beard Foundation award in writing and literature. Hamilton’s voice is just as decisive in her new cookbook, Prune, but this time she might as well be your boss, and you, a line cook in her acclaimed NYC restaurant by the same name.

There is no prologue in this book. No intro, no mushy thank-yous to all those individuals who inspired the book, turned a vision into reality… There is no time for that, people. You’ve got mouths to feed!

Even before I turned on a burner, I felt like I was under fire. Hamilton was judging me, and I was coming up short. The dilemma: selecting a recipe. What dish in this book was quintessential Hamilton? All of them. Which recipes called for ingredients I could easily find? She’s persnickety, you see. If you’re going to make her Deep-fried Shrimp Toasts with Sesame Seeds, you better purchase Pepperidge Farm original white sandwich bread “even if you have to walk to three different grocery stores” because “none of the other supermarket white bread hold their structure in the fryer.”

I settled on Cod in Saffron Broth with Leeks, Potatoes and Savoy Cabbage because Bob’s Seafood could supply me with cod exactly like chef wanted it: filleted, skin-on and butchered to 5 ounces.

 

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This cod dish, like most of the recipes in Prune, is straightforward. Just follow the instructions – exactly. To start, get that pot of water boiling, and be sure to salt it well. Salt is the only seasoning that the potatoes, cabbage and leeks will get, apart from a broth that is ladled upon plating.

 

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Hamilton calls for seasoning the cod with berberé, an Ethiopian spice blend. I didn’t have a jar of prepared berberé, but I did have every spice she calls for. (I wouldn’t dare ask if I get points for having a well-stocked pantry.) If you do, too, it’s well worth the effort to make berberé instead of buying a jar. Toasting spices and seeds until fragrant makes your house smell amazing long after dinner is done. The amount of berberé needed to season the cod is not specified. Rather, Hamilton calls on you to pay attention. “It wants to be bold and have a point of view, but not aggressive or unbalanced.”

 

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The last component is a saffron broth. You need every ingredient: shallots (not onions), saffron (not turmeric), fresh thyme, a cinnamon stick, fish stock. They make a difference and you will notice the minute you taste it. My dinner guests ate every last morsel of this dish. The bowls were so clean I could’ve just put them back in the cupboard.

More than aspire you to cook like a chef, the book makes you want to be a decent cook: to get it right, to keep a clean walk-in cooler (or fridge), to respect ingredients, to use everything. The techniques are not difficult, only exacting. If you can do it like Hamilton, you might survive a night on the line at Prune.

 

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Cod in Saffron Broth with Leeks, Potatoes and Savoy Cabbage
4 servings

2 lbs. cod, filleted, skin on and butchered to 5 ounces
2 Tbsp. Berberé Spice Mixture (recipe follows)
1 cup fish stock (recipe follows)
1 medium shallot, finely diced
3 small pinches saffron
3 to 4 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter
Clarified butter
2 medium leeks, sliced to ½-inch disks as far up into green as viable, completely free of sand
Generous ½ lb. savoy cabbage, cut into attractive wide ribbons
1 dozen Yukon gold baby potatoes, scrubbed, skin on, sliced into ½-inch disks
1 cinnamon stick
2 thyme branches, long and thin, not the bushy, woody ones

For the vegetables:
• Bring 8 quarts of well-salted water to a boil in a large pot. Have a baker’s rack set inside a sheet pan ready at your station.
• Add potatoes to boiling water and cook until nearly done, keeping in mind they will carry over residual heat while they drain. Gently remove with a spider and lay out on a baker’s rack to cool.
• Repeat with the leeks.
• And then the cabbage.
• When vegetables are cool, pack separately.

For the pickup:
• Bring fish stock, minced shallot, thyme, saffron threads and cinnamon stick to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Let it slightly reduce and come together while you cook the fish.
• Heat moderate ladle of clarified butter in flat-bottomed saute pan over medium-high heat. Weed out the warped and buckled pans before service or they will kill your game all night long.
• Season portioned codfish on both sided with the Berberé spice rub. Take care with your seasoning – it wants to be bold and have a point of view, but not aggressive or unbalanced.
• Sear codfish, skin side down, in the hot pan with clari and take it all the way on the stove top, flipping once. Get good, crisp, golden brown skin, with opaque flesh. You want the natural flake line to start to open, but don’t take it so far that you lose all that milky enzyme as it weeps into the pan.

To finish the broth:
• Look at what you have in your saucepot – further reduce or build back up slightly with more fish stock, depending on what you see. You want fragrant, full-bodied, slightly viscous saffron broth that can still receive a few nuts of cold mounted butter and is still hot and brothy enough to be able to warm through a few ribbons of juicy cabbage, several coins of watery leeks and a few waxy potato slices without totally thinning out into body-less liquid.
• Spoon the finished broth and all the veg into the wide bowl; leave nothing in the pan. Center cod, flesh side up.
• Fish out the cinnamon stick and the thyme branch and make sure they are visible in the bowl, like a garnish.

Berberé Spice Mixture
1 quart plus 1 pint

1/3 cup coriander seeds
1 1/3 cups cumin seeds
¼ cup cloves
2/3 cup cardamom pods
1/3 cup black peppercorns
2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. allspice berries
2/3 cup fennel seeds
1 ounce dried chilies de arbol, remove stem, seeds are fine
¼ cup fenugreek
1/3 cup ginger powder
2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. turmeric powder
2/3 cup kosher salt

•In a very large sauteuse, dry toast the first 9 above ingredients together until fragrant. Stir and shake during the toasting.
• As soon as you get strong pleasant aroma – don’t allow it to get acrid and burnt – turn out onto a full sheet of parchment to cool.
• When thoroughly cool, lift edges of parchment to neatly funnel seeds into spice grinder, in manageable batches.
• Grind all to fine, mix well with the final 3 ingredients above. Store in pint containers; label and date.

Fish Stock
4 quarts

3 lbs. white fish bones
3 cups white wine
3 bulbs fennel, cut into quarters
3 stalks celery, cleaned up and cut for mirepoix
1 yellow onion, peeled, cut into sixths
1 tsp. salt
Bay leaves
Black peppercorns, a few

• Rinse bones of blood, in salt water if necessary. Remove gills as needed and break spines in two. Rinse again if snapping spines reveals more blood.
• In a stainless steel pot, add bones, lay vegetables on top and add wine. Be sure you have not grabbed a crappy aluminum pot in haste.
• Add cold water to cover by 2 inches
• Add bay leaves, 1 teaspoon of salt and a few black peppercorns.
• Bring to a boil and reduce to a bare simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes. Let settle and partially cool. Strain through several layers clean, damp cheesecloth set inside a fine mesh chinois. Give it the time it needs to drip clear. If clarifying: Beat egg whites to tight and foamy. (Like shaving cream.) Then pour/spoon into simmering stock to form the raft. Let it go 15 minutes. Spoon off the dirty, scummy raft BEFORE straining. Repeat if necessary.

Reprinted with permission from Random House Publishing

If you could spend one night working the line at at St. Louis restaurant, which would it be and why? Tell us in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of Prune!

By the Book: Cynthia Graubart’s Pork Stew with Gremolata and Island Pork Chili

Friday, October 24th, 2014

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I admit, it is possible that I unjustly conflated the slow cooker with the universes of Mad Men and John Cheever’s short fiction, dismissing it out of turn. But I had a good reason – at least I think. After all, my mother is prone to finger wagging about the slow cooker’s dead usefulness in a way that makes me nod vigorously and then instantly forget the advice.

Or it could be because, by chance, I own the same vintage, seafoam-colored Rival Crock-Pot Southern Living columnist Cynthia Graubart reminisces about in her new book, Slow Cooker: Double Dinners for Two. Seeing it as a kind of culinary anachronism, I often left mine to collect dust on a shelf.

However, it’s safe to say Graubart’s undemanding slow cooking tome helps breathe new life into this bloodless style of mid-century cooking. The lushly varied recipes tap fruit flavors and invoke the colorful traditions of Thailand, France, the American Southwest and others.

Most notable is the book’s conceit. Advertising “double dinners for two,” the two-serving recipes are paired together throughout the book with the idea that they can be made simultaneously in the same slow cooker, using separate plastic liners. Each recipe is labeled A or B, with individual preparation instructions followed by simultaneous cooking instructions. The methodology behind the recipe pairings is never fully explained (one of several glaring editing quirks in the book), but it’s a damn good idea, and a good way to prepare several days’ worth of meals without fuss.

I’m a pork lover and went with a (handsomely photographed) recipe for Island Chili, using pork tenderloin and a succotash-esque mix of black beans, tomatoes, corn and mango. Since I had extra ingredients, I doubled the recipe rather than making the Pork Stew with Gremolata recipe that’s paired with it.

The preparation, as with most of the recipes in Slow Cooker, is a cinch. Dice the mango and pork tenderloin (trimming away fat and silverskin), and mix the other ingredients in a bowl with a quick stir.

 

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Add the pork to the bottom of the slow-cooker liner, seasoning it generously with salt and pepper. Then, simply pour the other ingredients on top, cover and set the slow cooker to low.

 

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Six hours later, it was time to tango with my equatorially inspired chili. The pork itself was cooked remarkably well, considering the minimal amount of seasoning required (the beauty of using an inherently flavorful meat). But the other ingredients felt diminished in flavor, even after extensive salting – much like the gauzy, repressed feel of 1960s suburbia itself. For starters, canned beans and tomatoes and out-of-season mangoes don’t have the zing of fresh ones, and Slow Cooker’s reliance on preserved or processed ingredients undercuts its stripped-down ingenuity. You’re better off throwing fresh produce into the pot, along with some of the “jazz-up” ingredients enumerated in the book’s introduction like soy sauce, tomato paste, Parmesan, or any other umami-boosting ingredient. Remember: slow cooking can be as improvisational as it is easy.

 

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Cynthia Graubart’s Pork Stew with Gremolata and Island Pork Chili
2 servings each

For the Pork Stew with Gremolata:
½ lb. pork tenderloin (½ of small tenderloin), cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 small onion, diced
10 baby carrots, chopped
1 14½-oz. can diced tomatoes
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup beef broth
1 clove garlic, minced or ½ tsp. bottled minced garlic
3 to 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 cloves garlic, minced, or 1 tsp. bottled minced garlic

For the Island Pork Chili:
½ lb. pork tenderloin (½ of small tenderloin), cut into ½-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 14½-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
¼ cup frozen corn kernels
½ cup black beans, rinsed and drained
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. chili powder
1 mango, diced, divided
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided

Pork Stew with Gremolata
• Insert liner into the slow cooker, fully opening the bag and draping the excess over the sides.
• Add pork to the bottom of the liner. Season with salt and pepper.
• Top pork with onions and carrots.
• Stir together tomatoes, white wine, broth and garlic in a medium bowl. Pour over pork and vegetables.
• Top pork with rosemary sprigs.
• Reserve parsley, lemon zest and garlic to top finished dish for serving.
• Fold the top of the bag over to one side and push ingredients at bottom of liner over to create room for the second bag.
• Follow directions for the second recipe.

Island Pork Chili:
• Insert liner into the remaining space in the slow cooker, fully opening the bag and draping the excess over the sides.
• Add pork to the bottom of the liner. Season with salt and pepper.
• Stir together tomatoes, corn, black beans, cumin and chili powder in a medium bowl. Pour over pork.
• Top with half the mango.
• Fold the top of the bag over to the opposite side of the first bag and nestle the ingredients of both bags so they are sharing the space evenly.
• Reserve second half of mango and cilantro to top finished dish before serving.

To complete the recipes:
• Each closed liner should be draping away from the other, extending over the sides of the slow cooker.
• Cover and cook on low for 6 hours.
• Move two shallow serving dishes or bowls next to the slow cooker. Remove cover and using pot holders or oven mitts, carefully open each liner to and remove the solids with a slotted spoon or tongs to its own serving bowl. Still using a potholder, gather the top of the first liner, carefully lift the bag from the slow cooker and move over its serving bowl. Cut a corner off the bottom of the bag, large enough to allow the remaining contents of the bag to be released into the second bowl. Discard the liner. Repeat with the second liner.
• Allow the recipe being served to cool, and package in a resealable plastic freezer bag or freezer container. Label and freeze up to 3 months.
• Before serving, taste and season again with salt and pepper. Top Pork Stew with Gremolata with the reserved parsley, lemon zest and garlic before serving. Top Island Pork Stew with mango and cilantro before serving.

Reprinted with permission from Gibbs Smith Publishing 

What’s your go-to slow-cooker meat (or non-meat), and the three most important items to throw in with it? Tell us in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of Slow Cooker: Double Dinners for Two

By the Book: Michael Ruhlman’s Poached-in-a-Bag Egg Sandwich with Caramelized Onion and Roasted Red Pepper

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

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I love eggs. In my opinion, few things can’t be improved with the addition of a golden runny yolk, no matter how tired the trend may be. It’s my go-to protein for breakfast (and often for dinner, too), yet Michael Ruhlman’s love for eggs makes mine look like pure indifference. In fact, the prolific culinary writer (who will visit St. Louis for a Celebrity Chef Series dinner Nov. 20) penned a cookbook entirely dedicated to this essential ingredient: Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient.

Enter the egg flowchart. To better document all the ways an egg could be used, Ruhlman created a massive diagram that breaks down its seemingly infinite preparations. Is it cooked whole or separated? In the shell or out? Are you making a batter or a dough? Whipping a meringue or binding meatballs? The flowchart is so large, it can’t even fit on a two-page spread of Egg. Instead, it comes as a 5-foot poster folded neatly in the back of the book. It’s so comprehensive (and beautiful), I wanted to frame and hang it in my kitchen for inspiration. With all the options presented in this book – from seafood roulade to marshmallows to an ale and rum flip – I chose one of my favorite egg presentations: a poached egg sandwich.

I know, egg sandwiches are not exactly earth-shattering. After all, nearly every fast-food joint around has some form of egg-sausage-cheese combo for breakfast. But few recipes highlight the natural flavor of an egg better than breakfast dishes, and the technique Ruhlman used to poach the eggs intrigued me.

 

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Perhaps 25 percent of my poaching attempts succeed. Somehow, I manage to keep the whites tight, not puncture the yolk and transfer it to a plate with a semi-cooked center. Then, my next egg fails miserably. Ruhlman covers the traditional poaching technique, but he also shared a second, far simpler, method. Just pop the egg in a zip-close bag and let it poach without actually touching the simmering water. Though I’d heard of this method before, temperature and times varied wildly and I’d never actually attempted it. But if anyone could help me get it right, it’s Michael Ruhlman.

 

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The process is simple enough. While the water comes to boil, add a few drops of olive oil to a sandwich-sized zip-top bag and smush the plastic to spread it around, making sure to get the oil into the corners. Then, crack the egg into a small bowl and gently slide it into the bag, working it into a corner so it looks like a mini pastry bag. Twist it closed and seal with a zip-tie (or if you happen to cook at the Sauce office, a paper clip). Plop the eggs into the simmering water, set your timer for 4 minutes and be patient. I found that occasionally turning the bags to rotate the eggs helped them poach more evenly.

 

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When the timer rang, the eggs slipped out of the plastic and came to rest gently on top of my English muffin. Granted, they weren’t as pretty as you’d find at brunch around town – the whites were a hilarious conical shape, like my sandwich wore a hat. Still, I’ll take perfectly cooked (if awkwardly shaped) over my pot of over-boiled egg whites any day. Bring on the Benedicts!

 

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As for the rest of the sandwich, it’s a classic but perfect combination. Always use an English muffin over toast (“… the holey crumb helps catches the yolk when you bite into it,” Ruhlman said) and add a splash of white wine vinegar to make the caramelized onions and peppers sing. Forget the sausage, cheese and bacon. When you have a perfectly oozing golden yolk and sweet caramelized onions and peppers, you don’t need anything else.

 

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Poached-in-a-Bag Egg Sandwich with Caramelized Onion and Roasted Red Pepper
4 servings

4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 eggs
1 tsp. butter, plus more for the English muffins
½ onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, charred black over a glam or under a broiler, then peeled and diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp. red or white wine vinegar
4 English muffins

• If you wish to cook your eggs ahead of time, bring a medium pot of water to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat so that water is gently simmering; prepare an ice bath (half ice, half water). Put 1 teaspoon olive oil into each of 4 small plastic bags, then crack an egg into each bag. Twist each bag closed and secure it with a twist-tie. Lower the bags into the simmering water and cook 4 minutes. Transfer the bags to the ice bath and put the whole thing in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve. At that point, return the bags to simmering water for 90 seconds to reheat before serving.
• When you’re ready to prepare the sandwiches, heat the butter over medium heat and saute the onion gently till nicely browned and caramelized, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the red bell pepper to reheat, season to taste with salt and pepper, and then add the vinegar.
• Toast and butter the English muffins.
• If you haven’t made the eggs ahead of time, cook them now as described above. Divide the onion-pepper mixture among the four muffin bottoms. Place a cooked egg on each – they will slip easily out of their oiled bags. Season the eggs with salt and pepper and top with the muffin tops. Serve immediately.

Reprinted with permission from Little Brown and Company

What’s your favorite way to use an egg and why? Whole and fried? Separated and baked or whipped into a meringue? Scrambled into an omelet? Tell us in the comment section below for a chance to win a copy of Egg.

By the Book: Julie Richardson’s Double-Dip Caramel Cake

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

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Caramel cake is one dish I’ve never successfully made. I always test new recipes since it’s my husband’s favorite dessert, but they never turn out quite right. It is my great white whale (or buffalo) of desserts. However, this cool, fall weather renewed my hope for making the perfect caramel cake, and I decided to test a version from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson (though it almost lost out to her Old Vermont burnt sugar cake with maple-cream cheese frosting.)

 

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The cake recipe was very different than other cake recipes I’ve seen. Normally, the first step is to cream the fat and the sugar together and then incorporate flour. In this recipe, Richardson adds the fat directly to the dry ingredients (a whopping three cups of flour to two cups of sugar!) and warns this will take coaxing and a lot of scraping. This process did take a long time, which may account for the cake’s density. It’s not an airy-fairy crumb cake. It’s pretty substantial, almost like pound cake, which isn’t a bad thing.

 

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The double-dip element of this caramel cake is thanks to the caramel and caramel frosting on each layer. But surprisingly, it didn’t have a strong caramel taste. I wish the frosting itself had more than one cup of caramel for more intense flavor.

 

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To be fair, the recipe does say to slice each cake layer in half to make a six-layer cake with a thin layer of caramel and frosting in between each layer. I didn’t halve them, not out of laziness, but because every time I’ve attempted this, I ruin the round. Maybe the caramel flavor would be more intense, but I doubt it.

 

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Overall, I really liked this cake but it isn’t exactly what I’m looking for in a caramel cake. I guess my quest will just have to continue.

 

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Julie Richardson’s Double-Dip Caramel Cake
12 to 16 servings

For the Caramel Sauce:
¼ cup water
1½ cups (10½ oz.) sugar
1½ cups heavy cream
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. fine sea salt

For the Cake:
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
1½ cups (13½ oz.) full-fat sour cream, at room temperature
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
3 cups (12 oz.) sifted cake flour
2 cups (14 oz.) sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. fine sea salt
¾ cup (6 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small cubes

For the Frosting:
6 cups (1½ lbs.) sifted confectioners’ sugar
1½ cups (12 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup heavy cream

• Center an oven rack and preheat oven to 325 degrees.
• To make the caramel sauce, gently stir together the water and sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, being careful not to splash the sides of the pot. Stop stirring and allow the sugar to boil until it is a rich amber color. To check the true color of the caramel (because it will appear much darker than it actually is), simply tilt the pot to see a thin layer of the liquid – resist the urge to stir or stick an implement into the caramel, as it may cause the caramel to crystalize. Remove the saucepan from the heat and slowly pour in ¾ cup of cream and place the saucepan back on the stove over medium heat, stirring until combined. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Reserve 1 cup of the caramel for your frosting; the rest will be used to assemble the cake. Place all of the caramel in the refrigerator to cool while the cake bakes.
• To make the cake, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, ½ cup of the sour cream, and the vanilla in a small bowl; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt for 1 minute at low speed. Add the butter and the remaining 1 cup of sour cream and blend on low speed until the batter comes together. This will take some coaxing – you will need to stop the mixer often to scrape the batter from the paddle and the bottom of the bowl. Once the mixture has come together, mix on medium-high speed for an additional 90 seconds. The batter will be thick. Add the egg mixture in thirds, mixing each third into the batter until just combined and scraping the bowl as necessary.
• Divide the batter equally among the three prepared pans (there will be approximately 1 pound 2 ounces per pan) and smooth the tops. Bake in the middle of the oven until the centers spring back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out just barely moist, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Flip the cakes out and lay them on a wire rack, top side up, to cool to room temperature. Leave the parchment paper on until you assemble the cake.
• Because the frosting is at its best when fresh, make it just before assembling the cake. In the bowl of a stand mixed fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the confectioners’ sugar and butter on high speed until the mixture is thick, fluffy, and light in color, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the reserved cooled cup of caramel and mix on medium speed until combined. Switch to the whisk attachment and, with the mixer running on low speed, drizzle in the ¼ cup of cream. Turn up the mixer to high speed for 1 to 2 minutes or until the frosting is fluffy.
• To assemble the cake, first give the caramel sauce a good stir. If any of the cake layers are domed, slice off the domes. (They are great to nibble on while you’re building the cake!) Remove the parchment paper circles. Cut each cake layer in half to yield six thin layers. Build this cake using the three bottom layers first, so that the three top layers constitute the top half of the cake. Place one of the bottom layers cut side up on a serving plate. Using a metal spatula, spread a very thin layer of the caramel (2 to 3 tablespoons) over the cake, then spread a thin layer (½ cup) of the frosting over the caramel. Don’t worry if some of the caramel blends into the frosting, as this just makes it all yummier. Repeat these steps with the two remaining bottom layers, followed by two top layers (all top side up), spreading each layer with caramel first, and then with frosting. Place the very top layer top side down on the cake. Apply a thin layer of frosting all over the cake to make a “crumb coat.” Place the cake in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to firm up. Take it out and frost with the remaining frosting.
• The cake will stay fresh for up to 4 days under a cake dome at room temperature – if it lasts that long!

Reprinted with permission from Ten Speed Press

What is your white whale dish, the one recipe you’ve yet to master? Tell us in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of Vintage Cakes.

By the Book: Gunnar Karl Gíslason’s Beer Mustard

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

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It’s too bad Iceland is so far away from St. Louis. Not for easy access to the northern lights, geysers or glaciers (though they are on my bucket list), but rather, to visit Dill, the restaurant in Reykjavík run by Gunnar Gíslason, Iceland’s most celebrated contemporary chef.

Reading Gíslason’s new cookbook, North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland, it’s clear why he’s has been lauded for showcasing his Nordic country’s culinary heritage. I think it would be safe to go a step further and posit Gíslason among a class of chefs around the globe currently shaping a culinary movement called regionalism. The term is cropping up more often to mean the use of ingredients native to a particular place. As I see it, regionalism isn’t just about sourcing what is grown and raised locally, but sourcing what has always been local. Indigenous edibles certainly include what is grown or caught in the wild, and in the book, Gíslasont takes the reader on a remarkable culinary adventure through land and sea in and around his homeland.

For lack of materials, I dismissed trying time-honored Icelandic techniques discussed in North, such as dirt-smoking fish using a dried block of compressed hay and sheep manure. Making skyr, a traditional Icelandic yogurt, sounded interesting until I learned about Gíslason’s extensive mustard program at Dill. One of his mustard recipes calls for beer, and conveniently it’s October – high season for beer and mustard.

 

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Gíslason’s mustard recipe is the kind that will make home cooks with a well-stocked pantry giddy as they root through shelves for mustard seeds, juniper berries and whole allspice.

 

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It takes little skill and about 10 seconds to mix the dry mustard and mustard seeds with a bottle of beer. Gíslason’s recipe calls for arctic thyme beer or another pale ale. Were I in Iceland, I’d have hunted down some arctic thyme beer, but I’m in St. Louis, so I grabbed a can of Schlafly. Call it regionalism – or argue the definition of regionalism over a beer since you’ll have 12 hours to kill while the mustard-laden beer rests in the fridge.

 

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Cider vinegar, juniper, allspice and thyme are the basis for a pickling solution that is brought to a boil before sugar and salt are added. The herbal brine is then combined with the beer-mustard seed mixture, transferred to a glass jar and refrigerated. Find something else to do for the next three weeks – like participating in a local pumpkin beer-drinking competition.

 

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Home-made condiments are always a delight to have on hand. In this case, after 21 days, you’ll have a crunchy, colorful, tangy whole-grain mustard that can be the star of an impromptu meat and cheese board. All you’ll need is a local (or regional) beer to go with it.

 

Gunnar Karl Gíslason’s Beer Mustard
Makes about 1½ cups

1¼ cups artic thyme beer or other pale ale
1 Tbsp. dry yellow mustard
3 Tbsp. black mustard seeds
3 Tbsp. yellow mustard seeds
½ cup cider vinegar
6 juniper berries
6 whole allspice
3 Tbsp. dried artic thyme
1½ Tbsp. light brown sugar
2 Tbsp. sea salt

• In a bowl, stir together the beer, dry mustard and mustard seeds, mixing well. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours.
• Combine the vinegar, juniper, allspice and thyme in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and salt and stir until dissolved. Remove from the heat, add the mustard seed base, and mix well. Transfer to a heatproof glass jar and let cool to room temperature. Cap tightly and refrigerate for 3 weeks before using.

Reprinted with permission from 10 Speed Press

What one food is not the same without mustard? Tell us in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of North.

By the Book: Mark Bittman’s Chicken and Dumplings with Lots of Peas

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

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You don’t argue with Mark Bittman. The longtime New York Times food columnist literally wrote the book on how to cook everything (along with more than a dozen other titles) and how he’s back with his latest culinary textbook, How to Cook Everything Fast.

Here’s Bittman’s claim: you can make just about anything – from beef stew to shrimp paella – in 45 minutes or less with a few simple adjustments. In this 1,054-page tome, breakfasts, salads, soups, stews, meat and more are all sped up, without resorting to packaged mixes or precooked, preservative-packed shortcuts.

As with most of his books in the How to Cook Everything lineage, a good 40 pages at the beginning are not focused on recipes or inspirations, but good old kitchen know-how. Never learned how to peel and slice a mango? How many pans do you actually need in your kitchen? Bittman never forgets that at the end of the day, he’s writing for the home cook and that everyone has to start somewhere. He’s even got tips for the most efficient way to organize your kitchen (if you’re Type A like that).

 

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Unlike traditional cookbooks, Bittman insists that home cooks throw mise en place – that most revered of professional chef prep techniques – out the window. “(Mise en place) is also completely impractical when you’re working along or even have a little help. Doing all the prep ahead of time often leaves you twiddling your thumbs, waiting for food to cook,” he writes. Instead, Bittman advocates “real-time cooking,” combining ingredient prep and cooking in the most efficent order while preparing a dish. To that end, his recipes are color-coded; black text means cook, and blue text means prep while cooking. Since many dishes require bringing water to boil, simmering vegetables or occasionally stirring, it makes sense to multitask during this time. Watched pots never boil, after all.

 

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Chicken and dumplings are a fall favorite in my family, but seldom do we take the time to actually make it at home. Simmering a chicken stew and creating our own pillowy dumplings is time-consuming and definitely not an option on a weeknight after an hour in traffic. But Bittman insisted I could get this done, from scratch, in 45 minutes or less. Challenge accepted.

 

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Bittman employs a few time-saving tricks for the traditional chicken and dumplings recipe. First, cut the chicken up into bite-sized pieces instead of letting whole breasts and thighs poach slowly. To get that all-day simmered flavor, invest in great chicken stock or break out some of your DIY stock from the freezer.

 

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After simmering the vegetables and the chicken until cooked through (only about five minutes, thanks to their small size), the recipe instructs you to remove them from the stock and set aside. This gives the dumplings plenty of room to puff up and steam in the liquid.

 

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It’s tempting to skip the dumplings and use a quick box mix or frozen; don’t. These came together in a snap, and all the ingredients (flour, butter, yogurt, baking powder and baking soda) were already in my kitchen. However, pay close attention to the liquid. Bittman advises maintaining a gentle bubble, but in my zeal to be efficient, I started washing dishes and that bubble turned to boil. Thankfully, half of the puffy dumplings survived and the ones that didn’t made a wonderful thickening agent.

 

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The vegetables and chicken are tucked back under the dumplings along with three hefty cups of frozen peas (and in my case, chopped mushrooms by special request). Once the peas have warmed through, it’s ready to serve. The hearty stew was thick and packed with vegetables and chicken thanks to the rich stock (and, admittedly, my dumplings-turned-roux). The dumplings were amazing; light as a feather with a gentle tang from the yogurt. It was, as Bittman said, comfort in a bowl – and it all came together in 45 minutes on a Thursday night.

 

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Chicken and Dumplings with Lots of Peas
4 servings

6 cups chicken stock
1 large onion
2 medium carrots
1 celery stalk
1½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
1 cup flour, plus more as needed
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
3 Tbsp. butter (keep it in the fridge)
½ cup yogurt or buttermilk
3 cups frozen peas

• Put 6 cups chicken stock in a large pot and bring to a boil.
Trim, peel and chop the onion; add it to the pot.
Trim, peel and slice the carrots and chop the celery; add them to the pot.
Chop the chicken and add it to the pot.
• Add 4 sprigs thyme, a sprinkle of salt, and lots of pepper to the pot. When it boils, adjust the heat so the mixture simmers gently but steadily. Cook until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes.
• Combine 1 cup flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, 1½ teaspoons baking powder, and ½ teaspoon baking soda in a food processor. Cut up 3 tablespoons cold butter and add to the food processor.
• Pulse a few times to blend the butter into the flour mixture. Add ½ cup yogurt or buttermilk and pulse until the mixture just forms a ball. Sprinkle a little flour onto your cutting board, turn out the dough and knead it 10 times.
• When the chicken and vegetables are done, transfer them to a bowl with a mesh strainer or slotted spoon (fish out the thyme). Adjust the heat so the stock bubbles gently and never boils.
• Drop about 8 heaping tablespoons of biscuit dough into the stock and cover. Cook, adjusting the heat to maintain a gentle bubble, until the dumplings are puffed and cooked through (a toothpick will come out clean), 12 to 15 minutes.
• Nestle the chicken and vegetables underneath the dumplings and add 3 cups frozen peas. Cook until the peas are warmed through, a minute or 2, taste and adjust the seasoning and serve.

Reprinted with permission from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

What’s your trick to speed up your cooking process? Tell us in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of How to Cook Everything Fast.

 

 

 

By the Book: Sara Deseran’s Butternut Squash, Kale and Crunchy Pepitas Taco

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

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Tacolicious is a collection of Mexican recipes with California flair taken from its namesake: Tacolicious, a Mexican restaurant in the San Francisco Bay area. There are actually four Tacolicious restaurants in California now, an impressive feat for something that started off as a farmers market stand run by Sara Deseran and her husband Joe five years ago. Her debut cookbook includes popular restaurant favorites like tacos, empanadas, salsa and cocktails. A strong love for Mexican cuisine and party-appropriate dishes are laced throughout Deseran’s writing.

As I flipped through page after page of colorful, festive Mexican dishes, I was intrigued by this seasonal recipe described as a “nontraditional taco, sweet with squash, earthy and nutty with kale, and crunchy with fried pumpkin seeds (pepitas).” I was pleasantly surprised to discover that these tacos were also vegan. A good friend of mine follow this dietary lifestyle, and I’ve realized how hard it is for her to find just about anything completely vegan-friendly at Mexican restaurants.

 

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The recipe was fairly easy to follow, although I did deviate slightly, using ground cumin instead of cumin seeds and soaking my raw cashews for only a half hour as opposed to the full hour suggested. Deseran has the cook use a blender or hand mixer to blitz together the soaked cashews, cumin, lime juice, water and salt. The result was a zesty vegan crema that appeared like hummus in its consistency and color. Presoaking the cashews for a less time than recommended caused no issues; they blended just fine. I did feel that the completed crema was quite heavy on the lime juice, but I left it alone to see how it would taste when combined with the sweet squash and flavorful kale.

 

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I tackled the pumpkin seeds next. I was unable to get my pepitas to “puff up and pop” as the recipe described, so after sauteing them for two or three additional minutes, I sampled a few and decided to settle for the toasted ones I had created. I seasoned them with some cayenne and salt and set them aside to focus on the filling.

 

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I had no problems with the filling as I sauteed some onions and then tossed in some garlic, later adding in my squash and finally some chopped up kale, which needed a few extra minutes than the recipe called for before taking the filling off the stovetop.

I built my tacos with a smear of crema on the base of my tortilla before adding the squash filling, then garnished them with the pepitas and some cilantro. The tacos were visually appetizing: the bright orange squash contrasting with deep green kale, and the pepitas adding a rustic touch. They also packed a ton of flavor; the cashews and lime juice provided a creamy, tangy base for the sweet squash and earth kale, and the pepitas gave them a much-needed crunch factor.  However, I would still probably use less salt and lime juice next time.

 

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Butternut Squash, Kale and Crunchy Pepitas Taco
4 to 6 servings

Cashew Crema
2/3 cup raw cashews
1 tsp. cumin seeds
6 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (about 3 limes)
¼ cup water
2 tsp. kosher salt

Pumpkin Seeds
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1/3 cup raw hulled pumpkin seeds
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. kosher salt

Filling
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
¾ cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups ½-inch-diced butternut squash
1 tsp. chile powder
2 tsp. kosher salt
4 cups finely chopped kale
Corn tortillas, warmed for serving
Chopped fresh cilantro, white onion, and salsa for serving (optional)

• To make the crema, soak the raw cashews in room-temperature water to cover for at least 1 hour. Drain and reserve.
• Toast the cumin in a small, dry, heavy skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder, let cool, and grind finely.
• In a blender, combine the cashews, cumin, lime juice, water and salt. Start the blender on the lowest speed and gradually increase to the highest speed. Blend for at least 1 minute, until a creamy consistency. Pour into a serving bowl and set aside.
• To make the pumpkin seeds, heat the vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the pumpkin seeds and saute for about 2 minutes, taking care that they do not burn. The seeds will begin to puff up and pop. Once they appear toasted, immediately pour them into a bowl. Toss with the cayenne and salt and set aside.
• To make the filling, heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for about 3 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and saute for about 1 minute more. Add the squash and saute for 6 to 7 minutes, just until the squash begins to soften. Season with the chile powder and salt.
• Add the kale and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, until it begins to wilt. Remove from the heat, taste, and adjust the seasoning with salt if needed.
• Serve with the tortillas, crema, pumpkin seeds, onion, cilantro, and salsa. To assemble each taco, invite guests to spoon about ½ cup of the warm filling into a tortilla and top with some crema and pumpkin seeds. If guests want more toppings, they can finish off their tacos with onion, cilantro, and salsa.

Reprinted with permission from Ten Speed Press.

Thanks to 1111 Mississippi for providing the cumin for this recipe.

What’s the most unique taco filling you ever tried? Tell us in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of Tacolicious by Sara Deseran.

 

 

 

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