November, 2011 Archive

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

dijon-braised brussels sprouts

saucing the sprouts

Is there anything so dull as a brussels sprouts recipe just days after the brussels sprout-ing-est holiday of the year? No? Phew. Because these sprouts, they’re a long time coming. It took me forever to get them right. I’d originally intended them for the cookbook. I made them six different ways in the fall of 2010, and I never found what I was looking for. It was a year before I could even look at brussels again, and by that time, the book had moved on without them. But I had not.

a sad bag of sprouts, much to peel
halved

I wanted a brussels sprout dish that was the opposite of what I’ve been seeing around in the last couple years — that would be free of nuggets of slab bacon, toasted nuts, buttery breadcrumbs, crumbled cheese or individual leaves, deep fried until crisp as potato chips. Do I dislike any of these things? Heavens, no. But they’re all so heavy. And rich. And brussels, with their cabbage origins, are hearty enough. I wanted to cook them in a simple braise, and then finish them with a piercing, heavenly sauce, something that cut right through the leafiness without adding mountains of pork fat. I wanted the cabbage equivalent of our favorite chicken dish.

pan-browned brussels

Continued after the jump »

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

sweet potato (and marshmallow) biscuits

sweet potato biscuits

I admitted somewhere in the comments last week that I’d all but abandoned making my own pumpkin puree these days, baking instead with the always-reliable canned stuff. I think that as home cooks, it’s our tendency to want to do anything and everything that can be from scratch as such, but that I’d never been satisfied with the labor versus outcome balance of roasting pumpkin. To get a dreamy texture like one from canned pumpkin, I found I often had to roast, then puree, then sometimes cook briefly on the stove to thicken it up and often, still found the flavor inconsistent, sometimes delicious, often a little lackluster. I know, I just put you all to sleep. I promise, there is unapologetic goofiness ahead.

squisssssh
mixing wet and dry

What I didn’t get into was my current obsession — putting sweet potato where you’d expect pumpkin. With the arrival of this guy, roasted sweet potatoes are in a near-constant rotation and so it was only a matter of time before they showed up everywhere. Whether I buy sweet potatoes from a Stop & Shop by my parents house or the bottom of a dusty crate at a farmers market on 2nd Avenue, is a remarkably consistent creature of the underground. I roast them for 45 minutes (which makes my apartment smell like bubbling sweet potato caramel, i.e. heaven), let them cool, then peel and run them through a potato ricer and have perfectly textured and flavored purees every single time. This year I’ve been on a huge sweet potato baking kick: pies, pancakes, breads and now this, biscuits.

a great dough for raw dough fiends

Continued after the jump »

Friday, November 18, 2011

gingersnaps

gingersnaps

And then, just like that, I decided not to work anymore. It’s weird, I finished my manuscript and I was raring to go — reshoots! edits! let’s talk design! — for about two days and then, almost out of curiosity, I closed the elaborate spreadsheet that owns me tracks all the recipes, photos, intros and progress in the manuscript, just to see if it could close, after being open for more than a year, and it did. And then, I didn’t reopen it. I pulled on my boots and wandered all over the city, eating roasted chestnuts from a street cart, buying glitter nail polish, delighting in the carpet of golden leaves underfoot and being fantastically schedule-free. So far today, I drank a latte — sitting down I might add, and not while rushing to the grocery store because I ran out of flour again — and I’m thinking about making some applesauce. Or trying again to convince my husband that we should paint the living room. Or maybe I’ll take a nap when the kid does? Clearly, I have some tough decision making ahead.

the lineup
weighing it out

The good news is that being here doesn’t feel remotely like work; I am simply delighted to be back. And so, let’s talk about the gingersnaps that I also made just for the heck of it, just because I could, earlier this week. They’re thin and intensely spiced and quite snappy — buttery crisp at the perimeter, tentatively approaching tender and chewy towards the center, but not committing to it. I know that ginger junkies tend to like gingersnaps that are closer to ginger bombs, with grated fresh ginger and/or nuggets of candied ginger, but these (unless you make a couple tweaks, which I will attempt to suggest) are not that kind of snap. These are the kinds your grandmother might have made, as evidenced by the healthy helping of dark, funky and impossibly thick molasses.

tower of warm spices

Continued after the jump »

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

baked pumpkin and sour cream puddings

pumpkin and sour cream pudding

Sunday night, I emailed off 497 pages containing 80,392 words to my editor (846 photos had been sent over before the weekend), went to bed at 2 a.m., woke up at 6 a.m. and a few hours later came home to a completely empty apartment and two entire hours to myself — two hours to nap or just stare slack-jawed at the ceiling fan and think about nothing for a while — and decided instead that I’d had enough of this pumpkin-free November I’d been having and went back into the kitchen to make pudding. That’s normal right? That’s what normal people do, right? Wait, don’t tell me.

the line-up
can also mix by hand

So, a manuscript has officially been delivered, a whole 6 hours in advance of its deadline. I am the eternal college student, apparently, though if you’d asked me 18 months ago when I was going to finish my book I could have probably told you right then “Five minutes before it is due.” I’m classy like that. I would hardly say that the cookbook process is finished — we’re still ironing out some kinks, there’s copyediting (I can’t be the only one who pities the copyeditor who must deal with the madness I pass off as grammar, right?), some reshoots, they’ve been kind enough to offer me design input though they’ll probably regret it when they see what bad taste I have… I won’t bore you with the details. But for the most part? I’m back! Whee! And there’s no place else I’d rather be.

for silky smooth pudding

Continued after the jump »

Friday, November 4, 2011

homesick texan carnitas

homesick texan carnitas

I am embarrassed by how long it took me to discover carnitas, or “little meats” that are usually braised then roasted, and are as far I quickly became concerned, the very best thing to pile on a blistered corn tortilla. I had my first one just a couple years ago. I was pregnant at the time and protein-rich foods were ten times as delicious as they normally were so when I became obsessed with having another, and then another, I chalked it up to baby madness. But that kid is now two, and my carnita fixation has gone nowhere. (And no, people, I’m not pregnant. In fact, I’m pouring whiskey into my coffee as we speak, just like I always do after preschool drop-offs.)

orange and lime juice

The only thing greater than my love for carnitas was my wonderment as to how they were made. I imagined that getting a flavor so complex, and a texture so nuanced — somehow fork tender in the center and caramelized to a crunch at the edges — was best left to the experts, and so I continued to pay a tremendous markup in a city not known for excellence-on-a-taco because I knew I’d never pull it off as well at home. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned that one of the most famous recipes for carnitas has but three ingredients: pork, water and salt. Three! I still can’t get over it. I tell people about this all of the time — vegetarians, even, who nod politely; my husband, who thinks it’s cool, but perhaps a little less than I do; this old lady on the crosstown bus who heard me talking about them on the phone… But wait, there’s more: not only do you only need three ingredients to make carnitas, the cooking technique is kind of brilliant. The meat braises in the water and salt (this is the tenderizing part) for a few hours and then, once the water cooks off, it fries itself in its own rendered fat (thus creating those addictive crisp ends). Did you just get hungry too?

pork butt/shoulder

Continued after the jump »


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