Winter Archive

Thursday, March 5, 2015

cornmeal-fried pork chops + smashed potatoes

cornmeal fried pork chops + goat cheese smashed potatoes

I’m pretty sure I’m the last person in the cooking-obsessed world to get Sean Brock Fever, the chef behind McCrady’s, Husk, and Minero in Charleston. Worse, this is probably a good time to admit that I was sent his first cookbook, Heritage, when it came out and rejected it on sight alone. There was something about those sleeve tattoos cupping the sacred rainbow beans, an image I’ve seen variations on countless other farm-to-table cookbook covers and magazine spreads, that put me off. Skimming the recipes didn’t always help. Your red peas, cornmeal and gold rice should be from Anson Mills, and if not, at least the cornmeal should be fresh from a gristmill. Your tomatoes should be home-canned, or at the very least, San Marzano. Your pork should be from a heritage pig, your buttermilk and goat cheese should come from a local farm, as should your Red Bliss potatoes; this is your heritage after all.

boiled potatoes
just a little splash of light cream

And it’s not that I don’t share the book’s values, either. Like most people, I prefer local humanely raised pork to the feedlot variety. If you haven’t yet, I hope you get a chance to try freshly dug potatoes from a farmers market in a month or two, so you too can be amazed by the depth of flavor atypical of the grocery store variety. I recently bought Anson Mills polenta and grits for the first time, and I’m converted. They’re incredible. They’re fantastically expensive too, as carefully grown food, the best in its class, often is. My grandmother would roll over in her grave if she knew I had used two cups of them just to dredge buttermilk-soaked pork chops (you know, among other concerns there), as the cookbook suggests. I unquestionably believe the world would be a better place if we all had access and the budget for these kinds of ingredients, or if we could all eat Brock’s amazing cooking — James Beard award-winning food that is exclusively indigenous to the South, using heirloom produce and heritage animal breeds — every night. But when it crosses the threshold of my apartment, it’s hard not to be aggressively aware of its gap with the reality I live in, or, as Morrissey once sung to me from a poster on my high school bedroom wall, “it says nothing to me about my life.”

goat cheese smashed potatoes

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Monday, February 9, 2015

oven-braised beef with tomatoes and garlic

oven-braised beef with tomato and garlic

I realize that if you’re scouring the internet this week looking for something romantic to cook for that little Hallmark holiday this weekend, the words “pot roast” probably didn’t cross your search threshold. It’s not sexy food; nobody is writing aphrodisiac cookbooks about bottom rounds and boneless chucks. But if you ask me, it’s something better, something cozy, warm, and classic, which neither steals the show nor keeps you from enjoying it. It’s for people who long ago stopped aspiring to entertain in multi-course and completely exhausting meals (for host and guest) and turned instead to comfort foods that surprise and delight on sleety winter nights. Sure, those individual gratins, galettes, microgreens and shooters of soup look elegant, but none of them have ever gotten the reaction that a massive batch of spaghetti and meatballs, from-scratch lasagne or great big short rib braise with a green salad did. No dessert, frosted, layered or crimped has ever had the delighted reception of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (dough prepared days before, shh), still on their baking sheet. Why are we pretending we have a team of line cooks at our disposal, anyway?

a quick chop of tomatoes
a head of garlic

My favorite meals can be prepped in advance, often taste even better the second day, require no trips to specialty stores and are hard to mess up. And I’m never, ever able to resist the siren call of a recipe that promises transcendence in less than five ingredients.

ready to braise

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Monday, January 12, 2015

mushroom marsala pasta bake

mushroom marsala pasta bake

Over the last couple years — a dark time in which I’ve slowly had to accept that my once-tiny baby with fairly simple needs now required real square meals at very specific times of the day, such as dinner, far earlier than we ever do and that he’d likely be looking to me (me!) to provide them or face the hangry consequences — I’ve attempted to increase my repertoire of two things: 1. Dinners that can be made easily in under an hour that I actually want to eat, and 2. Casseroles. No, no, I don’t mean the canned cream of soupiness things. I mean, the idea of taking disparate meal parts and baking them in a big dish until they’re much more than the sum of their ingredients. Plus, they’re dinnertime magic: they reheat well; they make excellent leftovers for as long as you can stretch them; and they rarely require anything more on the side than a green salad (for grownups) or steamed broccoli (for people who haven’t yet come around to salad). Long Live The Casserole Rethought With Minimally Processed Ingredients! is hardly a sexy catchphrase, but there you have it: my new battle cry.

what you'll need

In the first category, Alex’s Chicken and Mushroom Marsala from 2008 in the archives became a favorite again in 2013 when I began making it much more quickly with thigh cutlets. Within the second, I’ve been trying as best as I can to reimagine baked pastas into dishes that are less of a cheese-valanche and more of an insanely good flavor assault with a sizable portion of vegetables within. (See also: Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella and our previous house favorite, Baked Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage).

brown the mushroomsadd the onionsadd butter, then floursimmering until thickened

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Monday, January 5, 2015

my ultimate chicken noodle soup

my ultimate chicken noodle soup

I blame Katz’s for this. Two months ago, when we spent a day out playing tourist — i.e. breakfast bagels, Madeleine at the New York Historical Society followed by The Dinosaur Museum of Natural History (what my son calls it, please never correct him) — we decided to finish off our shivering afternoon with a visit to Katz’s Deli, a place I hadn’t been to in probably 10 years despite living fewer than 15 blocks from it, and the kid, never, shame on us. Alex ordered the chicken noodle soup and this hot mess arrived and it was peculiarly perfect: overloaded with noodles, colossal chunks of carrot and chicken and I… was jealous. My homemade chicken noodle soup never looked like this.

making the broth
what you'll need, plus the lovely broth

Now, it’s not like we haven’t made chicken soup here before. I shared last year my favorite uncluttered chicken stock, which is technically just some extra parts away from a completed bowl of soup. I’ve got a quickie recipe for from-scratch chicken noodle soup in the archives, too. But what I didn’t have was what was in front of me, the kind of soup that might take the better part of an afternoon to make but rewards you with a depth of flavor that makes everything bad — threatened head colds, shivering wind outside, pangs of social media envy over apparently everyone being on a tropical vacation but us and also this taunting me every time I walk by it — at least temporarily disappear. Everyone needs a winter miracle recipe like this in their back pocket.

diced chicken breast

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

fairytale of new york

the fairytale of new york

As far as Christmas songs go, Fairytale of New York is pretty bleak. Instead of chestnuts on the open fire, horses come in 18 to 1; instead of white Christmases, morphine drips; instead of coming home for the holidays, one waits them out in drunk tanks. It’s not the stuff of greeting cards. And yet, for a whole lot of people, myself included, it wouldn’t be December without The Pogues 1987 holiday anti-ballad on repeat. It comes in handy when you’re feeling a little grinchy* about the season; there’s something of a relief in a song where nobody does anything right but aren’t pretending things are any other way. The sentiments are honest, and in a way, a little magical, choirs and bells and bands in the street, imagining better times and better years ahead.

winter spice syrup prep
the aroma of the syrup cooking will make everything right in the world

Not that I listen to the song anymore. I mean, I used to often enough that I’d drive my husband, less charmed by Christmas music, bonkers but then my son got old enough to start sorting out the words and abruptly, being a good parent won out, at least for another decade or so.

straining the syrup

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