Monday, February 24, 2014

dijon and cognac beef stew

dijon and cognac beef stew

I don’t mean to shock you, I mean, I do hope you’re sitting down for this, but it turns out that when I asked my husband to choose between a caramelized cabbage dish, mushroom tacos, or a beef stew whose ante had been upped with butter, bacon, Dijon, cognac and a splash of red wine as his ideal homemade Valentine’s meal, he chose the beef stew. I could hardly believe it either. I mean, between my delivered flowers, his cufflinks and the kid’s heart-shaped candies, I might have to mix things up next year just to rage against predictability.

what you'll need
rendering the bacon fat

This isn’t just any beef stew, however. This stew is fancy. It’s luxe and lush and so intensely flavored, if you’re anything like me, after one bite you’ll forget every crock pot attempt that yielded thin broths, tough meat, weak flavor and, always, unevenly cooked vegetables (potato mush and still-rubbery carrots, sigh), or at least I did. It will an excellent consolation prize for a winter you’re totally ready to be done with, pretty as it can occasionally be.

snowy february

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

stuck-pot rice with lentils and yogurt

stuck-pot rice with lentils and yogurt

I once read that if you ask a guy what his favorite item of clothing is, he would pick the oldest thing he owns — some t-shirt he’s had since high school or nearly threadbare sweats. And if you ask a woman, she usually picks the last thing she bought. [Nobody mentioned four year-olds but obviously: fireman hat.] Gender stereotyping copy aside,* when it comes to recipes, this has me down to a T: my favorite thing to cook is usually the last thing I made. Because of this, I fail 100% of the time at “content-planning strategies” [or as it sounds in my head when I read phrases like this: blargle-blargle blargle] because while I’m supposed to be telling you about this great dish I made last week for Valentine’s, I only want to talk about what I made for dinner on Tuesday night. Because it’s my new favorite everything.

what you'll need, plus a fork
i rinsed my rice. for once.

When I first read about stuck-pot rice many years ago, I guffawed a bit, because who needs a recipe for that? I come from a long line of cooks that cannot make rice without burning it; any night where rice is on the stove ends with a gunked-up pot soaking overnight in the sink. It’s tradition; one day I will teach this guy too!

deb, your pot is too small!

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

chocolate peanut butter cheesecake

chocolate peanut butter cheesecake

This birthday cake was assigned to the side of the family whose dessert preferences can be roughly summarized as chocolate + anything else, but if that “else” were cheesecake, coffee, peanut butter or raspberries, all the better, thank you very much. Non-chocolate desserts are regarded politely, like curiosities at a zoo; perhaps something another family might enjoy? Their dessert formula can be thanked for all sorts of archive wonders, such as the Chocolate-Caramel Cheesecake, Double Chocolate Layer Cake, Espresso Chiffon Cake with Fudge Frosting, Brownie Mosaic Cheesecake, Double-Chocolate Torte, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake and Cappuccino-Fudge Cheesecake.

melted butter into chocolate crumbs
using a measuring cup to press in crumbs

And now this, too, which is like the last two cakes got together and made an even better version of themselves for the next generation. If you remember seeing this in the 2013 year-end roundup, it’s true, I did make it over six months ago, but nothing about summer through early winter screamed a cake that looks like a Reeses peanut butter cup to me. A blizzard on the day before Valentine’s Day? I say that since we’re inside anyway, bring it on.

ganache-whisking ombre

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

chocolate hazelnut linzer hearts

chocolate hazelnut linzer hearts

I’m sorry. These are really, really cute. Borderline twee. And it gets worse, too. You see, there was a parent event at my son’s preschool this week that included a cookie swap and I hadn’t much considered what I would bring until my apparent reputation preceded me and the other parents started to ask with a tone that suggested they expected something grand. Oops. And so I enlisted what I’ve decided will be my strategy for all future cooking indecisions: What Would Alex Eat?*

well-toasted hazelnuts for best flavor
ground hazelnuts + dry ingredients

I’ve come to the conclusion after eight years of marriage that my husband simply orders better than the rest of us at restaurants (and, I mean obviously in life partners, right? …hello?). I’ll be pushing some kale salad and winter squash thing around my plate and he’ll be eating a garlic butter drenched surf-and-turf. I’ll have fallen for the insanely-too-rich egg-stuffed ravioli in cream sauce and he’ll be eating a pork chop with crackling shishitos. I suggest mushroom tacos; he suggests brisket. So, rather than go through my usual lines of cookie rationale — a gingersnap meets a snickerdoodle meets salted peanut brittle plus brown butter! — I instead tried to dream up the Perfect Alex Cookie, and it’s really no surprise that it required the purchase of a jar of Nutella.

fluffy hazelnut dough

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Monday, February 3, 2014

fennel and blood orange salad

blood orange fennel salad with mint, hazelnuts

This salad improves winter morale. It’s for times when all of the usual charms of winter — snow that’s fallen like a cashmere blanket over the city overnight, reducing all of the usual ruckuses (trucks, sirens, deliveries and your own child’s tantrums, which you may or may not have discovered last week you could hear from a full city block away) to the decibel of thick socks padding over hardwood floors — have waned on you; when the “snow” is, in fact, two inches of gray muck, when you are convinced that it will never be warm again and when you fear the next hunt around the apartment for where the snow mittens/hats/scarves/boots were last scattered will be the end of you. Whereas most cold winter comfort foods are soft, rich, carby and white, this is everything but: brightly hued, crunchy and piercingly fresh. It cuts across everything that’s lost its charm; it will be even brighter in your social media feed than the photos of those so-called friends who have abandoned you for sandy shores and island blue skies. This salad has your back.

what you'll need
ribbons of fennel

It falls into the all too thin category of Great Winter Salads. Kurt Gutenbrunner wrote an article about his favorite ones for the New York Times in 2002 that I go back to every winter when I need a reminder that many of my favorite foods are excellent year round — cabbage, fennel, celery root, cucumbers and potatoes. I’m not surprised that this one is clearly still one of his favorites (it’s in his recent cookbook and we even spied it on the menu at Blaue Gans on Saturday night) because it’s perfectly balanced. The refreshing fennel is dressed with lemon for brightness, then tossed with blood orange segments (though I think any orange or grapefruit segment would work), toasted hazelnuts (though he calls for walnuts) and mint leaves. The dressing is just the juice from the blood oranges and olive oil and it’s all so pretty, it’s nothing short of a sun lamp beaming forth from a salad bowl.

thiny sliced fennel, dressed with lemon

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