November 30, 2016

Braised Chicken Thighs with Pumpkin, Soy, and Ginger

A Belly Warming Braise for a Cold Night

I may have over 300 cookbooks in my collection, but it often seems that I make the same rotation of dishes over and over again. Such is life, right?--we always seem to revert to our comfort zone whether in the kitchen or the world. I've been slowly working to change this by doing more than just reading all of those cookbooks and while I'm pleased to say that I've been successful in expanding my repertoire, I must admit that I can't follow a recipe to save my life. Is this the trait of any cook? I'd like to think that cooks, in general, are forever tinkering, adding, changing, and adapting recipes to suit their own tastes. Equal parts instinct and creativity, perhaps.

Anyhow, now that the nightly temperatures are starting to dance in the low 30's and my mid-century floor furnace is groaning and coming back to life, I don't seem to want to cook anything that isn't braised low and slow, saucy, fragrant and bone-warming. You know, the perfect supper to ladle into a big bowl, top with a handful of freshly chopped herbs and then savor while sitting on the sofa wrapped in a warm blanket with a glass of wine within easy reach.

I'm not sure how to categorize this recipe. I discovered it in one of my cookbooks, A Change of Appetite, by Diana Henry. The idea of braising meaty chicken thighs and chunks of pumpkin in a savory and complex sauce was compelling enough, but since I had just harvested the last pumpkin from my garden and had spent several days wondering when and how to cook it, coming across the recipe seemed a fortuitous coincidence that shouldn't be ignored. Besides, the recipe was an apt foundation for creative and delicious departure, a tantalizing proposition for any home cook.

November 29, 2016

Sweet Potato Pumpkin Pie with Brown Sugar Oat Crumble

Pie for the Indecisive

At some point during the holidays, someone has to take charge of the ensuing chaos in the refrigerator and if the result is pie, so much the better. Such was the story of my life when I opened the refrigerator days after the Thanksgiving feast and--no kidding--needed a search party to find the cream for my coffee. That's when I sized up the seemingly endless containers of leftovers and decided to make pie.

Thankfully, I'm not one to top the regulatory sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, but only a scattering of toasted pecans. This year, just days before the feast, I experimented with a recipe for sugar-brined roasted pumpkin, but things didn't turn out as planned and when I took mine from the oven it looked nothing like that picture accompanying the recipe. Once cooled, I tossed the roasted pumpkin into a container and decided that it would make a great addition to the roasted sweet potatoes slated for mashing. Thus, this mashed sweet potato and pumpkin became the basis of my pie.

After a quick swirl in the food processor, I added in a cup of whole milk, since I had none of the evaporated called for in any of the recipes I consulted, along with a few tablespoons of sugar, several large pinches of cinnamon, a grating of nutmeg, and two eggs. Once mixed and poured into a pie shell, it looked like nothing more than a squash puree, though delectable, leaving me unsure of the final result. Once baked, it seemed passable, especially if dolloped with large quantities of whipped cream and eaten with the lights off while watching a late night movie, but to me, even under such circumstances, it seemed naked. It didn't take long for me to decide on a crumble topping, a long time favorite of mine and one that tempts me to pick away at crisps and coffee cakes to no end. 

Turns out it was sheer accidental genius and while the recipe for this pie was created from a need to make shelf space, this one is a keeper and will be a day after tradition in this house for years to come.

November 28, 2016

Leftovers, Rain, and Turkey Pho

The Best Use of  the Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey

After months of a packed schedule and way too much work, I had been eagerly anticipating the long Thanksgiving weekend to catch up on my reading, much needed sleep, and of course, a little football and some delicious leftovers.  But, when I discovered rain was on the horizon, I talked Mr. B out of making his traditional turkey gumbo and right into making a big pot of  turkey pho.

The two of us have spent a good part of our marriage searching out Vietnamese restaurants, those incredibly tiny little soup houses where we could slip into two empty chairs and tuck into big steaming bowls of pho, loaded with noodles, thinly sliced onions and jalapenos and from the platter at the center of the table, help ourselves to as many fistfuls of fresh bean sprouts, basil, and cilantro that we wanted, until our soup was a flavorful and heady concoction guaranteed to rid the body--and spirit--of any ill feelings. We were so fond of Vietnamese food that it was our default restaurant for many a lunch, or even a quick dinner on a cold winter night. Unfortunately, the last Vietnamese restaurant within easy driving distance shut down several years ago, so we've had to take matters into our own hands.

Pho isn't difficult to make and homemade is equally delicious as what you could find at a Vietnamese restaurant, as long as you take the time to make a rich stock. Without a good fortified broth, your efforts will be wasted and at best, you'll have a weak broth that's no match for the herbaceous and spicy flavors. Mr. B, however, has never made a weak broth in his life and in fact, I would venture to say that when it comes to making stock, his skills and expertise are vastly superior.

I knew venturing out in the rain wasn't in my plans, so I made a quick trip to the grocery for a few ingredients which turned into a serendipitous meeting. As I stood in line unpacking my items and placing the on the conveyor belt, an Asian woman ahead of me casually glanced over my groceries and then turned and took a long look at me. "What are you making?" she curiously asked. When I told her, she laughed and nodded her head. "Good for you," she said, "what a perfect day...but, I must tell you, we pronounce it 'fa', not 'fo'." I nodded my head in sincere gratitude--after all of these years, Mr. B and I had it all wrong. I knew he'd be interested by my encounter and that it would spark a fun conversation as we slurped away at our noodles, all while the rain softly fell outside our dining room window.

November 23, 2016

Grapefruit, Green Apple, and Cranberry Relish

The Ultimate Compliment for the Thanksgiving Turkey

If there's anything to be more thankful for on Thanksgiving, it would be that we don't have to eat that molded cranberry jello concoction that comes in a can.

Oh, I know; there are plenty of people who really love that stuff--even a few in my own family--but with the availability of fresh cranberries, a handful of ingredients, and 10 minutes of your time, you can cook up a much more complex, refreshing, and infinitely more delicious relish. This recipe will have you singing its praises well past the holiday feast and on through the weekend, as you slather it on leftover turkey sandwiches or eat it straight from the jar.

And, you can feel good about eating cranberries, too, as long as you go easy on the sugar. One of the few fruits native to America, cranberries are a natural for the Thanksgiving table since they thrive in cooler temperatures and interestingly, pair well with wild meats. While we think of them in the culinary realm, they're also healthy. Cranberries rank at the top of the list for healthiest foods and have plenty of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, vitamins, minerals, and fiber and they were once prized for their medicinal properties.

This year, instead of opting for my usual cranberry relish incorporating satsumas and pears, I decided to rummage through the fruit bin and go with green apples and grapefruit, all with spectacular results. This recipe is refreshing and with warm spices, Myer lemon zest, and a hint of black pepper, the perfect foil for a maple brined turkey roasted to perfection.

November 22, 2016

Love and Pasta

Mr. B's Homemade Tagliatelle with Mel's Meaty Ragu

Few things in life rival the simple bliss of eating homemade pasta, especially on a cold and damp Sunday evening. Unlike its boxed counterpart, pasta made by hand is light and delicate, almost ethereal, and definitely a heavenly and worthy indulgence. I like the idea of making pasta, but I have ridiculously little patience for the work. Thankfully, Mr. B has far more patience than me and with adequate pleading (and perhaps, a little bribery) he's quite happy taking on the task.

The ingredients for homemade pasta are quite easily procured and most likely ones you regularly have on hand--flour, egg, salt, water. While I guess it's quite possible that one may want to roll out their own pasta dough by hand, I'd think it too much of a laborious undertaking and unnecessary since a basic pasta maker can be purchased for as little as $20. A caveat, though, once rolled through the machine, the resulting sheets of pasta can be quite large, so you'll need adequate counter space, or a bit of ingenuity. Mr. B used the latter when he came up with the genius idea of attaching our pasta maker to the ironing board--of course, we ordered a special ironing board cover that is only used for pasta making.

Thus far, Mr. B hasn't ventured beyond Tagliatelle (although, I do remember a ravioli several years back), but I'm easy enough to please and Tagliatelle's characteristic wide noodles are good for mopping up any last trails of sauce and bits of meat, even more suited for my meaty ragu.

November 21, 2016

Croque Mon Schnizzle

A Breakfast Homage to Snoop and Martha

As soon as I discovered that Martha Stewart was launching a new cooking show with Snoop Dog, I had to share the news with Mr. B. No stranger to developing an unique lexicon of his own, Mr. B immediately came up with dozens, if not hundreds of fun and interesting names for items in our everyday world. No longer was I rummaging through the kitchen cabinets for the cheese grater, but instead searching for the chez grata, thus opened a new chapter in our relationship. To celebrate, I decided to veer from the path and instead of making Mr. B's usual breakfast of eggs and toast, I decided to riff on the French classic, Croque Monsieur, which to note, roughly translates to 'gentleman's crunch'.

That may sound too risque for breakfast, let alone any other meal, but the term is an innocent and apt descriptor of a classic grilled ham and cheese sandwich, the crunch a reference to both the toasted bread and any cheese that is able to break free and caramelize and harden on the crusts.

My version is a cross between that breakfast favorite of French toast and a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, complemented with cherry preserves and black pepper. Simple, but extraordinary and very tasty, when I set it down atop the Wall Street Journal, briefly interrupting Mr. B's newspaper reading, there were no proclamations complaining that I had disrupted him in the midst of an article, but a series of 'oohs and ahhs' before he dug right in. Though he had a mouthful when he thanked me for such a delicious sandwich, I could clearly hear him call it a croque mon schnizzle.