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pork roasted in wine + pastis

gorgeous slices

It’s Sunday and I just spent a good bit of time reading the “real estate” (read: totally absurdly expensive homes that no one could afford—not very “real”) section of the New York Times. Why do I torment myself like this? I am still scratching my head about how the Times is able to locate so many people who can afford multi-million-dollar homes. One of today’s features was an arty couple who have bought an old chapel and manor house in Italy. Mama.

As the kids say, whatever. I like my tiny kitchen. I especially like it on a sunny Sunday after a quick shop and a yoga class. I like that it has a sodastream: unlimited seltzer water! And the shelves are stocked with cookbooks with hundreds of slips of paper tucked in them. Lots of recipes to try out. So much potential.

nutmeg and pastis

I guess pork roast is kind of a thing here. It’s lean, it’s adaptable, it cooks faster than a roast of beef—all things I look for in my regularly scheduled programming in the kitchen. I have eyed a similar recipe in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, for pork simmered in red wine, for some time. As the wine reduces, a thick sauce forms. I think it wouldn’t work in the slow cooker properly, so this may just be a Sunday thing. You can rock out to some music, clean the kitchen, do some laundry. All the while, the pork is roasting on top of the stove. It is pretty magical. Bonus: you can do this in a house that did not cost $2.7 million.

A word of advice: do not skimp on the time you spend browning (and browning) the roast before you cook it. This adds a huge amount of flavor to the finished product, and makes the roast look incredibly appetizing to boot. I adapted Marcella’s recipe to incorporate pastis. Pastis or pernod is an anise-flavored liqueur, and I love fennel with my pork. In fact, you probably do, too. You know the little seeds you find in your Italian sausage (both hot and sweet)? They’re fennel seeds. If you despise fennel, just leave the pastis out. Still delicious, and very close to the original recipe. Skip the real estate, and head to the dining section. Happy Sunday.

Pork roasted in wine + pastis

Adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 center-cut pork roast, about 3 lbs. (preferably with a cap of fat on one side)
  • 1/4 all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup pernod or pastis (anise-flavored liqueur)
  • 2 to 3 cups red wine such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, or chianti
  • 2 bay leaves
  • fresh nutmeg for grating
  • kosher salt
  • freshly cracked pepper

1. Choose an enameled cast-iron or other very heavy pan with a lid, one which is just a smidgen larger than your roast. Warm butter and olive oil in this pan over medium heat until butter foams and the foaming subsides. Meanwhile, spread the flour on a plate and coat the entire roast in flour. Brown the roast, patiently, fatty side first, until dark brown on all sides. This will take 15 minutes or so. If the butter in the pan begins to burn, reduce the heat, and continue browning the roast.

2. When roast is browned, pour in the pastis, carefully. It will foam up right away. After a few seconds, add the wine, just until only less than an inch of the roast is above the level of the wine. Add bay leaves, a few gratings of fresh nutmeg, salt (about 1 teaspoon at first), and freshly cracked pepper. Use a fork to turn the roast a few times, and then return it to a position with the fatty side on top.

3. When wine mixture returns to a simmer, adjust the flame so that, with the lid securely on, the pot is barely simmering. Cook at a low simmer for about 3 hours, turning roast occasionally, perhaps every 30 minutes or so. If the level of the wine is lower each time, that is okay. By the end of cooking, you should have a small amount of thick sauce in the pot.

4. The roast will be extremely dark in color, tender and nearly falling apart after 3 hours. Remove it to a carving board and slice it thinly to serve. Pass sauce along side.

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pollo marroquí

lemons perking up the kitchen

For a minute there, things were beginning to warm up in Connecticut. Last weekend, we went out to a lacrosse game and I actually got a sunburn on my face. Things were looking up. And then, just like that, the warm air retreated. But I find myself, in this situation, seeing the pantry staples in a new way. And while this recipe has a long list of ingredients, due to a riot of spices, the gist of it is quite short. Spices, onion, garlic, lemon, olives, chicken.

I named this Moroccan chicken, but in Spanish, because I imagine the dish as a cross between the two cultures. If you don’t have Aleppo pepper, use crushed red pepper, and if you don’t have za’atar, add a pinch of thyme, and just a few sesame seeds. I personally wouldn’t add a speck more cinnamon than 1/4 teaspoon, but you may like cumin more than I do. The paprika should be Spanish, but of course Hungarian will do. And I did not use smoked, because I wanted all the spices to harmonize. I had pitted green olives—just make sure they’re the Spanish kind, and not stuffed. You want the oily, vegetal quality of the olives from Spain without the overly salty brine.

simmering away

Handling the lemons as described is important. The zest, in great big strips, simmers away for the whole cooking time. The flesh of the lemon is sectioned out, and added just at the end, with the olives. The zest permeates the dish with lemon flavor and the juicy bites of lemon segments are a welcome awakening at the table.

The smell of this in the kitchen is pure heaven. And it is a weeknight supper to die for. Just before I started the chicken, I put on a pot of brown basmati rice, replacing half the water with chicken stock. With a salad and a big platter of fruit (if you like), you have supper. In my imagination, at least, this might be a fun dinner for kids to help out with, ransacking the spice drawer, scavenging the jars with the most alluring names. Imagining how warm it is in the places from which the spices came, and what it might be like to sail there, balancing on the foretop with their toes, squinting to fend off the sun. Of course that’s just for the kids. Grown-ups, we don’t need our imagination to survive the final days of winter.

ready to serve

Pollo marroquí

  • 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon za’atar
  • 3/4 cup pitted green olives
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 – 2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
  • about 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups chicken stock

1. Place a tiny bowl (such as a ramekin) and a small bowl (that will hold about 2 cups) on your work surface. Using a vegetable peeler, remove zest only from the entire lemon in thin strips. Place in the tiny bowl or ramekin. Add the garlic, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, Aleppo or crushed red pepper, ginger, and za’atar to the tiny bowl and set it aside.

2. Now place the small bowl (that will hold up to 2 cups) near your work surface. Take the peeled lemon and, using a very sharp paring knife, slice off both ends to create a flat end. Turn the lemon onto one end and use the knife to remove the pith, following carefully along the curve of the lemon, exposing the juicy pulp. Flip to the other end to finish removing any remaining pith. Then section out wedges of lemon pulp by running the knife just inside the membranes, removing the slice of pulp only and placing it in the small bowl. Squeeze any juice remaining in the membranes into the bowl with the pulp. Add the olives to the lemon pulp, and set aside.

3. In a large, shallow casserole or saute pan with a lid, heat olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add boneless, skinless thighs and move them carefully around the pan as you put them in, so that the chicken does not stick. Cook until light brown on one side, then carefully flip them over and cook the other side, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove chicken with tongs and set nearby on a plate. Place sliced onion in the pan, still over medium heat, and sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Saute for about 10 minutes, until onions are soft and golden brown. Add the spices and zest in the tiny bowl to the pan. Stir until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes, and add the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and return the chicken plus any accumulated juices to the pan. Stir, and add the lid. Turn heat all the way down and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked and tender. Flip chicken pieces about halfway through cooking.

4. Remove the lid from the pan and remove the chicken to a clean plate. (I flip the lid onto its handle—my Le Creuset braiser has a flat knob—and rest the chicken there.) Cook pan juices for 5 to 10 minutes at medium-high to reduce and thicken them. Then stir in the contents of the other bowl: lemon pulp, juice, and olives. Reduce heat to a low simmer, return chicken to pan, and simmer at lowest heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve chicken on rice or couscous with a big scoop of sauce from the pan.

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black bean, chorizo + kale soup

close up

Someday I will get organized and do a series of posts on how one pot of beans can feed you for an entire week. If you play your cards right, beans can be an essential part of a sound weeknight meal preparation strategy. Actually, if it is true that dilettantes talk strategy while professionals talk logistics, then having a good supply of perfectly cooked beans on hand is a professional-grade maneuver. Especially in winter when vegetables are in shortly supply, beans augment fresh vegetables—in this case, dark, leafy greens—and can be combined in any number of dishes throughout the week.

kale leaves

I cooked a pound of Rancho Gordo “Midnight Black” beans on a Sunday and we had tacos one night and this soup on another. On a third night I made a bean side dish with onions, garlic, and a few tomatoes. I used some of the ingredients I had around for the tacos—queso fresco, cilantro—to garnish this soup. These beans, and their broth, are out of this world. I wanted to make a soup to use up the bean juice; I couldn’t bear to imagine pouring it down the drain. I like to keep a few cut-up pieces of chorizo in the freezer for scrounge nights when I might have some beans and some other odds and ends around, but I need something to add flavor and protein to the dish. If you did not cook your own black beans, use canned ones, but rinse them first. This means you’ll have to add some extra stock to the pan. The black bean cooking liquid gives the soup a lot more body, however. If you’re using canned beans and extra stock, you may want to run an immersion blender in the soup for a few seconds just to create a little more thickness. Because beans (and also chicken stock, if you’re using store-bought) have wildly varying levels of saltiness, be sure to taste the soup in its final simmer to determine whether you need to add salt to balance it out at the end.

Be careful; this soup comes together super fast. Supper might even be ready before you’re hungry.

bowl of soup

Black bean, chorizo + kale soup

  • 1 link fresh chorizo sausage (1/3 lb)
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 Tb olive oil
  • 1/2 large bunch of lacinato or regular kale (6 ounces), sliced into a chiffonade
  • 3 cups black beans plus 2 cups of their cooking liquid (I use Rancho Gordo “Midnight Black” beans)
  • 1 cup chicken stock (if using canned beans, increase to 2 to 3 cups and rinse and drain beans)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • crumbled queso fresco (optional)
  • chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

1. In your favorite heavy soup pot, crumble the chorizo and cook until browned and no longer pink. Add onion and garlic, and add a little olive oil if needed to saute these with the chorizo. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Add the rest of the olive oil and crushed red pepper, cook for 1 more minute, and add kale. Saute for 3 minutes.

2. Add beans and 3 cups of liquid (either 2 cups of bean cooking liquid, if you cooked your own dried beans, or use 2 additional cups of chicken stock) and salt. Stir and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. (This depends entirely on whether your beans were already salted.) Dish into warm bowls and garnish as you wish.

 

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roasted sweet potatoes + brussels sprouts w salmon

IMG_2852

As we accelerate towards the vernal equinox (can’t believe I just typed that), the situation at the farmers’ market becomes more extreme. We can still find winter squash, which have been stored for a while and are still tasty, and sweet potatoes, which are even sweeter now than they were at Thanksgiving. Beyond this, it’s slim pickins. This past Saturday, though, I witnessed what I consider to be the very earliest sign of spring at the market: eggs. We are entering what some farmers and folklorists call the “egg moon,” the moon cycle before Easter when the hens start to lay again in earnest. There is more sunlight each day, and while we silly humans continue to bask in misery when we see the dirty snow on the ground, grimacing at our friends’ Facebook postings from tropical locations (enough, already!), the hens are keeping their beady little eyes on the ball. The ball, that is, that hangs in the sky during the days, the days that are inching longer, and longer still. There are worlds of wisdom in our feathery friends.

IMG_2828

Take heart, gentle reader! We have only a few weeks to go before little greens and pussy willows make their way to the market. Meanwhile, grab yourself some sweet potatoes—or winter squash—and roast them up. Soon enough you’ll be waxing sentimental about the root vegetables of winter, and how you miss them at times in the glorious summer. Sweet potatoes are not the favorite vegetable of my beloved, but my roots include a tribe of sweet potato-growing farmers in southern Maryland. And I love sweet potatoes. Brilliantly, you can cut them into small fry-shaped batons, and toss them in smoked paprika, salt, and olive oil for a delicious treat. You can do the same with little, teeny Brussels sprouts. You can roast these and then at the end add a nice piece of salmon and have yourself a decent meal.

You can scale this recipe up for a family-sized meal that’s fast to throw together and tasty, too. And use the time you saved to dream of what you can make next week with eggs, and soon, with garlic scapes, and spinach, and a handful of tender and early herbs.

IMG_2834

Roasted sweet potatoes + brussels sprouts w salmon

Recipe below will feed 2 people; double or triple it to feed more, and use multiple baking sheets

  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled, cut into 1/4″ x 1/4″ fries the length of the potato
  • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 1/4 of a large red onion, sliced into thin rings
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, plus a little extra for the fish
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 salmon filets, 4 ounces each
  • lemon wedges, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato fries and half of the onion slices with half the olive oil, half the paprika, and half the salt. Spread evenly on baking sheet, making sure fries aren’t touching each other. Then, in the same bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with half of the onion slices and the rest of the olive oil, paprika, and salt. Spread on the other half of the baking sheet.

2. Place baking sheet in hot oven and bake for 20 minutes, removing once to turn fries and toss sprouts. Remove from oven and make sure that sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts are mostly cooked. Make space in the middle of the baking sheet and add the fillets, skin side down. Sprinkle a little smoked paprika on top of fish. Return to oven for 10-15 minutes, until fish is cooked. Remove from oven and serve promptly, spritzing with lemon juice if desired.

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lamb meatballs w zaatar + aleppo pepper

After having been snowed out of my house for four days—thanks to a giant winter storm—I am looking for ways to introduce the flavor of warmer climes into the kitchen. And at any time of year, who can resist a meatball? I have been experimenting with meatballs with no egg to bind them together. In this recipe, I make a paste out of the bread or breadcrumbs, garlic, fresh onion, and spices. There is so much moisture in the onion that it saturates the breadcrumbs and creates a fairly wet paste to work ever so lightly into the ground meat. If you don’t have access to za’atar you could use a combination of thyme, sesame seeds, and extra lemon zest.

We are fortunate that here in New Haven we can get ground lamb regularly from Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm, at our CitySeed market. If you can’t find it at your market, you could ask the butcher to grind some lamb stew meat for you, or you could probably substitute ground beef.

frying

It’s really fun to serve these meatballs for supper with a nice chopped salad, dressed lightly with olive oil and lemon juice, along with a dish of olives or maybe some stuffed grape leaves. Or make a big batch of baba ganoush and serve alongside some za’atar pita. You can imagine you’re in a warmer place, feasting after sunset on a long, long midsummer day.

Lamb meatballs w zaatar + Aleppo pepper

Serves 4 as part of a larger meal, serves 8 as an appetizer.

  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 c breadcrumbs, or a hunk of bread that looks like it would make that much
  • 1/2 onion, cut into chunks
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons za’atar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
  • Maldon or sea salt for finishing
  • 1/2 lemon cut into wedges

1. In the bowl of food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine garlic, breadcrumbs, onion, za’atar, Aleppo pepper, lemon zest and salt. If you have only a hunk of bread, tear it into pieces and pulse it in the food processor first to make crumbs, then add the other ingredients. Scrape mixture into a large bowl. Add lamb and mix lightly with your hands until mixture is uniform. Set aside for 15 to 30 minutes, to allow moisture to redistribute.

2. Warm olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Form lamb mixture into sausage shaped logs, about 1 inch in diameter and 3 inches long, or into 2-inch long torpedo shapes. Fry these in the hot oil until very well browned and cooked through, about 15 minutes in total.

3. Serve meatballs with lemon wedges and sprinkled with sea salt.

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smoky glazed pork chops w crunchy almond crumble

My favorite thing to do to dress up a dish is to fry up some bread crumbs (I make them in the food processor as bread gets stale, and simply add them to a bag I keep in the freezer) and sprinkle them on top. Of whatever.

I love my ruts, and prefer to stay in them for as long as possible. But this particular rut has deepened, and broadened, to include some chopped almonds with the bread crumbs. If there is one thing that is as delicious as fried bread crumbs, it is fried almonds. They add more crunch and richness than the bread crumbs alone, and also taste delicious on everything.

almonds

Pork chops for dinner in this house are a common occurrence as well. It was only a matter of a few days before I recognized the unhatched potential of the crumb/almond mixture combined with the usual pork chop. Punched up with a slightly sweet, spicy, and smoky pan sauce, and we had a dish evocative of smoked and sugared almonds, with routine weeknight potential.

The big problem here is that the crunchy topping is a delicious snack. I always taste-test it when it is done frying, to make sure I have put enough salt in it. This is a terrible mistake, because I pinch up little bites of it while the chops cook, crunching away until there is barely enough left for supper. I suggest giving it to someone you trust, who will hide it from you until the time comes to heap a few spoonfuls on top of each pork chop. There; I can’t be held responsible when your family is having plain old pork chops once again for supper.

Smoky glazed pork chops w crunchy almond crumble

Serves 4

  • 4 large boneless center-cut pork chops
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
  • 1/2 cup fresh coarse bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon Maldon or kosher sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup

1. In a small bowl, combine smoked paprika and kosher salt. Dry pork chops with a paper towel and rub them evenly with the paprika-salt mixture. (You can set chops aside at this point in the refrigerator for up to one day.) In a large, nonstick skillet, warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering and add chops. Cook on first side until dark brown, then flip them carefully and brown the second side. Reduce heat to medium and add a lid or cover, and cook until internal temperature of pork chops reaches 150 F.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, warm the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until very hot. Add almonds and fry, stirring constantly, until toasted. Add bread crumbs and crushed red pepper, and continue stirring until they are toasted as well. Remove from heat and add Maldon salt or kosher salt and stir. Set aside until chops are cooked.

3. Remove lid from pork chops when they are cooked through, and drizzle with maple syrup. Flip chops and stir syrup into the pan liquid. Increase heat to medium-high and reduce sauce, turning chops regularly. To serve, place on chop on each plate and drizzle with one-quarter of pan sauce. Then scoop one-quarter cup of almond crumble topping onto the top of the chop and serve.

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zuppa lombarda

Beans are an ideal January food.

Frankly, beans are an ideal anytime food, but in January they meet my criteria for health and frugality after a holiday season of extravagant eating.

I found this recipe in of my most treasured cookbooks, Il Libro della Vera Cucina Fiorentina by Paolo Petroni. The book is a Florentine classic, and was given to me by an Italian friend who is also a phenomenal cook. It is in Italian, but my food Italian is okay, and this recipe is so simple that you don’t even need to know Italian to decode it. It contains: beans, olive oil, sage, garlic, and bread. I don’t count the water you need to cook the beans.

salvia

The cookbook claims the recipe was misnamed, as the dish does not appear in the Lombardy region at all, but rather may have been popular with immigrants from Lombardy who lived in Florence in the 1800s. I don’t quibble about these things when something is this simple and good. As with most simple dishes, it depends entirely on the quality of the ingredients used, and in this case that means the beans. I used Borlotti beans from Rancho Gordo, and can only recommend that you do the same. The soup in the cookbook is made with fresh shell beans, and I’m sure you could use cranberry, cannelini, or a similar bean. It is essential in any case not to use the canned beans—the broth that develops while cooking dried or fresh beans is essential to the glory of this dish.

I used dried Borlottis that had not been soaked, and just covered the beans with about four inches of water, because I wanted the beans to soak up most of the water, and for the rest to evaporate during cooking. If the water level in your bean pot becomes reduced below the surface of the beans, add splashes of boiling water as necessary until the beans have finished cooking. When finished, you will want beans that are just covered in the nice, rich broth.

zuppa

The original recipe includes bread that is toasted plain, and the sage is added to the pot with the beans, garlic and olive oil at the beginning of the cooking. I wanted something with a bit more of the sage flavor, and simply fried the chopped sage leaves and added them to the top of each dish of soup. Meanwhile, the bread was cubed and fried until a deep golden color in olive oil and sprinkled with salt before dishing the beans over with their broth and then topping with the sizzled sage. Perhaps a bit rich for the blood of the thrifty Florentines, but nonetheless extraordinary.

Zuppa lombarda

Adapted from Il Libro della Vera Cucina Fiorentina by Paolo Petroni

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 lb dried Borlotti beans or other dried cranberry or white bean
  • water to cover by 4 inches
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 20 or so fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced
  • 3 to 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 to 8 slices of stale ciabatta or other crusty Italian-style bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • sea salt or Maldon salt for finishing

1. Rinse and pick the beans over and add to a large soup pot. Cover with water by about four inches. Pour in the 1/3 cup of olive oil, add the garlic cloves, and set over medium-high heat. Bring the pot to the boil and then reduce to a bare simmer. Cook until the beans are tender (taste at least a dozen or so beans to make sure they are all tender), about 2 and 1/2 hours in my case. After about an hour of simmering, you can add he 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt.

2. When beans are cooked through, prepare the rest of the components. Warm the 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until quite hot. Add cubed bread to the hot oil, without crowding the bread cubes. When first side is golden brown, turn the bread and toast another side of the cube. This can be done in batches, adding more olive oil between batches as needed. When a batch of cubes are browned, place them in the warmed soup bowls, distributing evenly among the bowls. Each bowl needs the cubes from just 1 slice of bread. Sprinkle the browned bread cubes with a pinch or two of Maldon or sea salt.

3. When bread cubes are browned and in the soup bowls, warm a tablespoon or two more olive oil in your skillet. Add the sliced sage leaves and cook until fragrant and beginning to crisp. Turn off heat and sprinkle with a few pinches of Maldon or sea salt.

4. Assemble the soup. Ladle beans and some broth over the cubed bread. Sprinkle with some of the fried sage and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.

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roasted goose breasts w bacon + red wine

There is a new expressway that runs over the dual lane road we used to get around when I was a kid. I am realizing now that we call this the “new” road but it has been there for years. Maybe even a decade or more. You can fly down the new road and reach your destination in a few moments. Over the break I drove from Baltimore back to Delaware and took the new road home when I got off of I-95. I’ve never done it before, but was in a hurry to get to my parents’ place. The old road runs beneath the new one, at least in parts heading south from the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. My night vision is getting more questionable these days but in the periphery I can clearly see the lights in the houses along the old road below, flashing in streaks and dots where houses cluster together and in solitary flickers where a single house sits in a long black stretch of dark woods, or a field. On the homeward leg of trips when I was a child in the backseat, I saw these same lights. There are new settlements and developments now, along the road, but the baseline is still there, and the rickety glass windows in the old houses communicate the light differently than the fancy new ones, and I can easily tell them apart without the assistance of any conscious thought. It seems that the patterns are so familiar to my subconscious that I recognize by the sequence the settlements along the old road—that is Fieldsboro, this must be Drawyers. I am reminded of ancient armies led by the watch fires lit in succession on the hillside, telegraphing the way home. Each solitary man with a torch on his own hilltop, presaging the fires that wait in the hearth. Signaling: you’re nearly home.

This sensation applies to cooking as well. In thinking about the year of cooking ahead of me, I also think about the past. There is a baseline I recognize in my cooking in spite of the addition of ingredients unfamiliar in my home kitchen. For my grandmothers and my mother, cooking is not an exercise in nostalgia, but a critical daily activity. Food must be gotten onto the table. The family must be fed. I might use a splash of wine in the meat, or shallot instead of an onion, but I’m still simply making supper. In this way every meal is a homecoming, and a subconscious recognition of meals before, and a preparation for meals to come. The process is a part of a journey that is both familiar and ancient.

On New Year’s Eve, some neighbors brought by fresh goose breasts. I didn’t get to the camera during the busy meal, but many hands prepared braised cabbage and onions, biscuits, roasted potatoes, salad, and the goose breasts. If you’re lucky enough to have fresh game, you don’t need any pictures anyway. Follow the signals and you’ll be home free. I hope we all have a great year of cooking, eating, and living, linking the past to the future.

Roasted goose w bacon + red wine

Serves 8

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 8 goose breasts, split, boned, and skinned (this is the meat from 4 geese)
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 16 pieces of smoked bacon
  • 8 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 3 cups red wine
  • 1/2 cup apricot, fig, or sour cherry jam or preserves

1. The night before or at least an hour before, dissolve the salt and sugar in a bowl large enough to hold the goose breasts. Use enough water to cover the breasts, roughly 2 to 3 quarts. Soak the goose breasts overnight or for at least one hour.

2. Preheat oven to 400 F. Scatter onion slices in the bottom of a 13 x 9 – inch roasting pan. Pat each goose breast dry and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Take each breast and wrap it, covering completely, in 2 strips of bacon. Tuck garlic slices between bacon and goose meat. Place each breast gently in the pan, leaving a bit of space between each one. When all the goose breasts are wrapped, pour soy sauce over them, and carefully pour the red wine into the bottom of the pan. The wine should just come up to the bottom of the breasts, so use less if they are getting covered up.

3. Place goose breasts in the oven and cook until they are cooked to about 155 F. (The USDA safe temperature for goose breasts is 165 F, which is our ultimate temperature destination in this process.) Pour pan juices into a sauce pan and cover the goose and allow it to rest. Bring the juices to a simmer over medium-high heat, and add the jam or preserves. Continue to simmer until sauce is thickened and reduced. Pass the sauce with the goose at the table.

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sweet + tangy meatballs

For a long time I have played around with Marcus Samuelsson’s Swedish meatball recipe, which is a great addition to a Christmas Eve supper, or a Christmas lunch. The combination of sweet (lingonberry preserves) and creamy (heavy cream) and tangy (pickle juice) with the rich meatballs is just the perfect holiday mixture.

When I make meatballs, I like to make a lot. It’s a pretty labor-intensive—not to mention messy—process. You can always freeze them for later and then have the benefit of having messed up the kitchen only once. When I started making these meatballs, I would fry them in oil on top of the stove. But with the larger batch, I find that it’s dramatically less messy than frying in batches, and I can make sure the meatballs are cooked all the way through. Sure, the resulting meatballs are kind of flat on one side (the side sitting on the baking sheet), but this is a price I’m more than willing to pay to avoid a grease-coated kitchen. If you’re dedicated to producing the cordon-bleu version of these, by all means fry away!

While the meatballs are cooking, you’re cooking up a sweet, tangy, and then ultimately creamy sauce on top of the stove. After the meatballs are cooked and the sauce is thickened up, you can combine them right away in a slow-cooker on low or on top of the stove on low, to coat the meatballs and allow the flavors to mix. After that, you can reheat or keep warm at will. If you’re freezing part of the meatballs, you should freeze them after baking in the oven, and make up the sauce when you’re ready to use them.

Samuelsson’s recipe is based on his family’s Swedish traditions. In my family, molasses is a traditional ingredient in just about anything. And we get the best molasses in the world from Center Market in Cambridge, Md. I keep lots of it in the house this time of year. I played around with using it here in lieu of honey in the meatballs themselves, and I added them to the sauce, just like I do to my barbecue sauce. The result is a nicely browned meatball, and a rich and sweet sauce. (By the way, if you prefer, you can make up the meatballs as below and make the barbecue sauce recipe to dress them. Also delicious.)

Enjoy serving these to your family and friends—and adapt the recipe with traditional ingredients in your house this time of year.

Sweet + tangy meatballs

Based on Marcus Samuelsson’s Swedish meatballs, which is a great recipe

Meatballs:

  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large or 2 medium red onions, finely sliced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 lb. ground veal
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • pinch of cloves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Line two large baking sheets with baking parchment and set aside. Preheat oven to 425 F. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and half-and-half and allow to rest, stirring occasionally while sauteing the onions. Set up food processor fitted with metal blade.

2. In a large saute pan, melt olive oil and butter together over medium heat. Add sliced onion and saute until soft and transparent. Do not allow to caramelize. Scrape contents of pan into food processor. (Set pan aside without washing to make sauce later.) Add soaked bread crumbs. Pulse about 20 times until onion is finely chopped and mixture is well combined.

3. In a large bowl, combine onion mixture, ground meats, molasses, eggs and spices. Using your hands, combine until mixture is consistent, but use a light touch. Do not squeeze or manhandle the mixture. Take your time. When combined, set aside and wash your hands.

4. Place the meat mixture and baking sheets on a work surface. Wet your hands and begin to form meatballs the size of golf balls. Pinch off a suitable amount of the mixture and lightly form them into balls by smoothing between your hands. Line meatballs up, not touching, on the sheets. When all meatballs are formed, place the sheets into the oven and lower the temperature to 400 F. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the internal temperature of meatballs is 170 F. Remove from oven and set aside.

Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried ancho chile powder (this is not the same as chili powder, which should not be used)
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 c molasses
  • 1 and 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or pickle juice
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

1. While meatballs are in the oven, make the sauce. Using the saute pan you used for the onions, warm tomato paste and ketchup over medium-high heat. When mixed and bubbling, add chile powder, cayenne, and allspice. When these are mixed in, add molasses and stir until bubbling and combined. Slowly add apple cider and whisk until mixture is smooth and combined. Cook this mixture until thickened and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Adjust heat lower if boiling too rapidly.

2. When mixture is thickened, add salt, chicken stock, and vinegar. Whisk again until very smooth and continue simmering until reduced and thick, another 10 to 20 minutes. Taste sauce and correct seasonings. Remove pan from heat and stir a few times. Slowly add cream, whisking constantly, and bring back to a simmer. Keep warm until ready to combine with meatballs.Taste again and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

3. To finish the dish, place the cooked meatballs in a large heavy Dutch oven or sauteuse with high sides. Cover with sauce and gently combine until meatballs are coated. Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve. Serve as hors d’oeuvres, or with mashed root vegetables, mashed potatoes, or egg noodles.

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smoked pork shoulder prepared like ham

Upon hearing that I had made this dish, my sister exclaimed, “Oh my god! You went straight from using a slow-cooker to those recipes that use soda!” It is true that this practice is very alarming, especially in a slow-cooker novice. But I remember years ago seeing Nigella prepare a ham by boiling it in a giant pot of soda, and for some reason this made sense to me. There will be some confusion about cuts of pork in your grocery store. You can make this recipe with a bone-in fully cooked ham, or, as I did, with a fresh smoked pork shoulder. Keep in mind that my slow cooker is quite large; if you have a more normal-sized one, you’ll need to use a smaller cut of meat. Likewise, if your shoulder has a substantial cap of fat on it, you’ll need to make sure the melting fat doesn’t overfill the crock of your slow-cooker.

(I apologize that there are not more photographs of this wonderful concoction, but they are truly hideous! A giant hunk of meat is really ugly! Therefore, I break up your winter with this gorgeous picture of plums basking in the sun in Vila Real, Portugal.) This dish came out just as I expected: not at all sweet, but tender and melting. The leftovers and scraps—the shoulder simply falls apart, so there will be bits that are only fairly characterized as scraps—are marvelous in this soup. Which brings me to why I’m posting this now: it is the time of year when many of us are running from holiday party to errand to event, and we need a dish like this, which will last for several days, and then make another quick supper when we turn it into soup. And don’t forget, you can always freeze the leftover bits and make your soup later.

Smoked pork shoulder prepared like ham

This recipe works in a 6.5 quart slow cooker, which is very large. Adjustments will need to be made for smaller slow cookers.

  • 1 smoked fresh pork shoulder, approximately 5 – 7 lbs., bone in
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons ground dry mustard
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 can Coca-Cola

1. Take the pork and remove any netting. Make sure it fits in your slow cooker. Trim the meat to fit in the cooker if necessary. Alternatively, place the pork in a large roasting pan with a lid.

2. Combine dry ingredients and rub all over pork shoulder. Replace the pork in the slow cooker, making sure the fat side is facing up towards the lid. Pour in the can of Coca-Cola.

3. Place the lid securely on the slow cooker. Set to cook on low for 10 to 11 hours. If you are using the oven, bring pot to a simmer and then place in a 300 F oven for four to five hours. Check it at least once to make sure the liquid level in the cooker hasn’t risen too high due to fat melting. Carefully scoop out a bit of liquid if it has risen too high.

4. When pork has finished cooking, set a baking sheet near the slow cooker and remove meat carefully to the baking sheet. (It will have completely fallen apart.) Discard bones and scraps, or use for beans or soup. Slice meat carefully and serve with grainy mustard. Discard cooking liquid.

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