Celebrations + Odd Duck’s Broccoli with Cheese Sauce & Crispy Shallots

There’s been a lot to celebrate around here lately. I don’t know if you heard, but… I’m going to be The Greatest Aunt Ever™ come August.

BenMerBabyAs if that wasn’t enough, two great friends got hitched in a sweet and personal ceremony (officiated beautifully by another dear, wise friend) and we danced barefoot in the barn until last call, then returned back to the hotel and caught up with old friends til the early hours of the morning. We traveled to Brooklyn for a long weekend full of amazing food, romps with old friends (and new!), we ate all the pastrami (and much of the corned beef) and my cousin married the love of his life on their ten-year anniversary in a truly lavish and gorgeous wedding.

And then, just upon returning home from New York, my favorite person turned 28. If you can believe it, there’s even more excitement coming to us this year (three more weddings, Palm Springs, Vegas, San Francisco, oh my!) so we’re keeping birthdays pretty low key. We headed just down the street to Odd Duck for a late, lingering dinner. If you’re headed to Milwaukee, Odd Duck is not to be missed (and not to be attempted without a reservation, fyi). Creative small plates, inventive cocktails and stellar, friendly servers. One of the many plates we ordered was so simple but totally luscious: broccoli rabe with cheese sauce and crispy fried shallots. I immediately scrawled down notes (on the back of an old paycheck laying in the bottom of my purse) so I could recreate it at home. Now if only I could figure out those friend green tomatoes…

Happy birthday, Jus. I love the shit out of you.

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Broccoli Rabe with Cheese Sauce & Crispy Shallots

2 bunches broccoli rabe
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 ½ cups milk
½ pound cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons parmesan or pecorino cheese, shredded
1 small shallot, sliced thinly
olive oil
salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and have a large bowl of ice water standing nearby. Cut the thicker stems off the broccoli and separate them from the fluffier, flowering ends. When the water is boiling, drop the stems into the pot to blanch for 1-2 minutes, then add the flowery heads of the broccoli in for 1-2 minutes more. Using tongs, pull the broccoli from the boiling water and immediately drop it into the ice water to shock it. Once cool, drain the broccoli and set aside. Note: this whole step could be done ahead of time, if needed.

In a small bowl, toss the shallots with 1 tablespoon of flour to evenly coat. Heat a small sauté pan over medium-high heat, then add olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan by about a quarter inch. Shake off the excess flour and add the shallots to the oil, frying until golden brown. Remove the shallots and drain on paper towels, set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat then add 1 tablespoon of flour and cook, stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Pour the milk in, whisking like mad to avoid lumps, and continue to stir until the mixture thickens—about 5 minutes. Stir in the cheddar until it melts completely into the sauce, then add the parmesan or pecorino. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Turn the heat to low just to keep warm until broccoli is heated through.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil, swirl to coat the pan, then add the broccoli (stems and tops). Sauté until heated through and crispy about the edges—3 to 5 minutes.

Top broccoli with cheese sauce, sprinkle with crispy shallots and serve.

 

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Matambre Arrollado (Stuffed Flank Steak)

IMG_0938Matambre and I go way back. Ten years back. I had never even left home for sleep-away camp so you can imagine how eye-opening it was to hop on a plane (then another plane, then a train and a bus) to spend a summer south of the equator, working in a children’s shelter and living with the most generous, welcoming Argentinos I could’ve ever dreamt up. In Gualeguaychú, I spent the day working with the poorest of the poor and came home to a gorgeously lavish home with an inner courtyard, a wood-burning fireplace with the most comfortable armchairs where I spent so. many. hours. inhaling book after book… I smoked my first cigarette, I drank from these (and had my first sip of this), I learned how fun it is to go dancing in a country where the boys can actually lead. Somewhere between singing Maná at the top of my lungs with my hermana, Flor, and arguing furiously over American politics with Tía Ana– I realized rather suddenly that I had stopped “translating” inside my head.

Flash forward ten years to the age of Pinterest*, when everyone I knew was pinning a recipe for “stuffed flank steak“– MATAMBRE! I had it many, many times during that southern hemisphere summer. In Argentina, you’ll sometimes find it in a burger-like sandwich or covered with tomato sauce and cheese (a matambre pizza?).

I only found two small (grass-fed, responsibly raised, antibiotic-free, local) flank steaks at the co-op so I split the filling in half and made two mini matambres. I’d recommend using one, larger piece of meat if you can find it. This dish is easy, fast and looks impressive. You could even prep it through the tying step ahead of time, then just bring to room temperature and roast when you’re ready. The filling is easily customizable to your tastes and pantry– sub sundried tomatoes for the peppers or crumbled blue cheese for the feta. Matambre comes from matar + hambre: it will literally kill your hunger.

*Say what you will about the less than flattering picture of American culture that Pinterest provides but it has changed the way I save and sort through my recipe bookmarks and that alone makes it worth sifting through the bullshit.

Matambre Arrollado

1 ½ to 2lbs flank steak
1 package frozen spinach, thawed
½ c. crumbled feta
1 (7oz) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
2 Tbs Panko breadcrumbs
1 egg yolk
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 Tbs olive oil
salt + pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425. Carefully with a very sharp knife, butterfly the flank steak, cutting parallel to your cutting board so that the flank opens like a book. Season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper, set aside while you prepare the filling.

Wrap the spinach in a clean, lint-free dishtowel (paper towels will work, too) and squeeze the living daylight out of it until it is as dry as possible. In a medium bowl, mix the spinach, cheese, chopped peppers, breadcrumbs, egg yolk and garlic until well combined.

Spread the filling over the steak, leaving a 1” border around the edges. Carefully roll up the steak from the short side so the grain is running right to left. Tie the rolled steak with twine (directions here). Rub the outside of your steak roll with oil and season all over with salt and pepper.

Place the steak on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 35 minutes, turning once. Remove from the oven, tent with foil and allow it to rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

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Frico Carrots

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When I’m thinking of what to blog here, I try not to get too complicated. I want you guys to have whatever I’m having that I can’t stop thinking about. This is not a recipe that will change the world– it’s barely a recipe at all, but rather a technique.

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A technique that subscribes to my personal philosophy of taking something boring but healthy and covering it in fat and cheese til it tastes better. A technique that makes me want to frico every edible in my house. And, dear ones, a technique that will no doubt change how you feel about cooked carrots.

I am of the “cooked carrots are the next axis of evil” camp. Because, um, ew. But these, you guys? They are at once sweet and savory, crispy and chewy. They are poppable little finger food bombs of umami held together by lacy, salty FRICO. IMG_0891

You know that great, lacy edge of just this side of burnt cheese that you get on your grilled cheese? THIS is that, ALL OVER the place but on carrots. So you can eat a pound of it and no one will judge you (ahem).

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I’m also fairly certain that my very youngest readers would delight in these scattered across the tray of a high chair. You yourself might want to consider eating these with your fingers. A fork will only slow you down. They will save you from the mid-winter root vegetable doldrums. Go forth. Frico.

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Frico Carrots
A rough recipe to serve one deliciously or two if willing to share

½ pound of carrots*, cut wobbly
1 oz (about 2 fingers worth) Parmesan cheese, grated and then divided into thirds
1 TB olive oil
salt, to taste
 

Preheat the oven to 375. Sprinkle a third of the Parmesan cheese all over a baking sheet covered with a silicone mat (if you have one) or foil (if you don’t).  Wiggle the pan a bit on the counter to redistribute the cheese into an even layer. In a medium(ish) bowl, toss the carrots with the olive oil and salt to taste. Sprinkle the oiled carrots with another third of the Parmesan and toss to coat. Now, mindfully summon your patience and carefully place the carrots onto your baking sheet—you need them in one layer, no overlapping, and with a bit of space between them all to ensure that they crisp up and roast instead of steam. Sprinkle the remaining third of the Parmesan evenly over the carrots, filling in any cheeseless gaps along the way. Roast for ~15 minutes, watching carefully to ensure the cheezy lace doesn’t burn.  Remove from the oven and rest for a few minutes so the cheese will crisp up. Use a spatula to gently remove the carrots in great lacy sheets of frico. Using your fingers, inhale the carrots with reckless abandon.

*the rainbow carrots are obviously not necessary, they just make me endlessly happy.

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Croque Madame

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Oh, I’m sorry. Did you come here looking for an anemic salad to start your new year off right? Sorry I’m not sorry.

A while back, I shared a long brunch with friends on a very lazy Sunday at one of my favorite under-the-radar Milwaukee establishments. The croque madame I had was served open face, doused in mornay sauce and it was simple and totally scrumptious. We lingered over another round of bloodies, chatting about nothing and everything and upcoming weddings and how far we had all come since we met at Marquette.

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Croque madame has haunted me ever since so, obviously, I’m here to get you hooked. Don’t let the Mornay sauce freak you out– it’s just a cheesy béchamel sauce. Does making a béchamel freak you out? It shouldn’t. Once you’ve got this mother sauce under your belt, you’re on one slippery slope to better macaroni and cheese,  soups, lasagna… not to mentioned smothering biscuits, impressive souffles… It’s a gateway drug. My secret is adding the milk to the roux slowly, a cup at a time, whisking like mad after each addition to avoid any lumps. Then just simmer away, whisking it up every few minutes. The recipe below will yield a LOT of mornay sauce, so feel free to halve the sauce recipe or invite your friends over for lunch.

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And if you’re one of those poor souls who thought I’d serve you up a healthy salad first thing outta the 2013 gates, feel free to assuage your guilt by serving this with a big, fresh bowl of dressed greens on the side. Truth time: I had two bunches of kale for breakfast this morning.

I know. I don’t know what’s wrong with me either.

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Croque Madame
Serves 2 as a hearty meal or 4 as a part of a bigger spread

4 slices of good bread, lightly toasted
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
8 thin slices baked ham
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
Mornay sauce (recipe follows)
4 eggs

Move an oven rack to the uppermost position and preheat your broiler. Meanwhile, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil. Lay the bread on the pan and spread each with a tablespoon of Dijon. Top each slice of bread with a couple slices of ham and about ¼ cup of cheese. Place the pan into the oven to melt the cheese and crisp up the ham under the broiler—about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and quickly top each slice with a dollop of Mornay sauce. Return the pan to the broiler for 3-4 minutes until the sauce is heated through and sinfully bubbly. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn!

Meanwhile, fry your eggs in a well-greased skillet over medium heat until the whites are firm and the yolks remain liquid. Top each slice of bread with an egg and munch to your heart’s content.

Mornay Sauce:

3 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, finely minced
¼ c. flour
1 bay leaf
4 peppercorns
4 whole cloves
4 c. milk
¼  c. grated parmesan
1 c. shredded Gruyere
nutmeg (whole is best, ground will do)
salt to taste

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the shallot and cook until translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour while stirring constantly and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Tah-dah! You’ve made a roux.
Increase the heat to high and then, whisking like a maniac, slowly pour in the milk and whisk until the mixture comes up to a simmer.When you’re simmering, turn the heat back down to medium-low and add the bay leaf, cloves and peppercorns and continue to simmer for 30-40 minutes until it looks thick, rich and creamy. Be careful not to scorch it— this means that the proteins and sugars in the milk have burnt (and stuck!) on the bottom of the pan. Stirring it fairly frequently and watching your heat levels should help avoid this. If it scorches, just throw the sauce into another pan and continue to cook (on lower heat and stirring frequently). Once thickened, take the sauce off the heat and strain into a bowl. Add the cheeses and a few gratings of nutmeg (or about a ¼ teaspoon if you only have pre-ground nutmeg). Taste the sauce then add salt to your preference.

 

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A Toast: Spiced Pomegranate Bubbly

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I adore the coming of a new year. Burrowing into the stillness leading up to it, I read and write until I can make some sense of it all. Turns out… 2012? Not my year. There was plenty of The Good– a new home, a new neighborhood, a new part-time job that let me cross another item off my Mighty Life list… But, oh man, were there tears– while trying to fall asleep, while crumbled up on the cold tile floor of the kitchen and, often, a few big,  drops shed silently on my yoga mat. I lost myself in the hubub, the schedules, the long workdays, the totally horrific stories on the news. I saw myself slipping away and I was on such a pity party merry-go-round that I couldn’t bring myself to get off the ride. Which explains, in part, why we haven’t seen much of each other these last nine months.

Resolutions have always been a mixed bag for me. This year, I’m trying to focus on the feelings behind all the “wants” that come up when I think of what is to come. The words that keep coming up: challenged, creative and connected. And this small endeavor in my humble corner of the internet is going to help. So, lovebugs, I’m back. This time for keeps.

And if any of you are still around, I want to offer up this toast to you. While this year was not my best work, you held my hand, sent sweet notes to say you missed my cooking and updates here, you took me to the beach and for massages and when I texted you, “can you talk?” you called me right away because that’s usually the first sign of trouble ’round these parts.

In 2013, I hope I can be as true to you as you’ve been to me and that all of us can be more gentle with each other.

Spiced Pomegranate Bubbly
3 cups pomegranate juice
3 tablespoons brown sugar, honey, agave or maple syrup
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole star anise
dry white wine (optional)
Champagne, cava or prosecco

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the pomegranate juice, sweetener of your choice, cinnamon and star anise to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half– this may take 30-45 minutes depending on your flame and the size of the pot. Remove and discard the cinnamon and star anise*. Allow to cool and then refrigerate to chill.

To serve, pour 1-2 tablespoons of the pomegranate syrup into the bottom of each glass. Top with an ounce or two of wine (if using) and top with bubbly.

*the star anise makes for a lovely cocktail garnish, though, if you’re into such things

 

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Twiced-Baked Potatoes with Corned Beef & Roasted Cabbage

Given that I live with a Very Nice Irish Young Man, I felt it was my duty as a loving partner to give my man some corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day. As I tend toward the masochistic in my cooking pursuits, I immediately set off on preparations to corn an entire brisket. Thing is, a brisket can run up to 10-12 pounds. There’s two of us in the house and even with Soup taking his fair share, we’d never make it out alive.

Enter Melissa Clark and her newest book, Cook This Now. My copy is already well worn and taggedwith post-its. Melissa Clark also writes for the New York Times and keeps a blog of her own but I really would recommend you pick up her book, too. Her recipes are fresh riffs on classics with a new spin on ingredients and a streamlined method (no redundant steps, millions of dishes or marathon cooking sessions unlike some other cookbooks, ahem!). One of my favorite features of the book is at the end of each recipe where Melissa offers you alternatives/additions to recipes (“What Else?” she asks,) or offers you an entirely different variation on the same dish (“A Dish by Another Name).

These twice-baked potatoes are a great option to celebrate the holiday while keeping your waistline, pocketbook and dignity in check. The entire recipe uses only one large mixing bowl which makes clean-up a snap. If you’re in a rush, you can bake the potatoes off ahead of time. Or bake the potatoes, make the filling and re-fill the potatoes ahead of time and later re-bake them to warm through when you’re ready to serve. Easy. Fast. Festive. Look at you go.

Clearly, I'm still working out the timing of photographing the head of the beer... sigh...

I served them with roasted cabbage and you guys? Roasted cabbage is AWESOME. I was so skeptical. It sounded outdated at best and bland and soggy at its worst. But a little rubdown with olive oil, a scatter of salt and a grate of parmesan later, I was nibbling it straight off the sheet pan before I had even called Justin in for dinner. No soggy bland mess in sight. Roast yourself some cabbage and treat yo’self.

One last note: if you know what’s good for you, you’ll serve this with a green beer.

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Twice Baked Potatoes with Corned Beef
adapted from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now
Serves 4-6

4 russet potatoes, scrubbed well
¾ pound thinly sliced corned beef, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt)
1 heaping tablespoon fresh dill, chopped*
1 heaping tablespoon fresh chives, chopped*
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
kosher salt
black pepper, ground

*Save yourself money and effort and instead of buying a whole bunch of fresh chives and fresh herbs, buy a “Seafood Pack” from the herb section of the grocery store. It will have just the right amount of dill and chives for this recipe, plus a little parsley as an added bonus.

Preheat your oven to 425. Rub each potato with a pinch of salt and pierce twice with a fork or knife. Place potatoes on a foil-wrapped baking sheet and bake for 60-70 minutes until the skins are crispy and the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.

When the potatoes have cooled enough to handle (or sooner, if you’re inpatient like me), lop off the top third of the potato and scoop the fluffy insides into a large bowl, leaving a ¼ inch of potato still attached to the skin.  Add the corned beef, butter, sour cream (or yogurt), dill, chives and a good pinch of salt and pepper to the bowl. Mash it well. Taste for seasoning.

Stuff the potato skins with the potato mixture, mounding it up on top but being careful not to rip the potato skin. Top the potatoes with the Parmesan cheese, sprinkling evenly. Throw the potatoes back in the oven and bake until heated through, about 10 minutes (this will take longer if you baked the potatoes ahead of time and your potato mixture is cold from the fridge).

Roasted Cabbage

half a big-ass green cabbage, cored
olive oil
kosher salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 425. Carefully slice the cabbage into 1-inch-thick steaks. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and rub with olive oil on both sides. Sprinkle the slices with a generous seasoning of salt. Roast, turning once, for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with Parmesan and return to the oven for another 5 minutes until crispy and browned.

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Winter Slaw with Creamy Tahini Dressing: my new favorite salad

Reasons I love this salad:

  1. So many colors! We’ve slid smack into winter’s dearth when the only seasonal produce left tends to be in varied shades of white and brown. These shards of green, white and orange lift the spirits. I imagine you could even add some radicchio or purple cabbage…
  2. Texture galore. Fresh cabbage crunches. Kale has some chew to it. Roasted sesame seeds pop.
  3. Healthy healthy healthy and it still doesn’t make me feel like I’m eating rabbit food. This may or may not have something to do with the tahini dressing which is magically creamy.
  4. The ingredients keep for more than a week in the fridge. You know, in the event that you forgot to make it for a week (or two, heh) after buying the ingredients.


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Winter Slaw with Creamy Tahini Dressing
Adapted only slightly from Sarah over at My New Roots
Makes a lot

6 cups of shredded greens: cabbage (purple, green or Savoy), kale, radicchio
2 cups shredded carrots
3 scallions, sliced on the bias
1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
½ cup chopped mint
½ cup sesame seeds


Dressing:
Makes 1 cup
2 Tbsp. olive oil
juice of one lemon
1 Tbsp. liquid honey (or maple syrup)
1/3 cup tahini
a couple pinches of salt (check to make sure your tahini is unsalted first!)
pepper, to taste
zest of 1 orange

Directions:
1. Wash, dry and shred the greens. While you could use the shredding blade of a food processor for this, avoid it– I find it makes slaw into a watery mess.  Instead, put on some good tunes, take your time and a sharp knife and loose yourself in the rhythm of the chop chop chop chop. Dump the greens in a large bowl. Shred the carrots on a box grater or finely julienne them. Add to the greens. Chop the parsley finely and add it to the greens along with the sliced scallions. Roast sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until they begin to pop and smell delicious. Remove from heat immediately.  Pour over salad ingredients.

For the dressing: add all ingredients except for salt to medium-sized jar. Cover the jar tightly and shake into oblivion. If the dressing is too thick for your liking, add a little water, a tablespoon at a time. Once you have the consistency you like, taste for seasoning. Salt, pepper and acid should all be balanced. Mess with it til it seems worthy of pouring over anything in sight.

If serving the entire salad immediately, toss everything together and serve. If serving the salad a few hours from now, wait to toss with dressing until you’re about to eat or it’ll get wilty and limp and no one will see its beauty. If your partner or family won’t touch this slaw with a ten foot pole and it’s just going to be you eating it a bit at a time (ahem), keep the greens in a plastic bag lined with one layer of paper towels. The salad should keep this way for 2-3 days in a cold fridge. Toss with dressing prior to serving.

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Sunny Winter Vegetable Mulligatawny

I was planning on posting a recipe for oven-baked gnocchi with white beans and chard this week. To boot, I’ve made this oven-baked gnocchi three different times, adjusting the flavors, textures and procedure to make sure it’s filling, warming and quick enough to be worth making after a long day at the office.

But alas, last week when I happened to have some of the Round 3 Gnocchi for lunch, I got a rather voracious stomach bug that lasted several days and provided some rather spectacular pyrotechnics. I’m quite sure the gnocchi wasn’t to blame– it’s more than likely that one of my many tiny clients who frequently cough or sneeze INTO my mouth during therapy is the culprit.  Anyway…

Gnocchi and I are on a break.

Instead, I’d like to offer you this gorgeous soup. “Soup” doesn’t really do it justice– it’s so thick, so textured and chunky that it’s closer to a stew. Filled with root vegetables, sprinkled with beans and enriched by coconut milk, it will keep you full and happy for the better portion of the day. Plus, there’s nothing like turmeric’s sunny glow to banish your winter blues. I know this will be a staple for me in the coming weeks of gloom and frosty cheeks– hope it brightens your days, too.

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Sunny Winter Vegetable Mulligatawny
Adapted slightly from here
Serves 8-10

1 cup dried red lentils
1 Tbsp coconut oil
½ tsp mustard seeds (ground mustard would also work)
½ Tbsp ground turmeric
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ Tbsp ground coriander
½ tsp salt
3 Tbsp. minced ginger
2 small onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
6 cups diced mixed root vegetables**
1 cup cooked (or canned) chickpeas
1 14oz. can diced, no-salt tomatoes
1 14oz. can light coconut milk
4 cups vegetable broth
juice of ½ lemon

**I used carrots, parsnips, a sweet potato and a Yukon Gold potato but any kind of squash, celeriac, turnips, daikon, kohlrabi, sunchokes would all work, too.

In a large stockpot, heat the oil and add all spices and minced ginger (not the garlic). Stir often so spices do not burn. When the mix smells fragrant, add the onions and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes. If it seems like the mixture is too dry or the bottom of the pot gets too dark, add a little of the tomato liquid and continue to stir.  Add garlic and cook a couple minutes more.

Add the chopped vegetables and stir well to coat with spices. Cook for 5 minutes. Add chickpeas, if using, and cook until heated through. Add canned tomatoes and coconut milk.

Add the lentils to the pot along with the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 20-30 minutes until the lentils are soft and the root vegetables tender when pierced with a fork. Add the lemon juice to the soup. Season to taste. Serve hot!

 

 

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The Best Roast Chicken You’ll Ever Make

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that while I feel quite confident in my cooking prowess, for years I avoided… chicken. Oh sure, I’d throw a couple of boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the oven once in a great while but you know what? Boneless, skinless chicken breasts often taste like sawdust. Affordable, virtuous, protein-filled sawdust.

There is so much more out there, chicken eaters. So much more.

Mainly: Judy Rogers. I worship at the mighty church of Judy Rogers’ Zuni Cafe (and it’s bible). If you’ve been around the foodie blogosphere for a while, you’ve likely heard about Judy’s infamous Zuni Roast Chicken recipe. In her book, the recipe is four pages long but a good chunk of that is dedicated to prep work and the accompanying bread salad. The whole dish looks effortless and tastes divine but for our purposes, we’ll just focus on the chicken.

Some tips:

  • Plan ahead. If you’re like me, you’re not roasting a whole chicken on a daily basis anyway, so this won’t be too hard. This chicken makes will make your Sunday night– you just have to start it on Friday. More on that later.
  • Contrary to what you might think, a smaller chicken will work better. Judy recommends you shoot for a bird between 2.75-3.5lb instead of getting a big “roaster” which will be too lean and not be happy in the high heat we’ll be using. At the meat counter, ask for a “whole fryer” and you’ll be more likely to get a bird that will roast quickly, evenly and stay juicy. As always, I encourage you to shop responsibly for animal protein…
  • Pick a pan that’s just a bit bigger than your bird. For me, that’s a 10″ cast iron skillet that cost me around $20 but you might have a frying pan, tin pie plate… whatever works for you as long as there is no plastic involved– this baby’s going into a high heat oven.
  • The salting thing is *not* crazy. It will *not* dry out your bird, contrary to popular belief. Essentially, you’re brining or curing the meat. Giving the bird a couple of days in a salt rub helps the seasoning move all the way through the food (osmosis for the win!), helps to dissolve some of the proteins and other nasty tough stuff which is not good eats and makes the meat more uniformly moist and succulent (reverse osmosis for the win!).
  • When I say preheat the pan and dry the chicken well, I mean it. Take the time to let the pan preheat and be sure the chicken is dry to the touch before placing it in the pan. This will serve you well later on when it comes time to flip it. Hot pan + dry chicken = easy to flip bird without ripped skin.
  • If carving a chicken intimidates you, check out this video. It does take practice but really? It’s going to be delicious even if you totally botch the cutting of the thing.

Have I convinced you yet? You want to try this chicken. You need to try this chicken. You can absolutely cook this chicken and amaze your friends and family.

2012: the year you learn to roast a whole bird.

Zuni Roast Chicken

One small chicken, 2.75-3.5 pounds
small handful of herbs: thyme, marjoram, rosemary, sage
salt
black pepper

Seasoning the chicken

(1-3 days before serving. The bigger the bird, the more time this will take.)


Check out your chicken. If there’s a lump of fat inside of it, remove and discard it. Thoroughly dry the chicken with paper towels inside and out (this will help ensure it gets golden brown and delicious instead of steaming later). Place the chicken on a board with the cavity facing you. Slide a finger just under the skin but over the meat of each breast to make two little pockets. Very gently, do the same on each thigh, making a little pocket on the outside of the thickest part of each. Shove a sprig or two of the herb of your choice into each pocket, taking care not to rip the skin.

Wash your hands and then do the math: measure out 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt per pound of chicken. Place this salt in a small bowl near your board. Grind a good amount of black pepper into this small bowl (I used about a teaspoon, but I’m a pepper girl). Mix the salt and pepper together then season the chicken all over with the mix. Make sure to give the thick sections more salt than the skinny bits (wings, bony tips, etc.). Toss just a bit on the inside. When finished, twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders as if your bird were kickin’ back and relaxing poolside. Cover the bird loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate on the bottom shelf of the fridge.

Roasting the chicken:
Preheat the oven to 475. Preheat a shallow flameproof roasting pan/dish barely larger than the bird (or use a 10″ skillet with an all metal handle) over medium heat for a minute or two. Wipe the chicken really, really dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle. Well done, you.

Carefully, place the pan in the middle of the oven. Hang out and listen, it should sizzle and start to brown within 20 minutes or so (if not, raise the temperature bit by bit until it does).  If the chicken looks like it is charring or the fat starts to smoke, lower the oven temp by 25 degrees or so. After 30 minutes, turn the chicken over and roast for another 10-20 minutes. Then flip the chicken over again, breast side down, just to crisp it up for 5-10 minutes. Total process should take between 45-60 minutes.  When ready, remove the chicken and let it rest for a few minutes so the meat can become more tender and uniformly delicious while it cools. Cut and enjoy!

 

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Wherein I Gush About Girl and The Goat

My hair, my shirt, my jeans all smell like meat. Delicious, succulent, fragrant goat to be specific. And you guys? Goat is the shit.

One of my gifts from Justin this holiday season was a trip to Girl and the Goat, Stephanie Izard’s restaurant in Chicago. You might remember Steph from this little television program.  I’ve wanted to go for over a year now and Justin had to wait almost that long to secure a reservation for two. Just kidding. It was only 4 months. The menu is organized into three sections of small plates: veg, fish and meat. Plus there are daily specials centered around freshly baked bread and spreads, oysters and of course, the goat.

Our server, Andrea, coursed everything out beautifully and we never felt rushed. She was warm and personable but totally unobtrusive and didn’t blink an eye when I dragged out my giant (new!) (fancy!!) (brought tears to my eyes when I undwrapped it!!!) camera to snap a shot of every course. Well done, Andrea.

Buckle up because Ima gonna gush. Here’s the play by play:

Wood-fired Wiley Point oysters with horseradish, bacon and preserved lemon

I went 26 years without eating oysters and I plan on making up mightily for lost time. These were my first cooked oysters and they were perfect and hard to describe without keeping my head out of the gutter. Slippery, warm, briny… let’s just say it was very good for me.

 

Hiramasa crudo with crisp pork belly, chili aioli and caperberries

Crudo was a fresh, clean first course full of texture: rich fish, chewy pork belly, pop of caperberry, crispy croutons. Made my tongue fire on all cylinders. Speaking of tongue…

 

Crispy duck tongues with satsuma orange, roasted shiitakes, thai basil and crisp wontons

This was one of my favorites because it was so perfectly, seemingly effortlessly balanced. The duck tongues were crispy and so rich. Justin and I inhaled it and I barely remembered to snap a shot of it before we cleaned our plates. Don’t freak out about the tongues, you guys. You could go to Girl and the Goat and get pork ribs, or grilled chicken or pasta with sugo and I’m sure those dishes would all be delicious but you can get pork ribs, chicken and pasta with meat sauce at the Olive Garden, too. Be brave! Be adventurous! Send up a little gratitude to the 20 ducks that no longer quack! You won’t regret it. (Unless you’re a vegetarian and then I’d recommend the chickpea fritters or the pan fried shishito peppers.) Cheers!

 

Ham Frites with smoked tomato aioli and cheddar beer sauce

Oh, the ham fries. There are a lot of french fry variations out there in the gastropubs these days. It’s really too bad that these blow all of them out of the water. Imagine the thinnest, most crispy-on-the-outside-creamy-on-the-inside french fry you’ve ever had. Then give it a quick bath in pork fat and sprinkle it with housemade ham salt. (Andrea told me they dehydrate the ham in the wood oven then grate it into sea salt. I think we’ll be trying that out at home… ham salt for everyone!!). While you’re at it, you should probably dip those hot, porky fries in cheddar beer sauce. Then pop a Lipitor (or twelve). We picked at these for the remainder of the meal and I’d recommend that you ask them to be brought out at the start of yours.

 

Confit goat belly with bourbon butter, lobster, crab and fennel

This was one of the goat specials of the night. It was Justin’s favorite plate of the night and I don’t blame him. I need to figure out how to cook fennel this way because it was so soft and sweet without any of that harsh anise bite it so often carries when I do try to cook it down. And kids, goat belly is the new bacon. Get some.

We tried to recommend the goat belly to the nice, young couple sitting at the next table by explaining that it was basically the same cut as bacon but you know, in a goat instead of a pig. The girl replied, “Oh, I don’t eat bacon.” Well, obviously, we couldn’t let a comment like THAT go without a little detail. Apparently, this poor young thing eats plenty of pork, but NOT BACON because of “a religious thing.” Jesus wants you to eat bacon, honey. He told me so. Besides that, it’s GOAT. Jesus probably ate a lot of goat back in the day, too, by the way. But I digress…

My family was about as excited for my meal as I was. They’re waiting for all the details when I see them for dinner tonight. They urged me to take pictures so they can vicariously oogle the food porn. I took a copy of all the menus to make sure I get the details right (my nerddom knows no bounds!). I couldn’t go home to share my experience without having ordered this next plate. They’d never let me live it down. We ordered this for the greater good, I swear:

 

Wood oven roasted pig's face, sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, red wine-maple and potato stix

Allow me to reiterate in case that caption font size is too small: Wood roasted pig’s face. Have no fear, this dish does not consist of Babe staring up at you. This is basically the breakfast of my dreams: slabs of pork cheek and jowl, bathed in egg yolk, punctuated by crispy potato strings and zapped through with cilantro and wine-y maple syrup. We were instructed by the runner and Andrea to chop and smear and mess the whole pretty presentation up so that you get a mishmosh of everything in one bite. This dish is absolutely a must when you visit. Pig. Face. Don’t miss it.

We could’ve ordered oh… 4 more plates. Everything looked, sounded, smelled divine. Instead, we decided to peek at the dessert menu. The no-bacon evangelist and her boyfriend next to us recommended the chocolate-thai chili gelato with chocolate cake, peanut fluff, pomegranate and stout. Obviously, they could no longer be trusted. We chose this instead:

Blood orange sorbet, fennel pot de créme, spiced pecan cake, maple yogurt

No regrets here. It was perfect, clean and refreshing after a very rich meal. Every bite tasted a little different depending on the balance of the components.

To sum up, Girl and the Goat is officially my favorite restaurant in Chicago (with Chuy’s Chilam Balam coming in a very, very close second). I cannot recommend it highly enough. I can, however, advise that you plan FAR, FAR in advance if you’d like to go for dinner. I hear from Chicago friends that it can be easier to walk in for lunch but when we arrived for our 6:45pm reso on a Monday, the wait was 2 hours for two people. We overheard a couple ask to make a reservation for 12 and the host responded they were booked out through April. Go hungry, keep an open mind and try at least one cocktail.

If you don’t get the pig face, you’re dead to me.

Girl and the Goat
809 W. Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 492-6262

 

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