Whole-Roasted Cauliflower with Fried Capers and Brown Butter Breadcrumbs

whole roasted cauliflower with brown butter breadcrumbs

Last Friday, for the first time in months, Ben and I braved a dinner out with the children, an exercise that most often leaves us asking ourselves, “WHY?!” and swearing off future dining excursions with the children for life.

Much to our surprise, the dinner at Ali Baba in Troy, which began with a wood-fired, manta ray-sized, puffed, blistered and seed-speckled lavash, transfixed the children, keeping them mostly content throughout dinner, allowing us to shovel down our kebabs, smoky eggplant salads and pickled onions at a relatively civilized pace.

Inspired by our Ali Baba success, we joined friends Sunday evening at Ala Shanghai, where we ordered nearly everything on the menu — cold spicy cabbage, cucumber salad, fish soup, pork and leek dumplings, to name a few — and two dishes — scallion pancakes and fried rice — that again, along with the lazy Susan in the center of table, kept the children seated, happy and (mostly) quiet.

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Slow Cooker Flageolets, Gratinéed | Also, Bread Bowls

gratinéed beans

In the span of two weeks, I have managed to deplete a many-years-old supply of dried beans, freeing my pantry of half a dozen half-filled boxes and countless rubber band-bound bags (some holding mere tablespoons of beans). Yes, you guessed it, I have my slow cooker to thank for this small but very satisfying feat. The rebuilding has begun — just ordered more gigantes and flageolets — and it feels good.

What can I say, I’ve become a crockpot-for-beans evangelist. Here are a few things I’ve learned these past two weeks: [Read more…]

Slow Cooker Gigante Beans with Tomatoes and Pancetta

stewy slow-cooker gigante beans

In a recent Dinner, A Love Story post, Jenny Rosenstrach captured my exact experience and thoughts regarding crockpot cooking. In sum, despite seeing the appeal, she has not had great success.

I have owned a crockpot for 10 years — received one as a wedding gift — and every winter, I break it out once, only to make something good but not great. Let’s just say no recipe this past decade has left me drinking the crockpot Kool Aid.

Part of the issue for me is that often the recipes don’t feel easier. If a recipe calls for browning meat in one pan, then finishing it in another, that means I have two pans to clean, not one. And I don’t understand the crockpot recipes that call for canned beans — isn’t that the beauty of canned beans? That the long, slow cooking has already been done for you? I own a cookbook dedicated to crockpot cooking, which includes a recipe for poached eggs, which, start to finish, take 45 minutes. Why?

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Butternut Squash Lasagna | Thanksgiving in VT

slice of lasagna

Snow, dogs, a constant fire — I couldn’t have asked for anything more of Thanksgiving in Vermont.

But, as always, all of the VT treats — the Jasper Hill Farm cheeses, the Dakin Farm ham (with the ham sauce!), Uncle Wade’s waffles with Vermont maple syrup, Shed beer — did make we want to pack up and stay forever. I left dreaming about all of my aunt and mother’s cooking, from biscotti and koulourakia to grilled artic char and coconut-milk marinated cauliflower steaks.

Punch and paté (following this recipe to a T) were a hit but hands down, the hit of all hits was this butternut squash lasagna, a dish brought to Thanksgiving dinner by a vegetarian friend of my aunt and uncle’s. Having taken a peak inside the insulated carry tote (which is the coolest thing…Santa, take note), I had to ask for some details immediately. Kris, the friend, kindly obliged and described the basic process, brushing it all off as an old recipe from Gourmet, just something she and her mother had been making for years.

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Canal House Chicken with Preserved Lemon

chicken in pan

Remember those preserved lemons we made last fall? Well, I think I’ve found my favorite use for them yet: this five-ingredient chicken, a recipe which arrived two weeks ago in my mailbox — my real, outdoor mailbox — on a 4×6-inch recipe card.

Shortly after the card, one of three, arrived, I secured it to my fridge, and I made the recipe, chicken thighs with lemon from Canal House, a day later. And then I made it the next day and the next. I should know by now not to be so confounded when simple meets spectacular, but one bite of these thighs left me puzzled: How can this be? How can salt, pepper and preserved lemon alone produce something so tasty? Why have I never used this method — 30 minutes skin side down, 10 minutes skin side up — to cook thighs? How can such a simple method create the crispiest skin, the juiciest meat?

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Leftover Grain Bowl with Teriyaki Sauce, Quick-Pickled Carrots & Daikon and Soft-Boiled Eggs

wheat berry bowl

I had high hopes this week for posting about a two-bowl wonder, a baked mix of wheat berries and butternut squash topped with bacon and parmesan. Unfortunately, the steamed butternut squash disappeared in the mass of wheat berries, leaving us with an irresistible bacon and parmesan crust atop a heap of grains and mushy, tasteless squash.

We ate the top third then stashed the remainder in the fridge. The following evening seemed like a good time to get in on all of the “whole grain bowl” fun, to unite our leftovers with a few bright elements — some sort of pickle and a tangy sauce. We would top it all off with soft-boiled eggs and call dinner done. Before starting, I revisited Melissa Clark’s recent piece in the Times to make sure I had my boxes checked: whole grains (wheat berries!), greens (sautéed kale and steamed broccoli), some sort of pickle (yet to be determined), protein (eggs), dressing (yet to be determined). [Read more…]

Butternut Squash and Cider Soup served with Rosemary and Sage Flatbread

soup and bread

The trouble with the butternut squash soup I make again and again every winter is that it takes so much time: 45 minutes to roast the squash, 30 minutes to simmer it with the stock, and 15 minutes here and there for prepping. Although much of the time is hands off, I never feel I can whip it up on a weeknight.

So when I saw this recipe for butternut squash soup with cider and sour cream, which apparently could be “made in a flash,” a few things caught my eye: In step 1, onion and garlic simmer in a small amount of water — not butter or oil — for about five minutes. In step 2, the squash cubes steam in stock for 20 minutes. In step 3, the soup is puréed with apple cider and sour cream, and then it’s done. [Read more…]

Parsnip & Pear Soup | Also, How to be a Better/More Efficient Soup Maker This Winter

pear and parsnip soup

Let’s get right down to business: soup season has officially arrived, bringing with it bowls of warm, comforting goodness, smells that permeate the house, the nourishment we crave on chilly days, and blisters to our little, out-of-practice fingers.

Whenever I make soup, I immediately think back to my time at Fork, when I spent the better part of a year prepping carrots, parsnips, onions and celery, the four vegetables that went into every hot soup chef Thien made. Almost every other morning began with soup making, with the stovetop lined with cauldrons, with a constant sprint up and down the basement stairs, in and out of the walk-in, a large aluminum bowl in hand, hours of peeling and chopping before me. The blisters made haste, but soon calloused, making the work less painful, physically if not mentally.

So many soups require a lot of chopping, but the time dedicated to the process almost always pays off: quantities that feed a crowd often at little cost. Thien liked to remind me that soup was how restaurants made money.

OK, in an effort to make soup season go a little more smoothly, I’ve compiled a few thoughts below: [Read more…]

Crispy Eggplant Rounds & Eggplant Parmesan

crispy eggplant rounds

A few weeks ago, as I stood at the counter flouring, egg dipping, and breading two pounds of eggplant rounds, a little dolly screaming at my feet wanting nothing more than to be held at the height of this witching hour, I found myself asking “WHY?!” I know better than to make this sort of thing at this sort of hour. I shouldn’t be so stubborn. But a craving for eggplant parmesan left me inflexible, and I pushed on until crumbs and parmesan covered every slice, trying to stay composed through every piercing cry. Oiy.

But as soon as those rounds entered the oven, I relaxed. And this is the beauty of The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook eggplant parmesan recipe. Once the breading is done, the hard work is over — there is no standing at the oven, frying the eggplant in batch after batch. The Test Kitchen’s recipe calls for baking the eggplant on preheated baking sheets, a technique they developed to solve the oil-laden, pan-fried eggplant problem that leads to heavy, greasy eggplant parmesan. Oven-frying saves time to boot.

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Roasted Poblano, Onion, and Jack Quesadilla & A Favorite Drink

roasted poblano, onion & Jack quesadilla

I had one goal in mind when setting out to the farmers’ market this weekend: return with shishito peppers. I keep reading about them, and every time I do, I am reminded of a lovely dinner years ago at Casa Mono, where I sat at the bar with two friends, popping blistered, salty padrón peppers one after another, watching as the cooks worked with intense focus. Of all the delicious bites we sampled that evening, those charred peppers were the unanimous favorite. We ordered two plates.

I have been on the search ever since for padrón peppers and, more recently, shishito and fushimi peppers, which I understand are all similar — small, green and thin walled — and take well to high heat, fast cooking and showers of salt.

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