The Crispiest Spring Chicken

roasted chicken leg

A few weeks ago I mentioned I was reading The Dirty Life. Can we pretend we’re in book club for a moment? I want to share a passage:

First, here’s the background: Author Kristin Kimball left New York City to interview a young farmer named Mark, fell in love, and shortly thereafter started a new life with him on a farm near Lake Champlain. The Dirty Life chronicles their first year at Essex Farm, which currently provides food year-round for over 200 families.

“When we would talk about our future in private, I would ask Mark if he really thought we had a chance. Of course we had a chance, he’d say, and anyway, it didn’t matter if this venture failed. In his view, we were already a success, because we were doing something hard, and it was something that mattered to us. You don’t measure things like that with words like success or failure, he said. Satisfaction comes from trying hard things and then going on to the next hard thing, regardless of the outcome. What mattered was whether or not you were moving in a direction you thought was right. This sounded fishy to me.

This conversation played out many times, with me anxious, Mark calm, until once, as we sat together reviewing our expenses, I was almost in tears. I felt like we were teetering over an abyss. I wasn’t asking him to guarantee that we’d be rich. I just wanted him to assure me that we’d be solvent, that we’d be, as I put it, okay. Mark laughed. “What is the worst thing that could happen?” he asked. “We’re smart capable people. We live in the richest country in the world. There is food and shelter and kindness to spare. What in the world is there to be afraid of?”

I loved this. Isn’t it inspiring? Discuss.

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Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Orange & Chocolate | Fair Trade Giveaway

loaf of coffee cake

It took 32 years for me to start listening to my mother. I’m only just beginning to understand how annoying this must have been, only just appreciating how many gray hairs I may have caused, only just accepting how many wrinkles I may have induced.

The other day I asked Ella (my four-year old) to help me pick up a mess she created, and she said: “Um, you can just do it all by yourself.” I’ve read enough self-help parenting books to know that freaking out is not the appropriate reaction to this response, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to strangle her.

I have it in for me. Every time Ella yells: “No Mom, I’m telling you a question!” I think of my poor mother and all the times she offered advice only to receive pushback.

Why was it so hard for me to just say, “Yes! Of course! That’s a great idea!” every time my mother told me to “Enunciate!” or to “Eat [my] greens!” or to “Put [my] shoulders back!”?

Why couldn’t I have just said, “You’re right,” when she told me the best chickens come from her kosher market, the best lamb from Australia?

Why couldn’t I have just smiled when she told me not to frown?

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Chicken Tinga Tacos

tinga tacos

Do you know anyone who, upon seeing the Sriracha bottle on the dinner table, says: “That’s a good sign.”? Or who likes to enjoy a side of scrambled eggs with his hot sauce in the morning? Or who, when watching Rick Bayless make chilaquiles on the cooking channel nods his head and says, “Amen, brother, amen.”?

Well, if you do, tinga is something you should add to your repertoire. Made with only a handful of ingredients, tinga derives most of its flavor from chipotles in adobo sauce, which offer both smoke and heat. Traditionally, the dish begin by boiling a chicken, then pulling and shredding the meat from the carcass. Once the meat is off the bone, it stews with onions, chipotles, tomatoes and chicken stock. Chopped fresh cilantro finishes the dish.

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Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread & A Few Ideas for Mother’s Day

brunch, Provisions quilted placemats

A few weeks ago while searching for recipes online by Bea Ojakangas, the Scandinavian chef to whom Nigella Lawson credits the processor Danish pastry dough recipe, I stumbled upon a most delectable looking cinnamon pull-apart bread. Its creators, Lindsay and Bjork, had taken a class with Bea and learned how to make this “pulla,” which they described as “everything you love about cinnamon rolls in a pull-apart bread form.”

With that in mind, last Saturday, I made a batch of my favorite cinnamon roll dough, shaped it into a log as described on Pinch of Yum, and baked it for a few friends passing through town en route to an Easter gathering. The loaf of pulla stretched from corner to corner of the sheetpan, oozed with cinnamon and sugar upon baking, and required my largest cutting board for serving.

When our friends arrived, we tucked in immediately, each pulling at the nearest coil, spreading cream cheese icing over each bite, eating and talking and sipping coffee until not a crumb remained — it couldn’t have been more fun.

Have a wonderful weekend, Everyone.

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Campanelle with Hard-Boiled Eggs, Capers & Watercress

campanelle with hard-boiled egg, capers & watercress

The union of egg and noodle has long been celebrated: beaten eggs form the base of a creamy sauce in pasta carbonara; eggs scrambled with rice noodles are essential in Pad Thai; and poached or fried eggs cracked atop fresh pasta make an instant sauce for an impromptu, deeply satisfying dinner.

As much as I adore this pairing, I’d never thought to enter hard-boiled eggs into the equation until I spotted a recipe in the April Bon Appetit. The goal of the three succinct recipes tucked into the corners of this one page was to offer ideas for using up those colored eggs many of us find in our fridge this time of year. But the combination of hard-boiled eggs, capers and anchovies works so well together, you might find yourself — I have at least — boiling eggs even once you’ve depleted your stock.

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Kouign-Amann

kouign amann

Bon Appetit began running a column this month called The Project, in which they detail how to make involved dishes, ones that require ambition, energy, thought, dishes such as cassoulet or ramen or their debut project: kouign-amann, a buttery pastry from Brittany, France.

I love this idea. So often these days I am too focused on what’s easy, what’s familiar, what’s going to get dinner on the table fastest. I miss the days when I would come home with a rabbit — oh to be young! — and open up my favorite Sally Schneider cookbook to find an impossibly involved recipe for ragù, which I would make and then serve over homemade pappardelle — oh to be young! — even if it meant serving dinner at 10pm.

Today if I see more than five ingredients in a recipe, my eyes glaze over, I file it into the “perhaps-one-day” folder, and I move on to the “fast, easy, fresh” recipe.

I love the spirit of this BA column so much that I almost didn’t write this post. Because the thing is that I cheated. One glimpse of those flaky, buttery, caramelized kouign-amann, and I thought: I need those in my belly. Immediately.

And so I cheated. Because Nigella Lawson, with her food processor Danish pastry dough, has made me a cheater. I fell for her dough when I made cheese danishes with lemon-ricotta filling last spring; I fell in love with her dough when I used it to make cronuts last fall. Twenty years from now, I might just learn to laminate dough properly, but until then, whenever I see recipes calling for that butter block and that folded pastry dough and that laborious process, I will cheat. And I will not look back.

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Lemon-Ricotta Cheesecake

slice of lemon-ricotta cheesecake

Before making my mother’s lemon-ricotta cheesecake earlier this month, I hadn’t made a cheesecake in years. And I’m not sure why — it is the easiest dessert to make; it can be made a day in advance; it feeds many people; and people generally love it, especially this one, made with both ricotta and mascarpone, both lemon juice and zest.

A simple cookie crumb dusting of the pan allows this cheesecake to come together in no time, and its silky texture somehow tastes both rich and light at the same time. A small slice will suffice though it’s nearly impossible to resist seconds.

I hope all of your holiday preparations are going well, Everyone.

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Broiled Lamb Chops with Nigella’s Mint Sauce

broiled lamb chops

Nigella Lawson’s mint sauce first appeared on our Easter table in 2003, the same year the Easter Egg Nest Cake made its debut, both recipes having appeared in the New York Times earlier that week.

Unlike the Easter Egg Nest cake, which we loved — really, we did — the mint sauce returned to the table every following Easter, the fresh combination of mint and parsley, olive oil and vinegar, capers and cornichons the perfect accompaniment to lamb no matter the preparation — roasted racks, braised shanks, broiled meatballs, pan-seared chops.

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Spring Wheat Berry Salad

spring wheat berry salad

About this time last year, I learned how to properly cook quinoa, a revelation that not only gave the ancient grain a permanent spot in my pantry, but also inspired a number of grain salads I made all summer long.

While the ingredients in each salad varied from radishes and peas to cherry tomatoes and cucumbers to roasted squash and wilted mustard greens, the formula was always the same: something fresh, something crunchy, something spicy, something sweet. The dressing was simple too: extra-virgin olive oil and minced red onions macerated in vinegar or lemon juice. Cheese never entered the equation, nor was it missed.

Here, wheat berries and walnuts combine with asparagus and radishes in an addictive, chewy, crunchy, colorful combination, a simple salad to herald the arrival of spring, which at last appears to be here to stay.

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