Sunday, December 7, 2014

Holiday Brussels Sprout Salad

pomegranate // walnut // farmer's cheese // maple-mustard vinaigrette
Two weeks ago , Garrett and I celebrated our nine-year anniversary in the same fashion as the last six years, by going to Le Bouchon, my favorite French Bistro.  I absolutely love the atmosphere of the place, as it generally feels more French than most joints in France.  Meaning you're rubbing up against strangers and may at any moment cause the waiters to drop their trays on the parties packed between tables waiting for their own.  Generally we order the same staples every time: onion soup and cassoulet along with whatever rotating appetizers and salads look good.  We opted for the automne salad this time, and it was good enough to try and replicate at home.

The menu described it as "shaved brussels sprouts, fromage blanc, pomegranate, lemon-honey vinaigrette," but there were definitely some mystery ingredients in this hearty starter.  Positively identifying both mint and walnuts, I also had a hunch the dressing included mustard...but I guess I'll never know.  What I do know is that my homemade version is not exact, but still delicious.  For one, I was out of honey and found maple syrup not only a tasty, but festive substitution for the holidays.  Second, I had never encountered the type of "fromage blanc" nestled underneath the salad in any grocery, so went with the most mild and creamy cheese I could find, Lifeway Old Fashioned Probiotic Farmer Cheese.  I am now completely obsessed with this farmer's cheese and love how it pairs so nicely with sweet honeys and jams (I spread it on my English Muffins with fig-orange jam every morning).  It adds such a nice balance to this salad, as the mild richness counters the sweetness of the dressing and tang of the pomegranate.

In both its looks and taste, this salad would be wonderful for a holiday meal.  Since I recommend dressing the salad ahead of time and letting the flavors mingle for hours, it would be easy to prepare and serve to guests.  Dressed (and it should be well-dressed), it is even delicious and crisp after an overnight in the fridge.  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Short Rib Boeuf Bourguignon Chili

 short rib BOEUF BOURGUIGNON chili // un ragoût TEX-MEXICAIN

Last weekend, I took part in my first ever chili cook-off.  My first cooking competition ever, really.  Garrett's the big chili maker between the two of us, but I quickly commandeered the process as soon as my wheels started turning in the direction of frenchifying the thing.  This didn't start as a boeuf bourguignon fusion project, and, in fact, I've never tried to make boeuf bourguignon, so I had no frame of reference for the dish besides a general understanding that it was beef braised in alcohol.  It was only after the fact that I realized by adding Tex-Mex ingredients to red wine braised beef we had concocted something Tex-Mexicaine.

So before I tell you more, let's start with a few honest confessions.  First, the chili took second place.  Tied for second place.  As an excuse, the winning chili was a really well done, but traditional recipe and I think when the masses speak, they speak for tradition.   Second, if you've never braised you ought to know it takes hours, so this is by no means your everyday chili.  But if you take it to your next chili cook-off and get good results, please, let me know.  Third, and again, if you've never braised before, prepare for the fat.  You can really remove quite a bit of the fat at the end of the cooking process, but you're going to be dealing with a lot of it.  And it's going to be delicious, as a result.

Back to the flavor, because despite those confessions I think this recipe is awesome and worth the effort.  The base flavor is smoky, and it would be worth it to go to a good butcher to get thick cut smoked bacon (in other words, avoid the packaged bacon at the grocery store).  In the next layer the red wine comes through, so make sure to use a French pinot noir (this does not need to be an expensive bottle, but does need to be French).  Finally, right in at the top you get the Mexican ingredients - the poblano, jalapeño, and spices.  Of course, the end result is rich with all that smoky winey-ness, so top it with freshly chopped onions and some cheese, but no need for sour cream.  

If you have the time, patience, and wherewithal, give it a try and tell me what you think.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Acorn Squash with Mexican Braised Chicken & Orzo Salad

roasted ACORN SQUASH // MEXICAN braised chicken & ORZO salad

I had a really poignant post in the works about the commercialization of fall and pumpkin spice lattes, etc., but I just deleted it all.  I mean, it was good stuff about objectification that occurs in market-oriented capitalism, the state of "basic" white women, the substitution of things for nuanced emotions, and all that, but figured you probably just wanted the quick stuff about the food.  It's been way over a year that I've been blogging recipes, and still haven't figured out what the hell to write in these little blurbs. 

There's no real inspiration here besides, just, fall.  I had an acorn squash around, because you see them in the store and you just have to buy one.  You're not going to not put that in your cart.  So I had one, I baked it, and I filled it with something hearty.  It was tasty.  It looks pretty, too.  Enjoy.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Cheesy Apple Spice Noodle Kugel

CHEESY APPLE SPICE noodle KUGEL // a jewish fall casserole
Better late than never. That's what they say. And, I guess, sometimes they're wrong.  

In this case, they're very right.

The Jewish High Holidays may have come and gone, but there's always room for kugel on your Thanksgiving table, no matter your class or creed.  My mission is to make kugel a seasonal dish for the masses, and I declare it "Kugel Season." (And it's kuh-guhl, not koogle).  There's really no better way to celebrate the coming of the fall chill, and the dusting off of your post-holiday meal sweatpants.  I believe last year I fully explained how nonsensical and genius this "casserole" is, but let's do a recap: 

Mac & Cheese 
Graham Cracker Crust Cheesecake 

It's math.

Add to that formula the classic fall favorite, spiced apples, and you're going to be the Einstein of your holiday feasting. If you're just jumping on the pumpkin spiced everything bandwagon, you can check out last year's modification: Pumpkin Spice Noodle Kugel.  But, pumpkin spice is so 5774.

And, to be honest, I liked this apple spice version better than last year's pumpkin experiment.  If you're into apple pies that feature cheese, you're going to be into this.  Plus, I thought the apples did a great job of cutting the very rich and sweet cheesy noodle custard filling (whereas the pumpkin enhanced both).  Another modification to last year - and to my Aunt Bean's original recipe - was to cut out the center layer of graham cracker crust. I did this completely by accident, immediately thinking "YOM DISASTER 5775 IS GOING TO BE AWFUL THIS IS WORSE THAN THE FACT THAT I'M NOT EVEN TRYING TO FAST" but really preferred the end result.  It also cut back just a little on the immediate need for sweatpants after consuming.

May 5775 be the year of happy accidents, and many more kugels.  But, truly, if you're new to the kugel concept, or if you're just not from the South or Midwest, don't be turned off by the prospects of making this ten-pound dish of guilty pleasure.  Nothing rivals kugel, and you won't know it until you try it.  The point is to celebrate the sweetness of life from time to time, especially on holidays with family and friends.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Moroccan Braised Chicken with Apricots and Citrus Couscous

MOROCCAN braised chicken with APRICOTS // ORANGE ZEST couscous 

Each week I revisit my list of travel-inspired dishes I want to recreate to post on the blog with some witty/inspired story behind them.  It includes Basque salted cod pintxos, Turkish simit, Peruvian lomo saltado, and French pork rillettes smeared across a tartine and topped with little gherkins, to name a few.  The beautiful images of food are paired with even prettier pictures I dig off of my external hard drive, exporting all the readers to a different place and time (like 2009, or something) where life is always simple and food is always good.

And then I just make another Moroccan dish instead.

While I actually have been to Morocco (truly one of my favorite places and I break a little inside thinking I might never see it again), I never had a dish like this when I was there.  But, instead of this being a dish tied to rosy memories of exotic locations, it's tied to one of those memories which triggers a visceral nose-scrunching embarrassment - the surprise party for my 30th birthday that I handled poorly, to say the least.  While the birthday girl was not very gracious, the food was delicious and I'm glad I walked away with this recipe to make 6+ months later.

I guess Moroccan is a frequent go-to cuisine for me because it combines the hearty warmth of dishes like a Mexican posole or Thai noodle with the flavor profile of the Middle East.  In general, anything that combines braising and warming spices is a win for me.  In many ways this dish is perfect for fall in that it combines braised, tender meat with citrus and spices you might find in Western seasonal meals.  It's also a quicker, less spice-intensive version of a North African tagine, and probably would be fantastic with the addition of Moroccan preserved lemons.  If you've just been looking to take your side dish game up a notch, the orange zest couscous is a good one to add to your repertoire.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thai Basil Pork with Coconut Rice

Between the months of August and September my life usually involves a significant amount of limbo, caught between one travel cycle and the next.  There are school years and fiscal cycles, business quarters and one's standard Gregorian calendar year (or lunar calendar, if you prefer), but I measure my time in journeys and the time spent waiting in between.  But, August and September I spend wondering, with some anxiety, if another year will be measured out in global distances.  Only this year, I was nearly quite certain it would not.  For one, Bree (my travel sidekick) is having a baby!  Garrett (my backup travel sidekick) has a new job!  And, I had settled on retiring my days of travel with students.  It was looking like my Labor Day weekend in Milwaukee would be the last summer excursion for a while.  What a way to end a era.

I knew this day would come.  When travel happened, as for most, as a vacation instead of a lifestyle.  For most, travel as a lifestyle is unsustainable.

But then I sort of came to my senses, remembered my priorities, and broadened my perspective a bit.  For one, I have a little getaway to Mexico scheduled this winter for a wedding.  Two, I'm likely New York City bound for spring break to meet Bree's little person.  And, three, I pulled a Michael Jordan and came out of my briefly self-imposed student travel retirement, deciding to go for another AP Euro trip.  Our planned itinerary won't be taking me anywhere new, but at least I can get my Paris fix for a 7th year in a row (obnoxiously fortunate, as I am) and give London another fair shot.  None of it is quite the same as living out of a dirty backpack and walking the world until your feet bleed, but it's closer to the road than home.

Of course, I haven't yet written on my experience traveling solo last summer.  For now, I'll sum it up by saying that it's definitely on the table.

And, of course, Thai Basil Pork is also on the table this week.  First school year cold came earlier than usual this year, and luckily passed quicker than usual, requiring some good sinus-clearing spice.  I've also become obsessed with cooking rice in coconut milk - a great pairing for any spicy topping and a good alternative if you like coconut milk-based soups.  If you're harvesting your home gardens before the first big chill, it's a great opportunity to use up that basil (Italian would probably work just fine, as well).