Red-cooked pork belly

I’ve made a recipe similar to this red-cooked pork belly before, so I’ll give you a tip: make this one instead.  While I loved the soupy-version from The River Cottage Meat Book, it lacked the texture and the intensity that this version has.  This version, adapted from both the RCMB and from a post on the wonderful blog, the Red Cook, is flavored with anise, ginger, and orange.  The belly meat is caramelized and the surrounding sauce turns syrupy and thick, perfect for coating fluffy white rice.

Now, there’s about a gahzillion versions of red-cooked pork belly and I’m in no way claiming any authority.  As an Asian-style cook, I’m amateur at best, and being that I’ve never had red-cooked pork belly at a Chinese restaurant (why, oh why do we not see this on Chinese menus in America), I don’t have much to base my recipe off of.  But it’s mouth-wateringly delicious and that’s enough for me (and you, I hope.)

The most important difference between my first pork belly recipe and this one is caramelization.  Because of the layer of fat on the pork belly, it tastes best after a quick rendering on high heat, browning the the top of the fat and all the sides, and then adding the flavorings, especially the orange peel, to quickly caramelize too, before adding any liquid.  Then as soon as you put in the liquid, the rendered fat and browned up bits will incorporate and begin to thicken and create the sauce.  With the heat lowered, you allow the pork to cook and everything to meld together for a few hours, the liquid reducing a little.  I add a bit of cornstarch, mixed first with water to create a slurry, to the liquid when it’s close to done, to thicken it up more (and because I love the taste of cornstarch-thickened sauces.)

It just so happens that I returned to the Red Cook’s blog today and saw this post, where Kian revisited his first red-cooked pork belly recipe and came to the conclusion that it’s better to boil the pork belly before beginning the recipe.  While I did this on my first pork belly try, I didn’t this time and now I’m banging my head against the wall—wondering how good it could have been with this step (could it have been better? My head might explode.)  Do whatever you like, it will still be great without the par-boiling, but I’m surely going on Kian’s word next time and adding the extra step.  The rest of my recipe, however, will remain untouched; I don’t think my head could handle anything more delicious.

Red-cooked Pork Belly

adapted from River Cottage Meat Book and The Red Cook

2 lb. pork belly meat cut into two inch cubes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 bunch scallions, coarsely chopped
3 whole star anise
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
peel from 1/2 orange
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine
water to almost cover

1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with tablespoon water, to make a slurry

scallions and cilantro for garnish
white rice

In a 4-6 quart dutch oven or pot, melt sugar into oil over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until sugar turns a deep brown color. Put the pork belly pieces in the pot and brown them on all sides, caramelizing, about 10 minutes.

Add the star anise, ginger, orange peel. Cook for another 2 minutes and then add dark soy sauce, wine and water into the pot. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat. Cook for about 1 hour . Remove the cover and cook for another hour. Add cornstarch slurry and turn up the heat to medium. Cook the meat for another 10 minutes until the sauce reduces to a smooth consistency.

Serve with white rice and scallions and cilantro for garnish. Try and save some for leftovers, mixed together in a Tupperware. The rice will be to die for.

Braised asparagus.

I have no idea how to plan my wedding.  I don’t even know where to start. I don’t know when I’d like to have it, even, and Jim foresees a wedding a bit farther in our futures than I do; though I’m not, honestly, even sure of that—I’m not sure that I don’t want to have a long engagement, except for the nervous but-does-that-leave-enough-wiggle room-in-my-engaged, married for a handful of years before having kids-life plan? and I’m not a life planner. I don’t even know that I want kids.

Getting engaged makes me feel ridiculously ill-prepared for adult life and I’m honestly running on the knowledge of things I’ve seen on TV and the ability to stick fingers in my ears, clamp my eyes shut, and hum until it all goes away.

Though I only feel that way when I start wedding planning; when my heart starts beating a little bit too hard, and I begin to sweat.  Because I can go all day thinking about the food and the fun we’ll have but the logistics, I’m not ready for them yet.  So for now, I’ll stick to braised asparagus and that warm, comforting feeling that I’m a fiancée who will be able to make a damn-good dinner for her husband, even if she needs to stick fingers in her ears, clamp her eyes shut, and hum over everything else.

Braised asparagus can surely comfort and it’s especially good for these cold spring days we’ve been having, when braised asparagus with slices of gruyère is much more appropriate than quickly blanched stalks with lemon.  By braising, you get all of that deliciously woodsy asparagus flavor, it’s just a little quieter, sleepy maybe.  The dark green color is a good indication of the taste—darker than quickly cooked asparagus, less biting but deeper too.  And really, really good.  Good enough to make me feel a little weepy and happy that I have some braised asparagus around to give me a warm, green hug.  (Though nothing beats a hug from my fiancé.)

Braised Asparagus with Gruyère Cheese

serves 2-4

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 big shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup water
  • salt, pepper
  • gruyère cheese
  • parsley, tarragon, basil, or mint, optional

Trim asparagus, peeling the ends if they are large stalks.  Mince shallot and garlic together.

Heat butter in a pan with a lid over medium-high heat, add shallot mixture and cook for a minute, until they are softened.  Add asparagus, water, and season with salt and pepper then cover pan with lid.  Cook until asparagus are very tender, 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice gruyère very thinly, using a cheese slicer or y-shaped vegetable peeler if you have one.  Chop herb or your choice, if using.

When asparagus is tender, transfer to a plate, pour remaining shallots and sauce over, and arrange cheese slices on top.  Season with herbs, salt, and pepper to taste.

Chicken artichoke stew.

I’ve never met a vegetable more frustrating than the artichoke.  You spend too much time on them, getting poked by little pricks in doing so, risking slicing off your palm with your sharpest knife, and possibly (if you are as clumsy as me) peeling off a fingernail or two with your peeler.  All for a teeny tiny little stub.

But damn it if that stub aint worth it.  I’ve never met a vegetable more frustrating that the artichoke but I’m also hard-pressed to name one more complex and delicious.  The texture of a cooked artichoke is like a cross between a squash and an avocado and the flavor is intensely earthy and bold; it leaves a clean, mellow taste on your tongue and, because of a compound called cynarin, makes anything you eat with it taste a touch sweeter—not good when pairing with expensive wine, but fabulous for sauteing with garlic.

Most of the time, I like to drop prepped artichokes in a bowl of lime-water so that their color stays as bright as possible.  I usually find that lemon-water will overpower the flavor of artichokes but lime won’t interfere.  I would’ve loved to show you a video of how to prep the artichokes, but thought I would save you from the barage of bad language and mini-tanrums.  For a great, frustratingly calm slide-show, click here.

I used hot-house tomatoes, peeled and seeded, because canned tomatoes would be too sweet for the sweetening effect of artichokes, and a whole chicken cut into eight pieces (you can have the butcher do this for you instead of buying chicken pieces, you get a much better quality buying whole).  Past all the prep work, this dish is simple as pie (simpler, even): throw everything in a pot with some wine and then have a glass while you wait for your fabulous dinner.

A dinner that will be amazingly good, too; one that transports you to another place, an Italian countryside maybe, where you eat while the wind whips at your hair and the wine intoxicates you.  One where you feel no embarrassment at sucking the chicken bones dry, one where that is considered flattering.  One where, even, there’s a nice man playing footsy with you under the table while you give him your come-hither eyes as you slop up the sauce with some warm, crusty bread.

Artichoke and Chicken Stew

adapted from Bon Appetit, April 1998

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces, preferably farm-raised
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 6 medium artichokes, trimmed, halved, chokes removed 
  • 3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped, preferably hot-house unless in-season
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until golden, about 8 minutes. Transfer onions to bowl.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add to pot and cook until golden on all sides, about 10 minutes. Pour off excess fat from pot. Sprinkle flour over chicken in pot; turn chicken over. Cook until flour browns lightly, about 2 minutes. Add sautéed onions, white wine and garlic to chicken. Reduce heat; simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Drain artichoke halves. Add to chicken. Add tomatoes and broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through and artichokes are tender, about 30 minutes. Spoon off any fat from surface of stew. Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken and artichokes to large platter; tent with foil. Boil sauce in pot until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over chicken and artichokes.

Celery Root and Okra Dal.

I’ve been hiding a recipe from you.  This is my second year of making it too, and I’ve made it more times than I can remember.  Dal.  Or I suppose that’s what it is, though I’m a real amateur at Indian cooking and I’ve never had an aficionado give me the thumbs up on whether this constitutes a real dal.

I’m not sure it’s authentic. I’m slowly turning away from the pursuit of authenticity, anyway.  I know I love this celery root and okra dal and that’s enough for me.  And I know that celery root is the star here, whether it belongs or not; it’s the reason why everyone I serve this to loves it so much.  It’s less bracing than celery stalks, brighter and fresher tasting—which is a lot to say, since it’s stewed for quite a while.  Sitting in a bowl with earthy, dense lentils, sticky okra, and cooked-down tomatoes, a fresh, bright component like celery root really does a lot.

Which is not to say the other players don’t matter.  If celery root is Michael Jordan, then okra is Scottie Pippen (Jim just gave me that metaphor, and I’m trusting him on it.)  If okra is Scottie Pippen, then the tomatoes are a player that none of us remember but who was actually quite a lot of help to the team.  Red lentils also made a few baskets.  Even the mire-poix of onions, peppers, and carrots can play a good defense.  I’ve taken this metaphor too far.

But you know what I’m saying.  My dal is the perfect balance, at least in my eyes.  Spicy, filling, a touch sweet, bright, with a lovely scent of garam masala.  Perfect on its own atop basmati rice.  Perfecter with a fried egg on top.  Great for vegetarians, but you’d be downright dumb not to serve this to anyone who likes food.

I like to slice up my okra—which is a bit of a slimy mess—and combine them in a bowl with diced tomatoes, some spices and white vinegar, and after it sits for 15-20 minutes, add it to the dal.  Pressed for time or energy, though, you could just add the okra and tomatoes straight to the dal with a splash of vinegar.

Celery Root and Okra Dal

Season to your tastes at the end.  Add more spices, more jalapeno, some hot sauce, whatever suits you.  The good part of throwing authenticity to the wind is you never need to sacrifice your tastes.

  • 3 tablespoons ghee, butter, or olive oil (or a combination)
  • 1 celery root, diced
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 1/2 cups red lentils, washed and picked over
  • 6 cups water or vegetable stock (1 cube vegetable boullion if using water)
  • 1/2 pound okra, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3-4 small hothouse tomatoes, diced
  • cilantro

Heat ghee, butter, or oil in 6 quart dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat.  Once melted, add celery root, onions, green pepper, carrots, jalapeno, and garlic.  Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until softening and beginning to brown.  Add garam masala, salt, and cumin and cook a few minutes more, stirring.  Add red lentils, stirring to mix, and then the water or stock.  Lower heat and cook, halfway covered, for about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, add okra and tomatoes.  Mix in garam masala, paprika, vinegar, and sugar.  Let marinate in the fridge until the lentils are cooked.

When lentils are done to your liking, add okra mixture and heat through.  Serve on basmati rice with lots of cilantro, a drizzle of olive oil, and maybe a fried egg on top.  Since it gets better with age, try to leave some leftovers for lunch.

Butterscotch pudding.

I’m not sure why I’m in love with butterscotch pudding.  There’s the deliciousness, there’s that, but I thinks there’s something more to it.  I’m drawn to butterscotch pudding, I feel it in my soul.  It’s as if I grew up with the fondest memories of butterscotch pudding, which I hardly ever had (don’t remember ever having.)  Maybe I wish I did.  Maybe it’s those Werther Original’s commercials, where the old man shares a Werther’s with his grandson, off in his own little world of memory and happiness.

And I’m not sure I even love the taste; good as it is—sweet, buttery—it’s almost too much.  I feel almost too much like a kid eating it.  With some whipped cream on top, a good blanket to snuggle into, and a good book to read, it’s almost too sweet, too much, this butterscotch pudding.

Which isn’t to say your shouldn’t try it.  Especially with a few big spoonfuls of lightly whipped cream. Especially if you have fond memories of butterscotch—real or televisionary—that you’d like to revisit.  You don’t need to add whiskey into it—the origin of the scotch part of the word butterscotch is murky—but if you happen to have a bottle of Balvenie 10, you’d be crazy not to use it.  The spicy, vanilla notes of this scotch were simply made for brown sugar and butter.  It adds a hint of warmth, an extra jolt of comfort.  Whatever you do though, make sure you have the whipped cream, the blanket and a comfy couch, and preferably a good book.  Maybe even a tumbler filled with whiskey on the side table, like I did, to, you know, remind myself that I’m all grown up.

Butterscotch Pudding

adapted from Gourmet

  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of non-peaty scotch-whiskey
  • lightly sweetened whipped cream

Whisk together brown sugar, cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp salt in a heavy medium saucepan, then whisk in milk and cream. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently, then boil, whisking, 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, vanilla, and scotch. Pour into a bowl, then cover surface with buttered wax paper and chill until cold, at least 1 1/2 hours.

Adzuki, I’m so glad I ate you.

I’m sure you’ve all been in this situation.  You go to the market.  You see something new and exciting you’ve never eaten.  You buy it, sure that you’ll go home and promptly find exactly what to do with it.  And then you do go home, throw it onto your bean shelf in the bedroom (you all don’t have those? …Weird) and then promptly forget about it.

But thank goodness for the internet, specifically the group of uber-talented, delicious people who write food blogs. Like constant motivation, the food blog world weekly slaps me about the head and reminds me to get in the kitchen.  And it daily (hourly!) lends me ideas.  Heidi from 101 Cookbooks recently posted an adzuki bean and butternut squash soup and I remembered I had unused adzuki beans on my bean shelf in the bedroom (yes, I’m totally crazy and have no design skills.)  I’d imagined they would go in a soup when I bought them but of course forgot everything by the time I got home.  But now here was the perfect soup, on my screen.

It’s got lots of butternut squash and just enough chipotle to make you sweat.  Onions and tomatoes and 6 cloves of garlic.  And ground cinnamon, of which you’d hardly know it was there, but would miss it if left out.  I added some kale because I had some.  A little cumin because I love some.  [And meatballs because we’d been at the butcher and who doesn’t leave their favorite butcher without some ground meat?  Sadly, though, the soup was made and photographed the day before, sans meatballs, and I was too hungry the next day to stop and do anything other than eat my meal as soon as it was done.  Another time, maybe. And you don’t need the meatballs, anyway, I loved it just the same without.]

It was spicy and a little sweet and wholesome and comforting and whoo-damn it was good.  Jim deemed it the best soup we’ve ever made, and I was hard-pressed to disagree.  Adzuki, I’m so glad I (finally) ate you.

Adzuki Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

serves 6-8, adapted from 101 Cookbooks

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 generous teaspoons finely chopped chipotle pepper (from can, or rehydrated from dried chile)
  • 2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
  • 2 medium-large onions
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 5 – 6 cups water
  • 5 whole canned tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch lacinato kale
  • 4 cups cooked or canned adzuki beans
  • chopped cilantro for serving

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the cinnamon, coriander, chipotle and salt and saute for a minute or two – until aromatic. Add the onions and saute for about 10 minutes, until they are soft and beginning to brown.  Add the garlic and butternut squash and cook for another 5 minutes. Add 5 cups of water. Increase the heat to bring to a boil, and once boiling, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the squash begins to soften, 15-20 minutes or so.

Once the squash has softened, break up some pieces with the back of your spoon (it should be soft enough for you to do this relatively easily). Add the tomatoes, and cook a couple more minutes before adding the kale and beans. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and the cilantro.
Heidi’s recipe was adapted from Jae Steele’s Get It Ripe: A Fresh Take on Vegan Cooking and Living (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2008)

Birthday belly.

Jim turned 25 last Monday.  His birthday request was short and specific: cook him the pork belly we ate at Resto.  He didn’t care what else was served, or even who was there; he just wanted that belly—in all it’s maple-and-lime, turnips on the side, decadently sauced goodness.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have a recipe.  It wasn’t on the restaurant’s website.  Nothing came back when I searched “maple and lime pork belly”.  The only thing I was sure of was the kimchi soubise—pretty self-explanatory: soubise is a bechamel with pureed onions in it, so kimchi soubise would substitute kimchi for the onions.  I also knew there were turnips and green onions involved.  But nada on the cooking methods, well, other than the fact that the waiter said the belly was glazed.

[And before you go gasping Bechamel! On pork belly?! let me explain. You don’t need a lot. And it was so good. It clung to the fried fat, yes, the layer of pan-fried fat on the pork belly, and made it even creamier and smoother and delicious-y-er. And it was his birthday. And we were celebrating. (Not that we won’t make it again – we will. Celebration or no. Because it was that good.)]

So, I started off with what I knew.  I put the pork belly, fat side down, in an enameled dutch oven and rendered for 25-30 minutes.  This is where, if you’ve never rendered the fat of a pork belly, you have to be brave.  You’ll be sure that the meat is burning, that you’ve got to flip it over, or that the whole thing will overcook.  It won’t (well, if it really, really, really seems to be burning, it probably is).  If you look up to my pork, you’ll see the blackness of it—and that’s the way I like it.  After it rendered I poured off the fat, sauteed an onion, and put the pork belly back in the pot, fat side up now, with a few glugs of maple, the juice of a lime, and a couple pieces of ginger.  I added water to three-quarters up the side of the belly and prayed for the best during the three hours that it braised.

Then I made the soubise, with unhomogenized grass-fed milk.  If you haven’t used this stuff for white-sauce making, please, drop  your laptop and leave the house.  Go to the nearest Whole Foods, or organic food store, no matter how far it may be, and buy some.  Then get yourself home straightaway and make a bechamel, it will be thicker, creamier, and saucier than anything you’ve made with pasteurized milk.  You don’t need to put it on anything, eat it from the spoon.  (And then please come back here because I haven’t finished yet.)

Finally, when the pork was tender and falling apart, I sliced it thickly and put it into a nonstick pan with diced turnips.  I let it fry away—rendering more fat, browning, just reaching black—until both the pork belly and the turnips were charred and fried and unimaginably good.  It was tough, but I made it all onto a plate, covered it with the soubise and green onions and ever (I don’t know where I found the willpower) took a few photos.

And we celebrated Jim’s quarter century.  It was everything he could want in a birthday dish.  And, if I do say so myself (and Jim says too!!), better than Resto’s.

Pork Belly with Turnips, Kimchi Soubise, and Green Onions

  • 1 ½ pound pork belly
  • 1 onion, diced
  • ¼ cup maple syrup, plus 1 tablespoon
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 1-inch piece ginger, sliced
  • ½ cup kimchi, chopped or pureed a bit
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 ¼ cups unhomogenized whole milk
  • 5-6 medium sized turnips, peeled and diced
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced
  • salt and pepper

Score the fat side of the pork belly in a crosshatch pattern.  In a hot pan, place the pork belly fat side down over medium-high heat and render the fat for 25-30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove pork belly and drain off all but 1 teaspoon of the fat.  Put pan back on the heat.  Add onions and saute for a few minutes.  Add maple, lime juice (reserving zest) and ginger.  Add pork belly.  Add enough water to reach halfway to three-quarters up the side of the belly.  Cover and move to oven.  Cook for 3 and a half hours, uncovering when you have about an hour to go.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan.  Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don’t let it brown — about 2 minutes.  Add the hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil.  Add kimchi puree to taste and cook a bit longer.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Remove pork belly from pot.  Slice thickly.  In a nonstick fry pan over medium-high heat, add a few spoonfuls of the liquid from the pork belly’s pot.  Add the turnips, and saute for a minute or two.  Add the pork belly slices and leave in place in the pan for 5 minutes, moving the turnips around every 30 seconds or so.  Flip the pork belly slices and let the other sides brown for 5 minutes.  Remove slices to a plate, frying up the turnips in the rendered fat a but longer, until they are very brown.  Remove turnips to plate.  Drizzle warmed kimchi soubise over pork belly and sprinkle with green onions.  Serve hot with crisp, cold beers.

Comfort food #2.

Last post, I gave you vanilla, so today is comfort food #2: roast chicken.  Specifically, roast chicken with buttery gold potatoes, cremini mushrooms, and slab bacon.  Like a warm blanket on a snowy night.

If you’ve never roasted a naturally-raised, organic-fed chicken before, you don’t know what you’re missing.  Unlike the bland, big-breasted counterparts of the Purdue variety, organic or natural chicken (preferably from a local farm, though I know I’m pushin’ it) isn’t bred solely for its breasts—which leaves the chicken unhappy and anxiety-ridden throughout her life, most of the times unable to walk on her overburdened legs.  Because an animal’s mental state has more to do with how tasty the meat is than how you cook it, happy animals yield well-flavored, moist meat, while factory one easily, almost unavoidably dry out.

If you are looking to switch to farm-raised chickens, you’ll need to know how to roast.  Most chickens that are raised humanely, at local farms (or in your backyard), are only profitable if sold whole.  And while it’s a good idea to buy in bulk and break down some into packages of thighs, breasts, and legs for later, I hardly ever think that far in advance.  Since I am lucky enough to live down the road from a great chicken farm, I just drop in and pick one up for the night’s dinner.

So I’ve fallen in love with roast chickens.  A 3.5 pound bird is perfect for two lovebir—erm, people—and could even do for a family of three. A cinch to put together, leaving time to clean up while it’s in the oven; a dinner that invites after-dinner canoodling, or comfy family time.  A Sunday roast dinner even, especially when it’s cold and snowy outside.

This roast chicken, cooked atop a bed of cremini mushrooms, bacon, and gold potatoes, is my favorite roast to date.  Since the new year, Jim and I have made it again and again; it’s our go-to comfort dish.  It’s not too bad for you—just bad enough really—while still tasting full and homey and lovely. The creminis add a down-home foresty feeling, the potatoes are creamy inside and crisp out, and the bacon warrants time spent fishing out each piece.  Because of all the accoutrements, this roast could certainly feed 3 (dare I say 4), though there might be a fight for the oysters. On New Year’s Day, Jim and I made this dish with black truffles, chanterelles, and shiitakes but found the lower-cost version just as good (maybe even better).  If you’d like the real-deal, the recipe is here.

Roast chicken with mushrooms and potatoes

serves 2-3

  • 1 3- to 4-pound roasting chicken
  • handful of herbs, especially thyme and rosemary if you have them
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold or Buttercream potatoes, peeled, halved or quartered (depending on the size)
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, stemmed, halved
  • 3-4 thick bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons on olive oil, divided
  • vermouth, optional

Wash off your chicken, salt (kosher, preferably) and pepper generously inside and out, top and bottom.  Stuff 6 peeled cloves of garlic and a handful or herbs, if you have them, inside.

Put potatoes, mushrooms, and bacon together in a bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Stir to combine.

If you have it, take a length of tin foil and crumple it into a coil large enough to hold the chicken.  Place that in the bottom of a roasting pan.  Place chicken on top.  Scatter potatoes, mushrooms, and bacon all around the chicken.  If you have it, add a couple splashes of white wine or vermouth.  Drizzle the other tablespoon of olive oil over everything.  With your hands, rub the oil into the chicken skin and all over the vegetables to coat.  Salt and pepper a little more.

With your oven on a 450F, roast chicken for 30-40 minutes or until it’s about 155-160F. Take out the chicken and the foil, place on a platter or cutting board and cover with the unrolled foil. The vegetables won’t be done yet.  Mix them all up, getting chicken fat over everything, and send back in the oven and roast at 450F for another 15-25 minutes, or until they are totally tender and the potatoes getting very browned.  Carve up your bird, arrange on a platter and spoon the vegetables over.

If you like, take two cups of chicken stock and add 4 minced shallots and bring to a boil.  After it boils, bring down to a soft simmer and add 2-3 tablespoons of butter.  Pour this sauce over everything.

Double-Vanilla Pound Cake

I have two bonafide comfort foods: roast chicken and vanilla (not together, though I recently spied a recipe with both).  Either are liable to stop my tears when I’m crying, or calm me out of a panic.  Comforting in a different kind of way than chocolate or soup is—not sick day comforting, or got the blues comforting—but a in-serious-need-of-a-life-change-and-a-hug comforting.

As some of you know, I’ve been needing just that lately.  A big life change has hit me unannounced and I’m still settling into it.  It’s nothing serious, or life-threatening; it may actually be positive in the end.  But for now, I need comfort.  Comfort in the form of double-vanilla pound cake.

This pound cake, from my new favorite baking book, is intensely vanilla.  Not too sweet, the vanilla doesn’t become cloying—like so many packaged sweets and soft-drinks; no, it’s the flavor, the beany, earthy, fragrant sweetness of vanilla that defines this cake.  It’s scattered with black specks of the real thing and vanilla extract sits sweetly in the background.

I’m sad to say that I overcooked the cake by a few minutes (stressful days can do that to you) and it was a touch too tough.  The flavor was all there though, so I couldn’t keep my mouth shut about it here.  I’ll surely make it again.  Everytime I need a hug.

Double-Vanilla Pound Cake

makes one loaf

from Cindy Mushet’s The Art & Soul of Baking

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 ½ sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (7 ounces) sifted cake flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¹/3 (3 ounces) sour cream, at room temperature
  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF and position an oven rack in the center.  Lightly coat a loaf pan with butter, oil, or high-heat canola oil spray and fit it with parchment paper to extend up both long sides to the top of the pan.

    Place the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Use a paring knife to split the vanilla bean lengthwise, then turn the knife over and use the dull edge to scrape the seeds into the sugar.  (Save the pod for another use.)  Blend on low speed until the seeds are evenly dispersed.  Add the butter and beat n medium-high until the mixture is very light—almost white000in color, 4 to 5 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl with the spatula.

    Beat the eggs with the vanilla in a small bowl.  With the mixer running on medium speed, add the eggs to the butter mixture aout 1 tablespoon at a time, allowing each addition to completely blend in before adding the next.  About halfway though turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl, then continue adding the eggs.  Scrape down the bowl again.

    With a fine-mesh strainer, sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and whisk together.  With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture and sour cream alternatively, beginning with one-third of the flour mixture and half the sour cream, repeat, then finish with the flour mixture.  Scrape down the bowl and finish blending the batter by hand.

    Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Baked for 45 to 55 minutes, until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Transfer to a rack to cool completely.  When cool, remove from the pan, peel off the parchment paper, and serve.

    Printable Recipe

    Snuggled. And beef rendang.

    I apologize; I’ve been away for a bit. For the first few days of my post-Christmas vacation I had a humdinger of a cold, and then Jim got it for the next few days, and then I decided that what we needed most—more than anything—was to lie down with each other and snuggle. So we snuggled for the last few days of our vacation.  We’re still snuggling, actually, until Monday—Jim’s run out to the post office now and I figured I’d say hi.

    When we’ve been able to pull away from each other long enough to get into the kitchen we’ve cooked up some of the best dishes we’ve ever made, though in the name of vacation, haven’t been photographing most of it.  They’re all make-agains, so I’m sure you’ll someday hear all about them.  For now, you can have one—a (albeit unphotogenic) braised Malaysian beef dish from Molly Stevens’ All About Braising—that we did happen to snap some photos of.

    I was certain that this dish wouldn’t come out right; the spice paste was like, whoa intense, punch-you-in-the-nose lemongrass, onion, and chile. Our eyes were tearing up the minute I took the top off the food processor; though once the oil, the beef, and the coconut milk was added, I was sure it would turn out okay—edible, at least.

    But then—ohh then—3 1/2 hours later, when everything had cooked down and mellowed and the flavors had married; when the coconut milk turned to curd and the beef was supremely tender and fragrant, I knew that it wouldn’t just be okay, it would be transcendent.

    And it was.  The flavor is almost indescribable but it’s damn, damn good.  None of the overpowering ingredients give so much as a growl in the finished dish—it’s more a purr, a come hither murmur.  Paired with some white rice, with some of the fragrant sauce poured over it, I couldn’t have asked for a cozier, more snuggly dish.  So if you are hankering for some comfort on these last few days of your winter vacation (sick of Christmas ham and gingerbread), then here’s your dish.  And if you want to invite me over for some, I promise I make for a good spoon.

    Molly Stevens’ Beef Rendang

    from All About Braising

    For the spice paste:

    • 4-6 dried red chiles, such as chile de arbol
    • 2 lemongrass stalks, woody tops, root ends, and outer layers removed, fragrant 4-inch cores coarsely chopped
    • 4 small shallots, coarsely chopped (scant ½ cup)
    • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
    • One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
    • One 2-inch piece of fresh turmeric, peeled and coarsely chopped, or ½ teaspoon ground
    • One 2-inch piece of fresh galangal, peeled and coarsely chopped (optional—and left out by me)
    • Pinch of coarse salt

    For the braise:

    • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
    • 3 whole star anise
    • 5 cardamon pods
    • 2 cinnamon sticks
    • 2½ pounds boneless beef chuck or brisket, but into 1½ to 2-inch cubes
    • 1½ teaspoons sugar
    • Coarse salt
    • 2½ to 3 cups unsweetened coconut milk, or as needed
    • 4 fresh kaffir lime leaves (optional—and left out by me)

    Combine the chiles, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and galangal (if using) in a blender, small food processor, or mortar and pestle.  Season with salt.  Grind the spices to a coarse paste, adding 3 to 4 tablespoons of water as necessary if the flavorings are too dry to grind.  Be sure to grind thoroughly; too many fibers or chunk will be unpleasant in the finished dish.

    Heat the oil in a wok or large deep skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the spice paste and fry, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the paste appears a bit glossy as the oil begins to separate out of it, 3 to 8 minutes.  (If you added water to grind the paste, this will take longer.)  Add the star anise, cardamon, and cinnamon and stir to combine.  Add the beef and stir to coat the meat evenly with the paste.  Season with the sugar and a healthy pinch of salt.

    Pour in enough coconut milk to just cover the beef and stir to blend the paste into the milk.  Bring to a gentle simmer, and braise, uncovered*, until the meat is almost tender, about 2½ hours.  Stir the beef every 20-30 minutes, and check that the simmer remains quiet—there should be occasional bubbled but certainly not a torrent.  If necessary, lower the heat or place the pan on a heat diffuser  The color of the coconut milk will darken to a light milk chocolate color as it absorbs the beef juices.

    As the liquid reduces to a thick paste, stir in the lime leaves, if using, and continue braising, monitoring the pan more closely.  Eventually a clear oil will separate out from the paste, When this happens, stir more frequently, and then fry the beef in the oil until it becomes mahogany brown, another 45-60 minutes.  During this last stage, you may want to retrieve the whole spices when you spy them since you may not want to but down on them unknowingly.

    If you’ve used chuck, there will be as much as 1/3 cup clear oil in the pan when the rendang is done; brisket will give off less.  Either way, spoon off and discard** as much oil as your care to.  Don’t be afrais to leave a bit for flavor.  Stir and taste for salt.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

    *I half-covered the pan for most of the cooking time.

    **This oil is delicious drizzled on white rice.