Boiled kale.

Winter in New Jersey seems to drag shiveringly on, boring me to tears.  There’s the occasional snowstorm, yes, and I love every minute I spend bundled up beside the windowsill, every glass of scotch. But those snowy nights are fleeting, and then we’re back to the monotonous cold, the rude wind, the car windshield that just won’t defrost. And the cabbage.

kale

Cabbage is certainly reliable, staving off mold, and rot, and drying up all through these months (and months) of cold, when everyone else—the carrots, the apples—have up and left, unable to stick it through.  But, egad, is he boring. Except, of course, with the proper treatment.

wash

Simmered in homemade chicken stock and a knob of butter, cabbage–specifically kale—turns into something silky, tender, willing to fall apart at the touch of your teeth. Boiled kale may not seem sexy, but trust me on this, it incredibly is. When kale comes in from plowing snow all day, and takes off his work boots and Levi jeans, I promise you there are silk boxers underneath. With little red hearts on them.

kale

So let’s talk proper treatment. First of all, you need good stock. Homemade. I’m sorry, but I just can’t budge on that one; homemade stock is not just better than store-bought, it’s a whole different thing altogether. And it’s incredibly easy. Just take a chicken, or a few carcasses from roast chicken dinners, or a few pounds of chicken parts. Put the chicken in a pot and add water to cover the chicken (or carcasses or parts) by an inch of two—it should be around 4 quarts. Bring to a boil, add an onion and a carrot, and a tablespoon of kosher salt. Bring the heat down to low, or whatever heat allows an occasional bubbling of the stock, but nothing like a simmer or a boil. Let it go on like that for about 4 hours, tasting occasionally, until it tastes like chicken and is a beautiful shade of yellow. At this point, I usually let the stock hang out until morning, or at least a few hours, then I strain through a sieve into plastic quart containers and use or freeze. See? Easy. And about a zillion times better than store-bought stock. (The quality of the stock is even more important than the quality of the kale; I’ve made this with kale that’s a week or two past its prime and it tasted delicious. With water? Not so much.)

IMG_4904

Butter, too, is key and, in my opinion, there’s no alternative for it. I mean, I guess you could go for grapeseed oil if you are vegan, or maybe try a high-heat nut oil, but, please, no olive oil. The taste of olive oil changes when it’s heated at a high heat, and in this recipe, that change is totally perceptible. It’s the difference between this kale being fanatic-making good and it’s being just good. Butter, on the other hand, helps the texture, coaxing every bit of luxuriousness out of the kale. And if you like the taste of olive oil with kale, just drizzle some on top after it’s cooked. Problem solved. That’s about it; with chicken stock, and butter, and enough cooking time that the kale becomes meltingly soft and silky and deeply kale flavored, there’s nothing better to beat the cold. I could (almost) have winter all year long.

boiled kale

Boiled Kale

serves 4

    I’ve met resistance when encouraging others to eat boiled kale. I have a hunch that it has something to do with the “raw” foods craze, and the fact that “boiled” anything reminds us of flavorless food with all its nutrients leached out. But that is not the case here. This recipe involves boiling the kale in chicken stock and then letting everything simmer until the liquid evaporates, vitamins intact, leaving the kale tender and coated in a silky slip. Maybe it’s the name, so call it whatever will help: “Melted” Kale, Braised Kale, “Shut up and Eat Your Vegetable Because You Will Like Them” Kale… whatever works.About salting: I salt my kale after it’s cooked down. This may be heresy, and may mean that the kale is not salted properly to its core, but considering every bunch of kale is not the same size, and the chicken stock may be evaporating at different speeds (however negligible) on any given day, it’s safest for me to salt after so I don’t overdo it.

1 pound kale leaves, from 2 very large kale bunches
4 cups homemade chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt

Wash kale thoroughly (using a salad spinner helps.)

To remove the kale’s leaves from stems, holding one piece at a time, run a sharp chef knife against each side of the stem, stripping the leaves off and leaving only the stem in your hand. Otherwise, lay a few pieces on top of each other and use your knife to cut the stems out. Or, strip them off with your hands, holding the stem with one hand and using your other hand to pull the leaf away from you until it comes off the stem.

Coarsely chop kale leaves. Add them to a large dutch oven or pot and pour 4 cups of homemade chicken stock over. (If there are bits of chicken stock gelatin sticking to the inside of the container, scrap that in too.) Add butter. Turn the heat to medium high and bring stock to a boil. If the kale is particularly unwieldy, or your pot isn’t quite big enough, you can put the cover on for a few minutes until it wilts some. Once it is boiling, cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid all but evaporates and the kale is silky and tender, about 45 minutes. If the kale doesn’t taste tender enough, and the liquid is already gone, add a splash more and cook until the kale meets your liking.

Salt to taste. Serve.

Thank you, with dill.

Hi.  I want to thank you guys for all the lovely comments and emails last post.  You guys are great for putting up with my complaining.  I’d like to thank you with a fresh, springy, picklely side dish: marinated yellow squash and green beans with dill.  It may not sound like the best thank you gift, but it’s made with my very best olive oil and a fabulous sherry vinegar and with lots of love from me. (Yes, Mr. Colicchio, love is an ingredient, here.)

It’s a really nice spring dish but an even nicer spring is being a fickle lover over here on the east coast dish; the vinegar adds a nip and a kick but the oil smooths everything over and warms you up.  And dill is such a happy, spring herb, isn’t it?  I made this with all the unused fresh vegetables we had from the weekend (Jim got sick and when that happens in this house we like to order take-out sushi and crawl up together on the couch until it passes.).

I julienned the squash mainly because I have a cool little one-purpose tool (I otherwise loathe one-purpose tools but this one is small and handy) that I don’t get to use often enough.  I don’t know how you julienne but this is how I do it: with my little orange julienner; his name is Howard and he makes quick work of a squash.

There’s a bit of prep-work involved in this thank-you dish (it’s sounding less and less like a thank you…), and though a tool like Howard would help, you could do this all with a trusty knife.  Julienne the squash, trim the green beans, and slice the mushrooms.  After that’s done, you’re practically there.  Blanch the vegetables quickly in boiling water, drain, and add to a vinagairette of sherry vinegar, your best olive oil, dill, and scallions.  Let it cool for an hour or so—I put mine out on the porch in the cold spring air—then season again with more salt, pepper, and dill.  And there you have it; thank you, with dill.

Marinated Squash and Green Beans

serves 4 – adapted from Saveur

We had this with some codfish lightly battered in flour and Urban Accents Pride of Prague spice blend, which has notes of paprika, fenugreek, dill, caraway, nutmeg, and pepper.  Very delicious.

  • 3 or so yellow squash
  • 1.5 pounds green beans
  • a few handfuls of button mushrooms
  • 4-5 scallions, chopped
  • fresh dill, to taste
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 good olive oil
  • salt, pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Julienne squash and set aside.  Trim green beans and cut in half crosswise (or lengthwise if you don’t mind the extra work).  Slice mushrooms.  Once the water is boiling, add vegetables and blanch for a minute or two.  Drain well, trying to rid of any extra water—shaking the colander around helps.

In a medium bowl, add all the vegetables while they are still warm, then add the vinegar, oil, dill and scallions.  Salt and pepper.  Let cool for an hour or longer.  Season with more dill, salt, or pepper to taste.  Serve with a drizzle of that good olive oil.

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.

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.

Happy, warm, and hungry. Baby potatoes with tarragon.

This is a hardly a recipe; it’s more of a warning:  If you do not make these potatoes, your life will have a teeny-tiny potato void in it, halfway between your heart and your stomach.  It might not seem like much, being so teeny-tiny and all, but I assure you, it will sting.

I didn’t even know I had this void before last night; it was, I’ll admit, easily filled with all the other potatoes that I had braised for countless dinners before.  Those potatoes, with their crispy, browned skins and mashed-potato-y white interiors, are enough to please.  It’s easy not to go looking for more when you already have such a good thing.

Thankfully, more found me yesterday afternoon, in one of my favorite places (second only to my screened-in third-floor porch on the first warm day, when winter seems behind me), my butcher’s.  Just thinking about my butcher’s, which has been written up twice by the New York Times, makes me feel happy, warm, and hungry.  The two butchers, Emil and Joe, may seem stand-offish at first, but ask them about their meat, or tell them the recipe that you’re planning, and let them lead the way for you, and they soften right up.  Become a loyal customer, and you get smiles and jokes and that happy, warm feeling I’m talking about. (You also get a bit of a panicky, distressed feeling because they are pretty old and may be retiring and you don’t know what you would do without them.)  They always know the best cut to use, and their meat is the best.  They’ve got eggs from their farm and hand-picked grocery items.  And yesterday, they had teeny-tiny baby potatoes with yellow flesh that proved beyond creamy, with soft, thin skins.

We bought almost all of them—leaving only about half a pound, because I felt guilty and another customer was leaning menacingly over my shoulder as I pillaged the goods.  I had already decided to braise them on the stove-top, in a little olive oil and tarragon, before we left the shop.  I didn’t yet know how good they’d be.

The braising method, it turned out, was fantastic.  I’m sure it’s the best method to cook these young, creamy potatoes; they brown a little but are left mostly unadulterated.  I’ll never be certain if it’s the best method, however, because I’m sure I’ll never try them another way.  They were perfect.  The tarragon braises down and imparts a nutty—not anise-y as it does raw—flavor.  The result is not quite crispy but brown on the outside, a little nutty, and oh so, ohso solidly creamy and buttery and golden on the inside.  We ate them with our fingers, alongside seared scallops and arugula, and it was one of the best meals we had ever had.  Just thinking about it, I feel happy, and warm, and hungry.

Braised Potatoes with Tarragon

serves 2 to be honest, 4 if there’s a lot of will-power involved

If you can find teeny-tiny baby potatoes, which look a lot like fingerlings, use those.

  • 2 pounds of the teeny-tiniest potatoes you can get your hands on
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • about 10-15 leaves of tarragon, chopped or torn up
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • water

In a (preferably nonstick) pan, warm your olive oil over medium heat.  Scatter your potatoes, the pan should be big enough that you don’t need to overcrowd, with the potatoes hardly overlapping (a little is ok).  Throw your tarragon, salt and pepper in.  Add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the potatoes.  Cover the pan and cook for about 20-25 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, checking at about 15 minutes in case they’ve cooked quickly.  Take the lid off the pan and cook until the water evaporates, stirring very gently with a spoon or silicone spatula so that the potatoes brown on all sides.  Serve hot, with a drizzle of olive oil.

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)

Comfort and a butternut squash.

I’d planned to be right back to tell you about my cilantro-laced dinner.  You still have some oil, don’t you?  Good; now get yourself a butternut squash.

Some of you may have noticed this soup in last month’s Gourmet.  February was The Comfort Food Issue and, of course, I am going to make everything in it.  Because who doesn’t need comfort in the middle of February, whether it comes from your valentine, or your soup spoon, or (preferably) both?

The soup was a curried butternut squash and red lentil soup and it wasn’t supposed to be pureed, but I left it on the stove just a wee too long and the lentils were too soft.  I was happy for this mistake in the end, though, because after a few post-mistake tweaks the soup really shone.  A pinch of saffron, a dash of smoked paprika, and a little extra salt—what couldn’t be better for it?

The end result was a smooth yet full-bodied soup; you could taste the lentils and their earthy note while the complex sweetness of the squash and all the curried spices lingered.  The cilantro oil added an extra green pop—taste-wise and aesthetically. The look of this soup—bright warm yellow and stark green swirls—is enough to make it tasty.  But thankfully, the flavors don’t disappoint.

Curried-Squash and Red-Lentil Soup

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced peeled ginger
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably Madras)
  • 1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 quarts water
  • pinch of saffron
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • black pepper

Heat oil with butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook squash, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon salt, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes.

Add lentils and water and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, 25 to 40 minutes. Puree soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a stand blender.  Add saffron, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve drizzled with cilantro oil.

Cilantro Oil

Have I ever told you that I have a thing for cilantro?  Oh, I have? Well, you can see what a dunce I’ve been then: A professed cilantro-lover, who’s never made cilantro oil before.  Bows head in shame.

The thing was, I never had even thought of cilantro oil before.  I add lots of cilantro to lots of things and it is a total-pain-in-the-ass to go out to the store solely for cilantro on a cold, wintery night but I never thought of another option.  Then finally, over the weekend I made cilantro oil and—while it’s not quite the real thing, less pungent—now I can unabashedly put it on anything (well, almost).

I’ll be showing you the reason why I made the cilantro oil (can you guess it? hint: it slurps) in a few days, though I’ve got to admit that my favorite use is drizzled over some of the ah-maze-ing bread I’ve been baking from this book.  So go ahead, make this cilantro oil before I let you in on its partner-in-recipe; I’m sure you’ll find some use for it.

Cilantro oil

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup safflower oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Purée cilantro, oil, and salt in cleaned blender (or with immersion blender), scraping down sides of blender (or bowl) several times. Pour oil into a jar or bottle and use within a few days or a week.  You can also strain out the solids for a smoother oil.

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.

Black-eyed peas.

A while back, when I decided not to be religious, I realized superstitions wouldn’t jibe with my newfound atheism.  I had, afterall, never quite believed in throwing salt over your shoulder (it made such a mess) or not letting a black cat cross your path (I had one named Midnight); it had all felt very half-hearted.  Nonetheless, there are a few superstitions that stuck with me; I’ll always take a sip after a cheers, I tend to knock on wood—and I eat black-eyed peas for the New Year.

Not quite on the New Year however; I can’t seem to get myself to eat beans on a day that I associate with my last holiday calorie-filled hurrah.  I’ll buy the peas for New Years, sometimes with an honest intent to make them, but never do, giving in to roast chicken and potatoes, or braised pork.  I’m weak-willed.

Though when New Year’s Day is over and the diet begins, black-eyed peas help me with the transition.  They remind me that fat- and carbo-loading isn’t the only way towards delicious.  Especially this recipe, coming from Daniel Boulud, which pairs the earthy peas with (the herb I now consider its true love) dried oregano.  Bacon is added because, come on, it’s a transition to health—not a nosedive.  And finally, most importantly, a good dose of hot sauce keeps things exciting.  Without that, you’re just full of beans.

Southern-style Black-eyed Peas with Bacon

from Daniel Boulud’s Braise

makes 4 servings

  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
  • 5 ounces slab bacon, cut into cubes
  • 2 red onions, peeled and sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

The day before you plan to serve this dish, put the peas in a bowl, cover with water by at least 2 inches, and refrigerate.  The next day, drain well before using.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 275ºF.

Place the bacon in a small cast-iron pot of Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook until it renders its fat, about 5 minutes.

Add the onions, garlic, oregano, and black pepper and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes.  Add the drained peas, bay leaves, salt, and 6 cups water.  Bring to a simmer, cover, and transfer to the oven.

Braise until the peas are tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes*. Stir in the Tabasco, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.

*For my taste, it was closer to an hour and forty-five minutes.