Cider-Braised Duck Legs with Leeks, Prunes and Apple

A Wet Wintery Sunday

This past week in Chicago we went from a polar vortex to a spring thaw. In the span of seven days, there was snow, ice, rain, wind and slush. So the idea of spending Sunday snuggled at home with my husband while something delicious bubbled away on the stove seemed like the perfect antidote. While the duck slowly cooked, I happily needlepointed while my husband tinkered.

I came across this recipe in our local newspaper a few weeks ago and knew that it was something that I wanted to try. All I needed were the duck legs and leeks. Little did I know that I would not only get this wonderful meal, but I was able to render almost a quart of lovely golden duck fat to enjoy throughout the coming months. More on that later.

Chasing Away Those Blues

With a little bit of planning, this delicious recipe will yield four generous servings along with the aforementioned duck fat and cracklings. I served it with polenta, a green salad a lovely fruity red wine. Chase those winter blues away with this rich and flavorful duck stew. The duck falls off the bone and is juicy without being fatty. The apples and prunes are the perfect complement to the dark duck meat while the Calvados and cider cut through any overt sweetness of the fruit.

While the stew simmers, you can use that time to get those nasty little chores done around the house. Or better yet, take a long soak in a warm tub or curl up with a good book and a better companion.

Recipe from Chicago Tribune, Food and Dining January 16, 2019 and tweaked by me

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 4 large duck legs, about 10-12 ounces each
  • 1.66 cups apple cider, preferably fresh
  • 2 medium leeks, white and tender green parts, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon of minced garlic
  • 1 generous teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 dried or fresh bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 7-8 ounces of pitted prunes
  • 2 flavorful apples, cored and sliced with the skin left on (I used Honeycrisp. Fuji or Braeburn would also be good.)
  • 1/4 cup good quality apple brandy such as Calvados (If you don’t plan on actually drinking the brandy, you don’t have to buy the most expensive Calvados on the market. Any decent bottle will do and closed tightly, it will last for some time. It’s great to use with apple tarts, by the way.) 
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
  1. Trim the excess fat and skin from the duck legs. [Do NOT throw this away. At the end of the recipe are directions how to render the fat and make cracklings.]
  2. Prick the skin on the legs all over with a fork and season the legs generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a large Dutch oven or covered braising pan over medium heat. When the pan is nice and hot, add the duck legs in a single layer, skin-side down. Cook until the skin is a lovely brown and the duck has given off excess fat. Turn over the legs and cook the underside until brown. The second side will cook much faster than the skin side so don’t walk away and leave it. Remove the browned legs to a platter and loosely cover with foil. Allow the fat to cool down slightly and then CAREFULLY pour the fat through a fine sieve into a clean glass jar. This is just the beginning of the duck fat that you will render.
  4. Deglaze the pan, using 2/3 cup of the cider, scraping up any brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add the leeks, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently until the vegetables are tender – about 15 minutes.
  5. Stir in the herbs and spices. Add the chicken broth and remaining 1 cup of cider. Stir through and then add back the duck legs. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Cook for 2 hours, untouched, until the duck legs are very tender when pierced with a sharp knife. [The braise can be made ahead up to this point. It can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 2 days, if desired. I didn’t do this, but it’s good to know that you can.]
  6. When you are ready to serve the duck, remove the legs from the pan and skim as much fat as you can from the braising liquid. [I actually didn’t have that much at this point, because of judicious trimming and pricking and browning the duck initially.] Add in the prunes and sliced apples and stir through. Add back the duck legs. Bring the mixture to a lively simmer and cover the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes and then add in the apple brandy. Cook for 5 minutes more. Serve over polenta or a sturdy noodle like a spaetzle so that you don’t lose a drop of that wonderful braising liquid.

Directions

How to Render Duck Fat and Be Happy All Year

Duck fat is possibly the eighth wonder of the world. Okay, I exaggerate. But it is a slow-burning fat that makes a humble pot of beans or potatoes or simple scrambled eggs into something truly special. Stored in the fridge or freezer it lasts almost indefinitely and a little goes a long way. It’s easy to prepare and while it takes a bit of time, it requires little effort and supervision. Here’s how:

Remember all of those trimmings of excess skin and fat? Coarsely chop them and place them in a large skillet over medium low heat. Add 1/2 cup of tap water. Cook low and slow, allowing the trimmings to render the fat (liquefy) while the water evaporates. Any bits of skin will turn toasty, crunchy brown and these cracklings can be used in salads or however you like. Don’t be impatient. This takes about an hour or more. Once all of the fat has liquefied and the skin has browned, carefully remove the cracklings to a paper towel using a slotted spoon. Allow the duck fat to cool slightly. Then carefully pour it through the fine-meshed sieve into the bottle with the other reserved fat. Cover the jar. Once the jar cools, it should be refrigerated.

Advertisements

Caramelized Apple Pancake

Handsome Old Dog Learns New Tricks

I have been married for a bit over 34 years.  I think that it is safe to say that the closest my husband came to cooking in 32 of them had been to pour a bowl of cereal and milk. However, since Andrew has retired, he has become interested in learning to do some of the cooking. I know! (Our son seems to be learning somewhat faster, for which I applaud Frances.)

Andrew decided to first tackle brunch, an especially good place to start since I rarely do that meal myself. He has become quite adept at making different kinds of pancakes and waffles and I enjoy them all. it One of my favorites is the Amaretti Mascarpone Pancake. But for the past couple of weeks, he has made this Caramelized Apple Pancake. This just might be the best pancake yet. It is similar to a Dutch Baby.  This is the third or fourth different recipe he has tried and it is clearly the keeper. The original recipe called for skim milk, but the buttermilk we used gave the batter an almost sponge cake-like texture that absorbed the flavors and liquid from the apples. Try it and you may never need to go out for brunch again.

Lessons Learned

Now that Andrew has experienced some successes, he recently tackled a chicken curry and it was delicious. I made the accompanying dal and the rice pilaf since he hasn’t quite figured out how to put an entire dinner together, but that just made the process more fun. He is even talking about meal planning!

I have learned a few things from all of this: 1) never give up hope; 2) don’t give cooking advice unless asked; 3) don’t be in a rush to eat since his efforts so far take a very long time to come to fruition and 4) don’t get upset that every, bowl, spatula, cutting board and knife was used to make one meal!

You do need a heavy-duty cast iron pan for this recipe and flavorful apples such as Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious or one of the heirloom baking apples now more readily available in many grocery stores. I would not use the ubiquitous Granny Smith unless you truly cannot find one of the alternatives.

Caramelized Apple Pancake

JeanMarie BrownsonDinner at Home from Chicago Tribune Food and Dining, 1/06/2019 

Yield: 2-4 portions, depending on your appetite

Ingredients

3 large or 4 medium apples such as Honeycrisp or Yellow Opal, or a mixture

6 Tablespoons granulated sugar

6 Tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

2 generous teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 cup buttermilk 

4 large eggs

1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel, core and slice apples into 1/4-inch thick slices. In a large bowl, mix the apples with the sugars and cinnamon
  2. Put milk and eggs in a blender and mix (You can also do this by hand). Add the flour and salt and mix only enough to incorporate the flour.
  3. Heat one large oven-proof skillet (10-inches measure across the top) over medium heat. Add the butter to the pan and allow it to melt. Add the apples to the melted butter and cook, stirring occasionally until the apples have softened – about 10-12 minutes. 
  4. When the apples have softened, remove them from the heat. Make sure that the apples are evenly arranged to cover the bottom of the pan but don’t obsess over it, please. Slowly pour the batter over the apples. (While my husband has started in the middle of the pan and worked outwards, you may want to try it the other way around. This might allow the pancake to poof more evenly.) 
  5. Transfer the pan immediately to the hot oven. Bake until puffed and golden (about 25 minutes). Serve immediately, flipping the wedges over on the plate so that the apples are on top, if desired. 

Butterscotch Pudding

For those of you who follow me, you may have noticed that I last posted just prior to Thanksgiving. Frankly, I wanted a break. I enjoy cooking and finding new recipes but it just wasn’t fun trying to make something completely new each week, especially when it is just for the two of us. But I really had a yen this week for old-fashioned butterscotch pudding, something that much to my surprise, I had never actually made before. And somehow with a raging snowstorm this was the perfect opportunity to try it out.

So as I usually do when approaching a new recipe, I searched out about five different versions of butterscotch pudding and butterscotch budino. Some were really tarted up and while likely would be delicious, that simply wasn’t what I was looking for. And some had these overly complicated instructions. This is pudding, folks! I finally came across the method I wanted from Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, but added some pure vanilla extract to her ingredients.

This is a simple recipe that requires no special skills and the results will take you back to a place of comfort – something most of us sorely need these days.  The resulting pudding is creaminess itself, lovely and unpretentious. It will not taste like that phony butterscotch flavor of the packaged mixes, so if that is what you are looking for, this isn’t it. This pudding is made from very simple ingredients that most of us have on hand, although I did go out and buy whole milk since generally we drink skim or 1%. While you can make this with a lower fat milk, please don’t. It just won’t be the same. So get out your spoon, take a deep breath, close your eyes and take a taste of comfort.

Butterscotch Pudding

Yield: About 10 servings – 100 grams or 3.5 ounces each (The size of the portions is entirely within your discretion, so if you prefer larger portions, there will obviously be fewer.)

Ingredients

1.5 cups dark brown sugar

1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) Cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

3 cups of whole milk

4 large egg yolks (Discard or save the whites for another use. They can be frozen.)

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (NEVER, EVER use imitation!)

Garnish (Optional)

Whipped cream, flavored with a bit of rum, bourbon or simply vanilla and a bit of powdered sugar

Directions

  1. In a medium, non-stick pot, gently whisk together the brown sugar, cornstarch and salt. Break up as many of the brown sugar lumps as you can. Butterscotch pudding2
  2. In a large measuring cup or medium bowl, preferably with a lip, whisk together the milk and egg yolks. Pour the mixture into the pot, whisking as you go to combine.
  3. Place the pot over medium heat and cook, gently stirring pretty constantly until the mixture starts to bubble and thicken. This took me about 12.5 minutes. Don’t get discouraged. Nothing seems to be happening until all of a sudden, it’s thickened and you have pudding. Stir until it is the consistency of a creamy, thick, but still pourable pudding.
  4. Remove immediately from the heat and stir through the vanilla and butter. Transfer the pudding (which is very hot) to your desired serving cups and cover with some plastic wrap, touching the top of the pudding. Allow to chill for a couple of hours. Butterscotch pudding4

Slow Cooker Asian Short Ribs (galbi-jjim)

While you will never catch me sitting down to eat a rare steak or roast beef, I do enjoy eating meat – especially when it is slow roasted or braised. I recently bought some beautiful short ribs on the bone even though I wasn’t quite certain what I wanted to do with them. I came across this recipe for Korean slow-cooker short ribs and decided that in honor of Frances I had to try them. Only Frances or her mother can tell me if this is authentic; I can simply say they are delicious! This is real Korean comfort food. The flavors only get richer the more you eat!

If you are feeling lazy, just serve it over some cooked rice so you don’t lose a drop of the yummy sauce. If you are feeling more ambitious, you could choose to add some carrots and potatoes or water chestnuts, dried red dates and ginkgo nuts to the slow cooker about half-way through the cooking time or serve with sugar snap peas that simply have been steamed or stir-fried. This is a wonderfully easy and delicious dish to make for a relaxed dinner with friends. And wouldn’t you rather be taking part in the evening instead of stuck fussing in the kitchen?

Slow Cooker Asian Short Ribs by Chungah Rhee from Damn Delicious and Eating Korean by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee

Yield: 6 to 8 servings, depending on the number of banchan served

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce

1/2 cup beef broth

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

3 cloves garlic, minced, about 1 good tablespoon

1 rounded tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional

5 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2″ pieces (Although don’t fret if the short ribs are cut differently. Do try to get them on the bone, however, as the bones lend flavor and gelatin to the sauce.)

1/4 cup water or broth

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Optional Additions

1 pound baby carrots

1 pound red baby bliss or other small potato

For Garnish

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1 teaspoon sesame seeds

3 scallions, thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together soy sauce, beef broth, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and red pepper flakes, if using.
  2. Place short ribs into a 6-qt slow cooker. Stir in soy sauce mixture until well combined. Galbi jjim3
  3. Cover and cook on low heat for 7-8 hours or high heat for 3-4 hours.*
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 1/4 cup water or beef broth. Before stirring in the slurry of cornstarch, use a spoon to carefully skim off as much of the fat that has risen to the top as you can. Then stir the cornstarch mixture into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high heat for an additional 30 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. If you don’t remove the fat first, your sauce will never appear to get thicker – to say nothing of the fact that the fat has done its job of keeping the meat moist and adding flavor, but eating all of it is neither tasty nor healthy.
  5. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley or scallion and sesame seeds, if desired. Galbi jjim1

NOTES:

*To test for doneness, pull on a bone as it should slide out freely. In a Korean home, this dish would be served with the ubiquitous kimchi and a choice of banchan. Left-overs will keep in the fridge for up to a week. Simply gently reheat.

Apple Pecan Bourbon Bundt Cake

As someone who has hosted Thanksgiving dinners for over three (YIKES!) decades, I can tell you that in order to be successful and to also enjoy yourself, it takes a battle plan. You don’t have to be like me and start dreaming about what you will make six months in advance, but it makes all of the difference in the world if you are organized and plan to have a menu that mixes do-ahead dishes along with make-the-day-of dishes. It is the only thing that keeps you sane and relaxed, particularly if, like me, you have a small kitchen and limited storage.

Everyone who comes to my house has their favorite dishes and I do try to always have some if not all of them on hand. I can’t even imagine having a Thanksgiving dinner that didn’t include my Curried Butternut Squash Soup, Orange Cranberry Relish or Vegan Pumpkin Pie and, of course, my Bourbon Pecan Pie. However, I don’t want to get bored and this year I am not only hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the family, but the Shabbat dinner the next night. So I make a point of slipping in something new every year. One thing I have learned over the years is that no matter what mistakes you may make in the main part of the meal, all will be forgiven – and forgotten – if you have great desserts. So in addition to the pumpkin and pecan pie, I will have an Apple Almond Paste Tart and this Apple Bourbon Bundt Cake that I am trying out this year. Sounds like a lot? I guarantee that with 13 people over two nights, there won’t be a crumb left!

The beauty of this apple cake is that it is best made at least one to two days ahead. That allows the Bourbon, sugar, lemon glaze to really penetrate the cake and it will bring out the apple, ginger and spice flavors. And while I may be using some of those same flavors in other desserts, they appear in different guises with a different emphasis in each case. By using a palate of ingredients, you guarantee that everything will complement everything else.

You don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to make this lovely cake, but definitely keep it in mind for the holiday. It takes a little work but there are no special or difficult techniques involved. Just follow the steps and even a novice baker can have success.

Apple Pecan Bourbon Bundt Cake by Melissa Clark in The New York Times

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Apple Bourbon Bundt Cake4

INGREDIENTS

2 sticks unsalted butter 226 grams, at room temperature, plus more to grease pan

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour 315 grams, plus more to dust the pan

3 tablespoons (30 grams) plus 1/2 cup (80 grams) bourbon 

½ cup (90 grams) candied ginger, chopped

1 ¾ cup (330 grams) brown sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking powder

1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons (3 grams) ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon (5 grams) fine sea salt

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 cup (227 grams) sour cream

1 tablespoon (15 grams) vanilla extract

1 ½ teaspoons (5 grams) finely grated lemon zest

2 medium Granny Smith apples (about a pound, 454 grams) peeled, and coarsely grated

1 cup (120 grams) coarsely chopped, toasted pecans*

½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon (20 grams)

PREPARATION

  1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan. (Or use one of those cooking sprays that already has the flour in it.) In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons bourbon and the candied ginger. Let stand 10 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the brown sugar and remaining butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining flour with the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream and vanilla. Pour in the bourbon from the ginger mixture (reserve ginger) and whisk until smooth. Stir in zest.
  4. With the mixer on medium speed, add the dry mixture and sour cream mixture to the wet mixture in three additions, alternating between the two. Fold in the ginger, apples and pecans. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out dry, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool in the pan 20 minutes, then run a paring knife around the sides of the pan to release the cake, if necessary; cool, flat side down, on a wire rack.
  5. While the cake cools, combine the 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup Bourbon in a small saucepan. Over low heat, gently stir until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the lemon juice and take off the heat.
  6. While the cake cools, make 10 slits on top with a paring knife and pour half the Bourbon-sugar mixture on the still-warm cake. When the cake is fully cool, flip it and pour the rest of the glaze on the other side, then flip again to serve.

NOTE: While the cake is wonderful on its own, adding a good dollop of freshly made whipped cream or vanilla ice cream makes it amazing. Did I mention that you could even add a bit of Bourbon to the whipped cream??

Apple Bourbon Bundt Cake1 (2)

To toast the pecans (or any nuts), preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lay the nuts on a baking sheet or pan in a single layer. Toast in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the nut used. You should just begin to smell the nuttiness. You should check the nuts about halfway through and jiggle the pan a bit.

 

Onion Turbans

I am a true advocate for eating bread. There is nothing that beats the aroma or taste of bread that has just come from the oven. The entire house just smells delicious and warm and safe. As soon as the temperature outside begins to cool down, I turn my thoughts to cooking big pots of soup, stews and fragrant bean dishes. I love to make these things and to eat them. And best of all, they only improve with rewarming so that I always make enough for left-overs during the week ahead. This relatively simple but hearty fare really only needs some good bread to soak up the pot liquor and to fill my home with the most wonderful smells.

I own several books on artisan bread baking but a book that I often return to is a slim volume called Betty Crocker’s Breads. I have owned this cookbook for decades and it is completely unpretentious with zero snob appeal. It also is entirely accessible and when the simple instructions are followed, the result is always a perfect loaf of bread. This is a perfect book for the novice or anyone who wants to bake without intimidation. Unfortunately, it appears to be out of print with only ridiculously priced copies available online. However, if you manage to come across a copy in a used bookstore – grab it!

Try this bread for a family Sunday supper or surprise your guests for Thanksgiving. No one has to know how easy it is to make.

Onion Turbans

Yield: Two 8-inch round loaves  Onion Turbans

Ingredients

4.5 teaspoons of active dry yeast (2 packets if using packets)

2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F. or simply water that feels quite warm but not hot to your fingertips)

1 envelope onion soup mix (about 1.5 ounces)

1/4 cup additional fried onions (the kind from a can) (Optional)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons unsulphured molasses

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 large egg

1/3 cup (5 Tablespoons) solid shortening

About 6 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

About 4-6 Tablespoons of melted butter

Directions

  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water in the bowl of a large standing mixer with the dough hook attachment. Add soup mix and stir to dissolve. Add the sugar, molasses, salt, egg, shortening, fried onions (if used) and 3 cups of the flour. Beat for about 1 minute on the lowest speed, scraping down where necessary in order to mix.
  2. Add 3 cups more of flour. Increase the speed to 2 (or the next lowest speed up) and continue beating with the dough hook, scraping down the dough as necessary, for about 7 to 8 minutes more. I did not require any additional flour, but if your dough seems too sticky, add up to another 1/2 cup, a Tablespoon at a time until the dough no longer sticks. The dough should be gathering up on the dough hook and will be smooth and supple (elastic) to the touch. [You can, of course, make this by hand, in which case you will have to knead the dough for 10 to 12 minutes.] Turn the dough into a greased bowl and roll it around to cover all of the surfaces. Cover the dough and allow it to rise until doubled in a warm, draft-free spot. (I use my oven, turned off, of course.) This takes just about an hour. The dough is ready if an indentation made with two fingers remains.
  3. Punch down the dough and divide it in half. Roll each half into a rectangles that is 24 x 5 inches. Tightly roll up each rectangle (I do them one at a time.) from the long side. You want to end up with a long, even log.
  4. Grease two 8-inch cake or pie pans. Beginning at the outside edge of the inside of the pan with the seam facing down, coil the rope of dough ending in the center of the pan. Brush each coil with melted butter. Allow to rise uncovered on a draft-free counter for 50 minutes or until doubled. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. while the dough rises to ensure a nicely heated oven.
  5. At the end of the rising, bake the turbans for about 40 minutes or until they are well-browned and sound hollow when rapped with your knuckles or a wooden spoon. Remove the breads from the pans to a cooling rack and brush with additional melted butter if desired.

Vegetable Beef Barley Soup with Lemon and Kale

Autumn is here and that means hearty and flavorful soups that are one-pot meals. I came across this soup on the New York Times website and decided to give it a try, with a few modifications. The most difficult step in this recipe is browning the meat, which means that pretty much anyone can make this soup. It takes some chopping and a bit of time to cook, but there are no special techniques or skills needed. However, it is not a pantry soup. It does require a fair amount of fresh ingredients, but is well worth the effort. And unlike traditional beef mushroom barley soups (which I love, by the way) this soup manages to be both hearty AND bright, with a lightness not usually associated with beef barley soup.

The original recipe called for one pound of meat cut into tiny pieces that would serve eight people. If I am going to the trouble and expense of serving meat in a soup that will serve as my dinner, then I both want to taste and see the meat. I also like to trim and cut my own meat into the size pieces I want that are almost totally devoid of any fat or gristle. I don’t happen to find it a bother to do this and I know exactly what I am serving. If you want to cut down on the work, then please go ahead and use prepared stew meat from the meat department. You won’t have the control over the cut or quality of the meat, but it will definitely simplify things for you. Otherwise, buy good quality chuck roast and cut it yourself. Make this soup on a day that you plan to be at home and you will be rewarded with quite a treat. It will take a 7 quart or larger stock pot or Dutch Oven.

Vegetable Beef Barley Soup with Lemon and Kale by Melissa Clark and tweaked by me

Yield: About 8 dinner servings

Vegetable Beef Barley with Kale and Lemon1

INGREDIENTS

2.5 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 2-inch cubes

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper, more as needed

4 tablespoons olive oil or grapeseed, more as needed

3 small or 2 large leeks, thinly sliced

3 celery stalks, sliced

1 fennel bulb, diced

4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 rounded teaspoon ground coriander

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

Large pinch cayenne, optional

2 quarts beef stock, divided

3 sage sprigs 

2 rosemary sprigs

2 bay leaves

2 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

2 parsnips, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

2 large turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

¾ cups pearled barley

1 large bunch of kale, torn into large, bite-size pieces

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon, plus juice 

Thinly sliced jalapeños or other chilies, for serving (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Season beef generously with about 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Let mixture stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large, hot pot over medium-high heat. Add meat and cook in batches, turning occasionally, until well browned, 8 to 10 minutes per batch. (Do not crowd the pan or the meat will steam but won’t brown.) Drizzle in additional oil if the pan seems dry. Transfer the browned meat to a plate and cover lightly with fol to keep it warm. Don’t worry about brown bits that are stuck to the pan. All will be well – I promise!
  3. Add leek, celery, fennel and garlic to the pan; cook until soft, about 7 minutes, adjusting the heat if necessary to prevent burning. Push the vegetables to one side, and, if the pan looks dry, add a bit more oil. Add tomato paste and spices to the cleared spot and cook until tomato paste is darkened and caramelized, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir together vegetables and tomato paste.
  4. Return meat to the pot. Pour in 1 quart of stock and 8 cups water. Using kitchen string, tie sage, rosemary and bay leaves into a bundle and drop into pot. (I like to wrap my herbs in cheesecloth and then I tie the bundle to the handle of the pot which makes fishing it out later easier. The cheesecloth also keeps the herbs from breaking off and floating in the soup.) Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, partly covered, for 1 hour.
  5. Stir in the carrots, parsnips, turnips, barley, 1 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer until barley is cooked through and meat is tender, about 1 hour more. Pull herb bunch from pot and discard.
  6. Stir kale and parsley into pot until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes, then stir in lemon zest and juice. If soup is too thick, thin it with the additional quart of stock. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve with chilies, if you like. We found the chilies completely unnecessary – perhaps because I chose to use a large lemon which provided all of the kick that I needed.

NOTE: You can make the soup ahead through Step 5. Then you can turn off the heat. Add the kale, parsley, lemon zest and juice. Cover the pot and allow it to just sit. I then gently heat the soup to serve. The alternative is to add the kale, parsley, lemon zest and juice to the pot after it has been reheated and just prior to serving. Barley does tend to soak up whatever liquid it gets near so the longer the soup sits, the more the barley will expand and soak up the liquid. You can always add additional water or stock to thin it down if you wish. The kale will lose its vibrant green the longer it sits, but left-overs are still delicious.

Spaghetti Pancake or Baked Pasta alla Norma

When my son was little he had a VERY limited palate that largely consisted of one form of pasta or another. In an effort to expand his horizons and to keep me from getting incredibly bored, I would make individual spaghetti pancakes for him out of left-over pasta. It didn’t really matter if I had made a pesto sauce or a red sauce – pretty much any left-over pasta would work, including just butter, garlic, pepper and cheese.

The other day I was looking at one of the food blogs I follow and I saw a recipe for “Baked Pasta alla Norma.” I thought, wow, this is a great name and is sure to be something that I would want to make. When I actually got down to reading the recipe, I realized that it was just a fancy version of my old friend, the spaghetti pancake! Give it a try and if you have picky eaters, leave out the eggplant, hot pepper flakes and capers and simply add some extra cheese. It’s kind of hard to go wrong with a dish like this. So if you want sausage in your version, add some cooked, crumbled sausage or try zucchini instead of eggplant or add some sliced cured black olives. Use left-over pasta instead of making pasta just for the dish and make individual portions in smaller oven-safe frying pans or do it on your stove-top, flipping the “pancake” over half-way through until you have a nice crust on top and bottom and the egg is cooked through. Just have fun with it and if you want to tell your significant other that it is Baked Pasta alla Norma, I won’t tell them that it really is just spaghetti pancake.

Baked Pasta alla Norma or Spaghetti Pancake by Claire Saffitz from Bon Appétit, October 2018 Baked Pasta alla Norma

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS

1 medium globe eggplant, peeled, cut into ½” pieces

2 pints cherry tomatoes

8 garlic cloves, smashed

¼ cup EVOO, plus more for skillet and drizzling

½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for sprinkling

Kosher salt

2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. cream or milk

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

4 oz. finely grated Parmesan, divided (You could also use Asiago or Pecorino Romano or any combination.)

1 lb. spaghetti, linguine or other pasta

2 Tbsp. drained capers

½ cup torn basil, plus a few whole leaves

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 425°. Combine eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, ¼ cup oil, and ½ tsp. red pepper flakes in a large ovenproof skillet, preferably cast iron. Season generously with salt and toss to combine. Roast, shaking skillet once or twice, until eggplant is tender and tomatoes burst, 25–35 minutes. Let vegetables cool while you prepare the pasta (watch out for the hot handle when you take the skillet out of the oven). Reduce oven temperature to 400°. Baked Pasta alla Norma6

  2. Whisk eggs, cream or milk and tomato paste in a medium bowl until smooth, then whisk in about three-quarters of Parmesan. (Truthfully, I just eye-balled how much cheese I used and put more on top to form a nice crust.)

  3. Cook spaghetti in a pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Immediately drain pasta in a colander and shake to remove excess water; transfer pasta back to pot.

  4. Add cooled vegetable mixture to pot with pasta. Wipe out skillet and drizzle in a little oil; roll around in skillet to coat. Add egg mixture to pasta and toss vigorously with tongs until pasta is evenly coated. Add capers and ½ cup basil and toss again to combine.

  5. Transfer pasta mixture to skillet and press gently into an even layer. Top with remaining Parmesan, a few whole basil leaves, and an extra sprinkle of red pepper flakes, if desired. Drizzle with EVOO.

  6. Bake pasta until surface is nicely browned, 30–35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before cutting into wedges for serving. Baked Pasta alla Norma5You can top with a few fresh basil leaves for a bit of color.

Chicken Shawarma with Tahini Sauce

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I LOVE Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food. I could happily eat it every day and have for weeks at a time. So when I came across this recipe for chicken shawarma that you could make at home,  I simply had to try it. This recipe did not disappoint. Is it exactly like the shawarma you get off of the spit at a restaurant? No, but it is really, really close and truth to tell, I undoubtedly used a much better quality chicken then most shawarma stands would. It’s a fun weeknight dinner that can be prepped the night before. Serve it casually stuffed in a pita or alongside some dill rice or cauliflower tabbouleh, accompanied by salads and a tahini sauce. Left-overs can be easily re-warmed.

Chicken Shawarma with Tahini Sauce by Tori Avey

Yield: About 6 servings

Ingredients

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2 large breasts)

1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 4 large thighs)

8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp allspice

3/4 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

About 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

For Tahini Sauce

1/2 cup good quality tahini like Soom brand

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Juice of 1 lemon

About 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

About 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cold water

Directions

Prepare Marinade

  1. Slice the chicken breasts into 5-6 pieces each and the thighs into 3-4 pieces each. Place them in a glass or stainless dish or large plastic zipper bag.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together 6 Tablespoons olive oil, the spices, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper (if you are salt sensitive or are using Kosher chicken, reduce the amount of salt). Pour the spice marinade over the chicken pieces. Stir with a spoon till all the chicken pieces are evenly coated in the marinade.
  3. Cover the dish with plastic wrap, or seal the zipper bag. Place chicken in the refrigerator and let it marinate at least 1 hour, up to overnight. [For maximum flavor, allow to marinate for 8 to 12 hours.]

Oven Cooking Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with a nonstick cooking oil. Place the chicken pieces on the sheet, evenly spaced.
  2. Place the chicken in the oven. Let it roast for about 15 minutes until cooked through, turning the chicken pieces once with tongs halfway through cooking.
  3. Take chicken out of the oven and let it cool slightly. Use a sharp knife to slice the meat into small, thin shawarma-like pieces. [You could do this first cooking ahead and then do the next step when you are ready to actually sit down and eat.] 
  4. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a skillet on the stove-top over medium high heat. A cast iron pan is great for this step. Pour half of the chicken into the skillet and sauté for 3-4 minutes till the smallest pieces of chicken turn brown and crisp.
  5. Remove the cooked chicken from the skillet. Heat another 1 tbsp of oil and sauté the remaining chicken in the same way. Serve warm.

For Tahini Sauce

  1. Mix all of the ingredients together. Use 1/4 cup of water to start and mix it through. Here’s where it gets personal. I like a thick sauce so I may only use a little more water, but if you prefer a thinner sauce with the consistency of heavy cream – and also because different brands of tahini differ in density – use water, mixing until you get the consistency you want. The tahini will actually thicken when you first add the lemon juice and then you thin it with water. Extra sauce (should you have any) will keep for a day or two in the fridge and can be used to make salad dressing or with any other grilled meat or poultry.

Roasted Tomato Soup

While my family and I eat meat, we don’t eat it every night. And since it is generally just me and my husband now, we often like something a little bit lighter for dinner yet still full of flavor. This is a lovely, herbaceous, slightly smoky soup that really only requires some well-toasted, crusty bread topped with smushed avocado or hummus if you are keeping it vegan or adding some cheese if you just want it vegetarian. The original recipe claimed that it served four, but unless you are also serving a large salad or are very, very tiny people with very, very small appetites, we found that it was just right for two people with one of them having seconds. Of course, if this is just a first course, it will obviously serve more. Should you have any left-overs, they can be gently re-heated.

This recipe relies on having access to really flavorful tomatoes and I think that Roma/plum tomatoes are best here. And while I suppose you could use dried herbs, please, please use fresh. It’s just that kind of fresh, herbal flavor that makes this dish. There are no fancy techniques here and it is wonderful as is, but when I make it again, I very likely will also add a couple of roasted red peppers – just because I can.

Roasted Tomato Soup by  

Yield: 4 small or 2 generous servings

Ingredients

2 lb tomatoes

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp Kosher salt or to taste

1/4 tsp cracked black pepper or to taste

2 cups vegetable broth, preferably low sodium

3 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion chopped – about 2 cups

3 cloves garlic minced

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped plus extra for garnish

1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped plus extra for garnish

2 tbsp all-purpose, unbleached flour

1 tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp Balsamic vinegar

1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika  

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.
  2. Cut the tomatoes in half length-wise. Add the tomatoes to a 9 x 13 baking pan and drizzle with 2 tbsp of olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 30 minutes or until tomatoes start to char slightly.Roasted Tomato Soup 3Roasted Tomato Soup7

  3. Add the tomatoes (with skin on) to a blender along with 1 cup of vegetable broth. Blend until tomatoes are smooth. [I found that the tomatoes blended just fine without adding the broth at this point. Your choice.]

  4. In a Dutch oven or heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.

  5. Add the chopped onion and garlic cloves and cook for 5 minutes or until the onion is soft and translucent.

  6. Add chopped fresh basil and thyme and stir. Roasted Tomato Soup8Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir. Add remaining 1 cup of vegetable broth and whisk, just to make sure there are no lumps from the flour.

  7. Pour the blended tomatoes into the pot and stir.

  8. Add brown sugar, Balsamic vinegar, smoked paprika and season with salt and pepper if needed.

  9. Simmer uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  10. Serve with some additional chopped fresh herbs, grated cheese and/or toasted bread or any combination. Roasted Tomato Soup1