I Love Fall.

Call it what you want — fall, autumn, I love it.

Today was the kind of November day that makes me want to loop my favorite scarf* around my neck, wiggle my fingers into my gloves and take the dog out on a long walk, maybe to get some hot chocolate from Burdick’s.  Then maybe we, the dog and I, would walk down to the river and sit amongst the fallen leaves crunchy like potato chips — which the dog would probably eat — and read a book while the sun sparkles all golden and champagne-y.

(Do you know what I mean, about the autumn sun, and how everything gleams so radiantly when it’s shone upon?  It’s like almost every daytime frame in All the Real Girls.)

The sad thing is that while I do have a favorite scarf, some awesome gloves and a great love of Burdick’s hot chocolate, and while I am almost done with an incredibly well-written book, I am lacking the dog.  And the sun is setting now, so that candlelight brilliance is fading for today…  Alas.

Part of the reason why I love food so much — aside from its potential to taste so damn good — is how it makes me feel and what it makes me remember.  Char siu bao, for example, makes me think about my mother’s father, and his ferocious appetite, and how our trips together were structured around meals.  Hazelnut makes me think of Regensburg, and how when Keith and I visited, the entire city smelled of sugar because of all the gelaterias, and how I had the best cup of coffee one evening at our hotel‘s restaurant.

Fall and its cool air matches comforting food so well.  The warmth of that sunshiney sparkle comes through in my choice of food during these months: mashed potatoes, chicken soup, mac and cheese, shepherd’s pie, my mother’s spaghetti — which is actually her version of my Armenian grandmother’s bolognese, and a recipe I’ll share with you at another time.

Technically speaking, a bolognese is a ragù, so this dish is a great nippy night recipe.  You can use lots of different meats, if you like; I love lamb, but beef, veal, chicken…  pretty much anything would work.

Again, skipping taste, one of the nicest things about this is how most of the work is done by your oven.  While it’s in there, you can take the dog for that long walk in the clear, crisp early night, and when you return, with roses blossoming on your cheeks, you can step into a home that smells inviting and feels as snug as my favorite scarf.

Rich + Meaty Lamb Ragù, from the kitchn
Makes eight servings

2 pounds stew lamb, cut in chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 onions
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons fresh sage
8 cloves garlic
1 big carrot, peeled
Olive oil
2 cups red wine
1 28-ounce can peeled whole plum tomatoes

  1. Pat the lamb chunks dry with a paper towel. Liberally coat the lamb chunks with salt and pepper and set aside. Peel and coarsely chop the onions, and chop the garlic. Chop the carrot into thin rounds.
  2. Place an oven-proof Dutch oven or heavy stockpot over medium-high heat, and add olive oil to cover the bottom thinly. When oil is hot, add the lamb and brown deeply. Do this in batches if necessary. Don’t worry about drying out the meat — you want it browned darkly for good flavor. (I usually brown each batch for at least 10 minutes, taking care not to crowd the pan. You want the meat to brown, not steam-cook.)
  3. When the meat is thoroughly browned, add the onions. Lower the heat, and cook slowly over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the onions are golden. Add the rosemary and sage, garlic, and the carrots. Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add wine and continue to simmer until liquid has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Crush the tomatoes in the can with a fork or back of a spoon, then add them and their juices to the pot. Bring to a simmer, then cover and place in a 275° oven for 3 to 4 hours. Alternately, put everything in a slow cooker and cook for 4 hours on high or at least 8 hours on low. (I have cooked this on low for up to 16 hours; it’s sublime when cooked that long!) The longer it cooks the more tender it will be. When ready to serve, go through with two forks and shred any remaining chunks of meat. Taste and season if necessary with additional salt and pepper.
  5. Serve over pasta with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.**
* This changes by the day, and the season.  Today is a fine-knit mulberry merino day.
** I like egg noodles here.
Advertisements

Beth Eats + Drinks Imports.

Beth and her husband Bob moved to Prague in 2008; I miss her terribly but am glad she’s gone since hearing about life in the Czech Republic is fascinating.  Here’s what she wrote about her food diary:

I realized how many things I eat (well, drink — all my tea and coffee) I brought from the States… but that’s just because I was just there. Usually it’s less of a mix, more Czech. I’m trying hard to be healthy (8 servings fruit & veggies etc).

6.23 am: Trader Joe’s French roast (imported in my suitcase).  Small black cup for me, giant beermug full for Bob.

7.02 am: Second cup.

8.38 am: Cottage cheese, one cup. Water.

10.09 am: Pot of decaf peppermint tea, honey.

11.58 am: Big salad with greens (Vogerlsalat, not sure what that is), tomatoes, green onions, shredded carrot, and awesome homemade dressing (tahini/lemon juice/garlic/soy sauce/sesame oil/honey)

1.50 pm: 1 cup coconut chai, peanut butter lollipop (spoonful of pb).

6.04 pm: Bob is out for tennis and beer, so I’m on my own. It’s chicken and broccoli, and water.

Moist + Tender Chicken Breasts, from the kitchn

2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, of even thickness
Salt and pepper
¼ cup flour
Handful of herbs (optional)
Olive oil and butter

If you have a little time before cooking dinner, lightly salt and pepper the chicken breasts. It’s great if you can do this the night before, but it’s not necessary.

  1. Mix about a half teaspoon of salt in with the flour along with a little pepper. Chop the herbs finely, if using, and mix in as well.  Dredge both sides of the chicken lightly in the flour.
  2. Heat a large heavy skillet (with a lid) over medium high heat, with a little olive oil and about half a tablespoon of butter. Quickly sear both sides of the chicken breast until just faintly golden; you don’t want the insides to cook much at all.
  3. Cover tightly and turn the heat down very low. Cook for 10 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove from the heat and let sit for another 10 minutes, still tightly covered.
  4. Remove lid and serve. There is usually just enough chicken fat, along with pan juices, to make a simple sauce, too.

Garlicky Sesame-Cured Broccoli Salad, from The New York Times
Makes six to eight side-dish servings

1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
2 heads broccoli, 1 pound each, cut into bite-size florets
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 fat garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons roasted (Asian) sesame oil
Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes.

  1. In a large bowl, stir together the vinegar and salt. Add broccoli and toss to combine.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil until hot, but not smoking. Add garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in sesame oil and pepper flakes. Pour mixture over broccoli and toss well. Let sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature, and up to 48 (chill it if you want to keep it for more than 2 hours). Adjust seasonings (it may need more salt) and serve.

On Chicken.

I don’t know why chicken sometimes gets the short end of the stick.  Is it not as “exciting” a protein as beef?  I mean, I love a nice rare steak, but few things are as comforting as chicken pot pie, as versatile as a chicken breast or as pretty as a burnished roast bird straight out of the oven.  The golden crispy skin, the promising plump meat, the fun of eating a drumstick with your hands…  There isn’t a beef equivalent of that.

So, now that I’ve gone on a bit about the culinary virtues of poultry, you’d think that I’d be cutting up chicken left, right and center (and saving the bones for stock, of course).  The sad truth is this: I’ve never even roasted a whole bird.

I know, I know.  Shameful.  I haven’t a good excuse either.  You know what else I haven’t done, now that I’m in a confessional sort of mood and am listing all of my shortcomings? Deboned a chicken.  I swear, I am not scared of chicken — you know I would tell you if I were.

When I saw that this recipe called for a boned bird, I decided to not take the easy road, buying breasts and thighs.  I was going to disassemble a chicken, dammit.

If you haven’t yet taken apart a bird, please take two pieces of advice: get your hands on a sharp knife, and don’t try to figure this out on your own.

The whole procedure is really quite simple, but only if you follow some instructions.  I propped open my copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall‘s excellent River Cottage Meat Book to use as my guide; not only does Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall clearly explain each step, there are also helpful photographs as well.  Also, the kitchn has got a great post and accompanying video that will take you through the entire process.  Personally, I prefer the book method, not because I am a technophobe (how can I be? I have a blog, I tweet and carry around an iPhone) but because I’m kinda grossed out at using my raw-chickeny fingers to constantly pause the video while I catch up.  And, oh yes, you will have raw-chickeny fingers.  You’re going to have raw-chickeny hands, so you may as well embrace it.  Just don’t embrace anyone or anything until you’ve washed.

There are so many things that you can make from your freshly broken-down chicken, and it’s far more economical to buy whole birds and take them apart than to purchase the pieces.  If you’re really on top of things, and I oftentimes am not, you could buy birds and freeze the parts you don’t use for another date.

Or you could just make this recipe, which is even simpler than deboning a chicken and far more appetizing.  I’ve made this both for a crowd and for just Keith and me; I think it’s safe to say that you’ll satisfy pretty much anyone.

Another plus: the flavors are so big that anyone will think the meal was a lot of effort, rather than child’s play (though with that sharp knife, maybe another phrase would be best).  The bulk of the work is done by a yogurt-based marinade and your oven.  All you have to do is chop some cilantro, slice a couple onions, mince a bit of garlic, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.  The most strenuous part of this meal is scrubbing your hands after finishing prep.  Oh, and fighting over who gets first dibs on the pieces.

Easy Chicken Masala, from Bon Appétit
Makes six portions

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 large garlic clove, pressed (I mince)
1 4- to 4 ½-pound roasting chicken, cut into 8 pieces, backbone removed
2 small onions, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices

  1. Mix yogurt, chopped cilantro, olive oil, garam masala, salt, and garlic in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Add chicken to marinade, 1 piece at a time, coating all sides. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 2 hours. Note: Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.
  2. Position racks in top third and bottom third of oven; preheat to 400°. Arrange onions in thin layer on large rimmed baking sheet to form bed for chicken. Top with chicken pieces in single layer, spacing apart for even roasting (chicken will still be coated with marinade). Discard remaining marinade.
  3. Roast chicken on top rack until cooked through and juices run clear when thickest portion of thigh is pierced with knife, about 1 hour. Serve chicken atop onion slices. Spoon pan juices around.

On Links.

I’ve just re-organized my column of links and wanted to take you on a quick tour of my most-visited food-, book- and travel-focused sites.

A note: Coincidentally, alphabetically, the one Armenian-ish blog I read follows the one Filipino-ish blog I read.  Fate?  Or my genetics translated into the Internet?

30 Bucks a Week
Two Brooklynites spend $15 each on their week’s worth of groceries.  Then they write about it.

101 Cookbooks
Heidi Swanson collects cookbooks and recipes.  She also takes great photographs.

Alinea at Home
Carol Blymire is cooking every recipe in the Alinea Cookbook.

Burnt Lumpia
Marvin cooks Filipino food.

Cave Cibum
Fellow Armenian Pam eats out and cooks a lot.

Chocolate + Zucchini
Parisian Clotilde Dusoulier writes in French and English about recipes, cookbooks, idioms and kitchen tools.

Cooked Books
Rebecca Federman has what just might be one of the coolest-sounding jobs ever: culinary librarian at the New York Public Library.

CoverSpy
What New Yorkers are really reading.

David Lebovitz
The observant and funny cookbook author writes about life in Paris and what he eats there.

Diner’s Journal
New York Times
‘s one-stop combination of its three dining blogs.

Formaggio Kitchen’s Cheese Blog
This is pretty self-explanatory.

Frommer’s
Arthur Frommer talks (writes?) travel.

Fucshia Dunlop
The memoirist/cookbook author’s blog.

Grub Street Boston
New York Magazine ‘s up-to-date info on the Boston dining scene.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
A great source for recipes + cooking techniques.

In the Kitchen + on the Road with Dorie
The often-adorable and always informative Dorie Greenspan splits her time between Paris and the East Coast. Oh, she also bakes. A lot.

In Transit
Another New York Times blog. This one’s about travel.

the kitchn
Apartment Therapy‘s site for people who love cooking and don’t mind making a mess whilst making dinner.

Lois Lowry
I want to be just like her when I grow up. In the meantime, I’ll just read her books and blog.

Lottie + Doof
A pretty food blog with a funny name.

Michael Ruhlman
The author of The Making of a Chef + Ratio cooks too.

The Millions
One of the best book-centric sites out there.

The New Vegetarian
Yotam Ottolenghi ‘s weekly column for the Guardian.

Nigel Slater
Recipes and writing from one of my favorite authors of food-related books.

One Minute Book Reviews
Also pretty self-explanatory.

Orangette
Molly Wizenberg lives and writes in Seattle.

Paper Cuts
The editors of The New York Times Book Review blog too.

The Prognosticators
My friends Beth + Bob moved to Prague; these are pictures of their travels.

Reading is My Superpower
Annie Frisbie reads faster than I do. She blogs more often too.

Scanwiches
Sandwiches might be my favorite.

Smitten Kitchen
Good things come from small kitchens.

On Caramels.

Okay, I’ve been teasing you about these for far too long.  I’m ready to share now.

I’m not one for holiday traditions — I don’t even know what’s served at a traditional Christmas dinner aside from goose, and that’s only because I’ve read A Christmas Carol — but I do buy into the whole cookie-making frenzy that seems to monopolize every food magazine and newspaper column at that time of year.  I always get started on my cookie-baking a little bit too late and end up paying a ridiculous amount of postage to express my packages to my friends, and this year was no different.  Well, maybe that’s a bit of a lie, since I decided to try my hand at making caramels… which can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge.

Making caramels is easy.  I can’t stress this enough.  It’s easy easy easy.  The thing to be aware of, however, is that they are as sticky to make as they are easy to make.  I didn’t know that going into this whole procedure, so I feel duty-bound to inform you.  Don’t let stickiness prevent you from getting your hands, well, sticky, because your taste buds will never forgive you for it.

Here’s the step where things start to get sticky: cutting and wrapping.  See, the recipes below both ask that you basically make a huge slab of caramel, and unless you’re lucky enough to have an old-fashioned metal ice cube tray to use as a mold, you’re going to have to cut your caramel slab into smaller mouth-friendly pieces.  (And yes, it must be a metal ice cube tray.  If you try to pour a 250° substance, candy or otherwise, into a plastic container, I promise you’ll have a mess on your hands.)  I can’t do anything about caramels’ stickiness, but I can tell you what I did to try to control it a bit: I rolled each cut caramel in sugar, or a sugar-and-salt mixture for the fleur de sels.  It adds a nice little crunch, along with cutting back on the stickiness.

Wrapping the caramels isn’t necessary, of course, but it is fun to have a little package to peel open.  I used parchment paper, but I bet waxed paper would work just fine too.  If you want to be a little fancy, glassine paper would do the trick.

Fleur de Sel Caramels, from Ina Garten
Makes 16 caramels

Vegetable oil
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Line the bottom of an 8-inch-square baking pan with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing the paper to drape over two sides.  In a deep saucepan (89 diameter by 4 ½” deep), stir together ¼ cup water with the sugar and corn syrup and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown color. Don’t stir — just swirl the pan to mix. Watch carefully, as it will burn quickly at the end!
  2. In the meantime, in a small pan, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon of fleur de sel to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  3. When the sugar mixture is a warm golden color, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Be careful! It will bubble up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248° (firm ball) on a candy thermometer. Very carefully (because it’s hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm.
  4. When the caramels are cold, use the parchment paper to pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Cut the sheet in half. Starting with the long end, roll the caramel up tightly into a log, then roll out to 12 inches in length. Repeat with the second piece. Sprinkle both logs lightly with fleur de sel, trim the ends, and cut each log in 8 pieces. Cut parchment papers into squares and wrap each caramel in a paper, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator and serve the caramels chilled.

Cinnamon-Ginger Caramels, barely adapted from the kitchn
Makes a boatload of caramels

2 cups heavy cream
3 ½ cups sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
¼ cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3 teaspoons fresh-ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces candied ginger, finely chopped

  1. Line a 9 x 13 baking sheet with heavy-duty foil and butter generously. Put the cream in a small saucepan and let it warm over low heat.
  2. Put the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat and stir vigorously until the sugar melts and dissolves. Stop stirring and turn the heat to high. Cook until the sugar turns dark amber. Take off the heat.
  3. Whisk in the butter. Carefully pour in the cream and whisk it. The caramel will bubble up furiously and steam. Whisk until well-combined and return to high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring, then turn the heat to medium-low. Clip on the candy thermometer and let the caramel cook until the temperature hits 250°. Remove from the heat and quickly whisk in cinnamon and salt. Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle candied ginger evenly across the surface; let cool.  Once cooled completely, put it in the fridge to harden overnight. The next day, cut into small pieces and wrap.

A Seasonal Cocktail.

Let’s face it: sometimes, we all just need a drink.

rhubarb mojitoMaybe there’s a little bit of extra stress in your life.  Maybe it’s the weather’s been acting up and you need to remind yourself that it’s almost summer.  Maybe you recently returned from a trip to Maine, where you thought about buying a water carbonater and of all the different syrups you could make to flavor sodas, spritzers and spirits.

Or maybe you were just thirsty.

Whatever your reasons, there’s none that I can think of that should possibly dissuade you from boiling down some rhubarb into syrup.  I’ve been stirring the results into everything ranging from my morning orange juice to my midday seltzer to my midnight tisane; the other day Keith, Melissa and I poured shots of rum over the syrup and made mojitos in a vain attempt to convince ourselves that we live in a balmy, tropical climate.  It didn’t work, but I’m certainly glad we tried…

Rhubarb Syrup, from the kitchn

4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Combine everything in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook gently until the fruit is soft and the liquid has thickened slightly, about 20 minutes. Ladle into a fine strainer (or a coarse strainer lined with cheesecloth) that has been placed over a large bowl. Strain until most of the liquid is in the bowl. Give a little press on the solids with a spoon to extract more syrup. Carefully pour the syrup into a clean bottle, cover or cork the bottle and refrigerate. It should keep for quite some time in the fridge.

Notes: Don’t throw away the rhubarb pulp!  Try mixing it into some Greek yogurt in the morning or dropping it onto a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Personally, I like to spoon the pulp onto a piece of whole wheat bread that I’ve covered with crumbled goat cheese; then I sprinkle it with finely-chopped rosemary, crack some black pepper over it all and slide it into the toaster oven until the bread crisps up.  As I wait for it to cool, I drizzle some olive oil across the top.

Additional uses for syrup:

  • Whisk with powdered sugar for a rhubarb-flavored glaze as a frosting substitute on cakes and cookies.
  • Mix with Champagne or sparkling wine for rhubarb bellinis.
  • Drizzle over French toast in lieu of maple syrup.
  • Make rhubarb sundaes!

Rhubarb Mojitos, from Brooklyn Farmhouse

For each beverage:
4 tablespoons rhubarb syrup
1 ounce white rum
5-6 large mint leaves, torn
Seltzer or club soda
Ice

Add rhubarb syrup and mint to each small highball glass. Add 1 ounce of white rum. Stir to mix.  Top with seltzer or club soda and add ice.