“Crazy” Bolognese Sauce

crazy bolognese 6

I know I complain about the weather a lot, but as it turns out, there’s a biological reason for all of that whining: I found out this weekend that I’m allergic to cold weather. Like skin-bright-red, entire-body-broke-out-in-hives, itchy-like-you-wouldn’t-believe allergic. My body is straight up rejecting winter. (Also, in related news, not the smartest idea to run for 1+ hour when it’s 20 degrees out … )

I’m in the worst phase of my annual winter doldrums, where each day begins with the demoralizing realization that it’s a snow boots + puffy coat day yet again. I’ve resorted to eating carbs on carbs on carbs, oatmeal and mac and cheese and potatoes and lots and lots of cake. (“Summer bodies are built in winter,” they say at the gym. I can no longer even conceptualize summer.) I very wistfully bought sandals in the hopes that they’ll magically bring on warm weather, only to get caught in yet another snowstorm yesterday afternoon. At least I’ll be flying the coop to San Francisco soon, though I’m a bit afraid I’ll get out there and flat out refuse to come back.

crazy bolognese 3

(How’s that for a crazy person rant?)

To go with my all-you-can-eat carbs, I made this “crazy” bolognese sauce. It’s built on a basic pasta sauce recipe, but then I went ahead and cleared out my kitchen: mushrooms I accidentally bought, chicken sausage I found in the freezer, a bit of wine left over from a party, some Parmesan rinds I found in the back of the fridge, etc. etc.

crazy bolognese 4

A long simmer on the stove brings all of those flavors together, creating a thick, hearty sauce that’s full of meaty flavor but light on the actual meat (only a half-pound!) I had mine with spaghetti squash, on the offhand chance that some day, I will finally be able to once again wear fewer than four layers of clothing and maybe even a *gasp* sundress. Continue reading

Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk

Last month, I went out and did the yuppiest thing I could ever do: I joined a CSA. Our office started one for HuffPosters, and a co-worker and I split a share, so it ultimately turned out to be relatively reasonable: roughly $40 a month for a random assortment of vegetables (which I can’t pick), meats, cheeses, eggs, dairy, granola and even prepared meals (which I can pick).

chicken in milk 5

What is a CSA?* Short for Community Supported Agriculture, CSAs are a way for farmers to provide fresh, local, seasonal food directly to customers, while receiving advance money from those customers to set up (or keep fueling) their farming operations. Customers pay for their monthly (or bi-weekly, depending on the program) boxes up front, and then receive whatever bounty from the farm on a regular basis. In the NYC region, that means that during summer months, you may get a box full of fresh tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers and all sorts of fruit. And during the winter you get … root vegetables. Some CSAs offer only fruits and vegetables, and others partner with dairy, beef, pork or chicken farms to offer other options.

Our CSA, run through Eat Food Distributors, sells all different types of meats, plus offerings from a few different dairy farms and some local artisanal products. While you can pick from those options, you have no say in what fruits/vegetables you’ll receive, which is solely based on what the farmers have available at that time. And let me tell you, it is unreasonably exciting to open up your bag and see what goodies are in store for you each month. (Or maybe I just need to get a life.)

Our February box came with some onions, potatoes, beets, apples and some greens — typical winter fare in the Northeast. To add to it, I ordered a whole chicken. I had spotted Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk recipe a few weeks prior and decided “I must make this now.” “Now” turned into “once my CSA box arrives” and then into “when I have a free day to spend a few hours cooking chicken,” which arrived in the form of a surprise day off on President’s Day. And what better time to use a fancy organic, pasture-raised chicken than in what The Kitch calls the best chicken recipe of all time?

chicken in milk 4

It sounds weird (and wholly unkosher), but you take a whole chicken, brown it in a bit of butter and then braise / roast it in a pint of milk with cinnamon, sage, lemon and a whole lotta garlic. You would be right to be skeptical — those aromatics don’t seem like they would go together — but trust in Oliver. The lemon and cinnamon infuse the chicken with a brightness mellowed only by the sweet roasted garlic and the herby sage.

chicken in milk 7

The best part of this chicken is the sauce — the lemon zest and heat transform the milk into curds, which are creamy and tangy and unreasonably delicious. (It’s similar to the way my mom makes channa, the soft milk curds that form the base of many Indian sweets, slowly heating a gallon of whole milk with lemon juice until the milk curdles and forms small ricotta-like curds.) This milk sauce is heavenly, imbued with lemon zest and all the caramelized buttery chicken bits from the browning stage and a touch of cinnamon … while I can’t say you absolutely must join a CSA now (they’re expensive and a little fussy), you absolutely must make this chicken in milk now.

*I wrote about CSAs on this here blog literally 5 years ago, while working on my Master’s project. Time flies. Continue reading

Cooking 101: Perfect Roasted Potatoes

In my February newsletter, I introduced Cooking 101, a series of posts focused on basic recipes that every cook should have in their repertoire. Today: the perfect roasted potatoes.

roasted potatoes 4

There are side dishes that pair well with specific dishes (think steak with creamed spinach or pernil with rice and beans), and then there are side dishes that go with everything. Roasted potatoes fall solidly in the latter category.

In my eyes, the perfect roasted potatoes are crispy and golden on the outside, but soft and tender once you bite in. There are a few tips I’ve picked up on my many, many attempts at making these:

roasted potatoes 1

Use the right kind of potatoes. Avoid Russet or Idaho potatoes, since they’re starchy and can lose their shape in the oven. Instead, opt for Yukon golds, fingerlings, red-skinned potatoes or purple or blue potatoes.

Cut the potatoes into same-sized pieces. To ensure that the potatoes cook evenly, make sure they’re all cut to the same size.

roasted potatoes 3

Coat the potatoes in dressing evenly. Whether you’re tossing the potatoes with a touch of olive oil, herbs, spices or just salt and pepper, make sure that everything is evenly coated. You can do this in a large mixing bowl, or right on the baking sheet.

Don’t crowd the pan. If you overstuff your baking sheet, the potatoes will steam instead of roasting. Space out your potatoes when cooking so that the exteriors can crisp up nicely.

Roast at a high temperature. For a crispy outer crust and tender potato on the inside, roast at 425F. Lower temps won’t produce that nice golden crust.

Don’t be a helicopter cook. There’s no need to hover above your potatoes, checking them every few minutes. Toss them once or twice while cooking, and leave them alone otherwise — the oven will do the work for you.

roasted potatoes 5

I love roasting the potatoes with coarse mustard, but you can also add a bit more oil and spices or herbs to flavor them (perhaps rosemary, anyone?). These are so delicious that you’ll want to try every combination, multiple times, until you’ve perfected your own roasted potatoes recipe. Continue reading

Chicken and Brussels Sprouts Skillet

chicken brussels skillet 5

Sorry guys for gushing so hard in my last post … I know it’s annoying when people go on and on about their new relationships. I’ll try to keep it under control this time, but I can’t make any promises. Reason being? This chicken and Brussels sprouts skillet is amazing and made infinitely easier in one of these cast-iron bad boys.

chicken brussels skillet 2

Making dinner on weeknights is a chore that I kind of really hate — it’s why I cook enough food on Sundays to feed a football team. I’d rather reheat leftovers than have to start cooking after a long day at work, when I’m tired, starving and ready to collapse on the couch with my new favorite show. (And let’s be real … most nights, if I don’t have food already ready for me, I’m Seamless-ing so fast.)

chicken brussels skillet 3

But this one-pan dinner requires just six ingredients, one of which is water. And if your Brussels sprouts were as adorably teeny-tiny as mine, there’s zero prep work. You could get fancy and marinate the chicken in balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil for a half hour (or overnight), but you don’t need to — it picks up plenty of flavor as the skin gets perfectly crisp and golden on the stove, and then picks up some more from as the balsamic vinegar caramelizes around it in the oven. Your end result is delicious, fast and pretty healthy, the three hallmarks of weeknight dinners. Gives new meaning to the phrase “winner, winner, chicken dinner” … Continue reading

Banana-Caramel Breakfast Bread Pudding

breakfast bread pudding 6

Guys, I’m in love. Not with another human, much to the chagrin of every wedding-hungry relative I have in India. Not with a stripper, unlike T-Pain. I’m in love with my brand new cast-iron skillet. (Just look at that beauty. Its dark ebony finish, its chemical-free nonstick surface, its chameleonic ability to go from stovetop to oven in mere seconds. Ok fine, I’ll stop now … )

I’ve wanted a cast-iron skillet for a while now, but hadn’t bought one out of fear. You know, “it’s hard to clean,” “it’s hard to season,” “it’s hard to maintain that nonstick finish.” All of those things might be true. But after years of stalling, I finally pulled the trigger.

breakfast bread pudding 7

Why? Because I spotted this recipe for breakfast bread pudding, which requires one to make a stovetop salted caramel and then bake the caramel with a loaf of challah and the most delicious eggy custard, which is a cinch to do in a cast-iron skillet. There was salted caramel on the line here. It was time.

This bread pudding rounded out my sister’s birthday brunch (along with this breakfast casserole and this dark chocolate stout cake, with a wee little bowl of berries on the side for “balance” [there was also OJ in my mimosa and tomato juice in my Bloody Mary, so that’s three fruits/vegetables, right?]).

breakfast bread pudding 9

And guys, this is a showstopper. The salty caramel, the barely sweet custard that transforms the rich bread into plush pillows of deliciousness. I added some bananas, since I love them and they pair so nicely with caramel-y custardy things. The bread pudding is just barely on the right side of “too sweet,” a breakfast indulgence for special occasions like birthdays or brunches or ya know … inaugurating your new favorite kitchen implement. Continue reading