Category Archives: From the Cookbook

Lemon Bars with Olive Oil and Sea Salt

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Four years ago, I made lemon bars for a family party. They were a huge hit, especially with my mom, who raved about them for days afterwards. And then weeks afterwards. And then years afterwards. I didn’t pick up on her numerous hints, partly because I can be really dense and partly because, while she loved them, I was less convinced.

They were good, for sure, but they weren’t the bomb-diggity.* A bit too one-note: just bright, tart lemon on a buttery shortbread base. (Cue a collective eye roll at my pain-in-the-butt-ness.) But then, a few months ago, I spotted Melissa Clark’s lemon bars, tricked out with olive oil and a touch of sea salt. I immediately emailed the recipe to my mom, who promptly bought a bag full of lemons and waited for me to come home.

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And despite my best attempts to ruin them, these lemon bars are perfect. Olive oil and citrus are a wonderful pairing, and the fruity bitterness of the oil complements the lemons here nicely. The salt adds an extra layer of complexity, elevating these bars to “sophisticated,” “chic” and a bunch of other grown-up words that one rarely associates with lemon bars.

There’s not a chance that we go four years between making these.

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*I’ve been listening to the “No Diggity” playlist on Pandora a lot recently. They really don’t make music like they used to … Continue reading

Fall-toush Salad

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In honor of the sunny skies and almost balmy temperatures (50 degrees! Feels like heaven!), I’m going to keep things short today. After all, there’s outside time to be had, especially now that the sun is still shining at 7 p.m.

And before you besmirch my good name, I did not come up with this name. “Fall-toush” comes from Smitten Kitchen, whose love of good/bad puns is one reason why I’m convinced we’re culinary kindred spirits. Another reason? Her love of easy salads that take seasonal ingredients, cook them in a very unobtrusive way and add just a little something-something to make the whole thing really pop.

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This is based on fattoush, the Levantine salad made with toasted pita, mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and mint and other herbs. It’s usually full of summery vegetables, but alas, those are nowhere to be found. So Deb took a winter approach to the salad, using Brussels sprouts and squash instead. I had leftover tahini, so I hacked together a quick dressing to bring the whole thing together.

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It’s a supremely simple meal — roasted vegetables with a little dressing — that is so much more than the sum of its humble parts: smoky and spicy and creamy and crunchy and full of flavor, hearty enough for the lingering cold but with a sneaky eye on swimsuit season. It’s so good that it almost makes me forget how tired I am of winter fare … #nomorerootvegetablesplease Continue reading

“Crazy” Bolognese Sauce

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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.

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(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.

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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).

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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