New Year’s Day Dream

December 29, 2008

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I love the idea of spending New Year’s Day puttering around the kitchen, sipping a mug of coffee or perhaps a mimosa (or, heck, a little pool of Bailey’s in the bottom of a glass; it is a holiday after all). With any luck, you only have a slight champagne headache and the sun is shining, which practically makes you whistle while you work in the kitchen: stirring, tasting, tweaking.

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In my version of this little daydream, the food is hearty (resolutions start on the second day of January, according to, well, me) and comforting and long-cooked, requiring you to wear a path all day long from your favorite nook of the couch to the kitchen and back again.

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The weekend before last I was reminded how lovely—how decadent—a weekend could be. During my three years of law school, “weekend” was a loose term. Rather, each semester felt like a marathon, with cases and topics and outlines piling on like so many miles to be run. Sure, you could stop for a pit stop here and there, but a full-scale rest wasn’t feasible—you might never finish the race. The bar exam was even worse. And then there were the breaks—winter break, spring break, summer break, post bar exam weeks. During those times, the days just blended together into a seemingly endless weekend. So after my first full week of work, I signed off my computer and marveled at the notion of having Nothing To Do until Monday.  Exactly two days of much-needed rest.

Unsurprisingly, I filled my weekend with a number of baking and cooking projects. You’ve already heard about the biscotti and the roasted pumpkin. But there was this beef stew too. We also reveled in a delicious dinner out, caught up on the TV shows waiting patiently on our DVR, ate yogurt topped with the very best granola two breakfasts in a row, jogged through the neighborhood’s quieter streets, and visited the farmers’ market. It was restful and restorative and, well, I have a sneaking suspicion that weekends (the work-free ones, at least) just might turn into my favorite part of my new job.

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)

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It’s very often that I ask Kevin what we should make for dinner. It’s extremely rare, however, when he actually answers me. So, when he does, it’s sort of a done deal. Last week, our friend Seth was in town for a couple days for business and we had him for dinner one of the nights. Almost without hesitation, when I asked Kevin what we should make, he responded: “Mmmmm, those steak sandwiches.” Done.

It was a perfect choice. For one, the sandwiches are delicious: simple but bold flavors, resplendent with the textures of crunchy grilled ciabatta, languid sauteed onions, lush blue cheese and flank steak, with its dense chew. Plus, the sandwiches are really easy—thanks in large part to the fact that you only need to make one big sandwich (which you slice into individual servings) rather than a bunch of small ones.

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)

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Beef Bourguignon

January 17, 2008

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I am bursting at the seams to tell you about all of the action in my kitchen over the past couple days. As I’ve said, I’m busy cooking and baking for back-to-back parties this Friday and Saturday. Since Friday’s more of a casual, small gathering, the real kitchen action has been dedicated to Saturday night. And I’d love to tell you all about it. Really, I would. And I will. I promise. But one of the two guests of honor on Saturday night has expressed her desire to be surprised by the line-up of tapas and treats. And, when I take a teensy tiny step back, I too realize that it will be much more fun for her to be surprised.

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(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos and the recipe.)

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Rib Sticking

January 3, 2008

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Two things I mentioned yesterday factor heavily into today’s post too. First, the weather. Whoa it is cold. We are being mocked for enjoying the holiday season so much, apparently. Second, the new pot in my life. And the final element that completes the picture above was the fact that New Years Day, like a Sunday, calls for a meal that gives your day some purpose, but doesn’t have you chained to the kitchen all day. Something that you can invest in and something that will result in a soothing, memorable meal. But a menu that doesn’t hold it against you that you enjoyed one too many glasses of champagne the night before and thus need to put in some major couch time. Hypothetically.

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A braise is just the thing to satisfy these New Years Day criteria: a braise takes hours, but requires very minimal attention, and the magic it works on short ribs—rendering them into fall-apart loveliness—is certainly comforting and memorable. Especially when it’s very, very cold out (okay, I promise to stop whining and start acting like the Minnesotan-turn-Chicagoan that I am) and when you’ve got the perfect new vessel for braising (that’d be the aforementioned dutch oven that I am obviously just way too excited about).

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This meal also gave me a chance to re-create the lettuce wraps that I made for a holiday party in December. You see, when I made them then, I threw a little of this and a pinch of that into the pot and was delighted when they turned out to be delicious. But my delight quickly gave way to dismay when I realized I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d done. This time around, I diligently measured and took notes and I think the result was even better.

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And after a holiday season of heavy, decadent bite-sized treats, these bright, flavorful and light wraps are a welcome change. But I’m not ready to give up hearty, hibernation-worthy food like the braised short ribs just yet. I’d like those kind of dishes to stick around—and stick to my ribs—for at least another couple months. Even if my better judgment has me serving lightly stir-fried, garlicky and fiery baby bok choy along the side.

(Click “more” for the recipes)

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Blog-Bound After All

December 8, 2007

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When we chose my beef & broccoli stir fry for last week’s family dinner, I had serious doubts about whether the recipe and photos would be blog-bound.  Even though the flavors (Asian) and ingredients (broccoli, beef — duh) are some of our favorites (hence the family dinner pick), it’s not always the most–how shall I put this?–photogenic dish.  But it’s just too good not to share. 

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Like many stir frys, after the prep (mincing jalapenos, ginger and garlic, see above, and slicing onions and flank steak), this dinner comes together before you know it.  In fact, your down time (while the wok is sizzling away) is barely long enough to put together my favorite part: the fixings (usually lime wedges, sesame seeds, chili flakes and scallions; see below).

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I’ve adapted the recipe from a number of Cooking Light stir frys.  I use flank steak because it’s one of my favorite cuts of beef—lean, relatively inexpensive and really versatile.  And I like my stir fries a little on the fiery side (as you can probably tell from the jalapenos and chili flakes that go in the dish — photo #2 above — and then the extra chili flakes I like on top of the dish — photo #3 above).  So, feel free to scale back on the flakes and/or jalapeno if you prefer a milder dish.

I might not be objectively judging these photos (because of how much I really love this meal), but I don’t think they look too bad.  But, trust me, I spared you some doozies.  Read the rest of this entry »

Night of Firsts

December 5, 2007

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Last night was the first night of Hanukkah and we had two of our favorite dining companions over to have dinner and light the candles.  Since moving back to Chicago, we usually celebrate Hanukkah with a dinner at my husband’s parents’ house.   In other words, I’ve never had the occasion to cook for this holiday.  And this year, I have not only one excuse (dinner last night) but two (we’ll be having Kevins’ parents and some relatives for dinner on Sunday night, too!).  I had a whole new world of recipes open to me and man, was I excited.

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In addition to being the first night of Hanukkah and the first time I’ve cooked a meal to celebrate the holiday, it was also the first real snow in Chicago.  The first not-so-real snow came on Saturday, yes the day of our cocktail party.  On Saturday, I glared out the window as I stirred the sangria pitcher, convinced that Mother Nature was trying to derail our festivities.  But yesterday, I was happy to see the flakes fall.  You see, I had a brisket braising away in the oven by the time the storm rolled in.  And is if that weren’t hearty and comforting enough, I was also trying out a new soup: butternut squash and apple soup.

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For dessert, I baked a batch of rugelach (first time!), the recipe and photos for which I am very excited to share with you soon.  You might be asking yourself about the notable Hanukkah staple missing from the menu: Latkes.  Well, shame on you for even asking.  Come on, it was a Tuesday!  And I’d been braising a brisket for hours!!  There was no way I was undertaking a major operation like Latkes.  No, those will have to wait until Sunday.

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Luckily, the soup, brisket, simply dressed spicy greens and rugelach were so good that no one missed the latkes (at least, I hope not).  The soup, which required a number of modifications (as I was warned by the commenters on Epicurious, as always), was lovely: velvety, smoky and a brilliant orange.  While I pre-roasted the butternut squash flesh, I also toasted up some of its seeds.  Along with a dollop of Greek yogurt, they were the perfect garnish, adding some nutiness and crunch.  And the brisket … oh, the brisket.  I’m a sucker for braised meat and it was about time I tried a brisket (another first!).  This Zinfandel-braised version was delicious–tender, aromatic and just as fall-apart-good as brisket should be (though, in my opinion, not quite as good as my mother-in-law’s excellent brisket). 

 Happy Hanukkah!  And to those in Chicago, happy first snow!

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