Braising Season

October 21, 2008

After a sun-saturated Saturday and a Sunday awash with golden and crimson leaves, the yang to fall’s much more lovely yin has arrived in force. Every morning this week, I’ve needed not only a coat but a scarf too. What was once a pleasant waltz from the train to the gym in the morning has become a hunched speed walk into the wind, my head withdrawn turtle-like into my upturned collar. The previously sweeping view from my office—a little sliver of the lake here, a slice of the Sears Tower there—has been socked in by fog and driving rain. I even found myself leaving work on Monday, caught in a dreary rain storm: without an umbrella. All of this is to say: it’s time, friends, to braise.

If there is an upshot to nasty weather and grim skies and a perpetual chill it is ensconcing oneself in a cozy home and sweeping away the elements with a slow cooked, homey meal that sends clouds of roasty smells into the air, while the hot oven inches the room temperature up a blissful degree or two. It’s an intense craving for just this brand of comfort that keeps me coming back to braises all the livelong fall and winter.

I’ve got a dependable stable of braises all stocked up for winter, but it’s small and I’ve decided to use the less-than-lovely fall (pre-winter?) days to audition new additions to the roster. It’s my kitchen version of baseball’s spring training, you could say: I’m scouting the promising recipes from the farm system. I’ve had my eye on a number of prospects: hearty greens, tiny Brussels sprouts, tough cuts of beef, meaty pieces of fish, even some forays into new-to-me realms like lamb shanks.

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Can you believe that I’ve never made barbecue chicken before? I’m fully aware that it’s a summer BBQ staple, ensuring a grill wafting with delicious smells and a table full of people with sticky hands and sauce-smeared grinning faces. Which of course, makes them the perfect centerpiece for my Summer’s-Last-Stand BBQ Menu (components of which I’ll be posting about each day this week).

But barbecue sauce has never been my thing. I think a certain fast-food chain is mainly to blame for that: those little rectangular vessels of the stuff seemed to accompany all my childhood friends’ Happy Meals, a dunking pool for McNuggets and French fries—and a constant source of nose-wrinkling on my part. Growing up, I also eschewed the barbecue-flavored chips, much to my friends’ dismay. The sauce was just too sweet, too cloying, too overpowering for me.

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I think that every family has its version of a barbecue. Growing up, the elements of my family’s standard barbecue included potato and pasta salads from Byerly’s, golden cobs of buttered corn, and, if we were really lucky, a trip to Dairy Queen at the end of the night. But the clear star of the show was the giant platter of grilled meats, charred from the grill: burgers, chicken breasts (during my sister’s and my red meat strike that regrettably lasted throughout much of our teens), and, sometimes, brats. The most homesick I ever was during college was at the end of my freshman year in late May, when I called home and learned that my family was grilling. Without me. I could practically smell the grill’s smoke and hear my family’s laughter (mingling, most likely, with the sounds of a Twins game playing in the background). And I could just taste the brats.

With Kevin, my version of the barbecue has evolved to include some elements of his family’s barbecues (skirt steaks, for one) and to incorporate some new ones of our own. These usually include attempts at healthing things up: adding more vegetables, swapping turkey for ground beef in our burgers, opting for whole wheat buns. I suppose that’s where these brats come in. You see, they’re chicken brats. I can only hope that an admission of this magnitude will not prompt my family to disown me.

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Beer Can Chicken

June 13, 2008

I had altogether too much fun making this meal. Maybe it’s because my brain is fried from too much studying. Or perhaps my threshold for finding comedy is extremely low, after listening to legal lectures for hour after droning hour. Whatever it was, these grilled chickens were a real riot.

First, the whole project was like a Jeff Foxworthy bit, only backwards. As in: You know you’re not a red neck when you insist that your beer can chicken is organic. You know you’re not a red neck when you grill your beer can chicken on your gas Weber, which resides on your condo’s roof top deck, which affords a Chicago skyline vista. And you really, really know you’re a not a red neck when your beer can chicken requires trips to several stores because the first couple you tried don’t even sell beer in cans. So, right, I’m not a red neck, then.

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In college and for a couple years afterwards, burritos were a pretty substantial part of my diet. The burritos were as big as my head and they were wrapped in shiny foil: yes, I’m talking about those burritos. In college, my main excuse for my burrito habit was that the purveyor awarded you with a free soda to accompany your burrito when you brandished your student ID. My days of soda drinking are pretty much over (thankfully) and my Wildcard long since expired (sniff) and I haven’t ordered a condiment-laden, 16-inch-tortillaed burrito in at least a year.

But every now and again, the burrito urge strikes. Apparently, old habits die hard. So, I’ve attempted to recreate a healthier, more reasonably-sized burrito at home on several occasions. In contrast to my fairly good luck with making fajitas and tacos at home, my burritos had always fallen pretty flat. And I could never put my finger on the specific downfall.

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Buffalo Chicken Skewers

March 19, 2008


Wings are not a part of the culinary territory in which I tread lightly. You see, my roommate/dinner companion/husband is what one might call a wing aficionado. And wings are a subject on which he has got very definite views. And said views stop and start with Buffalo Joe’s, known to anyone in the know as simply Buff Joe’s.


Nary a soul passes through college studentdom at Northwestern or adolescence in Evanston and the surrounding suburbs without at least trying the blazing hots wings doled out by the Captain at Buff Joe’s, which is a stone’s throw from the edge of campus. Since my husband falls in both of these categories (a Wildcat and a product of the greater Evanston’s environs), his status as a Buff Joe’s super fan is not altogether shocking.

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Enchiladas: Step-by-Step

February 26, 2008


I’m afraid I’ve been putting the cart before the proverbial horse. I’ve been going on and on about the peripheral elements of our Friday night fiesta: the drinks, the side dish and the dessert. Okay, I’m not sure that the margaritas and key lime bars qualify as peripheral, but still. All this time, the elephant in the room (while we’re using figures of speech) is the enchiladas that anchored our fiesta feast.


You can add these to the growing list of recipes on this site that involve a too-fun-for-words assembly line (see: pot stickers, lasagna, calzones …). The elements of the assembly line in this case of enchiladas are (1) a sauce (here, I used a roasted tomatillo sauce, spiked with peppers, onions, garlic and spices); (2) tortillas (I opted for corn, over flour); (3) a filling (the tomatillo sauce appeared here, too, but a thickened version of it that enveloped shredded chicken and spinach); and (4) cheese (crumbled queso fresco, here, but I’m sure that shredded Monterey Jack or white cheddar would have been delicious as well). Once you’ve got the assembly line, er, assembled, the rest is a breeze.

(Click “more” for the step-by-step pictorial.)

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