All Posts Tagged ‘How To

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sunday snack: avocado toast, plain & simple.

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I had a realization today. As realizations go, it wasn’t groundbreaking or particularly unique, but it stuck with me. Popping up every once in awhile in the quieter moments of the day. A day filled with celebration. Watching a friend about to take a big leap with her love, surrounded by family and laughter and joy.

You know what I’m talking about though, right? One of those thoughts that comes straight out of your gut and kind of smacks you across the face. It was the universe telling me, ‘Wake up! Look around! Notice things!’ And that realization? That I am surrounded by truly good people in my life. Good down to their bones — caring and funny and smart and genuine. Complicated and brave and hopeful and doing their best to figure it all out one day at a time.

With all the shit we go through every day of our lives, knowing that I have such good people around me is powerful. Maybe I’m extra sentimental these days due to things happening in my personal life (things I’m not even close to being ready to put pen to paper on), but this was an incredibly comforting thought. It felt good to put it all together. It was uplifting.

What this has to do with avocado toast, who the hell knows. But as I sit here enjoying this simple, delicious snack, I am fully aware of how lucky I am to be surrounded by such goodness. I am thankful for that. I aspire to be just as good for and to the people in my life.

And that’s all I got for this stormy Sunday (oh hello, flash flood warning).

So to all of the people in my life — you know who you are — thank you. Thank. You. You’re making this journey a whole lot easier (and immensely more enjoyable).

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

OG Avocado Toast

You will need:

1 avocado
Whole grain bread
1 lemon
Olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

This is the simplest of the simple. I wouldn’t even call it a recipe — it’s more of a ‘gathering of ingredients’. And it should take approximately four and a half minutes for it to come together.

First things first, drizzle a little olive oil on your bread and hit each slice with a touch of salt and pepper. Turn on the broiler in your oven and toast your bread on a cookie sheet (or directly on the oven rack) for a few minutes, watching closely so it doesn’t burn.

Once you have some nicely browned toast, scoop the avocado out of its shell into a bowl and add a small drizzle of olive oil (about a tablespoon). If you want your toast to be extra lemony, you can add a squeeze of juice to your avocado/oil mixture, but this will make the consistency more guacamole-like, which I don’t love. Whatever, you do you. This is your toast.

Mix the avocado lightly, then mash onto the toast. Top with a bit more salt and pepper, a good squeeze of lemon juice, and as many pepper flakes as your palate can handle. Enjoy immediately.

If you want to spice things up a bit (and invest a little more time), you can make the above and flourish with any of the following combos:

  • Tomato + Basil + Balsamic Vinegar
  • Poached Egg + Hot Sauce
  • Bacon + Goat Cheese
  • Feta + Black Pepper + Kalamata Olives
  • Cucumber + Pea Sprouts
  • Grilled/Roasted Corn + Queso Fresco + Lime + Smoked Paprika

Enjoy!

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sunday dinner: roast chicken & asparagus with rhubarb butter.

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Confession: I keep a list of my 25 favorite words on my iPhone. And it is one of my very favorite things. Words like superfluous, modernity, flibbertigibbet. Effervescent, ephemera, dusk. They roll off the tongue and just bring me such joy. I have always had a certain love affair with language; it consistently amazes me that there is a perfect word out there to describe nearly every situation. I have another list of words that I don’t love, but that’s another blog post for another day.

And my favorite culinary term, you may ask? It is without a doubt, most assuredly: SPATCHCOCK. Say it with me ‘spatchcock’. S-P-A-T-C-H-C-O-C-K. It’s a truly glorious word (thanks, Ireland). And what sounds like something that is decidedly NSFW is actually just a fancy way of describing the removal of the backbone of a chicken so you can splay it out spread eagle style for cooking. When a chicken is spatchcocked, it cooks more evenly, and it helps the leg/thigh meat cook slightly faster than the rest which prevents the breast meat from drying out. Added bonus? Maximum amounts of crispy, salty skin, which is the primary reason we’re doing this anyway, am I right?

To properly spatchcock your chicken, you can do a little Youtube research and figure it out yourself, but I also highly recommend having your friendly neighborhood grocery store butcher do it for you. Grab a whole chicken of your choosing and toss it in his or her direction, then go about the rest of your shopping. By the time you’re ready to checkout, your chicken will be sans backbone and ready for cookin’ with little to no effort on your part.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Roast Chicken & Asparagus with Rhubarb Butter

You will need:

Roast Chicken
1 3 – 3 1/2 pound chicken, backbone removed
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Roast Asparagus
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, halved

Rhubarb Butter
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 stalk rhubarb, roughly chopped
Juice of one orange (or 1/4 cup orange juice)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated

Kitchen Equipment: two rimmed baking sheets, small saucepan

With your chicken properly spatchcocked (I just can’t stop saying it), we’re ready to begin, so preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

First, spread out your chicken on a baking sheet skin side up and pat dry with a paper towel or two. A dry chicken is the best chicken and will lead to the crispiest skin; leave any moisture on the bird and the skin will steam in the oven, leaving you with a flabby mess. No one wants a flabby mess, so pat ‘er down good. Set aside to come to room temperature.

Now let’s turn our attention to the rhubarb butter. Chop your rhubarb and combine with the orange juice, honey and ginger in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is soft, about 7-10 minutes. Drain the rhubarb in a small bowl and reserve the cooking liquid. Cool the cooked rhubarb before combining with the butter (I stuck mine in the freezer for a bit to save time). When properly cool, mix the rhubarb and the butter together until fully incorporated and the butter has a whipped consistency.

Now let’s get down to business. Grab the tray with your chicken and the rhubarb butter, and with clean hands, carefully slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making two little pockets, then use a fingertip to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using a small spoon or your hands, insert some of the butter under the skin in each of the four pockets you’ve created. Use the skin to spread the butter evenly, adding more as necessary. Once the butter is applied, add a few sprigs of thyme into each pocket.

Rub the outside of the chicken with one tablespoon olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.

Place your seasoned chicken on the middle rack in your preheated oven, and cook until golden brown and crispy, about 40-45 minutes. A thermometer inserted into the thickest section of the thigh should read 165 degrees when the chicken is properly cooked.

Remove from oven and set aside under a tent of aluminum foil to rest.

While your chicken is resting, turn your oven down to 400 degrees.

Toss the asparagus with one tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread in one layer on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven until bright green and slightly charred, about 10-12 minutes. Remove asparagus from the oven and transfer to a serving dish, squeezing a bit of lemon juice over the top for an added kick.

Serve your chicken table side and use the leftover rhubarb cooking liquid as a delicious jus. This dish is bright and tangy, perfect for a bottle of rosé, a bit of a Spring breeze and some good company. Get a little boozy and giggle mercilessly while shouting ‘spatchcock’ to the heavens. It will soon be one of your favorite words too.

Side note: grab a few extra stalks of rhubarb at the grocery store, make this rhubarb compote, and serve it over vanilla ice cream for dessert. BONKERS good. *immediately runs to the store to buy more rhubarb and vanilla ice cream*

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sunday dinner: roasted carrots with cilantro pesto & sriracha yogurt.

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Sometimes I don’t have much faith in the state of Idaho. It’s not New York, I say. My expectations should be lowered, I say. I’ll never be able to find what I need for this slightly upscale recipe, I say.

And then Idaho gets all up in my face and says, ‘Don’t doubt me, you silly little girl’.

Like when I walked into Safeway this morning and easily located heirloom rainbow carrots, organic greek yogurt and sriracha. OK, Idaho, my bad. I’ll just sit my snooty Brooklyn-based self down now.

And while I’m my state-mandated timeout, I’ll be pulling together this little ditty. I’m a really big fan of roasted carrots — roasting amplifies their sweetness and the ends get all crispy and caramelized. They need just a hint of seasoning, in this case a pinch of cinnamon and salt & pepper, and they go from produce section to oven to table in under an hour. Combined with the one-two punch of pesto and spiced yogurt, this comes together as an incredibly satisfying dish with layers of complex flavor.

Fair warning: this dish features cilantro front and center. I realize this is a rather polarizing herb, which I happen to love, but I know for others it tastes like soap. So, if you’re in the latter group, I’d probably skip the pesto — which, to be honest, the carrots will taste just as good with only the yogurt.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Roasted Carrots with Cilantro Pesto & Sriracha Yogurt

You will need:

Roasted Carrots
2 pounds carrots (I used the rainbow variety because they’re so gosh darn pretty)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cilantro Pesto
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 clove garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sriracha Yogurt
1/3 cup plain greek yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons sriracha

Additional toppings: roasted pumpkin seeds or pepitas
Kitchen equipment: food processor or blender, baking sheet x 2

First things first, preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Wash and peel your carrots and trim off the ends. Grab the baking sheet and sprinkle the cinnamon evenly across the sheet. Add the olive oil, and a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper, then toss the carrots in the oil and spices so they are evenly coated.

Roast for about 35 minutes, turning once or twice along the way.

While your carrots are roasting, put together the accompanying sauces. For the cilantro pesto, first mince the garlic clove in your food processor or blender. Next, add the cilantro — leaves, stems and all — plus the olive oil and salt and pepper. Pulse until the mixture is completely incorporated and resembles a pesto-like consistency. Taste to ensure the seasoning is adequate, adding more salt and pepper if necessary. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

Prepping the sriracha yogurt is as simple as combining the sriracha and yogurt in a small bowl and stirring until fully incorporated.

When your carrots are properly roasted, remove them from the oven and set aside to cool slightly. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and roast the pumpkin seeds or pepitas for approximately six minutes.

To bring it all together, place your carrots on a serving platter (they’re really pretty so you’ll want a serving dish that allows you to show them off) and drizzle the pesto over the top. Do the same with the yogurt, then sprinkle the finished dish with the roasted pumpkin seeds.

This is great as a hearty side dish (we had ours with grilled lamb chops because we’re FANCY here in Idaho), but it could also function as a light main dish served with a bright, citrusy side salad.

I love how the flavors play off of each other — the sweetness of the carrots, the herbal punch of the pesto, the kick of the sriracha, the creaminess of the yogurt. It’s a flavor combination I haven’t experienced very often, but it’s one that I will make again and again. Especially when Idaho delivers such top notch ingredients.

Enjoy!

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sunday dinner: baked eggs with kale & pancetta.

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Guys. As much as I would like to say SPRING IS HERE, REJOICE! It’s just not true. The sun may be a-shinin’, but it’s still frightfully cold in the Northeast. I still have to suit up in my big winter coat and my scarf and my fuzzy boots, and the wind still nips in that maddening way.

And while I’d like to be wearing a lighter jacket and skipping off to the farmers’ market to buy asparagus and ramps and green garlic and all of those other lovely spring treats, I am instead staying home under a blanket because it’s 25 degrees and there are ‘flurries in the forecast’.

Ho hum.

So what to eat when you’re deep in the ‘when the F will this Winter be over’ blues? Something homey and comforting, buttery and salty and peppery — something like baked eggs with kale and pancetta. It’s a polished and chic dish that is almost a one pot meal, and it’s a cinch to pull together. You can whip it up, then dive back under the covers and enjoy the fruits of your labor while binge watching Empire. Or Call the Midwife. Or House of Cards (OK, so I’m painfully late to the Season 3 party. Can I live?) Whatever your choice, this dish will help you forget, if even for a moment, that it’s nearly April out of doors but it still feels a whole lot like January.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Baked Eggs with Kale & Pancetta

You will need (all of the increments below are listed per person; if you’re preparing for more than one, adjust accordingly):

2 eggs
½ bunch lacinato kale
1 thick-cut slice pancetta
1 clove garlic
1 pat butter
1 tablespoon half and half
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
parmesan reggiano cheese
hot sauce (optional, I used Texas Pete’s)

Kitchen equipment: cast iron or heavy-bottomed saute pan, oven-safe baking dish

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Wash the kale thoroughly, remove the tough inner stem, and chop roughly into big pieces. Dice the pancetta into bite-sized pieces and mince the clove of garlic.

In a cast iron or heavy-bottomed pan, saute the pancetta over medium heat until browned and slightly crispy, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from the pan and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off all but about a teaspoon of the fat in the pan, then return to the stove and add the garlic and kale. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring often, until garlic is fragrant and the kale is slightly wilted. Remove from heat and return the pancetta to the pan with the kale. Toss to incorporate.

Add the kale/pancetta mixture to one side of the baking dish, spreading out in an even layer. Crack the eggs into the other half of the dish, being careful not to break the yokes. Place the pat of butter and the half and half on top of the eggs, then season the entire dish with a liberal amount of black pepper.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes for runny yokes, a few minutes more if you like your yokes a bit firmer.

Sprinkle the dish with some freshly grated parmesan reggiano and a few dashes of hot sauce if you like. Serve with crusty bread or toast (I made these English muffins and they are absolutely DYNAMITE) to soak up the delicious, buttery eggs.

Personally I like to make mini open-faced egg/kale/pancetta sandwiches, topped with a few more dashes of hot sauce for an extra kick. However you choose to eat it, you will find it to be rich and fulfilling and cozy. A perfect accompaniment for a winter that just won’t quit.

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sunday dessert: rhubarb upside-down cake.

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‘So what are you doing this weekend?’ ‘Well…um…I’m going on a hunt for rhubarb?’ Insert quizzical coworker face here.

That’s right. I spent much of my weekend scouring the city for one of my favorite Spring ingredients: gorgeous, sweet and tart, brilliant reddish-pink, rhubarb. If Mother Nature was going to refuse to cooperate (hello, late March snowstorm), then I was going to make my own Spring. I was going to put it on a gosh darn plate, I tell ya.

One thing I did not anticipate on my jaunt around the city: a surprising number of New Yorkers had never heard of rhubarb. ‘Did you say radicchio? Rutabaga?’ ‘No, ma’am. Rhubarb. R-H-U-B-A-R-B.’ Insert quizzical grocery store clerk face here. I was beginning to lose hope after it was a no show at the green market (too early) and at Trader Joe’s (too fancy), but then! There it was at Whole Foods, tucked away in a little corner next to stalks of aloe and free trade, organic shiitake mushrooms. Because Whole Foods.

Hooray! I shouted (Not really). Let us get to bakin’.

And while rhubarb is most commonly found in pie form, I’m breaking from tradition and making a rhubarb upside-down cake. Not just for pineapple anymore, folks. This cake is basically a sour cream coffee cake flipped on its head and combined with caramelized rhubarb. It’s rich and bright and not too sweet; the fluffy, light cake pairs well with the syrupy rhubarb, and the crumb topping, which ends up on the bottom, gives it a nice crunch. I could use a thousand words to describe this cake, but all in all, it’s just really, really good.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

You will need:

For the Crumb Topping
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon sea salt
For the Cake
1 ½ stick unsalted butter, plus more for buttering pan (butter should be room temperature)
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 2” pieces on the diagonal
½ cup light brown sugar
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest (I used meyer lemons)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream

Kitchen equipment: 1 9” cake or springform pan, mixer, tin foil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter the bottom and sides of your cake or springform pan. If you’re using a springform pan, cover the outside of the pan tightly with tin foil (I used two sheets). This will prevent any juices leaking out during the baking process.

In a medium bowl, toss rhubarb with 1/2 cup sugar. In another bowl, make the crumb topping by combining the melted butter, flour, sugar and salt and mix until crumbly. Set both aside.

Mix dry ingredients together in a medium bowl (flour, baking powder, salt). In your mixer, beat remaining butter (1 stick) and sugar (1 cup) on medium speed until fluffy. Add in lemon zest and juice and mix to combine. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add dry ingredients in 1/2 cup increments, alternating with the sour cream. Mix until smooth.

In a small saucepan, melt brown sugar and 1/2 stick butter over medium heat until bubbling; this should take about two minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.

Now, to the cake pan! Pour the brown sugar mixture into the buttered pan and spread evenly. Take your rhubarb and toss again lightly in the sugar, then place in the pan. Since this will be the top of your cake, you may want to arrange the rhubarb in a fun pattern — I’m a big believer that food should be delicious and pretty, so here’s your chance.

Once the rhubarb is organized and covers the entire bottom of the pan, pour batter over the top and spread evenly. Finally, sprinkle the crumb topping over the batter.

Bake for approximately one hour (you may need up to one hour, 15 minutes depending on your oven), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then invert the cake onto a wire rack or cake plate to cool completely. You may want to run a knife around the sides of the cake before removing from pan to make this easier. Don’t wait longer than 10-15 minutes to remove cake from pan, as the rhubarb will begin to stick as it cools.

Serve when cool with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

This is a ‘holy shit, you made this?!’ dessert. This is an absolutely gorgeous, invite your friends over and impress the pants off of them dessert. This is a crazy delicious, never had anything better dessert. Is it a labor of love? Sure. Is it worth getting your kitchen a little dirty for? Absolutely.

Enjoy!

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sunday dinner: ricotta toast with lemon, basil & honey

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Confession: I spent four hours at brunch today. There was champagne and oysters and an over the top fancy Upper East Side location. There were socialites and wannabe socialites and older men with uncomfortably young ‘companions’ and botox as far as the eye could see. Also, André Leon Talley. And it was glorious. And all of this was after a breakfast of bacon and eggs and my breakfast food soulmate, a perfectly toasted english muffin. Go big or go home, am I right?

Needless to say, it was a day of indulgence, so by the time I got around to planning dinner, I just couldn’t commit to a full meal. I couldn’t go entirely without food, that’s just silly; but I didn’t need a meat and potatoes situation.

Enter ricotta toast. It’s light and crunchy and creamy and perfect for when you’re in the mood for snacking. Add in basil and lemon zest for freshness and a little pepper and honey to round it out. Simple and delicious and just filling enough for a day that mostly consisted of eating fancy food surrounded by fancy people.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Ricotta Toast with Lemon, Basil & Honey

sourdough bread (two slices per person)
ricotta cheese
4-6 leaves fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon zest
extra virgin olive oil
honey
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Set your oven on broil and move one rack to the top position. While the oven is warming, brush each slice of bread on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. When the oven is ready, place the slices of bread directly on the oven rack and toast until golden brown, approximately two minutes per side. Watch the bread closely; they can go from nicely browned to burnt in a matter of seconds.

Remove toast from the oven, and when it’s cool enough to handle, spread a liberal amount of ricotta on each slice. Season with salt and pepper, then top with the chopped basil and lemon zest. Just before serving, drizzle with a touch of olive oil and honey.

I paired these little gems with some olives and cornichons (fancy French pickles are the business, no?) and a few slices of prosciutto. These would also go nicely with a bright, citrusy green salad or on their own with a crisp glass of rose.

It’s dinner but not — perfect for a day when you don’t want to commit to a full meal, when grazing is the name of the game. Enjoy!

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sunday dinner: bucatini with butter-roasted tomato sauce.

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We are a Bon Appétit family. Some people are Food & Wine families, some people are Cook’s Illustrated or Saveur families, some people are like what are you talking about we don’t categorize ourselves by what cooking magazine we subscribe to, you crazy person. And that’s all fine.

But since I was a little kid, we’ve always been a Bon Appétit family. We’d sit around our kitchen island as a family and pour over the issue when it arrived each month, trying different recipes, the best of which were torn from the magazine and saved in my mother’s bubble gum pink recipe binder. We still have every November Thanksgiving issue, displayed proudly on a special shelf in my parents’ pantry. They are our culinary bibles. There are recipes from those issues that I know by heart, that I cherish on the same level as family mementos. They are my family mementos. When I went off to college, it wasn’t with a subscription to Cosmo or Seventeen or Us Weekly, it was with a subscription to Bon Appétit. The one that I still have today, 16 years later.

Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce is one of my favorite BA recipes from recent years, one that I make on Sundays when I want something simple and satisfying, and when I want my apartment to smell like my non-existent Italian grandmother has been cooking all day. Except she hasn’t because this baby is ready and on the table in under an hour.

Is there a better culinary phrase than ‘butter-roasted’? I think not. It implies homey, rich, comforting. And when you combine it with the sweetness of roasted tomatoes, the umami of garlic and anchovies (it’s not fishy, I promise), and the toothsome quality of bucatini (spaghetti’s portlier cousin), it makes for a hearty, warm dish with just a hint of spice.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce

You will need:

1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
6 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
2 anchovy fillets packed in oil
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash of balsamic vinegar
12 oz. box of bucatini (spaghetti also works)
Grated parmesan reggiano

Kitchen equipment: 13×9 inch baking dish, large pot for cooking pasta

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. While the oven is warming, open your can of tomatoes and using your hands, crush the tomatoes and place them in the baking dish. Be careful as you do this; the tomatoes are likely to squirt juice all over the place as you crush them, potentially ruining your kitchen counter and/or your favorite Sunday sweater. Aprons all around, mmm’k?

Once all the tomatoes are properly crushed, discard the tomato liquid and the can. Next, peel and trim your garlic cloves and give them a good whack with the back of your chef’s knife to crush them. The original recipe that was my inspiration for this called for eight cloves — that’s a little too aggressive for me, so I ended up using six. If you love garlic, go for the full eight; if you want a milder garlic flavor, maybe only use four. You do you.

Add the crushed garlic cloves to the tomatoes, spreading evenly in a single layer across the dish. Next, toss in two anchovy fillets, then add the butter cubes, nestling them into the tomatoes in an even layer. Finally, top with the red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper.

When the oven is ready, place your baking dish on the middle rack of the oven and roast for 40-45 minutes, stirring once about half way through the cooking time.

While the sauce is cooking, heat a large pot of salted water on high until boiling, then add your pasta and cook per package instructions. When the pasta is ready, reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

When the sauce is done, the garlic should be very soft and the tomatoes should look a bit like jam. Remove from the oven, and using a fork or a potato masher, blend the sauce to mash the garlic and the tomatoes. Add a few dashes of balsamic vinegar and stir to incorporate. This adds a bit of sweetness to balance the salty/buttery flavor of the anchovies and the, well, butter.

To finish the dish, add the cooked sauce and the reserved pasta water to the pasta in the pot and heat on medium-high for 2-3 minutes, stirring and tossing regularly. When the sauce clings to the pasta and the pasta water is cooked down, you’re good to go.

Plate the pasta and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Enjoy with a full-bodied red wine and a crusty baguette…and perhaps the new issue of Bon Appétit. You know that’s what I’ll be doing.

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sunday dinner: baked mac & cheese with brussels sprouts and bacon.

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Let’s talk about the word ‘umami’. It’s a good word. Rolls off the tongue with ease, sounds vaguely foreign (it is, it’s Japanese) and you’ve likely heard it before but aren’t sure what it actually means.

Umami can be roughly translated as ‘pleasant savory taste’ and since 1985, it has been classified as the fifth of five basic tastes (along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty — thanks Wikipedia). It’s that salty, earthy, meaty taste that doesn’t quite fit into any of the other categories.

It’s also the BEST. I heart umami hard.

Why? Because it’s just so gosh darn satisfying. It lights up your taste buds like a Christmas tree and makes you audibly ‘YUM’. It also makes you naturally salivate more, which is a signal to your brain that you find what you’re eating quite delicious (if we’re getting really technical). Basically, five stars for umami all around.

And the best way to capture that umami-ness? Mac & Cheese. Even better? Add bacon and brussels sprouts (say whaaat?!). This rich, cozy casserole is packed with flavor of the umami variety and it’s sure to satisfy, especially on cold nights like the ones we’ve been having here in NYC (winter is coming, ho hum).

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You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Baked Mac & Cheese with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

1 pound of cooked pasta (macaroni or fusilli work nicely)
5-6 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 shallot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ pound brussels sprouts, stems removed and sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups whole milk
¾ cup half & half
6 ounces gruyere cheese, freshly grated
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
2 ounces parmesan cheese, freshly grated
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons regular fine breadcrumbs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Kitchen equipment: large pot, cast iron skillet, heavy-bottomed saucepan, cheese grater

First things first, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a large pot of salted water on the stove until boiling, then cook the pasta per the package instructions. Drain and set aside.

Next, heat a large, oven-safe skillet (cast iron is best) over medium-low heat and add the bacon and cook until the fat is just rendered. Rendered, you say? What, pray tell, is that? It is a fancy way of saying cook the bacon until the fatty part starts to melt and you’re left with mostly just the meaty part. Should only take a few minutes. Once properly rendered, remove ¼ of the bacon and set aside on a paper towel lined plate. Cook the remaining bacon to your preferred stage of doneness (anywhere between chewy and aggressively crispy). Add the shallot and garlic to the bacon and cook 1-2 minutes until translucent and fragrant. Add the brussels sprouts, stirring well to coat. Cook them until soft, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.

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Side note: you can totally abandon the bacon and make this dish veg — it’s just as good meat free. Instead of using the bacon fat to cook the shallots/garlic/brussels, sub in a few tablespoons of olive oil and you’re all set.

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And now we make the cheese sauce. CHEESE SAUCE. Best phrase ever, no?

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To start, heat your heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until hot, then add the butter. Melt until sizzling and frothy, then add the flour and whisk constantly until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. This creates the roux (so many fancy words!) that is the foundation of any good creamy sauce — it will thicken the sauce and add a lovely nutty flavor. Once the roux is ready to go, take your pan off the stove and pour in the milk and the half & half. Place your pan back on the stove and cook until the sauce is slightly thickened, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Add in all but one ounce of the gruyere, cheddar and parmesan, stirring until the cheese is melted. Add the nutmeg and cayenne and season with salt and pepper. Once the cheese is melted, add the cooked pasta and stir to incorporate. Pour the pasta and sauce over the brussels sprouts in the skillet and toss well to combine. Sprinkle the leftover cheese on top, then add the panko and breadcrumbs. Finally, add the reserved bacon you set aside earlier on top of the breadcrumbs.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and bubbly.

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This is fantastic straight from the oven or at room temperature or warmed up later the same night or warmed up the next day or eaten with your hands cold over the sink for breakfast (too far?). Fine. Let’s just say it’s good all the time.

Get down with your cheesy, brussel-y, bacon-y self and you’ll see. Umami forever. Enjoy!

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sunday dinner: pan sautéed chicken breasts with creamy mushrooms & shallots.

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We turned a new leaf in New York today. Daylight Savings Time is no longer and it was “aggressively crisp” out of doors (read: it was cold as balls). The wind whipped this way and that, and while the sun shone bright, its warmth was felt by few. I hate to say that winter is right around the corner, but today was the first day that made that feel like a reality.

When it comes to dinner, this weather brings in me a desire for something rich, something heartwarming. I want something along the lines of Thanksgiving dinner but without the three days of prep (Thanksgiving, my very favorite day of the year, is a few short weeks away, and I. AM. PUMPED).

This chicken dish is the perfect answer to my cravings; it’s deliciously full of rich, umami flavor but comes together quickly and easily. Also, BUTTER. Live it. Love it.

Side note: if you double the mushroom/shallot recipe, it’s a killer Thanksgiving side dish. Or any day side dish. YUM.

But I digress.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Pan Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Creamy Mushrooms & Shallots

You will need:

2 chicken breasts
4 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, thinly sliced into rings
12 oz assorted mushrooms, sliced (such as baby portabellas, shitake, or oyster)
½ cup white wine (or chicken stock)
½ cup heavy cream
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
All purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Grab your chicken breasts and place them between two pieces of plastic wrap on your cutting board. Pound the breasts to thin them out slightly using a meat tenderizer or a heavy-bottomed glass. Next, remove the plastic wrap and season your breasts with salt and pepper on both sides. Put a handful or two of flour in a large plastic bag or on a plate, and dredge the chicken in the flour, thoroughly coating both sides.

Heat a sauté pan on medium-high heat and add a few tablespoons of oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken breasts, shaking off any excess flour before adding to the pan, and cook until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set aside.

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Next, add two of the tablespoons of butter to the same pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften, 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and thyme to the pan with the rest of the butter and season with salt and pepper. Sauté mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until cooked down and soft (add more butter along the way if pan gets too dry).

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Remove the pan from the heat and add the wine or chicken stock to deglaze. Return the pan to the stove and cook down until the alcohol evaporates. Remove the pan from the stove again and add the cream. Return it to the stove, turn the heat down to medium-low and add the chicken back to the pan. Simmer until the mushrooms are tender and the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, stirring occasionally, about 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately.

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I paired my chicken with these babies, one of my very favorite sides EVAH (I worship at the altar of Ina Garten).

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Add your favorite glass of wine and you’re all set with a cozy meal that is rich and earthy and delicious — one that tastes much more complex than the actual execution of the dish.

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I went crazy and made myself a little apple galette for dessert…but that’s a recipe for another day.

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sunday dinner: pork chops with onions & apples and spice roasted squash.

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I woke up this morning to the first truly Fall day. The air was crisp and chilly, the sun was bright, the breezes were a-blowin’ and I had a deep, intimate desire to wear flannel. And so I did.

I also had a deep, intimate desire to cook something Fall-ish. Fall-esque. All Fall, all the time. I wanted to put all that crisp and chilly and bright and breezy and flannel-y on a plate. And so I did.

In my family, there were a few ingredients that started to show up regularly as the leaves began to turn — Apples. Onions. Squash. Spices like thyme and bay leaves. And wouldn’t you know it? They all go beautifully together and they all go beautifully with pork, my very favorite protein.

The following recipe will produce a simple, flavorful, and dare I say, elegant, interpretation of the best of Fall’s offerings. It’s hearty and delicious, and save for some extended stove time for the onions and apples, it’s easy to pull off even for the novice cook.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Pork Chops with Caramelized Onions & Apples

You will need:

1 pork chop per person, about ¾ – 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons butter
2 large red onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 apples (fuji, honey crisp or gala are great), cut into ¼ inch matchsticks
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup apple cider (you can also use white wine, beer, or chicken stock)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Spice Roasted Squash

1 acorn or carnival squash, cut into 1-inch thick wedges (this will serve up to 4 people, double the recipe if you are serving a bigger crowd)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Kitchen tools: cast iron skillet or sauté pan, baking sheet, kitchen tongs, kitchen timer

Most of the prep for this dish is remarkably easy and comes together very quickly. The onions and apples will take the most time, so let’s start there.

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After you’ve sliced your onions and apples, heat a skillet or sauté pan on medium heat until hot. Add the butter and stir until melted. Next, add the onions and apples, the thyme, and the bay leaves, and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan with a lid half way and set a timer for 35 minutes. Don’t fully walk away from the stove — you’ll need to stir your onion/apple mixture every few minutes to ensure they don’t burn, but it’s a pretty low maintenance gig.

While your onions and apples are cooking, you can get to prepping your squash.

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Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Slice your squash in half (this will take a good chef’s knife and some muscle, so don’t be shy) and using a sharp-edged spoon, scoop out the seeds and inner flesh. You could save the squash innards and probably find a million recipes on pinterest for ‘delicious roasted squash seeds!’ but ain’t nobody got time for that…says the girl who hand braided the lattice on this pie.

Anyhoo, toss the innards unless you’re going to make Pinterest magic, and slice the squash into wedges that are about 1-inch thick. Throw ‘em in a big bowl and add the olive oil, brown sugar, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Using your trusty kitchen tongs (I could seriously write an ode to mine; they are hands down my favorite kitchen utensil) toss the squash wedges with the oil and spices until thoroughly coated on all sides. If you don’t have tongs, you can use two forks or spoons, but I wouldn’t use your hands given the addition of the cayenne.

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Spread your squash evenly on a baking sheet, and when your oven is ready, cook for 30 minutes, turning once at the halfway point.

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They are done when the squash is golden brown and you can easily pierce them with a fork. Remove from the oven and set aside, covering with a large piece of tin foil to keep warm.

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By now, your onions and apples should have hit the 30 minute mark and should be cooked down by quite a bit. You’ll probably need to cook them an additional 10 minutes until they are further reduced and starting to brown. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves.

At this point, add the balsamic vinegar and stir to incorporate, making sure to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring often, until the balsamic is reduced and the onions/apples are a rich purply-brown color. Turn off the stove and remove from the heat; set aside to cool slightly.

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We’re in the home stretch now and all we need to do is cook the pork. Remove your pork chops from the refrigerator and set out on a plate for a few minutes, seasoning generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Wipe out the sauté pan you used to cook the onions and apples and heat a tablespoon of olive oil on high heat until the oil shimmers.

Add the pork and cook for three minutes, then flip and cook an additional three minutes (the easiest way to do this is to set a timer and DON’T TOUCH your pork during this time, it’s the best way to get a good sear). Add the cider to the pan with the pork and a few big spoonfuls of the onion/apple mixture. Cook pork for an additional five minutes, then flip and cook for another two minutes.

Remove pork from the pan to a serving platter and pour the pan sauce over the top. Top with more of the onion/apple mixture, and dish up the squash along side. Serve immediately.

It will be as if Fall exploded in your kitchen. This meal is spicy and tangy and rich and earthy and positively cozy. Enjoy it with your favorite red wine or craft beer and savor what is simply the best of Fall on a plate. You can wear some flannel too, if you’d like. You know I did.

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