Giving Lamb Legs

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The gleaming, massive lamb shank on these pages, impressive though it may be, is not the most effective way to serve what amounts to the shin and ankle of a lamb.

It’s glorious, for sure, but it has a number of disadvantages, the first of which is that a small-to-moderate lamb shank weighs in at more than a pound, a nice serving size in the ’70s (or the Middle Ages) but a bit macho for most of us these days. The second is that it’s difficult to cook — size alone makes it awkward, and penetration of flavors is an issue. It’s difficult to eat. And finally, that same graphic quality that makes for such a gorgeous photo reminds some people more of its source than they’d like.

Besides, I’ve slowly begun to realize that my most successful lamb dishes were made from what was left over from a meal of lamb shanks. A couple of months ago, when braising season began, I cooked two sizable lamb shanks and, of course, enjoyed them. But I really got into it over the following couple of nights when I wound up using them to create a marvelous ragù and then transformed the ragù into a lamb-tomato-bean stew that could not have been much better.

Read the rest of the column and get the recipes here.

Posted in Recipes

Feast in a Day

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Last month, Sam Sifton and I took up the job of cooking for 15 people at a friend’s home in Brooklyn. The idea was to feed and impress friends, family members and colleagues without driving ourselves nuts. It’s possible. And to do so, we decided not to spend more than eight hours obsessing over, shopping for and preparing the meal. We endeavored to buy all our ingredients in the morning and then cook through the afternoon. Dinner was called for 6 p.m.

There’s a simple logic in putting together a big holiday feast. You want variety — even vegans are pretty easily satisfied by bounty — but you don’t want to be cooking individual meals for each person. A couple of easy decisions at the beginning start a cascade of choices that generate a menu. We wanted a high-low meal: a beautiful yet manageable dinner bookended by an impressive starter and an eye-popping dessert. In order to pull this off, we first had to decide on a main course, a meat dish. After rejecting pork (too obvious), beef and lamb (too expensive), we settled on chicken. We were near Sahadi’s, the Middle Eastern market on Atlantic Avenue, so Sam resolved that the chickens would be roasted with preserved lemons. Golden and crusty, with a zing from the salty, acidic taste of the lemons, they would be a perfect bridge from our opulent appetizer into our decadent dessert. For sides, we settled on pilaf, a salad and roasted root vegetables, which are as seasonal as it gets this time of year.

Read the rest of this article, see the video, and get the recipes here.

Posted in Recipes

A Winter’s Cornucopia in Wales

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THE predicament I found myself in was also an opportunity, and not unlike the puzzle that faces C.S.A. participants each week: I had a pile of vegetables and I had to figure out what to do with it. (A C.S.A. — for community supported agriculture — is a scheme in which participants share in a farmer’s risk and bounty, putting money down upfront and getting a periodic share of the crop in

I was in western Wales at Blaencamel, a 50-acre farm owned by Peter Segger and Anne Evans, friends of my friend Patrick. The couple began growing food organically nearly 40 years ago, and work 15 acres in vegetables plus an astonishing acre of greenhouses. I’d offered to cook dinner, not knowing exactly what that meant. And in the shed that housed the little honor-system shop on the farm (on Dec. 1, mind you), I was overwhelmed by all those greenhouses produced. All I needed to do was choose and cook.

As usual, I began with no idea of what would eventually wind up on the table. But I did have my standard plan: I’d choose what seemed most appealing and figure out what to do with it when we got to the kitchen.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Produce, Recipes

The 2-D Thanksgiving

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Believe it or not, there is more than one way to roast a turkey. First, you must ask yourself what you really want. I’ll offer you three options: A fast, crisp-skinned bird, moist and not overcooked, served with roasted vegetables; a leisurely braised bird, also with veggies; or the classic stand-up roast, presented beautifully in all its glory, prepared in a straightforward manner.

If you want speed and don’t mind a novel look, choose the flattened bird, which employs a method that goes by the quaint name of spatchcocking. It takes a little work at first, because it’s a little more physical than other techniques: you have to remove the backbone, flatten the breast and dislocate the thigh joints from their sockets. None of this is difficult, but it may be a bit much for some. The reward is a lovely roasted bird with a not-overcooked breast and perfectly done legs; it also cooks in about an hour — yes, you read that right: an hour. The downside, apart from the butchering, is that some might consider it weird-looking.

Read the rest of this article here, and get the recipes here (braised), here (split-roasted) and here (classic).

Posted in American, Recipes

Roasted, Smashed, Dolloped, Devoured

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There is nothing new or unusual about mashed squash or about mashed vegetables on toast. (What’s new is that the toast is now frequently called crostini, but that’s not exactly revolutionary.) Still, there is such a broad range of foods that can be served on toasted bread that it’s not surprising some of these will come as revelations.

 

This squash-and-toast combination is served by Dan Kluger, the executive chef at ABC Kitchen. Something about it drives me wild: the squash is creamy but chunky, rather than puréed. There is a lot of complex sweetness, but acidity as well, and it’s lean as well as fatty. (It doesn’t take a detective to see the layer of ricotta underneath the squash.)

Put it on a nicely toasted piece of bread and you have a real winner. But it also occurred to me that the mashed squash alone would make a terrific Thanksgiving side dish.

So I asked Dan’s boss, my friend Jean-Georges Vongerichten, to show me how to put it together.

I would not have figured the dish out myself, which made this a rewarding experience. Jean-Georges peeled the squash: almost any winter squash will yield to a sharp knife and some patience, though as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, thin-skinned varieties like delicata are easier to peel or can be left unpeeled entirely. He cut the squash in half, took out the seeds and sliced it into not-quite-random pieces, mostly about 1/4-inch thick. These he roasted with oil until they were tender enough to mash; by that time, a few had blackish, caramelized ends.

To cut to the chase: next, he confited onion slices with both maple syrup and apple cider vinegar. Veteran cooks will immediately get the idea: Cook the onions awhile, until they’re dark and soft, then add the two liquids and continue to cook until they’re jammy. The process could take as long as an hour, depending on the heat, your attentiveness and the water content of the onions. But it isn’t difficult.

At that point, the two preparations are simply mashed together. If you serve them in a bowl at Thanksgiving, you will be serving something on a, er, higher level than mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows. Otherwise, lightly toast some good bread in olive oil, spread it with a light, fresh cheese and top with the squash. Do not forget the mint; it’s not the same without it.

Watch the video here, and get the recipe here.

Posted in American, Recipes

Fear of Frying

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Unless you’re a routine visitor to KFC, fried chicken is probably not in your weekly diet. Which is fine: it is, after all, a treat. But even though you can get fried chicken that’s way better than the fast-food variety all over the place, it remains a specialty of home cooking, and one that anyone can handle. To me, the best has a simple, flavored coating of flour or the like, rather than thick, ultracrusty preparations or spongy batters.

After trying a number of contemporary and often needlessly complicated fried-chicken recipes, I decided to refine my own standard, which was first published 14 years ago in “How to Cook Everything” and itself was an adaptation of a recipe that initially appeared as Paula Peck’s Best-Ever Fried Chicken in her 1961 classic, “Paula Peck’s Art of Good Cooking.” That was among my favorites when I was learning how to cook, as varied and sensible a cookbook as existed at the time. (Her other book, “The Art of Fine Baking,” is equally brilliant and provides perfect instructions for making croissants.)

While I never met Peck, and although her cookbooks are out of print (her granddaughter Megan is doing her part to reacquaint new cooks with Paula’s work at meganpeckcooks.com), her cooking remains with me. Her treatment of chicken is a fine example; she was among the first cookbook authors to suggest that chicken breasts substitute for veal (hard to believe, now that it’s the other way around), and she was also a fan of chicken legs.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in American, Recipes

A Different Shade of Risotto

As more varieties and better qualities of brown rice become increasingly common, it’s growing clear that you can do pretty much anything you want with this less processed version of the world’s second-most-popular grain. (You guessed it: corn is numero uno.)

This includes making risotto. Real, creamy, tender risotto. There is really only one adjustment to make, and that is to parboil the rice so that the risotto-making process takes about the same amount of time — 20 minutes or so — that it does with white rice.

As you normally would, choose short- or medium-grain brown rice, which is crucially important because these are the varieties that emit enough starch to make the final product creamy. One could argue, and some will, that you should begin with Italian varieties like Arborio. But good Spanish, Japanese and, yes, American short- and medium-grain rices give equally good results.

Read the rest of this article here, and get the recipe here.

Posted in Italian, Recipes

Bell Peppers, 16 Ways

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The sweetness of bell peppers — they’re never hot, unlike nearly all of their relatives — is especially pronounced in summer, which is also when you’re most likely to wind up with one that was grown domestically. Even a green pepper — which is unripe — is sweeter when the weather is hot.

A good red pepper is the sweetest and most flavorful of the lot — yellow and orange are simply other varieties — but there’s no denying that a multicolored tangle of peppers is a beautiful thing, and that even the relative bitterness of green peppers adds complexity to the mix. In any case, you can use any color pepper you like in any of these recipes.

Unless noted, use a pound of peppers in all of them. That’s roughly equivalent to two whole large peppers, three cups sliced or 2 1/2 cups chopped. Core and seed everything. My favorite method is just to cut around the core, standing the pepper up and slicing it like an apple from the outside.

One of the most basic and wonderful preparations for bell peppers is roasting; a roasted red pepper with olive oil, capers or anchovies (or all three) remains one of the great, simple joys of this territory. Put whole peppers on a baking sheet lined with foil and roast in a 450-degree oven, or broil, turning the peppers as each side browns, until they have darkened, even blackened, and collapsed. (A hot grill is even better.) Gather the corners of the foil and wrap up the peppers; cool until you can handle them, about 15 minutes, then remove the blackened skin and seeds. (Do this under running water to make it easier; you probably won’t get all the skin off, and that’s O.K.)

The recipes are thorough, but far from exhaustive. Peppers combine beautifully with eggs, with vinegar and with eggplant and probably a dozen other ingredients I didn’t have the space to get to.

 

Posted in Produce, Recipes

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Corn Chowder with Cheddar

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By Meghan Gourley

Ubiquitous as it is, it’s easy to forget the subtle side of corn. Chowder—here with cheddar and scallions—reminds us that summer’s favorite crop is versatile. The key to this chowder is finding the freshest summer corn you can, and shaving it off the cob like a pro: spare nothing. Get as close to the cob with the blade of your knife as you can. Work slowly and carefully, and don’t waste anything—the meatiness of the kernels is what makes this soup so hearty. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in American, Recipes

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Roasted Peppers

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By Alaina Sullivan

Aside from color, a roasted bell pepper bears little resemblance to its raw counterpart.  After a stint in the oven, the skin becomes charred and wrinkly, sagging around the flesh it once held so tautly. The molten inside easily sheds its blistered skin – emerging incomparably more succulent and sweet than the raw version. The transformation is magical and delicious, and can easily be achieved in the oven, under the broiler, or over an open flame. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in Produce, Recipes