Dinner last night was two days in the making, Craig Claiborne’s “Boeuf Bourguignon I” from Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cook Book. Mike did the honors, lovingly prepping slices of bacon and Aquidneck Farm chuck, with bits of carrots, onions, shallots, mushrooms, and garlic, layering them in our Le Creuset, then anointing them with Cognac and rich red Burgundy wine. The whole thing cooked over high heat, then low, then it cooled and sat overnight before Mike brought the pot and its contents back up to temperature while I traveled home from work, also preparing some buttered and parsley-ed egg noodles to serve as a base for the rich stew.
We’ve cooked plenty of versions of this dish, but this was pretty spectacular, the meat coming apart in shreds beneath the tines of our forks, the sauce both light and concentrated. Buy the book, go to page 516, and make this dish, preferably a day before you plan to serve it. You’ll be happy you did.
31 dishes, 31 days – I’m cooking my way through Melissa Clark‘s “No-Sweat Cooking” from the August issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray. And to those of you who made your way over here via rachaelraymag.com, welcome!
To me, the most important part of a BLT is the tomato – you just can’t have a great sandwich without slices of perfectly ripe summer tomato, fragrant and juicy.
Sure, the bacon’s important too, but half the fun of eating a BLT is getting a little messy, leaning over your plate as you eat, rivulets of tomato juice mingled with mayo running down your fingers with each bite.
Melissa Clark’s Sweet & Spicy BLT adds another element to that luscious liquor, calling for a swipe of pepper jelly to add a little heat and sweetness. I opted to use a bit of our food52 friend Mrs. Larkin‘s Sundried Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Jam instead, since we had the last of a jar in the fridge, and it was a delicious addition.
As summer lunches go, it doesn’t get much better, or easier, than this.
Get the recipe: Sweet & Spicy BLT
Pasta with pesto is a favorite this time of year, when fresh basil is so abundant most people can’t keep up with what their gardens are producing, but I have to admit I get bored with it sometimes. Melissa Clark’s no-sweat version has a couple of fun grace notes added in the form of crisp crumbled bacon and creamy ricotta – two additions that make this simple dish sing.
I made a couple of minor changes to the original recipe, using ribbons of zucchini instead of asparagus since that’s what we had on hand, and adding a spritz of lemon juice to the pesto for brightness. The dish came together in minutes and had a wonderful combination of textures and flavors – it was just what I needed after a long day at the office.
Get the recipe: Arugula Pesto Pasta with Ricotta and Bacon
Cabbage is hardly the sexiest vegetable, but I’ve grown to love it over the last few years. The trick for me was to move beyond the somewhat boring cabbage soup and ever-polarizing cole slaw, and to focus on letting the cabbage be the star. Where I really fell hard was at lunch with my friend Claudia early last year. We met at A Voce in New York City, and spent a lovely afternoon lingering over a series of shared dishes. When we got to our pasta courses, I was surprised that the one that really wowed me was a simple spaghetti with cabbage, pancetta, and pecorino. The texture of the cabbage was killer, silky and meltingly tender, and I’ve tried many times to replicate that dish, but I never got it quite right until last night.
I started with bacon from Simmons Farm, slicing a few strips into batons and crisping them in a little bit of olive oil while my pasta water got boiling in a separate pot. I removed the bacon and set it aside to drain, then added some sliced red onion and about 5 cups of thinly sliced red cabbage to the hot fat. I gave it a sprinkle of salt, tossed everything until it was coated with oil, then covered the pan and let it cook down. After 10 minutes or so, I added about half a cup of chicken stock and a few splashes of Sherry vinegar, then let it continue cooking, uncovered, until most of the liquid was reduced. I pulled my spaghetti from its cooking water when it was tender but still had a little bite, and added it to the cabbage to finish cooking. I added about two-thirds of the crispy bacon bits off the heat, along with plenty of freshly grated pecorino and cracked black pepper, and tossed it until everything was incorporated. To add a little textural contrast, I combined the remaining bacon with some fresh thyme and chopped hazelnuts, which I sprinkled on top of each serving.
In short, this was a hit. I loved getting ribbons of soft cabbage with every twirl of pasta, and that the bacon was present but subtle, and I was delighted at how beautifully the hazelnuts worked with the other flavors in the dish. I can’t wait to tuck into my leftovers for lunch.
On an unrelated note, can you help us find a home for this beautiful little cat? A local business which shall remain nameless and which used to occupy the space next door to my friend’s office relocated recently, and cruelly left her behind. It has been weeks now, and we assume they are not coming back for her. My friend has cared for her at his office since she was abandoned and reports that she is sweet and affectionate, a non-stop purring machine. He can’t keep her due to severe allergy issues, but he wants to find her the good home she deserves. If we didn’t have three already I’d grab her in a heartbeat, but perhaps you or someone you know has room in your home and heart for her. Thank you.
Since the day Michael Ruhlman announced his BLT challenge, I’ve had that classic sandwich combo on the brain, and while last night’s version was certainly not our entry into the contest, it was a way to get our BLT mojo flowing.
A really good tomato is, for me, the most important component of a BLT, and since we’re still a couple of months off from from prime tomato season here in New England, I decided to work with what we do have around now: tart green tomatoes.
While my bacon cooked on a rack in the oven (my favorite way to keep the slices flat and stackable), I sliced up my tomatoes and gave them a dunk in some beaten egg seasoned with salt and a dash or three of hot sauce. The egg-coated slices then got a coating of cornmeal before going into a hot pan to fry until golden.
When the last batch of tomatoes had been fried and the bacon was ready, I started layering: a lightly toasted slice of sourdough, a layer of bright green basil mayo (you can make your own mayo, of course, but I didn’t and the world didn’t end), then some bacon, peppery arugula (my leaf of choice for BLTs), some of the fried green tomatoes, and another mayo-spread slice of bread on top.
The “soup” I made to accompany our sandwiches was… not so good. (Even after thinning it with a bit of water and readjusting the seasoning, it was more like paste than something potable. Your mileage may vary.) But the marriage of BLT and fried green tomatoes was such a happy one, we barely missed our soupy side dish.
Well. That was one beautiful day we had yesterday. It was a special day for us personally, as Mike and I looked back at our wedding day three years prior, but we were mostly caught up in the history that was being made. Thinking about it all still takes my breath away.
I had scheduled a few days off this week, both to recharge my batteries and so Mike and I could spend some quality time together, and a big part of that quality time was spent planning and preparing our celebratory dinner. I had received a gift card for Barbara Lynch’s Butcher Shop from one of my bosses at Christmastime, and last Friday Mike took a trip up to the South End with that card to pick up provisions for our meal. Our original thought was to do a whole roast duck, but when he got to the store, there were none to be had.
They did have confit legs, however, as well as a variety of sausages and other cured meats, so when Mike called to ask if I had any other ideas for our anniversary meal, I suggested cassoulet. After all, we could do much of the work on it ahead of time, which would leave us free to do other things (read: sit glued to MSNBC) while the assembled dish cooked. And it has been far too long since our last cassoulet, so once I suggested it, we were filled with anticipation.
I got things started on Monday, making a big batch of chicken stock and cooking a pound of Rancho Gordo flageolet beans in abundant water, with our last trotter from Bobolink nestled in for good measure. After several hours, the beans and trotter were tender, so I added a bit of salt, let them go for another half hour or so, and let them cool down to store overnight.
On Tuesday, Mike got to work on the meat components, crisping up some bacon, shredding the meat and skin off of the cooked trotter, and searing a thick pork chop from Pat’s Pastured in some of the rendered bacon fat. With the meaty bits set aside, he turned his attention to the cooking liquid and aromatics: one large onion, chopped (one thing that didn’t bring tears to my eyes yesterday) and sauteed in more rendered fat; some chopped garlic, cooked until fragrant; a dab of tomato paste, which he caramelized in a hot spot before stirring into the onion and garlic; a cup of my roasted tomato puree from the freezer; some white vermouth; some of the stock I made on Monday; and finally, a bouquet garni. He added the bony bits from the trotter to the pot and let it all simmer away until it was rich and reduced.
With beans, meat and flavorful liquid ready to go, we assembled the cassoulet. First, we scattered the crisp bacon and soft bits from the trotter over the bottom of the pan, then we added a layer of beans. The pork chop and confit legs went in next, with more beans spooned all around. We nestled slices of prosciutto sausage in next, finishing with the remaining beans and the cooking liquid, and smooshing everything down so the liquid came up to the top. We let the oven preheat to 350 degrees while I pulsed some stale bits of Seven Stars country bread into fresh breadcrumbs and seasoned them with herbs, which we then scattered over the top of the cassoulet.
Mike dolloped a bit of duck fat over the top and we set the pot in the oven to bake, uncovered, for about an hour. We cranked the heat up to 425 for another 20 minutes or so, just to get the top extra brown and crusty, then Mike carefully removed the pot from the oven and let it rest briefly before serving.
This was a pretty darned wonderful effort from “Team Us,” I have to say, and plenty romantic with candles and a good red wine added to the mix. Who needs leather when you can have pig skin? (And duck. And sausage. And beans.)
The latest incarnation of my mac and cheese had a decidedly local flavor, featuring:
+chunks of bacon from Pat’s Pastured, and a roux made with the rendered fat from same
+Rhody Fresh whole milk
+three delicious Narragansett Creamery cheeses – Obama Blue, Old Gold and Patty Parker
+Crystal Brook Farm goat cheese
+a topping of crumbled Seven Stars bread, countertop rosemary, and homemade butter
+and a Baby Greens salad on the side
Eating local never tasted so good.
Growing up, there were certain dishes I always looked forward to eating when our extended family would get together on holidays. Aside from the obvious “anything Grandma made,” there were the bubbling, creamy, cheesy casseroles. One in particular, made by my Aunt Carmen, was a favorite: florets of broccoli and cauliflower, plus whole brussels sprouts, blanketed in a mixture of cream soup and shredded cheese, then baked. If there was ever a way to get a kid to eat her vegetables that was it, and I often had multiple servings.
So when I tried to think about what to do with the two heads of cauliflower I had brought home from the farmers’ market (so pretty I couldn’t resist them), my thoughts turned back to that dish. We had always had it as a side to roast turkey or baked ham, but why couldn’t it stand alone as a main course?
I haven’t kept canned soup around for years now, so my first step was to make a white sauce. We had four strips of Pat’s Pastured bacon in the fridge, so I cut that into chunks and fried the pieces until crisp, figuring I’d use the fat for my roux. While the bacon drained, I whisked some flour into the bacon fat, then added equal amounts of milk and cream, stirring it until it was well-blended. I added a pinch of salt and some Herbes de Provence, then the cheese – about a cup of Morbier, diced into small cubes.
When the sauce was smooth and the cheese melted, I added the crispy bacon pieces and poured the mixture over my cauliflower (lovely purple cauliflower and spiky green Romanesco, broken into florets) in a buttered baking dish. I had spritzed an ounce or so of white vermouth over the cauliflower first, so after I added the cheese sauce I tossed everything through until it was mixed and the cauliflower evenly coated. I covered it with foil and placed it into a 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes, then took it out, removed the foil, and covered the top with very coarse fresh breadcrumbs. It went back into the oven for another 20 minutes or so, until the top was well browned and the sauce bubbly.
I went a little light on the salt, anticipating that the bacon would be saltier than it was, but it could have used a pinch more. I also think this would have benefited from a little mustard in the sauce – dry or Dijon – to balance out the richness of the cream and cheese. Overall, I’d say this was a success, if not for the faint of heart.