Making Turkey Stock and Biryani

Sometimes, the best part of the party is when it’s over. There’s nothing quite like the Friday after Thanksgiving when the house is clean, the refrigerator is full, and you get to do whatever you’d like until Sunday. For those of us that don’t go to the mall, it’s the most delicious weekend of the year.

Of course, the first thing to do is make turkey stock. At our house, there was so much carcass I used two large stockpots, which inadvertently taught me an important lesson.

In one pot, I put the the most juicy bits — the neck, organs, and a few cups full of the Moscato-laden brine the turkey soaked in for 24 hours. In the other, I put the bones and water. In both, I put the usual array of onions, carrots, garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves. After the course of one James Bond movie, the difference between the two stocks knocked my socks off. The stock with the juicy bits and brine was dark, rich, and unctuous. The other stock was light in color and lacking personality. The first stock tasted like the work of a professional kitchen, and I instantly knew why exceptional stock is so revered in making sauces. Lesson learned: when making stock, I should go out of my way to get and cook with the parts of the animal I usually avoid.

The next day, Argos and I took a long walk in the dog park in the first of the winter snow. Cold, tired, and hungry, we came home and made turkey biryani, following this recipe from the New York Times. I was thrilled when I realized not only did I have all the ingredients — I also had gallons of homemade stock from the day before. I saved the amazing stock and used the lighter one, figuring the Indian spices were all I needed to add flavor to this meal.

This recipe was a joy to make — marinating turkey in yogurt, frying onions in ghee until brown, and following the suggestion of the recipe writer to taste the broth to make sure it’s “well salted and highly seasoned.” To me, fewer words ring more true. Happy thanksgiving. May you turn your all-American leftovers into exotic meals.

Eggs en Cocotte with Chanterelles

Although at times it seems a bit foolish, my average weekend doesn’t feel complete unless I find something to bring home from a thrift store. I have high standards, of course, so it can’t be just any old thing. I follow the advice of William Morris. Everything in my house is either useful or beautiful. A mini clawfoot bathtub holds my business cards. A glass soap-holder-thing in the shape of two cupped hands holds my favorite jewelry. A large white serving dish shaped like a dahlia hangs on my wall along with a random collection of beautiful plates and oversized forks and spoons. I love finding woven boxes, candle holders, tea bowls, linens, wire baskets, bakeware, mugs, juice glasses, bowls, mirrors, statuary, and demitasse cups. It’s as though I run a boarding house for wayward objects. I find a permanent home for the lost and the rejected.

This weekend, I found a home for a cocotte, which is pretty funny if you know the word play behind it. When I saw this humble off-white pot, maybe 6-inches wide, I immediately thought of eggs en cocotte. I didn’t have anything to bake eggs in, and this funky little saucepot would nicely do.

I also wanted to untangle this mystery of the cocotte, a charming French word so colorful I wish I could pin it down and dissect it. Cocotte means “little hen,” which explains “coq au vin,” but not poulet. In this case, cocotte refers to a small casserole you’d use to both bake and serve food. In yet another twist, cocotte also means prostitute. An etymology dictionary tells me that cocotte as a cooking vessel was around long before it was applied to a woman dealing in sex — which means that the French used the cooker to describe the hooker, or something like that. In any case, eggs en cocotte is luxurious and remarkably easy — which I suppose takes the definition to yet another unintended level.

Also, can’t you imagine a trollop named Chanterelle? A strumpet named after the mushroom shaped like a trumpet? Or maybe that’s just me.

Eggs en Cocotte

Find a small cocotte in which to heat things up. Coat the inside with butter, fleur de sel, and rosemary. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Steam a handful of spinach in water, sauté chanterelles in a hunk of butter, and grate un petit pile of cheese.

Pat the spinach dry and put it in the cocotte, adding the cheese, a bit of heavy cream, and finally the eggs — however many you please. Place the cocotte in a baking dish with enough boiling water to submerge it halfway. Bake for 15 minutes and remove.

Spray a few slices of baguette with olive oil and place in the broiler until crisp and golden. Put all generosity aside. If you can, plan to be home by yourself, which is always the most pleasurable way to eat eggs, especially ones this sensual.

Moroccan Chicken and a Foot of Snow

Today’s big snow storm was predicted just as a nasty cold took hold of my senses. Welcome to an ordinary winter weekend in Minnesota. To lift my spirits, I made sure I had good food to keep me company, without having to leave the house to get it. It was preserved lemons and limes that inspired me. The few jars I made early in December have been sitting on my back stairs waiting for me to give them a try.

The idea of making Moroccan chicken is what led me to preserve citrus in the first place, so I pulled up this recipe from Tyler Florence and compared it to the contents of my pantry. Rub cinnamon, cloves, cayenne, cumin, fennel, coriander, paprika, salt, and brown sugar into the chicken. Check. Put lemon, garlic, and herbs inside the chicken and roast for one hour. Check. Add apricots, almonds, green onion, and parsley to the couscous after it steams. Check. The green olive sauce that’s called for looks great, but I only had four green olives on hand, so I figured I would sauté them with the chicken and preserved limes in the end.

Et voila, what ended up on on my shopping list? Simply one whole chicken, which I picked up this week on my way home from work. Instant winter bliss. The chicken goes into the oven a rich, brick red and sputters loudly at 400 degrees as it cooks. When it’s done, the lemons roasted in the chicken’s cavity are so supple the juice darts through your fingers in every direction as you squeeze the rind in your hand. The meat is warm with heat and rich spice, which perfectly matches the earthy almonds and sweet dried fruit.

For a food lover, there’s few things more luxurious than a well-stocked pantry, especially in the middle of winter. In less than three hours, I roasted the chicken, had coffee, and talked to two friends. As the chicken cooled off, I made the couscous, then took off the meat and sautéed it with the green olives and sliced preserved limes. With food like this, some movies, and a bottle of wine, the storm can bring anything my way, and I won’t mind.

New Scenic Cafe

Just beyond a shallow front yard, a pair of red Adirondacks, and the old two-lane highway lies Superior, the largest of the lakes, taking up more space than my eye can hold. It’s so vast, its interior so mysterious, I don’t know how to imagine what’s inside. I decide to stop wondering about it and simply appreciate it for what it is.

Inside the New Scenic Cafe, I sit with a menu and a good friend, contenting myself with easier calculations. It’s quiet and calm. We choose what to have for lunch and share stories as we wait for the food to arrive at our table. I look at the families around us eating together and wish I had one of my own. I wonder if I should live closer to nature as I try not to think about the long interstate that will soon take us back home.

I hear a happy sigh as she takes the first sip of her black coffee. She’d been raving about the New Scenic for the past two days as we drove through Minnesota and would’ve been disappointed if we hadn’t come. She and her sisters eat here when they come to the North Shore, and I know plenty of people who love this place just as much as they do. This was my first time eating at the New Scenic and I can easily see what all the excitement is about.

I had a salad and a starter — at least, I thought that’s all I was having until the dessert menu came along. Everything was so well executed, I wish I’d eaten more to experience a wider selection of what this restaurant can do.

Artichoke and apple salad: Artichoke flan, granny smith and honey crisp apples, fennel, ponzu, grapeseed oil, marcona almonds.

Butternut squash ravioli: Cream, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, pesto, pecans, romano.

Pumpkin goat cheese cake: Ginger tuile, madeira fortified white figs.

Did you get a load of this dessert? Even the language compels me. I love that there’s an incorrect space in the word “cheesecake” so no one will think the chef is offering “pumpkin goat cheesecake.” I wanted to know what tuile is (it’s the architecturally impressive cookie acting as the cheesecake crust). And I was so pleased the drunken white figs are called “fortified” — and that there’s even such a thing as white figs at all. This is the best dessert I’ve had in a long time.

The New Scenic is what your weekend cabin would be like if you had an interior designer and a great chef in your family. The menu is sophisticated, but not fussy. The menu is farm-inspired, but doesn’t draw attention to itself because of it. The local art on the walls is inspiring. Long, thin tree branches placed throughout the corners of the restaurant bring the spirit of winter inside. And, if you’re so inclined, the New Scenic is also just a wonderful place to sit, spend some time, and think about your own particular place in the world.

New Scenic Cafe on Urbanspoon

This Is My Madeleine

This Valentine’s Day, I’m more than a little confused. I can’t tell if something important in my life has ended or has just begun. I was going to make oeufs en meurette for someone, but we’re planning to not see each other for awhile, even though everything between us feels so wonderful and right. Some days, the newfound freedom feels exciting and full of potential. Other days, I feel like the 4-year-old version of myself who lost her precious teddy bear named Charlie and wailed at the top of her lungs until my mom had to take me back to the store to figure out where it had gone.

This morning, I did the only thing that felt right. I woke up early, cleaned the kitchen, and made madeleines. I’d been collecting madeleine pans each time I saw them at the thrift store, and I delighted in it, as though I was rescuing lost puppies from the pound. I have five of these beauties now, both small and large, all of them weathered and old.

I’m not sure what I like more about madeleines, their literary history as a vessel for Proust’s childhood memories, or that I find the scallop-shell shape so pleasantly reassuring. Venus was born in a scallop shell, a full-grown, sensuous woman perfectly beautiful from the moment she took her first breath. Madeleines are like that, and I’ve always thought about Venus to remind myself that I am too, no matter what life might take away from me.

I found comfort in madeleines this morning, following Patricia Wells’ recipe, creating the perfect shape, what Proust called “the little scallop shell pastry, so richly sensual under its religious fold.”

I love madeleines because they are so plainly beautiful, so simply and exactly what they are. Maybe I was drawn to them as a reminder. Don’t lose yourself, don’t change for the sake of someone else, and certainly don’t worry about what’s to come. One day years from now, I’ll make madeleines again one morning. I have no idea what kitchen I’ll be in, or who I’ll be with, if anyone. I have no idea what I will think about how I feel now. But I’m confident the madeleines will bring in a flood of wonderful memories, as I’m a person who will always be happy with whatever shape my life has taken on.

Lucia’s Wine Bar

After glancing at Bill Ward’s wine map at the Strib the other day, my eyes lit up. I’ve been craving more wine bars and, by the look of the map, we appear to be living in an oenophile’s land of plenty. But strip away the wine stores and the wineries and zoom in on the city proper, and a less exciting picture takes shape. Minneapolis is home to all of 6 places that call themselves wine bars: Riverview, King’s, Lucia’s, Toast, Spill the Wine, and Bev’s.

Population of Minneapolis: 368,383

Number of wine bars: 6

And that just doesn’t seem right. Isn’t wine the new beer? Malbec the new Merlot? I wish Ward’s map included restaurants and bars with fantastic wine selections and flights to give us more options. But maybe that’s OK, especially since one of these wine bars seems to do the job of 20.

Lucia’s wine bar is a stand-out place — and it seems to get better over the years. It’s a Minneapolis institution. B and I went on a quiet Sunday evening and enjoyed everything immensely. The place has a warm glow, European charm, and great taste in music, which seamlessly alternated from sultry old jazz to electronic Radiohead.

To start, we ordered a salad: mixed local greens with beets, Farmdog blue cheese, and hazelnut vinaigrette. I don’t remember saying we were going to share it, but one of us must have, as it came divided on two plates. Perceptive — and perfect because otherwise we would have had to count each morsel of blue cheese and chunk of beet, and how territorial would that be? The cheese was fresh, delicious, and oh-so funky blue, made in Fairbault by PastureLand. (Here are the other places you can enjoy this cheese.)

We had pizza with chicken, black beans, pepper jack cheese, tomato, cilantro, and habañero sour cream. It was prepared almost to perfection. We just needed a fresh crack of sea salt and black pepper to put it over the top. It took forever for our server to come back, which was our only complaint of the evening. (All staff should take lessons from the gracious tall blonde who doles out plates and glasses with the utmost of charm.)

We had “artisan” pasta with pesto, cream, onions, parmesan, and toasted walnuts. This appears to be a simple suspect, for sure, but this humble plate of pasta could be described as the Platonic ideal — every attempt to make pesto pasta should be this satisfying.

We also had JoJo potatoes dusted in paprika and a little something hot (I think the server said a bit of chili), served with plum ketchup.

The slightly spicy potatoes and unexpected plum sauce were a great foil to the other more traditional flavors on our table and contributed to the experience of the wine. I had a glass of Chardonnay, which was completely trumped by B’s delicious Carmenere — which brings me back to the other thing I love about this wine bar. Wine is served in 6 ounce and 3 ounce glasses. So often, one glass is empty before your meal is through, but two would have you stepping cautiously to your car. For round two, B and I each had a 3-ounce glass of Carmenere to see us through.

I’ve been to Lucia’s wine bar with friends. I’ve been there on business. I’ve been there on sweet dates such as these. And Lucia’s never lets you down. We should see about getting a wine bar even remotely as fine as Lucia’s in every Minneapolis neighborhood.

Lucia's on Urbanspoon

Eggplant Pesto, I Suppose

I spent the weekend kicking around the kitchen with some good books, a bag of rice, and the few vegetables needed to make Indian food — potatoes, cauliflower, and eggplant. I learned the proper ratio of spice to use in making saag aloo and found a recipe for the perfect basmati rice, which just about bowled me over when the 20 minutes passed and I was finally able to open the lid.

In other words, I put the thrill of spontaneous cooking aside and dutifully followed some recipes. It was fulfilling, like mastering a sequence of yoga poses. You just have to put your ego aside and do what the nice recipe tells you to do.

I’m not a natural when it comes to following recipes, but I do have a knack for writing them. Last week, I almost won an award for my recipe writing. The Symposium for Professional Food Writers is an impressive, although expensive conference, so I applied for one of their scholarships on a whim. I was awarded a “special mention” in the Chronicle Books Scholarship for Recipe Writing. I was told the judges loved my writing, I scored consistently high, and my final score was close to that of the winning entrant.

And these wonderful writers have platforms. In my category, the winner was Ivy Manning, author of two cookbooks. The special mentions were 1.) Dede Wilson, author of 12 cookbooks, 2.) Faith Durand, managing editor of Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn and soon-to-be author, and 3.) me.

I was thrilled, especially since I never identified as a recipe writer. In fact, I never identified much as a recipe follower. My pantry is my palette. My All Clad is my canvas. Without recipes, my imagination runs free. I close my eyes and go to some higher place in my mind, seeing the color, texture, and taste of a dish take shape. If I’m creating the recipe for publication, I research the heck out of it and write it so clearly any Tom, Dick, or Harry could step up to the stovetop and give it a go.

I love this process. As a writer and editor, I take great pleasure in bringing order to cooking, a process that’s unpredictable, messy, and subjective by nature.

On any regular day, though, my cooking is whimsical at heart, even literary. Saturday, I read much of Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, specifically the essay “Alone In the Kitchen with an Eggplant.” This title was so compelling I had to do what it suggested. This is what the eggplant and I came up with.

However, like Magritte and his pipe, I would stress “this not a recipe.” A walnut is to pine nuts as feta is to parmesan, and herbs are so universally appealing it’s hard to pick just one. All I can say for sure is this is what I do when I’m alone in the kitchen with an eggplant. What do you do?


Eggplant Pesto

Makes about 4 cups

Now is the perfect time of year to eat eggplant, showing up all purple and beautiful at the farmers markets. For just 2 bucks, I got three of them. I used two, which yields a lot of pesto — enough for a big family or a party. I’m going to bring it to share for a weekend at a cabin. It’s great for grazing or for matching up with all manner of main courses.

  • 2 eggplants
  • one handful of walnuts
  • two handfuls of feta
  • olive oil
  • a few cloves of garlic
  • juice of a lemon
  • every last leaf on one hearty stalk of basil
  • salt, pepper, cayenne

Preheat the oven to 325 while you stab the eggplant all over with a fork. Cup one of your hands, pour in some olive oil, and slather it all over the fruit (eggplant is a fruit, you know). Put the fruit in a glass dish and roast in the oven for 45 minutes, turning once half way through. Put them in the fridge. When cool, cut off the green hat and peel off the skin with your fingers, which will slide right off, then pull out the long sinewy clusters of seeds. When you have nothing but eggplant flesh, give it all a squeeze, in batches, to release the excess water.

Put all of the ingredients except the eggplant flesh in a food processor and give it a whir. Add the eggplant and give it another few whirs while pouring in some olive oil. Add to pasta, slather on crackers and pita, or well, just about anything you’d like.