Category Archives: Things I Make

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.

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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.

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.

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.

Beets and Oranges

I love listening to Leonard Cohen croon about Suzanne’s half-crazy bohemian beauty. “She’ll feed you tea and oranges that come all the way from china,” he sang. Every time I hear the song, I see them eating mandarin orange slices together and drinking oolong tea. Did she wrap the oranges and her teapot in a scarf and take him down to her place near the river, sitting on a blanket, peeling the skins with her delicate white fingers as she fed the oranges to him one by one?

I never did much like mandarin oranges though. They remind me too much of the can they come in. Instead, I look for clementines or tangerines, but always seem to miss their window — or, if I’m lucky enough to take them home, seldom remember to eat them before they shrivel up and harden.

With this recipe, canned mandarins have found a place in my kitchen, paired with my favorite vegetable — beets, canonized by Tom Robbins in Jitterbug Perfume as “the most intense of the vegetables,” a vegetable with the fire of passion. Eating beets and oranges is like merging earth and sky — the peculiar, earth-bound beetroot and the lovable, sun-drenched orange effortlessly fall for each other somewhere in between.

I made this side dish for a dinner party this weekend, creatively and on the fly, because I had long, narrow beets in the fridge from B’s parents’ garden — curiously the size of mandarin oranges, I thought. But how could I make it special? I was reminded of the book I’ve been reading lately — The Book of Salt.

Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein lived together in Paris during the heady days of American expatriatism. To Stein, Toklas was everything beyond mere bedfellow — typist, confidant, hostess, and extraordinary cook. The Book of Salt peers into their life, telling us that Miss Toklas is the kind of cook who “puts absinthe in her salad dressing and rose petals in her vinegar.”

The idea of dressing a salad with a French liqueur demanded my attention, especially since I’d heard this somewhere before. In Lunch in Paris, the young female author makes something similar for a picnic for her boyfriend — Potato and Green Bean Salad with Pastis Vinaigrette.

So back to my kitchen, I tossed the roasted beets with mandarin orange slices and a couple splashes of pastis, which added a slight note of licorice to an incredibly agreeable dish. At the end of the party, not a bite of the happy pair remained.

*****

Cold Roasted Beet Salad with Mandarin Oranges and Pastis

Serves 10 as a side dish at a party

  • 2 bundles of beets
  • 2-ish large cans of mandarin oranges (eyeball an even ratio of beet to orange)
  • Something sweet (like agave, sugar, or honey)
  • Salt
  • Canola oil and olive oil
  • Herbs

Peel and cut the beets into pieces the size of mandarin oranges. Save the greens for later.

Coat the beets with canola oil, kosher salt, and a few turns of something sweet. Roast in a 375-degree oven 35 minutes or until lightly brown, turning once halfway through. Cool.

Drain the mandarin oranges and add to a bowl with the beets, a twist of olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, and two splashes of Pastis french liqueur. Add herbs if you have them, like chives and purple basil, which I have here. Serve at room temperature.

How to Poach Risotto

Only once in my life have I acted on a deliciously unethical impulse when it comes to food. I poached a man’s risotto, and I don’t mean in a bath of lightly boiling water. I stole it. A guy made risotto for me and I took it out from under him and served it to another man.

It was our third or fourth date and this guy and I decided to have dinner at my place. I figured I’d contribute whatever was in my fridge at the time, somewhat wistfully imagining us dividing up a recipe together, chopping and prepping together at the kitchen island. But I guess collaborating is not what he had in mind. He showed up with every ingredient he needed to make risotto and a couple cuts of meat to eat along with it. He even brought his own knife.

He took the helm of my kitchen as if he had cooked there hundreds of times before. He grabbed a perfectly sized All Clad pan, tossed in some butter and a few turns of olive oil, and sauteed the onions he’d finely diced. He added the arborio rice, patiently allowing it to toast and then slowly soak up the white wine, salt, chicken stock, butter, and parmesan cheese, transforming it stir by stir into the plump, creamy texture it is famous for. He seared the meat and served it alongside a heaping portion of risotto the fine color of a delicate bird’s egg.

Unfortunately, none of his efforts in my kitchen that night did anything for me. We ate this great meal with nothing all that great to say. We eventually ended the evening with a sober salutation at the door and the leftovers of his heavenly cloud of Italian starch cooling in my fridge.

Dear reader, this is where I argue the risotto entered the public domain. It’s not as though I sat back with twisted fingers concocting a clever plan for what to do with the decadent offspring of a failed date. An opportunity simply came along.

The following night, I had a date with B, who also loves to cook. In getting to know each other, we talked about the food movies we’d like to watch together, like Mostly Martha, Ratatouille, and many others. That night, we decided to watch Big Night. A smile spread broadly across my face as I flashed from the risotto in my fridge to Primo the chef’s enduring passion for the familial risotto recipe that wends its way throughout the film. B and I burrowed next to each other on my couch with two plates of our bounty and two glasses of wine as Primo passionately dished out plates of risotto from the back of his kitchen.

Since then, I’ve decided every home chef should be able to make risotto without following a recipe. It’s your ace in the hole, an adaptable base that will convey most anything you’d like to put in it. Martha Stewart sums it up by saying a well-made risotto is a “culinary feat. Small, firm grains of rice float, suspended, in a rich, creamy sauce.” Is that sensuous enough? I would describe the full process, but I couldn’t do it any better than Mario Batali and Mark Bittman in this charming video. Follow the recipe once and try to look at it never again.