All Posts By Marisa McClellan

Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, also called Food in Jars, will be published by Running Press in spring 2012.

Baked Squash Gratin — The Weekender

by in Holidays, Recipes, November 25th, 2011

baked squash gratin
I come from one of those families where the Thanksgiving menu is essentially written on stone tablets. Many years ago, it was declared that there shall be turkey with stuffing (some cooked inside the bird and some cooked outside). Mashed potatoes are compulsory, as are sautéed Brussels sprouts, homemade gravy and cranberry jelly in the shape of a can.

When I was 12 years old, my cousin Jeremy brought an unscripted dish to our Thanksgiving table, but it was so wonderful that it was added to the holiday canon. It was a very large bowl of steamed and mashed butternut squash, enriched with a bit of powdered ginger and plenty of butter.

The only issue with this squash dish is that we somehow always manage to make so much of it that it ends up being totally out of proportion with the rest of the leftovers. The only thing that ends up outlasting is the gravy. (My father has trouble making less than a gallon of gravy.) Thankfully, I’ve discovered just the thing to transform all that squash and make it the most sought-after leftover around (though, if you make something else out of it, can it still be called a leftover?).

Before you start layering, read these tips »

Gingerbread Waffles — The Weekender

by in Recipes, November 18th, 2011

gingerbread waffle recipe
I grew up in a waffle-loving household. At least one Saturday morning a month, my sister and I would convince our dad to stir up a batch of batter and pull out his curvy, chrome waffle iron (circa 1955).

He’d serve up the waffles as they came off the machine and it was up to us to add the butter and maple syrup (though my mother would watch our syrup application carefully to avoid over consumption). Often, my dad would make a double batch so that there’d be waffles for the freezer and weekday morning breakfasts.

These days, I make waffles on the same loose, monthly schedule that I know from growing up, always making some to eat and a few for the freezer. I used to be devoted to a vintage waffle iron that was much like the one I grew up with, but then, four years ago, someone gave me a modern one. It has nonstick plates and a timer that chimes gently when your waffle is finished cooking. It is heaven.

Before you fire up the waffle iron, read these tips »

40 Cloves and a Chicken — The Weekender

by in Recipes, November 11th, 2011

40 clove chicken
I believe that it’s important to have at least one really good chicken recipe in your array of kitchen skills. It needs to be one that you know from heart and can make no matter where you’re cooking or how limited the assortment of available tools. It’s even better if it’s a dish that can be made with easily available ingredients that are unaffected by the changes in season.

Beyond those requirements, the actual chicken dish can be just about anything. The ability to truss a whole chicken and roast it until its skin browns and crackles beautifully certainly counts. A Pyrex pan of chicken legs, painted with honey-mustard dressing and baked until tender is always a good option. I’ve even known people to employ a slow cooker in their quest for the ideal chicken recipe.

Recently, in my ongoing search for the consummate chicken dish, I spotted Alton Brown’s recipe for 40 Cloves and a Chicken. I was fairly certain it would be love at first bite. He has you brown the chicken, top it with fresh thyme and an obscene number of garlic cloves (yes, 40) and bake until the meat is tender and the garlic nearly melts into the pan juices. Oh, yes.

Before you heat your skillet, read these tips »

Italian Chicken and Vegetable Soup – The Weekender

by in Recipes, November 4th, 2011

italian chicken and vegetable soup
I made my first solo pot of soup in November, on a Sunday afternoon, when I was a senior in college. I had found a giant orange Dutch oven at a local thrift store for the bargain price of $10 and it called for nothing more than a colossal batch of soup. I made beef barley, calling my mom for instructions at least four times during the cooking process. My roommates and I ate it for days, curled up under blankets in our rickety rental house.

I have made hundreds of pots of soup since that first batch but it has yet to become tiresome (here’s hoping it never does!). During late summer, I make a vegetable soup from eggplant, zucchini, onions and tomatoes, simmered with a Parmesan cheese rind and then lightly pureed. In fall, I am all about squash, leeks and root vegetables. Winter calls for hearty bean soups made from scratch. By springtime, I am grateful for asparagus and the light, creamy soup that it makes.

Before you fire up your soup pot, read these tips »

Easy Cheese Danish — The Weekender

by in Recipes, October 28th, 2011

cheese danish recipe
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that having people over for brunch is my favorite way to entertain. It has none of the frenzy of the weeknight, post-work dinner party and neither does it carry the gravitas (or booze demands) of a Saturday night event. Brunch is low-key, works just as well for families as it does for party-loving single friends, and can be made to taste great no matter what your budget.

What makes brunch so particularly good for entertaining is that the menu options are wide open. Sweet or savory, just about anything under the sun can fit comfortably under its umbrella. It can be as easy as bagels, cream cheese and toppings from the corner bagel shop (no true kitchen effort required on your part at all) to a full-on, home-cooked meal of eggs, bacon, coffee cake and more.

My favorite way to serve brunch consists of a giant skillet of cheesy scrambled eggs, oven-baked turkey breakfast sausage, an easy salad and one baked item that requires a bit more energy and work. That baked good is what makes it particularly perfect for The Weekender.

Dig into these Cheese Danish »

Ina Garten’s Chicken Pot Pie — The Weekender

by in View All Posts, October 21st, 2011

chicken pot pie
On weeknights, getting dinner on the table is more a matter of survival than it is an act of creativity. Monday through Friday, I rely on the same 10 or so meals to keep us fed. These are the things I know by heart and can make without consulting books or a website for measurements or cook times.

When the weekend rolls around, I’m ready to stretch my culinary legs a little bit and try something beyond my standard turkey burgers and roasted broccoli, delicious though they may be. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not cooking up 10-course gourmet meals, but I do try to pick at least one recipe per weekend that requires a bit more time and energy. Around these parts, we call that dish The Weekender.

This last Sunday, we had plans to gather with friends for dinner. My promised main dish needed to be portable, made with poultry and outrageously delicious. The recipe that fit the bill? Ina Garten’s glorious Chicken Pot Pie.

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How to Select a Potluck Dish — A Great Big Meal

by in Entertaining, How-to, September 22nd, 2011

lazy lasagna potluck dish
At least once a month, my mom calls strictly to talk potlucks (we talk every couple of days, but these potluck calls are different from our regular, rambling conversations). We discuss what she has in her refrigerator, the produce that’s currently coming out of the garden and if there’s any theme for the potluck that she and my dad are scheduled to attend.

Over the years, we’ve created massive couscous salads, wintertime braises that can be made for cheap and salads constructed from shaved zucchini and mint. Though I can’t offer my potluck consulting services to everyone out there, here’s what I have in mind when dreaming up dishes with my mom.

Five must-have tips »

How to Be a Good Potluck Attendee — A Great Big Meal

by in How-to, September 15th, 2011

potluck bowl
In my early twenties, I moved from my hometown of Portland, Ore. to Philadelphia. It was a big move, made even more challenging by the fact that I only knew one person my own age in the entire city (as lovely as it was to be near my 86-year-old grandmother, eating dinner with her at 5 p.m. did not constitute a social life). I knew that my success in Philly was going to hinge in large part on finding friends as quickly as possible. So I got involved.

I hooked up with a cycling club (though my skills on two wheels were shaky at best), joined the Unitarian church down the street and started attending a book club. The reason I was most drawn to these particular gathering points? They all included regular potlucks.

Six ways to be a good potluck attendee »

How to Host a Potluck — A Great Big Meal

by in How-to, September 8th, 2011

how to host a potluck
When my parents got married in 1970, they did so on a grassy hilltop, overlooking San Francisco. The reception afterward was held in a rented church hall and the meal was potluck. My wedding, which was held in my cousin’s backyard 39 years and one month later, was similarly catered.

I’ve been to hundreds of potlucks, large and small, in my 32 years here on Earth. From the weekly Monday night potlucks at my childhood church to the decidedly basic college potlucks of cheese, chips and bean dip, I find that there is always something joyful in the act of gathering to share food.

This time of year, as we head into the busyness of the school year and the rush of the holiday season, it can be easy to lose touch with friends and family. Put a few get-together dates on the calendar and plan to potluck the meal. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re the one who’s hosting.

5 must-have tips for hosting a potluck »

An Intro to Canning and Blueberry Jam

by in How-to, Recipes, August 26th, 2011

blueberry jam
When it comes to canning, blueberries were my gateway fruit. During my childhood, I helped my mom make jam with the berries from our annual picking trip. Later, blueberry jam was the first thing I ever canned on my own (though I did call my parents for guidance at least seven times during the making of that initial batch). Spiced with a little bit of cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest, it tastes like home.

The beauty of blueberry jam is that it sets you up for success. Blueberries contain a lot of natural pectin, so even if you mash and measure imperfectly, nine times out of 10, you’ll still wind up with something spreadable and quite delicious.

What’s more, preparing blueberries for jamming is shockingly easy. All they need is a quick rinse, a careful once-over to remove any stems (don’t throw away the mushy berries, they work just fine in jam) and a thorough smashing. I find it quite satisfying to just plunge my hands in and start squashing. A potato masher is an acceptable substitute if you don’t like to get your hands covered in blueberry goo.

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