Come January, I’m ready to hunker down. Finally clear of the holiday frenzy, I crave slow evenings, mulled cider and the occasional quiet dinner party with a few friends.
Late-winter entertaining is a whole different beast from the string of holiday parties that stretch out across November and December. Now’s the time for slow-cooked, rich braises and stews that need nothing more than a glass of red wine to feel complete.
Last year, I spent most of this first month making oven-roasted beef stew. The year before, I revisited a braised turkey leg dish that I grew up eating out of my grandmother’s oval aluminum pot. This year, I can’t get the idea of pork posole out of my mind.
In the past, I’ve made green posole with a tomatillo puree, which is wonderfully mild and flavorful. Wanting to try something new, I determined that January 2012 is going to be focused on getting Rachael Ray’s recipe for Red Pork Posole just right.
Before you start braising, read Marisa’s tips »
When I was growing up, my sister and I always sat down in September and set our new school year resolutions. It just seemed like the right time to initiate new habits as we entered new grades and classrooms. Of course, these lists featured childhood basics like “Be nicer to my sister” and “Remember to help Mom clean the cat box.” Nothing earth-shattering, but it was the principle of it that mattered.
To this day, fall has always felt like the more appropriate time for fresh starts to me than January. However, in my current life as a freelance writer, I need all the structure and discipline I can get. So I’m taking advantage of this new year to institute change.
Chief among my resolutions this year is to eat better (I can’t imagine I’m alone in naming this as a goal). One recipe that I’ve bookmarked for regular rotation in this new regime is this Veggie Meatloaf With Checca Sauce from Giada. It’s built on a base of brown rice and red lentils and features carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes and spinach (talk about packing in the good stuff!). It includes egg and cheese for flavor and binding and is topped with a tasty blender sauce that is good on just about anything (if you have any left over, heap it on scrambled eggs). It is a many-stepped recipe, which means you’ll want to cook it on a chilly Sunday afternoon and then eat the leftover for lunch on Monday. Just the thing for The Weekender.
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Like so many others, when the new year approaches, I begin to entertain thoughts of healthier eating. I imagine spending all of December 31 sweeping out my refrigerator and pantry, getting rid of the crackers, chocolate (even the baking kind) and oozy cheeses, and replacing them with kale, flax seed meal and dried beans.
Most years I don’t actually tackle such extreme measures. Instead I just take steps to add a few more virtuous items to our regular menu. Come January the number of leafy greens found in my kitchen will outnumber the cheeses (sadly, not the case at the moment) and I’ll start packing more lunches for my husband and me.
One way that I fill our lunch bags is with homemade soup. I cook up a batch at the beginning of each week and portion it out into microwave-safe containers each night before I go to bed. That way it’s easy to grab come morning. These soups are often bean and vegetable based. Some weeks I do a black bean soup from dried beans; other weeks I stick to pantry basics like canned white beans and boxed stock.
Recently I’ve been making a simple Lentil Soup using Alton Brown’s recipe as my guide. It makes a generous amount, is incredibly cheap to make (good if you’re watching your wallet as well as your waistline) and can happily simmer on the back burner on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. All these things make it perfect for The Weekender.
Before you start simmering, read these tips »
One of the basic truths of cooking is that there are as many pasta sauces out there in the world as there are home cooks. I grew up eating my mom’s long-simmered sauce that was bursting with zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions. My husband grew up eating a more basic marinara, studded with rounds of sausage (my younger self would have been very jealous that he got to avoid so many of the veggies).
These days my sauces tend to shift with the seasons. During the summer I like to prep an uncooked sauce of chopped tomatoes, torn basil, olive oil and salt. But as the days get shorter, I opt for thicker, heartier ingredients that have the ability to warm the kitchen and keep bellies satisfied.
With the holidays looming and houseguests streaming into town, a pot of filling pasta sauce is just the thing to make those big family dinners a bit easier. Right now my go-to recipe is one from Giada De Laurentiis for Lamb Ragu With Mint.
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I come from a family with a well-established set of holiday traditions. We make cranberry bread at least once in December, we light candles and make wishes for the coming year on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning, we always have the same breakfast. It’s been this way as long as I can remember and I have absolutely no wish to change things. I value the feeling of comfort and holiday continuity that it offers.
Once the turkey is stuffed and in the oven, I fry eggs so that the whites are cooked and the yolks are still runny. My sister cooks up a packet of turkey bacon and my mom warms up the baked good. The baked good is the only place where there’s variability in this menu (what can I say, we like consistency). Sometimes there are homemade scones, other years, toasted slices of panettone. One year, I tried my hand at from-scratch bear claws. Sadly, they were not my best work.
Throughout the year, I test recipes in search of the right Christmas morning baked good. This year, I’m leaning strongly in the direction of Alton Brown’s Overnight Cinnamon Rolls. They might seem like a lot of effort, but really, they come together quickly. And as the recipe title implies, they can be almost entirely prepped the night before, meaning that you just have to sneak them into the oven on Christmas morning for a fun holiday morning treat.
Before you start rolling your dough, read these tips »
Soup and bread are one of the most natural pairings I know. Truly, what goes better with a bowl of warm, belly-filling soup than a roll, hunk of baguette or even just a slice of basic, buttered toast?
The trouble I so often run into is the fact that I buy lovely loaves of bread to go with my batches of soup and inevitably end up chucking the last third of the loaf as it’s gotten too stale to be eaten. For someone who tries to keep the grocery budget in check and prevent food waste, this can be an awful blow.
Happily, there is an answer to my bread-waste issue and it’s found in (another) pot of soup. For centuries now, frugal Italian cooks have been reviving those day-or-two-old bread ends by adding them to the soup kettle. They work to thicken the soup, give it a silky consistency and generally manage to transform a humble vegetable broth into a sturdy, substantial potage.
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Now that Thanksgiving has passed, there’s no way to deny it: The holiday season is here. I, for one, welcome the onslaught of parties, cookie exchanges and evenings spent shopping and wrapping gifts. There’s something so joyful and cozy about the many moments of celebration that will be folded into the next four weeks.
With so much packed into so little time, there’s never been a better time for project cooking. It’s just good sense to invest a few minutes over the weekend in a pot of something filling that can be quickly reheated for dinner one night and lunch the next day.
What’s more, in this season of entertaining, having a recipe tucked in your repertoire that is simple enough to prepare but sufficiently elegant to add to the buffet at your holiday open house is a very good thing.
Right now, I’ve found that the recipe that checks all these boxes is Ina Garten’s Chicken Bouillabaisse. It comes together in just a few steps, and dirties just a plate, a Dutch oven and a food processor or blender. The bulk of the time the recipe demands is hands off. You can relax (or prep that next batch of cookie dough) while the oven does the work and fills your home with warming scents. All this and more is what makes it perfect for The Weekender.
Before you start browning your chicken, read these tips »
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 »
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 »
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 »