Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I jokingly made a comment on Facebook that I'd given up cooking for Lent. Not really, but it's certainly felt like it. I swear I have not cooked a meal in what feels like a solid month. Part of the reason has been business travel/commitments and a string of social gatherings. Another part of it has been sheer laziness. Some days it feels like the only thing I can "cook" is a delivery pizza or something from the grocery store salad bar. I finally reached my breaking point on Sunday and knew I needed to get back into the kitchen.

But if you're going to break the cooking blackout and go to the effort of making something, it had better be awesome. Maybe even best-ever. I mean, go big or go home, right? Well, Food and Wine magazine recently printed a list of the 20 best recipes they've EVER published. . . in 35 years. That's an impressive short list to say the least. So I'd say Jamie Oliver's roasted carrot and avocado salad with citrus dressing, which Food and Wine magazine bequeathed the title of Best-Ever First-Course Salad, seemed to fit the bill.

It seemed simple enough, but I guess what makes it so great is the transformation of seemingly ordinary ingredients into an out-of-this-world dish. Something that makes you pause and think, "Wow, this is effing ridiculous! How did they do this?!" That was basically my reaction when I tasted it. And I claim no credit other than being able to read and follow a recipe. The ingredients aren't that novel, but it's the way he combined them—in an unfamiliar yet incredible way—that makes this salad really stand out.

I'm tempted to make every single other "best-ever recipe" because if this simple salad is any indication of what I'm in for, I may never leave my kitchen again!

Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad with Citrus Dressing
from Food and Wine

1 lb small carrots (preferably with tops but trimmed)
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 fresh chile de arbol or other small red chile (I used a jalapeño)
Kosher salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 orange, halved
1 lemon, halved
4  1/2-inch slices of ciabatta bread
3 Hass avocados, pitted, peeled and cut into chunks or wedges (do this right before serving so they don't brown)
8 oz assorted greens, such as watercress, spinach or mesclun
2 cups baby arugula
2 Tbsp unsalted roasted sunflower seeds
1 Tbsp roasted sesame seeds
1 Tbsp poppy seeds
3 Tbsp low-fat sour cream mixed with 1 Tbsp water

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring a deep skillet of salted water to a boil. Add the carrots and simmer, covered, over moderately low heat until crisp tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and transfer carrots to a large roasting pan. 
2. In a mortar, crush the cumin seeds, chile de arbol, 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Add the garlic and thyme and pound into a paste. Stir in the 2 Tbsp of the oil and 2 Tbsp of the red wine vinegar.
3. Pour the cumin dressing over the carrots and toss. Add the orange and lemon halves cut side down to the roasting pan. Roast for about 25 minutes, until the carrots are crisp. The cooking time depends on how thick your carrots are. 
4. Meanwhile toast the ciabatta bread until the edges are brown. Tear the bread into bite-sized pieces and, in a large bowl, gently toss with the avocados, greens and arugula. In a small bowl, combine the sunflower, sesame and poppy seeds. 
5. Using tongs, squeeze the hot orange and lemon halves into a measuring cup until you have about 1/3 cup of juice. Whisk in the remaining 1 Tbsp of red wine vinegar and 1/3 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the warm carrots to the bowl along with the citrus dressing and toss to coast. 
6. Transfer the salad to plates and drizzle with sour cream mixture and sprinkle seeds on top. Serves: 6

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Cooking with Wine

"I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food." 
This famous Julia Child quote is also probably my culinary mantra. Because wine (and other alcohol) can be a powerful flavor extractor. Alcohol's ability to carry flavors can be a great asset to cooks. Wine can add brightness to vegetables and deep concentration to meats. And wine gives a complex acidity to any dish. Wine is also just really enjoyable to drink. 

With this dish, you get the chance to do both. You're welcome. 

I enjoy making a soup or stew on most weekends. With daylight savings time upon us, I wanted to go for something a little "Springier" than I've been making of late. This is a fresher, green-herb-laced version of the French classic. I'd say the French know a thing or two about wine. So grab a bottle of wine and make this. You don't even have to tell anyone how much wine you drank vs put in the food. It'll be our little secret.

I used a California Chardonnay. I hope France will understand.

And bring on Spring!

White Wine Coq Au Vin
from Sunset

4 1/2 Tbsp flour
3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
1/2 tsp ground black pepper, divided
1 tsp herbes de Provence
4 slices bacon (1/4 lb), chopped
1 1/2 lbs boned, skinned chicken thighs
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups peeled baby carrots
3 stalks celery
1 medium onion
1 1/3 cups Chardonnay
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley sprigs
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh tarragon sprigs
Baguette for serving (optional)

1. In a plastic bag, shake flour with 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, and the herbs de Provence; set aside. 
Ye old faithful ziploc bag. Perfect to toss the chicken in the seasoned flour mixture.

2. In a 5- to 6-qt pan over medium-high heat, brown bacon, stirring occasionally, 6-7 minutes. Meanwhile, cut chicken into 1-in chunks, then shake half at a time in flour to coat. 
3. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon from pan to paper towels. Brown half the chicken in bacon fat, stirring occasionally, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining chicken, adding oil to pan. Meanwhile, cut carrots in half lengthwise and cut celery into diagonal slices. Chop onion. 
Add the "spiked" broth to the sautéed vegetables.

4. Add vegetables to pan with remaining salt and pepper and saute until onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a microwave safe bowl, microwave wine and broth until steaming, about 3 minutes. 
Everything tastes better with bacon, right?

5. Add broth mixture, chicken and bacon to pan, stirring to loosen browned bits. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, coarsely chop parsley and tarragon. Stir them into stew. Plate and serve with a crusty baguette. Serves 4. 
Fresh parsley and tarragon add a wonderful dimension of brightness to the stew.