I grew up in a family where virtually nothing was wasted. My mother would save the tiniest sliver of Breyers ice cream that used to come in a square container, and sometimes, oh my God, we’d even take leftovers to amusement parks. I of course wanted those horrible hot dogs rolling around on those metal tubes all day. I often think how almost criminal it is that we have three refrigerators in our house that are so stuffed with food we can’t even see what’s growing in the back of each of them. Yes, I teach cooking classes so there’s always a lot of ingredients needed for classes and testing recipes, but it’s still no excuse for wasting precious food.
I decided that instead of dreading the monthly clean-out of moldy bits and pieces and the slimy gook from spilled jars, I should stage our own version of Chopped, where contestants are given a handful of secret ingredients and they have to come up with some brilliant dish. The difference of course is that I won’t try to make a four star dinner out of cheese doodles, octopus, gelatin and some sort of spiky fruit. I’m challenging myself to search the freezers and fridges each week for several ingredients and to figure out a dish in one hour. This kind of self imposed contest forces you to use a variety of skills – it could be searing, braising, frying or roasting, or whatever – in new ways and to really work the spices you have on hand.
Okay I admit, this first week I had a head start. I just finished doing a week of cooking demos on back to school healthy snacks and lunch options on Fox News (link to avocado video) and had great lime jalapeno guacamole left over. I had also had a huge package of 12 inch tortillas from making low fat baked tortilla chips on air. Quesadillas anyone? So I searched the fridge and found perfectly ripe yellow heirloom tomatoes, Iberico cheese and smoked prosciutto (similar enough to Iberico ham). Perfect ingredients to make a Spanish-ish Quesadilla. Here’s the recipe:
Most people think I’m a little bit strange when I tell people that Halloween is my favorite holiday. It’s really simple. I adore the foods of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Easter, not to mention all the glorious casual picnic foods from Memorial Day through Labor Day, but I just love the theatre and whimsy of Halloween.
This great holiday, after all, is not about gifts or how perfect the table looks for relatives. It’s about fun, and magic, and theatre. It transcends age. We will have 8-year-olds and 16-year-olds side by side at our house all enjoying the same silly food and wearing goofy costumes. What could be better? I get to take my apron off and think solely about what would make kids of all ages happy. The pressure is off to be perfect. All anyone cares about is that the offerings are funny, maybe a little “scary” and of course colorful.
So here’s part of our line-up for All Hallow’s Eve at our house. We’ll offer our friends and fellow trick-or-treaters Mad Scientist Bubbly Brew, followed by cauliflower brain dip, and darling little “pumpkins” made of clementines and celery. There will be other things, but these are my favorites. I hope this sampling of our Halloween inspires you to think like a child even for just one day. Happy Halloween everyone!
Have you got any special halloween foods you make at your house? We’d love to hear about them! Comment below to let us know!
From: Heide Lang
One dozen or more Clementines
Several stalks celery
Peel Clementines and place on a fun Halloween platter.
Cut a stalk of celery into small pieces for the pumpkin stem. Stick a celery piece into the top of each peeled Clementine and serve!
Creepy Cauliflower Brain Dip with Guacamole
From: Heide Lang
4 ripe avocados peeled and pitted
½ cup chopped onions
1/8 cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup cilantro (optional)
1 4 ounce can finely chopped seeded jalapeno chilies**
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon pepper
1 cup of tomatoes, diced and seeded (or canned diced tomatoes in the winter)
1 large cauliflower
1 package of red licorice string
Place all guacamole ingredients but tomatoes in a food processor or in a medium sized bowl. Puree in the food processor or puree in bowl using an immersion blender until very smooth.
Drain tomatoes thoroughly through a sieve and gently blend into the avocado mixture using a spatula.
Remove all of the leaves from the cauliflower and remove the stem so that there is a hollow area, but most of the florets are intact. (Use toothpicks to hold the sides together if it starts to fall apart).
Put the hollowed out cauliflower into a snug fitting bowl. (For a really scary presentation, wrap the bowl in cheesecloth stained with red food coloring.)
Fill in with the guacamole and decorate the florets by weaving the licorice between the florets to make the veins and arteries. You may also sprinkle a bit of red food coloring on the “arteries” as well but be careful not to overdo it.
Mad Scientist Bubbly Brew
From: Heide Lang
Clear glass container or punch bowl
Artificial green or red drink, such as Gatorade or Hawaiian Punch (You may also use a clear liquid like seltzer or Sprite, died with food coloring, if you want)
Gummy worms, plastic spiders or any other creepy creatures you wish
Fill container or punch bowl with a green or red beverage.
Place gummy worms, spiders, etc, on the edge of the bowl.
Add a few small pieces or pellets of dry ice, just enough to get the brew bubbling and smoky. If it comes in a big brick, you will need to chip pieces off of it. (Do NOT pick up dry ice with your bare hands. Use tongs to handle it or protective rubber gloves if you must pick it up with your hands.)
Serve immediately, adding additional pieces of dry ice every 10 minutes, or as needed.
There is nothing like finding a dessert that’s beautiful, easy and unbelievably delicious. We all know that it isn’t always so easy. There are a lot of desserts that fit only one or two of those stipulations. A genoise cake, for example is beautiful and delicious but certainly NOT simple.
That’s why this dessert is so special. Did I mention that it’s fairly low-calorie as well? I used to make roasted pears with pomegranate juice and red wine, which was very good but it just didn’t quite have the depth a great autumn dessert should have. I tinkered with apple cider and port wine instead and added ginger, cinnamon and cardamom to create this gem of a fall treat. I honestly haven’t met anyone in any of my classes who hasn’t gone crazy over this one. You may also want to prepare this if you are having an open house as well. The combination of pears, port, cider and spices says cozy autumn like nothing else. I bet it will sell your house in a flash!
The best thing about it is that your friends and family will not only love it but they will be so honored you spent so much time making them a special dessert. The truth (note, I am whispering) is that it will take you about 15 minutes to get in oven. Don’t worry. Your secret will be safe. Who am I going to tell?
Oh, and be sure to save any extra sauce to pour over French toast, pancakes or waffles over the weekend. The recipe purposefully makes more sauce than you will need for the pears alone so you can have leftovers. Who could ask for more?
Do you have any easy winner dessert recipes like this one? Let us know in the comments, below!
I was a bit of a rebel at cooking school, which was kind of surprising considering I was pretty much a nerd in high school. I was always asking a lot of questions, especially ones that began with “Why do we have to….?” One of the hallmarks of great French cooking, I learned very quickly, was that shortcuts were pretty much a no-no. We learned, for example, how to prepare mayonnaise and whip egg whites stiff by hand instead of using mixers or hand blenders just so we would know how if we needed to in the future.
For chefs in a commercial kitchen this may come in handy on occasion, but I think every minute home cooks spend in the kitchen should be enjoyable. This means you should take shortcuts and even cheat a little sometimes. Otherwise, I know for a fact you will avoid certain ingredients, like shallots, which are tedious to peel since you need so many more them than onions, and slicing or dicing may them burn your eyes. You should never avoid such a wonderful ingredient such as shallots since they add so much flavor, being a little less bitter than onions and really sweet when caramelized.
So I’ve come up with a an easy way to caramelize massive amounts of shallots with very little labor after being inspired by a 12-Hour Rabbit Bolognese recipe in Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Great Britain (a book by the way everyone should own). He just puts all the ingredients whole into this rabbit stew and the onions just fall apart and assimilate during braising. So smart. I thought that perhaps I could achieve the same results with shallots if I just peel large shallots, quarter them and slowly cook them in a bit of oil. It works!
So what, you say? Shallots cooked this way are a great replacement for onions in stews, or in pureed soups, mixed in with vegetables or mashed potatoes (see Stoemp). You could also add these to a pot pie, fill puff pastry cups with shallots and add a bit of goat cheese for a easy elegant appetizer, or again really use them anywhere you use cooked onions. Today, for example, I used them for a meatloaf. First I added a bit of cognac to the shallots, and let the alcohol burn off. Then I pureed them before adding them to the ground beef and other ingredients (you can also just chop them – fine or coarse – or leave them just the way they are). There’s really no end on how you can use them.
Do you have any go-to ingredient or spice that adds pizzazz to everyday meals? Let us know in the comments, below!
Caramelized Shallots 1-2-3
From: Heide Lang
8 large shallots, or 12 smaller ones peeled.
4-5 tablespoons canola or sunflower oil (or another oil with a high smoke point)
Cut off the root of the shallots and quarter them
Heat a medium size sauté pan and add 4 tablespoons of oil.
Add the shallots and coat them with the hot oil. Break up the shallots with a firm spatula as they cook until all they have all fallen apart.
Cook over a low-medium heat until the shallots start to brown, about 25 minutes. Add the last tablespoon or more of canola oil if the shallots stick to the pan
Remove the shallots from pan and add to your favorite vegetable, stew, soup, or any place else you would use cooked onions. (You may chop or puree them as well.)
Francesca is a very picky eater. She’d be happy to eat “yellow pasta,” penne with a little bit of kosher salt and olive oil, practically everyday. But like every kid, she can be unpredictable. Her eyes light up when I open the lid of the Dutch oven and she sees we’re having “fesenjoonie,” as she calls it. The actual name of this ridiculously delicious Persian khoresh (stew in Farsi) is fesenjan, and it is also one of favorite dishes of all time.
We had the privilege of visiting Iran 10 years ago with when hubby Mark was invited to give a talk in Tehran. I foolishly thought before visiting that I had tasted all the great cuisines of the world, so I gave little thought to Persian food and spent most of the time reading about the great sites, such as the ruins of Persepolis and ancient city of Esfahan.
Dumb dumb me should have thought about the food. I probably had never tasted real Persian cuisine before and just assumed it would be in line with more familiar Middle Eastern foods, such as hummus and pita bread. I was so very wrong.
We arrived in Tehran in the middle of the night, and almost instantly a whole world of spices, nuts, and fruits opened up to us. We stayed with relatives of our dear friends Vahid and Shahla Mohsenin and were greeted by mounds of perfect pistachios, dried apricots, and dates. This 3 a.m. greeting party was considered just a little nibble. The food essentially never stopped coming for the two weeks we visited this beautiful and baffling country.
You will no doubt hear a lot about Persian food from Gabrielle and me. Persians are famous for their hospitality and it seemed there was a lavish dinner party every night once the word got out that there were Americans in town (fewer than 500 Americans were allowed to visit Iran at the time). Many dishes combine the same ingredients – saffron, rose water, orange water, nuts, pomegranates and dried fruits –in countless ways to create unforgettable dishes. Fesenjan, for me, combines all of my favorite Persian flavors. The blend of slow-cooked pureed walnuts, saffron, pomegranates, and onions with chicken creates an earth, nutty, exotic taste you can’t imagine until you’ve taken your first bite.
I’m not sure how Persian households eat this way all the time (and they seem to), because some Persian dishes take a little while to prepare. Not only is the investment worth it, but also keep in mind that any Khoresh, like most stews, usually tastes better a day or two later so they are perfect do-ahead company food.
I became a fesenjan connoisseur while we were in Iran, and sampled many interpretations of this extraordinary dish all from Teheran to Yazd. When we arrived home, I immediately bought the classic Persian cookbook available in English by Najmieh Batmanglij titled, Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies. Her version of fesenjan inspired my own, which is quite different. I’ve substituted some of the traditional pomegranate juice, God help me, with wine! Alcohol is forbidden in Iran, but I think wine adds a lovely fruitiness to this exquisite dish. Before the Islamic revolution in 1979 very fine Syrah was produced in Shiraz, and so I’ve used a full-bodied Syrah in this dish. (Sadly the vines are now used to only to produce grapes.)
Here is the recipe, and do let us know if your taste buds are as tickled as ours by this very unique dish:
Khoresh-e Fesenjan Ba Jujeh (Chicken Pomegranate Stew)
From: Heide Lang
½ pound (2 cups) walnuts finely chopped
5 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 large onions peeled and thinly sliced
12 chicken thighs, bone-in (approximately 5 to 5 ½ pounds)
2 cups pomegranate juice
2 cups Syrah wine
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
2 tablespoons grape molasses or sugar (optional)
¼ cup pomegranate seeds (optional)
3 tablespoons toasted walnuts (optional)
Toast the walnuts at 350 degrees for 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a large pot or Dutch oven (8 quarts is ideal) over medium heat until very hot. Sauté the onions until they are glassy and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and let cool in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Add 1-2 tablespoons of additional oil and brown the chicken (you will need to do this in two batches).
Remove the chicken from the pot into a medium bowl and set aside.
Puree the onions and the walnuts in a food processor. Add 1 cup of pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses, salt, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron water and grape molasses (or sugar) and mix well to a creamy paste.
Pour the mixture into a medium size bowl and add the remaining pomegranate juice and wine.
Add the onion-walnut mixture to the Dutch oven and stir well. Add the chicken and gently mix again (if stirred to aggressively, the skin will come off the chicken).
Bring Mixture to a boil and give the stew a good stir. If you are cooking the stew in an oven-safe Dutch oven or pot, cover and cook in the middle of the oven at 350 for one hour, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. You may also cook the stew on the stove top on low for an hour.
Taste the khoresh sauce after the first hour. It should be sweet and sour and have the consistency of heavy cream. Adjust the taste by adding more pomegranate molasses for sour, and more grape molasses (or sugar) for sweetness.
Stir the stew well again and place back in the oven until the chicken is thoroughly cooked the sauce is the thickness of heavy cream.
Remove from the oven and let cool uncovered before refrigerating (covered) overnight. When ready to serve, re-heat in the Dutch oven at 350 degrees. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, heat on stovetop with a low-medium flame, stirring occasionally.
Serve over basmati rice or, if you’re feeling ambitious, Chelow, a saffron steamed rice with a golden crust. You may also add sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and toasted walnuts (optional).
I had such good intentions of doing a Wordless Wednesday post, but I realized too late that I’m incapable of doing anything wordlessly and on top of that, without my noticing, Wednesday turned into Thursday, and my plans were foiled. But I have a great many pictures to share with you, and they deserve an explanation anyway. Once a year or so my family has to take a vacation to a place with open fields, cows, fresh air, fireflies(!) and farms, or we’ll just go insane. There are a few different places we’ve tried but few work their magic quite the same way as Chestertown, MD. The difference between us in Connecticut and us in Maryland is immediate and extreme – Isabella even let me take a picture or two of her! My fantasy is to one day move down here, buy an old farmhouse and divide my days equally between cooking, exploring cornfields and catching fireflies in glass jars (with my children of course). It’s a very realistic dream.
. We can’t cook down here, so we take pictures instead. Here are some scenes from our life this week.This post will be wordless starting… now.