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Just look at the list of ingredients:

Bacon.  Butter.  Mushrooms.  Wine.  Brandy.  Chicken.

Coq au vin basically sells itself.  Sure, I could rhapsodize about the melt-in-your-mouth chicken and seared mushrooms bathed in rich, tangy wine sauce.  But I trust you to recognize a good thing.  No hard sell needed.

Coq au vin is a classic for a reason. Ever since Julia Child ignited the craze for French food in the 1960s, Americans have greedily slurped up this heady stew and asked for seconds.  Yes, it is a bit labor-intensive, but the end result is completely worth it.  The next time you need an impressive dish for a dinner party or special occasion, think retro.  No, think classic.  Think coq au vin.

(Adapted from Nigel Slater)

-1 large chicken, cut into 6 or 8 pieces, or 1 small chicken plus two leg quarters (save back and innards if you intend to make your own broth)
-8 strips of thick-cut bacon, sliced into thick matchsticks, or 150 g. pre-cut lardons
-2 med. yellow onions, roughly chopped
-2 med. carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
-2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-3 Tbsp. flour, divided
-4 Tbsp. brandy or Cognac, divided
-leaves from 4-5 sprigs thyme
-3 bay leaves
-3/4 bottle red wine (approx. 2 1/4 c.)
-1 1/2 c. chicken broth, preferably homemade
-1-2 Tbsp. butter, if needed
-1 c. small “boiler” or “pearl” onions or small shallots, peeled
-1/2 lb. mushrooms (I used crimini), cleaned and halved if large
-salt and pepper, to taste
-chopped parsley, for garnish

1.  Rinse the chicken and trim of excess skin and fat.  Dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Now is a good time to make your chicken broth or bring some prepared broth to a bare simmer in a saucepan.

2.  In a large, heavy pot, fry the bacon pieces on medium heat until lightly golden.  Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings behind.

3.  Put the chicken in the pot, skin-side down, and let cook undisturbed until golden.  Flip and brown the other side.  Remove to a plate, leaving the drippings behind.

color = flavor

4.  Lower the heat and add the carrots, celery, and onions, cooking until the onions soften. Stir in the garlic. Then sprinkle the veggies with 2 tablespoons flour and stir, cooking 90 seconds more.

5.  Return the chicken pieces and their juices to the pot.  Add the bacon, then pour over 2 tablespoons of brandy.

6.  Add the wine, bay leaves, thyme, and enough broth to barely cover the chicken.

7.  Bring just to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook partially covered for about 40 minutes, or until the chicken is tender.  Remove the chicken to a bowl.

8.  Raise the heat to high and begin reducing the sauce.  Use a spoon to (carefully) skim off the grease that accumulates around the edges of the sauce, discarding all but 2-3 tablespoons.  Put the reserved grease in a metal skillet or medium pot (do not use non-stick) and set aside.

9.  If desired, thicken the reduced sauce with a slurry of 1 tablespoon of flour whisked with 2 tablespoons of water.  Return the chicken pieces to the sauce, first removing the skin (if you like).  Correct the seasoning and keep warm.

10.  Heat skimmed fat in the pot/skillet on high.  If there is not enough fat to cover the bottom, add the butter.  Add the mushrooms and let brown undisturbed for 2 or 3 minutes.  Now add the small onions and sauté 2 min. more.  Season with salt and pepper.

11.  Have matches or a lighter handy.  Pour 2-3 tablespoons of brandy into a cup.  Very carefully, pour the brandy over the mushrooms and onions. Immediately set the mushrooms and onions on fire, averting your head for safety.  Shake the pan until the alcohol burns off and the flames die out. Continue cooking until the onions are just tender, adding a little water if needed.

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What in the world makes these “Avatar” muffins,  you ask?

Let’s just say that if James Cameron’s blue characters were looking for the perfect camouflage muffins to eat on the go, they needn’t look further.   Oh, alright, fine: I made these muffins with weepy frozen blueberries, which dyed the batter a swirly blue.

Image via thefilmtalk.com

But I like to think these blueberry muffins are lovable in their imperfection.  Just like your best friend or that favorite chipped coffee cup you refuse to toss out. You know which one I mean.  Simple, straightforward, and good.

These blueberry muffins are homey and comfortable—ideal for savoring over a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper. They’re moist, fluffy, and just sweet enough without veering into dessert territory.  Plus, they’re loaded with lots of bright fruit (you know how I feel about getting color into our diets).  If you want to ramp up the nutrition even more, you could substitute whole wheat pastry flour or quick-cook oats for a bit of the white flour.  Should you prefer non-Pandoran muffins, just use fresh blueberries, which bleed less than frozen.

(Adapted from Alton Brown via Thyme for Food)

-11 oz (2 1/4 c.) all-purpose flour
-2 tsp. baking powder
-1 tsp. baking soda
-1/8 tsp. salt
-3/4 c. sugar (I used demerera/raw)
-1/2 c. vegetable oil
-1 egg
-1 egg yolk
-1 c. plain yogurt (approx. 1 3/4 containers)
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-1/2 tsp. almond extract, optional
-2 c. blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 12-count muffin tin.  Alternately, you could fill the muffin tin with liners and then spray those with baking spray.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Remove 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture and toss with the blueberries in a separate bowl.  (This reduces sinking while baking.)

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, egg and yolk, yogurt, and extracts.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring just until barely combined. Do not mix completely, or your muffins will be tough and flat.

Stop stirring!

5. Fold in the blueberries and any residual flour just until evenly dispersed. Do not overmix.

6. Drop the batter into the 12 muffin cups, filling to the top. Bake 17-20 min., or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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Germany is a funny place, food-wise.  It has some of the cheapest groceries in Europe and enthusiastically stocks shelves with gourmet delicacies from neighboring countries.  You can eat very well for very little.  Food shopping as an American in Berlin can be a little bewildering—it’s always an adventure. Need a can of rillettes? A brick of halloumi? Russian solyanka? Marcona almonds? Hungarian kabanos? How about some jicama or salsify? White asparagus? Venison shoulder? No problem.

But what if you just need a humble pound of ground chicken to make Smitten Kitchen’s chicken meatballs?

That’s a tall order. Certain American culinary trends haven’t caught on well here, and ground poultry is one of them.  When I asked the butcher if she had any ground chicken, I got a brusqueThat’s not something we carry.”  (My friend, Robby, tells a funny story about how his simple inquiry about ground lamb prompted an angry diatribe about the unreasonable number of separate grinders required.  But I digress.)

Anyway, I was not to be deterred.  I finally tracked down some ground turkey and decided it would have to do.  I needed those meatballs.

Like, yesterday.

And oh, the meatballs.  Delicious!  Just as Deb promised, they’re moist, flavorful, and—yep—vaguely cheesy (despite not containing a lick of cheese).  I think the pancetta and tomato paste give them that delectable hit of umami.  These are good.

Rumor has it they’re also delicious cold, straight from the fridge.  But what was it Reagan said?  “Trust but verify”?  Go on!

Because my grocer sells ground turkey in 3/4 lb. packages, I had to buy two. The following recipe has been scaled up and makes a lot of meatball mix. You can either halve it, or make a make a separate meatloaf for another meal, as I did. Two birds, one stone.

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

-5 slices Italian bread, crumbled into small pieces (I used stale homemade oatmeal white bread)
-1/2 c. milk
-3 oz. pancetta, or uncooked bacon or turkey bacon, diced
-1 sm. onion, finely chopped
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey (lean is OK)
-1 egg, lightly beaten (two are pictured in photo)
-4 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
-1 Tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped, optional
-good pinch red pepper flake
-3 Tbsp. tomato paste, divided
-1 Tbsp. olive oil
-salt and pepper, to taste

1. Put the bread pieces in a large mixing bowl and drizzle them with the milk. Let sit while you follow the next step. Continue Reading »

I discovered a green deficiency in my wardrobe this morning and decided to make an Irish-themed cake to avoid the St. Patty’s pinching-vigilantes.  A couple friends were coming over for tea shortly, so I selected the cake on my friend Katty’s blog, which looked easy and festive.

After a quick mix in one bowl (love that!), my kitchen filled with the best aroma in the world: baking chocolate.  As the cake cooled, I whipped up an addictive batch of Bailey’s-spiked cream cheese glaze (which I was sorely tempted to dye bright green).  The deep chocolate cake baked up fluffy and boxed-mix-perfect, while the Bailey’s icing pushed it over the edge into venial sin.

If you’re looking for a delicious way to commemorate the holiday, you can hardly do better than combining Guinness, chocolate, Bailey’s, coffee, and cream cheese. Granted, binge-drinking frat boys would probably contend otherwise.

In any case, happy St. Patrick’s Day!

(Adapted from Katty’s Kitchen)

Guinness Chocolate Cake

-1/2 c. raw (demerera) sugar (or sub. white sugar)
-1/2 c. dark brown sugar, firmly packed
-scant 1 c. all-purpose flour
-scant 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
-3/4 tsp. baking powder
-3/4 tsp. baking soda
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1 tsp. instant coffee or instant espresso granules, optional (or sub. 1/4 c. strong brewed coffee for 1/4 c. of the milk)
-1 egg
-1/2 c. milk
-1/4 c. vegetable oil
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-2 tsp. Bailey’s liqueur
-1/2 c. Guinness (full disclosure: I successfully substituted dark German beer,  because I couldn’t find Guinness at my local market.  St. Patty promptly rolled in his grave.)

1. Grease and flour (or use cocoa powder) an 8×8-in. square or 8-in. round pan. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (except for the instant coffee).

3. Pour the Guinness into a small saucepan and add the instant coffee granules, if using. Bring just to a boil.

4. Stir the egg, milk, oil, Bailey’s, and vanilla extract into the dry mixture. Gradually whisk in the Guinness-coffee mixture.  The batter will be somewhat thin.

5. Pour batter into prepared pan (I used a springform) and bake on the middle rack for 30-35 min., or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

6.  Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan to wire racks. Cool completely before frosting.

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I thought you might like to see where all the action takes place.  I’m renting a fully-furnished apartment in Berlin, which thankfully has a well-stocked kitchen. Aside from a few santoku-style knives, a grill pan, and some wooden cutting boards, it had just about everything I needed going in.

Well, nearly.  The two-dozen metal canisters on the shelf to the right?  Those are our spices from the U.S.  That’s right.  We imported our spice collection. When it comes to packing, having a traveling companion who shares your priorities is a perk!  (It also means you both neglect to pack winter gloves.)

But back to the kitchen.  I love that the open layout allows me to chat with guests while I cook or clean up.  My last kitchen was a hot, stuffy closet.  This one is a definite improvement, because it has the most crucial household appliance ever: the dishwasher.

I’ll never go back to hand-washing.  Never!

On (all too rare) sunny days, the kitchen fills with natural light.  Now that the days are finally getting longer, I have more time to dream up and photograph new dishes. Continue Reading »

Not Goulash

People, particularly people of Hungarian origin, have very strong feelings about goulash.  Things you should know:

1) It’s one of Hungary’s national dishes;

2) It does not contain ground beef, spaghetti sauce, chili sauce, tomato soup, or Velveeta, you Midwestern heretic 😉

And most importantly…

3) That ultra-thick, beefy stew with onions and paprika you love so much? That’s not goulash!

That is pörkölt.

If you take pörkölt and add potatoes and vegetables and thin it out with water or broth, then you have goulash.  At least, that’s what the fellow in this video claims.  And as a matter of principle, I tend to believe guys who speak Magyar and cook over open fires.

What else do you need to know?  Not Goulash, AKA, pörkölt, is incredibly delicious.  It’s intensely beefy, richly spiced (but not hot—unless you want), and simple to make.  Mashed potatoes are a match made in heaven (and probably totally inauthentic. Parsley potatoes or Spätzle, however, might pass muster with the correctness police.)

In short: make this, and for goodness’ sake, please don’t call it “goulash.”

(Adapted from ifood.tv)

-2 lbs. beef chuck, trimmed and cut into 2-in. cubes (I actually used venison)
-1/2-3/4 c. red wine
-pinch tarragon, optional
-1 sm. onion, finely diced (not too much onion, please, it overwhelms the dish)
-1/2 Hungarian or red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
-1 Tbsp. butter + 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, or the equivalent amount of lard/bacon grease
-2 Tbsp. tomato paste
-2 cloves garlic, chopped
-1 c. broth (I used vegetable)
-2 (heaping) tsp. good quality sweet Hungarian paprika
-1 tsp. dried marjoram
-1/2 tsp. caraway seed, preferably ground
-8 whole juniper berries, optional
-salt and pepper, to taste (I added a little smoked salt for that “cooked-over-an-open-fire” flavor)
-dash of cayenne pepper or hot Hungarian paprika Continue Reading »

Seasonally, this pumpkin soup is probably better suited to mid-October than mid-March, but no matter.  It’s irresistible any time of year.  Do not pass go; do not collect $200. Get in my belly!

Apologies.  That must have been my Id talking.

What my unconscious is trying to say is, you should make this soup happen.  In your kitchen. ASAP.

That is all.

-1 1/2 lbs. fresh pumpkin (I used muscat pumpkin, but acorn/butternut squash or even sweet potatoes should work, too)
-2 tsp. fresh sage, minced (or 1 tsp. dried)
-1 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled
-3 shallots, peels on
-olive oil, for drizzling
-1 leek, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced and rinsed of sand
-1 Tbsp. butter
-1 carrot, peeled and diced
-1 lg. celery stalk, diced
-1 bay leaf
-1/2 c. white wine
-4 c. chicken/veggie broth
-1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
-1/4 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste
-pinch of ground ginger
-dash nutmeg
-1/2 c. evaporated milk
-3 Tbsp. heavy cream
-3 Tbsp. sherry (optional)
-salt and pepper, to taste

Garnish with your choice of:
-roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), chopped
-ground paprika
-roasted corn (recipe follows)
-chopped parsley
-heavy cream

1. Cut the pumpkin into large chunks, halve the shallots, and place on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with sage, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Roast at 350F until fork-tender and golden.

I peeled the shallots, but roasting with the peels on would have been better.

Continue Reading »