Food Friday: Winter Salads

It might be a new year, but that doesn’t mean that I am any less inclined to take the easiest way out in preparing dinner. There is nothing like enjoying a lighter-than-air salad for a summer dinner, though in the winter it needs to be much heartier than our summertime frolics with cool cucumbers, airy vinaigrettes, and artful splashes of lemon juice. We need calories and heft now, so we can go outside and do battle with snowy sidewalks, and scrape the windshield while the wind blows and the snow is still falling.

I also like to use up leftovers when I make salad, no matter what time of year it is. This is our new budget in action – less waste! In the summer I will shred leftover chicken and fling it across a bed of crisp iceberg lettuce, with a handful of sunflower seeds and some chunky homegrown tomatoes. This week I warmed up a leftover chicken breast, and sliced it, and nestled it on a bed of spinach leaves. I cooked the last three slices of bacon, and then used the resulting bacon fat for frying the best, and crunchiest, croutons (made from day-old-ish French bread from the weekend). I nestled a couple of still-warm soft-boiled eggs within some of the spinach curls and scattered the bacon over everything. A heavy, homemade vinaigrette, redolent with garlic, was drizzled over the plates. Add candles. Yumsters. A warm, nutritious salad, and an efficient use of leftovers. You could even add a side dish of (canned) soup, if the shoveling has gone into overtime, and you are feeling generous.

Ingredients to keep on hand, in no particular order:
Brussel sprouts
Garlic (always!)
Roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes
Oranges, tangerines, nectarines
Romaine lettuce (wash it first!)
Cheeses: Goat cheese, mozzarella, Parmesan, bleu cheese, Cheddar
Leftovers: rice, couscous, quinoa, French bread, chicken, roast beef, steak, shrimp, lobster

Homemade Vinaigrette
6 tablespoons vinegar (use your fancy stuff – the ones you got for Christmas)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1 crushed garlic clove
Pinch of ground black pepper
Pinch of nice sea salt

Bacon-fried Croutons
Bacon makes everything better – and you know it!
Cook 3 or 4 bacon slices in a frying pan. Save the grease. (Sometimes I add a little olive oil to make a deeper puddle of cooking grease – use your judgment.) Add a handful of cubed French bread to the frying pan, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Lightly sprinkle garlic powder, onion powder and Lawry’s Seasoning Salt over the crotons. (This is going to be my million dollar retirement invention: the tastiest croutons in the whole wide world.) Using Lawry’s is crucial – make no substitute – not even for “Slap Ya Mama”.

More ideas

“I know the look of an apple that is roasting and sizzling on the hearth on a winter’s evening, and I know the comfort that comes of eating it hot, along with some sugar and a drench of cream… I know how the nuts taken in conjunction with winter apples, cider, and doughnuts, make old people’s tales and old jokes sound fresh and crisp and enchanting.”
― Mark Twain

Food Friday: Comfort Foods

We have taken down all of the holiday trappings: stripped the tree, packed away all the fragile paper Christmas decorations the children made in grade school. Strings of lights have been rolled up. Colorful baubles are nestled all snug in their attic boxes. The mistletoe has been scattered into the back yard for the birds to snack on while gliding on their flight paths to and from the dangling bits of suet and peanut butter–slathered pine cones. And the tree has been stashed in a back corner of the garden, turning to mulch and making a little habitat for our visiting critters.

Happy New Year, indeed. It doesn’t feel festive anymore. The fun is over and the Puritans have moved in. Permanently. We are finally (almost) finished with our holiday head colds, but that new-found healthy feeling is most likely enhanced by our adoption of the very smug and annoying Dry January resolution.

For the month of January we plan to eschew alcohol. Which means no cheap white wine during the week. It also means no Prosecco Saturdays. We have turned into the worst kind of boring people. What’s next? Jogging? Journaling? Can kale be far behind?

If this is as good as it gets, it seems like the perfect time to light the stove, and get cooking some warm comfort foods. For his personal railing against the darkness, Mr. Friday made a vat o’spaghetti sauce. He forgot that there are just the two of us now. It was a such a huge, lobster-pot-sized vat, that we had to take a shelf out of the fridge, and re-distribute bottles of milk, pickles, capers, and salad dressing in order to wedge the thing in after dinner. And then we had to get imaginative with that huge amount of red sauce.

Our initial foray into the vat o’sauce was a candlelit dinner of spaghetti with sausage and meatballs (replete with a well-tossed green salad, crusty, butter-dripping garlic toasts, and goblets brimming with conceited domestic tap water). Then we enjoyed a satisfying lunch of leftover spaghetti. Later, a coquette of bubbling baked ziti, and finally a city block of lasagne. Additionally, there are two Tupperware containers of lasagne now residing in the freezer, along with another gallon of sauce and meatballs. This is like money in the bank – emergency meals that are easily re-heated. Bring on the uninvited guests! When Mr. Friday cooks, he wields a force that alters our small universe.

You don’t need to take over the kitchen and cover all the countertops with cooking gear, or use every piece of Tupperware, or grate mounds of mozzarella, or rearrange the entire freezer compartment to make some comfort food. You can roast a chicken, shape a football of meatloaf, make a melt-y croque monsieur. Kraft mac and cheese might fit your bill nicely. Any sort of warm, aromatic or nostalgic food that makes you happy, because winter can be bleak without tinsel and paper chains.

Roast chicken


Croque Monsieur

Mac and cheese


“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
― Edith Sitwell

Food Friday: Sick as a Dog

I guess we partied a little too hearty. Mr. Friday came home with a cold just as the Christmas holidays began. And being ever so thoughtful and caring, he shared the germs with me. The cold has mushroomed into massive congestion, sneezing and coughing. There are multiple Kleenex boxes in every room of the house.

Imagine what the holiday was like for poor Luke the wonder dog, as he tied the apron bow, and got out the cookbooks so he could make some chicken soup to hurry our healing process. He’s such a good dog. This is a reminder to be kind to our faithful companions! And since we can’t teach an old dog new tricks, luckily for us, Luke knows his way around the kitchen. These are the words that he dictated to me, as he stood on the stool, chopping vegetables and measuring out cups of rice.

“A word to the wise: you are going to need chicken soup sooner or later this winter. And, no, it will never taste as good as your mother’s. It will ward off the flu, and will ease the aches and pains of that miserable head cold. And soon, you will feel right as rain.” (I wonder if it is only Luke who is partial to clichés or if all dogs are prone, like food writers?)

I can see Maurice Sendak will hovering behind Luke, proudly, as he measures out the rice. And soon we will be slipping on the sliding ice, sipping our own chicken soup with rice. Maybe Luke will end up with Max and the wild things, stirring soup on a well-drawn pen and ink stove.

Luke recommends:

Homemade Chicken Stock

1 deboned chicken carcass, including skin
OR 1 whole chicken (do not give the poor dog a bone, no matter how eloquent he is, or how mournfully he looks at you)
6 quarts water
6 garlic cloves, smashed
2 carrots, roughly chopped
3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
4 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf

1. Use a large stock pot, and add butter and chicken over medium heat. Brown them a little bit.
2. Add all the rest of the ingredients, and bring to a boil.
3. Boil for 3 minutes, then turn heat down to low.
4. Cover, and simmer for about 3-4 hours, stirring every once in a while.
5. Once it’s a golden color, strain and let cool. Put in the refrigerator overnight, then skim the fat off the top.
6. I am a big believer in Baggies for storage – none of the lid issues that are inherent in Tupperware, and certainly easily dealt with – out they go! Place in the freezer until ready for use.

Chicken Soup (not completely homemade – but sometimes a dog is on deadline and life has to go on)

Olive oil
Half an onion, minced
2 carrots, finely diced
Bay leaf
A sprig of fresh thyme, or a few shakes of dried
2 quarts chicken stock
1 cup uncooked, long grain rice (or, if you are a noodle family, have your wicked way with them)
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken

1. Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed skillet.
2. Add onion and carrot, and sauté till soft, 5-7 minutes.
3. Add bay leaf, thyme, and chicken broth, and bring to a boil.
4. Reduce to a simmer and add rice and chicken.
5. Let soup bubble, stirring occasionally, until the rice is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.

Note from Luke:
This will be much better than Lipton’s Chicken Noodle dried-powder and freeze-dried chicken bits! And certainly better than Campbell’s. Have you ever looked at those pinkish chicken nubbins? Well, you were probably feverish and anything warm was going to do the trick.

And now, thanks to Luke, you have a nice, comforting stash of stock in your freezer, and you are ready for that rainy, sneezy, sniffling, no-good, terrible day. I remember the glory days, back in elementary school, when I could stay home, bundled up on the sofa with a blanket, a pillow, a box of Kleenex and jelly glass of ginger ale with a bent paper straw. I reveled in spending a feverish day napping in front of the black and white TV. If you are lucky when you succumb to this year’s stay-home-from-school cold maybe Bewitched and The Dick Van Dyke Show will be on the internets!

Luke has taken good care of us. Mr. Friday has almost stopped sneezing and gone back to the office, and I am tottering around the house starting to take the Christmas decorations down. But later this afternoon, Luke and I are going to curl up on the sofa, catching up on the Christmas movies we were too miserable to watch last week. Happy New Year!

“If you are a dog and your owner suggests that you wear a sweater suggest that he wear a tail.”
Fran Lebowitz

Food Friday: Happy New Year!

This is a slightly updated repeat of a column I wrote last year for New Year’s Eve. We are off gallivanting around, and will be back in the new year, full of new resolves and recipes. Happy New Year, Gentle Readers!

This New Year’s Eve I am kicking back with gin and Champagne (probably Prosecco because we are starting a New Year’s Resolution Budget). We will fire up the Acorn TV and watch a couple of episodes of the original Upstairs, Downstairs. There is nothing that makes me feel like a schlubby, self-indulgent, middle-aged, middle-class American faster than Upstairs, Downstairs.

Prosecco or Champagne? It’s a personal choice. I am hugely impressed by a stately bottle of Veuve Cliquot, and would probably serve it to Mr. Hudson, the butler from Upstairs, Downstairs, if he ever came to call. But I find a pretty orange label on a bottle of Mionetto Prosecco just as appealing. Lady Marjorie, also from 165 Eaton Place, would never comment on the lower price point. She would be pleased just to loosen her corset stays and have a second glass. And then Lady Marjorie will tell me to relax, and to enjoy myself a little bit. “You never know when disaster will strike,” she confides. (Lady Marjorie went down on Titanic, so she has some experience with life changing moments.)

Mr. Hudson would tell me to pull up my bootstraps. The Christmas cookies are almost gone. In the meantime, it is Friday night, and it has been a long week. It’s the last time to indulge in 2018. Instead pouring a glass of my usual cheap winter Malbec, I thought I should test some seasonal, perhaps New Year’s Eve-ish cocktail recipes, to get back into the holiday spirit. These are crowd pleasers, but they require a little planning.

“The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love is like being enlivened with Champagne.”
– Samuel Johnson

French 75s

“Hits with remarkable precision.”
-Harry Craddock, The Savoy Cocktail Book

2 ounces gin
1 ounce lemon juice
1 spoonful extra fine sugar

Shake the gin, lemon juice and sugar in a cocktail shaker filled with cracked ice until chilled and well-mixed and then pour into tall glass containing cracked ice and fill up the glass with Champagne. This clever cocktail was said to have been devised during WWI, the kick from the alcohol combo being described as powerful as the French 75mm howitzer gun.

“Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of Champagne; knowing him was like drinking it.”
-Winston Churchill

Champagne Cocktail

In a Champagne glass add a teaspoon of sugar and enough Angostura bitters to melt the sugar. Add a tablespoon of Grand Marnier or cognac and mix in with the sugar, bitters mix. Add a “fine” quality Champagne and stir. Float a slice of thin orange on top. This is what Ilsa and Victor Laszlo sipped in Casablanca.

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”
-Mark Twain

As always, our festive friends at Food52 have some delightful ideas for nibbles to help soak up some of the bubbly we are sure to be drinking on New Year’s Eve.

On a recent trip to food-forward-thinking-Charleston, friends ordered the Aperol and Prosecco cocktail, because they are oh, so trendy. I did not realize that this is the most popular cocktail in Italy. And now it can be one of yours, too!

Aperol and Prosecco

3 parts chilled, dry Prosecco
2 parts Aperol
1 splash soda

Serve with on the rocks in wine glass or rocks glass
Garnish with a slice of orange (this makes it practically health food!)

This is very pretty, and so seasonal: pomegranate mimosas. Yumsters.

“My only regret in life is that I didn’t drink enough Champagne”
-John Maynard Keynes

And the best of both worlds: a Black Velvet! Champagne and Guinness. This drink is simply equal parts stout and sparkling wine, and to be honest, there are some who will never understand its appeal. But to fans, this is a perfect special-occasion drink, particularly suited to mornings and late afternoons. I had my first on a gelid night in London, at Rules, in Covent Garden. Divine.

Black Velvet

4 ounces (1/2 cup) chilled Champagne or Prosecco
4 ounces (1/2 cup) chilled Guinness Extra Stout

Pour the Champagne into a tall glass. We first had ours served in heavy pewter tankards, but at home we eschew the delicate flutes for a sturdy rocks glass. This is not an effete drink. It is robust, and fills your hand with determination. Be sure to pour the Guinness on top. (This is important: Guinness is heavier. If you pour the sparkling wine second, it won’t combine evenly, and will need to be stirred. I shudder at the thought!)

Enjoy yourself this weekend. Happy New Year! Loosen those corset strings. And let the games begin, again, on Wednesday.

“Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast? Doesn’t everyone?”
-Noel Coward

Food Friday: From Our Shelves

We are getting ready for the Winter Solstice here in the Spy Test Kitchens. It arrives today at 5:23 PM. Do you have your sparklers ready? It’s going to be a long night. We still have a lot of Yuletide prep work to do as we enter into the dark days of winter. Pour a glass of mead, and let’s get cracking.

We have some Christmas traditions that like Mrs. Rumpole, must be obeyed. And most of our traditions come from our favorite cookbooks.

From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

Makes 4 servings
Time: 10 minutes

3 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups milk or half-and-half
1/2 cup rum (optional), or more if desired
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until well blended. Stir in the vanilla, the milk or half-and-half, and rum if desired.
2. Beat the egg whites and fold them in thoroughly. (You need not be too gentle; they should lighten the drink but not be discernible.) Top with freshly grated nutmeg and serve.

Christmas Breakfast

To make ahead because who wants to cook on Christmas morning?

From The Joy of Cooking

Serves 6 hungry people
Preheat the oven to 375 °F.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add:
3 to 5 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch wide strips (or, use sausage, ham, Canadian bacon, etc.–with cured meats such as ham, there is no need to sauté)
Sauté until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crispy. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons bacon fat and add to the skillet:
1 small onion, finely chopped (or a few minced shallots, or green onions, etc.)
Sauté until translucent. Add and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Remove from the heat and add salt and pepper to taste.
In a large bowl, combine:
12 eggs
3/4 cup whole milk, buttermilk, or half-and-half
Cheese, in some form, in whatever quantity you prefer (I used leftover cheese bits to equal about 1/2 cup)

• Combine the vegetable mixture and the egg mixture and pour into a greased 9×13-inch pan.
• Bake until set, about 30 minutes.
• Turn on the broiler and broil until nicely browned and slightly puffy on top, about 5 minutes.

Clearly – the folks at Food52 can do this blindfolded.

Christmas Dessert

Flourless Chocolate Cake

From Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts, which is on the shelf just below the one in the illustration.

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 stick of butter, softened
5 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Preheat the over to 350°F. Line a springform pan with parchment paper – it is never pretty. Like hospital corners on the bed, I can never do this tidily.

• Melt the chocolate and butter together in a pan, over a low heat, stirring to blend. Be careful not to rush this process! Set aside to cool.
• Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale yellow in color. This can take up to 5 or 6 minutes. Add the vanilla.
• Clean the beaters, and now whip the egg white with the salt until they are stiff.• Fold the chocolate mixture into the yolks, then fold in about one third of the egg white, mix gently. Then fold in the rest of the whites, mixing until there are no more white streaks.
• Pour the mixture into the springform pan and bake for about 35 to 45 minutes, test with a toothpick to be sure cake is done. The cake will rise gloriously while baking, and suddenly crash and collapse when you take it out of the oven. Do not worry about this! It will be deliciously and deliriously luscious.
• Cool the cake for about 10 or 15 minutes and then remove the side of the pan. Flip the cake onto a cooling rack. Remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment. Let it cool completely before adding the glaze.

You cannot change one speck of this magic chocolate glaze! I have been using this glaze since 1989. The cookbook always falls open to this page, which is also the glaze I use for Flourless Chocolate Cake. It is covered with crumbs and splatters from the festivities from the last 26 years.

3 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon
Melt the chocolate and butter together over a low heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in the brandy. Pour over the top of the cooled cake, smoothing with a spatula, and let it drip down the sides.

And do not forget to feed Santa’s reindeer.

Magic Reindeer Food

1 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon red sprinkles
1 teaspoon green sprinkles

We would pour the mixture into brown paper bags, one for each deer. They get very hungry.

Merry Christmas from the Spy Test Kitchen Elves!

“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”
― J.K. Rowling

Food Friday: Christmas Cookies

I have started my annual rite of cookie baking. I baked a couple of batches of gingersnaps on Sunday, so I could tuck a little love in the Christmas boxes we mail. Gingersnaps are sturdy enough to be mailed, and will still taste fine even if they get mashed. I am always reluctant to eat pretty cookies – ones that have been fussed over with finely piped, royal icing snowflake patterns and carefully centered, inedible silver dragees. Give me a misshapen sugar cookie, dripping with kid-schmeared sugar icing and a handful of sprinkles any day, because I’ll remember the joy of Christmas baking alongside my mother and brother.

Gingersnaps are among the good holiday smells that propel me back through time to my mother’s kitchen. When I wore a ruffled apron over my Fair Isle sweater, and stood on the red wood stepping stool, so I could get right into the thick of the baking. I am sure I was very helpful.

Gingersnaps are among the most versatile of cookies. They taste deelish warm from the oven, cold in a lunch bag, and not too bad when they are stale. Even the gingersnaps that can be bought in a sack at the grocery store are pretty good, in a pinch. But these are so easy, and so kid-friendly, that you should just bake some yourself. These are simple, round and wholesome. Well, except for the white sugar, but not everything can be perfect in every way.

Gingersnap Cookies:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (pack it into the measuring cup)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup molasses (oil the measuring cup first, or spray a little Pam – otherwise you will be washing that cup forever, when you could be conducting cookie taste tests)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I was SHOCKED to see how expensive ground cloves are – $7! I used a half teaspoon of ground allspice and things tasted just fine.)

For dusting the cookies:
1 cup granulated white sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, I use an electric mixer. Add the molasses, egg, and vanilla extract and beat until well-mixed. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well. Cover the bowl with Saran Wrap and chill it in the fridge for about half an hour, until it is firm.

Fill a little dish with the cup (or thereabouts) of granulated sugar. When the dough is nice and chilly, roll it into 1-inch balls. Then drop and roll the balls of dough in the sugar, this is the best point for expecting kid interaction and assistance. Put the dough balls on the baking sheets, and use a small flat-bottomed glass to flatten the cookies. Sometimes you will need to dip the glass back into the sugar to get the right amount of crunchy, sugary goodness. Do not squash them too thin, or the cookies will get too dark and brittle. Bake for about 12 – 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. You can also use a small ice cream scoop, instead of making the balls by hand, but really, where is the fun in that?

These gingersnaps from Smitten Kitchen are a little spicier because she adds pepper. Go for it. But all I want to do is remember the warm kitchen, the silly apron and to spend a couple of hours with Mom.

At Garden & Gun Magazine, where everything is stylish and hip, there is a recipe for molasses cookies, which is very similar to my mother’s gingersnaps. You be the judge:

Our friends at Food52 have lots of swell Christmas cookie ideas. I like a nice, cookie cutter Christmas cookie. And we have timed this just right. Amanda suggests that we bake these cookies well in advance, so they will be perfect to leave out for You Know Who and his eight tiny sidekicks:

The Center for Disease Control has issued its annual doom and gloom warning about eating raw cookie dough. I am passing it along to you in a responsible fashion:

“To each other, we were as normal and nice as the smell of bread. We were just a family. In a family even exaggerations make perfect sense. “
-John Irving

Food Friday: Impressive Garlic Chicken

In April Mr. Friday and I had dinner with old friends. We chattered and caught up, drinking good wine and eating delicious homemade nibbles. I have always have store-bought hummus. It has never occurred to me to whip it up myself. Get yourself to the kitchen. Start impressing people!

Dinner was a divine surprise: a garlic chicken casserole. I still have photos on my phone recording the moment when Tom used a large screwdriver to pry apart the dough seal that lined the rim of the enormous cast iron casserole. Cue the FX department. A triumphant march accompaniment would have been appropriate. A hot, streaming cloud ballooned, filling the kitchen with delightful garlic and chicken auras, and then dissipated to reveal a chicken casserole that was worthy of Julia Child. It was deelish.

Tom followed a Dorie Greenspan recipe for Garlic Chicken in a Pot. I always think of Dorie Greenspan as being a baker, so perhaps I need to expand my reading matter. Here is a video of her explaining patiently to television folk about the adaptability of the recipe:

Last weekend we faced a conundrum: what to serve a guest for dinner. Actually, it was Mr. Friday trying to find a recipe to cook in his new cast iron, 6-quart casserole dish. He regarded me scornfully when I suggested Vivian Howard’s Chicken Rice meal. Too easy. (I love it, and will be making it this weekend. Here is the recipe so you can make it, too: Spaghetti, perhaps? More scorn and derision. And as he thought, he remembered our friend Tom’s tour de force dinner from April. And we rooted around the Internets and found the very Dorie Greenspan recipe.

Garlic Chicken In A Pot
By Dorie Greenspan

4 servings
 1 hour 30 minutes

½ salt-preserved lemon, rinsed well
¼ cup sugar
⅓ cup olive oil
16 small peeled potatoes (white or sweet) or 2 large peeled potatoes, each cut into 8 pieces
16 small onions or shallots, peeled and trimmed
8 carrots, peeled and quartered
4 stalks celery, trimmed and quartered
4 heads garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs Italian parsley
2 sprigs rosemary
1 chicken, whole or cut up
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup white wine
About 1 1/2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove zest from preserved lemon and cut zest into small squares; save pulp for another use. Bring 1 cup water and the sugar to a boil, drop in zest and cook 1 minute; drain and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add vegetables and garlic, season with salt and pepper and sauté until brown on all sides. (If necessary, do this in 2 batches.) Spoon vegetables into a 4 1/2- to 5-quart lidded Dutch oven and stir in herbs and lemon zest.
Return skillet to heat, add another tablespoon of oil and brown chicken on all sides, seasoning it with salt and pepper as it cooks. Tuck chicken into casserole, surrounding it with vegetables. Mix together the broth, wine and remaining olive oil and pour it over chicken and vegetables.
Mix flour with enough hot water (about 3/4 cup) to make a malleable dough. On a floured surface, work dough into a sausage; place dough on rim of casserole. Press lid onto dough to seal casserole. Bake 55 minutes. To break seal, work the point of a screwdriver between pot and lid. If chicken is whole, quarter it. Chicken may be served in the pot or arranged with vegetables on a serving platter.

Thank you, New York Times.

One caveat, our grocery store did not stock salt-preserved lemons. So we had another Internets scramble until we found Mark Bittman’s recipe for a quick salt-preserved lemon recipe. Here is his video: (If you have problems viewing the video – what I did as the sous chef was – I had three organic lemons [non-waxed], which I washed well. Then I sliced the lemons, removed the seeds, and chopped the lemon slices. I put the chopped lemons in a cute Ball jar I found in the pantry, and added 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of Maldon salt. 2:1 ratio, in case you are using art major math. And now we have a beautiful glowing jar of salt-preserved lemons on the top shelf of the fridge, which I admire daily.)

And Mr. Friday did play around with the flexibility of the recipe – he added some parsnips that were lingering in the vegetable bin, used only two full heads of garlic – and as it is, there is still a whiff of garlic in corners of the house five days later, in case you wondered. And he used 1 cut-up chicken, because we just couldn’t fathom how to brown a whole chicken in a skillet. Not without incurring some major kitchen disasters…

As sous chef I was also assigned dough preparation, which was much more enjoyable than chopping lemons. It was fun to roll the dough out into a long rope, without worrying if it would rise and be edible, unlike some of my latest bread experiments. It sealed the casserole quite nicely, and Mr. Friday was afforded his own steamy moment of triumph when he took a screwdriver and prised the top from the bottom. Bon appétit, indeed!

“The chicken does not exist only in order to produce another egg. He may also exist to amuse himself, to praise God, and even to suggest ideas to a French dramatist.”
― G.K. Chesterton

Food Friday: Eight Wonderful Nights

We are still working off the two half turkeys we ate for Thanksgiving last week (one half turkey smoked, the other half roasted), the two kinds of pie (pumpkin and pecan), the extra fancy mashed potatoes (Mascarpone cheese was added for maximum creaminess) and the buckets of homemade Chex Mix. And even though I am still waddling around, I am feeling the need to bake, and to feel cozy in the kitchen. I long for comforting and familiar smells to waft through the house. I’m seeking warm firelight and twinkling candles. Winter is coming.

Let’s dive into the foods that celebrate Hanukkah, and the miracle of the Festival of Lights. Light your candles and remember how the lamp oil for one night became enough oil for eight nights. And then get ready for latkes, sufganiyah and rugelach; fried or oily foods that traditionally symbolize the miracle of Hanukkah.

Latkes are delicious crispy potato pancakes. I love potatoes in almost any form, but hot, crunchy latkes are particularly delicious. Shredded potatoes, onion, flour and egg, with applesauce and sour cream as toppings. Yumsters. With Hanukkah starting next week, we threw ourselves into exhaustive research for latkes. It is easy to fry up extras, and then freeze them for future use. That way, if you have company for a Hanukkah meal, you are not stuck in the kitchen, while everyone else is enjoying your light touch and handiwork. Or, you can keep a stack or two in a warm oven, if you want to prepare them ahead of time and serve them in one fell swoop.

I heeded the extra hint to wring the grated potatoes in a dish cloth, twice, before mixing them with the egg, onion and the flour. That step made for lighter latkes. And I do not have a food processor, which I think would have reduced the time spent preparing the potatoes – but I did have a willing assistant who grated the potatoes on the box grater, and managed to do it without scraping his own knuckles. There is nothing like holiday ritual meal for bringing everyone into the kitchen. And eight nights of practice.

Sufganiyot (the plural of sufganiyah ) are delicious jelly doughnuts. Yes, you can make them at home. Do not give into temptation of buying them. You will impress yourself and your dinner guests with the joy of doughnuts, hot and fresh.

Bon Appétit has a handy dandy video if you have any doubts.

Rugelach cookies can be served both for Hanukkah and Christmas holidays. They are a forgiving cookie. You don’t need a t-square, or special cookie cutters or a bottle of silvery dragee sprinkles to make them. They are rolled pastries with fillings like fruit preserves, marzipan, raisins or chocolate. They are universally loved because of their crunchy exteriors and their chewy interiors. Rugelach are a great way to ease into you holiday baking. Dorie Greenspan has an excellent approach to rugelach:

Hanukkah starts on December 3, just in time to light some candles and start baking.

“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!”
― Dave Barry

Food Friday: Love Those Leftovers!

We have taken the Spy Test Kitchen on the road this year, so we are recycling a column that seems to run almost every Thanksgiving. NPR has Susan Stamberg’s mother-in-law’s cranberry relish, we at the Spy have The Tall One’s Pilgrim Sandwich. Gobble, gobble!

Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish:

I hold Calvin Trillin in very high esteem, as my friends who have often been buttonholed by me badly re-telling his witty food and family travel tales, can tell you. But I think he is way off the mark when he posits that the national dish for Thanksgiving should be spaghetti carbonara. Really? Where is the fun in that?

Thanksgiving at our house was an exclusive affair this year, as my Gentle Readers know. There were just the four of us, and a 23.59 pound turkey. And here we are, the day after Thanksgiving. Post-parade, post-football, post-feast. Also post-washing up. Heavens to Betsy, what a lot of cleaning up there was. And the fridge is packed with mysterious little bundles of leftovers. We continue to give thanks that one of our visiting college students is an incessant omnivore. He will plow systematically through Baggies of baked goods, tin-foiled-turkey bits, Saran wrapped-celery, Tupperwared tomatoes and wax papered-walnuts. The Pesky Pescatarian dispatched her piece of swordfish with efficiency and aplomb, which is mysterious, since she had a tuna sandwich for lunch and the Tall One abstained from a mid-day meal…

It was not until the Tall One was in high school that his abilities were honed and polished with ambitious zeal. His healthy personal philosophy is, “Waste not, want not.” A sentiment I hope comes from generations of hardy New Englanders as they plowed their rocky fields, dreaming of candlelit feasts and the iPhone Xs of the future.

I have watched towering constructions of food rise from the plate as he constructs interesting arrangements of sweet, sour, crunchy and umami items with the same deliberation and concentration once directed toward Lego projects. And I am thankful that few of these will fall to the floor and get walked over in the dark. Of course, there is the dog, Luke, so the five second rule is never tested.

I read that swan might have been the main course at the first Thanksgiving. How very sad. I have no emotional commitment to turkeys, and I firmly belief that as beautiful as swans are, swans are mean and would probably peck my eyes out if I didn’t feed them every scrap of bread in the house. Which means The Tall One would go hungry. A veritable conundrum.

The Pilgrim Sandwich is the Tall One’s magnum opus. It is his turducken without the histrionics. It is a smorgasbord without the Swedish chef. It is truly why we celebrate Thanksgiving.

This is a pretty feeble Pilgrim Sandwich recipe.

This is way too fancy and cloying with fussy elements – olive oil for a turkey sandwich? Hardly. You have to use what is on hand from the most recent Thanksgiving meal – to go out to buy extra rolls is to break the unwritten rules of the universe. There are plenty of Parker House rolls in your bread box right this minute – go use them up!

And if you are grown up and sophisticated, here is the answer for you. Fancy Thanksgiving leftovers for a grown up brunch:

Here are The Tall One’s ingredients for his signature Pilgrim Sandwich:
Toast (2 slices)
Turkey (2 slices)
Cranberry Sauce (2 teaspoons)
Gravy (2 tablespoons)
Mashed Potatoes (2 tablespoons)
Stuffing (2 tablespoons)
Barbecue Sauce (you can never have too much)
Bacon (if there is some hanging around)
Mayonnaise (if you must)
Lettuce (iceberg, for the crunch)
Celery stalk (more crunch)
Salt, pepper

And now I am taking the dog for a walk before I consider making my own.

Dan Pashman, who hosts the highly amusing and informative podcast, The Sporkful, thought that the run-of-the-mill Pilgrim Sandwich was a little too bready, and he has a brilliant alternative notion: fry up some of the leftover stuffing, à la hash brown patties, to make a new vehicle for holding all the turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and gravy together. Brilliant! I do not believe that spaghetti carbonara would taste as good today, unless perhaps, it was enclosed in some fried stuffing patties…

“The Indians were so disgusted that on the way back to their village after dinner one of them made a remark about the Pilgrims that was repeated down through the years and unfortunately caused confusion among historians about the first Thanksgiving meal. He said, ‘What a bunch of turkeys!’ ”
-Calvin Trillin

Food Friday: Me Oh My! Pie!

One of my favorite movie scenes is when Andie McDowell is sitting in a cramped restaurant booth as she sings her pie song in the Nora Ephron movie Michael. This is a terrible copy: The character Dorothy is earnest and awkward and sweet – rather like one of my less-than-perfect pies.

The possibilities of pie are endless. And I do not mean just the numerical constant that is π: 3.14159… I do like baking a pie on March 14, π Day, but that is the end of my fascination with the number. I do not bake many pies a year, which is probably why I have never yet rolled out a round pie shell. Amoebas R us, even with our almost weekly home-baked pizza pie. Among the kitchen skills I would like to master: round, flaky pie crusts (and within that set, nicely plaited lattice tops for cherry pies); round, thin-crusted pizza pies, and bread that will not break a bone when it is dropped on my foot. You can have sweet pies, savory pies, cream pies, hand pies, fried pies, and humble pies.

With Thanksgiving coming next week there is pressure to bake something amazing – a Thanksgiving pie that will go down in family history, although, frankly, I don’t think anything is ever going to beat that Easter when the spider crawled out from under the freshly picked nasturtium on the lemon cheesecake. I have been looking at various pie recipes, and the beautiful versions that Food52 and the New York Times kitchens are sharing are quite intimidating. They can’t leave well enough alone, and have gentrified and gilded the lilies on all of the comforting pies from our childhood memories.

My mother baked a plain and servicable pumpkin pie every Thanksgiving, and it was very tasty, and we looked forward to it every year. It had a nicely crimped, evenly baked, homemade piecrust. I crimp awkwardly, and I have to remember to turn the pie around halfway through the baking process so the crust browns evenly.

Some years we had a lemon meringue pie, too. The lemon filling came straight from Jell-o or My-T-Fine, but the meringue was homemade and towering and diaphanous. Divine.

We used to know a couple who scorned ritual birthday cakes, and served pie instead. An apple pie for your birthday? You might as well rake leaves or fold laundry on your birthday, too, while wearing a hair shirt and practicing good posture. The pie couple has since divorced.

Our ritual birthday cake is a Boston Cream Pie. I am not being a hypocrite here – Boston Cream Pie is actually a cake. I bake a round, yellow cake, split it, slather one half with vanilla pudding, and pour a generous thick, gleaming coating of chocolate ganache over the reassembled cake. If I have tempered the chocolate correctly, it cools into a shiny, slick surface. Perfect for reflecting those myriad birthday candles.

It took a few years to master the art of the Boston Cream Pie. It was hit or miss for a while. There were the couple of times I was bent of heeding Martha who whispered tauntingly to me that the best way to slice the cake into two perfect halves was by using dental floss. She did not say to use plain dental floss. Our BCP had a faint hint of peppermint a couple of times, before I decided that the serrated bread knife did a masterful slicing job.

I can never remember my favorite ganache recipe and have to go look it up in a chocolate-speckled cookbook that opens to just one single recipe.It is really meant to cover an incredible flourless chocolate cake. I think I like the wicked requirement of bourbon, instead of the vanilla that the faint-hearted use.

3 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon

Melt the chocolate and butter together over a low heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in the brandy. Pour over the top of the cooled cake, smoothing with a spatula, and let it drip down the sides. (The ganache recipe is from Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts, which I cannot find digitized or linked to any place. But if you need a good flourless cake recipe, drop me a line!)

So bake what you love on Thanksgiving. And as you gather together, think of past Thanksgivings, and remember to sing:

Me oh my
Nothing tastes sweet, wet, salty and dry
all at once o well it’s pie
an’ wet bottom.
Come to your place everyday if you’ve got em’
Me o my
I love pie”
-Andie McDowell