Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Celebrating Craziness

What’s cooking? Lemon Chicken with Herbs

Every year in late December, The New York Times Magazine publishes an issue called “The Lives They Lived.” It’s a tribute to many of the overlooked people who’ve done something significant in their lives and who died in the previous year.

One of those featured in the 2018 issue was Nobukazu Kuriki. I know, I hadn’t heard of him either. But maybe that’s because we traveled in different circles. Kuriki was a Japanese entrepreneur and mountaineer, known as a purist in his climbing style, which meant climbing solo and without supplementary oxygen. He died on his eighth attempt to summit Mount Everest.

Kuriki understood that his risk-taking was a bit insane. According to the Times, he wrote a Facebook post titled “No Crazy, No Mountain,” in which he said, “ The world of climbing mountains is crazy by nature... And there is something I want to tell everyone: ‘Please cherish the craziness that we all have within ourselves.’”

I like that. I’ve tried to count some of the ways I’m crazy – none of them life-threatening, thank goodness – but it became a sort of chicken-and-egg thing, where I couldn’t figure out if my craziness all stems from one thing or if they’re, like, all related in a sort of circular fashion.

One of the streets in Community First
There’s the cooking/detail-driven/language issues – three crazinesses that I will lay claim to. They all converged when a friend decided our gang should make dinner for a community of homeless people being housed in an Austin neighborhood called Community First. According to our leader, we needed five people to take chicken-and-rice casseroles, two for desserts, and two for salad. The KG really doesn’t like making salad, and by the time she signed up, the desserts were taken. Okay, fine, I said to myself. I’ll make chicken casserole. Here was the recipe we got: “In a large foil lasagna pan mix 5 cups white rice, 5 cans mushroom soup, 5 packets onion soup (dry) mix and 5 cups water. Top with 20 chicken thighs. Bake at 350 for 75 minutes.”

Typical home in Community First
It sounded simple enough, but my KG mind raced with possible tweaks. On my query, though, I learned that we should just do it plain. But even “plain,” you can imagine that the Kitchen Goddess had a thousand questions – or at least two to start. So I called my friend.  “Um,... is that cooked rice or raw rice? And are the chicken thighs boneless, skinless, or neither?”

Turns out it’s raw rice, and bone-in, skin-on for the chicken thighs.

So I went to the store, and found several varieties of dry onion soup. I called my friend from the soup aisle. “Is there a particular brand of onion soup mix that everyone is using? And we’re talking Campbell’s Mushroom Soup, right?”

She told me she buys Lipton Onion Soup mix and Campbell’s Mushroom Soup.

I called again from the foil pan aisle. “I don’t see a pan big enough to hold 20 chicken thighs. You think it’ll cook the same with a couple of smaller pans?”

“Yes,” she said. I thought she was starting to sound a bit testy, but maybe it was just my imagination.

I got home and began to assemble the casseroles. But try as I might, I couldn’t get the chicken to sit on top of the rice/soup mixture. So I called once more, and without even saying “Hello,” she said, “You know, Lee, maybe you should make cookies next time.”

* * *

So call me crazy, too. Now I’ll tell you what’s not crazy, and that’s this recipe for Lemon Chicken with Herbs, which is, frankly, a far cry from that chicken-and-rice casserole (though I’ll admit it wasn’t bad). My hubby calls this “Herb, the Lemon Chicken.” Whatever you call it, it takes almost no time or effort. And the delicate bath of olive oil, wine, and lemon both seasons and tenderizes the meat.

Lemon Chicken with Herbs 

Recipe from Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times

Serves 4.


4 medium-sized (about 8 ounces each) of skinless, boneless chicken breasts, or 2 pounds of chicken thighs (skinless, boneless)
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1¼ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
½ cup olive oil
1 lemon, thinly sliced (seeds discarded)
¼ cup dry white wine
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tablespoon dried herbes de Provence or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and oregano, or 1 tablespoon of a combination of dried herbs, to include thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and oregano.


Salt and pepper the chicken pieces. Place the chicken in a resealable bag, add the ½ cup oil, the lemon, the white wine, the garlic, and the herbs. Seal the bag, and let the chicken marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours. Massage the contents occasionally, to evenly distribute the herbs, also turning the bag over now and then.

When you’re ready cook, heat a deep, heavy skillet (I used Le Creuset) on medium heat with 2 tablespoons of the marinade. Add the chicken pieces, and pour the rest of the marinade (with the lemons) on top.

Cook about 8 minutes to a side, reducing the heat slightly and covering the skillet for the second side. Serve over rice or egg noodles, with some of the sauce. As an option, garnish with the lemon slices.

Kitchen Goddess note: The recipe in the Times claimed that the chicken would turn golden brown on the first side. You will notice that mine did not. Nevertheless, it was absolutely delicious – tender and lightly flavored with the wine, lemon, and herbs. Next time, I plan to take a recommendation of one of the commenters, who suggested browning the chicken in the 2 tablespoons of marinade for 8 minutes, then removing the chicken and deglazing the pan with the rest of the marinade before adding back the chicken on the second side.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

A Shaggy Dog Story

What’s cooking? Sugar Snap Peas and Pasta

When our sons were growing up, we had a dog, a perfectly divine golden retriever named Spike. A 100% B personality – no real drive to do anything but eat, sleep, and be petted, with the occasional walk around the neighborhood. Though I now believe the walk was mostly a means to an end, for the biscuit he got on the return home.

Spike never barked. He squealed a bit when excited and he whined when it was time for dinner, but barking was much too aggressive an act.

Then one day, he got out of our yard and wandered off. I walked the neighborhood calling his name, but to no avail. I felt sure he was nearby – he was such a homebody, he wouldn’t have wandered far – but I was mostly afraid he was hurt. Then on my second circuit of our block, I started looking into the backyards of the neighbors. And there he was, trapped behind a fence. He’d gotten in but couldn’t figure the way out. He could see me and hear me calling, but he just stood there wagging his tail – no barking.

And that’s how my brain is working these days. Not long ago, in conversation with a friend, I forgot the word “infrastructure.” I know it perfectly well – but it wouldn’t come to me. I could see it wagging its tail – a long word, four or five syllables, starting with an “i,” and it had two parts. But my brain wouldn’t bark. So I said to my friend, “You know, roads and bridges...”

 “You mean infrastructure?” she said.

“Yes!! Thank you.” And we went on with our conversation.

So it’s these sorts of occurrences that remind me that I’m getting older. On the other hand,...

A group of our friends here in Austin has decided to hold “game nights” once a month. Rummicube, Sorry, canasta, backgammon,... When everyone shows up, we are 14, so sometimes we break into smaller groups and have a couple of games going at a time. Last month, though, my hubby took a game of Trivial Pursuit, so we divided into 4 teams and all played.

What an eye-opener. Turns out, everyone suffers from what I’ll call the Spike Syndrome. For instance, on the question of who played King George in “The King’s Speech,” everyone could picture Colin Firth – some could even name other movies he’d been in. But – maddeningly and hilariously – no one could call out his name.

As the game came down to the wire, my team was on the verge of winning, but we had one last question to answer: “Which Roman numerals correspond to 1,453?” Now, look away and see if you can figure it out before you read on.

As it happens, I like Roman numerals – the complete geek. So as the others on my team began calling out random letters, I held my hands out as if to calm the waters and said, “Wait – I can do this.”

All eyes were on me as I started with “M is 1000, and L is 50, and III for 3, but how to write 400? It’s C (100) less than 500, but what stands for 500? ” Arrgggh. I was having a Spike moment – I could see it wagging its tail, but... And the clock was counting down...

With about 3 seconds to go, my brain finally barked: D! “D! So it’s MCDLIII!!!” And we all cheered because we could stop the game and go home. But I basked in the glow for at least a day, that my brain, fuzzy as it might be, still works.

* * *

So it’s dinnertime, and my prince inquires sweetly (because he’s never sure how I’m feeling about the subject), “What’s for dinner, Snookums?”

Now, even in the Kitchen Goddess’s kitchen, there are those days when I say, “I have no idea.”

That usually means pizza or some other food prepared by Other People. But sometimes, if I’m honest with myself (which I try to be), I don’t really want OP food. So I check the pantry to see what form of pasta or rice we have, and stare at the contents of the fridge until something comes to mind. On the most recent such day, I seized on a package of sugar snap peas.

I checked out epicurious and found a pasta dish that included pesto made from the sugar snap peas. Then I read into the comments, and quite of few of the reviewers had eschewed the recipe pesto and combined the processed peas with some that was either store-bought or already sitting in the fridge from another recipe.

I could feel my brain warming up – of course, the Kitchen Goddess has pesto in the fridge, maybe even a couple of varieties. As you know, the KG loves pesto. And using ready-made pesto clinched the deal, because that raised the fast-and-easy factor by a huge amount. So much so that I’d like to call this Easy-Peas-y Pasta, but am afraid the pun would cause at least a few of you to gag. Which would be bad.

So here it is, and, if you’re interested, it carries a 3-fork rating out of 4, from 16 reviewers, and 100% said they’d make it again. That number will soon move to 17, as the Kitchen Goddess rates it a full 4 forks.

Sugar Snap Peas and Pasta

Adapted from Gourmet, April 2005

Makes 4 main-course servings.

1 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed and strings discarded
1 pound penne pasta
1 cup pesto (use any you have in your fridge, or a good variety from your grocer)*
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus optional additional for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

* Kitchen Goddess note: Most pesto recipes include nuts (often pine nuts or walnuts) and Parmigiano-Reggiano as thickeners. The cheese is also there for its umami flavor. In your choice of pesto, you should note whether it has Parmigiano already in the ingredients, and taste the pasta sauce before adding the cheese, as you may not want a full half cup. If you’re interested, the KG has a very nice recipe for pistou (that’s the French version) that contains no nuts. Click here for that recipe.

Before you begin, fill a medium-sized bowl half-full of ice and water, and set aside.

In a large pot of boiling salted water (about ¼ cup salt for 3 quarts water), cook the sugar snap peas for 2 minutes, then remove about half to the prepared bowl of ice water in order to stop the cooking. Continue cooking the remaining sugar snaps for another 2-2½ minutes, until tender, then use a slotted spoon or strainer to transfer them to the bowl of your food processor or blender.

Return the cooking water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, remove the portion of sugar snap peas from the ice water bath, and cut them crosswise into ½-inch pieces. Set them aside until the pasta is done.

To the sugar snaps in your food processor or blender, add the pesto and process until not quite smooth. Add the cream and process briefly, just to mix.

When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water, and return the pasta to the empty cooking pot. Over low heat, toss the hot pasta with the sugar snap sauce and, if necessary, add enough of the ½ cup of saved cooking water to thin the sauce to desired consistency. (I added only a tablespoon or two.) Add the sliced sugar snaps and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and stir gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with fruit or a green salad.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

I’m Rooting for the Blue and Gold Team

 What’s cooking? Sheet-Pan Salmon with Miso and Maple Syrup

When my two sons were living at home, Sunday afternoons were often devoted to watching
football. As a native Texan, I usually rooted for the Cowboys if they were playing – a practice that inevitably was a source of derision from the men in my family, who were all die-hard Steelers fans. If neither of our teams were playing, I almost always favored the team with the better looking uniforms – another reason for hooting from the male gallery.

The fact is that I don’t really like football, which I think I’ve mentioned to you before. That doesn’t stop me from going to the football-watching parties. Especially the Super Bowl parties, to which I invariably take my famous roll-out cookies. I make only stars, and decorate them in the colors of the teams who are playing. I love the challenge: How many different designs can I deliver given only 2-4 colors?

Patriots... again. These were for 2018, against...

But I’m getting a little weary of the Patriots’ success. I’ve iced and sprinkled my way through way too many red/navy/silver color schemes.

... the Eagles.
And before that, against the Falcons in 2017.
While I enjoyed decorating for the Eagles (midnight green/silver/black/charcoal) last year, my favorite year so far was 2014, when the Broncos (navy/orange) played the Seahawks (navy/gray/neon green). I don't have photos of 2014, but those were some fun colors – especially that neon green. And I long for the Dolphins (aqua/blue/orange) or maybe the Jaguars (black/teal/two shades of gold) to show up in the Super Bowl. Gimme some help, fellas!

I like the Broncos' colors. These were from 2016, against...
... the Panthers.

In the meantime, this year, I have to be content with the Rams’ decision to wear bright blue and yellow – a tribute to their win against the Titans in 2000, and a little more fun than their traditional navy, gold and white. And I’ll dream about a day in the far future when we have a Super Bowl whose participants are chosen on the basis of their uniform colors.

* * *

Even though it’s been a while since I’ve written, I haven’t stopped cooking. No sirree. And today I have a real treat for you. I’d call it a sheet pan dinner, but it really needs rice. Because you don’t want to leave any of that unbelievable marinade in the pan – you will want it on the plate and in your mouth. Let me just say that the leftovers engendered a small lunchtime skirmish the next day between me and my prince.

You’ll notice I also didn’t call this Salmon with Asparagus. That’s because it really makes almost no difference whether you use asparagus or green beans (which is what the author of this recipe used in The New York Times) or broccolini or broccoli. The Kitchen Goddess had asparagus, so by god that's what she cooked. The secret to this dish is the miso.

It comes in a big container, but it keeps 1-2 years in the fridge.
 Toss if moss/mold develop.
Kitchen Goddess note: Miso is a paste made mostly from fermenting soybeans. It’s a traditional Japanese seasoning with lots of uses, from sauces to pickling to soup base. High in protein, rich in vitamins and minerals, and gluten-free for those of you who care, miso is a culinary staple in both traditional and modern Japanese cooking, and these days, it’s become a star in the culinary firmament.

The most common flavor categories are white, red, and “mixed,” with the white miso being somewhat mellower or milder in flavor than the red. But all have an amazing impact on a dish, increasing the complexity of the flavors. Through the fermentation process, miso is a chief source of umami, one of the five basic tastes in addition to sweet, salty, bitter, and sour.

Try this: Take a couple of teaspoons of miso paste in a mug, dissolve it into a slurry with a tiny bit of warm water, add a cup of not-quite-boiling water and a nice squeeze of lime, and you have a terrific broth to drink as a pick-me-up between meals or a light addition to your lunch. The taste is mysterious – sweet, salty, nutty, mellow – and all from some fermented soybeans.

Sheet-Pan Salmon with Miso and Maple Syrup

Adapted from Colu Henry in The New York Times.

In the classic coffee-cream-sugar combination, the fat (cream) evens out the bitterness of the coffee and the sweetness of the sugar to produce a flavor combination that’s popular around the world. Similarly, in this recipe, the fattiness of the salmon evens out the flavors between the various components of the marinade: the rice wine vinegar (bitter), the maple syrup (sweet), and the soy sauce (salty). But the kicker is the miso, which adds a big dose of umami.

As I said, you need rice, though I expect egg noodles would also work. Once you start the rice, the rest of the dinner can be ready by the time the rice is done. It’s that fast.

Serves 4.

4  (6-ounce) skin-on salmon fillets, about 1-inch thick
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (a.k.a. rice vinegar)
4 teaspoons soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, finely grated (use a rasp grater)
1½ pounds asparagus (or a pound of green beans), trimmed
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or a pinch of red-pepper flakes)
½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Garnish: ¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro, using both leaves and tender stems
4 lime wedges, for serving

Cooked white rice, for serving

Line one or two sheet pans with baker’s parchment or aluminum foil. Rinse the salmon and pat dry with paper towels. Season well with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the fish in a bowl or glass baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine the maple syrup, miso, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic. Mix well, and pour over the salmon. With your fingertips, gently massage the marinade all over the fish. Let the fish marinate while the oven comes to temperature.

Preheat your oven to 400º.

In a large bowl, toss the asparagus (or whatever green veggie you chose) with the olive oil, Aleppo pepper, and sesame oil. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

When the oven has reached 400º, lay the salmon fillets skin-side down on the prepared sheet pans and scatter the asparagus (or other veggies) between and around the fillets. Spoon the remaining marinade over the fish.

Baked salmon and asparagus, before the final burst from the broiler. These fillets were 3 ounces each.

Bake the salmon and veggies for 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets. When the salmon is nearly done, raise the oven temperature to broil and leave the pans another 1-2 minutes to lightly caramelize the glaze on the fish.

And after two minutes under the broiler.

Serve with white rice, lime wedges, and a scattering of cilantro.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Celebrating Italian-Style

What’s cooking? Crostini di Ricotta con Uva Rossa (Crostini of Ricotta with Red Grapes)

For a compulsive person with an inability to say no – that would be me – the holidays offer a number of traps that my hubby refers to as self-inflicted wounds. This year the problem was acute. Dinners for 8, 16, and 13 so far, with one to come for 12 on New Year’s Eve. And something like 400 decorated cookies – for the neighborhood party, my children and grandchildren, and one of those dinner parties. What was I thinking?

Then in the run-up to sending those cookies to my grandchildren, I discovered that my cache of cookie tins was down to zero. I stopped in at my local Container Store, where they always have a good supply, and discovered... nothing. A couple of very small tins, and a couple of very large ones, but none of the Goldilocks size that holds exactly three dozen cookies.

I grabbed a nice young man who was working there and challenged him.

“You sure?” he said.

“Pretty sure,” I said.

“Well, let’s go check. There might be some in a couple of other places around the store.” But no. Only more of the very big ones, which would mean baking more cookies, and the very thought of restarting the baking process had me ready to weep.

We discovered some square tins, which I thought might do, and some middle-sized tins that my helper swore to me were the middle-sized tins they’d always had. Still, when you’ve bought as many of these things as I have, you develop an eye for the right size. But how to prove it? I had a lightbulb moment.

“I’ll call my daughter-in-law,” I said. “She might have some of the old ones that we can measure.”

Sure enough, she had some. “So tell me what the measurements on them are. I’ll need height and diameter,” I said. The mathematician in me had awakened and figured to compare the volumes of these various tins. Even with different shapes, I could know how many cookies would fit.

“Hold on,” she said. “I have to find a measuring tape.” There followed a lot of rustling around, and a raised voice as she asked the darling children what they had done with the measuring tape.

“She’s looking,” I said to my helper. Finally, sounding slightly frustrated, my DIL said, “Well, I can’t find the measuring tape. So do you have a Metrocard [NYC Transit card]?”

“Uh, yes...,” I said, as I dug through my purse. Then she added brightly, “It’s the same height as a Metrocard.”

“Ok,” I said, “but I also need the diameter...” And that’s where the train derailed. In desperation, I bought a few of the faux-middle-sized tins and headed out. Amazingly, on my way home, the cookie gods smiled at me. My friend Elaine called to say that she’d just been to Michael’s where they had cookie tins on sale. The exact right size. A Christmas miracle.

And at that point, I also knew what to get my son and daughter-in-law for Christmas: tape measures.

* * *

On one of my many trips through the grocery store this season, I happened upon a display of Italian delicacies, and found a recipe for an hors d’oeuvre that sounded unusual, festive, and delicious. I was right on all counts. You get a full range of tastes – from the sweetness of the grapes to the salty pancetta and the slightly bitter, garlicky flavor of the shallots. The cool creaminess of the ricotta adds a great visual and textural contrast to the grape/pancetta/shallot mix. So it’s not just tasty – it’s also gorgeous.

Because of the slicing and dicing, this is a tiny bit tedious in the making; but if you enlist your mate or another helper in dicing the pancetta and slicing the grapes, it can all be done in an hour. Mise en place will again be very helpful, so start with the slicing and dicing. Once you begin cooking, the process moves along pretty quickly – less than 25 minutes on the stove. And while you’re cooking, your “helper” can make the little toasts.

Crostini of Ricotta with Red Grapes

Adapted from Central Market, Austin, Texas.

Serves 8-10.

1 baguette, cut diagonally in ½-inch thick slices
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove (optional)
10-12 ounces of ricotta (as fresh as you can find)
1-2 heaping tablespoons of honey (the KG fave is acacia honey)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces pancetta, sliced to thickness of bacon and cut in ½-inch dice*
1 pound seedless red grapes, sliced in half lengthwise
4 shallots (about 6 ounces), thinly sliced
¼ cup of dry white wine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (plain or fruit-flavored balsamic; I used fig balsamic)
Garnish: 1 bunch basil, chiffonade

*Kitchen Goddess note: Pancetta is essentially Italian bacon, but the two products aren’t made the same. Bacon is cured with salt, then smoked and sliced. Pancetta is cured with salt, black pepper, and spices and rolled into a cylinder. It is never smoked. Most of the time, you’ll find it in your grocer’s deli area, where you’ll have to have it sliced to order. For this recipe, you’ll want to get it sliced thin, 
but not wafer thin. Tell the deli guy/girl you want it about the thickness of bacon.

Preheat the oven to 350º or set it on broil. Brush one side of the baguette slices with olive oil, lay them on a baking sheet, and bake them for 10 minutes, or run them under the broiler for 45-60 seconds, until lightly toasted. You’ll have to keep an eye on the broiler version – they can burn in a heartbeat when you’re not looking. Brush the other sides and repeat to get both sides lightly toasted. The KG also rubs one side with a clove of fresh garlic, but that’s up to you. Set the crostini aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta, the honey, and salt/pepper to taste. Don’t be stingy with the pepper – it adds great flavor. Set aside the flavored ricotta.

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the diced pancetta until golden. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pan. To the fat, add the shallots and sauté for 3 minutes, until they appear soft.

Add the grapes, stir together well, and increase the heat to medium-high. Leave the grapes and shallots to cook undisturbed for 5 minutes, then stir occasionally as the mixture cooks for another 5-6 minutes. The finished grapes are prettiest if they experience some browning, so try to get the cut side of the grapes exposed to the bottom of the skillet as much as possible. If the shallots start to burn, remove them to the bowl or plate with the pancetta, or push them to the side of the skillet.

Pour the wine into the skillet and stir well to scrape up any bits of pancetta/shallot/grape from the bottom. Add the pancetta back to the pan, and continue to cook, stirring, until the liquid in the pan has reduced to almost nothing. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vinegar.

Serve the grape mixture atop crostini that have been spread with the ricotta, and sprinkled with chiffonade of basil. The Kitchen Goddess likes to serve the grape mixture and the ricotta in separate bowls, so that guests can assemble the crostini themselves, but you can also assemble them and serve on a tray or plate.

By the way, this should go very well with champagne or another dry sparkling wine.

Happy New Year to you all!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

And We’re Off to the Races!!!!...

What’s cooking? Butternut Squash with Royal Trumpet Mushrooms and Holiday Hummus

I don’t know how this happened, but someone has posted a list of tasks for me to accomplish.  As if I didn’t have enough to do, now I also have to...

1. Make a chart.
2. Clear out the fridge.
3. Dry-brine the turkey.
4. Set the table.
5. Get some candles.
6. Get my mise en place.
7. Gather my timers and Post-It Notes.
8. Figure out ways my guests can help.
9. Butter the turkey.
10. Buy a box of zip-lock bags.

Just a little joke, folks. I hope yesterday’s list was helpful. Today’s post will be mercifully shorter, mostly because the Kitchen Goddess is reaching that state of mind that causes her prince to hide out in his office.

How lucky we are that we can take the time to focus on a giant meal for friends and family? Back in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast, my little church in Summit, NJ, was connecting with a church in a Louisiana neighborhood whose congregation had been hit hard. We held a dinner to benefit that church, and I volunteered to set the tables. For centerpieces, I decided to focus on what would be lost if you lost everything. I started with a table to show canned and boxed foods, but as I gathered some for the display, I realized what a small part of “everything” that is. So on another table, I piled sheets and towels; another got books and CDs of music. On another, I made a display of family photos. One table even had piles of toilet paper, toothbrushes, and packages of soap. It’s amazing when you think about it that such insignificant items can mean so much when they’re lost.

According to a TED talk I heard recently, by Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar, it’s not happiness that makes us grateful – instead, gratefulness actually makes us happy. So the key to happiness is grateful living. Which is why, every year, as I get into the postings around Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of how grateful I am that you are reading this blog. It’s a small thing, but meaningful to me.

Ok, enough of philosophizing and back to cooking.

I know most of you are well into the preparations for Thanksgiving. So today’s dishes will not likely end up on your table. But that doesn’t stop them from being good ideas for another day. Because you know what will happen after Thanksgiving? We’ll all have another meal to cook!

And now I feel much better because Food & Wine Magazine just sent me an e-newsletter with “28 Next-Level Thanksgiving Vegetable Side Dishes.” Today! Well, well, look who else is running behind.

The first of today’s dishes was a real surprise to me, mostly because I couldn’t find either of the main ingredients and had to punt. The original recipe called for kabocha squash with black trumpet mushrooms. And as hard as I looked,... no kabocha today. At least, I looked sort of hard... for a good 5-10 minutes, until I spotted my old fave, butternut squash, already cut in nice, neat cubes. I decided to call a squash a squash, so into the cart it went.

I made more of an effort for the black trumpet mushrooms, because they sounded so cool, and you know what a soft spot the Kitchen Goddess has for strange, cool foods. The produce guy at Whole Foods told me they’d have some Sunday night after they unpacked their latest shipment. But when I returned around 9pm, what they had was black truffles – for a mere $90 per ounce! Not at all what I wanted. They had Royal Trumpet mushrooms (a.k.a. King Oyster mushrooms) instead, and those looked sufficiently cool that I bought some.

The dish is exquisite. Beautiful for starters. Earthy and slightly sweet from the butternut squash, a light nutty flavor from the mushrooms, and a noticeable tang from the Madeira. Woof. So this punt was a field goal. My prince and I will not wait for Thanksgiving to polish it off.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Royal Trumpet Mushrooms and Madeira

Adapted from a recipe by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby in their book, Vedge (Workman Publishing) 

Serves 6.

To trim the mushrooms, just remove the fibrous base.
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut in ¾-inch dice (about 4 cups)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
½ pound Royal Trumpet mushrooms, wiped clean, trimmed and sliced ⅛-inch thick
½ cup chopped shallots (2 medium-sized)
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 large cloves)
½ cup Madeira
½ cup chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
Here's how they look sliced.
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Toss the squash in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of the oil, and half the salt and pepper. Line a large baking pan with baker’s parchment and spread the squash out on it in a single layer. Roast 25 minutes, or until fork-tender.

While the squash is roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large sauté pan at high heat, until the oil shimmers. Add all at once the mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and remaining half of the salt and pepper. Stir together well, then cook 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, while the mushrooms brown.

Once the mushrooms are reasonably brown, pour in the Madeira and use a spoon to deglaze the pan. Continue cooking for 2-3 minutes, to reduce the Madeira by half.

Kitchen Goddess note: Deglazing is a cooking technique – typically using wine or vinegar or stock – for removing and dissolving browned food residue from a pan. The residue acts to flavor sauces, soups, and gravies. My teacher at the Culinary Institute told the class that not making use of the “fond” (the name for that residue) would land you in culinary hell.

Add the stock and the rosemary, stirring another 1-2 minutes, until the liquid becomes syrupy.

Transfer the squash to a serving dish, and spoon the mushroom mixture on top. Serve immediately.

* * *

My Louisiana grandmother loved to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” She was a stubborn woman. This next dish reminds me of that phrase, as it represents a way to get your friends and family to eat beets. My hubby, who holds strong feelings against beets, admitted that this hummus is “not bad,” which is as high a praise as a beet dish is likely to get from him. “In the end,” he continued, “it’s still beets.”

I love beets, but I was disappointed in my first run at this dish. It had a nice texture but was a bit bland. So I checked my Flavor Bible for possible adjustments, and found that balsamic vinegar is a recommended pairing with beets. I had a bottle of White Lemon Balsamic Vinegar in my pantry, and after adding only 2 tablespoons to the mix, it seemed like the angels sang. A good sign. Now I give it to you. And I’ve changed the name, to make it easier for you to fool your guests.

Holiday Hummus (Roasted Beet Hummus with White Lemon Balsamic)

Adapted from

2 medium beets
1 19-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Juice and zest of 1 large lemon
2 tablespoons tahini*
2 tablespoons white lemon balsamic vinegar (or plain white balsamic vinegar)
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Garnish: toasted black and white sesame seeds, roasted and salted sunflower seeds

Kitchen Goddess note on tahini: Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds, and a feature of many Middle Eastern dishes. You can only buy a giant economy size container of the stuff, but that’s okay, because it lasts forever. Mine had actually separated – the oil from the solids – but as I had little recourse at that time of night, I threw the whole mess into my Vita-Mix and blended the hell out of it. That worked perfectly, so I scooped what I wasn’t using for the hummus back into its container and sent it back into the fridge for my next use some six months from now. Must try to make hummus more often.

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Without washing or peeling the beets, roast them in a covered oven-proof container for 45-60 minutes, or until they are tender enough to be easily pierced with a knife. Remove them from the oven and let them cool.

When the beets are cool, rub the peel off and cut the flesh into large chunks. Add the beets to the bowl of a food processor.

Add the rinsed and drained chickpeas, as well as the garlic, to the food processor, and pulse until the texture is not quite smooth.

Add the lemon juice/zest, the tahini, the balsamic, and the salt/pepper, and process continuously until the mixture is smooth. While the processor is running, slowly drizzle in 3 tablespoons of the oil and continue to process until the mixture is very smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve the hummus with toasted black and white sesame seeds and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds. Drizzle on the final tablespoon of olive oil.

And my wishes for a happy and grateful thanksgiving to you and yours.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Kitchen Goddess Tips for a More Stress-Free Thanksgiving

What’s cooking? Roasted Carrots with Turmeric and Cumin, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

It’s that time again. The food day of all food days. You think you’ve got it all under control ... until you don’t. Uncle Harvey will call to say he’s bringing his nephew who just showed up on a business trip from Wisconsin and isn’t it great that he can stay for the big dinner? Or Darla, who was going to bring the pumpkin pie, texts you that she’s got chills and a fever, and will be spending the day in bed. Shit happens, as they say.

So the first thing you have to remember is that, in the words of the great Gilda Radner, “It’s always something.” Pour yourself a glass of wine and try to relax while you figure out how many of the gears in your Thanksgiving machine have to be adjusted. In my case, there’s always an appetizer I can delete. A few other thoughts on maintaining sanity:

1. Make a chart that includes every food you’ll be serving, including the ones being cooked by other guests. Assign days when you’ll cook them, what dishes they’ll be served in, and which utensils you’ll need for serving. These sorts of decisions – if made at the last minute – will cost you precious energy when you realize you’ve put the green beans in that bowl you were saving for the mashed potatoes.

2. You’re going to need all the room that’s possible in your fridge, so find a large cooler and move all the condiments from your fridge into the cooler. You won’t need most of them for this meal, and you may decide that the 2-year-old mango chutney can go straight into the trash. Add a couple of large zip-lock bags of ice to keep the chill, and you can move that cooler to the basement or garage or laundry room – wherever you have the space.

3. Whether you’re wet-brining or dry-brining or not brining your turkey, let it sit for its last 24 hours in the fridge without any covering at all. This air-drying technique produces extra-crispy skin on the cooked bird. If you’re still trying to decide on the brining question, take a look at an excellent piece by Kim Severson in The New York Times last week, “The Rise and Fall of Turkey Brining.” 

The group favoring dry-brining over wet-brining includes an impressive number of food scientists (e.g., Kenji López-Alt, Harold McGee, and Christopher Kimball) and other food stars like Ruth Reichl and Ina Garten, so the Kitchen Goddess will this year be trying her hand at the dry-brining method. I’ll let you know...

4. Set the table Wednesday night. That way, when you wake up on The Day, you don’t have to worry about it. And if, like the Kitchen Goddess, you are still winding things up with a couple of dishes when the guests arrive, at least it will look like you’re ready.

5. Don’t forget the candles – they create a mood that’s friendly and warm. Besides, everyone looks better in candlelight; it’s prettier and more flattering than electric light. And candles are a symbol of hospitality and hope. I direct you to a past post – HERE – with all you need to know about adding candles to the scene. Tealights in particular can be used in glasses or containers of all sorts, so even if you don’t have candlesticks you like, you can add candlelight to the table.

6. Remember the mise en place. Much of your chopping and measuring can be done the day before; put the chopped veggies or other ingredients into zip-lock bags and label them for when you’re ready to do the actual cooking. It’s by far the most efficient way to work.

7. Assemble a gaggle of timers for the multiple dishes that will all be at different stages, and Post-It Notes to help you keep track of which timer is working for which dish. These are the sorts of issues that prompt moments of crazed hilarity– or unladylike language – for the Kitchen Goddess.

8. Let your friends and relatives help. Most of them are happy to have something to do rather than stand around watching you, and the camaraderie it generates will add to the festive atmosphere. So have a couple of tasks in mind that you can lay off to the first volunteers.

9. Skip the basting. It’s a needless distraction. Rub the turkey inside and out with seasoned butter, add orange or lemon slices, an onion, and a couple of handfuls of herbs, and stick it in the oven. Take it out when it’s done.

10. Everyone loves leftovers, so have ready a box of quart-sized zip-lock bags your guests can use, so you won't be eating the meal for the next week.

And now for some ideas to fill in the blanks in your menu. The KG took a stroll down memory lane, checking out dishes she’s posted in years past. Here are four of her best (click on the title to link), followed by two fresh ones.

Asparagus Coins with Chive Oil and Parsley Water – One of my all-time faves for its unique look and fresh taste. Cooking time is very short; do the prep the day before.

Smashed Carrots with Feta and Mint – This one is making an appearance on the KG’s Thanksgiving table. Gorgeous, delicious, and different, and easy to make ahead.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Tangy Whipped Cheese Sauce – A delicious way to eat cauliflower – nutty and sweet – and you can make the cheese sauce the day before.

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Leeks – Another dish that will grace the Kitchen Goddess’s table. Bright and colorful, and a great mix of flavors. The beans can be steamed a day ahead.

If none of these ideas tickle your fancy, here are a couple of new thoughts: Roasted Carrots with Turmeric and Cumin, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta. These are both easy, and need little monitoring as they cook. And my prince has given both dishes a thumbs-up, even though he says, “In the end, they’re Brussels sprouts.”


Roasted Carrots with Turmeric and Cumin

Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman in The New York Times.

Serves 6.

10 medium carrots (just under 1½ pounds), peeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or mild chili powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Preheat the oven to 425º.

Cut the carrots in half lengthwise and crosswise. For the thicker carrots, cut lengthwise into quarters. Slice the carrots crosswise into pieces 2-3 inches long. Your goal is to have the pieces be more or less the same thickness, so that they reach a level of uniform doneness in the roasting. (At the CIA, the saying is, “Look the same, cook the same.”) Put the carrots in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper, and thyme leaves. Hang onto that bowl for later.

Heat a heavy baking sheet (traditional quarter sheet pan, about 9x13 inches) in the oven for 3-4 minutes. Remove the hot pan and distribute the carrots on it in a single layer. Roast 25-30 minutes, stirring the carrots midway. When the carrots are tender, they should also be lightly caramelized.

While the carrots roast, place the cumin and coriander seeds in a small saucepan or skillet over medium/medium-low heat and toast 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan or stirring until you can smell their aroma. (Don’t let them burn!)Transfer the seeds to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and pulverize to a fine powder. Add the ground spices to a small bowl along with the soft butter, turmeric and Aleppo pepper (or chili powder) and stir until well combined.

Kitchen Goddess note on the spices: It is perfectly acceptable to use already ground spices, but do heat them a bit in a skillet or saucepan before adding them to the butter. Starting with the seeds simply gives you more flavor. But don’t go buying coriander seeds or cumin seeds just for this recipe – try them if you use those spices frequently and want to get stronger flavor.

Remember that large bowl? When the carrots have finished roasting, transfer them to that bowl and add the spiced butter mix and most of the mint. Toss gently, until the butter and spices are well distributed across the carrots. The carrots will need salt, so adjust salt and pepper seasoning to taste. The carrots can be served immediately or set aside and served at room temperature. Sprinkle the reserved mint on top.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, January 2001.

Serves 4.

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
3 ounces pancetta, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of ½ lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons water (if needed)
Garnish (optional): 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

Prepping the sprouts

Prepping the pancetta
Preheat the oven to 450º.

In a medium-sized bowl, toss the prepared sprouts with the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and salt and pepper. Transfer the sprouts to a quarter sheet pan (9x13 inches), and spread in a single layer with the cut side of the sprouts down. Sprinkle the pancetta around and on top.

Roast in the upper third of the oven for 25 minutes, or until the sprouts are tender and have begun to brown. Remove all to a serving dish. If any brown bits (called the fond) stick to the pan, add the water and stir/scrape to remove them, then add that to the serving dish.

As you know, the Kitchen Goddess has an irresistible urge to garnish. For these lovable sprouts, she drizzled pomegranate balsamic vinegar (though plain balsamic would also do) and tossed some pomegranate seeds on top. Extra delicious, if you ask me.

Kitchen Goddess note: These sprouts needn’t be served piping hot, but they'll get a bit mushy after a night in the fridge. My recommendation is to prep the sprouts and pancetta the day before, then pop them into the oven a half hour before you plan to serve. In fact, you could assemble the baking pan, with sprouts, olive oil, lemon juice/zest, salt/pepper, and pancetta, then wrap the whole thing tightly with cellophane wrap and refrigerate it overnight. Take it out 30 minutes before roasting, to let everything come closer to room temp. Where there’s a will,...

The Kitchen Goddess will be back tomorrow with two more dishes that might fill in some holes in your menu. In the meantime,... start your engines!