Esquites (Mexican Corn on the Cob in a Cup)

It's elote for people who don't like to eat with their hands!

Who doesn’t love elote, that roasted Mexican corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise, chili powder, and cheese, spritzed with lime juice, and served on a stick? I’ve come to associate it with summertime, when sweet corn is in season and I have my pick of local food trucks to sit in front of, snacking away.

As much as I love it, I have to admit that the fastidious Virgo in me doesn’t always love how sloppy elote is to eat. I get annoyed with how the grated cheese smears all over my chin, how the corn inevitably sticks in my teeth, and how glops of mayo always end up on my dry clean-only shirts. It’s the kind of annoyance that makes me hang my head in foodie shame as I go back to the truck to ask politely for a steak knife to cut off the kernels so that I can eat them with spoon.

That is why I really love esquites, which are essentially elote in a cup (or, as I prefer, a large bowl or a trough). Here, the messy work is done ahead of time and all you have to do is eat it, calmly and neatly.

Both elote and esquites are essentially street food and like most street food, there isn’t really an official recipe per se. The general consensus seems to be that there must be corn, it can be boiled but it is better roasted, there should be some kind of fat like soft butter, crema Mexicana,  or — even better — mayonnaise (I like my street food a little on the trashy side so it’s mayo for me). There should be some heat, some lime juice, and some salty, crumbly cheese like Cotija, but grated Parmesan or aged feta does the trick too.

Unlike eloteesquites often includes some chopped epazote, a traditional Mexican herb whose flavor is hard to describe. If pressed, I would say it kind of tastes like what would happen if cilantro and tarragon romped in a dusty field and had a herb baby. Epazote is worth seeking out; a little is all you need to add a wonderful earthy dimension to the corn. If you can’t find it, chopped cilantro is a good substitute.

Ingredients:

2 ears of corn

1 serrano chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped

Olive oil

Butter

Salt

1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, crema Mexicana, or sour cream

The juice of half a lime

Cayenne pepper to taste

1 tablespoon of epazote, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of grates Cotija, Parmesan, or crumbled feta

Tajín Clásico Mexican chili seasoning (or you can experiment with a combination of Ancho chili powder, more lime juice, and salt)

How to prepare:

1. Remove the corn kernels from the cob. To do this with minimal mess, stand each ear of corn in a large shallow dish and slice down the length of each ear with a sharp knife. Keep the knife as close to the cob as possible. Rotate the ear and continue to slice down each exposed side until all the kernels are removed.

2. Sauté the kernels and the chopped serrano chili in a large skillet or cast iron pan with about 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

3. Once the kernels have started to brown, transfer them to a bowl and add the mayonnaise, lime juice, and enough cayenne pepper to suit your taste. Stir in the epazote and the grated cheese. Adjust the seasoning, dust with Tajín, and serve.

Victoria’s Maple Syrup and Garlic-Roasted Chicken with On-Ke’s Coconut Oil-Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Seriously good food.
No one likes to admit weakness, but I will here: after years of heavy teaching loads and graduate school stress, I am prone to burn out. I used to think that I was invincible, a survivor who overcame those horrible stretches of apathy by plowing straight through them. In reality, I was only papering over my needs and making the situation worse.

Today things are different. I recognize the signs of burn-out more easily, those dark twinges that hang just outside of my metaphysical peripheral vision. Unlike then, I realize now that if I don’t take care of myself, I’m no good to anyone: family, friends, students, and colleagues alike. So I draw boundaries at the end of each semester, knowing that I need to take some precious time to recharge my batteries so to speak.

One thing that always helps me recuperate and regain my joie de vivre is food, particularly cooking. When life gets hectic and the stacks of papers that I need to grade grow higher, I pretty much cease to cook at home — an obvious mistake as cooking calms me and the food that I prepare nourishes both my body and spirit. I love trying new recipes and cooking from new cookbooks, but when I am really aching for something soul-sustaining, what I love most are recipes from family and friends. Those recipes and dishes are the ones that are really special because they make me feel as if that person is in the kitchen with me even though they may be thousands of miles away.

I’ve been spatchcocking a lot of chickens lately. Partly because I’ve finally invested in a good pair of very sharp, spring-loaded shears, and also because I like how evenly and quickly the chicken cooks. The white meat emerges tender and moist from the oven, the dark meat is rich and succulent, and the skin comes out crispy, burnished, and golden.

For this particular chicken, I finally got around to trying a maple syrup-kissed rub/marinade that Victoria over at Bois de Jasmin mentioned in the comment thread of her post on Hot and Spicy Cranberry Sauce. Many people think of Bois de Jasmin as a perfume blog, but I always consider it much more than that: a celebration of life and of all things fragrant, including food and drink. Given that the olfactory and the gustatory are so intimately intertwined, is it surprising that many perfume lovers happen to be fine gastronomes as well?

Victoria calls this chicken an improvisation, but I call it genius. The chicken feels infused with a terrific depth of flavor. The maple syrup caramelizes to a sticky, burnt sugar-like glaze. Victoria uses a mortar and pestle to render the garlic cloves into a smooth paste. I would have done the same if I had one. However, as I do not, I made do with a garlic press. Regardless of which technique you choose, the garlicky chicken roasting in the oven will make your kitchen smell mouthwatering good. I used a pinch of cayenne pepper in place of a pinch of paprika, but Victoria also suggests a little bit a garam masala added to the mix — a delicious idea that I look forward to trying as soon as I get back to NYC.

As for the coconut oil-roasted sweet potatoes, I never would have tried a so-called Paleo recipe if not for On-Ke, who had recently completed 30 days of eating Paleo along with her daughter Siobhan and her family. I had initially gotten to know Siobhan through her wonderful blog Garden Correspondent. When we finally met in person, it was as if I had known her for years. Laughing and chatting animatedly over Italian coffee and pastries, Siobhan decided that she needed to introduce me to her mother, another “culture vulture” who lives rather conveniently around the corner from me. Needless to say, we hit it off right away and have spent this past fall terrorizing the city in a good way: museum visits, perfume sniffing outings, theater performances, and always food, glorious food! Siobhan, you are missed!

One afternoon, On-Ke served me a roasted and roughly cut up kabocha squash that was rubbed with coconut oil, seasoned with salt, and studded with cracked black peppercorns. Super classy woman that I am, I devoured what must have been half a pumpkin in one sitting. I couldn’t help it; there was something about that subtle coconut flavor that made that roasted kabocha squash even more irresistible. Ever since that afternoon, this has been my preferred way to cook just about any squash or yam. As I thought about a perfect complement for Victoria’s chicken, I couldn’t come up with a better one than these sweet potatoes roasted in the same way.

Special Equipment:

A good, sharp pair of cooking shears

One half-size sheet pan

One wire rack to fit the sheet pan

Ingredients:

For the sweet potatoes:

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons of coconut oil (I prefer unrefined coconut oil because the coconut flavor is stronger)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the roasted chicken:

1 whole chicken

1 tablespoon of dark amber maple syrup

3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced or even better, pulverized using a mortar and pestle with a little course salt

2 tablespoons of good olive oil

A pinch of cayenne pepper, paprika, or garam masala

1 teaspoon of kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°.

2. While the oven is warming up, you can begin to prep the chicken. To spatchcock any bird, flip the bird over so that its breast is facing down on the cutting board and its back is facing upright. Using a good, sharp pair of sturdy kitchen shears, remove the backbone by cutting along either side of it. Remove any excess skin that is dangling from the neck hole. Turn the bird breast-side-up. Remove the wishbone with a sharp knife. Now with the heel of your hand, press directly down on the breast bone until you hear a crack. Congratulations! You have just spatchcocked a bird! To finish, tuck the wings behind the breast. For the legs, you can make small slits in the skin on either side of where the tail used to be and push the ends of each respective leg through them. You can also leave the wings and legs as they are. Your chicken will taste the same either way, but as a firm believer in trussing, I like to have everything looking neat. To help visualize this, here is a video.

3. Combine the maple syrup, garlic, olive oil, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the mixture evenly all over the chicken. Lay the chicken out on a rack-lined sheet pan and let it marinate uncovered on the counter for about 40 minutes to an hour.

4. While the chicken is marinating, use your hands to rub each piece sweet potato with coconut oil. Season the pieces liberally with flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper, and spread them out in an even layer over another baking tray or in the bottom of a cast iron pan. I like my roasted sweet potatoes to be on the very roasted side, not exactly burnt, but just so that the surface sugars are caramelized. This should take about 40 minutes or so. If you prefer yours to be less roasted, you can remove them from the oven when they are softened and can be easily pierced with the point of a sharp knife.

5. When the sweet potatoes are done, remove them from the oven. Put the chicken in the oven and carefully pour about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of water into the bottom of the sheet pan. The water should not touch the bottom of the wire rack. Roast the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°, this should take between 1 hour and 1.5 hours depending on how big your chicken is. If at any point you notice that the garlic is beginning to burn, you can loosely tent the chicken with a sheet of aluminum foil, removing it when the it is almost done so that the skin can brown. When the chicken is done, take it out of the oven and let it rest for 10-20 minutes before carving.

Serve the chicken with the roasted sweet potatoes.

Mustard-Butter Chicken and Roasted Savoy Cabbage

Thank you, Hannah!
I cannot take credit for this meal; that distinction belongs to the amazing Hannah over at Inherit the Spoon. For about a year now (or maybe it has been longer — I’m getting forgetful), I have been following this her adventures in life and in the kitchen. I have admired her commitment to eating local, and providing a nutritious and delicious table for her family.

Recently, she published recipes for roasted Savoy cabbage and mustard-butter chicken. The minute I read them, I knew that I had to make them soon.

The meal was incredible and incredibly easy. If I wasn’t smitten with Hannah’s blog before, I definitely am now!

As I cannot write better than Hannah herself, I will direct you to her post here for step-by-step instructions on how to prepare both the cabbage and the chicken. I agree with Hannah that you should take your time and let the cabbage get dark and crispy; it really is best that way.

Thank you, Hannah!

Sugar Snap Peas with Sesame, Soy Sauce and Mirin


Sugar snap peas are here! When snap peas are in season, I like to prepare them as simply as possible so that their wonderful sweetness can shine.

I like my sugar snaps barely blanched so that the pods retain their crunch, but lose their rawness. This mixture of sesame oil, soy sauce and mirin is barely a dressing; it’s more like a very thin glaze or wash. Even though the dressing is thin, it is remarkably flavorful — but not so flavorful as to overpower the peas.

It goes without saying that if you shun cooking wine (that awful shelf-stable, salty, sugary stuff that you see in the supermarket) and avoid cooking sherry (equally as salty, sugary and awful), you should probably avoid the “mirin” that is typically found in the Asian section at most grocery stores. Tomoko calls it “fake mirin” and it is certainly as gross as cooking wine and cooking sherry: salty, sugary, harsh, unpleasant and full of MSG.

If you can, try to get your hands on some real mirin. Just like how you buy wine and sherry at the wine store, you should find mirin where sake is sold.

Tomoko says that she finds hers at the liquor store, but it seems like the liquor stores downtown aren’t nearly as Asian-conversant as the ones uptown (“Mirin? You mean Wild Turkey?”).

Following a recommendation from the New York Times, I placed an order at a Sakaya, a store that sells almost exclusively sake.

“It’s not so easy to find here,” the woman at the store explained when I told her that I had a little bit of a hard time. “Oh, if I can’t get real mirin, I don’t even bother!”

So what should you do if you can’t get real mirin? As a substitution, you can dissolve a pinch of sugar in sake. Ideally, you’re looking for about a 3-to-1 ratio of sake to sugar, but you can adjust the sweetness to your taste.

The woman at Sakaya agreed, ” Yeah, yeah. Sake and some sugar.”

“Mirin,” she said, “After you open it, they say to put it somewhere cool and dark, but you should put it in the refrigerator. It lasts a long time. I use one bottle of mirin, maybe every one or two years.”

Since I have never held onto a bottle of mirin for one to two years, I don’t know if I can vouch for that. However, I will definitely say that having a bottle around the house is an incentive to use it more often!

Ingredients:

1 pound of sugar snap peas, topped and tailed

2 tablespoons of mirin

2 tablespoons of Japanese soy sauce

1 tablespoon of sesame seed oil

Salt

Sesame seeds

Shichimi or Aleppo pepper

How to prepare:

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the sugar snap peas and cook them briefly for about two to three minutes, no more than four. You want them to be a little crunchy, but not raw.

2. While the snap peas are boiling, set out a large bowl of ice water. Scoop the peas out of the boiling water when they are done and plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking and fix the color. Drain the sugar snap peas well.

3. In a small saucepan, heat together the mirin, the soy sauce and the sesame oil over low heat. Let the sauce simmer until it has reduced to a thin glaze. Adjust the seasoning if needed.

4. Toss the drained snap peas with the dressing in a large bowl. Sprinkle them with sesame seeds and shichimi to taste.

Japanese Baby Turnips Sautéed in Butter and Soy Sauce


I have a confession which really isn’t a confession since it’s pretty obvious : When it comes to Asian cooking, I haven’t a clue most of the time.

To this, I might add something possibly incendiary: although there are many people out there who are progressive, there are a lot of people who aren’t and it happens fairly often that I meet people who think that as someone of Asian descent, I eat rice like it’s going out of style, am quiet, reserved and demure, and have relatively little body hair.

Imagine their faces when they find out that I swear like a sailor, have no filter and can hold my liquor like a white divorcée.

The body hair part is true though 😉

In regards to the swearing, now that I’m older, I have made a concerted effort to swear less. Mostly because it makes the times when I do swear even better! Just kidding 😉 In all honesty, I think that I swore so much in my youth that I used up all of my swear words. I just don’t want to swear anymore. Can believe it? I can’t!

As for the filter? Visualize some big rusty grate with giant holes in it. The kind that lets almost everything through except for large, plastic soda bottles and shoes. I have worked hard on that too since I realized that speaking without thinking is best way to get misunderstood. I still think of my filter as that grate, but now it’s jerry-rigged with an intricate network of fishing line and wire. Some stuff still gets through, but much, much less than before. Thank goodness!

In terms of Asian food, I am not completely ignorant because I happen to know plenty about eating it. I have never met a sliced jellyfish, deep-fried octopus ball, bowl of noodles, dumpling (oooooh, dumplings), taro puff, sweet red bean fritter, bao, roll (spring and summer), lotus bean paste-stuffed pastry, chicken adobo, preserved egg, roast duck, suckling pig, hot-pot, under-cooked chicken meatball, wad of natto, head-on shrimp, whole fish, chili crab or Spam musubi that didn’t make my motor run.

However, when it comes to the nitty gritty of cooking, I am a babe in the woods.

The amount of times that I have stir-fried can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare. I did attempt a stir-fry about a week ago and it was an epic fail. I actually asked my mom right before I did it too.

“Mom, how do you stir-fry?”

Silence.

I pictured her putting the phone down and walking away in shame. Or maybe it wasn’t shame, but just a refusal to tolerate such a dumb question.

So after mangling that stir-fried chicken and bok choy dish (I wilted that poor bunch of greens into a pathetic nothing), I have decided that this summer, I am going to get in touch with my yellow-ness and make a good-hearted attempt to become a little more educated about how to cook some of that food over there. I know it’s kind of wrong to lump all the Southeastern and Far Eastern cultures together, but isn’t it much more efficient to refer to all peoples who use sticks as utensils as one group rather than many? I want to learn to cook a little Chinese, some Japanese, some Korean, some Filipino, some Indonesian, some Vietnamese, some Thai and more.

I’m going to try it all.

I’m almost completely new at this, so if I stick two things together that really don’t go, like using a sauce meant for fish on cheese, please do let me know. I bet you can all stir-fry circles around me, so I’m counting on you for help.

Because my mom won’t 😦

I’m also illiterate, so please make all comments or suggestions in English or in another Latinate language 🙂

Ingredients:

1 bunch of Japanese baby turnips (or regular baby turnips) and their greens, thoroughly washed

Butter

Sesame oil

Japanese soy sauce

Crushed Aleppo pepper or shichimi

How to prepare:

1. Separate the leaves from the baby turnips. Trim the turnips and cut them in half if they are too big. You want all the turnips and turnip pieces to be roughly the same size so that they cook evenly. Roughly chop the greens into 2-inch pieces.

2. In a large saucepan, heat a knob of  butter and about a teaspoon of sesame oil together over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, toss in the baby turnips. Carefully add a splash of soy sauce to the pan along with some Aleppo pepper or shichimi to taste. Sauté the turnips until they begin to lose their opacity and turn translucent. Add the greens and continue to cook everything until the greens are wilted and the turnips are cooked through. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

French Breakfast Radishes Sautéed in Butter


The idea for this side dish came from Susan over at Susan eats London. It’s hardly a recipe, just French breakfast radishes split in half and sautéed in butter and olive oil.

French breakfast radishes are elongated, rosy-colored radishes tipped with white at the root end. The French adore them. You see them everywhere, but I can’t recall ever hearing them called breakfast radishes in France. No “radis petit-déjeuner.” No “bweakfast wadeeesh” either.

The exact reason for why they are called French breakfast radishes is unclear. From what I can find out, their name has nothing to do with the French having them for breakfast. Instead, it comes from the Victorians who liked to eat them for breakfast or afternoon tea. “French breakfast radish” is the blanket term for any small, oblong, pink and white-tipped radish. These kinds of radishes were considered French because of their association to the French from the English perspective (the English observed that the French liked to eat a lot of them). They became known as those French radishes that you had while sipping your English breakfast tea.

French breakfast radishes are the quintessential radish for slathering with good soft butter and dunking in flaky sea salt. They are also delicious sautéed in butter. Cooked, the radishes lose their bitter bite and they turn into succulent butter bombs. During cooking, the radishes give up some of their essence and make the most beautiful pink-hued sauce. They are impossible to resist.

Susan calls them food crack, and who can resist food crack? Not me!

Ingredients:

Butter

Olive oil

1 bunch of French breakfast radishes, trimmed and halved lengthwise

Salt

Chives

How to prepare:

1. In a skillet large enough to accommodate all the radishes, melt a big knob of butter with a little bit of olive oil. When the butter begins to foam, add the radishes. Season them with salt and sauté them until the radishes lose their opacity and they all begin to turn translucent. Transfer the radishes to a serving dish and snip fresh chives over them before serving.

Simple Roast Chicken and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Parmesan Rice with Buttered Almonds and Fresh Oregano


The past few weeks have been insane schedule-wise. First of all, I had a slew of administrative concerns that needed to be sorted out. Never fun. Secondly, I had to take a Foreign Language Proficiency Exam. In Spanish.

I don’t speak Spanish.

So why did I have to take it? Well, long story short, for my degree, I basically needed to show that I can do research in a language other than my native one if necessary. Since I am in a French department, French doesn’t count even though it is not my native language. English doesn’t count either because it actually is my native language.

Yes, I agree; it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either that I had to pick something else.

What is really embarrassing is that I have actually known about this requirement for years. Why did I put it off for so long? Well, it kept getting superseded by more pressing things like students who needed final grades, or coursework that needed to be completed. Silly things like that!

I think that I also had these pleasant daydreams of jetting off to Buenos Aires to learn Spanish while sucking down copious amounts of Malbec. Or learning Spanish in Madrid with a dictionary in one hand and a tapas in the other. Or going to Lima and eating chifa until I exploded. You get the idea.

In any case, it just got to the point where I couldn’t avoid it anymore.

And that is how I found myself in a situation where I had to teach myself advanced-level Spanish in three weeks!

To those who say that Spanish is “easier,” I say that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

I have spent many, many, many years teaching French to undergrads. That is a lot of experience breaking language down into manageable chunks and patterns. Believe me when I say that, comparatively, Spanish has a lot more verb forms than French does. It also has more than one verb for “to be,” a crazy, confusing thing called the “a personal,” and imperfect past, past perfect and future subjunctive tenses that actually get used.

I would guess that people say that Spanish is easier for two primary reasons: Americans tend to have more exposure to Spanish than any other foreign language, and Spanish-speakers, in general, seem to be much more tolerant of badly-spoken Spanish than French or Italian speakers are of badly-spoken French or Italian.

Needless to say, I was so stressed out I wasn’t eating very well. However, at a certain point last week, I just couldn’t take it anymore. My body would not accept any more slices of pizza,  any more handfuls of almonds, or any more weird juice drinks in an effort to have my fruit and vegetables in a speedy, non-chewable way.

I just had to cook something. It had to be warm and comforting. It had to be interesting too, but in as fuss-free a way as possible.

A roast chicken fit the bill beautifully. Trussed tight, massaged with butter, and showered with salt and pepper is all the effort needed to turn out a beautifully golden bird.

But woman cannot live by poultry alone!

So I paired it with this fantastic Parmesan rice recipe that I adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi — which was equally as easy to make, as well as being elegant to look at and eat. Is the dish Middle Eastern-inspired? Persian? Moorish? Italian? Turkish? Who the heck knows, but it was delicious.

As for the exam, I hope that I passed! I find out in 4-6 weeks. Fingers crossed that I don’t have to take the gosh darned thing again!

Ingredients:

5 tablespoons of butter (divided into 2 tablespoons, and 3 tablespoons)

1 1/2 cups of basmati rice

3 cups of water

Salt and white pepper

1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan

1/2 cup of raw slivered almonds

The juice of 2 lemons

1 tablespoon of fresh oregano leaves

Sumac (optional)

How to prepare:

1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Toss the rice in the melted butter until the individual grains become translucent. Add 3 cups of water and a good pinch of salt. Raise the heat to medium-high, and bring the rice to a boil uncovered. Cover the pan, and lower the heat about as low as it can go. Cook the rice until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender.

2. When the rice is done, fluff it with a fork. Evenly sprinkle the rice with the cheese and stir everything together. The Parmesan should be evenly distributed throughout the rice. Adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper. Cover the rice again while you prepare the almonds.

3. In a small frying pan, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter over medium to medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, add the almonds. Turn the almonds in the foamy butter until they begin to brown and turn golden. Remove the pan from the heat. VERY CAREFULLY add the lemon juice by pouring it over the back of a wooden spoon into the almonds. Stir in the oregano leaves. Adjust the seasoning.

4. Mound the Parmesan rice in a large dish. Spoon out the almonds and pour the sauce evenly over the rice. Sprinkle with sumac and serve with roast chicken.

For the Roast Chicken:

This is not a recipe per se, but more like a set of guidelines that I have used over the years for cooking perfect poultry.

1. Buy the best bird you can find. Organic, all-natural, free-range, no hormones or antibiotics, humanely-raised and processed if you can.

2. Take your chicken out of the fridge about 30 minutes to an hour before you want to cook. Your bird should be on the cool to touch (like the cooler side of room temperature), but not refrigerator cold.

3. Dry your bird throughly with paper towels, inside and out. Let it sit on the countertop uncovered. The dryer the skin, the crispier the chicken.

4. Pre-heat your oven to 425-450°. Give yourself some time for the oven to come up to temperature. This generally takes 15-20 minutes, but can take up to 30 minutes depending on your oven.

5. No stuffing. This is the secret to perfect chicken. I find that by the time the stuffing is done cooking, you have overcooked your lovely bird. I like just a few things in my chicken: one lemon (cut into wedges if your chicken is small), one onion, a few cloves of garlic and fresh thyme. If it’s Meyer lemon season, please do use one of those.

6. Use the best butter or olive oil. In Nigella Lawson’s cookbook, How to be a Domestic Goddess, she writes that when roasting chickens, you should anoint your chicken with the highest quality butter or olive oil the same way you might apply very expensive hand cream. I always liked that image.

7. Truss your bird tight. Like a compact little football. I really do think it helps your bird cook more evenly. Moreover, chicken just looks better without its legs all akimbo.

8. Season liberally. In his Bouchon cookbook, Thomas Keller writes that he never butters his bird because the moisture in the butter creates steam that will ruin the integrity of the skin’s crispiness.

I’ve never found that to be the case.

I did once try Keller’s approach sans butter and found the skin to still be tasty, but less glossy and appealing overall. I do like his salting technique though: “I like to rain the salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 tablespoon). When it’s cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper.”

So by all means, hold your hand high and shower that bird with seasoning!

9. 20-20-20-15 or 15-15-15-15. I don’t always follow this but when I do, I like the results. Inspired by Patricia Wells’s Roast Lemon Chicken recipe in her Paris Cookbook, I start the bird in a super hot oven on one side. After twenty minutes (or 15 if the chicken is small), I turn it on the other side for another twenty. After that, I drop the oven temperature to 375°. I turn the chicken breast-side up for yet another twenty minutes — a total of 1 hour.  I continue roasting it until the chicken’s internal temperature reaches 165°. When the chicken is done, the juices should run clear when you pierce the thickest point of the thigh with a paring knife or skewer.

Sometimes, I will just put the chicken in breast-side up at 425-450° for about half and hour to 40 minutes before dropping the temperature to 375° for the remainder of the time. I know it sounds weird, but I think you can start to smell when you should turn down the heat. I find the results to be almost as good.

10. Remove from oven and let rest for 10-30 minutes before carving. Such an important step and essential for serving a juicy bird. Plus, you don’t risk burning your fingers!

Tips:

No basting.

A top-knotch carving knife is always an asset in the kitchen.

Keep the carcass and the juices! They are worth their weight in gold.

Cuban-Style Minute Steaks with Black Beans and Rice


“Hey, T! What do you do with your minute steak?”

“I don’t know,” Tomoko texted back, “It’s hard because of how it’s sliced. What do you do with it?”

“Steak sandwiches usually, but I was kind of looking for something different this time …”

Indeed.

The minute steak that we get in our CSA has always presented a bit of a challenge for me. Minute steak, as I have learned, is not cube steak. Well, not always. It’s pretty confusing, actually, when you start searching for minute steak cooking ideas.

Most sources that I have seen say that minute steak and cube steak are basically the same thing. However, there seem to exist regional distinctions: in some parts of the country minute steak and cube steak refer to the same cut, whereas in other parts of the country, they are quite different from one another.

From what I can gather, cube steak is a cut of top round or top sirloin that has been run through an electric cube steak machine. The “cubing” refers to the kind of cross-hatched pattern that appears on the surface after the meat has been tenderized. It literally looks like it is made up of little cubes. Minute steak, on the other hand, is very thin slices of steak that are stacked, formed and shaped into a steak shape. Minute steaks, like cube steaks, cook very quickly — hence the name and the confusion.

One of the best things about having a meat CSA is learning how to cook different cuts that I would have never tried on my own. Minute steak is one of these. You could probably just throw it in a pan and be done with it, but I have found that figuring out the right cooking method with the right cut of meat can turn a perfectly good meal into something downright spectacular.

Bistec de palomilla with Cuban black beans and white rice is one of those meals that is so simple that hardly anyone bothers, as Tomoko would say, to write it down. People do write it down, of course. On the web, you can easily find many recipes for it, including this one from the New York Times that I used as the base for the one below.

In all honesty, I could have chosen any recipe for bistec de palomilla since they are all almost identical. Sure, I was tempted to put my own wacky spin on it, but sometimes good things are so good that you just have to leave them alone.

The essentials are that you marinate thin cuts of beef in garlic and lime juice (it doesn’t necessarily have to be minute steak or cube steaks, just thin steaks), you cook rice with lime juice and garlic, you cook the beans with lime juice, garlic and onions, and finally you sear the beef and top it with sautéed onions.

But just because it is simple doesn’t mean it that doesn’t taste divine.

So if you like lots of limes and lots of garlic, this recipe is for you!

* If you love limes and garlic but not the meat so much, the black beans and rice are easy to make and absolutely fabulous on their own. I used canned beans here because that is what I had in the pantry, but if you prefer dried beans (and who doesn’t), by all means soak ’em and cook ’em!

Ingredients:

For the steak:

1 to 1 1/2 pounds of minute steak (or any other kind of thinly-sliced steak)

The juice of 3 limes

4 cloves of garlic, finely minced

Salt and pepper

1 medium onion, sliced

2 tablespoons of olive oil

For the rice:

2 cups of white rice

3 cups of water or chicken stock

The juice of 1 lime

2 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Salt

For the beans:

1 small onion, chopped

3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced

Olive oil

2 cans of black beans

The juice of 1 lime

Salt

Fresh cilantro

How to prepare:

1. Lightly sprinkle the steaks with salt and pepper (because the limes are so punchy, you can reduce the salt without sacrificing flavor). In a large zip-loc bag, combine the lime juice, the garlic and the meat. Toss everything together in the bag until the steaks are evenly coated with the garlic and the lime juice. Let the steaks marinate for about 45 minutes, but do not marinate them for more than an hour.

2. While the steaks are marinating, make the rice and the beans. In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the rice (you don’t need to rinse it), the 3 cups of water or chicken stock, the lime juice, the garlic and the olive oil to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down to low. Simmer the rice until it is tender and all the water has been absorbed — about 15-20 minutes. Remove the rice from the heat and fluff it with a fork. Cover it while you prepare the rest of the meal.

3. In another medium-sized saucepan, heat some olive oil over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer. Sauté the chopped onion in the olive oil until it begins to turn translucent — about 5 to 6 minutes. If the onions seem to be cooking too quickly, lower the heat to medium. Add the finely minced garlic. Continue to sauté everything together for about another minute or so. Add the beans (you don’t need to drain them) and the lime juice. Stir everything together and simmer the beans over medium/medium-low heat until the cooking liquid has thickened. The beans should be tender at this point. Adjust the seasoning.

4. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the sliced onion. Sauté the onion until it just begins to turn translucent and take on a little bit of color. Remove the onions to a separate bowl or plate. Lift the steaks out of the marinade and add them to the skillet. Cook them for about 2 minutes per side (they will cook even more quickly if the steaks are really thin). Remove the steaks to a large plate or platter. Add the sautéed sliced onions back to the pan to let them soak up all those nice, meaty, lime-scented juices. Heap the onions on top of the steaks. Top everything with sprigs of fresh cilantro.

Serve the steaks with heaping scoop of white rice and another of black beans.

Kabocha Squash Simmered in Dashi, Soy Sauce, and Mirin

“If you buy that,” Tomoko said, “I’ll tell you how to cook it.”

Sold! And suddenly I was the proud owner of a cute little kabocha squash, eagerly awaiting directions from my Asian food-guru.

It’s a toss-up really as to which “hyper-detailed” step was my favorite one from Tomoko. Either, “Okay. Dashi, soy, salt, sugar.” Or, “If it’s not yummy enough, add some mirin.”

No, wait . . . the winner for “clearest” and “most concise” instruction is: “I don’t know why, but we just kind of (insert miming the act of scraping squash skin here).”

But you know what? Sometimes that’s how you learn recipes and new cooking techniques. Some of the best cooks I know are instinctive cooks who rely on past experience, sounds, smells, and what they see to guide them more than a written recipe.

I don’t know if this is what Tomoko meant or intended for me to cook, but the result was unbelievably delicious. Probably the best thing that I have made in months. I actually loved it so much, I ate an entire pumpkin in one sitting by myself. And when there were only a few pieces left, I actually wished that I had another one. It was that good.

When I texted her later, she said, “Hee hee! Yeah, it’s one of those recipes that is so simple, no one ever explains it.”

That may be true, but I am going to try for you.

Ingredients:

4 cups of water

1 largish piece of kombu

1/2 cup of dried bonito flakes

1 small kabocha squash

Japanese soy sauce

Salt

Sugar

Mirin

How to prepare:

1. First, you need to make your dashi. Dashi is incredibly easy to make and consists of basically 3 ingredients: kombu (dried kelp or seaweed), dried bonito flakes, and water. For more details, I defer to La Fuji Mama, who completely demystified the whole thing for me.

Basically you take a largish piece of kombu and rehydrate it in a medium sauce pan with 4 cups of water. Let the kombu soak for about 15 minutes. Bring the water to a boil, and right when it starts to boil, remove the pan from the heat and add about half a cup of dried bonito flakes. After 3 or 4 minutes, remove the kombu and strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve, or a coffee filter.

Voilà! You have made dashi!

2. Cut your kabocha squash in half. Scoop out the seeds. Cut each half into quarters. Using a paring knife, scrape the skin of the squash. You don’t want to remove the skin, but just clean up the outer surface. That way, your squash will cook more evenly. Cut the squash into 1-inch pieces.

3. In a large Dutch oven or casserole, try to spread the squash pieces out in a single-layer skin-side down. If that isn’t possible (it wasn’t for me), just make sure that the squash isn’t too crowded in the pot.

4. Sprinkle the squash with salt, sugar, soy sauce, and mirin. Fill the pot with just enough dashi to barely cover. Bring the liquid to a simmer, and continue to cook the squash until the pieces are easily pierced with a knife.

5. Using a slotted spoon, gently remove the squash from the cooking liquid, and enjoy your delicious kabocha.

Sliced Filet Mignon with Fava Beans and Radishes


This is another recipe is from Epicurious. It is terrific for spring. I’ve modified the recipe a little bit, but kept the primary components.

I like to do steak in a pan the Tom Colicchio-way, basting the meat in butter as it cooks. Factor in about one steak per person.

I prefer my radishes crunchy, so I wouldn’t recommend letting them sit in the dressing for as long as the original recipe states.

I love fava beans. Get them fresh while you can (now is the season). They are extremely labor intensive to shuck and peel, but it is worth it. Here is a handy video clip to show you how if you have never cooked with fava beans before. Just ignore the cooking times that the cook in the clip recommends.

I never really measure out my oil or vinegar for the vinaigrette . . . If pressed, I would suggest that 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar.

Ingredients:

About a 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

A splash of apple cider vinegar

Dijon mustard to taste (I use about a teaspoon and a half)

About 1/3 cup of fresh fava beans (from about 6-7 pods)

2 radishes, thinly sliced

2 filet mignon steaks, about 5-7 ounces each

Canola oil

Butter

Salt and pepper

About a tablespoon of chopped chives

Crumbled, soft goat cheese, or chèvre

How to prepare:

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, and mustard until they form an emulsion. Adjust the seasoning to your taste.

If using fresh favas, you will first need to shuck the beans from the pods. Discard the empty pods, and blanch the beans in boiling water for about 2 minutes — any longer than that, and they will be mushy. Have an ice bath ready to shock the beans. By submerging the beans in ice water after draining them, you will retain their beautiful green color. When the beans are cool, you will need to remove the waxy outer-covering of each one. If you nick the end of a bean with your finger nail, you can easily squeeze the bean out of its peel.

Toss the fava beans and the radishes in the vinaigrette. You want them evenly-coated with the dressing.

2. Pat the steaks dry with paper towels, and season them liberally with kosher salt and pepper. In a heavy pan, heat the canola oil over high heat until it is almost smoking. You’ll be able to see when the oil is up to temperature when its surface begins to shimmer. Sear the meat on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Reduce the heat to medium-low. You must reduce the heat to prevent the butter from burning on contact with the pan. Add a good knob of butter to the pan. Tilt the pan and, using a spoon, baste the steaks continually with the melted butter and oil mixture, flipping them halfway through cooking. Continue to cook the steaks until you have achieved your desired level of doneness.

Transfer the steaks to a cutting board. Let them rest a few minutes before slicing them.
Bear in mind that the steaks will continue to cook a little bit while resting, so you may want to keep this in mind and remove them from the pan when they are a little bit rarer than how you want to eat them.

3. Toss the fava beans and the radishes with the chives. Divide the fava bean and radish mixture between two plates. Top each portion with one of the sliced filet mignons. Drizzle some of the vinaigrette, and sprinkle on some of the crumbled chèvre over each steak. Serve immediately.