Chicken-Fried Steak with Mashed Potatoes and Pan Gravy


It is a stunning 92.7° outside.

92°. Even after 8PM. It is just barely June.

This is almost 20 degrees above the seasonal average. It feels like August. This is so wrong!

So what did I decide to cook? Did I have a cool, crisp salad? Did I just lie on my floor, alternating slices of cucumber between my eyelids and my mouth?

Nope. I made chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

Why? Because apparently, the heat has made me insane.

Or maybe I can blame it on my Arkansas-born father, say that I am simply channeling the Spirit of the South. You know that Spirit? The one that makes you crave stewed collards, macaroni and cheese, and smoked meat in the wilting Delta heat?

You don’t actually need a recipe for chicken-fried steak, but for reference, I give you the link to the Pioneer Woman’s version here.

Love her or hate her, the Pioneer Woman’s blog is terrific form of escapism. Everything about Ree Drummond’s life seems beautiful: she’s beautiful, she has beautiful children, her kitchen is huge and beautiful, her ranch is beautiful, her friends and family are beautiful, her photos are beautiful. Everything is highly calorific, and all the colors are super-saturated.

And her bodice-ripper stereotype of a husband is every woman’s dirty, little secret fantasy.

The Pioneer Woman’s little slice of Oklahoma seems fantastic too. True, there is a lot of backlash (some of it really funny, like this and this), but you can’t deny that Drummond makes American Comfort Food look really, really good. Plus she slayed the Flay in Bobby’s Food Network Thanksgiving showdown. Kudos.

So, how do you make chicken-fried steak without a recipe?

You will need:

Some cube steaks (or minute steaks)

Some flour

A lot of milk

2 eggs

Some canola oil

Lots of salt and pepper

Some seasoning.

First of all, pat the cube, or minute steaks dry with paper towels. In a large shallow dish, pour in about half a cup of milk. Beat 2 eggs into the milk. In another dish, stir together about 4 heaping spoonfuls of flour, about a teaspoon and a half of salt, a lot of freshly ground black pepper, and whatever seasoning you want to add (seasoned salt, paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder).

Coat each steak, one at a time, with the milk and egg mixture. Dredge each steak with the flour. Dunk each flour-covered steak back in the egg and milk mixture, and redredge each in the flour mixture. Place them on a clean plate after you are done.

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat about 1/4 inch of canola oil over medium-high heat. You want the oil to just start to smoke. When the oil has reached a good temperature, add the steaks to the pan, being careful not to overcrowd it. Fry each steak until each side is golden brown. Remove the steaks to a paper-towel covered plate the drain.

Pour off all but about a 1/4 cup of oil. Add a heaping 1/4 cup of flour to the pan, and make a roux. Brown the flour so that your gravy doesn’t have that raw flour kind of taste. It should be golden brown when you pour in the milk (about two cups). You will end up with a lot of gravy. Whisk the gravy, breaking up any lumps, until you have the consistency that you want. This can take between 5 to 10 minutes. You might have to add more milk if the gravy starts to look too thickAdjust the seasoning as you go along, adding more salt and black pepper as needed.

Ladle a generous amount of gravy over your chicken-fried steak. If you serve your chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes, you can cover your spuds with the gravy too.

Enjoy responsibly: make this in November, not during a heat wave like now!

Potato Salad with Fresh Herbs


When I conceived of this salad, I was living in Paris, nursing a killer craving for big American picnic food: fried chicken in Tupperware, carrot salad with raisins, tart lemonade with sprigs of fresh mint.

What I really, really wanted was potato salad. Mounds of it smothered unapologetically in Hellmann’s mayonnaise.

But this was Paris, and Hellmann’s was nowhere to be found (actually, it was but it cost you 12 euros at a specialty shop). As the hot, late July air blew through my French windows, making my own mayonnaise with raw eggs just so that I could tote my nice, dressed salad out to a sunny park sounded like tempting fate.

So I thought to dress my potatoes up with a super lemony vinaigrette, tossing in whatever else was in my kitchen that day (radishes and celery in my case). It turned out to be delicious.

I have made this salad many times over the years. Recently, I unearthed my original scribblings from France, hastily scrawled on supermarket circular. Only then did I realize how different the potato salad that I was making New York was from that one made on that warm Parisian day.

No matter. Whether you add this, or that, or not, you will have something wonderful to eat. Picnic-safe too.

What I make now:

Ingredients:

2 pounds of waxy red potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons of minced fresh herbs (thyme, parsley, rosemary, oregano, and/or dill)

Basic Mustard Vinaigrette:

Juice of one lemon, which should be about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon of good grainy Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

How to prepare:

1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot of heavily salted water. You should be able to easily pierce a cube with a paring knife when they are done. Drain the potatoes and let cool.

2. Make the vinaigrette. Pour the vinaigrette over the still warm potatoes (you might want to do this a little bit at a time to avoid dousing them in dressing — something that fat-and-salt-loving me has a hard time not doing). Add the fresh herbs and toss until everything is evenly incorporated.

What I made then:

Ingredients:

1 pound of small Yukon gold potatoes (peeled, quartered, boiled, and cooled)

2-3 stalks of celery, chopped

4-5 small radishes, sliced very thin

2 minced shallots

2 tablespoons of minced fresh dill

Basic Mustard Vinaigrette:

Juice of one lemon

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

How to prepare:

1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients together. Using a wooden spoon to stir, smash some of the potatoes against the side of the bowl to create texture. Keep stirring until all ingredients are well incorporated. Serve on a bed of lettuce. Can be made a day in advance.

JGV’s Gently Cooked Salmon with Mashed Potatoes and Broken Chive Oil


People always ask me if the recipes on this blog are mine. Some of them are, but I also love trying out great recipes that I hear or read about. In all honesty, does it really matter? I mean, how original are anyone’s recipes anyway?

Enamored as I am of the New York Times‘s Dining Section, I picked up The Chefs of the Times a couple years ago. It’s a terrific cookbook. The contributing chefs are a “who’s who” in the culinary stratosphere: Romano, Vongerichten, Samuelsson, Boulud, Palmer, Portale, Keller, Richard, Trotter, et al. Each chef has a chapter devoted to them. What is great is that, as a preface to each recipe, each chef has composed a short written introduction about what they wanted to achieve and how they became satisfied with their finished product.

It is reassuring to keep in mind that for all their talent and ingenuity, chefs don’t exist in a vacuum. The concepts they are hoping to make reality on a plate are influenced by all kinds of things: nostalgia, personal experience, individual taste. I would also suspect that many of them owe a great deal more to Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking than they would admit in public. Certain taste combinations? They had to taste them first somewhere. The specific smoothness of mashed potatoes, for instance, that they are seeking? They must have compared theirs to either the incomparable smoothness of someone else’s potatoes, or the chunkiness of another’s.

Regardless, these little introductions are great windows into someone else’s creative process. It is true though that if you read a lot of cookbooks, you do start to see how much everyone’s recipes resemble one another. Everyone seems to have a version of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s molten chocolate cake for example (if there was ever a recipe to which one person can lay the claim for “I was the first,” it would be this:  JGV’s extremely lucky “mistake”).

Sometimes, you just make a recipe so many times, you stop actually needing to consult a recipe anymore.

This is one of them. I don’t even remember what the original recipe was. I make it a little differently every time, but the components are the same, as is the technique. This is from The Chefs of the Times. It is a Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe and a damn good one. You can look up the original, or you can just feel your way through this one and make it your own.

Ingredients:

Factor in one portion of salmon per person. You want to ask your fish monger for a center-cut fillet, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches wide. Skin on. Ask them to kindly remove the bones if you don’t want to do it yourself.

Estimate about one Russet potato per person. This will give you enough fluffy mashed potatoes for each guest, and just enough leftovers to eat cold out of the fridge at 3 o’clock in the morning the next day.

About 2 tablespoons of butter per potato

Heavy cream or milk, or a combo of both

About a tablespoon of grapeseed oil per person

About a tablespoon of roughly chopped chives per person

Salt and white pepper (optional) to taste

Special equipment:

A hand-held blender, food processor, or blender

How to prepare:

1. There are a million ways to make mashed potatoes. Some people like really loose spuds, some people like it like Spackle. For this recipe, I like the potatoes creamy, but not too watery. Bring a pot of well-salted water to boil. While you are waiting for the water to boil, peel the potatoes and cut them into large dice. Boil them until you can easily crush a piece of potato against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Drain the potatoes in the pot. Add the butter and mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Add some heavy cream, milk, or a combo of the two, and continue to mash the potatoes. Keep adding as much liquid as you like, a little bit at a time, until you have achieved the consistency that you want.

2. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 250° (this is JGV’s genius idea). Lay the salmon fillets out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can put them skin-side up or down, depending on what you like better (I prefer up). You can smear them with a little grapeseed oil, but I’ve forgotten sometimes and no one has noticed. Put the salmon in the oven and set a timer for about 10 minutes. I’m serious. Just 10 minutes!

3. While the salmon is in the oven, blend or process the chives with the grapeseed oil and a little pinch of salt.

4. After 10 minutes, check the salmon. The meat should flake. It might look undercooked, but if it flakes and the skin comes off easily, it is done. If you would like it more done, just leave it in the oven for longer, checking it again every 2 minutes or so. Remove the skin. You can scrape any gray, fatty stuff or white protein off of the fillets before plating the dish.

5. Put a nice mound of mashed potatoes on a warmed plate. Top the potatoes with a piece of salmon. Drizzle the broken chive oil on top of the fillet and around the plate. Serve immediately.

Fresh Sage and Onion Dressing

Every Thanksgiving, I try a new recipe for stuffing or dressing. I’ve done it all — wild rice, pears and butternut squash, pancetta and chanterelles, sausage and fennel — and every year I’m happy, but never thrilled with the result.

In pursuit of a recipe that I can love and look forward to making every year, I decided to go very traditional this Thanksgiving: sage and onion.

I adapted this recipe from one originally published in 1975, and republished in Gourmet Magazine (RIP) in 2002. It calls for a whopping cup of butter! That’s two whole sticks! As much as I love butter, I really thought the amount was excessive; I wanted light and fluffy dressing, not greasy, leaden bread.

I also swapped the requested amounts of bread. I like cornbread stuffings, so instead of the asked for 8 cups of white bread and 4 cups of cornbread, I opted for 8 cups of cornbread and 4 cups of white bread. Don’t worry so much if it ends up being something more like 7 and 5, or 6 and 6. As long as you have a total of 12 cups of bread crumbs, it will be fine.

Gourmet’s recipe calls for you to make your own buttermilk cornbread. I suppose you could just use store-bought cornbread, but the recipe they recommend is so easy and fool-proof that I strongly urge you to try it. It makes a tremendous difference in flavor.

I think that in assembling the dressing, you could even reduce the amount of butter even more without any reduction in luxury of taste. I ended up using more stock than specified in the original recipe. I would say add a cup, and then more stock a little bit at a time, until the dressing is as moist as you would like. The recipe didn’t call for the addition of any cheese, but I think a good cup of Parmesan would go well here.

Ingredients:

8 cups of coarsely crumbled buttermilk corn bread*

4 cups of coarse fresh bread crumbs (from a small white loaf, crust removed)

1/4 cup of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

3 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh sage

1 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon of black pepper

1 sticks (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter

2 medium onions, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 cup of chopped celery

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup of turkey or chicken stock

1/2 cup of heavy cream

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

2. Spread all the bread crumbs out in 2 shallow baking pans and bake until dry, about 15 minutes total.

3. Briefly cool the crumbs in the pans and then transfer them to a large bowl. Stir in the parsley, sage, salt, and pepper.

4. Melt the butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat. Add the onions and cook until the onions are softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the celery and cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the bowl with the crumbs and toss well. Add the eggs, stock, and cream and toss well. Transfer the stuffing to a buttered, shallow baking dish. Bake, covered, in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake until browned, about 30 minutes more.

Note:

You can assemble the stuffing 2 days ahead. Chill it covered, unbaked. Bring it to room temperature before baking. If reheating or baking later, you might want to sprinkle some more stock over the stuffing before putting it in the oven.

Buttermilk Corn Bread

Ingredients:

1 cup of all-purpose flour

3/4 cup of yellow cornmeal

1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 cup of well-shaken buttermilk

2 large eggs

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) of unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

2. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

3. Whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, butter, and sage in another bowl. Add this mixture to the flour mixture. Stir everything until just combined. Spread the batter evenly in a buttered 8-inch square baking pan and bake in the middle of oven until golden, about 25 minutes.

4. Cool the pan on a rack. Once cooled, coarsely crumble the bread. The corn bread can be made and crumbled up to 3 days ahead, and kept in a sealed plastic bag at room temperature.

Maple Syrup Sweet Potatoes Topped with Tiny Marshmallows


The first time that I ever saw Gary Vaynerchuck was on Conan O’Brien. Brought on the show to teach Conan how to taste wine, he gagged his way through a routine as slap-stick as it was slap-shtick. As I watched him swallow glugs of Sauvignon followed by mouthfuls of fresh grass, I thought to myself, “Is this guy for real?”

Vaynerchuck has since built himself a sizable empire of influence. I read somewhere that he is the most followed wine critic after Robert Parker. I can’t speak to whether or not those following him are doing it for the wine or the antics, but I can say that this recipe, adapted from one in Food and Wine’s feature on him last month, is the best that I have for the holidays. The dark maple syrup rounds out the nuttiness of the roasted sweet potatoes, and the kick of cayenne is divine.

Ingredients:

9 sweet potatoes, about 12 ounces each

1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

1 stick of butter

1/3 of a cup of dark maple syrup

3/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Salt to taste

Cayenne pepper to taste

1 1/2 – 2 cups of mini marshmallows.

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Set a sheet of aluminum foil on top of the middle rack. Rub the sweet potatoes all over with oil. Prick each one evenly on all sides with a fork. Roast the potatoes directly on top of the foil for about an hour, or until easily pierced with a paring knife. Remove the potatoes from the oven, and let them rest until they are cool enough to handle.

2. Split each potato lengthwise and peel the skin off of each half. Put the peeled potatoes in a large saucepan that can accommodate them all. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes over gentle heat. With a wooden spoon, stir in the butter, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt and cayenne to taste. Continue stirring until the potatoes are smooth and hot.

3. Spoon the potatoes into a 9 x 9 dish.* Top with the mini marshmallows. Bake the potatoes in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until the topping is nice and browned. Alternatively, you could also place the dish under the broiler and broil the top until the marshmallows are toasted.

Note:

You can make the dish ahead too. Bring the mashed sweet potatoes up to room temperature before topping it with the mini-marshmallows. Reheat the dish in the oven until the potatoes are hot and the marshmallows are browned, about 20 minutes at 350°.

Cranberry Sauce with Grand Marnier and Candied Orange Peel


Cranberry sauce from scratch is so easy to make, and tastes so much better, that I have always wondered why anyone bothers with the sauce out of a can.

People do love the canned stuff though.

Shopping for Thanksgiving dinner with my boyfriend became an exercise in Abbott & Costello-esque absurdity as he kept putting a can of jellied cranberry sauce in the cart, and I kept removing it and putting it back.

“But it has rings that show you where to slice it!” he whined as I removed the can one last time.

Now, I must admit a fondness for tubular food: sausages, Boston Brown Bread, cannolis. Even the occasional Twinkie finds its way down my gullet about once a year.

But if you have ever had whole berry, home-made cranberry sauce, you know how really wonderful this condiment can be. No longer an afterthought plopped out of metal cylinder, real cranberry sauce can bring just the right hit of acid to the richness of the assembled dinner plate. Done right, it smells like the holidays: candied citrus, cloves, cinnamon. All warmth, sugar, spice, and everything nice.

The very basic recipe involves just three ingredients: cranberries, water, and sugar. It is essentially jam, which sounds intimidating to make but really isn’t.

To that, there are nearly endless variations. Feel free to play with it. No Grand Marnier? How about some rum? Or brandy? Try O.J. No orange peel? Got a lemon? Nope? No problems. Apples? Why not! Raisins? Throw in a handful for fun. Just feel your way through it. It will taste marvelous, I assure you.

And the other beauty? It can be made days before dinner, leaving you free to worry about something else. Even better, as the flavors meld together, it will be much yummier on day 3 than day 1.

Ingredients:

12 ounces of fresh cranberries

1 cup of water

1 cup of sugar

The zest from 1 untreated, organic orange*

1/4 cup of Grand Marnier or Cointreau, plus 1 tablespoon

3-4 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick

A pinch of salt

Special equipment:

A citrus zester

How to prepare:

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine all the ingredients. Bring everything to a boil, stirring continuously to dissolve the sugar. Once the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat so that it is at a slow, constant simmer. Continue to stir so that it doesn’t burn. As the sauce comes together, you might notice some foam or scum that appears on the surface. Don’t worry about skimming it off as it will dissipate as the sauce thickens.

2. Continue to simmer and stir until the mixture begins to jell. If you are slightly unsure what this means, you can put a small plate in the fridge and periodically test the thickness of your sauce by putting a dime-sized drop on the cold plate. If you drag your finger through it and the sauce doesn’t run back into the void you have created, it has nicely jelled and you are done. This whole process can take up to ten minutes or so.

3. Pour the sauce into a container, cover, and place it in the fridge. It will become more solid as it cools. Before serving, stir in 1 tablespoon of whatever alcohol you used if you would like extra boozy sauce — and who doesn’t?

Note:

Most citrus fruits (oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, lemons) are coated in a food-grade wax to preserve and protect the fruit. It also makes them really shiny. If you are cooking with the rind or peel of any citrus, try to look for fruit that has not be spray-treated with wax. Most fruit labeled “organic” should be untreated. How can you tell for sure?  Just scratch the surface of the fruit. If you see some clear wax on your finger nail, move on.

Roast Chicken with Russian Banana Fingerling Potatoes


If I had to choose a last meal on Earth, it would be a beautifully roasted chicken.

This is hands-down one of my most-adored dishes. I love the smell of a chicken in the oven, the warm and cozy aroma filling the apartment with comfort and contentment. I love how luscious a browned bird looks, gleaming and golden. I love the heavenly juxtaposition of crisp, crackling skin and moist, delicious meat.

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

1. Buy the best. We have been fortunate to have stowed a wonderfully flavorful High Point Farms chicken in the back of the freezer for these first few brisk days of fall. Barring that, aim for organic, free-range, no hormones or antibiotics, humanely-raised and processed. Heirloom if you can get it.

3. Pre-heat that oven to 425-450°.

4. Dry your bird throughly. The dryer the skin, the crispier the chicken.

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 three things in my chicken: one lemon (cut into wedges if your chicken is small), one onion, 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.

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. I don’t always follow this but when I do, I find that I have a truly superior bird. 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, I turn it on the other side for another twenty. I turn it breast-side up for yet another twenty — a total of 1 hour. After that, I drop the oven temperature to 375° and continue roasting until the internal temperature reaches 165°, give or take about 15 more minutes .

Sometimes when roasting atop potatoes, I will just put the chicken in breast-side up at 450° for about half and hour before dropping the temperature to 375° for the remainder of the time. I find the results 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.

Ham Steak with Sautéed Lacinato Kale and Corn Spoonbread


Yesterday night we had a nice, simple supper. A High Point Farms ham steak, with sides of sautéed kale and corn spoonbread. The ham, moist and flavorful, cooked quickly in a large cast-iron pan over medium heat (it’s true that with pasture-raised pork and grass-fed beef, you should drop the cooking temperature a bit because it is so lean).

What I love most about these meats that we have been getting from our CSA is that in the sausages, bacon, and ham, there are only about as many ingredients as I have fingers on one hand: beef or pork, salt, brown sugar, spices. Nothing unpronounceable, nothing that anyone would have difficulty recognizing as food, and everything tasty.

Kale is a favorite leafy green of mine, both delicious and nutritious. Some people deride it as diet food, but if you add some ham hocks and stew the heck out of it until it becomes rich and luscious, you have yourself some fine eating right there. I like it that way, but I also love it sautéed so that the stems retain a bit of their tangy crunch and the juicy leaves stay springy.

This was the first time that I tried a corn spoonbread recipe and I have to say that it was definitely more like a corn soufflé than a bread. I had been warned before though. It was still good (airy and ethereal), but left me sadly unsatisfied as I was looking for more of the heft and heaviness of cornbread, just not so much so. For that reason, I am only including a link for the recipe here.

If I had to make it again, I might let the corn meal/milk mixture (a lazy woman’s béchamel, if you wish) become much thicker before adding the egg yolks. I think that it would have benefitted from some fresh herbs, dill maybe as I do love corn and dill together. By all means, if you try it, use fresh corn from the cob if you can.