Buttermilk Roasted Chicken

Ahead of Thanksgiving, I like to make a few “Sunday Supper” meals—the kind of menu that takes a little extra time or effort—because it gives me something to focus on besides worrying about Thanksgiving, and it also gives me a chance to do a trial run on potential new side dishes before the big day. You know what they say about experimenting on Thanksgiving, right?


This spatchcocked and roasted chicken can hold its own next to even the most elegant of side dishes you might be auditioning, and the best thing about it is that its lovely presentation takes minimal effort. I wouldn’t have believed it several years ago when I first saw a magazine cover with an image of a roasted chicken laid-out flat on a platter, and I remember thinking, maybe one day I’ll be able to cook like that. Little did I know how easy it is, and after my first attempt at it for a Passover meal a few years ago, I’ve been hooked.

From a technical standpoint, the spatchcocking (or, butterflying, if you wish) of the bird serves an important purpose by putting the whole chicken on the same level for roasting. After 45 minutes in the oven, you won’t have the concern about the breast meat being overdone before the thighs are cooked through because the cavity of the bird is essentially eliminated. The breast of the bird is not sitting several inches higher than the rest of the body, and that means the heat is applied more evenly. Thus, the chicken cooks more evenly.

And the flavor comes easy for this chicken, too, because the buttermilk does all the work. Most often, when you hear the words chicken and buttermilk in the same sentence, it’s probably in context of a recipe that involves frying. At least, that’s how it usually works here in the South. But this oven-roasted recipe is lighter, easier to prep and cook, and so, so flavorful. Buttermilk, which is acidic to begin with, has special enzymes that help break down the proteins of meat. When that breakdown occurs, it opens the door for flavors to go into the meat.

During six hours of marinating, the chicken soaks up the flavors of the herbs and seasonings I add to the buttermilk, including kosher salt, white pepper, garlic and onion powders, paprika and dried thyme.


When I shared my plans last week for making homemade stock for Thanksgiving gravy, I mentioned a tip for adding some chicken parts to the simmering broth, most notably the backbone, which I removed from a whole chicken with a technique called “spatchcocking.” This step is not necessary for roasting the bird, but I like it for the evenness of roasting that results. And as I explained in the stock post, I needed some more poultry parts for my stock. Because we don’t eat it, the backbone doesn’t add much value when it’s left on the chicken, but there’s a world of flavor in those bones when you simmer them down in a stock, so this is a smart way to “waste nothing.”

Removing the backbone is easy. You need a good set of kitchen scissors, and a little bit of gumption to crack through the ribs that are attached to the bone along both sides. Start on the neck end of the chicken, where the backbone is easy to recognize. Cut all the way down one side, then the other, and then lift the bone away from the body and cut it off at the tailbone.


If you don’t need the backbone, you can discard it; otherwise, follow my lead and add it to the pot for your next batch of stock. All that collagen in the bone will really amp up the flavor and richness of any soup or gravy you make with it. You can even freeze it for later, if you aren’t ready to make stock just yet. Pat the bird dry with paper towels and place it in a heavy-duty plastic freezer bag with a zipper top. Pour in the seasoned buttermilk mixture and seal up the bag, squeezing out as much air as possible to force the brine up around every part of the chicken. Stash it in the refrigerator for about six hours, and let the buttermilk work its magic.


After marinating, dry the chicken with paper towels and rub a small amount of olive oil all over the skin of the bird to protect it from drying out. Let it rest while the oven preheats to 400° F, and roast it for about 45 minutes, until the skin is golden brown all over and the internal temperature is 160° F. It looks beautiful and the buttermilk keeps it nice and juicy on the inside.


I’ve put this buttermilk roasted chicken in the Sunday Supper category, not for any difficulty but for the marinating time that’s required for tenderizing and flavoring. Let me know in the comments what side dishes you’d like to see with this yummy chicken.


Buttermilk Roasted Chicken

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

You don't need any special skills to spatchcock a chicken, as long as you have a good pair of kitchen scissors. And this buttermilk brine brings a world of flavor into the chicken with almost no effort.


Ingredients

  • 3.5-pound chicken, preferably free-range
  • 2 cups real, cultured buttermilk
  • 1 heaping tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Remove the giblet package and neck parts from the inside of the chicken. Use kitchen scissors to cut down both sides of the backbone and set it aside with the innards to be simmered into a stock.
  2. Open up the chicken, essentially “unfolding” it, and lay it breast side-up on a sheet pan. Use the heel of your hand to press firmly onto the breast of the bird until it cracks. This will help the chicken lay flatter when it is time to roast it.
  3. Add buttermilk to a 2-quart bowl. Combine the salt and other dry seasonings in a small bowl, and then stir the spice blend into the buttermilk until the salt is dissolved.
  4. Place the chicken in a gallon-size freezer bag with a zip top. Pour the buttermilk into the bag and seal it, gently squeezing the air out of the bag as you go. This will ensure the brine covers every surface of the chicken. Wash and dry the bowl and place the bagged chicken into it (just in case the bag leaks) and refrigerate it for about six hours.
  5. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk brine, allowing the excess to drip off. Do not rinse the bird, but pat it dry with paper towels and lay it, breast side-up, on a baking rack placed over a rimmed sheet pan. Rub the olive oil all over the skin of the chicken and sprinkle it with kosher salt and black pepper. Let the chicken rest at room temperature for an hour before roasting.
  6. Preheat oven to 400° F, with rack in the center position. Roast the chicken without convection for 45 minutes, until the skin is golden brown all over and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 160° F. Rest chicken for 15 minutes before carving and serving.


Easy Slow Cooker Beef Stew

There is nothing earth-shattering or revelatory about beef stew in the fall, is there? The ingredients in my version are as one would expect—big chunks of vegetables, potatoes, beefy morsels and a thick, rich braising gravy—yet this is exactly the kind of comforting, satisfying, rib-sticking classic fall food I’ve been dreaming about since the temperatures first began to drop. So, even though I expect you may have your own recipe for beef stew, I’m going to share mine visually, just to make you hungry and ready to celebrate the season in comfort (you’re welcome).


Under less busy life circumstances, I might have made this one-pot stew right on the stovetop in our enamel-coated Dutch oven. But when I’m upside down with my day job, busy with home updates and wrangling our pets, I really appreciate the versatility of our slow cooker. Ours has extra options, including a setting for browning meat, so I was able to get this done without shifting ingredients from one pot to another. If your slow cooker has more simple settings, just brown the meat first in a skillet on the stove and transfer it to your slow cooker when it’s ready to braise.

I selected grass-fed, locally raised beef for my stew. It’s easier on my digestive system than conventional beef, and we feel strongly about supporting local suppliers. Choose the best beef you can find, and a cut that is mostly lean, but with some marbling for flavor. I tossed the beef chunks with a few generous pinches of kosher salt and let them rest 15 minutes while I prepped my other ingredients and got my slow cooker up to speed.


For no special reason, I decided that I would use fancy onions for my beef stew. I chose cippolini onions, which are small and squatty—kind of like miniature vidalias—and they need to be peeled before cooking. This was easy to do, with a quick bath in simmering water, then a shock in an ice bath. For the sake of uniformity, I cut my other vegetables to match the size of the cippolinis. If you wish, use a large sweet or yellow onion, cut into large chunks. 


Browning the meat encourages more flavor because of something called the Maillard reaction, and if you want to geek out on food science, you could read this article to understand what that’s all about, or you could simply trust the process and brown the meat (your taste buds will thank you). When the oil in my slow cooker was ready, I added the salted meat a few pieces at a time to avoid a sudden temperature drop and turned them frequently to ensure even browning.


As soon as the meat was browned, I added a pat of butter and a few cloves of chopped garlic. A dusting of flour coated the meat and set the stage for gentle thickening, and then I splashed in about 1/4 cup of dry red wine. This adds depth of flavor to braising liquid, but if you don’t care for wine in food, you could substitute a splash of red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar for a similar effect.


This is the time to transfer the browned meat to the slow cooker if your appliance only has heat settings, and it helps to have the cooker set on high heat setting when you do so. Add two cups of broth to the meat and stir it around until it begins to thicken slightly. Add the cut-up vegetables and cippolini onions, then add enough additional broth to just cover the cooker ingredients. Drop the temperature to low setting, add a couple of bay leaves into the stew, cover it and let it simmer for about six hours.


By that time, the beef will be very tender and the vegetables will be soft to the bite. If you like your stew a little thicker, a corn starch slurry will do the trick without giving an off taste. Turn the cooker heat back up to high and remove the bay leaves. Whisk together corn starch with equal amount of very cold water until smooth, and drizzle a stream of the slurry into the stew. When the braising liquid reaches a gentle boil, it will thicken to perfection.


We served our beef stew with some homemade, warm-from-the-oven dinner rolls. Now, aren’t you glad it’s autumn? What comfort food have you been craving?


Easy Slow Cooker Beef Stew

  • Servings: About 8
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

There's an easy way to enjoy an all-day stew without giving it all-day attention. Grab your slow cooker and let's get cooking!


Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds grass fed stewing beef, or chuck roast cut into pieces
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. salted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup dry red wine
  • 4 cups low-sodium beef broth, divided
  • 7 oz. cippolini onions, blanched for easy peeling
  • 2 cups fresh carrot chunks
  • 2 cups Yukon gold potato chunks (skin-on is OK)
  • 1 cup chopped celery, ribs removed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. corn starch blended with 2 Tbsp. ice water (optional, for additional thickening)

Directions

  1. Blot stewing meat (or chunks) dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with one heaping teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Rest meat at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
  2. Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet, Dutch oven or slow cooker (if yours has a browning function). Brown meat on all sides over medium heat. Add garlic and cook about 2 minutes, taking care to avoid burning it. Sprinkle flour over meat and garlic, and toss until it appears absorbed onto the browned meat.
  3. Pour wine over meat and quickly toss, scraping up any browned bits from the surface of the pot. The wine should thicken quickly, creating a sticky coating all over the meat. Transfer the meat (if using a separate pot) to the slow cooker on high setting.
  4. Add 2 cups of the beef broth and stir meat around until the broth begins to thicken slightly. Add onions, carrots, potatoes and celery and toss to combine. Add remaining broth and stir. Place bay leaves and thyme sprigs on top of the stew mixture. Reduce slow cooker to low setting and cook for about 6 hours, until beef pieces and vegetables are tender.
  5. If desired, stir in corn starch slurry during the last 30 minutes of cooking time (use high heat). Serve with crusty rolls to sop up all the delicious gravy!



Les’s Veal & Eggplant Parm

When Terrie asked me a couple of months ago what I wanted for my birthday meal this year, I initially asked her for some kind of lobster, a dish she’s made before that I devoured. But the more I thought about it, the more a different idea bubbled in my head.

Five years ago, on Aug. 27, 2017, my mother died at age 91. It was two days before my birthday, and we chose to have her funeral on Aug. 29, largely at my request because it could be a sort of celebration for relatives who had arrived when she took ill.

With my mom on my mind, I told Terrie I wanted to play chef on my birthday weekend as a tribute to one of the few meals Mom made that I actually loved.

Once or twice a year, Mom would make veal parmigiana in an electric skillet (you know the one, square cast aluminum with the little pinwheel vent thing on top of the lid), and from the moment you walked into the apartment after school, the aroma was so distinct you instantly knew what was happening—a respite from the usual overcooked meat, baked potato and canned vegetables. What we smelled was veal parm, which she served with spaghetti with marinara (Ragu) and Parmesan cheese (Kraft, the familiar green container). Still, for me and my sisters, it was sublime.

When I first began cooking, veal parm seemed like a giant challenge, and I stuck to ordering it in restaurants. Around the same time, as an adult, I discovered the joy of eggplant. Then, one night in an Italian restaurant, I chose a dish called “Veal Sorrentino,” which added a slice of prosciutto between a veal cutlet and eggplant slices, and it was cooked in a pan with white wine sauce and a touch of tomato. Henceforth and forevermore, I knew what I was gastronomically bound to do whenever I wanted veal parm. Combine veal and eggplant.

Now as much as I enjoy veal Sorrentino, I don’t make that at home. Rather, I prefer veal and eggplant as a red sauce parmigiana meal, and, being as we still had lots of fresh tomatoes from our first successful garden in years, I spent a few hours cooking up a marinara on Saturday to go with Sunday dinner. This sauce was similar to the Not Quite Pizza Sauce I shared here a few weeks ago, but without the red bell pepper, and with the onions sautéed and blended right into the sauce. I married this sauce with veal and eggplant, and it was excellent.

Layer upon layer of Italian comfort food.

It helps to have the meal and kitchen counter space planned for this dish, because you need room for all the breading and frying. The first step is slicing a good Italian eggplant into 1/2-inch rounds, salting them on paper towels and letting them sweat for 30 minutes or more. Arrange the plates or containers to be used for preparing the eggplant and veal. My first plate held seasoned flour for dredging the eggplant and cutlets; salt and pepper the latter on both sides. The eggplant, of course, after its salting, won’t need more seasoning.


I used a rectangular Pyrex dish to hold four eggs, beaten. A second Pyrex contained a mix of Italian-seasoned bread crumbs (we actually used seasoned panko crumbs, then used an attachment on our immersion blender to grind them finely) and if you’re bold like we are, add some cheese to it; I used our Parm-Romano blend.

After consulting with Terrie, I decided to use our electric skillet (another nod to Mom, though this stainless All-Clad skillet is nothing like Mom’s old cast aluminum), and got that filled with about 1/2-inch deep canola oil, set to 375° F; the temperature may vary, depending on the vessel you use for frying, but whatever you put into the oil should sizzle and bubble as soon as it makes contact. Keep a roll of paper towels nearby; we used a ton of them catching the cutlets and eggplant as they came out.


During the frying phase, I put the marinara on a back burner at low to warm it and preheated the oven to 350° F. We bought fresh, pre-sliced mozzarella (the kind you’d use for Caprese), so I didn’t need to worry about prepping the cheese.

Once the eggplant and cutlets were fried, it was time to assemble. In a 9-by-13 Pyrex, I ladled healthy spoonfuls of marinara on the bottom, then lay down the cutlets. On top of that went marinara, followed by eggplant, followed by more marinara, followed by mozzarella, with a healthy sprinkling of our Parm-Romano Blend as a final touch.


It baked (under foil for half the time) for about 45 minutes (ovens may vary by a few minutes) and what came out was pretty awesome. Homemade sauce on tender veal and fresh eggplant with a crunch of breading and those savory cheeses—oh yes, the cheeses are my favorite part!

This dish is the ultimate comfort to me.

For hours during and after this birthday meal, the kitchen smelled like my old apartment on 80th Street in Jackson Heights, N.Y., on those rare, but wonderful nights when Mom was making veal parm. The leftovers were pretty damn good, too.

Veal & Eggplant Parm

  • Servings: About 8
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

When it came to dinner growing up, my sisters and I got a lot of the basics: meat, baked potato, canned vegetable. But oh for the once or twice a year when Mom decided to cook one of her specialty dishes—veal parmigiana. That’s the aroma I tried to re-create with my kicked-up version of it, with eggplant and garden-fresh, homemade marinara.


Ingredients

  • 1 medium Italian eggplant. cut into 1/2-inch rounds
  • Kosher salt, for sweating the eggplant slices
  • 1 1/2 lbs. veal cutlets
  • 4 large eggs, beaten (for breading)
  • About 1 cup all-purpose flour, seasoned with salt and pepper (for dredging)
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs (for breading)
  • 1/2 cup Parm-Romano blend or Parmesan (for breading)
  • Vegetable or canola oil, for frying (enough to measure 1/2-inch deep in frying skillet)
  • About 4 cups favorite marinara sauce (see ingredient notes, below)
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced

Use any marinara sauce you like for this recipe. I made one very similar to this one, omitting the roasted red pepper and blending the onions right into the sauce. https://comfortdujour.com/2022/08/26/not-quite-pizza-sauce/

Directions

  1. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on paper towels sprinkled with kosher salt. Sprinkle salt over the top of the slices as well, and let them stand for 30 minutes to remove excess moisture from the eggplant. Wipe them dry with clean paper towels and set aside for breading.
  2. Heat oil in an electric skillet or over medium heat to approximately 375° F.
  3. While the oil comes up to temperature, set up a breading station with three dishes: one containing seasoned flour, a second containing beaten eggs and a third with a mixture of the Italian breadcrumbs and Parm-Romano blend.
  4. Dredge the veal cutlets lightly in flour, shaking off the excess. Dip in the beaten egg, allowing excess to drip off. Coat both sides in the breadcrumb-cheese mixture. Arrange breaded cutlets on a parchment-lined plate.
  5. Repeat the same dredging steps with the sweated eggplant slices.
  6. Fry the cutlets and eggplant until golden on both sides, and set aside on paper towel-lined baking sheet until all are finished. The paper towels will absorb excess oil.
  7. Preheat oven to 350° F, with rack in center position.
  8. Spoon about one cup of the marinara sauce into a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish, and spread it evenly across the bottom. Arrange a single layer of fried veal cutlets over the sauce, and then ladle a generous spoonful of sauce over each cutlet. Arrange the fried eggplant slices over the sauced cutlets, and repeat with another layer of sauce. You should still be able to see the veal and eggplant; don’t try to bury it in sauce. If you have extra marinara, use it to dress some spaghetti or linguine to serve on the side.
  9. Arrange the fresh mozzarella slices evenly over the top of the sauced eggplant. Cover loosely with foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20 more minutes, until cheese is golden, bubbly and oozing.



Slow Cooker Cuban-style Pork

Between my husband and me, there is exactly zero percent Hispanic heritage—yet somehow, the foods of Hispanic cultures fall squarely into the “favorites” category for both of us, and it has been this way for all of our adult lives. For me, the passion for Hispanic flavors started much earlier, during my younger childhood when I lived with my mother in southern Colorado, where at least half the kids I went to school with were of Mexican descent. Their moms made the best food.

Les, who grew up in New York, was surrounded by the foods of seemingly every culture except Mexican, though other Hispanic flavors were obviously present in the Puerto Rican-populated areas of the city. He remembers his section of Queens, famed for being among the most multicultural in the world, was the first to create “fusion” foods, but alas, he says, he never ate at “La Casa Wong.” His first experience of addictive Spanish-influenced foods didn’t come until he spent a few young adult years in southern California, but even then, he didn’t get the full effect because those restaurants were mostly chains.

Today, thanks to our collective passion for cooking and adventurous approach to food, we are enjoying more than our fair share of all the world’s flavors, including those of cultures we have yet to visit.

Over the past few months, the 2014 movie Chef, with Jon Favreau leading a tremendous all-star cast, has been in hot rotation on our streaming service. Les and I both saw this movie in the theater when it was released (a good year before we started dating), but we still can’t resist watching it every time it appears in our program lineup. We love it, not only because it’s a compelling story of a talented chef who walks away from an unfulfilling restaurant job to start a food truck, but also for the joyful Latin music, the sweet relationship that develops through teachable moments with his adorable, mop-headed son, and the fantastic food that results from his commitment to doing food right and making it from the heart. If you haven’t seen this film, we highly recommend it.


The main food that always gets us drooling when we watch Chef is the Cuban pork, and the most authentic version would be slow roasted in the oven, as sous chef Martin prepares it in the film. But this is my version of it, done the easy way in a slow cooker. The key to exceptional flavor and texture is low-and-slow cooking and (of course) the marinade. My first taste of this mouthwatering, slow-roasted meat was in Key West, and rumor has it that was most likely the origin of the dish. But let’s not go down any rabbit holes of debate about that, because there’s cooking to be done!


Start with a pork shoulder, and for the best flavor, get one with the bone in. Trim off some of the excess fat, but don’t take it all off because there’s a world of flavor in it, and it will help protect the meat from drying out during cooking; you can easily skim it off the braising liquid later if you so choose. Rinse the shoulder to rid it of any bone shards, pat it dry with paper towels and give it a dose of salt and pepper on all sides. If your shoulder is very large, cut several slits all over the meat and insert smashed cloves of garlic into them. Mine was only three and a half pounds, so the marinade was enough to flavor it all the way through.


The marinade for this pork is called mojo, not like getting your mojo back or Mr. Mojo Risin’, but Spanish “j,” pronounced as an “h.” Try it with me: “mo-ho.”. The marinade begins with the juice of oranges and limes. For truly authentic mojo marinade, you’d use only Seville oranges, which are sour compared to typical navel oranges, but they aren’t easy to come by in the States, so a combination of navel oranges and limes is a common substitute. I kept a few of the spent orange wedges after juicing, and I’ll explain why in a moment.


You need a lot of fresh garlic for a mojo marinade. Smash the cloves first, and then peel and mince them up so the flavor permeates every pore of the pork shoulder. That’s an important thing to know about garlic; the smaller the bits, the more pungent the flavor. Cumin is traditional, and I like to use whole seeds, slightly toasted in a dry skillet and then crushed to a powder in a mortar and pestle. This fragrance on its own puts me in a state of near-euphoria. Oregano adds an herbal note, and I couldn’t decide between regular and Mexican, which is earthier with a slight note of anise, so I used half of each.


A pinch of sugar is decidedly not traditional, but we put a pinch of sugar in every damn thing here in the South. I like it for balance, but don’t go overboard. Season the mixture with salt and black pepper, of course, and whisk in a few generous glugs of extra virgin olive oil to finish the marinade. Time to cook!


Here’s where I used the spent orange pieces, along with some onion wedges; they were a bed for the pork shoulder in my slow cooker, allowing the mojo marinade full access to the meat’s surface. I poured about a third of the marinade over the shoulder, then turned it over and poured another third, reserving the last portion of marinade mixture to pour over the roast at serving time. Set the cooker on high for 45 minutes to bring it up to cruising speed, and then knock it down to low and walk away for five hours.


Low and slow makes it a winner!

Did you get that? You don’t want to cook it on high setting for five hours, or you’ll end up with tough, overcooked shoulder. The high setting is just to bring the temperature up more quickly, and then the cooking should all happen on low setting. Very important.

I had a busy afternoon, so I wrapped up my work emails, did a load of laundry and went out for a pedicure during this time, and having the freedom to tackle my to-do list reminded me how much I still love using a slow cooker on occasion. When I came home, the house already smelled amazing. I flipped the pork shoulder over for a final hour of cooking, and went about the business of making some jalapeno-simmered black beans.


I cut half of a sweet onion into crescent slivers, and diced up a fresh jalapeno from our post-summer garden, leaving most of the seeds behind. I sautéed those in olive oil, along with a touch of ground cumin, then added two cans of rinsed black beans. Salt and pepper, and a splash or two of the Cuban-style pork braising liquid and we had a perfect, if not authentic, side dish for our delectable pork.


Test doneness of the pork by inserting a fork and twisting lightly. If it shreds easily, it’s ready! We enjoyed the meat on its own that first night, and tried our best a couple of nights later to make Cubano sandwiches, just like Chef Carl Casper and his crew. The bread wasn’t quite right, but it was still pretty darn delicious. 🙂


Slow Cooker Cuban-style Pork

  • Servings: About 8
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

My version of this Cuban classic has all the right flavors, and it was super easy to make in my slow cooker.


Ingredients

  • 4 lb. bone-in pork shoulder (sometimes called Boston Butt)
  • 2 navel oranges, wedged and juiced (reserve a few of the spent wedges)
  • Juice of 4 limes
  • About 2 Tbsp. crushed and minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. cumin seed, toasted and ground
  • 1 tsp. sugar (not authentic, but a touch helps balance the citrus)
  • 2 tsp. black pepper (mine was half smoked)
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano (I used half regular, half Mexican)
  • About 1/4 cup EVOO, whisked in
  • About 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 large onion, cut into wedges (used as base in slow cooker)

Directions

  1. Rinse shoulder and wipe dry with paper towels. Salt and pepper both sides and let rest at room temp while you prep the marinade.
  2. Combine the citrus juices, garlic, cumin, sugar, pepper and oregano in a glass measuring cup. Whisk in olive oil and season with salt according to your taste (somewhere between 2 and 3 teaspoons is good).
  3. Place onion chunks and spent orange peels in the bottom of the slow cooker and place the shoulder on top. Pour in about 1/3 of the mojo, then turn the shoulder over and pour in another 1/3, reserving the rest for serving over the tender, shredded pork.
  4. Use the cooker’s high setting for about 45 minutes to get the heat going, then reduce to low setting and cook for 5 hours.
  5. Use tongs to turn shoulder over and continue to cook on low setting for another hour. Transfer shoulder to a glass dish and use forks to shred the meat. Stir the braising liquid and ladle some of it onto the shredded pork. Pour the reserved marinade mixture onto the pork as well. The freshness of the uncooked marinade brightens up the flavors of the tender pork.
  6. Strain the solids from the slow cooker, and keep the remaining liquid for packing the leftover meat. It will retain moisture better in the fridge this way.

Serve pork with jalapeno black beans and, if desired, white rice.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced into crescent shapes
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • A few pinches kosher salt and several twists ground black pepper
  • 2 15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth or Cuban-style pork braising liquid

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Toss onions and cumin until fragrant, then add jalapeno and season with salt and pepper.
  2. When onions begin to caramelize, reduce heat and add black beans. Add broth or braising liquid and cover to simmer until heated through.


Brie & Mushroom-stuffed Meatloaf

To say that I’m excited for fall is a bit of an understatement. After stiflingly humid North Carolina summers, I am always eager for the relief that comes in mid-September. I can finally open the windows each morning to let the cool, fresh air permeate our space (at least until afternoon, when the temps rise back into the 90s), and my soul starts longing for all the culinary comforts of the fall and winter seasons—warm herbal teas in the evening, soups and stews that nourish us from the inside out, and the return of what I like to call the Sunday Supper.

This meatloaf is one of my very favorites, though calling it a meatloaf may not do justice to the elegance of the meal, especially if you go the extra mile to make the French Onion Gravy recipe that accompanies it on my plate.

No mashed potatoes necessary.

My first inspiration for this recipe came many years ago when I spotted a wedge of creamy, mushroom-studded brie in the specialty cheese section at Trader Joe’s. It was begging to be part of something special and so I incorporated it into my usual, plain-Jane turkey meatloaf and I never looked back. I have since seen the cheese branded by other companies as well, and I actually bought this one from another supermarket. If you cannot find brie with mushrooms, substitute any other brie, and preferably one that is sold in large wedges, as it is easier to slice evenly for the rollup.


There will be plenty of mushroom in the mix anyway, as I slice and brown nearly a whole package of “baby bellas” to layer with the brie. Oh, and sauteed mushrooms and onions also get chopped and blended right into the meat mixture as well. Yes, this is definitely a mushroom-lover’s meatloaf!


I like using a combination of ground turkey (93% lean) and ground turkey breast (99% lean) for this, because the turkey breast on its own tends to go dry during baking, and the other on its own is almost too soft to shape properly. I suppose this meatloaf could also be made with lean ground beef, but I love it with ground turkey, which has a lighter flavor and leaner calorie load—though I’m sure the brie filling that oozes out into every bite probably cancels out that second part.


To give this meatloaf a hint of Thanksgiving (we are already counting down at our house), I have used dry stuffing mix (which I crushed into crumbs) in the panade, and it forms a glue to hold it all together. Feel free to substitute your favorite bread crumbs. Use less milk for this one than you normally would in a panade, because the turkey meat mixture is fairly loose and it benefits from the sturdier, almost crumbly panade.

The richness of the brie demands a little balance as well, so don’t omit the fresh parsley. Putting this meatloaf together is not as complicated as it might seem. At the end of the post is a click-to-print recipe, but I’ll walk you through it so you can see how easy it really is.


Parchment paper is my best friend for the task of shaping the meatloaf, but waxed paper would work in a pinch. Take your time, be sure the long edge and ends are sealed, and bake it on a cookie sheet rather than in a pan, for a beautiful crust. Give it 45 minutes at 400° F, and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.


Look at that gorgeous crust!

As for the gravy, well, I probably had you at “French onion.” It’s simple enough to make, but it does call for a special ingredient in the Herbes de Provence, which is a blend of herbs well known in the south of France. If you don’t have or can’t find it, substitute a blend of thyme, rosemary, marjoram and lemon peel. It won’t be quite the same, but these flavors will help to highlight and complement the onions. Use sweet or yellow onions and your choice of chicken or vegetable broth.


Serve the meal by ladling a portion of gravy directly onto the plate, and top with thick slices of the brie and mushroom-stuffed meatloaf. This entree does not need mashed potatoes, but if you crave them, may I suggest my hubby’s fantastic Garlic Mashed? You won’t regret it. 🙂

Brie & Mushroom-stuffed Meatloaf

  • Servings: About 8 slices
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print

Don't let the fancy swirl pattern in these meatloaf slices intimidate you! With a little patience and a sheet of parchment paper, you can make this delicious turkey meatloaf that literally oozes with comfort!


Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup dry herb stuffing mix (such as Pepperidge Farm), crushed into small crumbs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided (note directions for when to use)
  • 1/2 sweet onion, minced
  • 12 oz. carton cremini mushrooms, divided
  • 1 lb. ground turkey (93% lean)
  • 1/2 lb. ground turkey breast (99% lean)
  • 1 large egg
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Small handful chopped, fresh parsley
  • 6 oz. brie (with mushrooms, if possible)

Directions

  1. Make a panade, combining the dry stuffing mix with milk. You should have just barely enough milk to cover the stuffing mix. Let this rest while you prepare the rest of the meatloaf mixture.
  2. Clean and trim all the mushrooms and divide them, chopping enough into small pieces to measure about 1/2 cup. Slice the remaining mushrooms into thin slices and set aside.
  3. Place a non-stick skillet over medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté the minced onion until translucent. Season with Herbs de Provence, salt and pepper. Add the chopped mushrooms and sauté together until the mushrooms are soft and most of their moisture has evaporated. Cool this mixture and then process (or chop) into smaller bits.
  4. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and brown half of the sliced mushrooms until they are golden on both sides. Repeat with the remaining oil and mushrooms. Don’t be tempted to cook the mushrooms all at once, unless your pan is very large. If they are crowded in the pan, they will cook by steaming rather than browning, and you’ll lose the texture of the mushrooms. Transfer the browned mushroom slices into a bowl to cool.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground turkey (both), egg, panade, mushroom-onion mixture and parsley. Toss in a generous pinch of salt and a few twists of black pepper. Use your hands to evenly combine these ingredients until they are uniform, but try not to overwork the mixture.
  6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the meatloaf mixture onto the parchment, using oiled hands to pat it into a rectangle about 9 by 12 inches, and about 3/4-inch thick. Layer the browned mushrooms evenly over the surface, leaving a 1-inch border around all edges. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate about 30 minutes to firm up. Use this time to preheat the oven to 400° F and to prepare the French onion gravy.
  7. Slice the brie cheese wedge into uniform thickness pieces, about 1/4-inch thick. Arrange the slices in a single layer all over the chilled meatloaf, keeping a 1-inch border along both sides, and at least 2 inches from the far, short end. This will help prevent the brie from melting out of the meatloaf during baking.
  8. Use the parchment paper to assist rolling the meatloaf, beginning with the short end near you. Bend the brie, if needed, so that it will roll easier. Keep the roll snug as you go, and pinch to seal all edges, finishing with the end seal on top of the roll. Sprinkle the surface of the meatloaf lightly with kosher salt and bake for 45 minutes, until the meatloaf is browned with a slight crust all over; internal temperature will be about 160° F. Remove it from the oven and allow it to rest about 10 minutes before slicing. The residual heat will continue to cook the meatloaf during this time.
  9. Serve with French Onion Pan Gravy.


French Onion Pan Gravy

  • Servings: 3 cups
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced into crescent shapes
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. Herbs de Provence seasoning
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. dry vermouth (or dry white wine)
  • 3 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp. bouillon paste (optional, for richer flavor)

Directions

  1. Heat a large skillet or shallow sauce pot over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and saute the onion crescents until translucent. Season with Herbs de Provence, salt and pepper and continue cooking until onions begin to caramelize.
  2. Sprinkle flour over the onions and add the butter, stirring to melt the butter and evenly coat the onions in roux. Cook until the onions no longer appear dry from the flour, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add dry vermouth to the skillet and stir to deglaze any browned bits. The liquid will probably dissipate rather quickly. Add broth, about half at a time, stirring to distribute evenly. When sauce begins to bubble and thicken, reduce heat to low and cover the skillet. Let it simmer while meatloaf is in the oven.
  4. Just before serving, taste and adjust seasonings. For additional richness, swirl in a heaping teaspoon of bouillon paste.
  5. Plate a ladle-ful of gravy, and top it with slices of the brie and mushroom-stuffed meatloaf.



“It Takes Two” Spaghetti & Meatballs with Sausage

Terrie asked me to write about our adventures in cooking in the new kitchen, what it’s like to share space with her now that our renovation makes that less difficult, and specifically this fabulous Italian meal that we made together on a recent Sunday.


But as a starting point, I want to share a little about how this came to be our house. I actually moved into this house on Sept. 30, 2006. It was amid divorce—and I’d found the house, a three-bed, two-bath ranch with a bonus “loft” room—while searching with my daughter as we looked for a place zoned for the high school she wanted to attend two years hence. This was my fifth house as an adult. I’d lived in each of the others for about five years. When I moved into this one, I was thinking it would be the shortest of all, two or three years before I figured out what I wanted to do long term and would be on the move again.

Yet here I stayed, largely because I liked Winston-Salem and when my newspaper job went away in early 2011, I didn’t feel like chasing journalism anymore. I guess I felt I had accomplished what I wanted to, and I didn’t need the disruption of uprooting to find a job in a profession that was constantly shedding jobs, especially of veteran editors like myself who were paid more. So I left journalism and wound up taking communications/marketing jobs, and through two of those, as well as graduate school for my new chosen profession (clinical mental health counseling), I stayed.

Through the growing relationship with Terrie, who moved in Thanksgiving 2016, I stayed.

We began to look for an “our house,” but everything we looked at was either too expensive or didn’t have the yard or neighborhood that would allow our pets the freedom to be outside. Once we decided this is the home where we would make our stand, the decision to fix the major things was easy. First, last spring, was a new roof. Next up was the kitchen, and, having built a house and having remodeled another house (including, principally, the kitchen), I felt confident that we would get what we both desired—more confident, perhaps, than Terrie was at first.

So now it’s done. And it is, indeed, beautiful, as you have seen in some of Terrie’s posts to date. If you missed it, you’ll want to circle back and check out the big reveal of our new kitchen. Although we have frequently been in the kitchen together (that was the point, after all, behind much of the work), this meal was the first collaborative dish we’ve made in the new kitchen. And I had the “lead” role for this meal, doing something I love to do—cook Italian food. I suggested this meal to Terrie because I knew we had a good amount of leftover Italian sausage in the refrigerator from the Sausage and Cherry Pepper Pizza we’d recently made (it has been in hot rotation since our trip to New Haven).

One of the things I’ve learned to do during my seven years total with Terrie is pick up techniques that make a meal better. I love how she can elevate a meal, and though I am sometimes timid to try some of the more advanced techniques, I don’t mind an occasional foray into the unknown (for me). So the main thing I did differently this time was to use Terrie’s immersion blender (I guess by now I should call that “our” immersion blender) to smooth the sauce. But you can get all the details below in the recipe portion. My big share is about how the new kitchen works as a shared space during a meal we prepare together. My point of view is that the day went swimmingly.

I had the primary two stations on either side of the stove as I went from prepping vegetables and sauté work on the right of the stove to prepping and cooking the sausages and meatballs on the left. All the while I was working, and it was about 90 minutes, Terrie was at her new baking station in the bistro section of the room, preparing the homemade pasta, using tools of her trade that worked better in the new space (especially a larger overhanging ledge to clamp her pasta machine, as well as the maple surface).


We didn’t get in each other’s way once! Now, I will say that as we keep working, we’ll be closer together, but the new kitchen takes care of that, too. If Terrie works the two stations on either side of the stove, I have a nice new long station on the left side of our kitchen sink, available thanks to some minor re-arranging of space in the room. With taller, roomier cabinets, we’ve been able to de-clutter the countertops, thus creating the three clearly defined workspaces, which doesn’t even include the baking station, in effect a fourth workspace.

I’m looking forward to many other dual-prepared meals, as well as my typical role of sous chef, aide and kibitzer-in-chief; I now fulfill the latter role from my perch at our new bistro table next to the baking station.

Next up in transforming this house I’ve lived in since 2006 into “our house?” The master bath remodel, on tap for a March start. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the post about us cooking together there. But trust me, we will.

We’re staying.


Les’s Italian Sauce with Sausage and Meatballs

The ingredients and steps are all listed in the PDF Terrie has attached at the end of the post, but we hope you enjoy seeing our adventure.

I’ve seen Terrie use an immersion blender on everything from soups to mac and cheese sauces. I decided to try it here, and processed my Italian sauce until smooth. I had vegetable stock on hand to help with blending the thick sauce. Then, I added the cooked meatballs and sausage to the pot and simmered until the pasta was ready.

Any kind of long pasta would be great with this sauce, but we enjoyed it on Terrie’s handmade pasta. This was her first experience with making pasta in the new baking station. The rest of this story is hers.


Terrie’s Roasted Garlic Pasta Dough

Welcome to my happy place. ❤

Of all the foods I make from scratch, handmade pasta is one of the most rewarding. As with so many things that once seemed intimidating to me, this is all about practice and repetition, and once you develop a feel for it, store-bought pasta loses its appeal. Besides the cool factor of DIY-ing this versatile food, I find it deeply therapeutic to transform flour, water and egg into a dough that can be stretched so thin and turned into noodles, all under my own hand. It’s awesome, and having a dedicated space in our new kitchen makes it even better.

I like to add fun flavors to my standard pasta dough, and this time I went for roasted garlic, blended right into the dough to complement Les’s rich Italian sauce. If you are already making your own pasta, I hope you find the roasted garlic a tasty addition. If you aren’t, or if you’re new to the process of pasta making, I encourage you to check out my posts for lemon-herb pasta or spinach-ricotta ravioli, as I offer more in-depth instruction there for making and working the dough. This time, I’m focusing mainly on the flavor and formula.

To infuse the roasted garlic into the dough, I pureed it together with egg and water, then pressed it through a small mesh strainer to keep the chunky solids from messing up the dough. I strengthened the dough by rolling it through my pasta machine, as usual, but used a chitarra for the first time to cut the dough into strands. Here’s how it went!


Putting it all together

Time for dinner! The sauce was quietly simmering on the stove, so the timing was dependent on the pasta. Fresh, handmade pasta cooks much more quickly than dried, store-bought, so it’s best to have everything you need for serving lined up and ready to go before you begin.


It takes two, Baby, me and you! ❤


Lentil Mushroom Wellington

Thanksgiving is the favored holiday at our house. My husband, Les, and I both love preparing the traditional meal and we made an agreement early in our relationship to alternate responsibility for the turkey. We love having friends and family at the table and, more often than not, the friends outnumber the family members by at least two-to-one. I have no children, and Les’s two adult kids can’t always make it. His son, Alex, lives and works in Europe, and has only been here for one holiday season since I’ve known him. His daughter, Sydney, lives two hours away in the mountains of North Carolina, but she also sometimes has her own plans with her mother’s family or her friends. When she is able to join us, though, I have more than a few adjustments to make to the menu because Syd is vegan.

If the idea of having a vegan at the holiday table scares you, then I hope this recipe brings some relief. It most certainly will bring some big Thanksgiving flavor, and everyone at our table—vegan or otherwise—has asked for seconds. One of my friends, a regular guest at our Thanksgiving table, has been begging me for almost two years to share this recipe, so she is probably screaming right now to finally see it on my blog (you’re welcome, Linda). 😉

There’s so much texture and flavor, you will never miss the meat.

You might wonder, “why not just share it with your friend after the first request instead of making her wait?” Linda (who is not a vegan) has been asking the same, and the reason is simple—I didn’t actually have a recipe for it. As I have said many times about my way of cooking, I develop recipes by instinct (otherwise known as flying by the seat of my pants), and it has only been since I began blogging that I have bothered to write down how much of what goes into most of my dishes. The first time I made this lentil mushroom wellington, I couldn’t even quite remember all the ingredients so there was no possibility of describing it to someone else. But just after Christmas last year, I made the dish again when Syd came for a post-holiday visit—and on that occasion, I kept my notes—but I didn’t post it on the blog right away because the holidays were over at that point and I doubted that anyone would want to make a fuss over such a showstopper without a special occasion. It isn’t exactly a quick weeknight recipe.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this dish does take time and effort, though none of it is difficult. If you wish to make it for Thanksgiving, perhaps for a vegan guest at your table, the good news is that almost all of it can be done in advance. You will find most of the ingredients familiar—cooked lentils, rice blend, cremini mushrooms, kale, sweet potatoes and (vegan) puff pastry—and I’ll describe in more detail how I put the whole thing together and even gave it a faux “egg wash” before baking, to give it a golden crust while keeping it plant-based.

Now, with the holidays upon us, the timing is right and I have a written-down recipe to share. So for Linda, and anyone else who wants to enjoy a pretty, entirely plant-based meal that still captures the essence of Thanksgiving, here is my recipe for the lentil mushroom wellington. Enjoy!

Arrange the whole mushrooms inside the wellington for a beautiful sliced presentation inside the flaky crust.

Ingredients

1 cup uncooked lentils, rinsed and picked over* (see notes)

3/4 cup uncooked brown rice or rice blend

32 oz. carton low-sodium vegetable broth

1 or 2 bay leaves

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size cubes

Extra virgin olive oil*

1 leek, cleaned and sliced (white and light green parts only)*

1 rib celery, strings removed and chopped

1 tsp. umami seasoning blend (Trader Joe’s “Mushroom & Company”)*

A fat handful of kale leaves, washed and chopped

6 to 8 large whole mushrooms, cleaned*

Liquid from a can of chickpeas (use low-sodium; reserve the chickpeas for another use)

1 Tbsp. milled flax seed*

1/4 cup pecan pieces, toasted

3 Tbsp. hemp hearts

A pinch (or two) of dried thyme leaves (or several sprigs of fresh thyme, if you have it)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 sheet puff pastry (choose one with plant-based ingredients, such as Wewalka or Pepperidge Farm)

Flour to dust the countertop

Small handful (about 1/4 cup) of panko bread crumbs


For brushing, in place of egg wash:

1 Tbsp. plant milk, such as almond or soy

1 Tbsp. real maple syrup

1 Tbsp. canola or avocado oil


*Notes

I use a lentil blend, which includes green, red and black beluga lentils. If you choose a single type of lentil, I would recommend using the green ones. Cook the lentils in vegetable broth rather than plain water. Why miss a chance to add flavor?

My go-to olive oil this time of year is the wild mushroom and sage-infused oil found in specialty olive oil and balsamic vinegar stores. But any olive oil is fine, or substitute canola oil or a favorite plant-based butter, if you prefer.

If using leeks, be sure to clean them properly to remove all traces of grit between layers. Drain and pat completely dry on layers of paper towel before sautéing. If preferred, substitute 1 medium sweet or yellow onion.

The umami seasoning blend is a product sold at Trader Joe’s, and its flavors include dried mushroom, onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. If you can’t buy it, you can substitute with a combination of onion powder, garlic powder and a couple shakes of red pepper flakes, plus a pinch of salt. You might also want to mince up a couple of mushrooms to sauté with the kale or leeks to add earthy flavor to the lentil loaf.

Flax seeds are loaded with Omega-3 fats and very good for heart health, but you may not know that our bodies only reap that benefit when the seeds have been milled. You can buy flax seed already milled, but keep it fresh in a tightly sealed container in the fridge or freezer. I purchase bags of whole flax seeds and use my blade-style coffee grinder to mill it a little at a time as I need it. For this recipe, it’s essential for the flax to be milled because it will be used in place of an egg as a binding agent.

I chose a combination of cremini mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms for this recipe. Use the largest ones you can find; mine were each about the size of a silver dollar. Clean the mushrooms as suggested in the slideshow before sautéing them.

There are many components to this recipe, and I believe it is helpful to break it down into manageable tasks over two days, beginning with preparation of the lentils, rice, sweet potato and vegetable mixtures (steps 1-6). On the second day, you can relax and focus on assembling and baking the dish.

Helpful tools for this recipe: food processor or small blender, rolling pin, pastry brush.


Instructions

  1. Cook lentils according to package instructions, using low-sodium vegetable broth in place of some or all of the water. During simmer, add a bay leaf to the pot. Drain excess liquid when lentils reach desired tenderness. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely. Add salt to taste.
  2. Cook rice according to package instructions, using low-sodium vegetable broth in place of some or all of the water. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely. Add salt to taste.
  3. Toss the cubed sweet potatoes with enough olive oil to lightly coat all sides. Spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 400° F until they can be pierced with the tip of a paring knife and are only slightly firm to the bite. Cool completely.
  4. Sauté leeks (or onions) and chopped celery in a tablespoon of olive oil. Season with umami seasoning (or recommended substitute) and black pepper. When vegetables are tender and have given up their moisture, transfer to a bowl and cool completely.
  5. Swirl another teaspoon or so of oil into the skillet and sauté the chopped kale until it has softened and reduced somewhat in volume. Resist the urge to cook the kale together with the onions; it will be used as a bed for the lentil mixture, not as part of the filling.
  6. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Arrange the mushrooms topside down, in the skillet, and then cook until the tops are browned and tender. Turn them over and sauté the underside. The mushrooms should give off a good bit of their moisture, but not to the point of shriveling. Lay them on layered paper towels to cool, allowing excess moisture to drain from the underside.
  7. To assemble the mixture, gather up all the prepared components from steps 1 to 6. In a small saucepan, heat the liquid drained from the chickpeas over medium low heat. Simmer until it is reduced in volume to about 1/4 cup. Transfer the liquid to a bowl and stir in the milled flax seed. Let this mixture rest for at least 20 minutes. It will thicken up into a gel-like substance.
  8. Transfer about 1/3 cup of the cooked lentils and about 1/4 cup of the cooked rice to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add the flax mixture to the bowl and pulse a few times until the mixture has the consistency of a loose porridge.
  9. In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining lentils, rice, sweet potatoes, leek-celery mixture, toasted pecans and hemp hearts. Toss them all together. Give this mixture a final taste and adjust salt to your liking. Sprinkle thyme leaves and give the pepper mill a few twists over the mixture. Add the full amount of flax binder and fold to combine this mixture well. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  10. Preheat oven to 400° F, with oven rack slightly lower than center, so that the wellington will rest squarely in the center of the heat.
  11. Thaw puff pastry (if using frozen) according to package instructions. *Note: when working with puff pastry, do your best to work quickly to keep the pastry from getting warm. Sprinkle flour onto the counter and use a rolling pin to smooth out wrinkles and slightly enlarge the rectangle.
  12. Spread panko crumbs over the center of the puff pastry, then layer the cooked kale on top of it. This will be a bed for the lentil mixture, and the crumbs will help absorb excess moisture so the puff pastry doesn’t become soggy on the bottom.
  13. Scoop about half of the lentil mixture onto the kale, shaping it into an oblong mound like a meatloaf. Arrange the mushrooms in a tight line down the center, pressing them slightly into the lentil mixture. Shape the remaining lentil mixture over the mushrooms.
  14. Use a paring knife to trim off the square corners of the puff pastry, leaving them rounded to match the shape of the lentil loaf. Use a cookie cutter on the scrap corners to make embellishments for the top of the wellington. Score the long sides of the puff pastry into strips, about 1 ½ inches apart. These will fold over the top of the lentil loaf, kind of like shoelaces over a sneaker. Turn up both ends of puff pastry to enclose the ends of the lentil loaf, then carefully fold the strips in alternating order across the top. Tuck in any loose edges.
  15. Transfer the wellington to a parchment-lined, heavy cookie sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together plant milk, maple syrup and oil. Brush this mixture evenly over all exposed puff pastry, including down the sides. This will produce a beautiful golden color on the baked wellington.
  16. Bake for 45-50 minutes, rotating pan once after 25 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring to a serving platter. Cut into thick slices and serve on individual plates with vegan mushroom gravy and tangy lemon-pomegranate Brussels sprouts. And don’t worry, I’ll have those recipes for you later this week.
Kinda makes you want to go vegan, right?


Authentic Arroz con Pollo

If you do an internet search for “authentic arroz con pollo recipe,” you will get at least a dozen pages of results, with very few duplicates. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Some of the ingredients are consistent across the recipes, but there are many variations and even the pictures can look dramatically different. The reason there are so many “real” arroz con pollo recipes is that there are many, many Hispanic grandmothers passing down their own recipes. And this dish—which is not definitively native to a single country or people—has become a blend of whatever ingredients are available in all the regions where those grandmothers have lived and cooked.

My previous experience of arroz con pollo—or “ACP,” as it is usually listed on many of our local Mexican restaurant menus—has not been completely positive, and that’s because here in the South, the recipe has morphed into an “Americanized” dish that is oozing with cheese and basically bland (it’s a rare instance of a dish being too much about the cheese, in my opinion). And that is a shame because at its roots, arroz con pollo has a lot going on!  

Recently, I had a front-row seat to watch and learn the authentic, real-deal Puerto Rican version of this flavorful dish. During our vacation up north, my husband and I spent a few days on Long Island, where we visited his cousin, Evan. To my good fortune, Evan’s husband, Will, became my own personal “ACP” instructor! His mother hails from P.R. and his father is of Spanish heritage, so Will has good reason to be passionate about this dish that is representative of his family. We had a joyful afternoon in the kitchen!

Will took the day off work to teach me how to make ACP. Love you, Sweetheart! ❤

Throughout this private cooking lesson, Will shared with me all the culinary wisdom handed down to him from his mother, who learned it from her mother, and so on. Because this was an authentic Puerto Rican variation of arroz con pollo, it was packed with layers of flavor, beginning with Sazón and finishing with saffron, and all in one giant pot, called a “caldero.” The pictures of Will’s family recipe tell the story far better than I can, so please join us at the stove as we celebrate this last day of Hispanic Heritage Month!


Ingredients

First, let’s take a look at the special ingredients that make this dish uniquely Puerto Rican.


Hold up, what exactly is “culantro?”

It can seem a little confusing, so let’s address the difference between cilantro, which most of us are familiar with, and culantro, which is an ingredient in both of these cooking bases. Unlike cilantro, which is wispy and delicate and mostly used to finish or garnish a dish after cooking, culantro is sturdier and stronger, both in texture and flavor. It has a similar flavor to cilantro, but its long, slender leaves are mainly included as a cooked ingredient, and during the cooking process, the hearty flavor calms down a bit. This herb is extremely common throughout the Caribbean, so of course it is a staple in the cuisine of Puerto Rico.

The remaining ingredients for the arroz con pollo included bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, corn oil, onions, peppers, garlic, tomato sauce and rice. I did my best to take notes and catch all the details, but this is the kind of recipe you make from instinct, and that’s exactly how Will prepared it. He was cracking me up as he went along, and reminded me so much of myself—occasionally cursing his stove and fretting about ways that his dish might not turn out perfectly. We are always our own harshest critics in the kitchen, can I get an amen? Trust me, this arroz con pollo was delicious!

Made with love, heart and soul!

At the end of the post, I’ve included a PDF that you can download for your recipe files. You will need to tweak seasonings to suit your taste and adjust cooking times for your own stove, of course, but my outline should provide a good starting point. Here we go!


Instructions

Arroz con Pollo!


Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna

Today marks the beginning of something I’ve been looking forward to, and I don’t mean that my kitchen renovation is underway—we are still waiting, but we do at least have good news today. After a few false starts related to the delivery of our new cabinets, we finally got word from Matt, our contractor: “We have the cabinets!!” So that hurdle is cleared and now the real chaos (the tearing out of the existing kitchen) is slated to begin on Friday (Yay)!

The delay gave me enough time to whip up a few dishes that I would have otherwise missed, including this one, which is a flavorful shout out to the significance of this day.

What I’m referring to is Autumn Equinox, otherwise known as the first full day of fall, but affectionately known at my house as the start of soup and stew season, the unpacking of my favorite sweaters, the countdown to the first flick of the switch on the gas fireplace, and the return of the hot toddy, and I am loving all of the above.

In fact, it feels like the perfect time to introduce you to one of my favorite homemade autumn-themed dishes, this butternut squash lasagna, which I first started making almost 10 years ago. This comforting casserole is layered, not with Italian seasonings or tomatoes or mozzarella, but with flavorful, seasonal vegetables, including onions and kale, two kinds of mushrooms and oven-roasted butternut squash. Nestled between the vegetable layers you’ll find a lemon-scented ricotta, shredded fontina and a creamy, cheesy bechamel that is spiked with even more butternut squash. It is rich and satisfying, even without meat, and makes my taste buds very happy.

Layer upon layer of comforting fall flavor!

There is nothing complicated about this meal but, like any lasagna, it does take some time to pull together. My suggestion is to break it up into two days; prep the separate components ahead of time, so assembly and baking will be a snap on the second day. The other thing that is great about this dish is that you can customize it to increase the amounts of favorite ingredients and reduce any of the others that are not favorites. If you prefer more squash and less kale, just swap the amounts and change up the layering.


Ingredients

1 medium or large butternut squash, peeled and cubed* (see notes)

1 large bunch curly kale, washed and stripped of heavy stems*

12 oz. fresh mushrooms (I used a combination of cremini and shiitake)

1 medium onion, chopped

14 oz. whole milk ricotta, strained of excess liquid

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

Zest of one lemon (organic is best)

1 large egg

4 Tbsp. butter (either salted or unsalted is fine)

4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

1 bulb roasted garlic

1 cup shredded gouda cheese*

A few shakes ground white pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg (about 6 passes on a microplane)

Enough lasagna noodles or sheets for three layers of it in your preferred pan*

2 cups shredded fontina cheese*

About 1/3 cup grated parm-romano blend


*Notes

Part of the squash will be cubed and roasted, and the rest will be simmered and mashed to be blended into the bechamel. I usually use the smooth neck part of the gourd for roasting, and the round part, which usually appears stringy after cleaning out the seeds, gets boiled and mashed to be added to the bechamel sauce. Keep this in mind as you prep the squash.

For this year’s version of my recipe, I went heavier on the kale than usual. It would be perfectly fine to use half as much, and perhaps double the mushrooms or increase the butternut squash to make up some of the volume. You could also substitute swiss chard or spinach; it all depends on your palate.

I chose Gouda and fontina cheeses for this dish because of their creamy, meltable texture and rich, nutty flavors. Some other cheeses would work well in this dish, including Havarti, Gruyere, raclette, mild white cheddar or Monterey jack. I do not recommend mozzarella, which has too much “pull.” 

Normally, I use a special square lasagna baking dish, but we are in the middle of planning for this remodel, and darned if I can find it! No worries, I pulled out a glass 9 x 13 and it worked great. The noodles do not have to be boiled first; I usually just moisten them for several minutes in hot water while I get everything else into place. If the noodles are layered next to ingredients with plenty of moisture, they will cook just fine.

We are still trying to trim down the pantry, so I used the random lasagna noodles we already had!

Prep the Squash

Divide the squash so that you have uniform cubes from the neck of the squash, which you will toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and then roast at 350°F until evenly browned, about 40 minutes. Allow it to cool on the pan before transferring to a separate bowl. Set aside until you’re ready to assemble the lasagna.

Add the remaining squash (from the bulb end) to a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until fork tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.


Prep the Kale

Strip the heavy stems and wash the kale leaves. Working in batches, pulse handfuls of the kale about six times in a food processor, until kale is a fine texture. Sauté in olive oil until wilted and lightly browned on some of the edges. Just before cooking the last batch, sauté the chopped onion in the skillet first, then add kale. Season this final batch with salt and pepper and combine with previously cooked kale. Set aside.


Prep the Mushrooms

Clean and dry the mushrooms, then trim the stems and slice evenly. Brown the mushrooms, about one-third at a time, in olive oil. Season the last batch with salt, pepper and a few sprinkles of dried thyme leaves. Combine all mushrooms in a separate bowl and set aside.


Prep the Ricotta Mixture

Drain the ricotta in a mesh strainer over a bowl. Stir occasionally to evenly strain the excess liquid from the cheese. Different brands will release varying amounts of liquid, but 30 minutes should do it. Discard the drained liquid. Add lemon zest, fresh garlic and black pepper to the ricotta. Stir in egg. Set aside for now if you’re working ahead.


Make the Bechamel

Remember, this is just a fancy French word that means “thickened cream sauce.” It’s easy to make! I prefer to make the bechamel just before assembling the lasagna, but if you are pressed for time, it’s fine to make it ahead and then re-heat in a pot until it is a smooth, pourable consistency. There are several steps for this component, and several flavorful add-ins, so I’ll describe it in pictures.

Heat a large sauce pot over medium heat. Add butter until melted. Whisk in flour and cook until it is bubbly, lightly browned and fragrantly nutty. Add the milk, about half at a time, whisking the first amount until smooth before adding the rest. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thickened and bubbly. Whisk in about 2/3 cup of the mashed butternut squash and cook until heated through. Stir in shredded gouda, whisking until melted. Use an immersion blender, if you have one, to blend the bechamel sauce to a super-smooth consistency. This is not an essential step, but I love the silky texture that is achieved with the blender. Keep the sauce warm enough to be pourable and spreadable for assembling the lasagna.


Assemble and Bake

Ladle about 1/2 cup of the butternut-bechamel sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Then, layer the individual components as follows:


Cover casserole with plastic wrap or foil and allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes, to give the noodles time to absorb some of the moisture from the other ingredients. Preheat oven to 350°F, with rack in center position.

Remove wrap or foil and bake about 45 minutes, or until layers are bubbly throughout and cheese on top is browned in several places.

Let the lasagna rest about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.




Handmade Spinach Ricotta Ravioli

Of all the things to be excited about when our kitchen remodel is finished, I’m especially looking forward to having my pasta rolling machine closer at hand. We have what we call the “prime real estate” rule in our existing kitchen, which means that we must use a gadget or appliance more than a couple times each week to justify giving it counter space or base cabinet storage. Everything else is relegated to the baker’s rack in the attached garage, or atop the wall cabinets in our laundry room.

See it way up there? Next to the spiralizer, my grain mill and underneath the deadly mandoline.

My pasta machine, which I only use once every few months, lives way up there, mere inches from the ceiling. I can only reach it if I stand on tippy toes on the top step of our stepladder—it is inconvenient, to say the least. And I have not pressed very hard on the argument that if I could actually reach the thing, I might use it more often, thereby earning its spot in the better real estate. It’s a catch-22 kind of thing, and a real shame because I love to make handmade pasta.

But my deepest pasta prayers will be answered with the installation of a brand-new section of cabinetry in this unused corner of our kitchen, right next to the huge sunny window. It will be my own special space—a baking station—and the cabinets and drawers will give me all the space I need for my favorite gadgets, including the pasta machine, plus a lovely butcher block countertop where I will make pasta (and sourdough bread) to my heart’s content. I cannot wait!

Am I the only one who hears angels singing?

And in preparation for that time, I have been getting in some practice rounds with handmade pasta, due in part to my purchase of this amazing how-to book. The author of Pasta, Pretty Please, Linda Miller Nicholson, describes her recipes for brilliantly hued handmade pasta dough, flavored and colored with pure, natural ingredients, and then shaped with the most clever and creative techniques. Linda is all over Facebook, YouTube and Instragram with her craft, and you can count me among those who are utterly enthralled by her incredible, edible art. Feast your eyes!

Amazing, right??


The impatient side of me wants to dive head first into the most complex shapes, designs and colors, but I am restraining and pacing myself—partly so that I don’t get frustrated with techniques that I don’t yet understand, and partly because there is only so much pasta that my husband, Les, and I can consume in a week. If I made as much pasta as my heart desired, we’d be in major carb overload!

But I am practicing, both with the natural color ingredients and some of the special shaping. I’m happy to share a sneak peek of my progress, and then I’ll dive into the recipe that I promised at the beginning.


Stay tuned for more progress as I go. Until then, let’s talk about this handmade spinach pasta, lovingly wrapped around an easy ricotta and parm-romano filling. I will not be so smug as to imply that handmade pasta is a cinch (because it does take practice), but I will absolutely say that it is worth the effort, and if you have made pasta before, you can make a couple of simple changes to twist up the flavor and color, and you will impress even yourself with the outcome. I’ve made colored and flavored pasta many times before—with spinach, butternut squash, sun-dried tomato, lemon and dried mushrooms as ingredients—but I have already learned some new tricks from Linda Miller Nicholson, and I am excited to share them with you.

For starters, her instruction shifted me away from extensive kneading of the dough to a simpler means of laminating the dough to build gluten strength. Laminating means “layers.” After a brief kneading and a half-hour rest, you repeatedly fold the sheets of dough onto itself, layer upon layer, as you run it through the pasta machine. As you go, the dough becomes more and more supple and strong enough to withstand pressing into thin sheets for ravioli. This is good news for anyone who finds kneading tedious or painful.

Next, the color of the pasta can be intensified with a simple addition of baking soda in the blanching water for any vegetables you use to color up your dough; then, a quick straining through a mesh sieve weeds out the solids for a cleaner-looking dough. In the past, I have simply wilted spinach in a pan and pureed it into my dough. My previous results were good, but not this good.

I am astonished at how bright green the color remains, even after cooking. The baking soda trick when blanching the spinach really makes a difference.

And my filling is improved also, simply because I took a few extra minutes to drain excess moisture from the ricotta before mixing the filling. More advice from Linda, and it worked like a charm. Oh, it pays to stay curious!


The dough

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour* (see notes)

2 large eggs, room temperature (plus water, as noted in the instructions)

A fat handful of fresh baby spinach leaves, washed

1 tsp. baking soda (in the blanching water, not the dough)

1 Tbsp. kosher salt (also for the blanching water)


The filling

15 oz. container of whole fat ricotta

1/3 cup parm-romano blend (or grated parmesan)

1 egg yolk

Zest of 1/2 lemon

A few grates of fresh nutmeg


*Notes

As always, be sure you measure the flour properly so that your dough is not dense. Use the fluff, sprinkle, level method if measuring by volume. For less fuss and greater precision, measure it by weight—270 grams.

The very best flour to use for pasta is Italian 00 milled flour or finely milled durum (semolina), which is my favorite. But both can be tricky to find. For the sake of practice, I have been using King Arthur all-purpose flour, and I have had excellent results so far. If you sub in any amount of whole wheat flour, increase the water a bit as well.


Instructions

Here, I will run through the instructions in pictures, as usual. At the end of the post, you’ll find a PDF available for download, so you can print it for your recipe files. 🙂

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the salt and baking soda and stir briefly to dissolve. Toss in the baby spinach and stir it around for 15 seconds. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the spinach and place it in a mesh strainer to drain excess water.
  2. Transfer the spinach to a regular or bullet blender, together with the eggs. Pulse blend a few times, and then run the blender continuously until the mixture is evenly mixed.
  3. Pour the pureed mixture through a mesh strainer over a glass measuring cup. Press the puree through to strain out the solids, and then add enough water to the mixture in the glass to measure exactly 3/4 cup.
  4. In a large bowl, stir a generous pinch of salt into the flour and create a well in the center of the flour. Pour in the pureed spinach mixture and mix with a spoon until a clumpy mixture comes together. Knead with your hands in the bowl or turn the dough out onto a countertop and knead several times until all flour is incorporated and no dry spots remain.
  5. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before rolling. You may also refrigerate the dough for several hours or even a day. I’ve found this formula for pasta dough to be very forgiving.

Make the ricotta filling while you rest the pasta dough

Strain the ricotta in a mesh strainer (lined with cheesecloth if you have it) over a medium bowl. Let the ricotta drain for at least 30 minutes. Stir in parm-romano, egg yolk, lemon zest and nutmeg. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the mixture into a plastic bread bag for easy piping. Refrigerate mixture while you roll out the pasta dough.


Sheet the pasta and fill the ravioli

  1. Divide the dough into sections, keeping most of them wrapped as you work on one. Use a rolling pin or the heel of your hand to press the first section into a flat oval. Run it through the pasta machine on the thickest setting, folding it into thirds like an envelope and then run it through again. If it sticks, dust both sides with flour. When the dough reaches a very supple stage, adjust the setting knob one notch per run, until the dough reaches the desired thinness. For ravioli, I recommend using the thinnest or second-thinnest setting.
  2. Let the pasta sheet rest, uncovered, on the floured counter for about 10 minutes before filling with ricotta filling. This gives the pasta time to tighten up a bit for easier shaping.
  3. If you are making ravioli without a mold, squeeze 1 1/2 teaspoon-sized dollops of ricotta filling onto one long side of the pasta sheet. Space the dollops about 2 inches apart, allowing room to seal up the pillows on all sides. Dip a finger into a small bowl of water and slightly moisten the dough in between ricotta dollops and along the long edge.
  4. Fold the dough over the ricotta dollops, taking care to keep the edges aligned. Carefully press out any air pockets, starting from the folded edge, then in between dollops. Seal the open edge last to ensure no air bubbles are trapped.
  5. Use a pizza wheel or sharp knife to trim any ragged edges. Cut between the raviolis and transfer them to a semolina- or flour-dusted parchment paper. Allow the ravioli to dry for at least an hour before cooking.

To cook handmade ravioli, bring salted water to a gentle boil. Carefully transfer ravioli, taking care not to overcrowd the pot. Fresh pasta cooks much more quickly than dried or frozen, so keep an eye on it and prepare to rescue it from the pot after about four minutes.

Serve with any favorite sauce. I made the simplest marinara with sauteed onions and garlic, my own Italian spice blend and canned San Marzano tomatoes, plus a splash of cream.



Want to make it even easier?

A ravioli mold makes this work much simpler. I bought a set of three different shapes for about $20, also at TJMaxx.


For the record, I bought Linda Miller Nicholson’s book with my own hard-earned money. This is not a paid advertisement for Linda, but I cannot help sharing my discovery of her work because she is just awesome. You can pick up a copy of Pasta, Pretty Please at the bookstore or on Amazon, but I bought it directly from Linda’s website, called Salty Seattle. If you buy the book directly from Linda, she will even sign it for you. 🙂

Oh, Linda, I most definitely will!