Sunday, November 18, 2012


I'm not going to enter the to-brine or not-to-brine debate. I have no opinions about spatchcocking (though it's fun to say the word out loud ten times in row). I've basted with hefeweizen, IPA, sake, Chardonnay, Lillet Blanc, chicken stock, vegetable stock, and butter. They all work beautifully. And just for the record, deep-frying one of those motherfuckers looks pretty awesome but I wouldn't attempt it with a Dash-like creature anywhere near my house.

Lucky for you, everyone else out there this week is telling you how to cook turkeys. I'm way more comfortable discussing side dishes. Here are some thoughts about the vegetables we've been cooking and really enjoying. Yes. Even the kids. Well. Sort of. Amazing what bribing for those final pieces of Halloween candy will do.

If you're new to cooking fall vegetables, here's all you need to know: it's almost impossible to mess them up. Delicate spring and summer vegetables, like green beans and asparagus, can go from crispy perfect to airplane food in a matter of minutes. Not so with squash, eggplants, turnips, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes, which benefit from all kinds of time in the oven. You can even forget about them for a half an hour and nothing bad will happen. No need for a kitchen timer. Just keep peeking, poking, and tasting every 20 minutes or so.

Remove them from the oven when desired gooeyness (eggplant) or tenderness (squash) or caramelization (Brussels sprouts) or crispiness (potatoes) is reached. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs. Maybe some crème fraîche. Serve as a side dish.

Or savor throughout the week sliced on pizza, tossed with pasta, stirred into risotto, or smeared on toasted baguette with a sprinkle of salt and a splash of olive oil. And at the end of the week, gather up all of the remaining scraps and eat them warmed and scattered over a bowl of buttery polenta. That's what we did. And now we're so sick of vegetables that we're heading back into another run of breakfast food. Blintzes, to be precise.

Here are some specifics and variations.

The most important thing to know about eggplant is that it's nasty when it's undercooked.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

When your children aren't looking, make a paste out of six anchovy fillets and six cloves of garlic with a mortar and pestle.
Coat the bottom of a baking dish with a slick of olive oil.

Remove stems and cut eggplants lengthwise into eighths or so (if they're small, just cut them in half).

Score inner flesh with paring knife and place skin-side down in pan.

Use your hands to smear eggplant with the anchovy/garlic paste, tucking it deep down into the scored flesh.

Add salt (not too much, anchovies are already very salty) and pepper.

Scatter some unpeeled garlic cloves around the pan.

Add some more olive oil and maybe some sprigs of fresh thyme.

Place in preheated oven.

Keep an eye on it, be patient, it can take almost an hour and a half to cook. I know. Crazy. Trust me.

Cover with tin foil if it starts to get too brown.

It's done when it's sweet, soft, and gooey, without a trace of sponginess left.

Serve right away or reheat later.

Garnish with chopped mint and parsley.
The most exciting thing about delicata and kabocha squash is that you can eat the peel.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Remove the stems, cut the squash in half, scrape out the seeds and pulp.

Place halves skin-side down in a baking dish and sprinkle insides with salt and pepper.

Coat with generous amounts of olive oil and thick or reduced balsamic vinegar. Do not use thin balsamic because it will soak into the squash, creating a mealy texture and an ugly color.

Toss in some fresh sage and a handful of unpeeled garlic cloves.

Bake in preheated oven until squash is tender and scoopable. Serve right away or reheat later. 
Preheat your oven to 425 °F.

Use a large sheet pan or baking dish so that everything has room to get nice and crispy.

Here's what I threw onto my sheet pan: unpeeled garlic cloves, sage, rosemary, thyme, halved Brussels sprouts (funky outer leaves removed), quartered Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered turnips, thinly sliced leeks, and quartered lemons. Make sure potatoes and turnips are cut to about the same size.

Be really generous with the salt, pepper, and olive oil; use your hands to make sure everything is well coated.

Keep checking and tossing the vegetables about so that they cook evenly.

Bake until the leeks caramelize and the vegetables are just cooked through and golden brown.

It's even okay to let things burn a bit. 

Serve with Horseradish Crème Fraîche (freshly grated horseradish and chopped parsley mixed into crème fraîche). 

Thursday, November 8, 2012


I usually eat coffee for breakfast. But it's impossible for me to resist a hot Dutch baby pancake, whether it's dripping in brown butter, showered with powdered sugar and lemon, scattered with pockets of caramelized jam, or filled with lemon zest and blackberries.

We made Dutch baby pancakes every single day last week. By day seven, I started to unravel.

I woke up, pulled on my favorite black skinny jeans, and couldn't button them up. At all.

Then, I found myself kneeling down in front of the oven yelling at the Dutch baby du jour (caramel praline) to "Rise, you motherfucker. Rise." And when it deflated and collapsed in on itself, I grabbed my iPhone and Googled "ovulation and Dutch babies." I didn't find a single example of ovulatory hormones impacting a Dutch baby pancake's ability to rise. But I did learn a lot about fertility in the Netherlands.

I took the sad Dutch baby out of the oven, sat down on the floor, and started daydreaming about slow-cooked pork with fennel and honey. And vegetables. Lots of leafy green vegetables.

My son ran into the kitchen, saw the Dutch baby, and yelled out, "What the heck is wrong with it? It's flat! Mama? What. Did. You. Do."

"Dash. I don't know. They are so unpredictable. I think I should have added the praline at the end."

He crawled into my lap and started palpating my neck and chin, counting every ridge, pore, discoloration, tracing the wrinkles around my eyes. "One two three four five six seven wow mama eight nine ten too many to count."

I swatted his hands away.

"But look at that amazing line between your eyebrows. I want lines on my face. When will I get them?"

"Dash, they will come when you're older. I promise."

"Like 20?"

"No. My age. 42. These special ones come from worry."

I brought his forehead to mine and we began a Sunday morning chat about what a stressful week it had been. From the hurricane to the the upcoming election to the civil war in Syria to the crazy neighbor who won't put her ferocious dog on a leash. And most of all how much we wanted to gather up our friends in New York City and feed them Dutch baby pancakes.

"Mama, get your notebook. Let's write down what we learned this week."

"Dash, you're a good little recipe tester."

"I'm not little."

Feel free to skip the details and jump straight to the recipe. But for those of you interested in geeking out on the recipe-testing details, here's what we made, learned, and ate last week:

1. On Monday, we improvised. Some flour, some eggs, pinch of salt, whole milk, and vanilla extract all went into the food processor and then into a very hot cast iron pan filled with melted butter. It was a bit cakey and cracked. And the bottom was too firm. We still ate the whole thing.
2. Tuesday. We used less flour and added 1/4 cup crème fraîche. I got the pan hotter and threw in a bit more butter. I brought the oven temp down to 425°F. Success. It was lighter. And the crème fraîche gave it a wonderful sour flavor.
3. Wednesday. Same batter. Same temperature. We added a teaspoon of lemon zest. We found blackberries in the freezer and bashed the hell out of them with the meat cleaver until we had frozen berry powder. This pancake tasted like August.
4.We scattered Thursday's with chocolate chips. The day after Halloween. For breakfast. Bad mama.
5. On Friday, I dragged spoonfuls of raspberry and apricot jam through the batter. The pancake was filled with hot pockets of fruit.
6. On Saturday, I went on an unnecessary savory Dutch baby detour. As my daughter pointed out, "It's a pancake, mama. Why would you ruin it with cheese? That just sucks." But I'm a stubborn mama and it was just two days after Halloween and I thought that my kids could use a day off from all the sugar.

If there's any interference, a Dutch baby pancake cannot slide up the sides of the pan and float into that marvelous mogul-like terrain. Big chunks of bacon and coarsely grated gruyère cheese turned my experiment into what my son called a "stupid frittata." But I accessorized it with avocado slices and crème fraîche and Sriracha and pretended it was never supposed to be a Dutch baby in the first place.
7. On Sunday, we swirled caramel sauce and praline through the batter. It started to rise and then stopped and caved in on itself. It was tasty but too dense. So we tried again. For the second one, we added the praline towards the end of the cooking time. It puffed. It climbed. It had pockets of caramel and a crispy praline top. Ooey gooey comfort.
printable recipe
serves 3, if you're lucky.

Here's the template. As I've reported, it's not perfect. But it usually works!

Some people say you'll get greater height with room temperature ingredients or leaving the batter out for a few hours or overnight. Others say to try bread flour. Let me know your tricks. My most successful Dutch babies were made from batter that I had just made.

Warning: don't add anything heavy until almost the end of the cooking time (praline, cheese, bacon, chocolate chips).

However, you can swirl jam or caramel sauce or pulverized berries through the raw batter right before cooking.

4 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup crème fraîche (or sour cream)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons salted butter
powdered sugar
maple syrup

Throw your 8 or 9 inch cast iron pan (or ovenproof dish) into the oven. Preheat oven to 425°F. You want your pan to be very hot.

In a food processor or a blender, blend the heck out of the eggs, milk, crème fraîche, flour, salt, and vanilla (30 seconds or so). If you mix it by hand, add the flour in a few batches and mix really well.

Add butter to the hot pan in the oven. Careful. The butter will brown very fast.When just melted, remove pan from the oven, quickly pour in the batter, and put the pan back in the oven. Resist the urge to open the oven. After a few minutes (fingers crossed) the pancake will start to climb up the sides of the pan and puff up in the middle. It's done when the edges are starting to turn brown and the batter is just set in the middle. About two minutes before it's done, you can sprinkle it with powdered sugar, praline, or chocolate chips and they will melt into the surface.

Serve with powdered sugar and lemon. Or warm maple syrup. Or both.