Pimento Cheese Month

I'm going to regret this.  It's late and I've only just started typing.  I rarely see the other side of 10pm these days and here I am, pondering pimento cheese.  

According to Garden & Gun Magazine, the blog Gurgling Cod has declared November is National Pimento Cheese Awareness Month and who am I to argue?  I saw this month as a perfect time to declare my love and I found the stars aligned on this particular topic for several reasons:
  1. It started many Thanksgivings ago: a fondness for pimento cheese that began with the Kraft Pimento Spread version.  It featured annually in our Thanksgiving dinners, starring in a condiment tray stuffed into celery sticks and sitting next to black olives.  We always had the blue cheese version as well to spice things up.
  2. Earlier this spring, on our road trip to Blackberry Farm, we stopped outside of Lexington Kentucky at The Wallace Station where I feasted on Sammi's Pimiento Cheese Burger.  I dodged bumble bees on their back porch while devouring the treat.
  3. Over the summer, during one of many business trips to San Francisco, my colleague landed us a table at his friend, Scott Youkilis' restaurant, Hog & Rocks.  It turned out the two of us went to IU together and I felt compelled to share one of his dishes since I adored it so much.  Beyond the terrific oysters, lots of pig and a finale of yummy rum, what stood out was his pimento cheese.  I recently begged him for the recipe and made my very own for the first time.  
Pimento cheese is a Southern favorite, and it is the perfect accompaniment to a Sunday in front of the TV watching football and knocking back a few O'Doul's.

This recipe calls for Mahon Reserva, which I found at Whole Foods, but you can substitute it with 1/2 lb of aged cheddar and 1/2 lb of gouda, as Scott suggested.

Pimento Cheese
Adapted from Scott Youkilis at  Hog & Rocks 

1lb Mahon Reserva cheese, grated
1 cup cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups piquillo peppers, minced
2 cups mayonnaise
1 bunch of chives, minced
freshly cracked black pepper
kosher salt to taste

If you can't find the piquillo peppers, try mixing a small jar of pimento peppers and roasted red peppers- both can be found in jars in better supermarkets.

Mix all the ingredients and season to taste.  Serve with crackers or sliced fresh bread (and an O'Doul's Amber, if you're pregnant, like me.)  Please note, beer advocate.com rated O'Doul's Amber a D+ at best, but what do those guys know??

I thought this southern appetizer spread was the perfect pre-cursor to a very Southern-themed Thanksgiving menu that my sister and I are currently preparing for.  Her husband, Andy, is smoking our turkey this year.  It's been tried and tested, so we'll be making many southern dishes to accompany the smokiness- many from Sam Beall's beautiful Blackberry Farm Cookbook.  We'll be doing our best to avoid Stove-top stuffing and too many casseroles with cream of mushroom soup.

Get ready for bacon glazed carrots with wilted Romaine, kale coleslaw with buttermilk - chive dressing, cranberry compote with dried cherries, stewed apples, sausage & cornbread stuffing.  Last but not least- a sweet potato pie.  Oh sweet Tennessee!! Here I come...at least in our hearts and our stomachs from our Thanksgiving table up here in windy Chicago.


Over the moon

I pull this polaroid out of the drawer every autumn.  It's my favorite tree in the neighborhood.  It stands right on the corner of Wolcott and Cornelia and has the most brilliant fall display of all its neighbors.

Indy and I pass it and admire it daily, watching it turn into stunning sunset oranges and finally, right before the cool winds finish it off, chill red.

This autumn, things are a little different.  My walks around the neighborhood are slower.  I'm five months pregnant.  Twenty weeks to be exact.  Martin and I are expecting our first child and we're "over the moon", as Martin would say.

Just like other expectant parents, we're excited and nervous.  I'm tired and growing.  We're getting ready for things to change.  Mostly, I'm lounging around in sweatpants with my best napping buddy:

I am excellent at napping.  I should receive some sort of trophy.  At night, when I'm supposed to be sleeping, I'm tossing and turning trying to navigate body pillows and a dog who's so confused by all the extra pillows that he's taken to sleeping by my head.

Food is a funny thing when you're pregnant, especially for someone who likes to cook and eat as much as I do.  I'm really picky and let's be honest, demanding.  If I'm hungry, I need to eat NOW.  

Like many, I crave dairy.  Milk and milkshakes to be exact.  My Oberweis delivery investment has really been paying off.  During the day, I have been known to send colleagues out on a shake run, treating anyone around me who would fetch me a chocolate/peanut butter shake in between meetings.

Breakfast, lunch and snacks are my specialty.  Dinner- not so much.  By the time 5pm rolls around, I am done.  If I'm in the mood to cook dinner, it's definitely vegetarian and most likely features greens- kale, spinach, swiss chard are all top of my list.  Two of my current faces are:

Breakfast is a whole other story- I love it.  I feel like I might even be eating two breakfasts at the moment. I normally start my day with full fat greek yogurt, some berries, a sprinkle of granola and a squirt of honey.  Full fat yogurt is such a treat.  I might grab a few bites of toast an hour or so later and definitely a generous glass of juice or a smoothie from our fridge at work.

Eggs are absolutely my friend and this scrambled dish is a combination of Bill's Scrambled Eggs and my attempt of getting greens in wherever I can.  Apparently, they don't just appeal to pregnant ladies.  My husband exclaimed that they were his favorite eggs ever when we were digging in last weekend.

Until further notice, most blog posts will be pregnancy friendly.  Sadly, there will most likely not be any cocktail inspirations or wine pairings.  I do promise that anything I have the energy to cook and share will be delicious!

Scrambled Eggs with Spinach and Roasted Garlic
Serves 2

4 organic, free-range eggs
1/3 cup cream
salt and pepper
a few handfuls of spinach
a head of garlic, roasted

First, start by roasting some garlic.  You will obviously not need an entire head of garlic for this, but I like to roast the entire head and then us it in other dishes.  You can take the head of garlic and cut it through the middle.  Preheat the oven to about 375F and drizzle a little olive oil on the garlic.  Roast it until its golden, about 20 or 30 minutes.  You'll be able to pop each piece of garlic out of it's skin and it will crush easily under a fork or your finger.  At this point, the garlic is so sweet and delicious, you can add it to a variety of dishes (chicken, roasted vegetables of any kind) without any overkill.  

Boil a pan of salted water and toss your spinach in, blanching it for a few seconds and draining quickly.  Put the drained spinach on a chopping board with your garlic and chop it roughly.  Add a little salt and pepper to the pile and get on with your eggs.

In a bowl, combine your eggs, the cream and salt & pepper.  Give it a couple of quick stirs with a fork, just breaking the yolks, not beating it too roughly.  Melt some butter in a pan and add your spinach and garlic.  Get it nice and hot, but only for a minute or so.  You want the garlic to stay bright green and retain it's goodness.

Pour in the eggs and scramble over low heat until just done.  Toast some english muffins and top with your eggs.  


Open Windows

As we reach the end of summer, I'm thankful for the following:
  • days that reach only 75 degrees with no humidity to frizz-out my hair
  • open windows
  • wrapping up for a cool summer's night supper on a patio with friends or family
  • warm, sunny walks through the neighborhood with my dog
  • too many golden sweet pear tomatoes to know what to do with
  • this Italian ham and spinach tart
The first evening that I feel a slight chill in the air is when a part of me, that I try to suppress, feels the dread of an inevitable winter. It's hard to imagine the images of snow drifting over the hot, baked top deck where my tomato plant keeps bearing tiny, golden fruits with no signs of stopping. Still, I look forward to the change where light summer meals shift to autumunal comforts.

I think this dish sits smartly on the fence of summer and autumn, although Jamie Oliver places it squarely in his "winter" section of his cookbook. I personally feel like it can fit into any season and therefore, should be celebrated here, right at the end of August.

My version turned out more of a quiche than a tart, but I will attempt to make this thinner and more delicate on the next attempt. That's right, I said next attempt. For those of you who know my cooking well, and let's be honest, the only person who really knows my cooking on a day to day basis is Martin; you'll know that I don't like to make many things twice. Of course I have a few staples that are on repeat, but I grew up in a house where a menu of about 15 dinner meals were in constant rotation. Don't get me wrong, there were some delicious highlights:
  • meatloaf
  • hungarian pork chops with mushrooms and egg noodles
  • tuna surprise (on nights when Mom was frazzled)
  • lasagna
  • mac n' cheese
Yes, it's true. I grew up on the above and mostly ate pop tarts or toaster strudels for breakfast. I did not escape unscathed. In fact, many of you know my affinity for meatloaf, but thank God, I've left the tuna surprise behind.  The moral of this story is that I have a passion for the variety of food in my life. I get bored easily. I will occasionally take down an avocado, cottage cheese and tomatoes as breakfast for weeks on end, but that's where it stops. Dinner is different- it has to remain exciting or I'd be reaching for the cereal instead of cooking up something new.

I also like anything rich and savory, like this tart, along side a crisp, fresh salad with an acidic kick of vinaigrette and a few crunchy apples.  If you're ambitious OR you really want this tart to be top notch, make your own savory shortcrust pastry like I did.

Savory Shortcrust Pastry
Adapted from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver

500g or 2 1/3 cups of organic plain flour
200g or 1 cup of cold lard or butter, cut into cubes
50g or 1/4 cup of freshly grated mature English Cheddar cheese
sea salt
a sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves picked
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
2 large, free-range or organic eggs, beaten
a splash of milk
flour, for dusting

Put the flour, lard, cheese and a generous pinch of sea salt into a food processor and pulse for 20-30 seconds until the mix is crumbly and fine.  Add the rosemary and thyme.  Pour in the eggs and add the milk.  Pulse for a few more seconds until the mix comes together.  Scoop your dough out of the food processor on to a clean, floured work surface and pat it a few times to make it compact- don't knead it.

When you have it flat and round, wrap the dough in cling film and place it in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes.

Italian Ham and Spinach Tart
Adapted from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver
Serves 6-8 

1/2 x savory shortcrust pastry recipe (see above)
a knob of butter
olive oil
3 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
2 cups of fresh spinach, nettles, swiss chard or borage, washed, thick stems removed
a few sprigs of fresh marjoram or oregano, leaves picked and chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups of creme fraiche
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for grating
3 large free range or organic eggs
1 cup of cooked smoked ham, torn into shreds or chopped

First, make your pastry dough (above).  Remove from fridge and place on a floured surface and roll it out with a floured rolling pin into a rectangular shape about 0.5cm or 0.2 inches thick and big enough to line a shallow baking tray about 12x16 inches or 30x40 cm

Grease the tray with butter and line it with the pastry.  Trim ay excess off the edges of the tray and leave half an inch overhang.  Pinch this into a rustic edge - it will also keep it from shrinking.  No need to fill the case with beans or rice before baking it blind.  Prick the pastry all over with a fork and chill in the freezer for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F.  Remove the tray from the fridge and bake your pastry case for 6-8 minutes, until lightly golden.  Next, heat a glug of olive oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the onions on a low heat for 10 minutes until soft and sweet- don't let them color.  Turn up the heat, add the garlic and the spinach and most of the marjoram.  Season lightly and give it a good stir.  Take the pan off the heat when the spinach has wilted (this will only take a few minutes.)

To make the filling, mix the creme fraiche, parmesan, eggs and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Spread the spinach mixture over your pastry case.  Sprinkle over the ham and spoon the creme fraiche mixture over the top, smoothing it with the back of a spoon.  Grate over a generous helping of the Parmesan and sprinkle the rat of the marjoram on top.  Finally, drizzle a little olive oil over it and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

The top will be golden and bubbling and the filling will have set.

Serve with a salad of watercress with a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette with a few thin slices of apples tossed in.



If there is one picture that perfectly describes my infatuation with summer it is this one. A super chilled bottle of Rosé on our top deck in the last of the afternoon sun is bliss. Combined with some of Ina Garten's Parmesan and Thyme Crackers (which no matter how I try, I can't stop the parmesan from bubbling into little polka dots all over the cracker), is a perfect combo.

I feel as if I've spent most of July enjoying the evenings just like this. Things seem to slow down to a crawl. On our evening strolls through the neighborhood with the dog, I can barely get my husband above a shuffle.

When I actually do attempt to cook (and these days, it's been few and far between), I love a good gratin. Especially if it screams summer like this vidalia onion and green tomato version. Truth be told, I currently have a girl crush on Claire Robinson and all of her 5 ingredient fixes. Her recipes are fresh, quick, simple and seasonal. Her chipotle-lime chicken tacos are scrummy served alongside a crunchy red cabbage slaw with this season's freshest grilled corn. They are Martin's favorite.

In the middle of summer, while trying to escape the hottest part of the Chicago summer, a spicy dish like blackened cajun catfish and this gratin seriously hit the spot. As much as I've been scarfing down cool watermelon and salads, this is truly the answer to a homemade summer Sunday supper.

I've currently got some golden cherry tomatoes going crazy on my top deck and as they ripen, I'm collecting enough in a bowl in the fridge to make some mid-week pasta. As much as I adore nothing better than summer-time tomatoes- sliced quickly, sprinkled with some sea salt and a dash of freshly cracked pepper, I do like to cook them as well. Take a look back to this tomato pie, and you won't be sorry.

In the same vein, the following is reason enough to find a few green tomatoes, still un-ripened and ready to mix it up with it's good friends the sweet vidalia onion, cheddar, bacon and golden breadcrumbs. Served it with this spicy cajun catfish or, just on it's own with a big green salad.

Blackened Catfish
Adapted from Claire Robinson

For the Creole butter:
1 stick of unsalted butter, room temp
1 tbsp creole or cajun seasoning
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp freshly cracked pepper
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives

For the fish:
2 lemons, thinly sliced
Creole butter (above)
4 x 8 oz fresh, skinless, boneless catfish fillets
1/4 cup of Creole or cajun seasoning
chives for serving

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a bowl, combine the butter, spice mix, lemon zest and lemon juice, salt, pepper and chives. You can make this ahead and chill it, but bring it back to room temp before using.

Preheat a well-seasoned cast iron skillet or a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. I use my seasoned iron grill that's perfect for this. Line the bottom of a baking dish with the lemon slices and dollop half of the butter evenly over the lemon. Evenly coat the fish fillets with 1 tbsp of the seasoning and cook on the hot skillet for 2 minutes on each side, to really toast and brown the seasoning.

Carefully place the fish on top of the buttered lemon slices and bake until it easily breaks apart with a fork- about 12- 15 minutes. Top each fillet with a spoonful of the butter and serve with a few chives sprinkled on top.

Green Tomato and Vidalia Onion Gratin
Adapted from Claire Robinson

1/4 pound bacon
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 large Vidalia onions, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
4 large green tomatoes, sliced 1/5 inch thick
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
6 oz sharp white Cheddar, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Render the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat. Transfer the cooked bacon to a plate lined with paper towel. Add the bread crumbs to a small bowl and pour 2 tbsps of bacon fat from the skillet into the bowl and stir through. Add the onion rounds to the skillet and cook until golden in color- about 5 minutes each side. You don't want them falling apart, so try not to break up the rounds.

To assemble, overlap the green tomato slices on the bottom of a baking dish (about 9x11). Add the onions on top and repeat until all are used. Season generously with salt and pepper and then crumble the bacon over the veggies. Sprinkle the Cheddar of the top followed by the bread crumbs. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until golden and bubbly.

If you're cooking the fish at the end of the gratin's cooking cycle and the bread crumbs are becoming too dark, cover with foil.


It's truffle mustard!

To continue a month filled with traveling in May, I spent a weekend in Napa after an extended work trip. Instead of a romantic weekend with my hubby, this time I traveled to Napa with my gal pal and work colleague, Holly. Upon arrival, I got aphone call from Martin who, referencing The Hangover, hilariously accused us of checking into Cesar's Palace in Vegas.

I guess men just don't get it. Napa is the female version of Vegas: drinking, shopping and eating in the sunshine - minus the gambling and strippers.

Our first stop after finding our rented bungalow, was Oxbow Market where we quickly ordered a cheese plate and sipped pink bubbly on their patio. Later, we sampled the fine burgers at Gott's Roadside and found ourselves happy to be on a girls trip after devouring their garlic fries.

Committed to a full day, we were greeted early the next morning by our superb driver, Steve, as we headed to our first tasting at Chimney Rock. We hit Steltzner and Robert Sinskey before making our way to Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena for lunch.

A chilled bottle of Rosé and complimentary pork tacos set us off for an amazing lunch in their garden.

The slightly blurry afternoon consisted of a tour through Nickel & Nickel, photograph after photograph of my obsession with barns, a purchase of their liquid gold, Dolce, and a rather sloppy shopping trip through St. Helena. I do not recommend drunken shopping, although I came away with a fantastic pair of navy and gold sandals and some truffle mustard from Olivier. Once we sobered up, we were promptly dropped off in Yountville to begin our restaurant crawl.

Let's pause here:

One ingenious day at work, Holly and I logged onto our respective open table accounts to book three reservations- one course at Hurley's, another at Bistro Jeanty, and finally, Bouchon. I'm not sure what made us believe we could actually accomplish this restaurant crawl, but we pushed through.

Bistro Jeanty was the stuff of dreams- we only ordered their famous Cream of Tomato Soup in Puff Pastry and a side of peas with thick chunks of bacon and pearl onions. I'm sure our waiter hated us as we ordered water and nothing else.

By the time we pushed through the red doors of Bouchon and collapsed at the bar, I wasn't sure I was going to make it. I gingerly ordered a cocktail, some of their enticing oysters and seriously discussed the chances of having gout as a result of the day's extravagance.

The truffle mustard and the recipe below almost never came to be. As I boarded the flight back to Chicago, I forgot that I had slipped the ceramic tub of mustard in the bottom of my carry-on. As I attempted to shove it through security, the stern TSA agent pulled it swiftly from my bag and started the tiresome threats of throwing it away. They asked if it was a paste. "It's not a paste, it's mustard!" I pleaded. "It's not just mustard, it's truffle mustard!"

My charm and consistent argument around the fact that truffles were involved seemed to melt their hearts and I was allowed to carry it on after filling out a very flattering comment card.

The following weekend, I made Ina Garten's steak sandwich, adapted by Smitten Kitchen, mainly because the sauce featured more mustard than mayo. I made them open-top, because when a sandwich is this good, you don't need extra bread. Basically, you need a couple of New York strip steaks (grilled to perfection), some peasant bread (which we grilled), some baby arugula, and this sauce which you should slather on the toasted bread:

Truffle Mustard Mayo
1/3 cup of good mayo
3 tbsp truffle mustard
2 tbsp sour cream
1/8 tsp kosher salt

I know I spend a lot of time moving from one plan to the next- I'm always busy. I love living my life that way, but a good girl's weekend with a wonderful friend is something that I definitely need to make more time for. Apart from coming home with great sandals and delicious mustard, this was a weekend I'll never forget.


Bluegrass blues

Martin and I recently returned from our much anticipated and much needed spring getaway, and I am suffering some serious bluegrass blues. We gassed up the Subaru and headed south, straight through the heartland of the mid-west with our sights set firmly on Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee. Along the way, with bluegrass playing constantly in the background, we fell in love with Lexington, KY; it's scenic byways, sprawling and impressive horse farms and, of course, the bourbon.

We spent an afternoon driving through the countryside, stopping to tour the Woodford Reserve distillery and lunched at The Wallace Station in the back of beyond.

A vintage car show, complete with a country band blaring from an impromptu stage, proved too enticing and we made a u-turn in order to take it in.

As we headed further south and the hills turned into the Smoky Mountains, we hit the town of Knoxville and stopped for lunch. We were almost there. I knew that Blackberry Farm would be everything I had imagined, and we weren't disappointed. As we drove up a narrow country lane, I knew we had arrived somewhere special. For three days, we indulged ourselves.

I swayed in a rocking chair and watched the sun go down past the mountains with a chilled glass of Kentucky bourbon in my hand.

We feasted nightly at the big red barn on spring ramps and morels, charcuterie and fresh cheeses made on the property.

When I visited the fields where so many of the things we were eating came from, I wish I never had to leave.
We said sorrowful goodbyes early one morning and steered the car towards Nashville.

Over a few cold beers, we took in live music at Layla's Bluegrass Inn, ate burgers and fried pickles at Robert's Western World, and then headed to 3rd & Lindsey to watch the amazing Wooten Bros.

Nashville proved to be one of my favorite stops and cities- EVER, and my hangover persisted through four states until we hit the Illinois border.

Having purchased Sam Beall's The Blackberry Farm Cookbook, I thought I would provide you with a few highlights from the book- a few of his favorite spring and summer recipes. I am already planning a smoky mountain inspired birthday celebration this summer with Blackberry Farm specialties. Bluegrass music and dancing will be required.


Slow and deliberate

Weekend mornings should be slow and deliberate. Chilled out tunes, coffee with froth and a hot breakfast are a far cry from my usual to-go cup and cereal bar. This morning I made Bill's scrambled eggs accompanied by a couple of crumpets as my furnace was being repaired. As you can see, nothing gets in the way of my weekend morning routine.

When guests stay for the weekend, I like to serve up something special for breakfast. On a recent visit from my Aunt Michelle and Uncle Bob, they brought goodies:
Bourbon always goes down well as a gift in my house, particularly this one from the first legal still in Iowa since Prohibition. It's super-smooth and perfect for sipping straight. You can see from the photo below that we made quite a dent in it the night before.

The stone ground pancake mix from Bridgeton Mill made for a perfect breakfast. My Uncle Bob made the pancakes and hovered over the griddle while I worked on the chicken sausages.

The back of the pancake mix has a fantastic quote:

"The whiter the bread the sooner your dead. Eat whole wheat and stay on your feet."

The instructions are simple: 1 cup pancake mix, 1/2 cup milk, 2 tbsp melted butter, one egg. Mix and pour onto hot greased griddle, flip when dry on edge, remove when golden brown.

These pancakes taste unbelievably wholesome, even when drizzled with our favorite local honey. I've since made them with some blueberries which were equally successful. If you want to order this mix, you'll have to call the mill directly, which is exactly what Bob did. Until my next phone call, I'll be saving this mix in the freezer for the next lucky guest at Chez Killeen.


Not so fast

March is becoming predictable here in Chicago. The snow has melted and one spring-like day urges us to pack away boots, dust off golf clubs and start ordering plants for May. I spent several hours yesterday morning ordering compost, herbs, tomatoes, strawberries and honeysuckle. As I climbed the stairs to the roof deck to plot my plans for spring, a frosty breeze whispered, "not so fast."

Before I get ahead of myself with thoughts of freshly picked Golden Sweet Pear and Grape Rosalita tomatoes, I'm committed to another month of braising and roasting to send this winter off with a cheerful smile.

I have been cooking up a storm and should mention my current Judy Rodgers fetish. Her Zuni Cafe cookbook has found a permanent place on my kitchen counter amongst my favorite books.

After my recreation and swooning over her chicken and bread salad, I have foraged through her book with a new found love and affection. I've followed her careful instruction for roasted beets and paired them with some lentils, goats cheese and vinaigrette which proudly made their way to my mid-week packed lunch.

I easily made her rosemary-pickled gypsy peppers. These slow-burn pickles never even got a finished product snapshot before they disappeared with cheese and crackers served to my Mother in-law on a recent visit from England.

Ultimately, I was looking to produce another Zuni favorite before attempting her Ricotta Gnocchi (which I promise are on my to-do list for spring) and stumbled upon short ribs for a recent Sunday kitchen project. When I say this is a project, I should say that I like nothing better than spending an entire Sunday pottering around the kitchen, so I prolong all duties when it comes to cooking on days like this. This particular recipe is actually uncomplicated and easy to put together, but supremely impressive.

After a quick skim of her introduction, I was delighted to find that this recipe would garner leftovers for a Monday night supper of Eggs Baked in Restes (French for leftovers-see below). I always have a slightly smug feeling when one meal turns into two different dishes. If you are looking for smugness and short ribs are your thing, give this a try.

Chimay Ale is a Belgian ale with a taste of clove that is perfect for this dish, but feel free to try a local ale or mellow porter.

Judy uses a few slices of dried wild mushrooms in this recipe, but I omitted them and added some baby carrots (my current obsession).

Short Ribs Braised in Chimay Ale
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
Serves 4

2 1/2 lbs short ribs, cut across the bone into 2 inch wide bands (have your butcher do this)
Sea Salt
1-2 tbsp mild-tasting olive oil
1 1/2 lbs yellow onions (about 3 medium), sliced 1/4 inch thick half
2 ay leaves
a few whole white peppercorns
up to 1 cup of beef or chicken stock
up to 1 cup Chimay ale
About 1/4 cup Dijon mustard

Trim and season the short ribs- do this 1-2 days or a few hours in advance. Trim most of the fat away from the short ribs but leave the silverskin and ough sheathing around the bones intact to keep it succulent. Salt evenly all over- a scant 3/4 tsp per pound. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Cook the short ribs-Warm the oil in a 3-quart saute pan over medium heat. Wipe the pieces of meat dry and brown them evenly and gently on the three meaty sides, about 4 minutes per side. Pour off the excess fat.

Rearrange the meat bone side down in the pan and add the onions, bay, peppercorns, stock and ale (it should come to a depth about 3/4 inch.) Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over low heat until fork-tender (about 2- 2 1/4 hours.) You can also cook this in a 300F oven if you prefer.

About an hour into the cooking, I peeled some baby carrots and dropped them into the simmering juices.

Check two or three times to make sure that the liquid is barely simmering and turn each piece of meat each time. When the meat is done, uncover and prop the pan at a slight angle and leave to rest for 5 minutes.

Turn on the broiler. Skim the fat that has collected on the lower side of the pan. Taste the juices and salt if needed. With each piece of meat bone side down, smear the tops with the Dijon mustard and place under the broiler. If your broiler is as crazy-hot as mine, you need to watch it at all times- this should take about 5 minutes. It should be about 5 inches away from the heat, but let it brown the mustard and glaze the surface of the onions stew.

Serve the short ribs very hot, mustard side up. I served mine with lightly buttered egg noodles, some steamed covolo nero and the carrots.

Make sure you save all the left-over meat, onions, carrots and juices for Monday night:

Eggs Baked in Restes
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
Serves 2

Leftover meat, onions, carrots and juices from braised short ribs
Several eggs

Preheat your oven to 500F.

Scrape all the meat from the above short ribs and add to the onions, carrots and juices. If you are short on scraps, add some canned chopped tomatoes or mushrooms with a little olive oil.

Get a shallow baking dish for the amount of liquid you have left and the number of eggs you're using.

Warm the braising liquid over medium heat. Reduce the heat and add the scraps of meat and vegetables back to the liquid. Bring just to a simmer and taste and season if needed. You can add a little wine here if you'd like.

Pour the simmering mixture into the baking dish. Crack the eggs into the center of the mixture and barely prick the surface of the yolks to keep it from setting a rubbery skin. Set on the top rack of the oven and bake as you like your eggs- 5-7 minutes. The juices should bubble up on the sides.

Serve from the dish with some drizzled olive oil, black pepper and some warm toast or bread rubbed with garlic for dipping.


Blah, blah, blah

It's February. Blah, blah, blah.

I am currently:
  • bored to death of my sleeping bag coat
  • trawling through travel websites for an elusive sunny getaway
  • ordering English lavender, chillies and chives from Seed Savers Exchange hoping this will only make spring come sooner
  • reading Barbara Kingsolver's excellent Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and wishing I could exchange my roof deck for a vegetable garden
  • feverishly cooking my way through Jamie Oliver's "winter" section of Jamie at Home
I feel that if I can make it through the weekend, I might just show February who's boss.

My final bullet-point brings me to a lovely little pasta dish that is easily conjured, even on a weeknight. My refrigerator has been bursting at the seams with leeks. I cleaned, trimmed and sliced them into submission last night, braised them in wine, vegetable stock and topped them with Parma ham to make a savory, lip-smacking pasta sauce.

Jamie uses fresh lasagna sheets to make a cheat's pappardelle, but I didn't have any in, so I used linguini. This is also called slow-braise, but it only takes 30 minutes. Hooray!

The key to this "slap-you-round-the-face" flavor, as Jamie calls it, is not only the marriage of leeks, pork, wine and garlic, but the toasted bread crumb and porcini mushroom topping. This is called pangrattato, or a bread crumb topping in Italian. Toasted with garlic and rosemary in a hot pan, this crunchy, earthy finish sets the whole dish on fire. It might just be warm enough to chase February away.

Pasta with Slow-Braised Leeks and Crispy Porcini Pangrattato
Adapted from "Jamie at Home" by Jamie Oliver
Serves 4-6

5 big leeks, trimmed and washed
olive oil
3 tbsp of butter
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
a few sprigs of fresh thyme leaves
a small wineglass of white wine
sea salt and black pepper
2 cups of good quality vegetable or chicken stock
12 slices of Parma ham or other local alternative
1 pack of dried linguine noodles OR 1 pack of fresh lasagna sheets
2 handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

for the pangrattato
a small handful of dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 a ciabatta bread, preferably stale and cut into chunks
olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
a sprig of fresh rosemary

Halve the leeks lengthways and cut them at an angle in 1/2 inch slices. Heat a wide saucepan and add a splash of olive oil and 1 tbsp of butter. When you hear a gentle sizzle, add the garlic, thyme leaves and leeks. Move them around so every piece is coated in the oil. Pour in the wine, season with pepper and stir in the stock. Lay the slices of ham over the leeks and cover with a lid. Cook gently for 25-30 minutes. Once the leeks are tender, take the pan off the heat.

Make the pangrattato by whizzing the mushrooms and bread together with a little salt and pepper in a food processor- it should be the consistency of breadcrumbs when you're done. Head a generous glug of olive oil in a pan and add the rosemary and garlic cloves. Let them cook for a minute, infusing all of their beautiful flavor into the oil. Add the breadcrumbs and fry until golden and crispy, turning regularly and being careful not to burn. Remove them and let them cool.

Cook your pasta according to the package- if you're using fresh, flour the lasagna sheets and cut the pasta into wide ribbons and cook in boiling salted water for 2 minutes.

Remove the Parma ham from the leek saucepan and slice it up then stir it back into the leeks. Season it (mine needed some salt at this point, but not too much) and then add the rest of the butter and the Parmesan. When the pasta is finished, add it to the sauce with a little cooking water. Serve it hot with the pangrattato sprinkled on top and some fresh thyme leaves.

Leave the rest of the topping on the side so people can help themselves.


Blues and leftovers

It is important to sometimes splurge on a Monday. Mondays are notorious for blues and leftovers, but I managed to wipe both of these away with a night filled with baked Camembert, coq au vin and a wicked chocolate pistachio cake.

When my Aunt and Uncle cancelled their trip to Chicago because of the impending blizzard, I was left with a clean house, a chocolate cake, a fridge full of chicken and stinky Camembert. I knew I needed to capitalize on all of the above and immediately invited my colleague, Holly, to join me for a last minute dinner and trashy TV. We share a guilty obsession with The Bachelor, and I knew we could whip this little supper up before Brad Womack started handing out roses.

The chocolate pistachio cake was waiting patiently as I walked through the door. I achieved a small victory when I managed to dissuade Martin from digging into it the night before.

This a flour-less cake that uses the ground pistachios instead of flour. It's rich and dense and best of all, topped with chartreuse shards of my favorite nut, the pistachio.

You can serve it with some pistachio gelato, but I opted for a little mascarpone cheese whipped with some orange zest. Please note: I can't take credit for the attempt at professional food styling below- credit is due to Holly Lignelli.

Chocolate-Pistachio Cake
Adapted from How To Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
Serves 10-12

for the cake:
5 oz bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup sugar
5 ounces pistachios (not-salted)
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp soft unsalted butter
6 large eggs, separated
1/2 lemon
pinch of salt
9-inch springform pan lined with parchment or wax paper and buttered

for the ganache icing;
5 oz bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp heavy cream
drop of orange-flower water (optional)
2-4 tbsp coarsely chopped pistachios

Preheat oven to 375F
Melt the chocolate in the microwave or double boiler.

Process 1/4 cup of the sugar with the pistachios until they are like dust. Add the butter and the 1/4 cup of sugar and process until smooth. Add the egg yolks one at a time, pulsing after each, then, with the motor running, slowly pour in the melted and cooled chocolate.

Wipe the inside of a bowl with the lemon 1/2 and in it, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt. When peaks form, slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until glossy and firm.

Add a big dollop to the cake batter in the processor and pulse a couple of times to lighten it. A third at a time, add the cake batter to the whites and fold in gently but firmly.

Pour the mix into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes. Then turn down the oven to 350F and bake for a further 20-25 minutes or until cooked.

When the cake is ready, it should be coming away from the sides. Leave it to cool for 15 minutes and before un-molding. Don't ice it until it's completely cold.

for the icing:
Break the chocolate into a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the cream and orange flower water if you're using it. If this breaks, let it cool slightly and add a little more cream and it should come back to a glossy icing you intended. When it's melted, start whisking and when it's thick enough to coat, pour it over the cake on its plate. Let it run down the sides and sprinkle the cake with the chopped pistachios.

As Holly helped me prep our chopped onions, bacon and mushrooms for Nigel Slater's Coq au Riesling, we plucked the wafting Camembert from the fridge and cracked open a bottle of wine.

Baked Camembert
I removed it from it's wooden box, placed it on some aluminum foil and quickly scored the top of the rind with 6 swift slices. I stuffed a garlic clove into each and drizzled some truffle oil in each hole. I decided not to be mean with the truffle oil and was rewarded for this decision.

After wrapping it up like a pressie, it received 10 minutes in a 350F oven. If you've done this before or are planning on trying this, as I would urge you to do, keep checking the cheese after 10 minutes. The objective is NOT to produce a pool of hot cheese, which can easily happen if left too long. It should simply ooze when prodded by your knife before you spread it onto some french bread. You can also try this with a little fig jam if you're going for something a bit sweeter. We opted for fig jam on the side rather than cooking it. In my house, truffles trump any challenger.

If you're used to making a coq au vin that takes hours, this is a real find. Once your prep is out of the way, it takes about 30 minutes and is every bit as intoxicating as you'd hope it would be- the wine/cream combo is understandably swoon-worthy.

This serves two, but I find by keeping the sauce as is and just adding more chicken joints, you can feed 4-6 easily. The sauce that is leftover can and SHOULD be tossed with pasta and more fresh parsley the day after. I dare say I like it the second day better than the first.

Coq Au Riesling
Adapted from Real Food by Nigel Slater
Serves 2

3 tbsp butter
a tbsp of olive oil
100 g streaky bacon or pancetta, diced
2 small onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
4 joints of free range chicken on the bone
2 handfuls of small brown mushrooms (your choice) roughly chopped - keep some whole
2 cups Riesling or other medium-dry white wine
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
small handful of chopped parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy based casserole dish and pour in the oil. Cook the diced bacon or pancetta and let it color a little, then add the onions and garlic. Leave to cook over moderate heat until the onions have softened but not yet colored. Scoop the bacon and onions out with a draining spoon and leave the cooking juices in the pot. Add the chicken and let them brown lightly on all sides. Use moderate heat here and add more oil or butter if it's browning too much.

Add the mushrooms and continue cooking for a few more minutes, then return the bacon and onions. Turn up the heat, pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Turn it down to simmer and cook everything at a gentle simmer for 25 minutes, turning the chicken from time to time.

Lift the chicken out of the pan and pour in the cream. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the chopped parsley. Continue cooking at an enthusiastic bubble to let the cream thicken slightly. Return the chicken to the pan and make sure it's thoroughly hot and the sauce has the thickness of heavy cream.

Serve with a crisp green salad and some french bread to mop up the juices not forgetting to leave some of the sauce for pasta the following day. You won't regret your restraint.


Mostly cloudy and frigid

When your digital weather station reads: "mostly cloudy and frigid," you know it's a good day to make a pie. Fish pie that is. A fish pie needs to be piping hot, topped with mashed potato, and somehow provide real sympathy to the lack of times you'll step foot out of the house today.

Having lived in London for so long, I'm partial to a cottage pie (beef) or a shepherd's pie (lamb), but the one I've made dozens of times and always go back to, is fish. It must include the best fish you can get, and you can pick any kind you like. My chosen fish was always smoked haddock, but it's hard to find here in Midwest America. Cod, if properly sourced, is tasty. You can add several different kinds of fish including salmon, shrimp, whatever you like. Ultimately, it's the creamy, mustardy sauce and hard-boiled eggs that makes this pie irresistible.

This is certainly one of my top 5 Jamie Oliver recipes that I simply could not do without. As he suggests, I add a touch of class and serve it with tomato ketchup and heinz baked beans.

Fantastic Fish Pie

5 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks for boiling and mashing
a few tbsp of olive oil for mashing the potato and frying the onion & carrot
2 free range eggs
2 large handfuls of spinach
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, halved and chopped finely
1 1/4 cup heavy cream (or double cream)
2 handfuls of grated mature white cheddar cheese
juice of 1 lemon
1 heaped teaspoon of English mustard (Colman's)
handful of parsley, chopped
1 lb of fish- your choice: haddock, cod, salmon, or a mix- skinned, boned and cut into bit size chunks
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 450F. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the potatoes. Bring the water back to the boil and cook for 10 minutes. Add the eggs once the water has boiled. Use a colander on top of the boiling potatoes to cook the spinach (using a pan lid on top of the colander to trap the steam.) At the end of the ten minutes, your potatoes and eggs will be cooked. Remove the spinach to drain and squeeze the excess water out of it.
Drain the potatoes. Set both the eggs and spinach aside to cool. When the eggs are cooled, peel and quarter them.

Mash the potatoes using a little olive oil and salt & pepper, put a lid on the pan and set aside. You can use butter and a little cream if you'd like, but the sauce underneath is creamy enough. The olive oil makes the mashed potato crisp up in the oven.

In a separate pan, add a little olive oil and slowly cook the chopped onion and carrot until cooked (about 8- 10 minutes). Add the cream and bring just to the boil, then remove it from the heat. Add the cheddar, lemon juice, English mustard and parsley. Salt and pepper to taste and get ready to start layering your pie.

Using a lightly oiled casserole dish of your choice (8x10 in size at least), start by placing the pieces on the bottom and strategically arranging the spinach and eggs around the fish. Make it so that each person will get a bit of everything.

Pour the sauce over the top of the of the fish, eggs and spinach and top everything with the mashed potato.

Cook for 25- 30 minutes until bubbly and the potatoes are golden brown on top.

Serve with a salad and/or heinz baked beans and don't forget the ketchup.