I get a certain fiendish joy from creatively repurposing ingredients so that what works for one dish, might be folded into others to create a thread throughout the meal. (It’s partly inspired by thriftiness, but mostly an aesthetic preference for a coherence to the plate.) Tami served us this meal in Cape Cod, and the theme here was buttermilk. The ingredient that made the chicken incredibly juicy and tender, also added a creamy brightness to the blue cheese on the wedge salad. Smart ingredient usage and a really delicious meal!
I came pretty late to cooking, having been raised by a woman who believed making two weeks’ worth of tuna fish sandwiches for her two daughters, freezing them, and doling them out on lunch day to serve as both main course and ice pack was an appropriate way to feed her children. It is not. It is, in a word, gross. I learned at an early age how to boil water, toast bread, and spread stuff on it – that opened up a whole culinary world previously unknown to me. Pasta! Raisin bread toast with jam! Hard-cooked eggs! Peanut butter sandwiches! That got me through the next 20 years – well that and having a great sister (who cooks), great friends (who cook), and an amazing wife (who cooks, and sizzles). I tried my hand at baking, and found it fit well with my love of measuring cups and cake-eating. But cooking, well, cooking is for people who are comfortable with improvisation, and who are willing to eat the mistakes. Not me (or so I thought) until I discovered the two greatest cooking resources for lazy, precision-loving, relatively-uncreative people – Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, and Real Simple magazine. The below recipe is derived from the latter, and is a favorite resource of mine because it combines two wonderful concepts: Real food and easy-to-follow (e.g., simple) instructions. And it tastes good. Better, even, than the revelation that was my first hard-cooked egg, and unquestionably more delicious than a tuna sandwich ice cube.
Adapted from Real Simple
2 c. buttermilk
8 cloves garlic, finely crushed
salt and pepper
2 tsp. paprika
6 to 8 pieces of bone-in chicken, mixed cuts as desired
In a large bowl, mix the buttermilk and garlic, then add the salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. Soak the chicken, making sure it’s coated, for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours. Store in ziplock bags or a covered bowl in the refrigerator.
Grill each side of the chicken for 15 minutes or until cooked through.
1 c. sour cream
1/4 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. blue cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper
1 head of iceberg lettuce, quartered to make the wedge
5 strips of bacon, cooked and cut into chunks
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved, for garnish
Mix the sour cream, buttermilk, blue cheese, and salt and pepper together. Position the wedges of lettuce on a plate and drizzle the blue cheese dressing over each. Sprinkle the chunks of bacon, and garnish, if desired, with tomatoes.
I have been known to be skeptical of bloody marys–or at least I was until I tried Karen’s. Usually, I think they taste like cold, boozy soup–which is fine if you need lunch, but not a stiff drink. Karen changed all that. She served her version on New Year’s Day to a group of hungover friends, and it was a revelation. Perfectly balanced, both citrusy and spicy, and chock full of my favorite thing–cilantro. Since then, I am a complete convert.
THE BEST DAMN BLOODY MARY EVER
recipe by Karen Ruppanner
Start with a pint glass and fill it with ice. Add a spoonful of horseradish. (I like a lot.) Then add a few shakes of celery salt, plenty of tobasco, and a generous amount worcestershire sauce. Add fresh ground pepper and a squeeze of a fresh lime or lemon wedge. Now for the important ingredients. Add finely chopped fresh cilantro and diced cucumber. (Be sure the pieces are tiny!) After all of the spices and veggies have been added, fill the glass half-full with vodka, or to your liking. Fill the remaining half with tomato juice (not Bloody Mary mix!). Stir and taste. You may need to add more tobasco, worcestershire sauce, horseradish, and lime juice…..I usually do at this point. Garnish with a celery stalk, a peppercini, a lime wedge, a lemon wheel, a cucumber wheel, and of course a blue cheese stuffed olive. Yum! I promise you will have THE BEST DAMN BLOODY MARY EVER!
A picture of the gorgeous bloody-mary genius!
I am just back from a week in Cape Cod and I have many lobster tales (ha ha) to tell. I’ve spent the last week with my dear friends and their super-cute, super-blonde offspring. We had a house with a giant backyard, a lot of beach days, a lot of card games, and a lot of cooking. Most of this was done while drinking CC&7, which reminds Jess and Tami of their Grandma Bea. You know those people you’ve known so long that their family feels like part of yours, and your family adopts them, and there’s overlap every which way in your lives? These are those people. Fortunately for me, they also happen to be wonderful cooks.
Christine was the only one of us who’d actually grown up in New England, so she was our Guru de Cuisine, more or less, for the week. She rightly decided straight out that we needed to do a clam bake, so we invited her family (also vacationing nearby) and called the Falmouth Fish Market tout de suite to make an order. We got eight portions, each complete with lobster, steamers, corn, potatoes, and sausage.
Luckily our rental house had the perfect lobster pot: a two-part contraption with a spicket to drain the broth at the end (handy for cleaning the clams before you eat them).
Contrary to popular belief, lobsters are not scavengers of dead meat. Rather, they eat fish, crabs, clams, mussels, sea urchins, and sometimes other lobsters. They are also lower in cholesterol and calories than chicken, eggs, and beef. And they’re delicious–like shrimp that’s eaten nothing but butter its entire life and lounged around on floaties of butter, ensuring the tenderest flesh possible. Ninety percent of American lobsters come from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine–which explains the downright obsession that Cape Cod has for the buggers. Stores in town sold every lobster tchatchke imaginable, and one even went so far as to feature lobster ice cream! (I tried it. NOT my cup of tea, as much as I like lobster.)
We served no lobster ice cream, just straight-forward steamed goodness. Christine manned this operation with pizzazz, and everyone was stuffed and happy by the end of the night.
Here is the method to Christine’s fantastic clam bake (or clam boil, more correctly)
New England Clam Bake for 8
5 Yukon gold or similar potatoes, quartered
8 linguica sausage
8 ears of corn
64 steamer clams
Add water to the smaller, bottom pot of a two-part lobster pot and warm over high heat. In the larger pot, layer potatoes first, and add salt and pepper. Cover, and let them steam for 15 minutes. Add the rest in layers: sausage, corn, lobsters, and steamers. Add a swig of white wine and cover. Cook until the lobsters are just pink, 45 minutes to an hour. Note that it takes 15 minutes after the top of the pot gets hot for them to get pink.
Serve with melted butter, lemon, and the broth from the bottom pot.
Now Jessica will demonstrate how to open up a lobster:
Step 1: Twist off the tail.
Step 2: Make this face when the lobster liver (tomalley) spills all over your plate, which, at the time, you may mistake for lobster poop, as we did. That’s as far as we got in the documenting before I was laughing too hard to continue photographing. Plus, I was hungry.
Theo declared, “I no like lobsteh.”
Amelia was fascinated by the mechanics of it, but alas, would not eat it.
Eloise, however, gnawed those lobster legs like a champ.
Kitchen Elvis would have been proud.
The lone vegetarian to bacon fest brought a baconless dish (though you could easily bacon it up–just don’t tell Sara). Did you know that quinoa is more closely related to spinach and beets than to grains? It’s chock full of protein, it’s woodsy and delicious. This salad has a great cilantro-cumin southwest flavor. I ate it for lunch for several days so I can attest to the fact that it saves well. This is a good summer dish because it can be served cold. Here’s Sara’s recipe:
It’s from my cousin Marianne, but I’m not sure where she got it. Anyway, she made changes, and I made changes to hers, so it’s pretty well altered from the original.
Black Bean Quinoa Salad
3/4 cup quinoa
1-1/2 cups water
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tbs. fresh lime juice
6 tbs. vegetable oil (I used 1/2 grapeseed and 1/2 sesame because I didn’t have veg oil; olive oil would be good too)
Freshly ground pepper
One-15 oz. can black beans, rinsed
1 small red or green bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 finely chopped small red onion
1.In a small saucepan, combine the quinoa and water, and add a pinch of salt; bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the water is absorbed, about 15 min. Spread the quinoaon a baking sheet; refrigerate for about 20 mins.
2. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the cumin seeds over high heat, shaking the pan until fragrant, about 2 min; transfer to a blender. Add the lime juice and oil and blend. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Pour the dressing into a bowl and add the black beans, cilantro, peppers, and onions. Scape the quinoa into the bowl; season with salt and pepper and serve.
Can be made in advance and refrigerated.
I just got back from camping in Kentucky, where I experienced many cookstove and campfire delights that I’ll share with you soon. In the meantime, on with chronicling the bacon fest. We wanted to have the iconic BLT represented, and Angela volunteered to bring some sandwich in that vein. Below is her inspired fare.
Bacon-Apple Butter-Cheddar Sandwiches
I came up with this ditty on a whimmy: bacon + apple butter + cheese = yes > plain ol’ BLT (but only slightly).
Here’s what you’ll need:
A mild cheese (I used raw, aged cheddar which is similar in taste to string cheese)
Simply fry up the bacon, smear your bread with apple butter, add cheese, and voila! You’ve got yourself a nice little sangwich.
Now, here are some things you should note about this recipe. The apple butter I bought was plain and, frankly, flavorless. A major disappointment, considering I paid $7.50 for it! Be sure to use an apple butter you know and love, or heck, you might want to wait until fall to get some fresh from the farmer’s market. In addition, I used storebought challa buns for this sandwich, and while they are quite tasty, there was simply too much bread. I would recommend using plain old sliced bread in order to achieve a nice texture and balance.
–Kate’s friend Angela
Beyond words. This was so good.
A slowly simmered syrup of coffee, sugar, cocoa, and a pinch of cinnamon. Brown-sugar glazed chunks of thick-cut applewood smoked bacon. Plain Jane vanilla ice cream.
There were some skeptics at bacon fest, but I believe I converted 100 percent by the first bite.
1 lb. thick-cut bacon
about 1 cup of brown sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Use a baking sheet with a bit of a lip to it, and line it with foil. Lay out the bacon side by side on a baking rack, which you in turn will place on the baking sheet. Sprinkle each piece with brown sugar until you’ve achieved a nice coating.
Place in oven for about 18 minutes. Let cool a bit and then cut into chunks.
1 c. sugar (I used turbinado)
1 c. brewed coffee
1/4 c. dark cocoa powder (I used Dagoba)
1 pinch cinnamon
Over medium heat, add sugar to a saucepan and let it melt. Add the coffee and reduce heat to a simmer. Add the cocoa and cinnamon and stir. The sugar will harden at first, but will soon melt into the mixture and all will become velvety. Let it simmer slowly for about 45 minutes, or until it’s reached a syrupy consistency.
I served mine cold, but you could easily serve it warm from the stove. Refrigerated, this will last at least a week or two.
Build your sundae with a few scoops of ice cream, bacon chunks, and syrup. Embellish as desired, but I thought it was great in just this simplicity.
A dish that Elvis certainly would have approved of. At least, my Kitchen Elvis did.
I did have a vegetarian brave the bacon fest, so I wanted to make sure there were bacon-optional choices for her. And I had some gorgeous beets on hand from the farmers’ market, so I decided to build something around them.
It was nice to have a lighter bacon dish, since this feast could easily have turned into a gut-buster. This is somewhat cobb-like, in that it has the bacon and gorgonzola. I almost went all the way and added hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, and etc., but the beets were so amazing, that I really didn’t want to overwhelm them. I think that the biggest trick to learn in cooking is knowing when to stop. Knowing when you’ve reached the perfect balance of flavors, and just stop. Let the personality of each flavor you do use have its chance to shine. It’s very Italian, this idea–or at least, that’s where I learned it. It feels like a certain intimacy with flavors–knowing what they work well with and when to push them out of their comfort zone. And when to just let them be.
As I cut them into chunks and held the fleshy purple pieces, I was mesmerized by the striations. The more time I spend looking at food and photographing it, the more obsessed I become with how beautiful it is. Beets completely enchant me: the fact that such a deep, heart-pumping red color occurs naturally, the color play in the different varieties. What would I do without the farmers’ markets? At the grocery store, a beet’s a beet. There’s no nod to the nuances they are capable of.
We had some beet detractors at the party (ahem, Angela and Pedro), but I thought they were delicate and sweet–a good complement to the bacon. The dish overall felt very earthy, with a jazzy finish provided by the mint and the grapefruit. Pretty tasty.
They look so humble.
Until you open them. Gorgeous.
Beet and Bacon Salad
6 medium beets
4 garlic cloves, skins on
2 or 3 springs of rosemary
1 bag of baby spinach
6 oz. gorgonzola
1/2 large grapefruit, peeled and cut into wedges
1 lb. bacon
For the vinaigrette
1/2 large grapefruit
mint leaves from 2 or 3 sprigs
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
plus, the garlic that you roasted with the beets
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Peel and chop the beets into equal-sized wedges, maybe about 1/2 an inch each. Add to a baking pan or sheet with the garlic cloves (unpeeled), then toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary. Cook until they are tender, about 35 minutes. Set aside to come to cool.
Fry the bacon and drain on paper towels. Chop into chunks.
Build the salad: Spinach, beets, gorgonzola, grapefruit wedges. I put the bacon in a separate dish to make the salad veg-friendly.
To make the vinaigrette, peel and add the roasted garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Add the vinegars and juice from the grapefruit, mint, salt, and pepper. Begin to pulse the mixture while drizzling in the olive oil (with the lid on, unless you are using a chopper–then it’s fine to just add the olive oil to the base mixture). Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
Toss all together.
This is what my fridge looked like for awhile. Mesmerizing.