Salt & Pepper Chicken Thighs

YUM!  Via:


4 Chicken Thighs (Skin On, Bone In) / Salt / Pepper / Oil

PLACE chicken on clean board skin down

SCORE flesh of chicken

DO NOT cut all the way through the skin!

SEASON generously with salt and pepper

TURN chicken over and season again

HEAT griddle pan on hob

RUB oil into chicken and season again

PLACE chicken skin side down in griddle pan

TURN when skin has gone crispy and golden

COOK for a further 7-8 minutes and serve

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The most solid advice for a writer is this, I think: “Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”
― Ernest Hemingway

My First (No…Second) Thought

On Saturday night, instead of going out to see and be seen, Scott and I chose to stay inside.  Let’s face it, with the week we’ve had, it sounded like a dream to us.  I had a lovely rib eye steak chilling in the refrigerator that was destined for dinner, but frankly, preparing and eating just a steak did not sound like fun to me.  What then, should emerge from my kitchen to fill our bellies on a Saturday night?  Well, stew, of course!

We’re finally hitting the chilly weather here in the Midwest.  No longer the gorgeous and golden autumn, but not quite the brutal and gray winter.  We’re somewhere, floating in the middle of “heavy jacket and scarf” weather.  My solution for weather like this leans toward soups (you know that), so ribeye and root vegetable stew was an obvious choice.  AND…my pantry was already stocked with the necessary ingredients!  It was kismet.

I know, I know, a rib eye steak is not a cut usually associated with stew due to the price tag, but it’s all we had and I wanted to give it a shot.  In a hot skillet, I seared it off for a few minutes on each side and then set it aside to rest.  In the same pan, I added (you guessed it!) bacon and let that render down for a bit. 

After the bacon was set aside (but not forgotten), I threw in a chopped onion and some minced garlic and let them sizzle in the rendered bacon fat for awhile, then added a little olive oil and a tablespoon or two of flour.  After the mixture had turned a lovely golden brown, I poured in a good glug of red wine and scraped up all the lovely brown and flavorful bits.

Then, the best part happened: I was able to combine in a soup pot the onion/garlic roux, the root vegetables, stock, and the steak (which I had cut into pieces).  I brought it to a boil, then reduced it to a simmer and, wait for it…walked away.

After about 40 minutes, I added a bit of my not-so-secret ingredient, aged balsamic vinegar.  I let it simmer for a few more minutes, and the result?  A gorgeous, flavorful, velvety rib eye stew.  Perfect for a not quite winter night.

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From Paris to Omaha, Chinatown Style

When I lived in Paris, I used to spend entire afternoons in either one of the two amazing Chinatown areas within the city.  The first (and oldest) is located in the 13th arrondissment, and the second can be found in the Belleville neighborhood.  I would walk along the aisles, marveling at the sheer volume of products, things I had never seen or tasted before.  There were rows of unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, stacks of noodles, hundreds of sauce and condiment choices!  And the protein!  My god, the protein!  Species that seemed prehistoric, fermented eggs, and gigantic live lobsters swimming in enormous tanks!

They say that one of our biggest sense memories is that of smell, and believe me when I say that Chinatown in the City of Lights left me with a distinct olfactory impression.  I was able to wax nostalgic today on my latest food quest.  Scott loves Moo Shu Pork and made a dinner request for it this evening.  As a lover of all things food, and fueled by the desire to make my darling happy, I gladly made my way to one of my favorite stores in all of Omaha – the Asian Market on 76th Street.

If you haven’t been, please go.  Don’t let the foreign language and unfamiliar inventory scare you off!  March right in, grab a basket, and start discovering!  Personally, I love walking up and down each aisle, really looking at the items, getting a feel for the products, and familiarizing myself with the store.  There are items I never thought existed, for instance, sweet bananas in a jar:

And instant jellyfish:

Clearly, Moo Shu Pork calls for neither of those ingredients, and I did not buy them, but knowing they are out there is all that matters.  I was able to locate 90% of the necessary ingredients among the thousands (not kidding, here) of items available at the Asian Market.  I even came home with a brand new bamboo steamer – something I’ve always wanted!

So, fellow epicureans, put your fears aside, close your eyes, take a deep breath and step through the doors of Omaha’s mini version of Chinatown.  You will not be disappointed.

Asian Market is located at 321 North 76th Street, Omaha, NE 68114, (402) 391-2606, and they are open from 9am to 8pm daily!

Squash, Bacon, and Lobster (Oh my!)

I’m a fan of soup.  A big fan.  Anything that requires slow simmering and very little attention on my part is a good thing.  And when I think of Thanksgiving, I always think of butternut squash, so naturally, I thought I would throw together a butternut squash soup for our first course.  Then I asked myself, “What could possibly make a luscious soup such as this even better?”  My answer?  Bacon and lobster, of course!

Although they are a pain to peel, the flavor of a butternut squash is well worth the effort.  I chopped it up along with an onion and garlic and tossed them all together with olive oil and the rendered fat from the bacon.  To that, I added minced sage, thyme, and a few whole bay leaves.  After a sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper, I roasted them in a 450º oven for just under an hour, stirring them halfway through to ensure even roasting.

Despite the state of our house (we’re still living out of the basement due to floor refinishing) I was still thrilled to be cooking for our Thanksgiving.  The roasted veggies smelled amazing and in the meantime, I prepped the lobster tails.  It was quite simple, really.  I just snipped up the sides of the lobster tail and snipped up the belly side of the shell, removing it and exposing the flesh.  A little salt, pepper, and olive oil and voilà

I wrapped the lobster tails in foil packets and after the butternut squash mixture was sufficiently roasted, I removed it, and into the oven they went!  Before I knew it, the soup had been puréed, the lobster was done, and it was only 1:00pm!

The finished product with lobster pieces.  Delicious!

As if one dessert wasn’t enough, I went ahead and put together a quick apple tart.  I’ve made them before, but usually labored over the pastry…not this time!  No way!  Into the freezer I went and Eureka! I had a package of puff pastry!  This apple tart is the simplest way to serve a fruit dessert and if you have the right ingredients: apples, puff pastry, butter, and sugar, you should be in business!

I tossed my peeled and cored apples with a few tablespoons of sugar and a few tablespoons of brandy, but the alcohol isn’t necessary.  We all know I like hooch with my food, and I feel that brandy adds a nice element to an apple dessert.  I then layered the apples on the puff pastry, sprinkled it with more sugar, and dotted the apples with cubed butter.  After about an hour in the oven, it was golden brown and gorgeous! 

All in all, I think this non-traditional Thanksgiving went off without a hitch.  Pat prepared a standing rib roast with roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, and fingerling potatoes.  And Holly prepared a lovely scalloped celery root dish with bacon.  It was a nice change to spend the holiday with close friends and I hope we can all do it again soon. 

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Dessert First…Naturally

Last night I chose to tackle a cheesecake for the Thanksgiving dessert.  Now, understand this:  I love making cheesecakes, but I find them to be too rich for my taste.  The funny thing about me, I suppose, is that I lack the requisite sweet tooth for most desserts.  I find a lot of joy in the specific measuring of ingredients, the sifting, the mixing, the high heat of the oven – but I prefer to share (…ahem, force) the end product with others, rather than eat it on my own.   

I scoured the Internet and my cookbooks, and came across a lovely sounding pumpkin cheesecake recipe on one of my favorite blogs.  Deb is a woman after my very own heart – putting bourbon in just about anything she can!  Oh my! 

I made a few changes to her recipe along the way.  For instance, I did not invert the bottom of my springform pan (because it wasn’t snug) and I chose to pop the crust into the freezer for 45 minutes, rather than in the fridge for an hour.

I also chose to halve the amount of fresh nutmeg and replace the other half with ground cardamom.  I love the subtle floral and citrus notes that ground cardamom can give to a recipe, especially when paired with cinnamon and ginger.  It sort of hangs out in the background of the dish, just waiting to be identified.  I also went with dark brown sugar rather than light because I love the depth of flavor that darker brown sugar adds to desserts.

I decided to bake my cheesecake in a water bath, because I have found this helps it to bake evenly, especially since I have a geriatric oven residing in my kitchen.  After about an hour, I carefully removed the cheesecake from the oven and allowed it to rest while I mixed together the topping.  I was a little more heavy-handed with the bourbon than what was called for, but hey, what can I say?  I like a little hooch with my desserts.

I popped it back into the oven (minus the water bath) and left it there for an additional 10 minutes until it seemed as though it would spill right over the edge.  It placed it on the counter to cool for several hours and now it is chilling in the fridge awaiting the big day.

I tend to make a mess in my kitchen, but oh well, it’s worth it in the end…

And after the mess, here is the final product:

(Everything’s Better With Bourbon) Pumpkin Cheesecake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, November 2006

for crust
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (roughly six or seven standard graham crackers)
1/2 cup pecans (1 3/4 ounce), finely chopped
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

for filling
1 (15 ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

for topping
2 cups sour cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon

make crust:
Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.  Stir together the crumbs, chopped pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined well.  I found my hands worked best for this job.  Press crumb mixture onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan.  I used a small juice glass with a flat bottom to help me press the crumbs into the pan.  Chill the crust in freezer for 45 minutes or in the fridge for 1 hour.  

make filling and bake:
Preheat oven to 350ºF.  

In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and bourbon (if you choose to use it).

In a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer), stir together the granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, and salt.  

To that bowl, add the cream cheese and beat with electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, roughly 3 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of bowl.  Lower speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of bowl.

Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, and then put springform pan into a large roasting pan.  Fill roasting pan with water until it reaches halfway up the side of the springform pan.  If you don’t have a large enough roasting pan, simply place the springform pan on a baking sheet.

Carefully place onto middle rack of oven and bake until center is just set,  55 minutes to 1 hour.  You’re looking for a jello-like wiggle when you jiggle the pan.  Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes.  Leave oven on.  I took mine out of the water bath to cool and poured out the water.

make topping:
Whisk together the sour cream, sugar, and bourbon (if using) in a bowl, smooth on top of cheesecake, place back into empty roasting pan, and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes.

Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.

Cover, chill in fridge until cold, at least 4 hours.  Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.  Garnish with pecans if desired.

do ahead:  this cheesecake can be chilled, covered, up to 2 days.  

Thankful for Non-Traditions

I think about food all the time.  I ponder.  I daydream.  I plan and strategize.  For a person such as myself, Thanksgiving is the decathlon of holidays.  I train for this event in little ways throughout the year to prepare for the big day.  I bake bread, cakes, and pies – inevitably covering the kitchen and myself with a “light dusting” of flour.  I sear, sauté, braise, roast, mince, and chop – sometimes suffering minor cuts and burns.  It all happens in the name of flavor, so I slap on a bandage and keep moving.

Traditionally, Thanksgiving would be spent with family, but this year, Scott and I (and our dogs) will be celebrating with two very dear friends (and their dogs).Luckily, our friends are on par with us in terms of our foodie sensibilities.  Like us, they love to experiment, take chances, and push themselves culinarily.

So, the other night, over a few glasses of wine, the four of us began our Thanksgiving ruminations.  Since our house is not an option for hosting such a feast (it’s a long, painful story involving wood floor refinishing) we decided upon dinner at Pat and Holly’s house.

I usually make dessert when the four of us get together, so it was pretty clear what my assignment would be and I gladly accepted.  I also agreed to a first course – I’m thinking soup.  The main course would fall in the hands of the hosts for the evening, and word on the street is Beef Wellington, which, oddly enough, I’ve never eaten.

I plan to document (to the best of my ability) this year’s non-traditional Thanksgiving.  I promise to include all the fumbles, falls, and successes along the way. First stop, dessert…

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