MasterChef Junior — The Big Kitchen

031“Promise me one thing, that you’ll keep cooking. Because you’ve inspired thousands…  Well done.”

These were the parting words from Chef Gordon to the two eliminated young competitors at the end of last week’s MasterChef Junior.

I’m not sure why I like this show, but I’ll be watching the newest episode tonight.  I am not a routine watcher of cooking competitions and the “secret ingredient” that must be dealt with in a certain amount of time.  Like many, I wasted away many weekend hours watching the Food Network when it first became part of the cable line up.  I was like an addict with that and HGTV.  I finally took myself back to basic cable so as to prevent such mindless, but happy, watching of tv.  Still, I liked the shows that showed a lot of different cooking, maybe along a theme.  Or that explained the reason things worked.  Or were Martha Stewart — my generation’s Julia Child — the generation that went before us…

I don’t have any chef-y aspirations though I do enjoy trying out new things.  I do have kitchen failures and I’ll occasionally try to make something again (like pie crust!!!) that hasn’t gone so well before.  Sometimes it’s better.  Sometimes it isn’t.  Either way, my goal is just to be a good, solid home cook and to make things that are fun for me, my family, and my friends.  I do like to push myself, but I also have those comforting favorites that I come back to over and over again.

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At the urging of my friend Carri, I used the Martha Stewart butter crust recipe available here: http://www.marthastewart.com/343278/strawberry-hand-pies. You just use it for a full pie instead of making hand pies. It comes together very easily and it made me look pretty professional. I made a “chess pie” which is a custardy/buttermilk pie and used extra dough for the cute cut outs — cut by hand, dusted with sugar, and baked when I was blind baking the crust prior to adding the filling.

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I had good cooking role models.  My mom always cooked so it wasn’t a rare thing in my household to sit down to a meal which my mom made.  My grandmothers cooked, though the style and variety varied by side of the family.  Both grandmothers empowered me to help in the kitchen and let me do my own cooking.  In those early days, my cooking consisted of mostly “souped up minute rice” which was either part of the minute rice box or I saw the “recipe” on a tv commercial.  You basically use Campbell’s soup (cream of whatever, but tomato was good too), a can of milk, and a can of minute rice.  You heat up the mixture, let it stand 10 minutes, and you have a creamy “pilaf” of sorts.  It’s not great to my adult palette, but as a kid, I thought it was special.  I thought it was cooking.  And it made me happy.

Aside:  I did try instant rice once after Japan.  It was not an experience I enjoyed so my minute rice days are behind me.

My mom’s mom made German coffee cakes (kuchen) and jar after jar of pickles.  She made the most amazing cinnamon rolls (no frosting!) and egg noodles.  My dad’s mom gave me a sage-heavy stuffing at Thanksgiving and Dorothy Lynch salad dressing which is still a bright-orange treat even into adulthood.  I remember hanging out in kitchen, wandering around in kitchens, and just loving the kitchen.  I watched my grandma Emma fry chicken and stir gravy with an ever disappearing fork.  My grandma Maxine pounded and floured thin pieces of steak and fried them to a golden goodness with a simple gravy from the drippings.  With my mom, there were Saturday’s out trying restaurants my dad wouldn’t have liked.  Or eating my favorite — still –macaroni and cheese with velveeta.  I eat better mac n’ cheese as an adult, but I have a soft spot, of sorts, for velveeta.  My mom gave me confidence in the kitchen and let me “fend for myself” now and again so I could try my hand at cooking.  She celebrated my junior high home economics adventures — jelly rolls, a very American sukiyaki — and helped me make extravagant recipes like Italian cream cake which had what seemed like a hundred ingredients.  With my friend Sam, I got to explore the idea of cream cheese frosting which broadened my world beyond the “normal” buttercreams we were making in my family.  All through my teen years I was decorating birthday cakes with any childhood favorite character that was requested.  Cooking just was a part of normal life.

I’ve sometimes wished I had spent more time in the garage with my dad and uncles learning how to take care of a car or  how to tackle some construction project.  Instead, I was always in the kitchen.  It has only been recently that I have come to really cherish my abilities in the kitchen (though I still wish I knew what to do when I hear a mysterious sound in my car).  Cooking for me is not really a chore, though on a tired evening after a stressful or long workday, I’m as inclined as anybody else to seek an easier route or to call a friend to go out.  Still, I find cooking to be mostly restful.  Creative.  Fun.  It usually has a clear beginning, middle, and end — unlike most things in life.  It’s self-sufficiency.  It’s a way to nurture oneself and anybody else who is around to eat with you.KeyArt-MasterChefJr_2  And these days it seems to be something special that not everybody does regularly, but maybe that’s changing.

So, no, I am not a MasterChef.  And I am not drawn to these shows, but this one I found by accident from a passing mention on a website.  I decided to give it a look.  The kids range, I think, from 8-13 years old.  These kids are pretty incredible.  They are chef-y.  At their young ages, they’ve obviously had a lot of cooking experience.  They make pasta.  I don’t make pasta.  They cook unusual meats like alligator.  I don’t cook alligator.  They cook under a time clock of one hour.  I don’t.

What I like about it is that they are kids who obviously like cooking.  They’re excited by it, not bored by it or scared by it.  They like being in the “big kitchen” and cooking for the three real chefs.  They do get some criticism that is hard to watch because of their young ages, but mostly the judges are kind to them and make them laugh.  The kids are also really kind to each other.  One of the oldest girls will help the youngest boy lift something heavy.  A girl who was struggling with something was helped by her competitor who was standing behind her.  When kids do well, they say “good job.”  When kids are eliminated, the others all rush to hug them.  Cry.  Say how much they like them.

And the judges always encourage them to be proud of how far they’ve made it and to keep cooking.  And I hope they do.

 

Moosewood Nostalgia: Bulgarian Pepper Casserole

090Inspiration can come from many directions. In this case, two things converged.

One, I’ve been really diligent lately to try to use all of the veggies I’ve been getting from my CSA farm. I’d been slow to use some of the items due to my work schedule at this time of year, but in the last week, I’d made good progress.   I’m down to a couple of beets, a couple of sunchokes, and some potatoes. I always get through the potatoes last….

Second, my local supermarket had all of their peppers of any color on sale for $1 each. I’ve gotten peppers for less when in season and certainly so at farmer’s markets, but in January, it’s rare. I went in, walked past the display, and knew instantly what was going to be happening.089

Bulgarian Pepper Casserole. It’s a great, winter casserole (though the veggies would all be better in summer, but who wants to bake a casserole in summer?) that I discovered years ago when I was thinking about what to make for dinner for a friend.   I’m not really sure what made me think to make it originally (probably the peppers!), but it was really delicious and both of us were really excited by it. Sadly, I don’t hang out with that friend much, but this casserole has been ever-present ever since. I try to make it every year or two if I can.

I don’t have the original Moosewood cookbook. My version was a revised edition that was released for the 15th anniversary. In 1992!!!! Honestly, there are a lot of recipes in the book I haven’t tried – most, actually – but I’ve always been taken by the charming hand drawings and the long descriptions and instructions. Looking at it again today, I thought I really ought to try more of the recipes in the book to see if they’re all equally great. Another day, maybe.

Today was all about the pepper casserole. I’m not sure if it’s really based on a Bulgarian recipe, but it’s essentially three components: lemony-dill brown rice, a creamy ricotta-feta mixture, and an herb-filled sauté of onions, garlic, and bell peppers. These components get mixed together and topped with sliced tomatoes, garlic and kalamata olives. It a really simple recipe, but the preparation does take some time – 1 ½ hours according to the cookbook – so it’s a recipe that needs a weekend or an afternoon off. Or you have to plan ahead to make the rice and peppers earlier and then just assemble the whole lot when you’re ready to bake.

I had a free Sunday (unusual!) and 2 hours of NPR programs I like so I headed into the kitchen. After unloading the dishwasher so as to have a clean slate, I got to work.

Quick aside: I just learned this week that you cannot store brown rice more than about 6 months. Because it has more oils, I think, than white rice, it cannot last indefinitely in the pantry as I had thought. Before cooking today, I had to clean out the pantry (my rice did smell ‘off’) and bought a new bag of medium grain brown rice which I prefer, generally, to the long grain rice. I think it’s the influence of Japan.

Back to cooking. You start with the rice. It basically takes about 35-40 minutes to cook, so you need to start here or you’ll never be eating.

  •  1 ½ cups of brown rice, uncooked
  • 2 ¾ c. water

Place this in a pot, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. I usually turn off the heat at this point and then let the rice steam and absorb any extra moisture for about 10 minutes. At this point, stir in:

The juice of a lemon (I don’t measure like the recipe but just use a whole lemon)

  • 2-3 T fresh dill

The recipe says it’s ok to use dried dill (2 t.), but I’ve tried that once and it’s not the same. The fresh dill is worth the hunt and money. I splurged and got one of those little packages at my market. I didn’t really measure it – I used most of it. After mixing this together, pour the rice-dill mixture into a large bowl you’ll use to mix everything together.

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While the rice is cooking, you have about 40 minutes to get the rest of it together. Given the timing Mollie Katzen gives, you can kind of chop and cook as you go.

In a large sauté pan, begin by heating about 2 T. olive oil. When warm, add:

  • 2 c. onion (I just use one large onion, diced, and if it doesn’t seem like 2 cups, I’ll add more. Today I used a large sweet white onion and a small red onion we got from the farm recently) and cook over medium for about 5-8 minutes to soften and slightly brown the onions.

In the meantime, chop:

  •  4-5 bell peppers – be creative and colorful. I used 2 green, 2 red, 1 yellow.

Add the peppers to the onions, and then add:

  •  ¾ t. salt
  • fresh black pepper
  • ½ t. oregano
  • 2 t. basil (I was out, so I used thyme which I knew would also be yummy)

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Cook, still over medium, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. The peppers will be pretty tender. I usually take the mixture off the heat. To this, I stir in:

  •  4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c. crumbled feta cheese

The warmth of the peppers melts the cheese and the garlic gets a little perfumed. Again, this can go into the big bowl with the rice-dill mixture.

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While the peppers are cooking, get out a food processor and add in 1 ½ c. of ricotta or cottage cheese. I usually use ricotta, but I like the idea of cottage cheese and think it would be a suitable swap. Also, sometimes I forget to put the feta into the peppers until it’s too late and the peppers are overly cooled. In that case, I’ve had perfectly good results putting the feta and the ricotta into the food processor. The point is to make the cheese smooth and to add some air. This smooth cheese mixture also goes into the big bowl.

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I like to put the rice and the smoothed ricotta into the big bowl first and mix them well to make sure that all of the rice is coated with the creamy mixture. I then add in the pepper mixture and mix pretty thoroughly. That’s really all there is to it. It takes time and you have to work through each part of the preparation, but it’s just cooking rice. Sauteeing peppers. Processing ricotta. Mixing it all together.

This mixture goes into a 9 x 12 baking dish that has been lightly oiled.

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On top of the mixture you place sliced tomatoes. Depending on the size of the tomatoes, you might only be using 2. I used 4 because mine were small. I do recommend you spend the money to get the best tomatoes you can find. In January in Oregon, the tomato options are pretty bleak, but I bought what smelled the most like a tomato in the store. They’re still not awesome. Eaten raw, nobody would be excited by them, but they smelled good and I hoped the cooking in the oven would enhance their flavor as the liquid would leach out and seep into the casserole. After covering the top with tomatoes, scatter the following on top:

  •  4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 1 cup flavorful black olives (kalamata, nicoise), sliced

I didn’t have a full cup of olives which was a pity, but I used what I had rather than running to the store. I will say the whole recipe benefits from the liberal amount of olives and garlic on top of the casserole.

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The whole, beautiful mixture goes into a 375 degree over for 30-40 minutes. If you make the rice and peppers ahead, plan for extra time if they are chilled from the fridge. If you’ve just gotten done cooking everything and assembling at the same time, then you can get away with 30 minutes. I split the difference and cooked mine for 35 minutes to get a bit of extra bubbling around the edges.

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It’s not local. It’s not seasonal. But it is delicious. The rice is tangy and creamy and the peppers and onion add sweetness that contrasts nicely with the flavorful olives and garlic. The cooked tomato adds an acidic note that you don’t get in every bite so it’s a lovely addition as you’re enjoying this rich, vegetarian dish. I love it! Love it!!

If you serve it to people you care about, it’s unlikely you’ll have leftovers, but if you’re making it for one or two people, you’ll also be delighted by the dish reheated for lunch or dinner the next day or two after making it. There’s enough moisture from the vegetables and creamy cheese and healthy brown rice holds up better from a texture standpoint compared to white rice which often “blows” out from absorbing too much liquid.

I went to the trouble, once, to reduce the recipe to a 9 x 9 pan, but I won’t make that mistake again. It’s so delicious and everyone I’ve ever served it to has loved it. You don’t want it to all get eaten. You’re going to want to make the full pan size (9 x 12) which is supposed to serve between 6-8 people according to the recipe. If you’re lucky, there will be a little left just for you for later.

It’ll be our secret.

Risotto with a Twist

043I had quite a few veggies to use up and I’d been craving risotto.  I sometimes like adding many vegetables to risotto, but sometimes you can definitely have too much of a good thing.  My favorite versions usually have a “less is more” approach where you can taste all of the elements.  This can be tricky when you have a lot of different things you’re trying to use up before you have to contribute them to the compost bin.

I was all set to use a giant leek we got from the farm along with garlic and some shallot.  We had some really nice kohlrabi, so I thought that might be nice as the main flavor in the risotto.  The problem then was what to do with the other remnant veggies from other cooking in the week:  part of a large butternut squash, the other half of the kohlrabi, some celeriac/celery root.  They were getting close to the end and I hadn’t cooked as much this week as I had hoped and planned.

Desperation leads to inspiration.  Or in my case, memory.

I had one other time had an extra abundance of vegetables and limited capacity to cook and/or eat.  At that time, I used my juicer.  I had some good results and some not so good results.

Soup = bad result!

Juicing can be a great way to reduce a lot of veggies to a manageable amount of liquid and if you’re really good, the pulp can be transformed into delicious breads.  I think making fritters with veggie pulp would be an especially good experiment.  Soup, however, is not so great.  I wanted to make a quick soup for a friend so I juiced some onion and pumpkin.  Looked and tasted great.  I heated it to turn it into soup and it separated into liquid and semi solids.  It still tasted great, but it looked awful.  My friend, proving her mettle, ate it.  There’s a reason she may be one of my dearest friends.  Of course, raw juices are meant to be consumed raw so it’s no surprise that the addition of heat led to some unfortunate results.

Risotto = good result!

Risotto, on the other hand, turns a negative into a positive.  Because most of the liquid is absorbed into the arborio rice, any separation is easy to overlook.  The first time I tried this experiment, I used carrot/celery/onion juice and it made a pretty tasty end result.

For this risotto, I had intended to use chopped up leek, shallot, garlic and kohlrabi with chicken broth.  As I was pulling out my veggies, I encountered the remnants and felt dread that they might soon be beyond use.  I remembered the previous juice “broth” and decided to give it a try again.  I peeled the kohlrabi, celeriac and butternut squash but made quick work of them in the juicer.  I ended up with about 3 cups of juice.  I added in enough chicken stock, though I could have used water, to make 4 cups to make the ration of 1 cup uncooked arborio rice to 4-ish cups of broth work.

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I was in business.

Risotto is not particularly hard.  You start by sautéing the veggies of your choice in butter and/or olive oil.  I used olive oil and added in the leek, shallot and garlic.  Once a little soft, I added in the kohlrabi chopped into relatively small cubes.  I didn’t want to overwhelm the leek flavor so I only used about 1/2 the kohlrabi this way and the rest was in the juice.

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035When things were soft and there was a little “brown” on the pan, I deglazed the pan with alcohol but you could use broth or water.  In the absence of the classic (white wine), I used a bit of sake.  Then I added in the un-rinsed arborio rice and sautéed to coat with the veggie mixture for a few minutes.  To this I added a bit of my veggie juice and broth and brought to a boil, stirring.  In the classic technique, you’d heat the broth and ladle it in bit by bit, stirring and adding more broth as each addition has been absorbed.  I’ve seen all kinds of variations on this including adding it all at once and baking it in the oven.  Having experimented, I’ve gotten pretty decent results by adding the liquid in in two additions and not bothering to heat it first.  So, I did add just a little to start, got things nice and hot, and then when most of that liquid was absorbed, added in the rest of the juice and then kept stirring occasionally until the rice was tender.  Depending on the rice, this can take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes and sometimes 4 cups is enough liquid and sometimes I need more like 5 cups.

I cooked some kale to go with it on the side.  I would say the predominant flavor, due to the juiced broth, was pumpkin so it was definitely different than it would have been if I’d used chicken broth.  In that case, I think the kohlrabi flavor would have been more pronounced.  Still, it was really great and the chunks of kohlrabi along with the overall smoothness of everything else was especially pleasing.  Creamy.  With some pepper and cheese to serve, it was one of my favorite risottos I’ve ever made.

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A satisfying and simple winter veggie stew

303It was Sunday night.  I needed to make dinner and I had lovely things, but it was one of those nights where the motivation is low and suggestibility is high.  I was already snuggled in watching tv.  I was all set to make toast.  Or cereal.  Or maybe open a can of soup.  But I walked past a winter squash I’ve been meaning to use for weeks!  I felt a familiar pang of shame — what if I waited too long? what if it was already dying?  how long can a winter squash remain neglected without giving up?

So I hit pause on the Tivo, turned on some NPR for background, and headed to the kitchen.  In less than 20 minutes, the soup was cooking.  In about 30 minutes of “do nothing but stir occasionally,” it was done!  I only had to stop watching tv long enough to get it going.

Because I had it, I used:  onion, carrot, parsnips, garlic, celery root, and butternut (or something related to a butternut but larger than the typical long and skinny butternut) squash.

It couldn’t have been simpler.  I peeled and chopped up an onion and set it to cooking with a little salt while I worked on other veggies.  I’d guess I cooked it about 7 minutes to past where the onions release their liquid and get to the point where they get a little brown.  I took it off the heat at this point and stirred in five fat cloves of minced garlic and about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste.  I mixed that in and then put it back on the heat for about a minute.  At that point I added about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of red wine (I would have used white but the red was already open), but you could do a quick deglaze of the pan with water at this point.  I then added one box of stock (32 ounces).  To this I added peeled and sliced carrots and parnsips.  If I had had celery I would have cooked it at the start with the onion, but because I didn’t have it and I did have a large celery root (celeriac), I peeled and chopped up half of it for the soup.  Our “butternut” squash was really large so I used about 2/3 of it.  I peeled it and cubed it and threw it in too.

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At this point it’s just waiting.  I tossed in a bit of thyme, a little sage, and a bay leaf and then brought it to a boil and reduced to a simmer. I set the time for 10 minute intervals so I’d not forget about it.  I’d stir it and check the veggies for tenderness.  At 30 minutes, the squash was soft but the carrots still had some integrity.  I added in just a bit of balsamic vinegar and the juice of one lemon to liven everything up at the end.

Much better than toast, cereal, or a can of soup on a dark, Sunday night in front of the tv.

 

Pickled chicory!

220Prep time: 26 hours. I feel it is important to say that up front.  Oh, and happy 2015!!

In our last veggie delivery, we got two kinds of chicory — a bitter-ish green.  I believe it’s connected, somehow, to endive, because when you google it, you’re just as likely to come up with endive recipes than anything else. One, called castelfranco, was small and looked like a little lettuce with green leaves with little pink/red flecks. The other one, sugarloaf, was long and shaped kind of like a nappa cabbage, but less full and more lettuce-like in the leaves.

The little one became delicious salads. Its bitterness less pronounced, I figured the way to make it more delicious would be to counter it with sweetness or richness. I think my instincts were right. In one salad, I made my own sweet dressing using a pear balsamic vinegar, olive oil, a bit of mustard, a pinch of sugar and salt and pepper. I used a mandoline to get thin ‘shreds” of carrot, radish, and a honeycrisp apple. I put the shreds into the dressing to marinate. The apple got a bit soft but the carrot and radish stayed crisp. At the last minute, I tossed the mixture with the chicory. Really nice. We ate it with Russian potato pancakes and the sweet/bitter notes were a nice counter to the savory potato-onion pancakes.

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For the other salad, richness in the form of blue cheese dressing. In this case, I took the ‘cheat’ and used store bought blue cheese dressing (the brand in the jars in the refrigerated section). On top of the creamy leaves, thin slices of ripe red pear. I had given some candied walnuts and cranberries for holiday gifts and so I also put a few of those I had remaining on the salad. The creamy chicory with the slightly sweet pear and the candied nuts was also a really lovely combination.

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I think either of these salads could convert anybody into a chicory fan. That little one (castelfranco) might be my new favorite vegetable.

The larger one had me stumped. Hello internet. I found a recipe that sounded good, but had no real measurements. Just numbers. From the U.K. I wasn’t sure if I was working in grams, milliliters, or something else. Maybe everyone in the U.K. automatically knows what to do when faced with this approach, but I was initially stumped. I cook, I thought. I can sort it out. I’ve done other pickles and make my own dressings a lot, so I ought to be able to sort it out.

Except I demonstrated insufficient reading. Twice. On day one, I was ready to make it after work, but it was already 7. That’s when I finally read it had to marinate 2 hours. So I made something else.

The next night I started making it (got home early to do so), and then really read it. It doesn’t marinate for 2 hours. The chicory is salted and then sits for 2 hours to drain and then it marinates in a dressing for 24 hours. So I made something else…but returned to the kitchen to make it — do the salting, get it into the dressing.

The other snag – the dressing has to cook and then cool, so you do have to do it first and then salt the chicory, and then use the salting time as your cooling time.

Day 3, I had to work late which included dinner, so I ate something else. At this point my chicory had been in the vinegary dressing 24 hours. It looked good when I got home, but I was too full to do more than taste it. I wondered what would happen in 24 more hours. Would it be overly pickled? Browning? Ruined?

Finally, on the fourth night, my ‘quick’ pickled chicory saga ends. Deliciously. The result is a sweet, gingery pickled green where the bitterness keeps things from being too sweet but the texture is still crisp which is nice, even after 24 extra hours in the dressing. Paired with a peppery steak, it was great.

End of saga…

If you wanted to make your own, you can consult the original source and have at it or try the following version I used:

Pickling liquid

In a small saucepan, combine:

  • One large knob of ginger (thumb sized) cut into thin strips – I didn’t even bother to peel it since it gets strained out eventually)
  • 40 grams sugar (yes, I weighed it). It’s probably under ¼ cup.
  • 150 grams of vinegar (yes, weighed). It’s probably ½- ¾ cup. I used straight vinegar rather than the white wine vinegar of the original
  • One dried chili pepper – I didn’t have a fresh chili pepper like the original recipe called for, but you could use one if you had it

Tip: OPEN THE WINDOWS and/or TURN ON YOUR STOVE’S FAN. You bring this mixture to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, and then set it aside to cool. I put it in a covered jar to try to minimize the vinegar-y air in my kitchen, but just in the boiling and simmering, the air will get quite pronounced. I left the ginger and chili in the hot mixture to continue to flavor the mixture as it cooled.

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Next, prepare the chicory. You can separate the thicker stems from the leaves, but I just chopped it up kind of like making thick coleslaw. I was afraid to chop it up too thin given the intensity of the heavy vinegar pickling liquid.

In a colander over a bowl to catch the liquid, combine:

  • The chopped chicory
  • 1 t. Salt

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Now you wait. The chicory is to sit with the salt for 2 hours. I wasn’t sure how well I had mixed it in, so I tossed it a couple of times during the 2 hours and discarded the salty water that was draining out of the chicory.   When the time has elapsed, I put the still a bit salty chicory into a bowl with the drained pickling liquid (remove the ginger and chili). The whole thing went into the fridge for 24 hours – in my case 48.

I did look at it after 12 hours.  The chicory was “shrinking” and “softening” in the liquid, but at 24 hours it looked and tasted even better.  I do think it helps to take the full time if you have it.  Still, it would have been perfectly acceptable to eat at the halfway point if that had been my timetable.

Unlike other pickles, it made sense to me why you didn’t salt the pickling liquid since the chicory was salty enough to provide that needed element to the pickling process. I might have been able to get away with using more salt, but I was wary given an earlier over-salting experience making bread and butter pickles. Coincidentally, that mistake was another case of incomplete recipe reading before I started and not realizing I had messed up until it was too late.

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Done. It’s the easiest of recipes as long as you get the timing of things right. And read.

In the original recipe they served it with a pepper-crusted steak and a side salad of arugula with a dressing that contains fish sauce, sugar, and lemon. I’m not against that, but I didn’t have arugula and the chicory pickling sauce seemed like dressing enough. I got a steak and did indeed make a pepper-crusted steak which I then sliced thin and served with the pickled chicory and some brown rice. It was pretty beige on the plate, so I added some grapefruit sections (I love citrus in winter!) and some pickled cranberries left from Christmas. It was both pretty and delicious. The spicy peppered steak along with the gingery chicory is a nice combination, but very strong flavors. It was nice to have some plain brown rice to balance it all out.   I think it would have been super nice even with a basic steak so I’m not sure the pepper crust was necessary.

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For the leftovers, I decided to make my own colorful udon bowl. I’ve had some curry udon noodles in the pantry for a while, so I decided to make it with shredded raw carrot, the leftover beef, some toasted walnuts, and the vinegary chicory.  I drained off a little of the pickling liquid, heated it just a bit in the microwave, and mixed in two spoonfuls of peanut butter to make a dressing to bind it all. It was even better, I think, than the original recipe’s steak-chicory combination. It’s nice having hot noodles, cold chicory, and uncooked carrot. It’s also a beautiful mixture of colors and textures.

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When posted on Fbook, a former student said that in France they wrap chicory in ham, cover it in béchamel, and then bake it. I’m kind of hoping we get more chicory so I can give that a try…

Could chicory be the new kale?

Ham days

For the last few times I’ve hosted Christmas, I’ve made a root beer ham. I melded a few online recipes into one. Essentially, you make a reduction of root beer (full sugar — no diet!), brown sugar, mustard and ketchup. If your guests like it spicy, you can add in some cayenne or pepper flakes or pepper jelly, but for my parents I leave that out. You boil then simmer the mixture for about ten minutes and then refrigerate it to use the next day.

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In some ways, I think the flavor is more affected by the cloves. I bake from cold with scoring and a heavy hand with the cloves. It bakes 1-3 hours to get up to 110 degrees and then uncovered to 140 degrees, all the while basting with the root beer glaze.

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As part of a meal that included mustard-maple brussel sprouts, glazed carrots, corn pudding, mashed potatoes, bread rolls, pickled cranberries and jello salad, the ham was wonderful.

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There were a lot of leftovers. Initially I intended to make scalloped potatoes and ham, but then my schedule didn’t cooperate.

I did make one dinner soon after the holiday to use most of the veggie leftovers.  I made a 2-serving shepherds pie. The base was the leftover carrots and brussel sprouts — including the glaze for the sauce — along with some ham. I then topped it with mashed potatoes and baked it in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the filling was warm and the top was a little crispy.

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For a few mornings, I delighted in eating some of the ham scrambled into eggs. For vacation mornings, it was a hearty and happy way to start the day.

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I still had some left but not enough to make scalloped potatoes. One night, out of nowhere, the canned deviled ham spread you buy in the store came to mind. I have no idea why since I haven’t had it or ever thought of it before.

I did a google check but assumed it was mostly chopped ham and mayo. A Bon Appetit recipe included cream cheese which seemed like a good addition — more body and richness than just mayo.

I headed to the kitchen. I didn’t want to deal with my large food processor so I pulled out my small chopper. The ham took a few additions, but I’d guess I had about 1.5 cups or a little more.

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In the last batch, I added in two blobs of cream cheese. Since it was cold, I knew it would mix in more easily using the chopper than by hand.

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I blended the ham-cream cheese batch into the rest of the ham with a couple blobs of mayo (I’d guess an equal amount to the cream cheese) and one blob of mustard. I also added a healthy amount of black pepper, but it still needed something so I added my favorite sweet-spicy pickle relish.

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It looks awful but it tastes wonderful, especially on toasted grainy bread.

And it was easier than making scalloped potatoes.