Eggplant Caponata

Caponata

I recently joined a CSA here in Toronto and am so pleased it’s a little embarrassing.  I practically skip on my way to pick up my share, it’s like that.  CSA stands for Community Shared Agriculture, and there are programs like this available in almost any region these days.  While each one has different guidelines and fees, they generally offer a weekly supply of local and organic produce for a good price and can often be delivered to your door.  For those of us living in urban areas where gardening is a challenge, it’s a fabulous resource to access fresh and seasonal produce.  One of the reasons I encourage a program like this is that it will get you to try vegetables that may be foreign to you.  It was a CSA in New York that introduced me to kohlrabi, and I’ve been thankful ever since.

Last week’s bounty brought me everything from pea shoots to leeks and some beautiful purple eggplant.  With the weather just starting to turn the corner up here, I felt like something healthy, refreshing, but still soul-warming.  This is Canada, after all.

This traditional Sicilian eggplant stew has a beautiful sweet-and-sour thing happening and can be served as an appetizer with grilled bread, alongside roasted meats or fish, or with sliced cured meats and cheeses for a delicious lunch.  You can also eat this with a spoon behind an open refrigerator door, as I have often been known to do.

This traditional caponata is not so traditional in my use of maple syrup.  I know, don’t tell my mother’s side of the family… they would surely disapprove.  But I love maple syrup as a sweetener for its deep flavor and luxurious texture and think it is great here.  If you’d prefer, you can be more conventional and use a tablespoon of sugar.  No problem there.

This is a recipe that gets better with age so make a big batch, keep it in the fridge, and enjoy it all week.  If you’re in the area, check Fresh City Farms.  If you’re anywhere else, which most of you are, simply google CSA for your area and there is sure to a program for you.  Random thought of the day:  What did we do before Google?  I mean, seriously.

 

Eggplant Caponata

Yield: About 4 cups

 

2 medium eggplants, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes

4 Tablespoons olive oil, more as needed

1 small onion, diced

1 ½ cups canned whole tomatoes and juice, tomatoes crushed by hand

½ cup green olives, pitted and sliced in half

3 Tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

1 Tablespoon anchovy paste, or 2 salt-packed anchovies rinsed, filleted and chopped

¼ cup red wine vinegar

1 ½ teaspoons pure maple syrup

¼ cup basil, rough chopped, for serving

 

Season the eggplant cubes with salt and put into a colander to drain for 15 minutes.

In a heavy pot over medium heat, warm 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil.  Add enough eggplant cubes to cover the bottom of the pan and sauté until golden.  Remove and continue sautéing the eggplant in batches, adding more oil as needed.

Once the eggplant is cooked, add a bit more oil along with the diced onion.  Cook, stirring as needed, until soft and translucent, 7-9 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes and juice and cook for another 7 minutes.  Stir in the eggplant, then add the olives, capers, anchovy, red wine vinegar, and maple syrup.  Cook for a final 10 minutes, then taste and add more salt, vinegar, or maple syrup to your taste.

If serving that day, bring caponata to room temperature and serve topped with the basil.  Caponata is even better the next day, so I encourage you to refrigerate it and hold off… IF you can practice restraint.

 

**My Two Cents:  I use anchovy paste here as I always have a tube of it in the fridge.  It adds a salty, briney punch to everything from salad dressings to fresh herb sauces.

** If you prefer kalamata olives, feel free to swap them in for the green.

** Fresh parsley can be substituted for the basil, and while it will steer this away from its Sicilian roots a bit, it will do the trick to brighten it up.

Homemade Chicken Stock: Something from Nothing

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A while back I read Tamar Adler’s affecting book An Everlasting Meal.   There is so much for modern day cooks to learn from this old-school philosophy of utilizing every part of our food.  Using more and wasting less is not only good for the environment, but it’s good for our spirits, our wallets, and our waistlines.  Those carrot peels and celery leaves we throw away are meant for so much more than being tossed aside.  Those greens on the tops of beets are pungent and delicious when sautéed, the rind of that wheel of Gruyere would add delightful depth to minestrone, and that stale heel of bread begs to be turned into breadcrumbs to fold into meatballs or coat fish.

Food has been made so quick and convenient that we often overlook ingredients already in our kitchen.  All it takes is a little creativity and patience, and it’s worth challenging ourselves.

This stock is one of my favorite ways to use up chicken bones left over from roasts and bits of vegetables that I have laying around.  If I don’t have stock in the freezer, I have bones there waiting to be turned into it.  Besides the fact that homemade stock is much more delicious than store bought, it is simple and costs almost nothing.

A big “thank you” to all artisans who remind us to be considerate cooks and grateful eaters.

 

“Great meals rarely start at points that all look like beginnings. They usually pick up where something else leaves off. This is how most of the best things are made – imagine if the world had to begin from scratch each dawn: a tree would never grow, nor would we ever get to see the etchings of gentle rings on a clamshell… Meals’ ingredients must be allowed to topple into one another like dominos. Broccoli stems, their florets perfectly boiled in salty water, must be simmered with olive oil and eaten with shaved Parmesan on toast; their leftover cooking liquid kept for the base for soup, studded with other vegetables, drizzled with good olive oil, with the rind of the Parmesan added for heartiness. This continuity is the heart and soul of cooking.”

Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace

 

 

Chicken Stock:  Something from nothing

Yield:  About 3 Quarts

 

Carcass, bones, and bits from two 3-4 lb. chickens

3 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered

5 carrots, unpeeled and havled

4 stalks celery and/or handful of celery leaves

2-3 handfuls of herbs (parsley, thyme, dill, etc will all work)

10 cloves garlic, unpeeled and smashed

2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

2 Tablespoons kosher salt

 

Place the chicken parts, garlic, vegetables, herbs and peppercorns in a large, deep-bottomed pan. Add cold water to cover vegetables by 1 inch and bring to a boil, skim, then turn the heat down to a low simmer.

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Continue to simmer uncovered for 3-4 hours, skimming as necessary, then pass the stock through a fine sieve. Allow to cool for about half an hour, then refrigerate. I usually divide it into plastic containers at this point and freeze it. It will keep in the fridge for about 4 days and in the freezer for 3 months.

 

 

Clean Eating: Black Rice Salad with Edamame, Red Grapefruit, and Walnuts

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Interestingly enough, the two seasons of the year I cook the least are summer and late winter.  The summer months keep me consuming fresh produce, flash-seared fish, and cold soups for the obvious reason that the oven is so hot and food is so fresh:  no brainer.

January through March, though indisputably cold, is a time of renewal and cleansing of my mind, spirit, home, and body.  I keep things simple and clean with a seasonal fruit breakfast, lots of nuts and grainy crackers for snacks, and meals that consist of grains, beans, vegetables, and a bit of protein like in this lunch favorite.  I appreciate the chewy texture of the wild rice against the crisp green vegetables and juicy citrus.  With huge flavor from a sprinkling of fresh herbs, sharp scallion, and buttery toasted nuts, only a drizzle of fruity green olive oil and white wine vinegar is needed.  Of course, a sprinkling of crunchy salt is desirable, as it is with most things I consume. I always feel best taking the month to refocus my energies and turn off the indulgence switch.

Truth be told, the initial New Year’s resolution attitude can only last about three weeks as I leave for multiple food shows starting in late January where I am forced to consume my weight in innovate confections, chocolates, and baked goods.  But again, I try to live an organized life in all aspects and this includes my eating.  I prepare for and embrace periods of dietary surrender because it is one of life’s ultimate pleasures, I am active in both eating and physical activity and I keep a bit of an inventory to keep it real.

It’s like organized gluttony.  That doesn’t sound like such sacrifice now does it?

 

Clean Eating:  Black Rice Salad with Edamame, Red Grapefruit, and Walnuts

SERVES 4-6

 

1 cup black rice

½ cup walnuts

2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

4 oz. green beans, blanched and thinly sliced

1 cup grape tomatoes, haved

1 large ruby red grapefruit

1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed

3 scallions, thinly sliced

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cook rice according to directions (typically in a medium saucepan of salted boiling water for 30-35 minutes).  Drain and let cool in a single layer on a baking sheet.

On a small baking sheet, roast walnuts for 8-10 minutes, allow to cool and chop.

To segment the grapefruit, first use a paring knife to slice off all of the rind and as much pith as possible.  Slice between the membrane and remove segments of the grapefruit until all the fruit is off.  Reserve.  In a small bowl, ring out the membrane to collect all juice as you will use this to dress your salad.  To the juice, add honey, vinegar, and olive oil and whisk gently.  Season with a pinch of salt.

Toss rice, walnuts, scallions, tomatoes, edamame, green beans, grapefruit, and vinaigrette in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and serve.

 

**My Two Cents:  If you don’t care for grapefruit, orange segments are a nice substitute.

**  If you have trouble finding black rice, brown rice would definitely work here.  This is a good base salad and you can feel free to play with different vegetables, fruits, and nuts to keep this in rotation all year long.

Spicy Pork and Greens Soup with Sichuan Peppercorns, Rice Noodles, and Chili Sauce

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Last week I was feeling very under the weather.  That may sound rather anti-climactic but considering the fact that temperatures in Toronto barely broke the -10 degree C mark, it’s a powerful statement.  I did not feel well.  At all.

The thing about your garden variety cold is that you just have to wait out… try to get some sleep, drink fluids, rest, repeat.  If you have had a mother, you know the drill.  Soup was all that appealed to me, so I figured I’d better make it good.  What I didn’t count on was it being so, so, so good.

The caramelized meat, the bitter greens, the tender noodles and briny broth flecked with spices and chile are a perfect combination.  Drizzle your favorite hot sauce on here, grab some chopsticks, and dig in.  No sickness required.

 

Spicy Pork and Greens Soup with Sichuan Peppercorns, Rice Noodles, and Chili Sauce

SERVES 4-6

 

¾  lb. ground pork

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tsp. finely grated peeled ginger

1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns, crushed with the back of a spoon

¾ tsp. crushed red pepper flake

½ tsp. cumin

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

4 cups mustard greens

1 handful beet greens (from the tops of a beetroot)

4 scallions, thinly sliced

2 Tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tsp. fish sauce

8 oz. wide rice noodles

Kosher salt, and fresh cracked pepper

Your favorite chili sauce (I use Sriracha) for serving

 

Mix pork, garlic, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns, red pepper flakes, and cumin in a medium bowl.  Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat and add pork mixture, seasoning with salt and pepper as it starts to cook.  Cook for 8-10 minutes until cooked through, periodically breaking the meat up with a spoon.

Add broth and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until flavors meld, 10 minutes or so.  Add greens, scallions, soy sauce, and fish sauce and cook, stirring occasionally until greens are tender, 5-7 minutes; season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhie, cook rice noodles according to package directions, drain and reserve.

To serve:  divide noodles among bowls, ladle soup over, and drizzle with chili sauce.

 

**My Two Cents:  If pork isn’t your thing (no judgement… okay no extreme judgement) ground chicken or turkey would be very good here.

** If you can’t locate Sichuan peppercorns, simply omit them.  You’ll get sufficient heat from the red pepper flake and chili sauce.

Roasted Curried Cauliflower with Sweet Paprika, Red Wine Vinegar, and Herbs

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You may have noticed that I like cauliflower.  I like it a lot.

It’s such a diverse vegetable, taking an equal liking to being blended into a beautifully creamy soup as it does being married with pungent cheese and gently coaxed to softness in a gratin.  This, however, may be my favorite way to eat this lovely vegetable.

With the perfect blend of pungent spices, ample olive oil, wine vinegar to encourage caramelizing, and high heat roasting I get gorgeously crispy, tender cauliflower that is so satisfying I happily eat a big bowl of it as dinner.

After the initial meal you can surely find me days later, picking at it cold from the fridge in my robe and slippers.  I suspect it gets even better with time, but it never lasts long enough to hypothesize that theory.

This is just one of those.

 

Roasted Curried Cauliflower with Sweet Paprika, Red Wine Vinegar, and Herbs

SERVES 4 as a side or 2 as a main course lunch

 

1 ½ teaspoons curry powder

1 ½ teaspoons sweet paprika

¼ teaspoon coriander

¼ teaspoon cumin

1 medium to large head cauliflower, cored and cut into florets

1 small red or yellow onion, cut in a large dice

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 ½ Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the curry, paprika, coriander, cumin, salt, and black pepper in a small bowl.  Stir to combine.

Place the onion and cauliflower florets in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil.  Sprinkle in the spice mixture and toss well, coating the vegetables completely.  Add the vinegar and toss again to combine.

Roast the cauliflower and onion in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast for 30-35 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes, until the vegetables are nicely caramelized and tender.  Shower the vegetables with the chopped parsley, toss to combine and serve.

**My Two Cents:  This is as tasty at room temperature as it is right out of the oven.  It’s also even better after a day or two in the fridge.

** If cilantro is your thing, add it in with the parsley or replace the parsley altogether.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Lemon

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I was recently asked by my Indigo creative team to select a favorite holiday recipe.  Now, selecting a favorite recipe is no small deal.  I’ve been inspired by and smitten with so many great dishes over the years that I found it necessary to install some parameters.

First, the recipe must be seasonal in both ingredients and celebratory feel.

Second, it must be something that is familiar yet unique, marrying classically harmonious flavor combinations with a little something extra in way of technique or taste.

Third, it must be so delicious that the nuances of the recipe dance around your palate hours after consumed, and your mind anxiously awaits the perfect wintery occasion to make it again.

The dish that first came to mind, blowing the lid off all preceding criteria, comes to us from Melissa Clark’s fabulous seasonal cookbook, Cook This Now:  120 Delectable Dishes You Can’t Wait to Make. Between the covers you will find monthly recipe selections highlighting the season’s best produce and flavors, introduced by the always witty and thoughtful Melissa Clark.  This book is an entertaining read by any standard, but I highly recommend actually cooking the recipes.  Having worked with some of the world’s most renowned chefs, she is the real deal.   I trust this woman completely.

I made this dish two holidays ago for my family, slightly fearful that the mere thought of replacing mashed potatoes with rice would send my Irish father into anaphylactic shock.    I relied heavily on the fact that salty aged cheese and sweet winter squash are far from foreign at our table, and that he has a huge affinity for pistachio nuts.  In fact, he once chipped a tooth trying to crack a stubborn one open.  He is nothing if not vigilant.

To my delight, even the most traditional eaters in our household were hypnotized by this dish:  The way the shredded squash practically melted into the now doubly creamy risotto, the way that the salty cheese played off the woodsy sweetness of the squash, the way the bright lemon and crunchy pistachios added freshness and color.

I can’t say that we didn’t still make potatoes that year, but I can say we had leftovers.

 

Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Lemon

SERVEST 4-6

from Melissa Clark’s “Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can’t Wait to Make”

1/2 pound peeled butternut squash
about 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium leek, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 cups arborio rice
2 rosemary branches
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/3 cup dry white wine
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped salted pistachios
grated Parmesan cheese

In a food processor or with a hand-held grater, shred the squash.

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Melt the butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring them occasionally, until they are soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook it until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the rice, squash, rosemary, and salt. Stir until most of the grains of rice appear semi-translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. This means they have absorbed some of the fat from the pan, which will help keep the grains separate from each other as they form their creamy sauce.

Pour the wine into the pan and let it cook off for about 2 minutes. Add a ladleful of stock (about 1/2 cup) and cook, stirring it constantly and making sure to scrape around the sides, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Continue adding stock, a ladleful at a time, and stirring almost constantly, until the risotto has turned creamy and thick, and the grains of rice are tender with a bit of bite, about 25 to 30 minutes. Pluck out the rosemary branch and stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and black pepper. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice if needed. Garnish with the pistachios and optional cheese before serving.

Honeyed Pink Peppercorn Bacon

I think this is the third week in a row I’ve posted a meat recipe.  Yup, sounds about right.  This is barely a recipe, it’s more of a combination, but it’s a pretty fantastic one so I hope you’ll give it a shot.  The only downside is that you’ll be forever aware of just how tasty a midday bacon snack can be.  Sorry, but not sorry.

This may seem like a long time to cook bacon, but the extra oven time caramelizes the honey and gives the bacon a beautifully burnished crust.  Pink peppercorns play off the honey’s floral notes and create a sweet and delicate finish.  This is a unique side to serve for brunch, but it’s just as good as an afternoon nibble or appetizer with cocktails.

If you don’t love bacon, this may not be the dish for you.  Then again, if you don’t like bacon you probably aren’t reading my blog anyway.

 

Honeyed Pink Peppercorn Bacon

Serves 8 people, 2 pieces per person

 

2 lb. thick-cut bacon

1-2 Tablespoons honey, warmed up to a thin consistency

2 ½ Tablespoons cracked pink peppercorns

½ Tablespoon cracked black peppercorns

 

Place oven racks to upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.

Line 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on each.  If you don’t have these, it’s okay, but they help to drain the excess fat and ensure even crisping.

Divide bacon on racks in a single layer and brush with half of the honey.  Sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons of the pink peppercorns and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove from oven, turn each piece over and brush with remaining honey and sprinkle with the rest of the pink and black peppercorns.  Return to oven, placing the top pan on bottom and vice versa.  Bake for 10 minutes more or until deeply caramelized.  Serve.

**My Two Cents:  If you prefer, you can substitute maple syrup for the honey.  I adore maple syrup but find that the floral notes in the honey work especially well with the pink peppercorns.

** You can find pink peppercorns at almost any supermarket.  They are sold with, you guessed it, the other peppercorns.

 

Maple-Glazed Pork Roast with Smoked Paprika

Pork

Sunday night is a beautiful thing.

After a full weekend of tending to the details that get lost in the work-week shuffle, you are left with precious hours to take a deep breath, put on some music, and reward yourself with a delicious meal.  I always feel best on Monday morning when I have nurtured myself on a Sunday night.

Sundays are always the day that I spend most time in my kitchen.  During the colder months especially, you will find a hearty stew bubbling away or a glistening roast cooking in my oven.  This pork roast is a fabulous way to ease into your week.

If you haven’t heard of Cook’s Illustrated, it’s time you did.  Their book The New Best Recipe is an extensive and highly practical collection brought to us from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated and American’s Test Kitchen.   The thousands of hours these men and women have put into perfecting every recipe from the traditional Green Been Casserole to Panna Cotta jumps out of every page.  You will be challenged to have any dish in mind that this book does not tell you how to make the very best it can be.

Since I almost never divert from their recipes (a rare proclamation from an insatiably curious cook), I’ve given it to you just as they’ve laid it out.  A nicely seared and beautifully cooked pork roast doesn’t need much, and the gorgeous amber glaze of spiced syrup lets the meat shine through while giving it a spiced sweetness that will fill your home with warmth and comfort.

With Mondays as hectic as they were born to be, returning home to leftovers like this brings back the gentle Sunday that feels so far away.  Until someone smartens up and adds a day in between, this will need to suffice to bridge the gap.

 

Maple-Glazed Pork Roast with Smoked Paprika

The New Best Recipe

Serves 4-6

 

1/3 cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

Pinch ground cloves

Pinch cayenne pepper

1 2-3 lb. boneless pork loin roast, tied at even intervals along the length with 5 pieces of kitchen twine and patted dry with paper towels

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

 

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees.  Stir the maple syrup, smoked paprika, cloves, and cayenne together in a measuring cup or small bowl and set aside.  Sprinkle the roast evenly with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed ovenproof skillet over medium high heat until just beginning to smoke.  Place the roast fat-side down in the skillet and cook until well browned, about 3 minutes.  Using tongs, rotate the roast one-quarter turn and cook until well browned, about 2 ½ minutes; repeat until the roast is well browned on all sides.  Transfer the roast to a large plate.  Reduce the heat to medium and pour off the fat from the skillet; add the maple syrup mixture and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds (the syrup will bubble immediately).  Off the heat, return the roast to the skillet; using tongs, roll to coat the roast with glaze on all sides.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast until the center of the roast registers about 140 to 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 35 to 45 minutes, using tongs to roll the roast to coat with glaze twice during the roasting time.  Transfer the roast to a carving board; set the skillet aside to cool slightly and thicken the glaze, about 5 minutes.  Pour the glaze over the roast and let rest for 15 minutes (the center of the roast should register 150 degrees).  Snip the twine off the roast, cut into ¼ inch slices, and serve immediately.

 

**My Two Cents:  You can use Grade A maple syrup if that’s what you have, but Grade B has a deeper flavor that makes for a more flavorful glaze.

The Ultimate Braised Brisket

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Yesterday was 9 degrees.

9.

Granted, I live in Toronto and 9 degrees Celsius is quite different from 9 degrees Farenheit, but it’s a single digit temperature and that means things are getting chilly.  It also means that the season of braises, stews, and warm soup is upon us.  These types of dishes are often long to cook but quick to put together, making them incredibly convenient. This is particularly true when it comes to entertaining, as these dishes also have the huge added benefit of benefiting from a day or two of rest in the refrigerator before serving.

Now let’s talk about this brisket.  Earlier this week I picked up a fabulous side of brisket from a local butcher in preparation for a small dinner at my place Friday night.  Knowing I’d be coming home from work Friday with about an hour before my friends arrived, I didn’t want to leave any cooking to the last minute, making a dish like this the perfect choice as I could start the process Thursday morning before work.  Do not be put off by the long list of ingredients, you probably have most of them on hand.

Typically when I do a braise I sear the meat to get a crusty exterior before braising away in wine, broth, and the like.  However, I wanted true melt-in-your-mouth texture so right into the slow cooker it went.  By the time I got home it was time to put it in the fridge and reduce the sauce, leaving only the slicing and reheating to Friday night.

This has that fantastic tangy, sweet, spiced thing going on that coats the soft strings of slow-cooked beef.  I served butter knives to cut the meat, but it was very clear that no cutting would be necessary; the meat was perfectly tender and broke apart at even delicate pressure.  Served over creamy polenta and sautéed green beans it was everything I’d hoped for.

When life gives you single digit temperatures, make brisket.  I’m pretty sure that’s not the exact saying, but it’s fairly close.

 

The Ultimate Braised Brisket

Serves 8

 

2 large onions

2 Tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 teaspoon smoked paprika (you can substitute regular if that’s what you have)

1 Tablespoon garlic powder

1 Tablespoon onion powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper (or about 15 turns of the mill)

1 dried bay leaf

½ teaspoon dried thyme

1 ½ cups low sodium beef stock

1 cup ketchup

¼ cup hot chili sauce

¼ cup sherry vinegar (you can use red wine if that’s what you have)

¾ cup brown sugar (light or dark)

6 lb brisket

 

Prepare the braising liquid:

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and sauté the onions in the olive oil, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté for 5 more minutes.  Stir in the spices (paprika, salt, garlic powder, black pepper, onion powder, thyme, and bay leaf) and cook for 2 minutes.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the beef stock, ketchup, vinegar, chili sauce, and brown sugar.  Do not fret over lumps, it will all break down beautifully in the slow cooker.

Cook the brisket:

Place brisket in the slow cooker and spread the spiced onion mixture on top.  Pour the sauce on top of that, then cover with lid and cook on LOW for 10 hours.

When the brisket is cooked, transfer it to a baking dish.  Pour the sauce into a saucepan and cook on the stovetop until slightly thickened and reduced by 25-50 percent.  Pour over the brisket and refrigerate for several hours and up to two days.  This is an important step as the resting helps the meat reach maximum flavor and superb texture.

1 ½ hours before you serve:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and remove the dish from the fridge.  With a large spoon, remove all of the fat that has solidified.  Remove the meat from its sauce, place on a large cutting board, and slice into 1 inch slices.  Carefully place the sliced meat back into the sauce and cover the baking dish with foil.  Reheat in the oven until it is bubbling at the edges and cooked through.  Serve.

 

**My Two Cents:  If you want an extra kick, up the chili sauce or add a large pinch of cayenne.

** I like a leaner cut of brisket, but you can ask your butcher for the end with maximum marbling if that’s your thing.

** While I love this over polenta, it’s delicious over creamy mashed potatoes.

 

Marinated Olives with Orange, Red Chili, and Herbs

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When it comes to appetizers, I strongly believe in a light-handed, low maintenance approach.  For one thing, my attention is best kept on finishing the main course and wrapping up sides (one of the reasons I almost always serve a dessert that has been made hours or even a day or two ahead of time).  No one wants a harried host.

I’ve also found that when appetizers are a little TOO appetizing, guests fill up quickly and it leaves little true appetite for the main dishes.  I like my appetizers to be more like nibbles, and citrusy, spicy marinated olives are often part of the plan.

This is an excellent way to dress up store bought olive and is an inexpensive, healthy, impressive little greeter you can throw together in no time.

Leave the high maintenance to the crucial details of the evening that truly make a dinner party.

Your outfit.

 

Marinated Olives with Orange, Red Chile, and Herbs

Serves 4

 

2 garlic cloves

1 large sprig of rosemary

1 large sprig of thyme

4 large pieces of orange peel from 1 orange

large pinch of dried red chili flakes

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups extra large olives, pitted

 

Combine garlic cloves, thyme, rosemary, orange peel, red chili flakes, and extra- virgin olive oil in a saucepan and set over low heat. Allow the seasonings to slowly infuse the oil for about 5 minutes before pouring in the olives.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate the olives in the oil to serve later.

**My Two Cents:  Feel free to use lemon or tangerine in place of the orange if that’s what you have on hand.  This recipe is all about ease.

* Any olives can suit this recipe, but I prefer Spanish greens or Kalamata.