What’s the difference between a home cook and a chef? For me, the answer lies right there in the pages of Daniel Boulud’s braising book which came out back in 2006. I’m a big believer in braising; nothing makes me happier than to sear a tough piece of meat, stir in some aromatics, add a cooking liquid, and then to let thing go for three hours, only to have the meat melt beneath the tines of a fork when you’re done, the sauce right there without any extra labor. But as for those individual elements–the meat, the aromatics, the liquid–the best I could come up with, if pressed, would be all the usual suspects: chicken thighs, onions, garlic, white wine, etc. That’s because I’m a home cook. Chef Boulud, on the other hand, fills his pages with the most startling combinations: beef shank with coconut and avocado, pork belly with pineapple and plantains, lamb shanks with mint, prunes, and bourbon. And so on Saturday, I decided to channel my inner-chef and make the recipe that called out to me the most: Pork Shoulder with Guinness, Dried Cherries, and Sweet Potatoes.
It was so hot here in L.A., last week, I couldn’t bear to go outside. Then, quite abruptly, the heat went away and this morning I found myself turning off the A/C early, chilly under our light summer blanket. A change of season is afoot–especially in places that aren’t L.A.–and mood-wise, that might be kind of depressing, but food-wise? This is my favorite transition, from light summer salads to hearty winter braises. Consider this particular recipe, adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, the perfect transitional tool.
You’re not going to believe me, but I’m telling you the truth: the dinner you see above? It’s cheap and easy.
Don’t balk! I kid you not. Last Monday, I made this dinner for less than $20 and it was one of the best things that I’ve made in a long time. I didn’t even use a recipe, I just whipped it up based on an idea I had. The idea went something like this: what if I buy chicken thighs and braise them in white wine vinegar with onions, garlic, olives, capers, and cherry tomatoes and serve it all on plain couscous? It seemed like a foolproof plan for deliciousness.
Here’s a cooking tip: if you have something in your pantry that requires a long soak (dried beans, for example, or dried chickpeas), rip open the bag in the morning, pour them into a bowl and fill it up with water even if you have no idea what you’re going to do with them later in the day. What’s great about this approach is that it narrows the field for you after 5 o’clock; instead of choosing from endless recipes, you know you need to find one that features soaked-beans or chickpeas. It’s a win-win because you have a component that’s normally a pain in the butt and some direction for your dinner.
It’s inauguration day and also Martin Luther King Day and here I am sharing a French recipe. Before you label me a communist, I hope you know this is entirely coincidental. On Friday, I made dinner for a few friends and while thumbing through my cookbooks searching for an entree, the dish that really caught my eye was a recipe for Daube de Boeuf from Saveur Cooks Authentic French. Unlike Boeuf Bourguignon, Daube de Boeuf doesn’t ask you to render bacon or to cook pearl onions and mushrooms separately; here, you just brown beef in butter and olive oil, add your mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery), garlic, and a good, bold red wine. Two hours later you add dried porcinis and their soaking liquid and the rest takes care of itself.
The meat section at my local Gelson’s is pretty spectacular: if you name a cut of meat, they probably have it. And on Friday night I was craving lamb and, studying the lamb options there, I saw a giant leg of lamb for $70 and a rack of lamb for $40. Those prices would seem to make lamb prohibitively expensive, yet there was another lamb option there for a measly $10.
No matter what holiday you celebrate this holiday season, there’s going to be a dinner and since you’re reading a food blog right now, there’s a good chance people are going to expect YOU to make it. Your options will be fairly limited–people have certain expectations when it comes to holiday dinners–and in the canon of culinary techniques available to you, you’ll most likely choose roasting since that particular verb yields so many classic holiday dishes: roast beef, roast turkey, roast reindeer (see my banner.)
First of all, let’s give credit where credit is due: look at the “c” I put in the word “Provencal” in this post’s title. That “c” has the appropriate squiggle in it; I copied it from the Wikipedia page for Provencal. What does that squiggle denote? I have no idea, but the squiggle is there and who do you have to thank? Me, that’s who.
Second of all: lamb’s neck. Are you grossed out? You really shouldn’t be. I first ate lamb’s neck at the offal dinner Chris Cosentino cooked at the Astor Center last year (watch video here). Unlike the raw venison liver I consumed, or, for that matter, beef heart tartare, the lamb’s neck was the least forbidding of the dishes served; on the plate, it looks no different from a braised lamb shank (except for the shape) and it tastes twice as good. Why? It’s a fattier cut of meat.