A couple weeks back, Lauro and I went to a brunch hosted by the good people and great cooks behind Sunday Dinner Club in tandem with The Butcher & Larder. Meat was on the menu, for sure. Because Rob and Allie at The Butcher & Larder are known for making the finest house-created nose-to-tail cured meats and terrines and bacon, oh my. I felt lucky to be there.
And also lucky to check out the future home of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, the next adventure for chefs Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp, who started Sunday Dinner Club while holding down full-time restaurant jobs.
The egg pictured here is from that special brunch, cooked sous-vide in a special machine that cooks at very low temperatures for a very long time. Not something to try at home without that special machine.
It reminded me how much I love poached eggs, where a rich viscous yolk undulates over the other food on the plate. Eggs are on everything these days, from burgers and curly-lettuce salads to my chickpea sweet potato tagine, even pizza, as my friend Domenica demonstrates so well. In Lauro’s native Uruguay, egg on a pizza is called pizza de caballo, or horse pizza. He has no idea why.
But back to eggs
We have only a few days until the Sunday brunch to end all Sunday brunches, Mother’s Day. This is when we pull out the stops, and poached eggs are a great way to celebrate Spring and Mom all at the same time. Eggs are a sign of spring because the advent of warmer weather is the sign for chickens to lay eggs more frequently, so they are more abundant.
If you’re hosting a Mothers Day brunch, check out these lovely table settings curated by House & Home magazine. And consider my jam-glazed yellow cake for dessert. It’s still Lauro’s favorite birthday cake, and perfect for this time of year when you want to use up any of last year’s jam before fruit season kicks in.
Perfect poached eggs
Start with the freshest you can get. In the UK, they label eggs on the date they were gathered rather than when they expire. If you buy your eggs at the grocery store, get them the day before your event, not a week in advance. Fresher eggs maintain their structure better.
Fill a shallow skillet with about three inches of water and heat over medium heat until bubbles form around the edge. Add a splash of white vinegar. If serving a number of eggs, line a platter or sheet pan with two layers of paper towels.
Crack each egg into a small bowl and slide it into the simmering water. I like to space the timing by about a minute or two to allow me time to take each egg out of the water when it’s exactly ready, as well as maintain an even cooking temperature in the pan. After you slide the egg into the water, gently spoon the hot water over it for a couple seconds, then move on to the next egg. Let them cook for a few minutes until the whites are firm. Do not overcook, because the yolks should stay runny. Three minutes or so should do the trick.
Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and blot gently on the paper towel. Trim any excess white that went astray during cooking.
Place on top of just about any food you’ve chosen to serve.
Brussels sprouts are, to me, the perfect hearty winter vegetable, robust and toothsome and the perfect side for any pot roast or substantial Sunday supper.
And today, in the month that we celebrate Easter, Passover, the first day of spring and the return of daylight savings time, I am definitely celebrating winter.
Chicago is in the midst of what’s being called the biggest snow storm since the blizzard of 2011 when city officials closed Lake Shore Drive after hundreds of cars were stranded.
So join me, won’t you?
Ignore the calendar - it’s winter! Let’s roast Brussels sprouts.
I’m sad to report that Brussels sprouts are maligned because people don’t cook them properly. Plain and simple.
In this easy method you cook at high heat to bring out their roasted goodness and help them caramelize. Your trusty Lodge cast iron skillet is your best friend for this recipe. And the technique works equally well on carrots or potatoes, really any substantial vegetable.
And Lauro reminded me that we enjoyed these tasty morsels at the dinner party where we met, at the Toronto home of my friend wine writer and mystery author Tony Aspler, his wife Deborah Benoit and their pooch Pinot the Wonder Dog. Tony is from England, and Lauro went to university in England, and thus we’ve dubbed them the perfect English dish. Great for any Chicago winter.
Mustardy Brussels sprouts
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 generous tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees while you trim off any wilted leaves and cut the Brussels sprouts in half. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil and mustard. Add the Brussels sprouts and turn to coat. Sprinkle with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Spill into a large cast iron skillet and cook until caramelized and fork tender, about 15 minutes.
In January I try to eat lighter. Like so many of us.
But I’ve found that deprivation isn’t the recipe for long-lasting change, so I’ve been cutting back on white flour (my favorite weakness), and stocking up on bold, flavorful veg foods like my chickpea sweet potato tagine, or roasted vegetables over Parmesan polenta.
I’ve also learned that soups can be among the healthiest meals, because they contain filling liquid, as long as that liquid isn’t cream.
Thus I’ve been making pureed soups like carrot coriander or apple celeriac soup with apple “croutons.” Or using up my leftover roasted vegetables in some homemade stock with navy beans.
The most important meal
Of course, every healthy eating plan begins with a good breakfast. For me, that’s oatmeal.
I worked with great people at Quaker oatmeal for a time, and fell in love with all ways of making it. I created my own honey-sweetened pine nut granola, then riffed on it using heart-healthy olive oil.
And so today I’m sharing my recipe for rib-sticking steel cut oatmeal. This heartier version has a rich, nutty texture, simmered slowly in a little milk and a few prunes. This is a completely adaptable recipe that lends itself to fruit juice or cider, with any dried or fresh fruit. It takes a while to simmer, but it cooks faster if you prepare it the night before and let it soak overnight in the fridge.
This edition is my favorite. Rich tasting without cream, and sweet because the prunes cook down and permeate the oatmeal. I’ve taken to calling it aux pruneaux because it makes me feel like I’m having an indulgent vacation on a Sunday morning.
Slow-simmered oatmeal with prunes
Serves one for breakfast (can be multiplied)
1/4 cup steel cut oats
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup prunes, sliced
scant 1/8 teaspoon salt
sprinkle of cinnamon to taste
Butter for serving
Pour the oats, milk and water into a small saucepan. Stir in the prunes and sprinkle with salt and cinnamon. Heat on the stove over high heat until bubbles form around the edge of the pan, then turn down to low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 - 30 minutes. Spoon into a bowl and top with a small knob of butter.
My Uruguayan husband has a weakness for pan dulce, or sweet bread.
Here in the U.S., where we have a deep Italian influence, we call it panettone, a delicious yeasty bread punctuated with dried fruits like currants or raisins
People, I’m sure you’ve figured this out, but panettone makes the best French toast ever. Ever.
Typically Lauro brings a big round loaf home, and we’ll have it on hand to eat and eat and eat, slice by delicious slice.
Before it’s devoured inch by inch, I wrench away a few slices for French toast. I use my biggest serrated bread knife to slice the big round loaf down the center. Then I turn it face down and I cut half-inch slices from the center of the loaf, leaving the smaller edges for continued snacking.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees and put an oven-proof platter on the center rack. Preheat a skillet or griddle over medium heat - a good pre-heat on cast iron will give you great French toast every time. When a drop of water dances on the surface, it’s ready. Brush it with oil when ready to griddle.
Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and cream in a shallow bowl. Dip the bread into the egg mixture and turn to coat. Place on the griddle and cook until your desired level of golden, about three minutes depending on your equipment. Turn to cook the other side. Remove and transfer to the platter in the oven. Repeat with remaining slices. Serve with embellishments of your choice.
Set out an array of embellishments and let everyone top their own French toast:
Don’t you think it’s nice to be known for something that’s pretty delish?
Rather than being known for other things, like being grumpy in the morning, for example, or not being able to hold crow pose in yoga?
I’m talking about my rosemary shortbread, a thin little flavorful cookie that people seem to like. I was recently introduced this way: “Janine’s the one who gave us our recipe for rosemary shortbread.” Their reaction: “Cool!” Wow, cool indeed.
And thus I’m reposting one of my favorite recipes for a great little cookie. The one I bring to hostesses and holiday gatherings. The one people tell me they have been saving to try. The one that a staffer at Floriole said “you have to try these” when she was setting up for a book dinner. She didn’t even know the recipe was mine.
A word about technique. Because my Scottish grandmother insisted this dough should be mixed by hand, that’s how I do it. You an use a mixer, and you can also double or quadruple the recipe.
I include rosemary because I love the flavor (and it is prolific in my Michigan garden), but you can substitute lavender or thyme.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary, plus extra for sprinkling
1 cup all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and position a rack in center of the oven. Use a wooden spoon to stir together the butter, sugar, and salt until smooth. Stir in the rosemary. Mix in half of the flour until well combined, then add the remaining flour and stir, again until well combined. The dough may become stiff, so patiently stir in the flour until it is completely incorporated.
Press the mixture evenly into a buttered 8-inch square metal pan, using damp fingers if necessary. Sprinkle the top evenly with a little extra rosemary and salt.
Bake until lightly golden around the edges, about 30 - 40 minutes. Immediately cut into squares or triangles, then cool for about ten minutes. Remove the shortbread from the pan with an offset spatula and cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
Other cookie favs for your cookie swap
If you’re looking for other morsels to bake up this season, for your cookie exchange or just for your family, here are a few of my favorites:
You know how you start a project and it turns out to be something else altogether?
My latest canning bonanza has been just that. I was invited for a return engagement as a Canbassador for the Washington Fruit and Sweet Preservation folks, and a crate of gorgeous peaches and nectarines and plums arrived.
So I expected a food adventure in the kitchen. And that did indeed happened.
But in addition, as I was poking around looking for inspiration, I came across nectarine salsa at the Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, autumn spiced jam at Blue Kale Road, and a whole slew of preserve recipes at Punk Domestics. And then I went looking for ways to use the pits and found a great pastry chef in Kentucky. It’s such a delight to bond with people who enjoy great taste and fun in the kitchen, not to mention bringing back some age-old preservation techniques.
In my book, Farmers’ Markets of the Heartland, I referenced the easiest method ever for making fruit jam. It requires a kitchen scale, both affordable and widely available these days.
Simple small batch jam guidelines
My simple process is to weigh equal amounts of fruit and sugar, then add a quarter cup of lemon juice per pound of fruit, depending on the sweetness you’re going for. A pound each of fruit and sugar will get you a half pint of jam, more or less. If you want to use less sugar, great. Just be sure to store your jam in the refrigerator or freezer and expect a looser texture.
That same simple process post has links to experts who explain how to know when your jam is set and how to can it up to avoid any unfortunate incidents. The fabulous Marissa at Food In Jars has a great list of resources if you’re new to canning.
For me the fun part is the flavor embellishing. Not that gorgeous fruit needs it, but what fun to play with the flavors.
So here’s what I’m sharing today:
Peach cilantro preserves
(Top photo) Per pound of peaches, add about two teaspoons of minced cilantro at the end of cooking.
Plum balsamic preserves
(Middle photo) Per pound of plums, add about one tablespoon high quality balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking.
Nectarine fennel seed preserves
(Bottom photo) Per pound of nectarines, stir in 1/2 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds at the end of cooking. This may not seem like a lot, but a little goes a long way here to enable you to taste both the fennel seed and the nectarine.
I hope you’ll get into the kitchen and try your own favorite flavor combinations to extend the luscious fruit of the season. And thanks to the Washington fruit orchard folks, who work so hard to bring us deliciousness.
The year 2012 has become my year of the shrub. It’s a method of preserving that dates to colonial times, although it’s new to me this year.
Shrub is such a funny name for this delectable concoction that lends itself to refreshing homemade sodas and eye-brightening cocktails. And I can’t get enough - my fridge is filled with canning jars of several varieties: right now peach, nectarine and plum.
I’m not a newcomer to homemade beverages. My homemade ginger ale is legendary at my house, and widely published, more or less. And lately, with the arrival of a crate of fruit from the generous souls at the Washington Fruit Growers, the clever folks behind Sweet Preservation, I’ve expanded my repertoire to put up some big batches of shrubs. The shrub method, using the classic preserving dynamic duo of sugar AND vinegar, make a luscious nectar perfect for cocktails, homemade sodas or drizzling on ice cream and stirred into yogurt.
Here’s my nectarine shrub fully steeped and ready for straining.
Saveur has a quick berry version (which in my opinion is a little too quick); there’s a helpful and lengthy discussion over at Serious Eats; and Culinate gives a nice overview along with a historial perspective. My simple method that works for berries and any stone fruit.
The idea is to use equal amounts of fruit (chopped if you’re using larger stone fruit), sugar and vinegar. You macerate the fruit in the sugar first, then add vinegar and steep a little more.
Simple nectarine shrub
1 cup chopped peaches, skin on
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
Dump the chopped nectarines into a sealable jar and pour the sugar on top. Seal and give the jar a good shake to distribute the sugar. Let steep in the refrigerator for a day or two until the nectarines have exuded juice and the bottom of the jar looks syrupy. Pour in the vinegar and shake again. Let steep in the refrigerator for about a week. Strain the fruit (use it in smoothies or with yogurt). Store in the refrigerator.
How to enjoy your luscious shrub
I like to pour about a quarter cup into a champagne flute and top with sparkling water for a lovely nectarine shrub fizz.
Or consider a shrub cocktail: pour your shrub over ice with the spirit of your choice. Vodka and bourbon both work well. Shake in a cocktail shaker or top with sparkling water.
My early-fall favorite is two parts peach shrub with one part bourbon, with lots of ice, served in a Mason jar. Perfect for sitting on the Adirondack chair on the back porch!
I’ve embarked on a jam-arama lately. I have a lineup of fun preserving posts for you. Just not yet.
First, the back story.
The wonky weather in Michigan wreaked havoc on the fruit there, so imagine my delight when a case of Washington fruit arrived at my door, compliments of the fab folks at Washington State Fruit Commission and SweetPreservation.com, and the invitation to join them again as a Canbassador (I hear there may be sashes). In addition to abundance, the season out west is a little different, thus extending the months we can enjoy the lusciousness.
Plus I got a charming note from a Mr. James Michael waxing poetic about the great growing characteristics of the region, and the great balance of flavor in the fruit. I wanted to make him proud, but creating something that I would love as much as my peach rosemary preserves or brandied cherries.
And so began a grand experiment with shrubs and jams, made with various combinations of plums and nectarines and peaches. Oh my.
Those recipes are on the way.
While I was getting my thoughts together, I needed a quick fix. This is one of those improv recipes that’s not really a recipe, just a delicious marriage of fruit with oil, herbs and wine to enhance the flavor. A perfect dessert and super simple.
Roasted stone fruit with olive oil, rosemary and riesling
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking dish. Add sliced peaches, nectarines and plums, or your favorite stone fruit. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat - a tablespoon or two will do depending on the amount of fruit. Drizzle with a few tablespoons of riesling or other white wine. Sprinkle with minced rosemary. Roast in a single layer until the fruit becomes golden and caramelized, about 10 - 20 minutes depending on ripeness. Enjoy with ice cream or yogurt, or on its own.
With that important business taken care of, let’s move to the kitchen, shall we?
One of the most rewarding parts of road-tripping across the Midwest to research my book, was connecting chefs who share my dedication to farmers.
Like Julie Ridlon of St. Louis, who has Chanterelle Catering and also founded a farmers market in that fine city. She helped guide me to great growers and markets.
More important, Chef Julie converted me to eggplant.
I’ve never been much of a fan, and Julie told me getting fresh eggplant make all the difference. So here we are, almost greeting autumn, where eggplant and zucchini and tomatoes are groaning on the farm table, and I can’t get enough of it.
Thus it’s time to make caponata, a flavorful Italian salad that’s perfect for making after work because it’s SO easy, and also relaxing with all the chopping to do. And it’s easily adaptable to what you like and what’s in season. Julie likes it with goat cheese on a baguette. I like it straight from the jar.
So get out to your market and find a new food to convert to. Enjoy.
Caponata, Italian Eggplant Salad
Chef Julie Ridlon, Chanterelle Catering, St. Louis, Missouri
Makes about six cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onion, peeled and chopped (red or yellow)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 large eggplant or 4 smaller eggplants (peel half the skin with a potato peeler and leave the rest for texture), cut into ½-inch cubes
3 - 4 summer squash cut into ½-inch cubes (try any combination of zucchini, zephyr or crookneck)
1 - 2 red, yellow or orange peppers, seeded and cut into cubes
2 stalks of celery, cut into 1/2″ pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 - 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
3 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
½ cup raisins (use golden or dark raisins, or currants)
¼ cup capers drained, or 1/3 cup pitted calamata olives
8 large basil leaves, thinly sliced
Sauté the onion, garlic, eggplant, squash, peppers and celery for eight to 10 minutes, stirring to make sure it does not burn, until fork tender. Depending on ripeness, it may take an additional five to10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
As the vegetables cook, whisk together the cider vinegar, brown sugar, thyme and chili flakes, if using, in a small bowl. Toss together in a large bowl the tomatoes, raisins, capers or olives and basil. Stir in cooked eggplant mixture, and taste for balance, adding additional vinegar, salt or sugar. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.
This year, I got a late start due to the raised beds going in, and the new soil going in. And I was late buying my plants.
And then there was the weather.
You’d have thought that the heat would have given me a bumper crop. But the drought nixed that and I ended up buying a bushel of “canning tomatoes” at the farmers market, saving my backyard tomatoes for noshing.
Buying “seconds,” the less-than-perfect but just-as-flavorful version, is one of my favorite tips for extending the harvest and getting a bargain all at the same time.
One of my fondest flavor memories of my tomato bumper crop a few years back is the oven-dried Sungolds that punctuated my salads, pastas and flatbreads long through the winter. These sliced ones will do nicely.
Here is this year’s version, stacked in freezer-friendly Ball jars and topped with fruity olive oil. I’ll keep them in the door of the freezer and scoop them out when I need a summer fix. And the infused oil will be great for salads.
Oven-dried tomatoes in olive oil
Slice tomatoes and assemble on a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with freshly-cracked black pepper. Turn oven on to lowest setting (in my case 170 degrees). Place in the oven for six to eight hours until they are dried yet still flexible. Cool, transfer to freezer-safe container, and top with olive oil. Store in the freezer for up to a year, if they last that long.