There's a Butternut Squash Contest at Food 52!

And I've got a dish in it. It's so easy, it's rich, and it's vegetarian. We all liked it. And I won't be upset if you like some of the other recipes better than mine. They look amazing. 


I surrender to baking bread--and other stuff

I am a semi-stepmother. The Man has an 11 year daughter, whom I've known since she was 7, and whom I adore with the kind of mushy adulation I thought possible only in real parents, which I am not.

I will say that she is a great eater, but--and maybe this is because I am not connected to her genetically--I will not say that she knows all the waiters at Spiaggia and keeps a cheese diary and eats (or even knows about) foie gras and makes a better omelet than I do. She is very adventurous, and she does have friends who eat only bagels, which makes me feel outlandishly superior, but the truth is I knew she was my kind of kid not when she ate my early Thai experiments but when I found her hiding a big ball of bread in her hand, stuffed with butter, during my first dinner out with her. It was like a butter-filled baseball that she was waiting to pitch, handcrafted right there at the dinner table when no one was looking. She was clearly trying to break my heart.

Bread is one of her favorite foods, and I think butter is one of her second favorite foods. When we go to Trader Joe's, she heads for the coffee sample station so she can drink the cream, straight up. 

Anyway, she just left us for two weeks, and I find myself with the kind of empty time I used to relish. And I freeze at 2:30 thinking I've forgotten to pick her up at school. What the hell am I going to do with myself? I'd say "bake some bread," but I just did that.

Because for her going-away present, she asked me to make her favorite, Mark Bittman and Jim Lahey's super-simple loaf. She took the whole thing, which I pulled out of the oven last night, along to school wrapped in plastic and shoved into her giant bag along with her books and extra clothes and vampire fangs, which she collects. This, of course, breaks my former lump-of-coal heart in two, yet again.

Five years ago, if you'd told me I'd be baking, I would have . . . I don't know, punched you in the nose? I've always cooked a lot, but baking seemed to symbolize the whole sad Hilary Clinton trap: how can you take yourself seriously if you bake cookies? Well, guess what, I've been baking cookies, too. And I haven't melted into a puddle on the castle floor. And I'm not going to stop, either.

For those of you who have grown a heart, as well, I give you the recipe for this amazing, never-fail loaf, for which you'll need a dutch oven, but that's about it as far as equipment goes. And: no kneading, no proofing, no talking about your dough like it's a person. Just mix it up, let it sit for about 18 hours, then, practically, throw it in the oven. It's great to bake with kids, because it truly does seem like magic. I've changed a few things regarding getting the bread from the counter into the oven, but this recipe is otherwise almost as I found it, in the New York Times.

No Knead Bread, adapted from Mark Bittman and Jim Lahey
  • 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
  • ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • water
  1.  In a large bowl stir the flour, yeast and salt together, then add 1 5/8 cups water. Stir this together, too, until it comes together in a shaggy, sticky dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. I usually put it on the back of the stove.
  2. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over like you are folding a towel, once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
  3.  Flour your hands, then quickly shape dough into a ball. Place it, seam side down,  on a floured sheet of tinfoil;  dust with a little more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with a cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
  4.  At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Pick up the tinfoil like a tray, and  turn dough over into pot, seam side up. Shake the pan once or twice to more evenly distribute the dough in the pot. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until browned. Cool on a rack.


A Doily-Worthy Dessert

Here's a dessert that I got from my Aunt Mariah's recipe box when I went down to Galax to cook with her and my cousin Toni, whom I grew up with, and their cousin Martha.  Toni and I were planning on photocopying whichever recipes we just had to have, but I was so taken with this recipe in particular that I wrote it down on the spot on a scrap of paper (no one ever writes anything down on a sheet of paper; it's always "a scrap"). And after coming back home and making it in my Chicago kitchen, I felt like a goddess for having the great ability to know a terrific recipe when I see one. I'm still patting myself on the back. 

Aunt Mariah was planning to make these lemon sponge cups for her book club meeting coming up the next week. "I serve them with whipped cream and a slice of lemon," she told me in her slow Tidewater Virginia accent, which is so lilting and pretty and which she has always maintained in spite of the fact that everyone in my family has attempted, it seems, to tease her out of it by imitating it. Which must be maddening for her, and which is hilarious since we all have Southern accents, just different kinds of Southern accents. (Hers is quite remarkable though. Apparently, she once said: "Ahm about ta perish for a Co-cola." However, this is a teasing story that gets repeated, along with her pronunciation of wha-tah, aka water, and sofer for sofa, to the point that such tales no longer seems quite plausible. Until you hear Aunt Mariah speak.)

Anyway. . .  these lemon sponge cups are wonderful and also quite easy. They make you feel fancy: you pour the batter into individual souffle dishes or ramekins, and when they come out of the oven they have cute puffy-brown tops, with a layer of lemon custard on the bottom. Without whipped cream, they are perfectly light and sour-sweet; but a spoonful is nice for company. 

Lemon Sponge Cups
Serves 4-6

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons flour 
  • 1 lemon (grated rind and juice)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, cream butter. Add sugar, flour salt, lemon juice and rind. In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks; stir in milk, then add slowly to first mixture. Beat egg whites until stiff; gently fold into mixture. Pour into custard cups and place in pan of hot water. Bake in "moderate" oven (350, in my case) for 45 minutes. You will have a layer of lemon custard, with sponge on top. Let cool a bit. Turn out and serve with whipped cream, or serve in the dish. You can also bake this in one large souffle dish. 


My World and Welcome to It

Meet Mabel. Favorite meal: oatmeal, hold the berries. Likes: anything that stinks. Dislikes: being tickled in her armpits. Peeves: people who put scraps down the disposal.


Two Things Regarding Salad (longwinded version)

Herewith another blurry picture, sent by cellphone, from the architect who lives here. It's what he and his associates cooked for themselves recently while in Colorado for a little ski get-together.

Can you find the steak in this picture? I'll save the jokes about Fred Flintstone, but I think anyone who knows him would allow me to take some credit for the fact that the colors orange and green appear on the plate.  Which is to say I've gotten him to start eating his vegetables.

He, on the other hand, would probably say that he has always loved steamed spinach, and that he has also always cubed sweet potatoes, tossed them with butter and garlic, the roasted them at high heat until they have a nice crust on one side and are tender and crazy delicious inside.

But never mind. The point is the vegetables are there.

Although, and I really don't want to belabor any of this, but I just cannot help it:  I can't get over the fact that last night while we were having dinner out (at La Madia, a really good pizza place in Chicago), he said to me, as he folded some green leaves into his pie-hole: "I have always enjoyed salads."

Ha-ha-ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha -ha.

That's hilarious. It's true only if a slab of pork tenderloin on a Kaiser roll with barbecue sauce and fat white onion slices qualifies as a salad. On the other hand, maybe he did not mean "leafy green salad," specifically.

Perhaps he knows, the way everyone should, both things that I want to say about Salad.

1.  A salad doesn't always have to look like lawn clippings.
2.  You're crazy if you buy salad dressing. 

I love leafy greens, dark and pale--I do--but I don't make a ton of leaf-based salads here, actually, because we always waste the leftovers and I hate washing greens but don't trust "prewashed."; I have a big bag of arugula in the fridge; I just put half of it in lentil soup because I forgot to buy spinach. It was really good. Guilt gone.

But I do like to make a refreshing melange of vegetables, or vegetables and fruit, or grains or beans served with a homemade main course. Although, like anyone with people to feed on a regular basis, I've been known to cook dinner and serve nothing with it at all, especially if it's pasta. A kind of eat-it-and-shut-up entree as opposed to how-do-you-like-this-dish-I-created-for-your-dinner-I-really-want-your-opinion.

Which is to say: a salad is civilized. And they can be so easy.

You should never buy salad dressing, unless you just really really like bottled dressings and have money to spare. There is one I do like very much but I haven't bought it in years. I just tried to find it on Amazon, which confirmed my feelings: a search for "salad dressing" turned up, among several other unsavory bottles, a "blue cheese, pecan balsamic vinaigrette," which not only sounds like something you should eat on jumbo Fritos but no longer seems to be a vinaigrette per se, and another that I originally read as "Taliban Lime Ginger Vinaigrette" but turned out to be "Tahitian Lime Ginger Vinaigrette," thank God.

A salad can be anything. I know you know this, but it's good to remind yourself every once in a while that you do not have to submit to the necessary tyranny of washing and drying greens. My mom used to serve canned grapefruit sections with avocado and red onion, dressed with red wine vinegar and oil. I loved it--and I loved canned asparagus back then, too--and later adapted it to be the modern-lady lifestyle that I live today: fresh grapefruit sections, some thinly sliced red onion, avocado, and soft red-leaf or Boston lettuce with arugula. I tend to use pretty much the same salad dressing on everything, because I have always thought that it goes with everything (my mustard vinaigrette).

But I recently served a salad that was so simple it barely deserves this long-winded entry and made me realize that I should think a little  bit harder about dressing. My mustard vinaigrette has sort of become like khaki pants: it has grown tedious in its splendid utility. And so often is completely inappropriate.

So my salad: super-sweet seedless oranges (they're everywhere, and we should eat them while we can) cut into thick slices, with a scattering of pomegranate seeds, some diced shallots, and a dressing made with o.j, molasses, a little balsamic vinegar, a bit of olive oil. If you serve this with a non-spicy dish, you can throw in a pinch of cayenne, or a half-teaspoon of red pepper flakes.

I served it with another dish that I love to serve for guests but is perfect for a Friday night family supper, Green-Chile Chicken Thighs with Arugula Salad and Creamy Grits, a dreamy recipe my sister sent to me from Food and Wine a few years ago. I've given you the link to click. Make the dish; trust me.

My salad was just the thing. Refreshing, sweet and sparky--the perfect antidote to the rich and spicy chicken and creamy grits.

Emily's Easy Orange Salad
Serves 4
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons molasses (I've also used Maple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • pinch of cayenne or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (this is semi-optional; if you make it to accompany the Green Chile Chicken Thighs, leave it out)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
  • pepper
  • 2 shallots, very thinly sliced, separated into rings
  • 3 large seedless oranges, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch slices (click to see how)
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds (I got mine at Trader Joes, already liberated; diced strawberry would be pretty, too)
  1. Slice the shallots thinly and separate into rings. 
  2. In a jar, place olive oil, orange juice, molasses, vinegar, cayenne, salt, pepper. Screw on lid and shake until well emulsified. 
  3. In a small bowl, pour some of the dressing over shallot slices to cover. You can let this sit at room while you're making the rest of your dinner, the longer the better. 
  4. When you are ready to serve your salad (and I like to serve this right along with the chicken thighs or after, because it is refreshing, and I am uncouth), divide orange slices artistically among 4 salad plates, topped with 1/4 of the "pickled" shallots, and sprinkle prettily with the pomegranate seeds. Drizzle each plate with some of the dressing. 


Anyone Can Make Biscuits. Everyone Should

As I prepare to head back down South to my hometown, in Galax, Virginia, to cook with my Aunt Mariah, I've been perusing some of my Southern cookbooks, which of course has made me hanker, like crazy, for some biscuits.

Not that Aunt Mariah makes biscuits. She is known for her exquisite Parker House rolls, which are pillowy yeasty pale butter-browned wonders, and I've always wanted to learn how to make them. She'd better teach me.

Contrary to popular belief, you see, not everyone in the South spends half of their daylight hours cutting lard into flour and frying up country ham to make ham biscuits.  If that were true, I'd certainly still live there.

While I do miss those super-salty, leathery slices of pan-fried country ham, which is what always accompanied  biscuits--at least in my memory--when I was growing up (ham biscuits seemed to show up everywhere back then, at the Midtowner Restaurant, at bake sales, at the Fiddler's Convention, at church potlucks, and for sale at card tables at the VFW gun show and flea market in Hillsville)--it is important to know that country ham is not the boss of biscuits. 

Biscuits are good with a smoked salmon and goat cheese frittata at brunch, or a bowl of vegetable or tomato soup for lunch, or butter and jam with tea. Biscuits are like flowers, which, according to Aunt Mariah (the Emily Post in my life), are a perfectly wonderful thing to offer at any time.

But I had never baked any myself until I grew up and bought Marion Cunningham's perfect little book "The Breakfast Book."  These biscuits do not require the least bit of hard labor, or buttermilk, no beating or much kneading, and they do not contain lard (this may be a downside for you). Also, they are very pretty and they are not round but cut into squares (which reminds me of an old Southern math joke--they exist--the punchline of which is: Pie are not square. Cornbread are square. Pie are round.) So you don't even need a biscuit cutter. 

And I dare you to find and send me an example/recipe of/for an easier and more delicious biscuit. Oh, I'm forgetting my Southern manners, yet again. What I meant to say is: Please try them at your earliest convenience, and share your own recipe if you wish. I'll set up a biscuit blogroll!

Cream Biscuits, from Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book
Makes 1 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup (5 1/2 tablespoons) melted butter (for coating biscuits)

  1. Preheat oven to 425. Use an ungreased baking sheet. 
  2. Combine the flour, salt,  baking powder, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Stir with a fork to blend and lighten. 
  3. Slowly add 1 cup of the cream to the mixture, stirring constantly. Gather dough together. When it is tender and holds together, it is ready to knead. If it seems too shaggy and pieces are falling away slowly add enough cream to make the dough hold together. 
  4. Place the dough on a lightly floured board and knead for one minute. That is not a very long time!
  5. Pat the dough into a square that is 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 12 squares and dip each into the melted butter to coat all sides. Place the biscuits 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.


Some Salmon for Ya

This is a recipe I entered in the weekly recipe contest at Food52.com. Since I didn't win that week (but I was an editor's pick, which makes me unspeakable proud), it seems like a perfectly  good idea to share it here at Cook the Wolf. The contest was for Your Best Couscous. (If you're not familiar with Food52.com, you should check it out; it's more fun than a barrel of Marcona almonds. Way more.) I got the idea to share it when I read the terrific Food52 blog Jenny's in the Kitchen, which, you'll note if you log on, features an equally fabulous salmon recipe that uses one of the same (perhaps surprising) ingredients that mine does (cinnamon) and would be wonderful and even quicker. Anyway,  here's what I entered:
 One of my favorite easy dishes is fish baked in foil. And I love tagines on couscous, the tiny pasta sopped with big flavored stewy juices.This is not a tagine, technically speaking. But it has some of the flavors and textures that make the classic Moroccan dish so alluring to me. And it only takes about 15 minutes to prepare, and 20 to cook. I don't really measure when I make fish in foil, but this is a close estimation; it's an easy dish to tinker with and you should feel free to do so. But try it this way first.

Splendid and Simple Salmon and Vegetable Couscous
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 4 pieces salmon filet, 6-8 oz each, skin removed
  • 1 medium zucchini, very thinly sliced
  • 1 small red bell pepper, in very small dice
  • 1 small to medium red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1 small bunch parsley, roughly chopped
  • 12 large basil leaves, chiffonade
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 pinches red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 lemon (cut into quarters)
  • 1 cup dry white wine, divided
  • 1 cup cream, divided
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup couscous
  1. Place a large oven-proof casserole or baking dish in oven and preheat to 450.
  2. Cut four sheets of tinfoil, about 18 inches long. Stack them; one by one, in the center of each, layer a quarter of the ingredients: a bit of olive oil, a bed of zucchini (about the size of fish filet), the fish, bell pepper, tomato, onion, parsley, basil. Sprinkle each with 1/4 of the cumin, the garlic, the pepper flakes, cinnamon, coriander. Squeeze the juice of a lemon wedge on each piece. Top with a tablespoon of butter.
  3. Fold the foil into a little boat shape to hold in liquid. Then splash each filet with a quarter of the wine and a quarter of the cream. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Fold the foil packet like an envelope and seal the edges along sides and top so that no steam or liquid could possibly escape. Remove the hot baking dish from the oven. Place packets of fish in the dish and bake for 20 minutes. They should begin to make a sizzling noise after ten minutes--cook for 10 more minutes after they do. Do not check for doneness until 20 minutes has elapsed.
  5. Make the couscous once the fish has baked for 15 minutes. Boil 1 1/2 cups water, to which you have added 2 teaspoons of butter. Add the couscous, quickly stir, then cover with lid for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.
  6. Divide the couscous among 4 bowls; open the foil packets from the top, being careful not to burn yourself. Tip the packets over each bowl so that the broth runs out; use a spatula or spoon to place the fish and vegetables over each portion. Serve with more fresh parsley if you wish.